By Bruce Edwards, Jr.
I wonder if anybody else is as tired of hearing about “ministries” as I am. For the past few years one could hardly pick up a “brotherhood” paper or bulletin without reading about some kind of “bus ministry,” “bookstore ministry,” “tract ministry” and on and on. This is of course true only to a limited extent with regard to conservative brethren; it has become an established trait, however, among institutional brethren. It is not hard to trace the source of this sudden invasion of “ministry” terminology: it has been drafted from the nomenclature of the modern denominational world along with such other sub-Scriptural lingo as “devotional,” “chapel,” and “witnessing.” Brethren have appropriated “ministry” as a ready-made suffix to give their various projects a self-consciously pious tone.
Contemporary trends notwithstanding, when the Scriptures speak of a “ministry” they have in mind: (1) the specific “ministry” of the apostles (Cf. Acts 1:17; 2 Cor. 4:1); (2) a specific “ministry” to be performed such as the care of the needy and indigent (Cf. Acts 6:4; 12:25; 1 Cor. 16:15; 2 Tim. 4:11); or (3) the general responsibility or “ministry” of all to teach the gospel (Cf. Col, 4:17; 2 Tim. 4:5). The basic meaning inherent in the Biblical use of the word “ministry” is that of serving and serving primarily-not other saints (though that is an obvious by-product)-but the Lord.
But the taking on of “ministry” to one’s activity has become popular of late; it gives an otherwise mundane and ordinary task a certain superficial profundity. It is a term that appeals to man’s pride-it is a term that the “natural man” can appreciate. After all, you must admit it has a flair to it! Many are thus fond of inventing to themselves terminologies that promote themselves and their brainchildren-at the expense of Jesus and His word.
But perhaps even more distressing is the widespread disposition to call preachers by the ostentatious “title” of “minister.” I have been alarmed by the sudden proliferation of articles asking the question, “Why do preachers quit the ministry?” I did not even know that we had a “clergy” to worry about! We have good men who have become obsessed with the appellation, “Minister of the church of Christ,” broadcast to the world on their stationery, bulletins and calling cards. But pray tell, where do New Testament evangelists ever refer to themselves as “ministers” of anything but Christ or His word? Certainly, I would agree, these men “served” or “ministered to” various churches, but they resolutely resisted any temptation to exalt themselves above their brethren with any stuffy titles or self conscious claims to superiority (see Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 1-4). No doubt if Paul and Timothy had been like some of us they would have addressed their letter to the Philippians, “Paul and Timothy, ministers of the church of Christ to the Philippi Church of Christ.”
But some will protest, you are just “disputing about words to no profit.” I think not. Our speech betrays the bent in our thinking; there is a decided clerical ring to the vocabulary among us which emphasizes the denominational drift that has made inroads into the Lord’s body. When churches or individuals go out of their way, beyond Scriptural boundaries, to elevate themselves or their activities through the use of contrived, self-centered vernacular, the fatal step to sectarianism has been taken. Clearly, the emphases of many are on the “Church of Christ” as a denominational body rather than on Christ and the gospel. It is no wonder we hear “brethren” speaking in terms of “belonging to the church of Christ” instead of Christ; or of doing something because “the church of Christ teaches it;” or of exhorting someone to “become a member of the church,” instead of submitting one’s will to Christ.
“New Testament Christianity” will not be “restored” until we clean up our vocabularies. Then perhaps we can get down to the very real business of saving souls-without all the promotional gimmicks and egotistical fanfare that accompany them. It would be good for us to reflect upon the memorable words of Harris J. Dark spoken during the Florida College Lectureship of 1955:
“Remember that the church of Christ is a group of people. It Is true that they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. I admit that I am prejudiced In their favor, but after all is said and done, the church Is still composed of human beings. Whatever is said of the church is said of a group of people. This group of people does not constitute a standard of authority. Having been unconsciously influenced by the Catholic concept, Christians sometimes use the expression `the church of Christ teaches’ when they should say ‘Christ teaches.’
“Occasionally someone undertakes to set forth ‘the distinctive plea of the church of Christ: As long as the church follows the Bible, its most unique characteristic among religious groups is that it does not have a plea. The plea-the doctrine-came from Christ, not from the church.
“Many years ago when just a boy preacher, I undertook to write a tract on the topic ‘Our Plea.’ The more I considered the term ‘our,’ whom it included, what right we had to a plea, and what authority or merit our plea would have even if it existed the more I became discouraged. Finally, I decided it would be better to write on ‘God’s plea.’ Let us speak of the plea of Christ, the doctrine of Christ, but not the doctrine or plea of a group of people” (Ancient Faith in Conflict, pp. 33, 34).
In the midst of a flood of sectarian jargon, bro. Dark’s words flow like the breeze of a fresh spring wind. Can we all truly affirm as Paul, “For neither at any time were we found using words of flattery, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness, God is witness; nor seeking the glory of men, neither from you or others. . .” (1 Thess. 2:5, 6)?
Truth Magazine XIX: 48, p. 763
October 16, 1975