Every Christian a Minister, Research Paper Example
Words: 2565Research Paper
The relation between ministry and the Church remains one of the fundamental questions of religious life. The nature of this relation has clear consequences for religion and theology, as, for example, demonstrated in the notion of Christian dominations. Moreover, when considering how ministry is related to the Church, this question becomes all the more pertinent as it essentially evokes the question of the individual’s relation to God. In this regard, we may ask the following question: what is the exact function of ministry? As Paul Bernier suggests, this question is inseparable from questions concerning the essence of the Church: “Questions of ministry are essentially ecclesiological questions. Any discussion of ministry should begin with our understanding of the Church itself.” (Bernier 1) Following Bernier’s injunction, it would appear that understanding ministry is a great task. Insofar as the Church possesses its own complicated history, debated endlessly in the academic and theological literature, the quest for a clear understanding of the Church leads to unavoidable questions of hermeneutics, biblical exegesis and the interpretation of history. In light of these ambiguities, scripture is certainly the most valuable source in entangling these definitions. In essence, the Bible, according to its status as central text of the Christian faith, is averse to change – it is the word of God. However, how can we understand the historical heterogeneity of the Church in terms of the unchanging word of God? Certainly, the understanding of the word of God recalls its own hermeneutics and points out the difficulty in understanding the word of God, of realizing the latter, and this is reflected in problems of Church and ministry. As Thomas Hopko notes, “The nature of the Church and her ministry still remain the most controverted issues facing Christians today.” (Hopko xv) Why is this nature controverted? Because it essentially is an issue regarding the proper way of how to live according to Christ. The great Russian Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov wrote very clearly: “The Church of Christ is not an institution; it is a new life with Christ and in Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit.” (Bulgakov 1). Bulgakov thus makes a radical claim of thinking about the Church as separated from any institutionalization; in other words, it cannot be reduced to an apparatus. The Church is rather the community of living with and according to Christ. As such, if ministry is derivative of the Church, it follows this same definition: ministry also suggests the community of living with and according to Christ. Furthermore, Bulgakov’s definition is significant because it calls for a return to scriptures and sacred texts. The anti-institutionalization approach forces us to look back to the scriptures when thinking about the Church and ministry, instead of an institutionalized reading of the Church and ministry, which would be more at home in a sociological or anthropological study. In the following essay, we shall take up Bulgakov’s remark on the non-institutionality of the Church as motivation for a scriptural approach to what the Bible says about the Church and ministry. That is, we will attempt to develop some interpretations of what the Church and the ministry mean in terms of scripture. To support our interpretations, we shall refer to germane academic literature and varied readings of the specific parts of the Bible that we are to analyze. Accordingly, we shall attempt to develop a definition of the Church and the ministry using Bulgakov’s thesis of the non-insitutionality of the ministry and the Church as a guiding light
To help clarify our task at the outset, it is useful to consider the etymologies of the words Church and ministry respectively. Sir William Smith observes that the etymology of the word Church is by no means clear: “The derivation of the word Church is uncertain” (Smith 457), noting that variants of this word are found in other Indo-European languages such as “the Teutonic and Slavonian languages.” (Smith 457) Moreover, the Church is referred to in The Bible according to various different terms. Smith writes that the Church is described as “Christ’s household (Matt, x. 25), the salt and the light of the world (v. 13, 14), Christ’s flock (Matt. Xxvi 31; John x. 1)”. (Smith 458) From the evidence presented by Smith, we can detect multiple meanings conferred to the word Church. Nevertheless, they all emphasize a certain non-institutional meaning, the same meaning that Bulgakov refers to: all these definitions make the important connection between life and Christ. Notions such as “Christ’s flock”, “Christ as shepherd”, “living within the home of Christ” and “the light of the world” all suggest that the Church is a way of life in the world. Thus, although these terms are different, they all share a common idea. Accordingly, by considering these terms, we begin to acquire a rudimentary idea of what the notion of Church means in the scriptures.
