I’m still learning new things about my Reformed heritage. Most of the time, these new discoveries are edifying and serve to confirm my conviction that the Reformed tradition usually has it right. Occasionally, however, I run across a strand of Reformed teaching that doesn’t resonate well with my general knowledge of the Bible’s teaching. In some of these cases, I’m prompted to do further investigation that reveals a flaw or imbalance in my own thinking. In other cases, I can’t get a particular strand of Reformed thought to fit with the contours of Scripture. The doctrine and practice of infant baptism is a case in point.
I’ve recently stumbled across another strand of thought associated with my Reformed heritage that appears out of balance with the data of Scripture. The strand of thought I have in view is difficult to define. It’s more of a propensity than a clearly defined position. The best way I can think to describe it is a tendency to overemphasize the importance of the ministry of the ordained man and to underemphasize the importance of the ministry of the layman. It’s a penchant for defining the life and ministry of a local church more narrowly in terms of what happens in the pulpit on Sundays rather than more broadly in terms of what happens in the pulpit, pew, and outside the church all seven days of the week.
How did I run across this strand of Reformed perspective? Several months ago I posted a question on the Puritan Board (PB), an Internet discussion forum for pastors and laymen who hold to one of the Reformed creeds. I raised the question whether the Reformed Confessions adequately affirm the church’s duty of evangelistic and missionary outreach.1 Some answered by pointing to the Westminster Directory for Worship, which commends public prayers for “the propagation of the gospel and kingdom of Christ to all nations.” Others provided references to Puritan sermons on evangelism. One brother suggested that since evangelism and missions is something we “do” whereas creeds are primarily concerned with what we “believe,” we shouldn’t be surprised if there’s little creedal affirmation regarding evangelism and missions in the Reformed symbols. Most often, however, the answer I received was that creedal expressions like “the ministry of the Word” (WCF 10.3, 4; 14.1; WLC 68; 159), “the preaching of the Word” (WCF 7.6; WLC 35, 155; WSC 89), or “the administration of the Word (WCF 23.3) served as adequate affirmations of the church’s responsibility to proclaim the gospel to its own Jerusalem and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
These responses to my question were not entirely satisfying. I suspected that the phrases cited above had a more narrow reference to the pulpit ministry performed by the ordained minister. My suspicions were confirmed when one brother plainly asserted, “I don’t think every Christian is the one ‘who is sent’ according to Romans 10.” A Reformed Baptist pastor followed up and expanded on this remark:
I believe most of us are all settled on the role of the preacher in declaring the gospel. I doubt many on the PB will argue against missionaries proclaiming the gospel. But how about the individual pew sitter? Is there a biblical mandate for them to witness or share the gospel? Is one needed? If I am honest to scripture, I have to admit that I cannot find one inference that commands individuals to preach the gospel.
Then a Presbyterian minister joined the discussion and confirmed this perspective by citing the WCF 8.8, which refers to God’s effectual call via “his Word and Spirit,” and by asserting:
Presbyterian theology is primarily concerned with asserting the crown rights of the Redeemer, not with meeting human needs. The Presbyterian church has never been preoccupied with “reaching the unsaved,” but with the faithful administration of Word and sacraments.
Not only did I disagree with the dichotomy drawn between “asserting the crown rights of the Redeemer” and “meeting human needs,”2 but I also was uncomfortable with this tendency to limit the work of evangelism to the pulpit ministry of the ordained man. When I pressed this brother whether the layperson had the privilege and responsibility to evangelize, he pointed to the believers in Philippi and noted that they prayed for Paul, supported Paul financially, and sought to cultivate a godly lifestyle. He even conceded that they might speak “about the things which are believed and practiced.” However, he went on to stress, “This is not preaching the gospel.” Rather, he averred, “We might call it sharing one’s faith; but evangelism, in the NT sense of the word, is the official proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, commanding sinners to repent of their sins and believe upon Him for the salvation of their souls.”
Hmm. Speaking about “things believed and practiced” and “sharing one’s faith” is not “preaching the gospel”? Not “evangelism, in the NT sense of the word”? Doesn’t count as “official” proclamation? Doesn’t include “commanding sinners to repent of their sins and believe upon [Christ] for the salvation of their souls”? And does Romans 10:14-17, which identifies special revelation as the means of grace for saving faith (see WCF 14.1; LBCF 14.1), restrict the gospel’s proclamation to the ordained minister? True, the ordained minister is one of the vital links in the “Romans 10 chain” that gets the gospel to the unreached. But should we conclude that Paul’s list of links is exhaustive? After all, he failed to mention the church praying for laborers (Matt. 9:37-38) and preparing laborers (2 Tim. 2:2). If the reader should assume those links as part of the chain on the basis of other texts of Scripture, why not assume another link in the chain, namely, that the commissioned minister will, in turn, “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12),3 which would include evangelism?
