Badges of Distinction
The Gospel Advocate Co. of Nashville, Tenn. now catalogues a "Minister's Auto Marker." It is described as a colorful item, "processed in highly reflecting beads, easy to see at night," and can be "easily attached to auto license plates with ordinary bolts." They sell for $2.00 each or $3.50 per pair. Before the 1959 catalogue was issued this new and unusual item was specially displayed in the Advocate of November 6th, 1958.
We have certainly traveled far in the last few years, in more ways than one. While we have been making great strides of progress in our work of carrying the gospel to all nations, it appears, at least in some quarters, that we have grown increasingly like the denominations about us. Our "on the march" programs seem to have been somewhat countered by a breaking down of some of our scriptural positions. Evidently the church is now considered ready to accept and recognize a sort of "Clergy" into their organization.
The fact of the matter is this: some of our "Ministers" are so far in the lead that they are already displaying-not "Minister" but "CLERGY" tags on their automobiles. How widespread this practice is, we are not in a position to say, but one such "Clergyman" is presently located with a Chicagoland church. His practice was known-so evidently approved-by the elders before he was engaged. Brethren, surely "we are drifting"!
These trends certainly emphasize the need for all of us to re-study the New Testament regarding the use of the term minister. Let us hasten to say that we readily concede that this term is frequently used to denote the preacher of the gospel and his work. But, may we also point out that the same men were known as preachers, teachers, evangelists and ministers. This fact is illustrated in Paul's charge to Timothy, in second Timothy 4:1-5. Let us note: In verse 2, Timothy is commanded to "preach the word." This, of course, would make him a preacher. In the same verse, he was told to reprove, rebuke and exhort with "doctrine"-"teaching" (ASV). This implies that he was a teacher. In verse 5, he is charged to "do the work of an evangelist, which indicates that he was an evangelist. And again in verse 5, he is instructed to "fulfill the ministry," showing that Paul considered him to be a minister. All of these terms designated the work that he was to do. In carrying out the one, he was simultaneously doing all of the others. The only apparent difference in these expressions is that the ones, preacher, teacher and evangelist are rather explicit in their meaning, while the term minister is general, embracing the former, but including a much wider field of duty and activity, involving both physical and spiritual services, which were frequently engaged in by all Christians, both men and women. This is shown by the following examples from the New Testament.
Peter's mother-in-law is said to have "ministered" unto Jesus and the disciples after He healed her of a fever (Matt. 8:14, 15). Consequently, she was in a sense a minister. Jesus pointed out that all those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, show hospitality to strangers, clothe the naked, or visit the sick and imprisoned, are ministers (Matt. 25:42-45). Among those who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus were "many women," "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee,"who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him" (Matt. 27:55, 56). Again, these women were ministers, since they ministered. In Romans 16:1, Paul commended Phoebe, whom he described as "a servant (minister) of the church that is at Cenchrea." We do not know in what capacity she ministered, but we can be certain that she did not violate the restrictions imposed upon women in I Corinthians 14:34, or I Timothy 2:12. Again in Romans 15:25-28, Paul was "ministering" when he carried the contribution from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia to "the poor among the saints" at Jerusalem. In this he was engaged in a ministry other than "the ministry of the word." Paul furthermore made supplication on behalf of Onesiphorus, whom he declares, "ministered in Ephesus" in "many things." (2 Tim. 1:16-18).
It is in place to now consider that certain terms designating different groups of workers in the church have both general and special meaning as used in the New Testament. Let us notice first the word deacon which is not a translation but a transliteration of the Greek word diakonos. Of the 30 times this word appears in the Greek New Testament, according to Young's Analytical Concordance, it is translated servant 7 times, minister 20 times, and 3 times it is transliterated deacon. This transliteration is justified in view of Philippians 1:11 which makes it quite clear that a group existed in Philippi who were in a special sense denoted diakonos-"deacons." That such a group of servants or ministers were a part of God's plan for the churches is further shown in I Timothy 3:8-13, where the Holy Spirit set forth the qualifications required in them.
The Greek word presbuteros which is translated elder in our English Bibles is also used in both a general and special sense. Again, consulting Young's Concordance, we learn that of the 67 times it appears in the Greek New Testament, it is: as an adjective, translated elder twice, and eldest once. As a noun, it is translated elder 62 times, elder woman once, and old man once. But its use in a special sense is abundantly shown in numerous passages of scripture. When Paul and Barnabas were returning from their first missionary journey they visited the various places where they had preached and "appointed for them elders in every church" (Acts 14:23). Other passages showing the existence of such special groups are the following: Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 21:8; 1 Tim. 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1. In addition to these, their qualifications and work are set forth in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
It needs also to be noted that the terms elders and bishops were synonymous in their designations. This is plainly set forth in Acts, 20th chapter. The record says that from Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus and summoned the "elders" of the church (v. 17). He charged them to be watchful over the flock-the church -over which they had been made "bishops" (overseers-AV) (V. 28).
It is likewise true that the term minister was also used in a special sense with reference to gospel preachers. This is seen in the following passages: In Acts 6, the seven were chosen to "serve tables" - "minister to tables" (Footnote, ASV), that the apostles might "continue stedfastly . . . in the ministry of the word." Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he and Apollos were "ministers" through whom they had believed. He also recounted to the brethren at Jerusalem the things that "God had wrought among the Gentiles through his ministry" (Acts 21:19). To the elders of the Ephesian church, Paul declared his determination to pursue to the end "the ministry" which Jesus had given him, "to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). Paul specifically defined his ministry when he wrote: "I was appointed a preacher and an apostle . . . a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth" "I Tim. 2:7). Paul declared Timothy to be "God's minister in the gospel of Christ" (I Thess. 3:2). He also enjoined him to be "a good minister of Christ Jesus" (I Tim. 4:6), and to fulfill his "ministry" (2 Tim. 4:5).
The objections therefore which we raise to having preachers tagged is not that we deny they are ministers, but that they are the ministers. We are critical of any tendency to exalt or honor them above the elders, deacons, and other godly men and women who are also busily ministering in the Lord's work. If such a practice would not develop class-distinction in the church, then I fail to see how such could be done. If we must tag the preachers, then why not tag the elders, deacons, etc.
And furthermore, if we are going to distinguish "Our Ministers" with markers for their automobiles, why stop there? It may be that there are faithful gospel preachers who for some reason do not drive automobiles. Perhaps someone should design and produce an attractive lapel-pin inscribed "Minister." To brethren who have "CLERGY" tags on their cars, we might suggest that they adopt the "Roman Collar" or some other distinguishing item or style of clothing so that they can be identified as they move among the "laity," on the streets and in the shops of the community. And then, it may be that their literary contact with people ought to be considered, so, why not adopt a title of distinction such as Pastor or Reverend so that folk can readily recognize whom and what they are? If denominational badges of distinction are to be worn, then why "settle for a half a loaf ?"
Seriously brethren, once we embark upon such a course, where is the stopping place ? Surely the only safe and scriptural ground is to refuse to accept or promote any badges of distinction among us. Let's not forget that the way of the world is a way of pride, arrogance and ostentation, but the way of Christ is humility and self-abasement. Let us remember the words of Paul: "I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but so to think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith . . . In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one toward another; in honor preferring one another" (Rom. 12:3, 10). Let us be guided by the instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ as given to His disciples: "Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your teacher, and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father on the earth: for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, even the Christ. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall he humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matt. 23:8-12).
Truth Magazine, III:11, pp. 1, 23-24