Building Up the
One Man or One Another?
THE NEW TESTAMENT PERSPECTIVE: PRIORITY OF THE BODY
(1) The General Viewpoint: A Functioning Priesthood
1 Pet. 2:5,9
Cor. 12:4-26 (cf Rom. 12:3-8)
(2) The Specific Practice: "Build Up One Another,
Even As You Are Doing"
Cor. 14--"Each of you"
Thess 4:18; 5:11-14--Constant Interaction
10:24-25 -- Serious Interaction
THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: PRIORITY OF THE "PASTOR"
The Early Period
The Medieval Period
The Reformation Period
"The Power of the
the Scriptures Publicly"
I have many things on my heart that I would like to share with you concerning the
upbuilding of the church. In "The Local Church: The Pillar and Ground of the
Truth" (BRR, Summer, 1977), I set forth some broad principles regarding the
importance of the local church in the believer's life. There I said, in commenting on
Heb.10:24-25, "these verses involve much more than just sitting thirty to sixty
minutes before the preached Word.... Something more is to happen when we assemble with the
brethren.... preaching only is is not enough." Further consideration of these
matters, however, has led me to believe that there are some problems in our general
outlook and practice which simply militate against this "something more" being
expressed. In what follows I wish to explore some Scriptural and historical matters which
bear on the manner in which the body of Christ is to be built up. Traditionally and
practically we have ended up focusing on one man, the "pastor"; I submit that
the New Testament focuses "on one another" in the upbuilding process.
If we are serious about Christ's truth, then we should not be afraid to bring our
private and local church practices under the scrutiny of God's Word. John Owen made the
following observation in 1689:
For the most part, the churches that are in the world at present know not how they came
so to be, continuing only in that state which they have received by tradition from their
fathers (The True Nature of a Gospel Church, edited and abridged by John
Huxtable [London, 1947], p.35).
If there are things in our tradition which we do that are in conflict with the N.T.
revelation, then we must correct our practice. I have attempted to speak in areas where
clearness, not haziness, is evident in the N.T. The questions I raise, and the convictions
I state may seem to be strong; but I ask you to consider these things in the light of
Scripture, and if you believe there is Scriptural teaching I have missed, or perverted,
please seek to correct me. I believe these matters are of utmost importance, and it is
critical that we ascertain the mind of Christ concerning the place of mutual ministry in
the local church. According to Eph. 4:16, we need that which every joint supplies in order
to grow in Christ.
- THE NEW TESTAMENT PERSPECTIVE:
PRIORITY OF THE BODY
- (1) The General Viewpoint:
A Functioning Priesthood 1 Pet. 2:5,9
Just as there was a people of God in the old age, so now under the New Covenant there
is an "Israel of God" (Gal.6:16). But this new people is not national, but
spiritual in character -- "living stones." That which was typified in
geographical Israel has now come to living expression in "a spiritual house, a holy
priesthood," which "offers up spiritual sacrifices" (v.5). This house is
built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ (v.4; cf. 1 Cor.3:11).
Of special interest to us here is the conception of this family of God as "a holy
priesthood....a royal priesthood" (vv.5,9). Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant
priesthood, and is building a church in which every "living stone" is a
"priest." There were many requirements for the Old Covenant priesthood, and as a
result only a relatively few men functioned in it. But the New Covenant priesthood
includes all saints.
More importantly, however, is the fact that the Old Covenant priests had certain
functions to constantly perform. Peter focuses on this point: New Covenant priests
function by offering up "spiritual sacrifices" (v.5). A non-functioning
priesthood is an absurdity! What is included in "spiritual sacrifices" can be
seen clearly in such passages as Rom.12:l, Heb.13:15-16 and Rev.5:8.
In Rom.12:l-8, it is important to see how Paul naturally links our priesthood (v.1)
with our functioning in the local church: "so we, being many, are one body in Christ,
and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace
that is given to us" (vv.5-6). Not "all members have the same office"
(v.4), but all members are to-function in the body (v.3b). It should also be clear that
the functions Paul has in view involve (though not exclusively) the meetings where the
church comes together (vv.6-8).
- There are four things with reference to the general priesthood of
believers I would like to point out.
- First, a functioning priesthood is essential and basic to the people of God.
- Secondly, any church traditions and practices which in their practical outworking
squelch the functioning of believers as priests must be rejected.
