Ordination For What?
The crucial question before the church at the present time is not that of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The New Testament asserts that he is Head and Lord of the Church and this is not something which is subject to challenge. Theologians may have problems about the resurrection, but they do not have difficulties with Matthew's understanding of who the risen Lord is. In chapter 28 of his gospel, Galilee is the thread with which Matthew links his account together: the angel says in verse 7, 'He is risen from the dead, and lo, he goes before you into Galilee. There you can see him.' The women leaving the tomb are met by the risen Lord himself (v.10), and his word is the same: 'Go tell my brethren that they depart into Galilee.' In that glorious freedom with which each gospel writer paints his own portrait of the Lord Jesus, Matthew thus
dispatches us to Galilee, and in verse 16 we join the eleven disciples as they go to a mountain which Jesus had appointed and where they hear him say, 'All authority in heaven and earth is given to me.' That, in a nutshell, is what Matthew tells us about the risen Lord, and there is little questioning on the point. I do not find people who want to say other than the New Testament confession that Jesus is Lord.
The question before the church, however , is not whether Jesus is Lord, but rather, how does he exercise his Lordship over the church? The question is not one of Lordship, but of government. How does this Lord so speak to the church that the church lives under his Lordship?
In the balance of the gospels, Luke takes on the revelation of the risen Lord from Matthew. The Lord Jesus is found joining two people on the road to Emmaus and, by an act of God, they are prohibited from recognising their companion. It is important to realise that, 'their eyes' (say the older versions) 'were holden that they should not know him.' There was a divine constraint or blinkering, whereby they could not recognise who was walking with them, even though it would have solved their problems there and then to have removed the blinkers, lifted the constraints, and shown them Jesus. They would have said at once, 'Oh yes, we see, we know, we are convinced.' But no, they are taken round what seems a loop-line, which begins with Moses and all the prophets and surveys all the Scriptures, as the Lord Jesus reveals himself to them. As though that were not enough, a little later in the day, when he is with a larger company of his disciples in the upper room, we read that he opened their minds that they should understand the Scriptures. It is in this way that Luke takes over from Matthew, because Matthew declares that Jesus is Lord, and Luke declares that Jesus exercises this Lordship over the church, through the revelation of Holy Scripture.
It is vital for us to remember that 'their eyes were holden that they should not know him'. In other words, it was not through any failure of understanding on their part but through a deliberate divine intention that the
church is not given a 'hot-line' to heaven. There is no direct access to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Access is mediated through the Scriptures, so that if we wish to know him, then we must acquaint ourselves with Moses, the prophets and all the Scriptures. By the end of the chapter we learn the further truth that if we wish to preach him, then we must equally acquaint ourselves with the Scriptures in which he is to be found.
THE REALITY AT THE HEART OF THE CHURCH
My first substantial point, then, is the constitutive reality that lies at the heart of the church. We need to be careful not to displace the Lord Jesus from his throne in any way. In the deepest and fullest sense, he is the constitutive reality that lies at the heart of the church. Or, to be more particular, the blood of Christ is the constitutive reality which lies at the heart of the church, for the church is the blood-bought people. I rarely find myself quarrelling with William Cowper, but Cowper does say, in one of his hymns, 'Dear dying lamb, thy precious blood shall never lose its power, 'til all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more.' Yet surely even then the blood of Christ will not lose its power. We shall be in need of the blood of Christ just as much as we have ever been, for we have no other standing ground for all eternity in the presence of the holy God. That is the pre-eminent reality which constitutes the church as the people of Jesus.
However, when we come to the practical "going concern' on earth, what is it that constitutes the church? The answer is that when we consider the church in the world, the constitutive reality at its heart is the Word of God. It was so in the case of Noah, Abraham and Jacob - not that they had a Bible, but they had a word. The word of revelation, the word which God spoke, set them apart from the surrounding world and made them the people of God. In Hebrews 11:7 we read that Noah was 'warned by God' or, more simply, 'was addressed from heaven'. In this way he was set apart from his contemporaries, so that he and his family were the people of God in the midst of a surrounding ungodly world. The word of God had come to him. That is what constituted him and his family as the people of God, and so it was with all the people of God throughout Scripture.
