The Church
Its Center, Ordinances, Worship, and Ministry
By the late A. N. O'Brien
Edited and printed by J.B. Sparks

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CHAPTER 3

Church Ministry
But we have another subject which intimately concerns church life and growth, and that is ministry. And here too the Scriptural teaching is sufficient and satisfying to the subject heart. But, before turning our attention to the Word of God, let us glance around us. In Catholic circles we find pope, cardinals, archbishops, priests; and among Protestants, we find archbishops, bishops, priests, ministers, stewards, pastors, elders and deacons. Some sects refuse to recognize the whole list, but all recognize some part of it, and all have their ordained clergyman. Deprive the system of this functionary, and you have nothing left but a dead and disintegrating thing, with here and there a saved soul in it. It is a notorious fact that sect churches (so-called) invariably dwindle and generally die out, if without a "minister." This dignitary and his subordinate officers are the life of the concern. Their authority is unquestioned; their teachings are accepted unchallenged, and their not infrequent infidelity palliated. The minister leads the prayer meeting, does the preaching, dispenses the sacrament, baptizes those admitted to their communion; and in conferences, association meetings, presbyteries, synods, etc., manages the affairs ecclesiastical for the sect throughout the country, becoming in fact the church. The local congregation can do nothing without his presence. Even the Christians among the members seem to be absolutely helpless and oftentimes sit under the preaching of a man not only without any teaching or preaching gift, but really an unsaved man - a "Rev" manufactured by college and seminary alone.

But let us turn to the Word of God and see what help it has for us. Much capital is made of the word "ministry" in our English Bibles, as though it referred to some special kind of service, e.g., preaching and "administering the sacraments." But a candid examination of the Word will dissipate this conception. Diakonia (ministry) is variously rendered in our Bibles. In the following quotations the words in bold face type are some of its varied translations, "Martha was cumbered about much serving," Luke 10:40. "Then the disciples determined to send relief," Acts 11:29. "Widows were neglected in the daily ministration," Acts 6:1. "As touching the ministering to the saints," 2 Cor. 9:1. "I know thy service," Rev. 2:19. "Ministry of the saints," 1Cor. 16:15. "Take heed to the ministry," Col. 4:17. "We will give ourselves to the ministry of the Word," Acts 6:4. These scriptures are sufficient to divest the word of all official significations. It is simply any service done to the saints. The ministry of Archippus, Col. 4:17, which has been the theme of grand addresses, by titled ecclesiastics, to uphold their clerical assumptions, may quite as likely have been humble provision for the needs of preachers of the Word or of the poor. Had this word been uniformly translated, Nicolaitanism (i.e. rule of the people of God by an official class) would have suffered a severe blow.

Nor can any more be made out for ecclesiastics from the concrete noun diakonos, as a few quotations will show. "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all," Mark 9:35. "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister." Matt. 20:26. "Where I am, there shall also my servant be" John 12:26, "Jesus Christ a minister," Rom. 15:8. "Phebe, a servant of the church," Rom. 16:1. "Likewise must the deacons be grave," 1 Tim. 3:8. "The servants which drew the water," John 2:9. This word which occurs thirty times in the N.T. is translated minister twenty times, servant seven times, and deacon only three times.

The words elder and biship have been dealt with in the same way. They are used interchangeably, see Acts 20:17, "elders of the church." In verse 28 we read the charge to these elders, "Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers." ("episkopos", same word for "bishop"). There were manifestly four considerations, which forbade our translators rendering this bishop: (1) It would make a bishop to be the same as an elder. (2) It would give a plurality of bishops in a local assembly, instead of a pompous , diocesan dignitary. (3) The Holy Ghost did the ordaining and installing and thus left no room for human ordination. (4) Their whole duty was to "Feed the church of God," not a hint of modern episcopal authority. The terms elder and bishop are used interchangeably again in 1Peter 5:1,2, "elders" v.1, "Taking the oversight" (literally bishoping) the flock, v.2; compare Tit. 1:5,7. Here again the work of an elder or bishop is to "feed the flock of God," never lording it over God's heritage, v.2. The church is not the heritage of any bishop, but of the Lord.