- Thirdly, we must realize that people, not buildings, constitute the "house of
God" (cf. 1 Cor.3:9). For example, well-meaning parents say to their children,
"be quiet and still, for we are in the house of God." However, "God's
house" must not be identified with any building, for this clouds the fact that
Christ's people are a "spiritual house." The old covenant emphasis on places has
passed away because the fulfillment of these types has come in a spiritual people (John
- Fourthly. in light of our priesthood, we cannot give credence to the historical
"clergy/laity" distinction. Howard Snyder points this out by saying:
The New Testament simply does not speak in terms of two classes of Christians --
"minister" and "laymen" -- as we do today. According to the Bible, the
people (laos, "laity") of God comprise all Christians, and all Christians
through the exercise of spiritual gifts have some "work of ministry." So if we
wish to be biblical, we will have to say that all Christians are laymen (God's people) and
all are ministers. The clergy-laity dichotomy is unbiblical and therefore invalid. It grew
up as an accident of church history and actually marked a drift away from biblical
faithfulness.... It is one of the principal obstacles to the Church effectively being
God's agent of the Kingdom today because it creates the false idea that only "holy
men," namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership
and significant ministry (The Community of the King [IVP, 1977], pp.94-95).
The N.T., indeed, makes a distinction between leaders and people (cf. 1 Thess.5:12-13).
But this distinction assumes the priesthood of believers, and does not swallow it up as
the "clergy/laity" practice has in the past.
In v.18, Paul issues forth an imperative, "be filled with the Spirit." The
fulness of the Spirit, then, comes to expression through the five participles which
follow: "speaking to yourselves... singing... making melody... giving thanks...
submitting yourselves one to another" (vv.19-21). The "Spirit-filled" life
is not some nebulous, ecstatic experience. It comes to visible expression in relationship
with other people.
Thus, a basic aspect of our priesthood in Christ is to be in a submissive frame of
heart with reference to the other brethren. That is to say, wrapped up in our priesthood
is a spiritual commitment to others. Before Paul moves on to specific forms of submission
(5:22; 6:1; 6:5), and specific headship responsibilities (5:25; 6:4; 6:9), he first sets
forth the absolute necessity of mutual submission to one another in the fear of. Christ
(5:21). Our Christian priesthood, then, means at least two things: (1) that we make a
commitment of love to minister to our brother's spiritual welfare; and (2) that we submit
ourselves to the ministry of our fellow brethren for our own edification. Biblical
submission, in light of our priesthood, is two-way, not one-way.
- 1 Cor. 12:4-26 (cf Rom. 12:3-8)
In this context, Paul gave a proper perspective on gifts of ministry within the local
church -- a perspective which many Corinthian believers had forgotten. Let us list Paul's
1. All believers possess the Spirit of Christ (v.13).
2. This common Spirit works in all believers (vv.4-7).
3. The goal of spiritual gifts is mutual edification (vv.7,11).
4. The church is a body, whose members all have a vital function (vv.12, l5-18, 21-22).
5. Ministry in the church does not focus in one member, but many (vv.14, 19; cf.
6. The many members, because of their personal union with Christ, have a living
relationship with one another (vv.12, 25-26).
7. The body cannot function without its parts, and the functioning (priesthood) of the
parts is necessary for the unity of the body (vv.17, 25, 27).
The body brought into existence by Christ's work does absolute justice to both the
worth of each individual part, and to the corporate body as a whole. That is to say,
neither is the individual swallowed up in the body, nor is the body sacrificed for the
sake of the individual parts. Just as in a human body, it functions as a unified whole,
but is dependent upon the proper functioning of all the parts. All of this takes on
special meaning when the. general priesthood of believers is supposed. The body is not
meant to depend upon the function of one member (vv.14, 19), while the other members are
passively receptive. On that basis the body will be crippled, and perhaps die.
It is not going too far, then, to say that the "body" nature of Christ's
people is most basic in the N.T. Erroll Hulse observes, "the main New Testament
analogies describe the Church as a body made up of living members. The analogy of the
human body predominates" (Local Church Practice, p.56). Howard Snyder comments, that
"the Church is no mere collection of isolated individuals, but... it has a corporate
or communal nature which is absolutely essential to it[s] true being" (The Community
of the King, p.58).
