A CHRISTIAN IS GOD’S MINISTER
The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans )
Every generation has its own apostasy, and every new apostasy coins new names and expressions. Words are taken out of their spiritual context and new meanings applied to them. In the second century the common word bishop, which in the New Testament is applied to that class of public workers sometimes designated as elders or presbyters, meaning an overseer in the local congregation, came to be applied to just one in the congregation who received more preeminence and exercised greater authority than the presbyters. His was a one man rule with the presbyters acting as a cabinet or board of advisers. He alone presided over the public services and practically all authority was placed in his hands.
Scripturally all elders are bishops and all bishops are presbyters (Titus 1:5-7). The word bishop signifies the nature of their official work, which is the oversight of the local congregation, while the word elder or presbyter indicates that they are men of age and experience, and thus qualified to feed the flock (Acts 20:28).
The "mystery of iniquity" (2 Thess. 2:7) already at work in Paul's days soon corrupted this divine arrangement, and the "Bishop" took precedence over the presbyters and ruled the congregation. This was the first real apostasy of the apostolic church, and the evils which followed finally culminated in the establishment of the Papacy, the greatest spiritual disaster of all time.
Misapplication of scriptural words is always a
mark of apostasy. The common word patriarch, or father, so often
applied to the venerable men of the Old Testament times was misused
during this age of
apostasy and became the designated name of a pompous character who
as an autocrat over a large segment of the churches in the
In the rapid progress of this apostasy the
divided into four districts with four Patriarchs ruling from the four
metropolitan areas of
Today the pattern of apostasy is exactly the same. Common words are wrested out of their connection and given a meaning entirely foreign to the minds of the inspired writers. Thus, are developed characters, offices and "isms" unknown to the apostolic age. The spiritual altar of worship (Heb. ) has become the material "Mourners Bench." The Supper of the Lord has become the imposing ritual called the "Mass," and the quiet sanctification of a converted soul, has become a tense emotional experience with physical gyrations that rival a Hula Hula dancer.
In most of the churches of Christ today there is a character designated "The Minister." He is, the local preacher, hired often times at a princely salary. We have no problem with a man working with a congregation to spread the word of God. We have no problem with the man being paid, for the New Testament clearly teaches that "the laborer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7; 1 Tim. 5:18; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:14; 2 Cor. 11:8; Phil. 4:15-16). The problem with “The Minister” is that in many places he takes precedence over the elders in all the public functions of the church. His name flies at the masthead of all advertisements of the congregation. Seldom are the elders mentioned. "The Minister" is preeminently above them in all the public work, and even in the private work he does most of the visiting of the sick and delinquent members. He calls on the "prospects" and is the one to teach them the truth. In fact all the church's activities center on him.
Occasionally he goes out to conduct "revivals" and
then he becomes an evangelist; but as soon as he, returns he is "The
Minister" again. Little if any incentive is given to the ordinary
members to become public workers for the Lord. The "laity" is not
qualified for such work, you see! "The Minister" in order to be
acceptable to most congregations, must attend a "
In soliciting a location to preach, “The Minister's” academic training is always mentioned as his chief qualification, rather than his spiritual character and knowledge of God's word. When he arrives as “The Minister” of a congregation all the edification of the church is placed in his hands. If he should be absent on a paid "vacation" or otherwise, the pulpit is not occupied in some places, for only a "Minister" is qualified to edify the church. There are exceptions, but this is the common rule among the "Ministered" congregations.
Seldom is the slightest effort made to develop the
other men into public workers. These "Ministers" must come from the "
Meaning of the Word Minister
It is well that we should study the scriptural meaning of the word minister. That word simply means "a servant" or "one who serves," and is never used to designate a particular office. It is not an official title like the name apostle. Any one who serves God in any capacity is a minister, for all the service of the Lord is ministration to Him.
The word minister was first applied to Joshua, who
was called, "Moses' minister" (Ex. 24:13; Joshua 1:1). He was not a
preacher, but gave service to Moses in the leadership of
In the Old Testament the word minister is from
"sharath." In the New Testament it is normally from "diakonos," from
which we also have the words deacon, laborer, or ministrant, all
carrying the simple idea of service. It is never capitalized nor is it
an official title. Government rulers are plainly called "ministers of
A synagogue attendant, who would correspond to a church sexton is called "the minister" (Luke ). Certainly he was not "the local preacher" sporting a big "M" at the head of the word Minister. After Christ had healed Peter's mother‑in‑law, she "arose and ministered unto them" (Luke ). Did she preach unto them? Mark speaks of the numerous women who had "ministered" unto Christ (Mark -41). In the Day of Judgment, Christ will speak favorably to those who have ministered unto Him (Matt. 25:34‑40).
Christ is the "minister of the sanctuary" (Heb. 8:2). Paul speaks of the "hands that have ministered unto my necessities" (Acts ). The Gentile Christians were under obligations to their needy Jewish brethren to "minister unto them in carnal things" (Rom. ). Thus we see that everyone who serves God in any capacity is a minister, and to take that word and apply it exclusively to any special class in the church is a perversion of the word of God. It is just as scriptural and appropriate to apply the word priest exclusively to the preacher (as the Catholics do) as to call him "The Minister."