Perhaps it’s just a matter of semantics, I thought. Maybe I’m reading too much into their comments. So I decided I’d do a little more investigation. I picked up a book off my shelf entitled With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship, written by Darryl Hart and John Muether, two Reformed scholars, and turned to the section that identifies the agent(s) responsible for carrying out the Great Commission. The authors rightly note, “The Great Commission is the task of the church.”4 But then they narrow the church’s agency vis-à-vis the Great Commission “to the ministers of the Word.” Since it is the officers of the church who administer the “baptism” of the Great Commission, we must also confine the ordinances of making disciples and teaching to the ordained ministers.5 In fact, these writers draw a parallel between the activities of the Great Commission and the three marks of a true church highlighted in the Belgic Confession, Article 29:
Discipling, teaching, and baptizing—together, these elements of the Great Commission describe what the Reformers understood to be the marks of the true church: the preaching of the Word (‘teaching … all that I commanded you’), the administration of the sacraments (‘baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’), and the exercise of discipline (‘make disciples’). The Great Commission, then, is a description of the true church fulfilling her mandate.6
Wow! This was a new paradigm for me. Not only did these writers seem intent on limiting the task of making and grounding disciples in the faith to the agency of the ordained minister, but they also seemed to narrow its sphere (at least primarily) to what takes place on Sunday within the four walls of a church building. My hunch was confirmed when I turned the page and read an injunction to trust that “[God] will make the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments effectual to salvation” and to believe that “he will supply the officers of his church with all that is necessary for them to carry out this work.” The authors conclude, “It is the church, and specifically the church at worship that fulfills the Great Commission” (emphasis theirs).7
It’s not that I have problems with the authors’ focus on the church. I agree that the task of the Great Commission ultimately belongs to the church, not to para-church organizations. Nevertheless, I struggle with their tendency to narrow the task’s sphere (corporate worship) and its agents (the ordained minister). Although there may be an etymological relation between the English terminology “making disciples” and “discipline,” the two concepts are not semantically synonymous. “Making disciples” (Greek: μαρτυρέω) is a much broader concept semantically than ecclesiastical discipline (whether formative or corrective). To state it differently, making disciples entails evangelism, which, in turn, results (with the blessing of God) in “adding” disciples to the church. How does “church discipline” add members to the church?8 Of course, Hart and Muether don’t actually limit evangelism to church discipline. They also include “the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments” as “effectual means of salvation.” But doesn’t this still limit evangelism primarily to what takes place in the pulpit on Sunday?
Maybe not. That would seem to contradict what they had said earlier, namely, “We [i.e., the church] must proclaim the gospel to the lost and desire that converts come to Christ. But,” they add, “that is not the only function of the church, and certainly not the focus of its worship.”9 In other words, “Evangelism,” they write, “is only part of the commission Christ gave to his church.”10 And to make their position more clear: “Worship, then, is not chiefly about evangelism.”11
I paused to put this all together. The church at worship primarily fulfills the Great Commission on Sunday. Moreover, God is pleased to save souls through the ordained minister who preaches Word, dispenses the sacraments, and administers church discipline. But evangelism, an essential part of “making disciples,” is not to be the focus of worship on Sunday. Something doesn’t fit. It seemed to me that these Reformed authors largely confine the Great Commission to Sunday worship, minimize the task of evangelism in this context, and confine its agency to the ordained minister. What about evangelism outside of worship? What about the layman’s role in evangelism?
I thought again of Ephesians 4:11-12, which speaks of Christ giving to the church “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” After a look at the index, I was happy to discover that the authors devote two full pages to this text. My countenance fell, however, when I read their interpretation. They adopt the older interpretation that limits the ministries envisioned in verse 12 to the ordained man and reject the more common interpretation as
an every-member-ministry construction of Pauline teaching that diminishes the specialness of pastors’ chief duties by elevating to the status of ministry all the service of encouragement and edification that believers quite appropriately offer to each other.12
Hart and Muether don’t offer much of an exegetical argument. But they direct the reader to an article by T. David Gordon entitled, “‘Equipping’ Ministry in Ephesians 4.” Gordon finds the majority view, reflected in most modern Bible translations and commentaries, as grammatically, contextually, and canonically (NT) indefensible. He attributes the view that sees pastors as equipping saints for works of ministry “to the egalitarian, anti-authoritarian, populist Zeitgeist [i.e., ‘spirit of the time’].”13 Most readers won’t want to be associated with such contemptuous epithets. So they’ll have no other choice but to reject the view that is inclusive of lay-ministry and to embrace the view that’s exclusively clerical.