It is pertinent to note that in Smith’s same comprehensive dictionary, there is an absence of a definition of the word ministry. This, however, does not suggest that the term is not significant in the New Testament. For example, as Zeni Fox writes, “the most distinctive aspect of the New Testament record regarding ministry is its choice of language: ministry is diakonia, service.” (Fox 307) The Greek word diakonia thus clarifies what ministry means in terms of service. Fox notes that, “contemporary theologians clearly emphasize the servant dimension of ministry.” (Fox 307) But what does this service entail? The nature of this service is also clear according to Fox: “In the New Testament, ministry is service of Christ and of one’s brothers and sisters.” (Fox 271) Following the definition of diakonia, ministry would thus designate a service to Christ and humanity. Combining this with the notion of Church as living according to Christ, ministry would suggest serving Christ by following His Word and also by helping others live according to Christ.
What do the scriptures say about this particular conjecture? In Numbers 4:12, one finds a reference to ministry: “ And they shall take all the instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, and put them in a cloth of blue, and cover them with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put them on a bar.” (Numbers 4:12, KJV) Numbers 4:12 highlights the instruments of ministry, suggesting that there is a certain physical aspect of ministry, which is crucial to its concept. Considering Fox’s remark that ministry is a translation of diakonia, the notion of service in this passage therefore recalls a physical service. Certainly, the physical service repeats the notion of living a life according to Christ. It is in acts, what one does, that suggests a lived service to Christ. This lived service includes sacraments that are crucial to service and, therefore, ministry. Sacraments partake in the service to Christ and help others live in service to Christ.
Acts 6:4 renders our above claim of the living aspect of the ministry clearer: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4, KJV) Here the usage of the term ministry is tied exclusively to the word of God. The disciples shall remain in prayer, and perform the continuous ministry of the word. Understanding “ministry” as service or as diakonia would therefore suggest ministry is a service to the word. How does one serve the word of God? As the passage indicates, prayer can be understood as one part of this service. Moreover, the ministry of the word would suggest that the word must be made clear to other human beings. It must not only be individually adhered to, but it must be lived; and to the extent that no one lives alone, this means that the word is served by letting others know how to also serve the Word of God. Such an interpretation of Acts 6:4 would coincide with the above definitions in which the Church and the ministry recall the service to God and the service to others in order to create the living community that is founded in Christ’s service.
Warner W. Wiersbe offers the following interpretation of Acts 6:4: “Prayer was as much a part of the apostolic ministry as preaching the Word.” (Wiersbe 214-215) While Wiersbe clarifies the point of preaching, he seems to provide too narrow a definition of Acts 6:4, when service is considered in its broadest dimension. That is to say, Wiersbe seems to miss the idea of living according to the Word, the service to the Word, which goes beyond preaching. It does not acknowledge the life according to the word, which is prominently noted by Bulgakov. In essence, Wiersbe’s comment can be thought of the conflation of ministry with institution. The preaching of the word implies a unilateral relationship: it implies the repetition of the word to others. It omits the service to Christ and living according to Christ. Certainly, the preaching of the word can be emphasized as crucial to the life according to Christ. But what this upholds is a certain account of ministry as an institution, insofar as it underscores what the academic literature calls the “clergy-laity” model. It is this clergical-laity separation that is one of the main problems in understanding both the Church and ministry. As R. Paul Stevens notes: “The Church must continuously fight the ‘fleshly’ predisposition to the clergy-laity model, and each generation has to enter the renewal of ministry in Christ.” (Stevens 48) The “renewal of the ministry in Christ” is the renewal of the service to Christ, within Christ, which means according to Christ. That there is a continual opposition to the “fleshly” predisposition recalls the rule of the profane: it is the life not according to Christ that maintains distinctions between institutions, between clergy and laity. In essence, that the Church must “continuously fight” to make this distinction is to fight for the ministry, for the proper service to Christ. It is a struggle to re-discover the essence of diakonia that remains at the heart of the very concept of ministry and, moreover, is possible for every Christian to perform.