In this passage the exalted Christ, leading captivity captive, gave gifts to men (v.8).
Here, we are primarily concerned with the "pastor-teacher" gift of v.11. In the
Puritan tradition, verses 11-12 have been taken to mean that Christ has given pastors and
teachers ("doctors"):(1) for perfecting the saints; (2) for the work of the
ministry; and (3) for the building up of the body of Christ (cf. "A True
Description... of the Visible Church," , The Reformation of the Church, ed.
Iain Murray, p.200; Owen, True Nature, pp. 46-47; "The Form of Presbyterial Church
Government," , The Reformation of the Church, p.209). With this interpretation,
the entire edification process fell upon the shoulders of "the officers" (cf.
Thomas Goodwin, Works, Vol.11, p.310).
However, this interpretation does not appear to be accurate. The King James translation
has in v.12, "for...for...for." But there is in the Greek a change in
prepositions not reflected in this rendering. The Greek original has pros ...eis...eis
["for...unto...unto"]. Thus, this verse can be rendered, "He gave...
pastors-teachers for equipping the saints unto the work of ministry, unto the upbuilding
of the body of Christ." In other words, the function of the pastors-teachers is to
equip the saints so that they can minister.
This construction is further borne out in the context. Verse 16 reveals Christ as
joining the whole body together. The emphasis here, as in 1 Cor 12, falls on the total
body ministry, not the exclusive ministry of pastors. The elders' function is a crucial
part of the edification process. But the broader body ministry unto edification is
specifically mentioned two times in v.16: (1) "every joint supplies"; (2)
"in the measure of every part." Thus, edification is not conceived of as being
achieved by the ministry of one part (the "pastor"), but by a mutual ministry of
every part.In summing up this general N.T. perspective, we can say that:
All believers are 'ministers' (believer-priests) who have been gifted by God so that
they may lovingly build up their spiritual brothers and sisters.... each Christian has
received a spiritual gift... A gift is a special ability given graciously by God to each
person in Christ's Body to help others toward spiritual maturity (Sixteen Tests of An
Authentic New Testament Church, Fellowship Bible Church [l980], p.25).
In light of this, the service of elders and deacons must be viewed against the backdrop
of the general priesthood of believers. They serve as an important part in the edification
of the body; they do not constitute the only sources of edification in the body. More will
be said on this in the historical section.
One Another, Even As You Are Doing"
Some have shied away from this passage because it includes elements (like
"tongues") which they feel have ceased. Whatever the case may be, however, it
seems to me that there are some principles revealed here that confirm the lines of thought
we have seen in 1 Cor.12, Rom.12, and Eph.4:16 (cf. Owen, Works, Vol.13, p.35).
Several things are evident in this chapter. First, Paul is dealing with the entire
church a gathered: "the whole church come together in one place" (v.23: cf.
1Cor.11:18). Secondly, there is nothing said about the ministry of one man. Thirdly, there
is much stated about the ministry of many: "that you may prophesy" (v.1);
"when you come together, every one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a
revelation, has an interpretation" (v.26); "you all may prophesy one by one,
that all may learn, and all may be comforted" (v.31).
The Greek word for "each one" is hekastos. It is used in the N.T. to show the
individuality of judgment: "everyone shall give account of himself to God"
(Rom.14:12; cf. Matt.16:27; 25:15; Rom.2:6). In Acts 2:3, the Holy Spirit "sat upon
each of them," indicating that this happened to each individual. Does it not appear,
then, that the edification of the body involves a hekastatic principle? That is, the
"ministry" is not given to one man, but to "each of you." This does
not mean, of course, that at every service each person must participate. But it does at
least mean that the service at some point was open to those who had something from the
Lord to contribute (cf. Appendix B).
We must keep in mind that this "each one" principle was taking place in the
assembling together of the church: "when you come together [as a church, v.23], every
one of you..." (v.26). It is, therefore, of note that in the Reformed tradition the
minister and his sermon became the focus of attention, and the brethren speaking to one
another was to take place in homes apart from the gathering of the church together (cf.