I found the same kind of name-calling scare tactic in the Hart and Muether book. According to them, those who include the laity in the task of the Great Commission are unduly influenced by “North American democratic and egalitarian culture.”14 Similarly, one of Darryl Hart’s colleagues, R. Scott Clark, rejects “the ‘every member’ model” as having “a lot more to do with democratic populism than it does with the biblical view of the church.”15 Clark opines, “There’s not a lot of evidence in the NT that unordained Christians did much ‘evangelism.’ This is the Achilles’ Heel of modern, populist, democratic, egalitarian evangelicalism.”16
Despite the credentials of these Reformed scholars, I find their tendency to overemphasize the importance of the ordained man and to underemphasize the importance of the layman imbalanced, to say the least. At worst, it’s unhealthy for the Christian church. I’ll refrain from associating their views with papism, fascism, and an aristocratic Zeitgeist. Instead, I’ll offer biblical arguments in favor of lay-ministry (below) and in favor of lay-evangelism in a followup article (click here). My aim in these articles is not to denigrate the role of the ordained man and the pulpit ministry. I hope, rather, to counter what I perceive to be an unhealthy tendency in some Reformed circles to downplay the importance of lay-ministry and lay-evangelism inside and outside the four walls of the sanctuary. In a word, I’d like to give proper due to the people in the pew.
Before I launch into a defense of lay-ministry, I’ll need to define some terms. By “ministry” I have in view the basic idea conveyed by the Greek word διακονία, namely, the rendering of assistance, help, and/or service to others.17 For example, Paul requests that Timothy “get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry [εἰς διακονίαν]” (2 Tim. 4:11). We’re not informed of the particular nature of the service Paul desired of Mark. But the basic idea of attending to Paul’s needs is in view. The verbal form, διακονέω, is used Matthew 20:28 where Jesus declares, “The Son of Man came not to be served [διακονηθῆναι] but to serve [διακονῆσαι].” Note how grammatical and contextual considerations circumscribe the nature of this “ministry.” Jesus’ “service” consisted in his redemptive work on behalf of sinners. Elsewhere, the Scriptures speak of “the ministry to the saints [τῆς διακονίας τῆς εἰς τοὺς ἁγίους]” (2 Cor. 9:1), meaning financial assistance some Christians voluntarily offer to others (cf. 2 Cor. 9:12). In Acts 6:1, we read of “the daily ministration [τῇ διακονίᾳ τῇ καθημερινῇ]” (KJV), a reference to the regular provision of food to needy saints. The apostles direct the congregation to assign certain individuals to administrate this service-oriented task so that the apostles, may give themselves to prayer and “the ministry of the word [τῇ διακονίᾳ τοῦ λόγου]” (Acts 6:4). Here, the genitive “of the word” defines the nature of the service: the apostles were to assist and help the congregation by means of teaching and preaching God’s word.
Not surprisingly, the noun διακονίαis also used to denote a commissioned task. Acts 1:25 speaks of “this ministry and apostleship [τῆς διακονίας ταύτης καὶ ἀποστολῆς],” a hendiadys meaning “apostolic ministry” (NIV). Accordingly, the role of apostles and their helpers is often spoken of as a “ministry” (Acts 1:17; 1:25; 20:24; 21:19; Rom. 11:13; 2 Cor. 4:1; 6:3; Col. 4:17; 2 Tim. 4:5). This task-oriented meaning of “ministry” is also assigned to men who serve the church not as official teachers or church planters but as official “servants” or διακόνοι, often translated “deacons” (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 10, 12, 13) whose task resembles that of the men selected in Acts 6 for the “daily ministration” (KJV). To summarize, “ministry” refers to some form of assistance, help, and/or service, the nature of which is usually defined by the context. The fact that the nature of this service takes different forms reminds us that the actual terminology (διακονία, διακονέω) need not be employed for the concept to be present. Preaching the word, feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, etc., are all forms of “ministry.” Obviously, within the context of the NT, the term is used primarily for service rendered by believers to others in need on behalf of Christ and his church. Finally, as noted above, “the ministry” of some took on a specialized and/or official nature. An apostle could speak of his task as “the ministry that [he had] received from the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:24). Similarly, certain individuals within the church were set-aside as “deacons” to assist the church leaders in caring for the temporal needs of others (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13).
To ascertain whether Christ authorizes laypeople to engage in the kinds of ministry outlined above, we must now define “layperson.” Few English translations of the Bible employ the terms “layman,” lay person,” or “laity.” I found a few instances in the NAS or ESV where these terms are used to translate the Hebrew זר (zär) which normally means “stranger” or “foreigner” but which can refer, in certain contexts, to anyone outside the priesthood or Levitical order (Exod. 30:33; Lev. 22:10, 12; Num. 1:51). This usage corresponds to the common meaning behind the English terminology. Broadly, it can refer to anyone outside a given profession or guild. One without medical training is a “layman” vis-à-vis the medical field. Traditionally, though, the term is commonly used to distinguish the non-clergy, i.e., the “ordinary” church member, from the clergy, i.e., the bishop, pastor, or elder. As we noted above, the NT does identify a class of individuals who are set aside or commissioned for the task of “the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Nevertheless, we should not view the two groups, the laity and the clergy, as two juxtaposed entities within the church. Rather, we should view the clergy as a kind of subgroup. That is, all believers are called to be followers of Jesus Christ and active members in his church. From this larger group of disciples, those endowed with extraordinary gifts of utterance and administrative capacity and who exhibit mature Christian character are qualified to serve the more specialized task of the public teaching and managing of the flock. To them is granted an “official” or, better, office-related, “ministry” not extended to the others.