There is positively no such dignitary in the Word of God as the modern bishop. He arose out of later, apostate Christianity. The word "bishop" simply means "overseer", which is what Paul told the Ephesian elders they were. The elder is any elderly man with matured judgment and of good report, fitted to feed or guide the people of God. The apostle Paul did appoint (ordain) certain of such men in the different assemblies, and gave Titus instructions to do the same. But there is no evidence for any ecclesiastical authority conferred, not even a hint that they had any more right to break the bread than the humblest believer. Guides and teachers they were to be, and examples of faith, watching for souls in the fear of God. Heb. 11:7, 17. But, never were they to lord it over God's heritage.

We come to the study of ordination. It is the strength of the sects. They stand or fall with it. The word "ordain" occurs seventeen times in the New Testament, but in only four places can anything even apparently be made out of it for ecclesiasticism. These we will notice.

1. Titus 1:5. Titus is here instructed to "ordain elders...as I had appointed thee," Evidently personally instructed. But, the context gives no hint of authority to dispense sacraments, nor to take official position. The word ordain, means to "appoint".

2. Acts 14:23. Though a different Greek word, the same statements practically cover this case. Without the written NT scriptures, they may have needed an authority, like that of the apostles, which is no longer required. It surely means much to a subjected heart, that nothing is said of the church ordaining them, nor of the continuation of ordination. There is no living man, nor set of men, who have any such authority. In 2 Tim, devoted largely to truth for these last days, nothing is said of ordained men, but now the need is for "faithful men," 2 Tim. 2:2.

3. Mark 3:14. It is said of the Lord, that "He ordained twelve." Here we have the Lord Himself selecting His twelve apostles, who were to have inspired authority, and were to be in the foundation of the church. This can only correspond to the sovereign bestowment of gifts today upon the members of the church by the same Lord, see Eph. 4:8-11. It has no reference whatever to human ordination.

4. 1Tim. 2:7. Here Paul says, "whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle......a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity." Of Paul's ordination we have the following points to note. If it was before he began his ministry, it must have been performed before his baptism, Acts 9:17,18, a most disorderly thing, according to modern ecclesiastics. Moreover, it was done in that case by an ordinary "layman" called only "a certain disciple." (vs.10). If on the other hand the account in Acts 13:1-3, be that of his ordination, as some (who shrink from the difficulties of the former supposition) would have it, the matter is not materially improved for clerisy. For we have then the anomaly of an apostle being ordained by some humble teachers at Antioch. This is power ascending, an impossibility to valid ordination. Moreover, we have, on this supposition, the apostle preaching and teaching, in fact exercising full authority in the field of his labors, for nine years previous to this ordination. This is impossible if human ordination confers any authority.

But, in Gal. 1, we have the apostle's own statement of the source of his authority. "Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead... But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught [it], but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called [me] by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus." vs. 11, 12, 15-17. What could be plainer than that the apostle's message, commission and authority were from the Lord alone. It is this, which is before his mind in 1Tim. 2:7, as the context fully shows. Following this assertion of divine authority, vs. 7, we have, in the remaining part of the chapter, inspired direction for the church of God. We conclude that Paul had no ordination as moderns understand the word.

5. We have left the case of Timothy. To him the apostle says, "Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." 1Tim. 4:14. It is well to note that this was a prophetic gift, as we find reasserted in 1:18, "This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee." By prophetic foreknowledge Paul recognized Timothy as one of God's chosen vessels for special service. Again it was Paul's hands after all, which conferred the gift, as we learn from 2Tim. 1:6, "The gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands." The Presbytery could only have identified themselves with Timothy, not conferred anything upon him, by the laying on of their hands. But, we need specially to notice in 1Tim. 4:14, that it was a GIFT conferred on Timothy, of which mention is made. There is nothing said of authority to exercise that gift. The impartation of a gift is widely different from conferring authority to minister that gift. The latter thing (which modern ordination pretends to confer), is never found in the Word of God.

We have thus covered all the Scriptures concerning ordination. The case of the ordination of the priests under the OT economy, Heb. 8:3, does not apply. That was a system of law, and hence of uncertainty as to salvation, therefore its intermediate priesthood. Believers, in church times, are all priests, 1 Pet 2:9; Rev.1:6. To set up a middle class between the believer and God is to abdicate this priesthood. There is therefore not a vestige of warrant in the Word of God for the thing called among modern sects "ordination." No man was set apart to "administer the ordinances". Gifts only and not authority, were conferred by the apostles. Surely, no man or set of men will pretend today to prophetic foreknowledge of a man's gift, the power to confer a gift, or to confer the Holy Ghost to minister that gift. Rome and episcopacy may pretend to the last, but their pretensions are rejected by sensible men. What then is ordination? Simply a sham, a mockery, a farce, no less an unreality because its actor thinks it is real. What does it confer? A title, a place and a dignity, which must be maintained at whatever cost. If the man thus made into a "Rev" be destitute of gift, he must still be provided if possible with a parish. He may be unsaved but his ministrations must be received. He may rail at the Word as many so called "divines" (?) today are doing.