Owen, Works, Vol.13, p.46; Colin Richards, "Fellowship in the Local Church,"
Local Church Practice, pp.97-98). On what N.T. basis may we remove the "each of
you" practice from the stated "whole church" gatherings? In the Reformed
tradition, "the acts of worship were grouped around the pulpit as the most important
centre of the church" (J. L. Ainslie, The Doctrines of Ministerial Order in the
Reformed Churches of the 16th and 17th Centuries [Edinburgh, 1940], p.51). Where in
1Cor.14 can we find a pulpit centrality that focuses on one man?
I am not suggesting in all of this that the elders do not teach in the church
gatherings, or, conversely, that all must speak. Obviously, the teaching of the elders is
to give backbone and guidance to the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim.3:2). But it is clear that
speaking words of edification in the local church is not limited to one
"minister." Where is any opportunity given to others to speak unto edification
in our services? What grounds are there in the N.T. to limit public speaking to the
elders, especially the "pastor"? 1 Cor.14 teaches the exact opposite of such an
idea. Are the basic principles of this passage now obsolete because the canon of Scripture
Some may feel that the hekastatic principle opens the door for confusion and chaos. But
the Corinthian church was practicing an "each of you" ministry, and Paul does
not censure them for that. For Paul, there was no tension between peace and "all
prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted" (vv.31,33). Thus,
to draw back from this principle by erecting a straw man such as, "imagine the
confusion if every individual believer claimed his own vision or his own direct
leading!" is to evade the teaching of 1Cor 14 (Erroll Hulse, Local Church Practice,
p.36). This question must be faced: given the "each of you" principle in 1 Cor
14, on what basis can we suggest that edification "is conveyed primarily through
[Jesus'] work as a prophet as He instructs the churches through the messengers [the
"pastors"] (Hulse, p.36)?
To summarize 1 Cor. 11-14, can we not say that:
The essential activities of the church when gathered are (1) teaching, (2) edification
through mutual ministries and (3) worship through the Lord's Supper, singing and
prayer.... The meetings of the church should be characterized by the participation of many
who are being prompted by the Holy Spirit (Sixteen Tests, pp.13, 27).
- Rom. 15:14--Nouthetic Interaction
Here Paul gives a commendation to the church at Rome. They were "able also to
admonish one another." The Word "admonish" (noutheteo) usually means to
lovingly confront a sinful act or attitude with truth. The elders of a church are required
to watch over the flock, and admonish when necessary (1 Thess 5:12). But the duty of
admonishing extends to all the priests. These brethren were "able" to admonish
one another. This implies that this is a skill which is learned. Relating this back to
Eph. 4:11-12, we can see a specific instance here of how the elders are to
"equip" the saints: they are to help train the general priesthood in the ability
of "admonishing." Could Paul come among our churches today and see visible
evidence that the brethren at large were "able" to perform this duty? If
admonishing is left to the elders, then it is no wonder that the saints are ill-prepared
for this important task. It is in such a realm as this that pastors and teachers are to
equip the saints for the work of ministry. I do not see how such training can materialize
if edification is conceived of as originating only from one man's ministry.
- 1 Thess 4:18; 5:11-14--Constant
Paul here focuses on the mutual ministry of Christians to one another. The hope all
Christians possess is a doctrine by which they may "comfort one another" (4:18).
In 5:11, Paul mentions that they practice, as an on-going ministry, the building up of one
another: "even as you are doing." Again, we are forced to ask, can we
meaningfully relate this vital practice to what transpires in churches today? If the
brethren rarely see each other during the week, and if the structure of the services focus
on the "pastor," how can we expect this mutual ministry to come to concrete
I suggest here, and will expand on it later, that the reason "one another"
ministries are so stifled is precisely because our practice flows out of the conviction
that edification comes about through one man's ministry: "on this office [the
"pastor"] and the discharge of it He hath laid the whole weight of the order,
rule, and edification of His church" (Owen, True Nature, p.55).The "pastor"
becomes the sole source of edification. Thus, according to Goodwin, even when
"ordinary" brethren conversed with one another, the focal point was to be
"what it was in a sermon that God blessed to them" (Works, Vol.11, p.357). But
in the N.T. there is just as much emphasis, if not more, on the profitability of mutual
ministry among the general priesthood. Yet this is left virtually untouched in such
Historically, the duty of mutual edification has been relegated to something which is
"occasional," while for Paul the "one another" ministry was the basic
fabric of local church life. Further, this mutual ministry was apparently expressed in the
church gatherings ("each of you"), but the Reformed tradition has pushed it
outside of such meetings.