Lay-Ministry by Deed
Do the “others,” that is, the laypeople have a ministry in the church? In our limited survey of the “ministry” vocabulary, non-clergy are included. The act of believers offering financial or material assistance to other needy believers is termed “the ministry [τῆς διακονίας] to the saints” (2 Cor. 9:1; cf. 9:12). Other examples of financial or material aid extended by saints to saints and to those outside the church also qualify as “ministry” though the precise terminology isn’t used (see Matt. 25:36; Luke 8:1-3; Acts 2:44-45; 4:23-37; 9:36, 39; 10:31; Rom. 15:25-26; 1 Cor. 8:1-9, 15; 16:1-3; Gal. 6:6-10; 1 Tim. 5:11; 6:18; James 2:14-17; 1 John 3:16-17). The provision of food to the hungry is called “ministry [διακονίᾳ]” (Acts 6:1), and this is a role laypeople may fulfill (Matt. 15:32-38; 25:35, 37, 40; Mark 8:2-9; Rom. 12:20; James 2:14-17). Indeed, it’s not just the pastor’s duty (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8) but also the layman’s privilege to “show hospitality” (Matt. 25:35; Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 5:10; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9), which is a form of ministry. Notable is the reference to certain women who accompanied Jesus and “ministered to him [διηκόνουν αὐτῷ]” in various ways (Mark 15:40-41; cf. Luke 7:36; 8:1-3; 10:40; John 12:2-3). The example of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) certainly devolves upon every believer and can be appropriately termed “ministry.” Many of the acts of kindness referenced above qualify as “good works” (see John 10:32), a virtue concerning which the laity are frequently enjoined and commended (Matt. 5:16; Acts 9:36; 2 Cor. 9:8-9; Eph. 2:10; 1 Tim. 2:10; 5:10, 25; 6:17-18; Tit. 2:14; 3:8, 14; Heb. 10:24).
Lay-Ministry by Word
Is lay-ministry limited to deed? May laypeople also minister to one another and to those outside the church via word? One passage that may shed light on this question is 1 Peter 4:10-11 where we read,
As each has received a gift, use it to serve [διακονοῦντες] one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks [λαλεῖ], as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves [διακονεῖ], as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
The reader should note the juxtaposition of speaking with serving, both of which are described as “gifts” for service to the saints. Some commentators believe Peter’s making special reference to office bearers. The “one who speaks” is the pastor-teacher; the “one who serves” is probably the deacon.18 But there’s no indication in the context that Peter’s limiting his remarks to church officers. For this reason, The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith uses this passage as a proof text to support “lay-preaching” (26.11). Commenting on the Confession, Sam Waldron notes,
The prohibition of preaching by non-ministers is usually associated with an unbiblical distinction between ministers and elders. There is, however, no precept forbidding any Christian to preach the gospel as he may have opportunity. There are examples of Christians preaching the Word who were not ordained elders (Acts 8:5; 11:19-21; 1 Peter 4:10). There are precepts and principles which require him to avoid pride and to submit to the church and its overseers in the estimate and exercise of his gifts (Rom. 12:3; Heb. 13:17).19
NT scholar D. Edmond Hiebert also reads Peter’s remarks as inclusive of gifted laymen and extends the purview beyond the stated meetings of the church:
No limitations concerning the speaker are indicated; the one speaking is not necessarily an official, but may be an individual member…. Although primarily speaking in the assembly is in view, the verb is broad enough to include speaking outside a church meeting, such as ministering to the sick, or even private conversation.20
This more inclusive reading of 1 Peter 4:10-11 finds corroboration in other NT texts. Take, for example, Paul’s instruction to the church in Rome. In chapter 12, the apostle exhorts each church member to assess the graces and gifts with which God has endowed him (v. 3). Then he identifies several kinds of gifts, some ministry oriented (service, giving, acts of mercy) and some communication oriented (prophecy, teaching, exhortation). There’s no hint in the context that the communicative gifts are limited to office-bearers.21 In fact, Paul goes on to assure his readers in the same epistle, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another” (15:14). Saints may instruct or admonish other saints. Elsewhere, Paul addresses the church’s corporate worship and writes, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26). Once again, nothing in the context constrains us to identify the communicators of biblical truth here as office-bearers. Non-clergy may address the congregation via song, teaching, revelation, or a foreign language prophecy accompanied by an interpretation. While the revelatory modes of communication may have ceased, the principle behind the text has not evaporated. Multiple participation (including the laity) for mutual edification may still inform worship services today. Isn’t this also the burden of Colossians 3:16, which reads, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God”? Not just clergy but laypeople “teaching and admonishing” laypeople! And these aren’t the only passages supporting a word-based ministry (see also 1 Thess. 5:11, 14; Tit. 2:3-4; Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25).