The extent of this service is re-iterated in 2 Timothy 4:5, in which the terms of service are presented as radical and without compromise: “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5 KJV) The “full proof of ministry” is thus prefaced by the total horizon of service that must be accomplished in order to live according to Christ. All three of the prefatory comments recall diverse aspects of life: watching, enduring afflictions. Alongside these aspects, the work of the evangelist helps complete the notion of ministry and service. Thus, following 2 Timothy 4:5, ministry in itself cannot be merely reduced to the role of, for example, being an evangelist. The dissemination of the word is only one aspect of the ministry, as ministry, in the sense of diakonia, recalls something much more deep and profound in its scope. Raymond F. Collins links this passage with Luke 22:24-27, insofar as in the latter “Paul has been appointed to serve, not to lord over the flock.” (Collins 36-37) As Collins notes this is the same message at stake in 2 Tim. 4:5: “the image will be set before Timothy as an example to be followed.” (Collins 37) This reading of 2. Timothy 4:5’s account of ministry thus emphasizes the service and not the lordship central to the notion of ministry. Ministry is not institutionalized government, but the creation of a life according to Christ and the following of the life according to Christ. Such an account of ministry appears to be supported by the utilization of the term ministry in Second Corinthians 5:18: “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” Here the key utilization is the genitive form of “ministry of reconciliation”. (2. Corinthians 5:18 KJV) How can reconciliation be understood in terms of ministry? In this sense, it is clear that ministry implies the service of reconciliation, the living of the life according to reconciliation. Reconciliation is a term that evokes a community, and it is something that each Christian must seek to realize with other Christians. If God reconciles Himself through Christ, the ministry of reconciliation is the individual Christian’s performance of this same reconciliation to his or her brothers and sisters and God. Living the life of service, the life of ministry is the life of serving the community according to the word of God, as God reconciled himself to Christ.
According to these definitions, we can begin to understand a crucial connection between Church and ministry. Whereas, following Bulgakov, we can note that Church emphasizes a community of believers in Christ; the community is affirmed through ministry, which means that the community is affirmed through the life of service. Moreover, this life of service is by no means restricted to some version of the separation between clergy and laity. To the extent that the Church is the community of Christ, the life according to Christ, the ministry denotes the simple service to Christ: this service is simultaneously both individual and communal. It is thus important, following Bulgakov, to not only separate the Church from the notion of institution, but to separate the notion of ministry from institution. This separation becomes justified through a direct reading of the scriptures and an attempt to fully understand the significance of the term ministry and how it is employed in the Bible. In a discussion of the Saints, we can see this usage of the term ministry by Bulgakov: “The Saints are not mediates between God and man- this would set aside the Unique Mediator, which is Christ – but they are our friends, who pray with us, and aid us in our Christian ministry and in our communion with Christ.” (Bulgakov 119) The word ministry here could clearly be replaced by the word service and this would only accent the point that Bulgakov is attempting to put forth in this passage. The Christian ministry is above all a service to Christ, the form of living according to the word of Christ. In this sense, a remark such as “Every Christian is a Minister” becomes especially pertinent: by living according to Christ one is serving Christ. With this thesis in mind we can close with a citation from Bulgakov: “Christians” bear that name precisely because they belong to Christ, they live in Christ, and Christ lives in them.” (Bulgakov 1)
Bernier, Paul. Ministry in The Church: A Historical and Pastoral Approach. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1992.
Bulgakov, Sergius. The Orthodox Church. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988.
Collins, Raymond F. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: A Commentary. Lexington, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.
Fox, Zeni. New Ecclesial Professionals: Lay Professionals Serving the Church. Franklin, WI: Sheed & Ward, 2002.
Hopko, Thomas. Foreward. The Orthodox Church. By Sergius Bulgakov. Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988. vii-xvi.
Smith, William Sir. Dictionary of the Bible: Comprising Its Antiquities, Biography, Geography and Natural History. Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press, 1868.
Stevens, R. Paul. The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmanns Publishing Co., 2000.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 2001.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary New Testament Volume 2. Colorado Springs, Co: Cooks Communications Ministries, 2001.
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