In vv.12-13, Paul makes a clear distinction between the saints and their leaders. Those
who have been set aside by the people of God as "elders" are to be
"known" and "highly esteemed." The elders are "over them in the
Lord." While this distinction is clear enough, it does not seem to me that our
conception of it is always clear. This distinction has been taken to mean that the elders
do everything --admonishing, teaching, etc. But we have already seen in Rom.15:14, and can
see here in 1 Thess.5:11,14, that there is a general mutual ministry that saints are to
perform among themselves. The elders, in particular, are to oversee the mutual functioning
of the body. The elders function in a similar fashion to a player-coach on a football team
-- only in the church there are several coaches, not one.
The function of pastoral leaders is to serve as 'player-coaches' of the congregation,
by equipping the believers for their various God-appointed ministries.... a
player-coach... unselfishly attempts to develop and coordinate the abilities of others
while he himself fights the battle with them, shoulder-to-shoulder (Sixteen Tests, p.31).
After giving the general duty of edifying one another in v.11, Paul tells the
"brethren" in v.14 that there are specific needs in the body to which they must
minister. Again, Paul does not relegate this "warning/comforting/supporting"
ministry to the leaders only, but makes it incumbent upon the body to have the same care
for one another (1Cor.12:25).
Perhaps some would try to find in v.20, "despise not prophesyings," a
reference to the centrality of one man's preaching. However, it must be remembered that in
1Cor.14:31 Paul stated: "you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all
may be comforted."
- Heb. 10:24-25 -- Serious Interaction
In Heb.3:6-14 and 10:24-29 we are faced with the sober reality that there is no place
in the Christian profession for slothfulness. In both contexts apostasy is set forth as
the alternative for those who neglect the gospel (3:1). But, also, in both places the same
mutual duty is given as the God-ordained means of restraining apostasy and maintaining
perseverance: "exhort one another daily...lest any of you be hardened through the
deceitfulness of sin (3:13).... not forsaking the assembling [as a church; Greek:
episunagogen]... but exhorting [one another] (10:25)." In the process of the saint's
perseverance, then, a mutual responsibility stands as the primary revealed method of
abiding in Christ and His house.
I dare say that there are too many professing Christians who have never considered the
importance of the ministry of other brethren in their lives. We live in a society where it
is "every man for himself," and the whole idea of mutual dependence is foreign
to our thinking. In light of the Heb.3:13 and 10:25 perspective, can we not see why it is
important to practice the "one another"/"each of you" ministry in our
gatherings as a church?
Heb.10:25, of course, is cited as a basis for people to "come to church." It
is probably the strongest passage on such a responsibility in the N.T. But what, according
to 10:24-25, is to occur in our assembling? Where in 10:25 can you find the idea that we
are to come to hear the ministry of one man? We probably assemble together, but do our
services allow for the exhorting of one an other? If we are going to employ 10:25 to press
the duty of assembling together, must we not also use it as a guide for what transpires in
our services? In light of our practice, it appears that we use about half of the verse
rightly ("assemble"), but think little about the other half ("exhort"
For example, Thomas Goodwin, in discussing the "communion of saints, which the
members of a church ought to have with one another," states that, indeed, mutual care
"is a constant duty, and that we ought to seek all occasions of acting it"
(Works, Vol.11, p.355). However, conceiving of the church gatherings as focusing on the
minister and the sermon, and believing that "in private occasional converse, one
member may not have opportunity to discourse with another once in seven years,"
Goodwin suggested that a separate "fixed meeting" was necessary, where the
brethren could "know one another's cases and experiences" (Works, Vol.11,
p.353). "The duty enjoined" in Heb.10:24, he says, "is a duty distinct from
assembling together, which follows in the next verse [10:25]" (Works, Vol.11, p.354).
Thus, while the N.T. connects mutual ministry and our gatherings as a church, we have in
our practice separated them without exegetical basis. Why? Because we have structured our
"corporate public worship" around the "pastor," and thereby relegated
any mutual ministry to occasional meetings, perhaps "once a month" (Colin
Richards, "Fellowship," pp.91, 96, 97).
In light of 1 Cor.12:23, 26, 31 and Heb.10:24-25, is it not time that we either
acknowledge the discrepancy or justify our practice? The traditional "order of
service" appears to be at odds with the "each of you" principle in the N.T.