Of course, I’m familiar with the argument that lay-people aren’t sufficiently equipped to minister God’s word to others. In favor of limiting the proclamation of God’s word to the ordained man, Hart and Muether note that people look to experts when they need a service. “How many automobile owners,” they query,
would take their vehicle to a repair shop in which dentists and bakers performed the tune-ups and replaced the timing belts? The obvious answer is that today’s Christians tolerate a high degree of hierarchical expertise when it comes to any number of society’s functions, but refuse to do so when it comes to religious matters.22
Good point. For this reason, those responsible for the bulk of public ministry in a church should be qualified pastor and teachers who are set aside to “labor in word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17; cf. Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:9). But Hart and Muether’s illustration breaks down at one important level: it assumes the dentists and bakers have had little or no training in auto-mechanics. The same cannot be said of many laypeople who have attended churches where the Scriptures have been faithfully expounded for many years. Indeed, some Reformed ministers boast that their people know more Bible than the average evangelical preacher in town. If that’s so, shouldn’t we pastors long to see our sheep develop the ability to articulate their biblical knowledge to others? Granted, issues of spiritual maturity and communicative ability have to be considered. But such considerations did not stop the author of Hebrews from longing and laboring to the end that those to whom he wrote might become “teachers” (5:12-14), not as office-bearers but simply as laypeople entrusted with the treasure of gospel truth.23
Equipping the Saints for Ministry
That brings us to the all-important passage in Ephesians 4. Verses 11 and 12 are the point of focus: “and [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” As translated in the ESV, the preaching and teaching gift of office bearers has a proximate aim followed by two consequent aims. The proximate aim, introduced by the Greek preposition πρὸς, is “to equip the saints.” The two consequent goals, introduced by the Greek preposition εἰς, are to be the result of equipped saints: “the work of ministry [ἔργον διακονίας],” which in turn results in “building up the body of Christ [οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ].” The subordinate relationship of the key phrases in verses 11 and 12 can be diagramed as follows:
Καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν … τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους,
And [Christ] gave … pastors and teachers
πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν τῶν ἁγίων
Unto the preparation of the saints
εἰς ἔργον διακονίας,
For work of ministry
εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ,
For edification of Christ’s body
This interpretation of the syntax, with slight variations, is supported in the punctuation of the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland NT Greek text, the 4th edition of the United Bible Societies’ NT Greek text, nearly all modern English translations (RSV, NAS, NAB, NIV, NET, NRSV, NLT, ESV, CSB), and most commentaries.24
Despite the strong support for this reading, some scholars favor the older interpretation reflected in the Authorized Version, which renders the three prepositional clauses in verse 12 as strictly coordinate and relates them to the task of office-bearers. In this case, the “work of ministry” belongs not to the saints but to the pastors and teachers. Arguments for this “clerical” reading include the following: (1) the Greek word translated “to equip” in the ESV (καταρτισμός) is better rendered “to perfect” or “to constitute”; (2) the prepositions πρὸς and εἰς are sometimes used synonymously and coordinately (Rom. 15:2; Philemon 5); (3) when used in juxtaposition with “work” (ἔργον), the term “ministry” (διακονία) refers “to the more specific work of ministering the Word of God” (2 Tim. 4:5); (4) the NT elsewhere distinguishes “the task of ministering the Word of God from other, more general duties that all Christians share.”25
We may rebut these arguments by noting the following: first, while the Greek noun καταρτισμός and its corresponding verb καταρτίζω may denote the idea of “completeness” or “restoration,” they may also denote the idea of bringing something or someone to a state of adequacy to fulfill a purpose.26 For example, Jesus declares, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained [κατηρτισμένος] will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). The author of Hebrews prays that God might “equip [καταρτίσαι] [his readers] with everything good that [they] may do his will” (13:20-21). Even when the term is used to refer to the ideas of “completeness,” “wholeness,” or “restoration,” there’s often a functional aim in view. Hence, the disciples were “mending [καταρτίζοντας] their nets” (Matt. 4:21; Mark 1:19) in order to restore them to a state of functionality (cf. Gal. 6:1). We don’t deny that Christ has given the pastor and teacher to bring the saints to a state of “completeness” or “maturity.” We demur, however, with the idea that the Christian’s maturity is an end-in-itself in Ephesians 4:12. We believe, rather, he’s being conformed to Christ’s image through the ministry of the pastor and teacher so that he might walk in his Master’s steps, who came not to be served but to serve!
Second, we don’t deny that the prepositions πρὸς and εἰς are sometimes used synonymously and coordinately. But there are also times when the contiguous use of πρὸς and εἰς is neither synonymous nor coordinate. There are, in fact, other occasions when Paul employs πρὸς as indicating the proximate goal and εἰς as the more ultimate goal. In Romans 3:26, Paul highlights both a proximate and an ultimate goal of the atonement: “It was to the proximate end [πρὸς] of demonstrating his righteousness at the present time, unto the ultimate end that [εἰς] he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (author’s translation; cf. Rom. 10:1; Heb. 2:17). Of course, one shouldn’t rest too much weight on the shift from one preposition to another. Taken in isolation from the context, the prepositions in Ephesians 4:12 might be synonymous and coordinate. But that leads us to inquire whether the context favors one reading over the other.