Or again, in Deuteronomy 4:7-8, Moses speaks to the people gathered round him (the then church - our ancestors who came out of Egypt by the blood of the lamb): 'What great nation is there that has God so nigh unto them as the Lord our God is whensoever we call upon him? And, what great nation is there that has statutes and judgements so righteous as all this law?" Their questions, causing comment among the nations, derived from the word that God had spoken. In verse 32 Moses says, 'Ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from one end of the earth to the other, whether there has been any such thing as this great thing is, or has been heard like it. Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire?' Moses is asking, 'What is it that makes you different? What is special about you?' Later, he insists that it was neither their earthly power, nor the fact that they were more numerous than any other nation, but simply because the Lord loved them (Deut. 7:7, 8). How did the Lord show his love? How did that love of God - which like the blood of Jesus constitutes the separate people - express itself so as actually to make a separate people? The answer is that God spoke to them through his word.
We must move on to 2 Timothy, a passage which is very important to our discussion because it is written at a crucial point in church history. Paul can look back to the apostolic age and say, 'but it is over'. He writes in chapter 4, verse 6, "The time of my departure has come'. Sitting on the dividing-line, so to speak, as he writes to Timothy, he looks forward into the post-apostolic age, when the church is bereft of the living apostolic voice and person, and sees first of all that it will always be a challenged church. In chapter 1, verse 15, 'all in Asia have turned away from me' - there is departure from the apostolic centre. In chapter 2, verses 17 and 18, he writes of Hymenaeus and Philetus, men 'who concerning the truth have erred' - there is denial of central Christian truth. In chapter 3, verse 1, he sees that 'desperate times will come, for men
shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient, unthankful' - there is abandonment of moral standards. Again in chapter 4, verse 3, he states that 'the time will come when they will not endure the healthy doctrine, but having itching ears will heap to themselves teachers after their own whims and fancies and will turn their ears from the truth and swerve off into fables' - there are alternative gospels abroad.
This is the world in which Timothy is to minister, with its departure from apostolicity, denial of central truth, moral collapse and alternative gospels. How is Timothy to identify himself as the true man of God in the face of all these claimants to truth? The answer is equally clear in each chapter. 'Hold the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me' (1:13). You already have the truth patterned for you; hold it. 'Give diligence to present yourself approved to God; a workman that need not be ashamed, driving a great high
road through the word of truth' (2:15). In the day of moral collapse and calamity, 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for teaching' (3:16). In the day of alternative gospels, 'Preach the word' (4:2), 'Do the work of an evangelist' (4:5).
In other words, Paul is emphasising the same thing, which we have discovered from the beginning, that the true people of God are the people gathered round the word which God speaks. The only difference is that, by the time we come to Timothy, Paul can speak in terms of a Scripture that is, in principle, complete. He invites Timothy to look back to the inherited writings: 'From a child (or from a babe) you have known the sacred writings' (3:15). He also invites him to look back to something that has been added to the sacred writings: 'You followed my teaching' (3:10); 'Abide in the things which you have learnt' (3:14). So verse 16 comes with the force of an apostolic comment, not only upon Old Testament Scripture but in principle also upon that which in apostolic days has been added to the Old Testament Scripture, when Paul cries out triumphantly, 'All Scripture' - every scripture, whether it is the inherited writing or the apostolic completion - 'is given by the inspiration of God'. The people of God have at their centre a constitutive reality, and it is the
Word of God which constitutes them as the people of God in the midst of an opposing world. The church is created by the Word and it is the preaching of the Word which brings people into the church. To see this in one passage, we turn to Romans 10; 4-17, 'How will they hear without a preacher? . . . Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.' It is the Word that creates the church, and thereafter constitutes its inner reality and distinctiveness, and it is also the Word which is the growing-point of the church. Many scriptures could be brought to our minds here, but a small statistic from Acts will be sufficient for our purpose. In Acts there are about thirty-seven distinct references to the growth of the church. Time and time again the historian stops to note that numbers were added, that the church grew, that the Word of God increased - and there are also other phrases which he uses. On the understanding that they are not placed where they are by accident but by design, when we look at the context in which those references are made, twenty-four out of thirty-seven relate the growth of the church to the preaching of the Word. What a proportion! If you do the research yourself, you may find that you arrive at slightly different figures. It depends on whether you include hints as main statistics or only reckon up what is plainly said. But the proportion is correct. Of the remaining thirteen references, six relate to the quality of church life - if we get church life right, the church will grow - and seven relate to the effects of signs and wonders on the surrounding world. But twenty-four relate to the preaching of the Word.