Unfortunately, it ends up focusing on one ministry, and not on the body. To graphically
illustrate this, observe the elements in public worship as articulated by the Westminster
Divines in 1645:
The ordinances in a single congregation are, prayer, thanksgiving, and singing of
psalms, the word read, (although there follow no immediate explication of what is read)
the word expounded and applied, catechizing, the sacraments administered, collection made
for the poor, dismissing the people with a blessing ("The Form of Presbyterial Church
Everything in this order is done by the "pastor" and other officers, except
the "singing of psalms." This is essentially what we still practice today. Does
this practice reflect a sensitivity to the glimpses of church gatherings we see in the
N.T., or is it at odds with them? It seems to me that we have made normative that for
which there is no Scriptural warrant (emphasis on one man's ministry), and we have omitted
that for which there is ample Scriptural support (emphasis on one another).
Let us now come to some historical considerations that will help explain why we have
come to such questionable practices.
- THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE:
PRIORITY OF THE "PASTOR"
In this section I wish briefly to trace the historical development of church government
which came to center in the "pastor" as the primary source of edification in the
"The ministry in the Christian Church at the beginning was humble in outward
condition and of the simplest in official character. In the course of the centuries it
changed greatly" (Ainslie, p.1).
"We see that a great and imposing ecclesiastical organization has come into being.
The officials of the Church, the clergy as they have come to be called, form a distinct
class, separated from the ordinary people or laity" (Ainslie, p.l).
"In the midst of, and facing, such ecclesiastical conditions, with the ministry of
the Church become such as we have seen it, the Reformation Movement of the sixteenth
century arose.... There is one noteworthy fact at once to be noticed. The Reformers...
when renouncing, and opposing themselves to, the Pope and his hierarchy. and setting aside
the Medieval Church Orders, did not in the least reject a ministerial order and seek to
abolish the Ministry as an institution in the Christian Church.... they believed in its
immense importance and divine sanction" (Ainslie, pp.2,5).
I am going to suggest that the evidence from history reveals the swallowing up of a
functioning priesthood of believers by the exaltation of this "ministerial
order" in the Reformed tradition. It was among the Anabaptists that a more Biblical
emphasis on mutual ministry surfaced (Snyder, pp.35-36).
First of all, we must understand that territorial and political considerations were
wrapped up in the institution of the Reformed ministerial order (Ainslie, pp.16,6O). Just
as the Protestants ended up instituting their national churches in competition with the
established Romish churches, so the Reformed ministerial order was specifically
implemented to take the place of the Papal church order (Ainslie, pp.11,41,56). I believe
that reckoning with this point helps us to see that, once the Papal order was rejected, a
potential vacuum was left. This vacuum was filled by the "ministerial order."
Whether or not this order was the right answer is for us to determine in the light of
Next, we must see that in the 17th century treatises on church life, two clear trends
emerge. These trends are seen in two of the major works on church government by John Owen
and Thomas Goodwin. The first trend was an exaltation of "officers." Owen saw
"the due performance of the duties" Christ required "brought into this
estate by the setting, fixing, or placing officers in it'' (True Nature, p.41; Cf. p.99
where a thriving church life is connected to "a multiplication of elders").
Thomas Goodwin identifies officers as the "furniture" of a house, and thus
"when you have officers and ordinances dispensed by them, then you have a further
presence, He will come down oftener amongst you. The more of ordinances, the more of
Christ; the more officers, the more of ordinances" (Works, Vol.11, p.311, emphasis
mine). This emphasis on officers, as Ainslie observed, has "largely persisted to the
present day" (p.15; cf. p.34).
Of course, there is an importance placed on officers in the N.T. But, in light of all
the emphasis we have seen on mutual ministry in the Epistles, the space given to
"officers" in Reformed treatises must be designated as inordinate.
This brings us to the second discerable [sic] trend. With all the emphasis on
"officers," the 17th century treatises on the church have virtually nothing on
the "each of you"/"one another" ministries in the local church. Out of
546 pages on church order, Goodwin has six pages on "communion of saints." In
John Owen's True Nature of A Gospel Church, he alludes to mutual ministry just a few times
(pp.45,93; a four-page sermon on "The Mutual Care of Believers Over One Another"
appears in his Works, Vol.16, pp.477-480, where he begins by seeing the church as
"compacted together by officers and ordinances"; and in Vol.13, pp.19-49, he
carefully delimits what "ordinary," "uncalled" [to the
"ministry"] believers may do as ''priests'').