I believe it does. Ephesians 4:11-12 is part of a larger pericope. The gift of clergy (v. 11) is but part of a larger gift addressed in verse 7: “To each one of us [Ἐνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν] was grace given but grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (author’s translation). In keeping with his other discussions about spiritual gifts, Paul makes clear that Christ through his Spirit has endowed each believer with the grace to fulfill his or her role in the body (see Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:7). We should expect, therefore, that the subsequent context would highlight not simply the gifts of a clerical few but the gifts of all God’s people, which contribute to the edification process. And we are not disappointed. The pericope ends with verses 15 and 16:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (emphasis added).
So the “building up of the body” referenced in verse 12 is here accomplished “when each part is working properly.” Notably, the phrase “working properly” translates the Greek noun ἐνέργειαν, which is related to the noun translated “work” (ἔργον) in verse 12. These facts, together with the implications of verse 7, force Andrew Lincoln, a defender of the “clerical view,” to concede “an active role for all believers” though he insists that “the work of ministry” in verse 12 belongs to the clergy. In other words, much as some of the clergy-proponents would like the saints to “sit still,” Paul won’t have it! No matter how one slices the exegetical pie, the saints get a piece of the “action” and that action, whether “speaking the truth in love” or “mak[ing] the body grow,” may be appropriately termed “ministry.”
That brings us, thirdly, to the argument that the contiguous use of “work” (ἔργον) and “ministry” (διακονία) must refer “to the more specific work of ministering the Word of God.” Three rejoinders are in order. To begin with, the premise itself is tenuous. The fact that these two precise nouns are only used one other place and there refer to the clerical ministry (2 Tim. 4:5) can only be suggestive, not determinative. We have just noted that the term related to “work” in verse 12 is used in verse 16 and tied to the term “building” (οἰκοδομὴν) found in both verses. So if verse 16 speaks of the church being built via the work of every member, why can’t verse 12 entail a similar idea? What is more, the “work” and “ministry” family of terms do occur in a context where it is the people of God as a whole, not just clergy, who are in view. The author of Hebrews comforts his persecuted audience with the following thought: “for God is not unjust so as to overlook your work [τοῦ ἔργου ὑμῶν] and the love that you have shown for his name in serving [διακονοῦντες] the saints, as you still do” (6:10). Finally, the reader should note that in almost every circumstance where “ministry” refers specifically to an office-related work, it occurs as a definite noun, with an article, possessive pronoun, demonstrative pronoun, or a combination (see Acts 1:17; 1:25; 20:24; 21:19; Rom. 11:13; 2 Cor. 4:1; 6:3; Col. 4:17; 2 Tim. 4:5;). So unlike 2 Timothy 4:5, where Paul exhorts Timothy to engage in “the ministry [τὴν διακονίαν],” Ephesians 4:12 leaves both nouns anarthrous or indefinite, “work of ministry [ἔργον διακονίας].” These considerations conspire to favor a non-clerical reading of ministry in 4:12.
Fourth, Gordon marshals six lines of NT evidence supporting a distinction between the clergy and laity. While the data Gordon assembles might serve a different discussion, they’re irrelevant to the interpretation of Ephesians 4:11-12. All sides acknowledge that the Bible distinguishes between clergy and laity. The point of debate is what tasks are assigned to whom. Do the clergy (v. 11) perform all the work envisioned in verse 12? Or do they “equip” the saints to join them in the task of building the church (v. 12)? The fact that other NT data distinguish between clergy and laity misses the crux of the debate and is, therefore, a classic example of non sequitur reasoning. I find it passing strange that Gordon expends such energy in gathering NT evidence in favor of a distinction between clergy and laity but virtually ignores the NT evidence I’ve summarized above in support of lay-ministry. More surprising, Gordon even suggests that those of us who don’t accept his reading are motivated by an “egalitarian, anti-authoritarian, populist Zeitgeist.27 I’d like to think we’re being prompted by ein Beröageist [“a Berean spirit”] in our reading of Scripture.
R. Scott Clark raises and answers that question negatively. “The ‘every member ministry’ model hangs by a very thin biblical reed. It depends upon how one reads Eph 4:11-12.” According to Clark, “we have extensive revelation about the special offices and precious little about so-called ‘every member’ ministry.” This doesn’t mean Clark construes the laity’s role as purely passive. It means, “strictly speaking, ministry is what ministers do.” He concludes, “Not everyone in the congregation is a ‘minister’ and frankly, that should be a relief.”28
Some may think this is just a debate about semantics. After all, men like Clark would probably approve of laypeople engaging in deeds of kindness and exchanging mutual exhortation. Though he’s willing to permit laypeople to bear “witness to the faith” (what’s revealed in the Word and the Reformed symbols) and “witness to their faith,” he’s uncomfortable with calling that “evangelism.”29 On the other hand, pastors like myself distinguish between clergy and laity and acknowledge that not all laypeople are sufficiently gifted to teach the word publicly at the level and frequency of a trained pastor and teacher. We’re even willing to allow that the English term “ministry,” like the corresponding Greek word, may have a more technical meaning that denotes a specially assigned task or vocation and a less technical meaning that denotes a more general function of service assigned to all God’s people. Indeed, we’ll even speak of “the centrality of preaching,” thinking of the pulpit “ministry” as the hub around which the spokes and wheel of church “ministry” turn. Hence, we’re not denying or denigrating the strategic place of what Charles Bridges in his pastoral theology calls The Christian Ministry.30 But we’re simply trying to make room, in light of the biblical data, for “The Christian’s Ministry” too.
