Sacerdotalism Or Every-Member Ministry?
Here’s something to chew on:
One’s understanding of the nature of the church is a test or expression of one’s understanding of Christ and the Bible.
For example, why do we use the terms “minister” and “ministry” synonymously with “pastor” and “pastorate”? Or why do some use “priest” for an official minister when the term in the New Testament is used for any believer?
We must honestly admit that there is in the New Testament not the faintest hint of a clergy-laity distinction. The various gifts of the Holy Spirit were bestowed by Jesus on all His followers for the purpose of building up His church. New Testament ecclesiology can be realized only when the congregation is filled with the Spirit and when each member is exercising his or her spiritual gift.
In Rom. 12:4-8 and 1 Cor. 12:12-31 (key passages – read them!), Paul insists that in the church no class distinction is found. Although there are functional differences, every part of the Body is important; if one part is lacking, the Body cannot function as it should. “The body should work together as a whole with all the members in sympathetic relationship with one another” (1 Cor. 12:23-25 summarized). The immediate effect of Christ’s ascension and exaltation is to make it possible for the individual believer to present his or her body as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God. The practical effect of such consecration is twofold: All believers are priests by virtue of the fact that they comprise a royal priesthood, and all Christians are truly ministers and servants of God. Every member of the congregation is therefore useful and necessary for the common good.
Thus in the church there can be no sacerdotalism, no apostolic succession, no one-man rule. Here the rigorous volunteerism of the Anabaptists is worth emulating. In Anabaptist thinking, the church is a voluntary association of converted and committed Christians. The “official ministry” is but a representative ministry, and therefore true ecclesiology can only be realized by a congregation in which all the members are exercising their gifts. The apostle Peter writes, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:6). Any appointed ministry must function within the total framework of the church as the Body of Christ, of which He alone is the Head (Col. 1:18).
But we must not stop there. There are important tasks to be performed. We need courage both intellectually and spiritually to acknowledge in our practice the priesthood of all believers. We need meetings that are more participatory. We are to act, not on the basic of some grandiose plan, but on a point-by-point basis. Contrary to most modern theologians, we do not have to settle for the status quo.
We have been given, by God and through Him, the perennial possibility of starting anew.
January 31, 2010
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.