Yet the "laity" must be awed into silence, for are they not "Reverend men"? The capstone of such a farce is reached in the words of the clergy of the church of England, concerning cases where the "Minister" is a wicked man. "When everything seems against the true followers of Christ, so that on a carnal calculation, you would suppose the service of the church stripped of all efficacy, then by acting faith on the Head of the ministry (Christ) they are instructed and nourished. Though in the main the given lesson be falsehood, and the proposed sustenance little better than poison" (Melville. Sermons Vol. 1 and 2 quoted in Beverly on Ministry, pg. 83.) The doctrine though not so boldly stated among non-liturgical communions, is practically assented to. For the preacher may talk literature, science, art, or infidelity (if only he do it not after too bold a fashion) and it is swallowed by the pew-holders without a question, as if it were the milk and meat of the Word of God. The sad, sad proofs of this might be tabulated, but they are only too manifest to those watching the growth of apostasy in what is known as Protestant Christendom.

Whence then did all this vast system of clerisy emanate? We answer, from apostate Christianity. Its beginnings indeed were manifest ere the close of the first century, and we have also the clear statements in the Word of God, that appalling apostasy had already set in. Its history is prophetically traced in Rev. 2 and 3 under the name of Nicolaitanism. The word means "ruler of the people", the laity. Some have sought to prove that there was one Nicolaus and that Nicolaitans were his followers, but not the slightest trace of such a person can be found. The Ephesian church is commended as follows: "This thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also Hate," 2:6. But Ephesus "left her first love" paving the way for all later apostasy. In the Smyrna period (tribulation times) Judaizers had crept in, and the Jewish legal system was taking the place of the church; This God calls "the synagogue of Satan," 2:9. Judaism makes salvation uncertain because dependent on law keeping, it therefore puts God back behind the veil, for there can be no boldness without assured salvation. It fills the church with a mixed multitude of those who want to be saved, (but who are not saved) and who are working for (not out) their own salvation. This mixed thing, which is the only thing found in sectarian circles today, is no longer in reality the church, but is rightly called the "synagogue of Satan." Such a people can have no "boldness to enter into the holiest" no "access with confidence" to God. They cannot exercise priestly functions, for many of them are not born again, and hence are not priests. Such a synagogue must have a "Reverend" personage, to be its priest, or it must go to pieces. Hence, we have in the second period (Smyrna) the abundant preparation for the "doctrine (no longer deeds only and those hated) of the Nicolaitans," in the Pergamos period, 2:15. Clerisy then became a well-established doctrine, and has held its place undisputed in Rome, and later in the Protestant sects as well. It could not be otherwise for unbelievers can only worship (even in pretense) by proxy, by a priest, a minister. The clergyman officiates for the synagogue of Satan, and the synagogue fawns on its "minister", feeds his pride, makes fat his portion, and supposes that their great, growing, boastful, Laodicean, and oftentimes infidel system, is the church of God going on to the conquest of the world for Christ. The doctrine of Balaam has come in with all the rest of clerisy, i. e., teaching for hire. Money settles the field of labor; money decides what is to be taught and what to be covered up; money makes popular evangelists with their card signing tricks, and popular methods; money secures the preacher that will please the particular synagogue. Thousands of God's professed messengers thus prove themselves to be "BALAAMITES." It is as in Israel "the heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money; yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us," Micah 3:11. And as to the evangelists with their great drag nets, He says, "They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion [is] fat, and their meat plenteous " Hab. 1:15,16. Three thousand converts in twenty-one days in one city, (not one absolutely known to have been born again). Twenty thousand in ten days in another city (thousands of dollars in cash for the job) and so on, with dates ahead for six months or a year. This is the devil's work; a farce in the name of Christ; a sham; an opiate for souls on the way to Hell; a religion without blood, without repentance, without the new birth, and that ends in the lake of fire. What is its purpose? To swell the number in the synagogue of Satan, and to make fat the portion of the drag-net fisherman. Some of God's own are in this drag net business. May He pity them and pluck out of such an awful position.