The Nature of the Church
Two extremely important derivatives stem from this basic fact that the Word is the constitutive reality of the church. The first concerns the nature of the church itself. You may have read, in the Church of England Newspaper,1 two articles written by Canon Colin Craston. Craston is right when he says that we must start with the doctrine of the church and then proceed to the doctrine of the ministry. He goes on to write as follows:
- Since the Reformation there have been two ecclesiologies. A Protestant ecclesiology emphasises the calling out of the local believing community as the Word is preached and men and women respond to it in faith, as a result of which they are personally related to Cod. The full company of such persons across the world is known only to God; its boundaries are invisible to man. There is also a Catholic ecclesiology which emphasizes the historic and visible nature of the church - a world-wide society founded by Christ which is both the sacrament and instrument of his presence in the world. The visible institution requires true order to validate the structures of ministry and to preserve the church's identity within the apostolic tradition.
Then there comes a piece in italics: 'There is growing recognition that the two ecclesiologies need each other, need correction and enrichment by drawing together.' I want to say to you that if there is growing recognition of this, then please count me out, for I recognise no such thing. If I find foreign bodies in the petrol tank of my car, I do not ask the garage to install an engine which can run on dirty petrol. Where in the New Testament, I ask, is there a suggestion of the necessity for true order to validate ministry, in the Catholic sense of those words? I reckon that one observation on the point is enough. It is this: For none of the rites where Catholic ecclesiology requires order, does the New Testament lay down any regulations. The ministry of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper is left entirely without regulation. It is left without even a hint that such regulation is necessary or right. There is no procedure known to the New Testament for the transmission of apostolic succession by the laying-on of hands. It is simply a fact that the church in that sense does not exist in the New Testament.
The Equality of all Church Members
The second derivative is the fundamental equality of all church members. The descriptive words for the membership of the church are, for example, saints, believers and brothers. 'Saints' records that they were set apart by God for God (1 Cor.l:2); 'believers' points to the actual experience of trusting Jesus, the experiential reality which creates church members; 'brothers' indicates the family equality of the whole company. When we grasp that fact, we ask ourselves an important question: 'Where, in this, is there room for the distinction between clergy and laity?"
LEADERSHIP IN A CHURCH OF EQUALS
But must we not ask, Are there not leaders in the New Testament church?, and, Can it be correct to be so absolutely forthright in removing distinctions between the leaders and the led? Now, there is one more word which describes the people of the church of the Lord Jesus, and it is the word which is used nowadays to express the very heart and essence of the clergy/laity distinction. It is the word 'priest'. To this we must now turn, but we will do so by considering leadership in a church of equals.
Take the following passage: "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus. To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ' (Phil. 1:1,2). The New Testament never contemplates a church without leaders. A church in which there are all Indians and no chiefs or all chiefs and no Indians is not the New Testament picture of the church. There are always leaders. Here is the whole company of the church, the saints who are in Philippi - but also the apostolic man, Paul, and the apostolic delegate, Timothy. That is one level of leadership in the church.
However, when Paul relates himself to the church which he is addressing, he does so not as an apostle, but as a slave: 'Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to the saints at Philippi'. If we were writing today we
would say, 'St Paul and St Timothy to the slaves at Philippi'. We have an immense capacity for turning the Scriptures upside down. Paul comes down amongst the people of God, as a slave to fellow slaves. Likewise, when he makes reference to that second rank of leadership, the overseers and deacons, we should notice carefully the preposition which he uses: "The saints in Philippi with the overseers and deacons.' Leadership in the New Testament has a companionate ideal. It is neither leadership from the front nor low-key leadership from the back, but is companionate leadership from alongside. 'With the overseers and deacons' means a leadership without autocracy - not lording it over God's heritage (1 Peter 5:3). It has to be so because of the fundamental equality of all church members.
Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. We tend to treat this doctrine as though it were simply a way of describing our private relationship with God, or we use it as if it were simply an ornamental or honorific description of the people of God. When we examine it in the New Testament, we find that it is the way the church is meant to function; that it is the practical rule of life for the church in the world; that it is the foundation of biblical and evangelical ecclesiology.
