There is much misunderstanding today regarding what the Bible teaches. Many people never study the Bible for themselves and just take for granted that something is true because they have heard it all of their lives. Many people base their ideas of what a Bible word or phrase means by how it has been defined by tradition or by religious denominations. Unlike the fair minded Bareans, many people never study the Bible for themselves to see if what they have been taught is true (cf. Acts 17:11).
It is important to use words the way the Bible uses them when we are speaking of Bible things. Peter wrote, "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). The "oracles of God" refers to the word of God. This verse teaches that when we speak, our speech must be as the word of God. When we teach, we must use Bible words the way the Bible uses them.
For example, the word "church" is often used in a way that the Bible does not use it. It is used to refer to denominations (such as "the Baptist Church," "the Methodist Church" etc...). However, the Bible never uses the word church to refer to denominations. Denominationalism did not exist until many years after Jesus built His church in the first century (See Matthew 16:13-19; Acts 2:1ff). The Bible uses the word church in two ways: It is used to refer to the universal church, referring to all Christians everywhere (Matthew 16:18). It is used in the local sense referring to local congregations in different geographical locations (Galatians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 1:2 etc...). When it is used in the local sense, it is referring to local congregations of God's people that make up the universal church of Christ that Jesus built in the first century. It cannot be referring to denominations because they came into existence years later.
Another word that is often used in a way the Bible does not use it is the word "faith." For example, people will ask, "of what faith are you?" When they ask this question, they are asking what religious denomination or group do you belong to. But the Bible refers to "the faith" (Jude 1:3) which refers to the system of faith or the gospel, and it tells us that there is "one faith" (Ephesians 4:5). It never uses the word faith to refer to a religious denomination.
The point is this: we must speak as the Bible speaks. When we are speaking of spiritual, Bible things, we must not use the language of the Bible in a way that is foreign to the Bible. "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). This is true of the words we are going to discuss in this study - the word "minister" and its related words.
When you hear someone use the word "minister" what is the first thought that comes to mind? If you are like most people, you think pastor/preacher/priest.
The first time the word "minister" is used in the Bible it refers to the work of the priests under the Law of Moses. "Now take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest, Aaron and Aaron's sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar" (Exodus 28:1). Under the Law of Moses the priests were set apart from all of the other people of Israel and given special work to do - a special area of service. They offered sacrifices for the people. They stood between God and the people of Israel. In fact, the Hebrew word translated "minister" in this passage literally means "to serve as priest."
Now contrast what is taught in the Old Testament about priests to what is taught in the New Testament. Look at 1 Peter 2:9-10: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy." Notice that Peter was writing to "the people of God." He was writing to Christians. What we learn from this passage is that Christians make up the royal priesthood of God. In other words if you are a Christian you are a priest. Each individual Christian has the responsibility to serve as a priest - to minister in spiritual things. So in the New Testament church there is no such thing as the "clergy" and the "laity." There is no distinction made between priests and other Christians. If you are a Christian there is no one who has any more access to God than you do. You do not need some person to approach God on your behalf. You, yourself can approach God's throne of grace with boldness to find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Because of the traditions of men, the belief that we need a special human being to approach God on our behalf is common. We usually think of the preacher as the one who does this for us. But that idea comes from the teaching of men not from the word of God. As a result of accepting this false belief, we have exalted the preacher (who we often think of as "the minister") above all of the other members of the church. We think he has some special access to God that we do not have. This is tragic because there are some preachers who want to be considered special. They want to be exalted. They want to be in the limelight. They want you to look up to them as being someone who is superior to you spiritually. But for you preachers who have reached the conclusion that you are better than all of the other members of the church, please let me encourage you to read what Jesus said in Matthew 23:12: "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Pride and arrogance is a very dangerous and deadly thing. The desire for prestige - the desire to be admired and looked up to - has caused many people to fall, including preachers. The writer of Proverbs warned, "When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom" (Proverbs 11:2). If you are full of pride and you think you are better than everyone else because you are a preacher you bring shame on yourself and the church of God. Remember, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). You can be assured that your time to fall will come.
Here is something that may surprise you: The New Testament never uses the word "minister" as a title for a preacher. You can prove this to yourself if you will take the time to read every passage that uses the word minister, ministered, or a related word. And yet, it is so common to hear members of the church refer to a preacher as "my minister," "our minister," or "the minister." The word minister is never used as a title for a preacher in the New Testament. That concept comes from the teaching of men not the teaching of God.
In the New Testament there are three Greek nouns that are translated by the one English word "minister" . and there are six different Greek verbs. The most common noun translated "minister" in the King James Version is the word "diakonos." The verb is "diakoneo." To those who know the Bible these words look familiar because it is the word that is transliterated deacon. The noun "diakonos" is defined as "a servant, attendant, minister, deacon" (Vine's word studies of the Greek New Testament). The verb, "diakoneo" is defined as "to be a servant, attendant, to serve, wait upon, minister" (Vine's word studies of the Greek New Testament). Neither of these words are used exclusively as a title for a preacher.
I want to challenge everyone who reads this article to read every passage in the New Testament where the word "minister" and it's related words are used, and substitute the definitions given above in place of the word minister or ministered. When you do this, you may come away with a different understanding of those passages than you had before.
The only time the word most often translated minister is used in reference to someone who was given a special area of work is in Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13. There the word is transliterated as deacon. It does not refer to preachers in these passages, but to men who were appointed to special areas of service in the church.
