Who are the ministers of the church?

For many, the answer to this question seems palpably obvious. The ministers of the church are those blokes we pay and call ministers, aren’t they? They’re the guys we look up to and expect to do ‘the work of ministry’.

Interestingly, this isn’t something that scripture recognises. In the Old Testament, of course, there was the priesthood. Specifically, the priests were those in the family of Aaron and only they could enter the tabernacle to mediate between man and God. The rest of the Levites were to assist the priests in guarding the tabernacle and in all the work of moving it from one place to another.

But since Christ tore the temple curtain in two (cf. Matthew 27:51), with the advent of the Spirit taking up residence in the hearts of believers (see here), all true believers in Christ have become priests (cf. 1 Peter 2:5-9). This means two essential things.

First, all believers have direct access to God. Paul notes in Ephesians that, through Christ, we ‘have access in one Spirit to the Father’ (Ephesians 2:18). Just like the High Priest in the Old Testament, the writer to the Hebrews notes, ‘we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus’ (Hebrews 10:19).

Second, the entire church stands as priests between God and the world. This is not in the sense of mediating salvation. Paul is quite clear that ‘there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all’ (1 Timothy 2:5f). However, as Paul noted in Ephesians 2, access to God is granted ‘in one Spirit’. This means only those who seek access through the Son and by the the Spirit are able to approach the Father. In other words, those who have been made regenerate by the Spirit and who have received the forgiveness of sin that comes by faith in Christ have access to God. This necessarily means only those who are true believers. By contrast, those who don’t seek the Father through Christ by the Spirit have no access to him. In this way, through their prayers for the world, all true believers act as priests. They act as intercessors to God on behalf of those that don’t know him personally.

Likewise, the Great Commission given by Jesus states categorically, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19f). As has been noted many times, Jesus did not say ‘teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you, except for this particular command. This one is only for you apostles’. Clearly the Great Commission was given to all who would be called disciples, to anybody who seeks to follow Jesus.

Of course, as we press into the New Testament, we soon find the reality of what ‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ actually means. All true believers in Jesus Christ are called to obey all the same things that the apostles were called to do. All the things we call ‘ministry’ in the church are things given not to the professionals, or the elders or the paid ministers but to all members of the church. Indeed, it has been noted many times that the qualifications for eldership are not unique to elders. Each one is a character criteria that is commanded of all believers somewhere else in scripture.

What this means, then, is that the ministers of the church are all of its members. This is made clear by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:

14For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.17If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

All the members of the church are its ministers. We have each been appointed to different roles so that together, as Paul states in Ephesians 4:

We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,16 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.

Who are the ministers of the church? Every member of the body.

As such, at Oldham Bethel Church, we expect every member to be part of the ministry of the church. Each member is called to minister using their respective abilities and opportunities as God has granted them. We expect to see every member keen to hear the word and to be doers of it. We expect each member to be regular in prayer and active in mission. We expect each member to contribute in practical ways to the running of the church as they are able. The reason is because the ministers at Oldham Bethel Church are all its members and, quite simply, ministers do ministry.

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