The letter to the Hebrews starts with that glorious statement of the exalted majesty of the Lord Jesus, both God and man, and how he is the eternal God upon his throne. Then it goes on to tell us that he is greater than Moses, greater than Aaron because he is the supreme High Priest, and that he is greater than any sacrifice that was ever offered because he has offered one sacrifice for sin for ever. Now, says Hebrews, if that is so, if Jesus is like that in his own glory, and if this is what Jesus has done in his saving work, what follows as a consequence? Hebrews 10:19-25 tells us. First we have 'boldness to enter into the Holy Place by the blood of Jesus' (v.l9). We have even gone beyond the priesthood of all believers. We are in the realm of the high-priesthood of all believers. We are going through the veil, called to "draw near with a true heart". Secondly, we are to 'hold fast our confession'(v.23). Thirdly, we are to 'consider one another, to stimulate each other to love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together' (vv.24, 25). This is what the priesthood or high-priesthood of all believers is about. It concerns the actuality of our life with God: 'Let us draw near'- and we do not need anybody to lead us there except Jesus. Here too is our real life in the world: "Let us hold fast our confession'. And here is our real life in the fellowship of the church: 'Let us look at one another to stimulate each other to love and good works.' This is the priesthood of all believers in operation.
Now, the New Testament writers were bred in the tradition of the mediating priest and yet they never suggest that there is such a priest among the ministries of the Christian church. Stephen Neill writes in his book, The Ministry of the Church, 'In all the lists, the word "priest" is never used once of a functionary of the Christian church.'2 Griffith Thomas says in The Principles of Theology3 (p.318) that 'Bishop Westcott is reported to have observed in some of his lectures at Cambridge that the avoidance of the familiar term "priest" was the nearest approach he knew to verbal inspiration.' Thomas adds (p.316) that the word 'priest' appears in the New Testament only either in the plural of all believers or in the singular of Jesus, but never of an individual Christian or minister. It is biblically inadmissible to use the word priest of an order of ministers or of an individual minister within the order.
The ARCIC Final Report observes: 'We have no evidence that bishops and presbyters were appointed everywhere in the primitive period. The terms 'bishop" and "presbyter" could be applied to the same man or to men with identical or very similar functions.' This is correct, but it goes on to add that 'Just as the formation of the canon of the New Testament was a process incomplete until the second half of the second century, so also the full emergence of the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter and deacon required a longer period than the apostolic age. Thereafter, this threefold structure became universal in the church.'4
I suppose that if you were walking through a fog and you found a hand held out to you, you would grasp it with considerable alacrity and relief. Consider your amazement, however, when the fog lifts and you find that your hand is grasped by that of the mad axeman! I get the same feeling when I read the Final Report! We have an analogy between the fact that the canon of Scripture was not fixed for, let us say, two centuries, and the fact that it took that time and longer for the threefold order of ministry to emerge. And the one thing is supposed to justify the other! But this is not a real analogy. There is all the difference in the world (and here I am just allowing for a moment that the canon was formed in this way) between selection, recognition and authorisation of documents that were there from the start, and an innovation involving something that was never there from the beginning. Where is the comparison? I come out of the fog, and I find I am holding the mad axeman by the hand!
Furthermore, if Scripture, when the canon is agreed upon, is given the regulative position which elsewhere the Final Report claims for it and allows to it, then Scripture is regulative of tradition. We cannot say that because it took a certain time for the canon to form and it took the same time for something else to form, one has the same authority as the other. The whole idea of a fixed, necessary, inevitable order of ministry coming from the hand of God has no place whatever in the New Testament. Similarly, there is no justification for describing the local church as the eucharistic community. This description is used widely in the report Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry,5 (BEM) as well as in the Final Report. This is not to diminish or denigrate the central significance and glory of the Lord's Supper; it is our worshipping act without equal. Yet there is no justification, with the Bible in our hands, for insisting that there is a ministry ordained specially for eucharistic purposes. No such ministry exists in the New Testament.
The Functioning of Leadership in the New Testament Church
In the New Testament, as we have seen, the church is a church with leaders. A leaderless church has never been in the mind of God. To that extent, the church partakes of the nature of the Old Testament theocracy, for theocracy is the use of human leadership without the abdication of the divine leadership. This is precisely the picture that we have in the New Testament of the church of God. It has its leaders and it has its Lord, and its leaders are without detriment to the glory, position and effectiveness of his lordly position.
First among the leaders of the church in the New Testament are the apostles. It is a fact that the word 'apostle' is sometimes used of a person other than one of the twelve (Acts 14: 4,14). Nevertheless, there is a discernible way in which it can only be used of the twelve - what Calvin calls 'the insignia of apostleship'. Their general qualification was that they had seen the Lord: 'Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?' (1 Cor.9:l). But many at the time had actually seen Jesus our Lord, so the 'insignia of apostleship' had to include also the fact of specific divine call and appointment. Thus Paul can insist that his apostleship came 'not from men, nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father' (Gal. 1:1). There is a further uniqueness in the apostolate, which made them an unrepeatable element in the life of the church, and this was their position as layers of foundations, vividly pictured in Revelation 21:14 in that on the foundations of the New Jerusalem there are inscribed the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. This suggests that the number of the apostles is as fixed and eternal as the New Jerusalem itself. However, the foundation which they laid was not organisational but doctrinal, consisting of the deposit of truth without which the church cannot exist and cannot survive. Their teaching was intended to be authoritative, was accepted as such, and constitutes the only apostolic succession in which the New Testament is interested.
