Ministry of All Believers

6:40 PM Today I was on a website in which the “office” of pastor was being extolled. The author insisted that the pastoral office is a special calling and separate from secular employment. He also asked “Who has the last word?” His answer: The pastor, along with other ordained men. (The congregation has no real say.)

What do you think?

At one time I might have agreed (to a degree). But today I see no rigid distinction between clergy and laity. In fact, I would aver that the New Testament teaches no such thing. According to the New Testament, the “ministry” belongs to all God’s people. In a sense, this is a point Henry Neufeld is making in his latest blog post. I won’t speak for Henry, but it appears that his definition of ministry is based more on the pillar of the priesthood of all believers than on any rigid office divinely ordained by “inviolable decree” (Calvin). This is why the church is the agent of God’s kingdom work. But it is more than that. It is the community of God’s people regardless of their denominational affiliations. As Henry notes, he and I can partner together even though one of us is a born-again Methodist and the other is a born-again Baptist. He is a Charismatic Christian, and I am not. But we both belong to the same messianic fellowship that functions as a charismatic body. John Howard Yoder (a fellow Basel grad) insists that in the New Testament there is not a hint of a hierarchal ladder whereby one Christian might progress upward from one office to the next.

If we come to the New Testament [he writes] with this “professional religionist” view of ministry, asking “What is said on this subject?” then we can add together some things which Paul said about himself as apostle, some things he wrote to Timothy and Titus about themselves, some other things he wrote to them about bishops and deacons, some things Acts reports about the leaders in Jerusalem and Antioch, salt the mixture with some reminiscences from the Old Testament, and come up with a quite impressive package as the “Biblical View of Ministry” (“The Fullness of Christ,” Concern, Feb. 1969).

But then he adds:

Let us take quite seriously the warning of 1 Cor. 12 against trying to establish a hierarchy of values among the varied gifts. This warning is the point of the passage: that there are many gifts is not the chapter’s message, for that is self evident, at least in Corinth. Paul’s concern is that it be recognized that all these many gifts have the same source, and that all are (each in its place) of the same value.

Obviously, then, in order to be a part of the community of Christ one does not have to see eye to eye on everything that has to do with local church polity. Henry’s Methodist congregation has a senior pastor and over him a bishop; my local Baptist congregation has a plurality of elders and deacons. But what matters most to both Henry and me (again, I hope I am not misrepresenting Henry) is that the primary concerns of any local church ought to be proclaiming the Gospel (both by life and by lip) and edifying the Christian community. The calling of the church, then, is to genuinely be the redeemed community of God in this world and then do the works of God by carrying on the works of Jesus Christ. As such, Henry and I are members of the same “church,” if you will, in that the priority of the community is important for each of us. Obviously, this does not mean I should try to persuade him to become a Baptist or to espouse my views on church polity. It does mean, however, that “I can edify myself only as I edify the community” (Barth). In fact, I would go a step further and suggest that the very heterogeneity on display when Henry and I cooperate in the work of the Gospel is a demonstration of the power of the very Gospel we are both seeking to proclaim and live. This unity-in-diversity is a hallmark of the community of the King and one I cherish deeply. So, I think, does Henry.

For more, you may wish to read these essays of mine:

Paul and Christian Unity: A Formal Analysis of Philippians 2:1-4

On the Style and Significance of John 17

The Pauline Love Command: Structure, Style, and Ethics in Romans 12:9-21