But, let us turn our eyes again from this sad scene to the Word of God. In Acts 8:1-4, we find that the only ordination to preach needed by the disciples was sufficient persecution to scatter them and thus give them a field of testimony. This preaching was manifestly done by the "laity," (vs. 1,4,5). It was attended by great blessing from God, vs. 6, and was fully sanctioned by the apostles, vs. 14-17. In Acts 11:19-26, we have the same freedom in preaching the Gospel on the part of the disciples. God acknowledged their work, (vs. 21), Barnabas rejoiced in it (vs. 22,23), and Paul followed it up strengthening the Christians, (vs. 26). In 1Cor. 16:15, we have a whole household addicting themselves (ordaining themselves, according to the translation of the same word in Rom.1: 3-4) to the ministry of the saints. 2 Cor. 4:13 gives us all the ordination any man needs for telling out the gospel story; "as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak."

In Acts 16:24,25, we have a man not only commissioned with all Christians to spread the gospel story, but a man of gift. Of Apollos it is here said that he was "an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures...instructed in the way of the Lord and fervent in the spirit." There is nothing said of his being an ordained man, but much is made of his qualifications. Evidently, his gift made room for him, and was all the authority he needed. This leads us to the study of Gifts in the church. In 1 Cor.12, we have important teaching about this subject. These various gifts are called "manifestations of the Spirit", vs 7, and are said to be "operated by the Spirit", vs 11. They manifestly cannot be manufactured by college and seminary, nor conferred by ordination, for they are sovereign gifts of the Spirit, "as He will", vs. 11, "God hath set," vs 28. Moreover, they are not centered in one man, but are distributed through the members of the one body, "to one", "to another", "to another", etc. vs. 8-10. This destroys utterly the theory of a one-man ministry.

Again, all members have some gift, not necessarily a public one, but all have some share in the ministry to the saints. We read "Dividing to every man" v. 11. The figure taken up to illustrate the unity and mutual ministry of the different members of the church, is that of a body. No members of a normal body are useless - none without their proper functions. Any member will become powerless if unused. No one member of the body can be brought into constant use without corresponding detriment to the rest. "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" v. 27. How essential then that every member gets its exercise as well as its food.

In chapter 14 we find these various gifts in exercise. The whole chapter is full of instruction as to ministry, but we will note only the latter part. "How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. Let the prophets speak two or, three, and let the other judge. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted," v. 26, 29-31. There is no room in this passage for the one-man ministry around us today. Instead, we have full liberty of worship, or of ministry on the part of all, controlled only by the Holy Ghost. This is God's order, and therefore the way of real instruction, comfort and growth. Human ministry compels "the minister" to preach even though he have no message, and forces the others to silence, even though ready to minister that which God's people really need. True there is a visible head to a sect meeting, and there may be a smoothly running machine. In fact the less of God there is about the thing the better it will run. This is fully manifested around us today. If God comes in with power, the ungodly choir has to go, the polished essay must be laid aside and vanity of dress give place to broken-heartedness in the presence of God. Thus, God in His mercy has ever and anon broken the fetters of sect ecclesiasticism. But when God's ways about the church are obeyed we have this pressed upon us - the meeting is nothing without God. There is no room for stately music, imposing ritual or pompous oration or essay. The position is one of absolute dependence, and unless God comes in, there is manifest and humiliating failure. Thus God would ever keep us where His rebukes can reach our hearts. Man's wisdom would suggest the system so as to avoid the humiliation of failure. But God would have us where He can deal with us, manifesting our poverty, chastening us, and then revealing His Grace.

It might be well in passing to note the setting of chapter 13. Many now use it as a cloak for their own sectarian sin, or a cudgel with which to beat those who seek to obey the whole Word of God. This matchless chapter on love occurs in the heart of a book on church order. If the instructions preceding it have been obeyed the believer is already delivered from his sect and is remembering the Lord weekly in the breaking of bread after the simple scriptural manner. He has also learned the truth of Gifts in the body and is seeking to walk in God's ways, as to ministry. Now comes the need for love, that there may be no envy, no ambition for prominence - no putting of self forward. Chapter 12 shows the gifts in the church, chapter 14, those gifts in exercise and chapter 13 the oil which prevents all friction in their exercise. Probably no scripture has been turned to more unholy uses than this chapter on love.