So it is about semantics, but it’s about more than mere semantics. The Bible itself refers to lay-activity offered to others on behalf of Christ as “ministry.” Paul commends to the church in Rome a laywoman by the name of Phoebe as “a minister [διάκονον] of the church at Cenchreae” (Rom. 16:1). It’s doubtful she was an office-bearer.31 But Paul wasn’t as linguistically stingy as some of our modern Reformed friends seem to be. I suggest we follow Paul and be no more precise than the Bible in its use of terminology. Moreover, the point of debate is one of “tendency.” In my reading of these writers, I see a tendency to overemphasize the importance of the ordained man’s ministry and to underemphasize the importance of the layman’s ministry. The solution to this clerical myopia is to open our eyes to all the NT teaches regarding ministry. In doing so, we’ll not become “levellers”; we’ll maintain a distinction between the clergy and laity. But we’ll also recognize that Jesus authorizes all his people to be ministers: “If anyone would be first,” says Christ, “he must be last of all and servant [διάκονος] of all” (Mark 9:35). As Jesus assumed the role of a “servant,” so must all who would follow in his steps. And as we serve one another and the world around us, we’ll be engaged in what the Bible calls “ministry.”
“Ministers All?” With the proper qualifications, “Yes!” It’s just that plain and simple.
[Note: this article was published in the Founders Journal 79 (Winter 2010): 6-21. It has been updated and reproduced here with permission.]
- “Do the Reformed Confessions Affirm the Duty of Evangelistic and Missionary Outreach?” which can be found on the Puritan Board: http://www.puritanboard.com/f71/do-reformed-confessions-affirm-duty-evangelistic-missionary-outreach-37503/. For more examples, see also the discussion under the thread, “The Pastor Only Should Evangelize”: http://www.puritanboard.com/f19/pastor-only-should-evangelize-29582/. [↩]
- Part of ‘asserting the crown rights of the Redeemer’ is doing what His word bids us do and walking in His steps. And since Jesus did not merely go about Palestine proclaiming ‘I’m the Promised Messiah’ but also healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, feeding the hungry, causing the lame to walk, etc., I think we’re on tenuous ground if we overlook, depreciate, or fail to imitate (without the miraculous elements of course) this facet of his ministry. In other words, I believe it is the duty of the church and every Christian to see the multitudes, be moved with compassion, and to meet human needs both temporal (when possible and appropriate) and eternal (by pointing them to Christ). [↩]
- All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise indicated. [↩]
- Worship with Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (P&R, 2002), 43. [↩]
- Ibid., 43, 105-112. [↩]
- Ibid., 47. [↩]
- Ibid., 48. [↩]
- Of course, the Paedo-baptist has a way to circumvent this difficulty. He can “add” to the church via procreation. This option is closed to the Baptist, however. [↩]
- Ibid., 45. [↩]
- Ibid., 48. [↩]
- Ibid., 133. [↩]
- Ibid., 111. [↩]
- Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37 (1994): 75. [↩]
- Worship with Reverence and Awe, 44. [↩]
- “Ministers All?”; accessed June 19, 2014 from the Internet: http://heidelblog.net/2013/06/ministers-all/. [↩]
- “Missional Monday: Should Evangelism Happen Only in the Church?”; accessed June 19, 2014 from the Internet: http://heidelblog.net/2008/02/missional-monday-should-evangelism-happen-only-in-the-church/. James Renihan also warns against the “every-member-ministry” view, calling it “the triumph of Plymouthism,” which, “in its worst application … obliterates any distinction between members of the church and promises a kind of egalitarianism. Churches become like huge shopping malls,” says Renihan, “full of stores with ‘Help Wanted’ signs. Choose your place, find a position, and do it! The work of ministry is yours to do.” “The Ministry and the Church, Part 1,” The Banner of Truth 491-492 (Aug-Sept 2004): 41. [↩]
- See Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd edition (United Bible Socities, 1988, 89), § 35.19 [p. 460]. [↩]
- John Calvin limits the speaking gift here to the pastoral office and includes the ministry gift as a function of the pastoral office. Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (reprint, Eerdmans, 1989), 12:305-06. John Brown thinks the text is referring to “the two offices of teaching and ministry,” but he allows that “the principle in the text reaches beyond the limits of the official station; it is applicable to every member of the Church.” Expository Discourses on the First Epistle of the Apostle Peter (reprint, The Sovereign Grace Book Club, 1958), 3:126-27. Albert Barnes confines the speaking gift to the office of pastor but extends the ministry gift to all believers. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament (reprint, Kregel, 1962), 1430-31. See also Robert Leighton, An Obedient Faith: An Exposition of 1st Peter (reprint, Calvary Press, 1995), 432-36. Edmund Clowney thinks the text is primarily addressing pastor-teachers and deacons. The Message of 1 Peter (IVP, 1988), 185-86. [↩]