I would remind you that when Paul considered his death to be imminent he did not commit Timothy to the authority of a continuing apostolate. He did not say 'Timothy, never mind there will still be apostles when I'm gone.' Nor did he encourage Timothy to expect fresh words of revelation from God by the Holy Spirit, or from any other source. The only clear reference to the Holy Spirit in 2 Timothy assigns him the task of safeguarding the Word which has already been given (2 Tim. 1:14). Paul consigns Timothy to an existing body of authoritative truth so that, as Brunner writes, 'after the death of the apostles, the apostolic office retained its value in one way only, as providing the norm of the fundamental tradition, now committed to writing, the fundamental testimony, that of the New Testament. Scripture is the norm of all dogma, because it crystallises the primary shape of the tradition, and becomes regulative for the teaching of the church.'6 Apostles and apostleship continue through our possession of Holy Scripture.
Deacons and Elders
The apostles then, laid the foundation, but the rule or government of the local church was in the hands of overseers and deacons.
Regarding deacons, we have to face the fact that the New Testament is more than a little vague regarding the day to day practice of ministry. What did the deacons actually do? The answer is that we do not know, although we are very well informed about what sort of people they were to be. The New Testament does not give a job description but a character reference. Some identify the order of deacons with the seven in Acts 6, but there is no ground even for making that simple identification. We do not know what they did, and that same vagueness continues to beset us when we come to the work of the elders. They are variously called 'elders', 'overseers', 'pastors' or 'teachers'. 'Elders' describes their seniority and experience; 'pastors', 'teachers' and 'overseers' describe their functions, of responsibility (overseers), care (pastors) and instruction (teachers). All the lists about eldership agree in defining teaching as their one stated function but, outside that one function, the emphasis again rests on personal qualities. We have, in fact, a job specification rather than a job description. One thing, however, is plain: there were elders (plural) in every church.
From the earliest references to apostolic practice - indeed in Acts 11:30, prior to the precise reference in Acts 14:23, local leadership was committed, not to an individual, but to a group. If we ask ourselves why the function of that group is not more closely defined, the answer is that ministry arises from the needs of the church, to meet the needs of the church, and not vice versa. It would appear that the elders shared in those common qualities which fitted them for office. They also shared that one thing without which the church does not exist: the ministry of God's Word. But beyond this, they shaped their ministry to meet the individual needs of the local church which they served.
LOCAL CHURCH AND WIDER CHURCH
We might then ask, 'Is there in the New Testament anything that runs beyond this idea of the local church, to the church in a wider area or the church universal?' It is commonly asserted today (you can find references in the Final Report, in the BEM Report and indeed in the Tiller Report) that the person whom these reports call 'the priest' represents the local church to the wider church and the wider church to the local church, and the person whom they speak of as 'the bishop' represents the wider and local churches to the world church and the world church to the wider and local churches. At the top of the pyramid, the Pope symbolises the church universal. What faulty thinking and logic this is! Because these are seen as significant functions, and because they could be performed by these office-holders, this is allowed in the reports to give (or to seem to give) justification to the office, and even to represent these offices as though they possessed divine authorisation: Is it not God's will for the local church to have wider links, and for the wider church to have world links? Then is it not also God's will to have people in whom these functions are concentrated?
When we come to the New Testament, however, it is the truth and not the office that binds and identifies the church. How did Paul look upon the differences in the local church in Rome when he was writing to the Philippians? Did he say, "There is a group here who hate me, and therefore they are not a church; they are out of fellowship with the apostolic head'? On the contrary, he said, 'It is a matter of indifference how they relate to me. What matters is that Christ is preached, and therein I rejoice.' It is the truth which is the binding link of the churches. The third epistle of John pursues this further in verses three to five. What is it that binds churches in a wide area, and why is it that people travelling from one church are accepted in another? John tells us that 'we want to be workers together with the truth'. The shared truth is the cement of the 'wider church'.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF NEW TESTAMENT MINISTRY
What then are the characteristics of ministry in the New Testament? We ought here to study the lists as they are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9, as well as key passages of the order of 1 Timothy 5:17ff, but we must content ourselves with Titus 2:7 as offering a succinct summary: 'In all things showing yourself an example of good works. In your teaching show integrity, a serious mind and sound speech that cannot be condemned.' We see at once the alternating references to character and communication: 'showing yourself an example of good works'; 'in your teaching uncorruptness'; 'having a serious mind and wholesome speech that cannot be condemned'.
