Every Member a Minister
Many in the church today are caught up in the whirl of professionalization that characterizes the ministry. But to live wisely you have to be clear-sighted and realistic – ruthlessly so sometimes – in looking at life as it is. There is one Book, and one Book alone, that can cure us of dangerous deceptions.
Specifically, I am referring to a very basic truth about ministry that many of us have forgotten – in part or in whole – in the church today. It is that every child of God is a minister. I am not just referring to that individual who has felt a “call” to “enter” the ministry. Everyone who is a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ has entered the ministry. The Bible knows nothing about a Christian who is not also a minister (Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12-14).
Another way of putting this is to say that, according to the Scriptures, there is no clergy-laity distinction. Again, this may come as a shock and a surprise to those of us who are accustomed to referring to certain individuals in the church as a “Reverend” or a “Clergyman.” The Word of God knows nothing of a “ministry of the clergy” on the one hand, and a “ministry of the laity” on the other. The simple truth is that all of God’s “clergy” are laymen, and all of God’s “laymen” are clergy. This is not to deny the fact that there were pastors/elders/overseers in the primitive Christian community. There were pastors, but they were also a part of the laos – the “people” of God (Phil. 1:1-2). The New Testament knows no separate existence of pastors apart from the rest of the Christian community.
You ask: Why, then, do we have certain men who are authorized to officiate at church? Bible history helps us here. In Old Testament times, God did indeed have a special “clergy” as it were, centered in the tribe of Levi. The members of that tribe had been elevated to the status of what we might call today a “professional ministry.” This was made clear in several ways: by their right to encamp between the body of the nation and the sanctuary where God dwelt; by their privilege to touch holy things that others were not permitted to handle; by their exclusive right to bear the ark; by their special garbs; and, perhaps above all, by their being separated from the people (the laos) in whose behalf they offered sacrifices and offerings unto God.
But we are not to gather from these patterns that God’s people today are to have a clergy-laity distinction. The cross of Christ forever abolished all such distinctions, with the result that today every person who has been purged and purified by the blood of Jesus is a priest of God (Rev. 1:6). We are poles apart from our apostolic forefathers at this point, even when we confess our faith in their words. Yet despite all its stress on elders, the New Testament never lets us lose sight of the priesthood of all believers. This is what is so injurious about those who would claim a special status from God in the church today.
Perhaps it is time to put the names of the real ministers on the signboard out front and upon our official letterheads: EVERY MEMBER. You say, “The ‘minister’ will become jealous for his position and the honor of his office!” Might I say in response: if your minister is so jealous of his “high office,” he has forgotten that his true occupation is to prepare the saints to carry out the work of the ministry to the building up of the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-12). Not only so, but if that is his understanding of ministry, might I also say that he shows himself disqualified to fulfill the role he assumes!
Is it true that God has made me a priest unto Himself? If so, certain questions arise: Why do I allow others to do all the work? Could an observer learn from the quality of my service that I am a minister in my church every bit as much as the overseers are? Why do I ever allow myself to exalt mere men so that Jesus is no longer acknowledged as the one true Head of the Church (Col. 1:18)?
Meditate upon these things, and examine yourself.
April 29, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.