In Eph. 4:11, we have enumerated the prominent gifts for ministry, via: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. The first and second have passed away, as apostles and prophets are found in the foundation of the house of God, Eph. 2:20, see also 1 Cor. 4:9, margin, 13:8. The permanent gifts now are evangelists, pastors and teachers. The work of the evangelist is to bring souls to Christ, the shepherds and teachers are to build them up after they have been saved. These gifts are still to be found in the church, and where found they need no authentication at the hands of bishops or presbyters. The possession of such a gift confers the right, yea the responsibility, to exercise it.

Another of the gifts mentioned in 1 Cor. 12 is "governments," v. 28. A correct understanding of the Greek will remove much difficulty. The word which occurs only here, means steering, piloting, and directing. Thus it falls in perfectly with Heb. 13:7 and 17, in both of which the expression "have the rule over you" is in the margin "are your guides," or more correctly still, leaders. In 1 Thess. 5:12, we read of those "over you in the Lord." The same word is translated rule in Rom. 12:8, 1 Tim. 3:4, 12. The position is God-given; it is that of a guide and an example, not that of a lord over God's people, 1 Peter 5:3. Whatever the portion of these leaders, discipline did not belong to them exclusively but to the whole assembly, 1 Cor. 5:4. "When ye are gathered together." See also v. 3, "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person." The Lord's people are told to submit themselves one to another. Eph. 5:21, 1 Peter 5:5.

The Word of God gives no such thing as a church system which covers a continent. It knows no annual conference, association meeting, Presbyteries, Synods, or general Assemblies - no higher church courts. Each local assembly while it may accept counsel and help from those in other assemblies is responsible to God. Ephesus was never instructed to correct Corinth, nor Philippi to assume supervision of the Galatian churches. Each of the seven churches mentioned in Rev. 2 and 3 are rebuked and warned and urged to correct the evils of their own particular assembly, or to hold fast that which they have. District oversight leads to sectarian organizations; self assumed oversight brethren become a clergy, and both principles logically end in Rome.

It remains to speak a word under this head with regard to Woman's Ministry. She represents typically the church (Eph. 5:25,27), the bride of the Lord Jesus Christ, for whom He gave Himself. Temporally she is in relation to her husband (the normal and scriptural state being the married state, 1 Tim. 5:14, with exceptions through the providence of God). Both typically and actually the position is one, not of degradation not of slavery, but of subjection. "The head of the woman is the man," 1 Cor. 11:3. "The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church," Eph. 5:23. Neither her physical qualifications nor her instincts, (unless she has been made abnormal by sect teaching) leads her to enjoy public ministry. Nor does the Word of God grant her that place, 1 Cor. 14:34-37, 1 Tim. 2:11-12. It is of no avail to urge that these injunctions were only temporary, for they occur in connection with God's order in the church for all time, and subjection to them is made a test of spirituality, 1 Cor. 14:37. "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." In what light does this statement put those who not only disobey this plain command, but seek to wrest the Word of God so as to break its force. Nor is it of any avail to urge that God has blessed woman's public ministry. Israel received water, though Moses disobeyed God in getting it for them. God said "speak to the rock," Moses in disobedience "smote the rock twice," Num. 20:8-10. Yet "the water came out abundantly." God did not, however, forget the sin of his servant, but for this deprived him of entering Canaan, vs. 12. God in sovereign grace may use ministry, yet this does not prove that He justifies those who minister.

How beautifully the scriptural position of woman in this matter brings out the type! Whence is all the division, heresy, and shame of the church? Manifestly from her breaking the silence of subjection to Christ, either to erect systems of her own, and to substitute her reasoning for the Word of God, as Protestantism; or to become the infallible interpreter of the Word of God, and the murderer of the people of God, as Rome.

What then is the proper sphere of woman's ministry? The home; 1 Tim. 5:14. The care of children is hers especially. Care for God's servants is hers also; Rom. 16:2. Teaching within God-given limits is her privilege; Titus 2:3-5, and Acts 18:26, with Rom. 16:3, where the wife is mentioned first. Does this seem a narrow or limited service? Surely not. Man and woman have different spheres of activity, both essential and both honorable in the sight of God. Surely the place given by God is the only really happy place either for man or woman. Mary's ministry is lovingly dwelt upon by the Lord Jesus, John 12:3-7 and the Holy Ghost is careful to record the good works and almsdeeds of Dorcas, Acts 9:36. A large, satisfying field of ministry, one to which she is adapted and which man cannot enter, is open to woman, and if entered and occupied by her will bring commendation "She hath done what she could," Mark 14:7. If, however, an unscriptural position be persisted in, it would be well to remember the words "For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth." 2 Cor. 10:18.

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