When we read the lists in 1 Timothy and Titus of the characteristics that are to mark a New Testament minister, how ordinary they seem. That, however, is exactly the point. The Christian leader is to be an 'ordinary' Christian of 'Exhibit A' proportions. He is functionally distinct; he is to be personally distinct because of the holiness of his character; but he is not positionally distinct. When we move outside the lists, there is a strong stress on pastoring, on the shepherd's care. In Acts 20:28, in the course of the address that Paul gave to the Ephesian elders, we read: 'Feed the flock of God" - a shepherd's care. This is put again very beautifully in Hebrews 13:17, 'Obey those that have the rule over you and be compliant to them. For they are on the alert on behalf of your souls.' What a marvellous description of pastoral ministry: 'they are on the alert for your souls'! But there is also teaching, the ministry of the word: 'The things which you have heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men who shall be competent to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2 ).' This is the only apostolic succession in which the New Testament displays an interest: I have the teaching; you have the teaching; give it to the next generation also. The qualification for ministers is that they are competent to teach others also. They must have the ability, they must share the aim, they must get on with the work of passing on the deposit of truth.
Such then, is ministry in New Testament times, and over it all there is this extraordinary flexibility of approach. Nothing really appears to be fixed into a requisite, apart from the specifications we have noted.
Paul seems to have kept his finger upon some appointments, and he made sure that Timothy and Titus had their finger upon other appointments, but there does not seem to be ground for saying that every eldership appointment had to have apostolic or delegated apostolic sanction. We would be running far beyond the evidence if we wanted to fix that incubus on to New Testament ministry. There was an apostolic concern to get the right people if the apostle was available to advise about it, and there was an apostolic dictate not to lay hands on anybody suddenly, ill-advisedly or without due probation, but there is no attempt to secure a procedure, still less to guarantee a tactual association with the apostles.
The elders were always in the plural. Beyond that, they have left us with no record of what they actually did with their time. I would take Acts 6 to be a paradigm of the situation in the early church: that is to say, a need arose, and the church acted on the assumption that though the need may have taken them by surprise, it was not at all a surprise to the Holy Spirit because he had already prepared gifted people, 'full of faith and of the Holy Spirit', who could be set over this need in the church. The ministry arose from, and wrapped itself around, the needs of the church. The idea is nowhere contemplated of a local church ministry that drops in unheralded, carrying a divine authorisation. The ministry arises from the church and from its membership and is aimed at meeting the needs that are acknowledged in that membership.
Therefore we would say that at Philippi the elders did not necessarily do what the elders did at Ephesus; it all depended on the need of the church as the Holy Spirit recognised that need and gifted his servants to meet it.
I think we have to get back to a credible eldership in the church, but not even eldership will solve our problems. We read reports concerning the way the church should be going, offering great recipes for solving all our problems, and I say to myself in what I believe are the words of Mrs Beeton, 'First catch your hare'. There is nothing organisational that will solve the needs of the church unless we have men of the Word. We in the Church of England are told that the parochial system is a dead duck and that we have got to have diocesan ministry teams and local ordination, but there is no point in setting up a diocesan ministry team if it is composed of men who do not know the Gospel. It will solve nothing. There is no point in setting up teams of elders unless they are men who are devoted to the Word of God. Yes, let us get back to a credible eldership running our local churches but, above all, let us get back to the Word of God, because it is not eldership, or ministry of any form that is constitutive of the reality of the church. The constitutive reality of the church is the Word which God speaks.
Alec Motyer was formerly principal of Trinity College, Bristol. A well-known conference and convention speaker, he is Old Testament editor of The Bible Speaks Today series (IVP), to which he has also contributed several volumes.
This paper was first given at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly, London, 26 June 1985.
1Church of England Newspaper, 17 May 1985.
2 Neill, S., The Ministry of the Church, Canterbury Press 1947, pp 10-11.
3 Griffith Thomas, W.H, The Principles of Theology, Vine Books 1978.
4ARCIC, Final Report, SPCK/Catholic Truth Society 1982, p32.
6 Brunner, E., The Misunderstanding of the Church, 1952, p33.