I think it is proper to make the general observation that the post-Reformation
tradition, with its almost exclusive emphasis on "officers," had the practical
effect of stifling a functioning priesthood of believers. It is important for us to
realize, therefore, that we have been heavily influenced by this
"officer"-oriented tradition, and that the N.T. data calls for a close scrutiny
of that tradition. Just how this tradition has ill-effected [sic] us I hope will become
more evident as we proceed.
- Four-Office View
Arising out of this "officer"-orientation
came a more specific focus on the one man called the "pastor." There emerged in
the Reformed tradition a four-office view. The "pastor," the "doctor,"
the "ruling elders," and the "deacons" were conceived of as the
expression of church order (cf. "A True Description...," pp.198-199; "The
Form of Presbyterial Church Government," pp.209-214). Let us briefly consider each
one, and then come back to expand on the office of "pastor."
- "The "Doctor"
The "doctor" was made equivalent to the "teacher" mentioned in
Eph.4:11 and 1Cor.12:28. The "doctor" was distinguished from the
"pastor" in that the former was more facile in doctrinal matters, while the
latter was more apt in practical matters ("Presbyterial Church Gov't," p.213).
Here, we have the basic rationale for seminary professors, as the Westminster Divines
stated that this "doctor is of most excellent use in schools and universities"
- The "Ruling Elders"
These are men who "join with the minister ["pastor"] in the government
of the church" (Ibid., p.214). Thus, the office of elder was divided up, based mainly
on an arbitrary interpretation of I Tim.5:17, into the "teaching/ruling" elder
(the "pastor" who labors in the Word), and "ruling elders." I say this
use of I Tim.5:17 is arbitrary because it introduces an artificial distinction among
elders. All elders must be "apt to teach," and all elders are to
"rule." To be sure, there is in I Tim.5:17 a distinction among the elders. But
it is a distinction of comparative time given, not a distinction of office. The ones who
labor in the Word are part of a broader body of elders, all of whom are potentially worthy
of financial support. There is in the text no warrant to elevate one man as the
"pastor" (who is supported financially) and separate him from the other
"elders." E.W. Johnson sums up the matter this way: "A church cannot be
taught except it be ruled. and a church cannot be ruled except it be taught.... I do not
believe in a distinction between ruling elders and teaching elders" (Sovereign Grace
Message, July, 1977, p.4: cf. BRR, Vol.7, #2, p.30). Our practice would translate I Tim.5:
17, "Let the elders who rule assist the fully-supported pastor who teaches and
rules." Here again, we can see how the elevation of the "pastor" not only
stifles the general priesthood, it also stifles the proper functioning of the eldership.
The "ruling elders" become simply the "long arms" of the
"pastor" (Ainslie, pp.63-64).
- The "Deacons"
The deacons are to care for the material aspects of church life. But the Westminster
Divines made it clear that the deacons were "not to preach the word, or administer
the sacraments" ("Form," p.214). Such dogmatism is in contradiction with
the ministry of "deacon" Philip (Acts 6:2-5), who both preached publicly and
baptized many people (Acts 8:5,12).
- The "Pastor"
In contrast to the N.T. focus on mutual ministry, the Puritans focused on the
"pastor." Owen confidently asserted that "on this office
["pastor"] and the discharge of it He hath laid the whole weight of the order,
rule, and edification of His church" (True Nature. p.55). Remember, he is not saying
on the plurality of eldership rests the rule of the church. It is upon the one man who
occupies the separate office of "pastor." Since our practice generally
corresponds with this notion, we must reflect upon this question: where in the N.T. can we
demonstrate that the edification of the church has been committed to the ministry of one
part of the body, especially it, light of 1Cor.12:14,19,31 and Heb.10:24-25?
What authority, privileges and duties were attached to the office of
"pastor"? Much detail will be given here in order to show that this one-man
centrality effectively squelched the priesthood of believers. If all edification is
attributed to one source, then the many members, practically speaking, have no function.
They become passive recipients, not active priests.