Is the preacher a minister? Of course he is. But is he the THE minister of the local congregation? No. According to New Testament usage, he is not the only minister in the congregation.
EVERY CHRISTIAN IS A MINISTER!
When you pass a church building you will often see a sign out front that has the name of the congregation, times of services, etc... Then often the word "minister" will be on the sign and right after the word "minister" you see the local preachers name. For one thing, if anyone's name is going to be on the sign in front of the building, in my opinion it ought to be the overseers names, not the preacher. They are the leaders of the congregation. They are the ones who represent the congregation. They are the ones to whom God has committed the responsibility of leading and shepherding. They are the pastors of the church. When the word "minister" is on the sign in the front of the building, and the preachers name is put behind it, it leaves a false impression that the preacher is the leader, the only minister, and the only representative of the church.
Several years ago my wife and I drove by a church building in Tennessee that had a sign out in front of the church building like a lot of other congregations do, but on the sign instead of the word "minister" it listed the word "ministers" (plural). And right after the word "ministers" was the phrase, "all the members of the church." And, according to the Bible, that is the truth of the matter. There is no one in the local congregation who is "the minister." Every member of that local congregation is a minister - a servant of the Most High - serving in the capacity of priest - a member of the royal priesthood. No faithful Christians' prayers reach any higher than any other faithful Christians' prayers. Every faithful Christians' service (no matter what area that may be in) is just as necessary and just as important to the success of God's church as every other area of service (Note: This principle is taught in 1 Corinthians 12).
If we are going to restore Christianity as it is revealed in the New Testament, then we need to speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where it is silent. We need to call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways. Or, to put it in inspired words, "If any one speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3:17).
PAUL, A MINISTER
Perhaps the word that comes closer to what people think when they think of ministers today is the word used by Paul to refer to himself in Romans 15:16: "Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit." The word translated "minister" in this verse is the Greek word "hierourgeo", which according to Vine, "denoted among the Greeks, firstly, one who discharges a public office at his own expense. Then, in general, 'a public servant, minister.'" The word translated "ministering" means "to minister in priestly service." Why did Paul use a word that meant "ministering in priestly service?" Because he was not only an apostle, he was a priest. He was not a priest because he was an apostle. He was a priest because he was a Christian. Paul had a right to use this word to describe what he did for the Gentiles because he was a Christian. Since Christians are priests, when we render spiritual service we are acting in that capacity as priests. We are offering priestly service.
Preachers are not the only Christians who can minister the gospel of God to people. Any Christian who teaches others, ministers the gospel to people. Again, let me emphasize that all Christians are priests, hence we all render priestly service to God in whatever capacity the New Testament authorizes. For some Christian men that's preaching the gospel publically. For some Christians it is teaching in various ways (privately, Bible classes etc...). For some men it's being an overseer of the congregation or serving as a deacon. For some it is rendering service in other areas (visiting the sick, feeding the hungry etc...). All Christians are priests and we must all function as priests under the direction of the Word of God.
THE DISTINCTIVENESS OF THE CHURCH
Think about this: The belief that every Christian is a minister and priest makes the church of Christ distinct from every other religious organization that exists today. It is distinctive in the fact that each individual Christian has the right and responsibility "to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5).
One of the things I have tried to do wherever I preached full-time was to encourage members to do those things that are often left up to preachers. Simple things, like when the congregation gathers together for a meal, to encourage one of the other men to call people to order so that we can eat. When I worked with congregations that had elders, I tried to emphasize that the elders are the pastors of the congregation. They are the men who the congregation needs to be looking to for leadership. They are the ones the members need to go to when they have need of counseling and teaching. This is not because I think it is wrong for a preacher to help a fellow-member when they need help, but to emphasize that he is not the first person we ought to think about when we need help. We need to first think of the pastors of the congregation, and the pastors of the congregation are the elders, not the preacher. Unfortunately, some congregations have placed many of the responsibilities that the Bible gives to elders on the shoulders of the preacher. This is wrong. It exalts the preacher over the elders who are the true pastors of the church.
Don't misunderstand me. Any man who dedicates his life to preaching the gospel is to be appreciated and respected. But we must not exalt him to a status wherein we think he is super-human and super-spiritual and wherein we think he has some kind of special access to God that the other members of the church do not have. And we especially need to guard against exalting him so that he begins to think this about himself. If we do that, we do a great disservice to him and we violate God's will.
The point of this lesson is not to teach that if you refer to a preacher as the minister you commit the unpardonable sin. The point of the lesson is to encourage all of us to study more and to realize that in restoring Christianity we must speak as the Bible speaks. We must understand that every Christian is a minister, a servant of Jesus Christ, and a priest who offers up spiritual sacrifices to God. That is the mind set we must develop if we are going to be successful in restoring Christianity in this century.
Remember what Peter said in 1 Peter 2:9-10: "...you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy." You are God's own special people. You have obtained mercy. Let us be thankful for this above all else.
To those of you reading this article who are not members of the church of Christ, or who are new members, I know that a lot of what I have written here is hard to grasp or accept because you have grown up with the denominational pastor system. I plead with you, read the Bible for yourself. Don't let the traditions of men cause you to reject the truth of God's word.
Many who have been members of the Lord's church for many years may not have thought about what I have written about in this article. There are very few folk who think about these kinds of things. Very few will put forth the effort to study and find out what New Testament Christianity is all about. But I hope you will study these things further. If you find after you have studied the subject that I have erred, please let me know and I will make correction. God bless you as you study His word and as you seek to do His will.