- A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 2nd edition (Evangelical Press, 1995), 326-27. [↩]
- 1 Peter (Moody Press, 1992), 276. [↩]
- The similar list in 1 Corinthians 12:4-31 does include some gifts related to office-bearers (e.g., apostles, prophets, teachers). But laypeople are not excluded. [↩]
- With Reverence and Awe, 109. [↩]
- It’s important to note that the author of Hebrews doesn’t single out a select few from this audience whom he had hoped would have attained to the office of teacher by this time. Rather, he’s addressing his entire audience. Philip Hughes is correct to observe, “This should not be taken to mean that they ought all to be in official teaching positions in the church, but rather that they ought by now to be sufficiently advanced in their comprehension of Christian doctrine to be able to instruct and edify those who are still young in the faith.” A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Eerdmans, 1977), 190. [↩]
- Markus Barth, Ephesians: Translation and Commentary on Chapters 4-6, The Anchor Bible, ed. William Foxwell Albright (Doubleday & Co., 1960), 479-82; Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (United Bible Societies, 1982), 102; F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, NICNT, ed. F. F. Bruce (Eerdmans, 1984), 349, n. 77; G. B. Caird, Paul’s Letters from Prison: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Oxford University Press, 1976), 76; Ronald Y. K. Fung, “The Nature of Ministry according to Paul,” Evangelical Quarterly 54 (1982): 141; William Hendricksen, Exposition of Ephesians (Baker Book House, 1967), 198; Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker Academic, 2002), 547-51; Richard Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (Wartburg Press, 1937), 530; Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Letter to the Ephesians (Baker Books, 1994), 127; Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Eerdmans, 1999), 301-05; Robert L. Plummer, Paul’s Understanding of the Church’s Mission: Did the Apostle Paul Expect the Early Christian Communities to Evangelize? (Paternoster, 2006), 118-19; Edwin D. Roels, God’s Mission: The Epistle to the Ephesians in Mission Perspective (Eerdmans, 1962), 192-95; Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians in The NIV Study BIble, ed. Terry Muck (Zondervan, 1996), 204; John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (InterVarsity, 1991), 167-68; Brooke F. Westcott, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (reprint, Eerdmans, 1950), 63; A. Skevington Wood, “Ephesians,” in vol. of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 1978), 58. See also James Adams, Shepherding God’s Flock: A Handbook on Pastoral Ministry, Counseling, and Leadership (Zondervan, 1974, 75), 339-44. [↩]
- These are the primary arguments advanced by T. David Gordon in his article “‘Equipping’ Ministry in Ephesians 4?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37 (1994): 69-78. Gordon draws from arguments advanced by some earlier commentators as well as one modern commentator, Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, vol. 42 of The Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 253. Earlier commentators who favor the “clerical” view included John Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (reprint, Eerdmans, 1965), 11:180-81; John Owen, The Works of John Owen (reprint, Banner of Truth), 6:284-85; and Charles Hodge, The Epistle to the Ephesians (reprint, Banner of Truth, 1991), 162-65. To these one may add the more recent studies of John J. Davis, “Ephesians 4:12 Once More: ‘Equipping the Saints for the Work of Ministry?” Evangelical Review of Theology 24 (2000): 161-76; J. C. O’Neill, “‘The Work of the Ministry’ in Ephesians 4:12 and the New Testament,” Expository Times 112 (2001): 338-40; James M. Renihan, “The Ministry and the Church, Part 1,” The Banner of Truth 491-492 (Aug-Sept 2004): 37-45; Sydney H. T. Page, “Whose Ministry? A Re-appraisal of Ephesians 4.12,” Novum Testamentum 47.1 (2005): 26-46. [↩]
- Louw and Nida, § 75.5 [p. 680]. [↩]
- “‘Equipping’ Ministry in Ephesians 4?,” 77. [↩]
- “Ministers All?”; accessed on June 19, 2014 from the Internet: http://heidelblog.net/2013/06/ministers-all/. [↩]
- “Missional Monday: Should Evangelism Happen Only in the Church?”; accessed on June 19, 2014 on the Internet: http://heidelblog.net/2008/02/missional-monday-should-evangelism-happen-only-in-the-church/. [↩]
- This is the title of Bridges’ excellent treatise on the office and work of the pastor. [↩]
- Some use the example Phoebe as a basis for women deacons or deaconesses. On the basis of a consideration of all the data related to the deaconate, I’m inclined towards the view that women served as assistants to the deacons but did not occupy the office itself. For a more lengthy discussion of this question, see William Hendricksen, Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Baker Book House, 1981), 2:499-501; Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Baker Book House, 1957), 130-35; Alexander Strauch, The New Testament Deacon: The Church’s Minister of Mercy (Lewis & Roth, 1992), 69-79. [↩]