- "The Power of the Keys"
First, to the "pastor" alone was given "the power of the keys"
(Ainslie, pp.61,66). These "keys" were exercised "by preaching and carrying
out Church Discipline" (Ainslie, p.67). Thus, "only ministers... were to preach
publicly" (Ainslie, p.69). When preaching, they usually wore a black gown (Ibid.,
p.37). The act of one man preaching the Word became the focal point of the church
gatherings (Ibid., pp.49,59). It is no wonder, then, that "in the interior of a
Protestant Church, the pulpit has always been the principal piece of furniture"
(Ibid., quoting Dr. Pannier, p.50). But we must ask: in 1Cor.14 is a singular or multiple
ministry emphasized? Where in the N.T. can we observe "that the acts of worship were
grouped around the pulpit as the most important centre of the church" (Ibid., p.51)?
Preaching in the Reformed tradition, notes Ainslie, "became something of a
sacramental act and greater than the sacramental symbols of the Communion" (p.52).
Discipline came to be noncentralized in the hands of the "pastor," for
obvious reasons (Ibid., pp.73-74). Nevertheless, in practice the "pastor" came
to dominate in the disciplinary procedure (Ibid., pp.76-77,85,87-88). The reason the
"pastor was so dominant in the worship service was because they believed he had a
special "ministry unto edification" (Owen. True Nature, pp.42,55) which was
given to no one else. For example, Goodwin observed that the edification of the church was
extremely important, "for there is a fulness of stature appointed, and every member
must grow up unto it before it [sic] goes to heaven" (Works, Vol.11, p.300). But he
viewed this edification process as coming through "officers," not through one
"another" (Ibid., pp.311-312). Interestingly, and perhaps expectedly, Goodwin
must, in pressing home the need for the "pastor," deny the sufficiency of the
Spirit-anointing each believer possesses (1 John 2:20,27).
By these officers he buildeth the house more and more.... The more ordinances, the more
of Christ; the more of officers, the more of ordinances.... Because the church is under
age [Eph.4:13] therefore she is to have these officers over her until she comes to a
perfect man, and to the full stature. And children under age, now as well as then, are to
be under tutors and governors, Gal.4:2... he contented not himself to have them enjoy such
occasional means as the brethren in communion were able to afford each other... but he
would farther have men of the best and eminentest gifts set apart usually unto it.... Yea,
further, the apostle otherwise intimates. that without men being set apart unto it. there
would be no preserving of knowledge, but the ordinary sort of believers would have been
exposed to the danger of being carried away by seducers.... for ordinary sort of
believers, being children not fully grown up, would easily have been seduced, if they had
not had guides.... if this business had been in common left to the common care of every
member watching over each other, there would have been a defect (Works, Vol.11,
You can see how there is here a functional disdain for the mutual ministries, but an
all-sufficiency attributed to one man's ministry.
- "Administer the Sacraments"
Not only was the "pastor" the only one who could preach publicly, but he was
also the only one who could "administer the sacraments" (Owen, True Nature,
p.68; Ainslie, pp.56,63,65; Owen, Works, Vol.13, p.43; Goodwin, Works, Vol.11, p.309). Now
I believe that it is in order for the elders to oversee the ordinances of baptism and the
Lord's Supper in the local church. But I have a real problem with this idea that
"pastors" are the exclusive "dispenser's of the sacraments." The
background of this idea that only certain men are qualified to administer the ordinances
of the church is very suspect, and reeks of magical notions about the elements (cf.
Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, pp.154-158). From reading the N.T.,
you would get the impression that the Lord's Supper was a meal shared among the brethren,
lot something to be formally "administered.''
- "Read the Scriptures Publicly"
The Westminster Divines taught that only the "pastor" could read the
Scriptures publicly ("Form," p.210). Three Old Testament contexts are cited as
proof "that the public reading of the Scriptures belongeth to the pastor's
Obviously, the man to occupy this exalted office of "pastor" must have
distinctive qualifications. After Owen outlined the duties of the "pastor," it
is not surprising that he exclaims, "what learning, labour, study, pains, ability and
exercise of the rational faculties, are ordinarily required unto the right discharge of
these duties" (True Nature, p.70). More to the point are the "rules for
examination" of potential ministers drawn up by the Westminster Divines:
He shall be examined touching his skill in the original tongues, and his trial to be
made by reading the Hebrew and Greek Testaments,
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