The word priest in the Hebrew is from "Kohen," meaning "a minister," one who serves the Lord in performing the public rites of the tabernacle. Only the sons of Aaron could be priests under the Mosaic Law; but under the Gospel, all Christians are priests (Rev. 1:6; ) and hence, ministers before God. All Christians, “as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5; see also verse 9).
Our Lord taught us that true greatness is found in service: "Whosoever shall be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever shall be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matt. -27). He exemplified His own teaching when He came “not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. ). A life that forgets self in Christ’s service is the only life that brings true happiness.
If our ears are opened to the voice of the Lord, we daily hear him say, "Go work in my vineyard" (cf. Matt. 20:7). Sitting comfortably in your pew and listening to “The Minister” is not GOD’S idea of a life of service. Any true Christian who desires to minister unto Christ, can find many avenues of service wherein he can glorify his own life and honor Christ. No true Christian should be content to be just a common man, doing no ennobling work. Each one can be uncommon in his striving after perfection, and to perfect the lives of others. We should seek the opportunity of service, not the security of the sheltered pew.
If Christ is truly born in your hearts, His zeal and determination to save the lost will find its counterpart in you (Luke ; 1 Cor. 11:1). No one can be half a man unless he will dream of great things to be done. He will not wish to be a kept citizen in the kingdom, but one who will strive to make his life sublime, and departing leave behind him footsteps on the sands of time. There can be no real individual dignity in a spiritual life of ease. A drone is as out of place in the church as in a bee hive.
It is your heritage to think and act for yourself, to enjoy the benefit of your own accomplishments. He who will trade the freedom and dignity of work for a life of ease planned and executed by others, sells his birthright for a miserable mess of pottage. To be “always abounding in the work of the Lord," is not a duty, but an honor and exalted privilege. To be nothing but a "pew warmer" is to barter incentive and manhood for a dole. God has work for each and every citizen in His kingdom.
We will now mention the most notable avenues of service where we as Christian ministers can lose our lives in Christ.
The Public Service or Worship
The apostolic church had apostles, evangelists, elders, and deacons. These men all had official work to do, but the public work of the church was not performed entirely by them. Paul said of the Roman brethren: "I am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Rom. ). To the Thessalonians Paul wrote: "Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do" (1 Thess. ).
When the people of the Lord assemble to worship God, they all can offer up their prayers, sing God's praises, and break Christ's bread. All as ministers and priests can engage in that holy service. The lowly carpenter, the rugged blacksmith, the bookkeeper, banker, or merchant are on an equality before Him. Each worshiper with the love of God in his heart and words of wisdom on his lips can tell the old story of redeeming love. There is no greater ministry than to prepare a lesson for the edification of the saints, and speak to the assembled worshipers words of truth and soberness.
To take that service from the hands of the worshipers and put it exclusively into the hands of a professional clergy, is to rob the church and oneself of one of life's richest blessings. To put the edification of the church exclusively into the hands of a "The Minister" is just as unscriptural as to put the song service into the hands of a hired choir. Christ ordained that his church should be able to "edify itself in love" (Eph. ), and this requires that the whole body of believers should be workers together with Him.
The Lord put the edification of the church into the hands of the common people just as much as He did the song service. Every worshiper has the scriptural privilege of offering “the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips" (Heb. ). Every worshiper can speak unto edification. Some restrictions are placed upon the sisters (1 Tim. -12), but even at that, they can and should be "teachers of good things" (Titus 2:3).
Personal Work for Christ
All Christians who wish to "work out (their) own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. ) will seek in every way possible to bring souls to Christ. The knowledge that Christ has saved us from the consequences of sin should stimulate us to try to save others. Christ saved you that you might save others. Thousands could be saved yearly, instead of a few hundred, if all Christians would become soul winners for Christ. This is indeed a ministry of love. There can be no service so satisfying as to lead a soul from the darkness of sin into the glorious light of God's eternal truth.
Personal work is a work in which every member regardless of age, sex, or financial situation can be engaged. The neighbor across the way, the friends who visit you, the loved ones in your own home, and even the wayfarer who passes your door can be given a message that may bring eternal blessing to them. A word of encouragement to the weak, a solemn warning to the careless, and a few appropriate scriptures to teach the ignorant the way of God more perfectly will glorify God and may save a soul from hell, and bring to you the "peace of God that passeth all understanding." The God who longed for your salvation has an equal interest in your neighbor; and the Christ who died for you, also died for your bitterest enemy. To leave all this work to the salaried "Minister" is to cheapen the Gospel and rob oneself of the highest happiness.
The Ministry of Kindness to Those in Need
Paul speaks of those who had "addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints" (1 Cor. ). The parable of the Good Samaritan was the classical answer Christ gave to the age old question: "Who is my neighbor?" To feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, minister to the sick, and go to the prisoner is to minister to Christ (Matt. 25:34-36). We live today in a time of abundant prosperity as compared with the abject poverty of Christ's day; yet there is in every community, the sick and afflicted, the needy and the friendless, whose lives can be immeasurably brightened by little deeds of thoughtful kindness - little deeds of love.
It was said of Christ that he “went everywhere
doing good," and following His foot steps will take us to the homes of
hovels of penury, and even into the odorous slums of human misery,
where the ministry of helpfulness will be as welcome as the angels of
God. Let the
ministry of service for Christ adorn our lives through active work for