An “every member ministry.” The name should be self-explanatory. This is a staple of modern American Evangelical and Fundamentalist discipleship, and likely of the Reformed, as well. We probably all can hear the echoes of pastors past and present who’ve clearly proclaimed that they are not the only “ministers” in the local church. Every member, not just the pastor, is here to exercise his gifts for the building up of the body of Christ. Might this be a “fifth rail” of American Christianity that the believer in his right mind dare not touch, lest he be accused of attempting to take us back to Roman Catholicism with its clearly defined gap between the clergy and the laity? Don’t worry, my personal intention is not to state anything to the contrary of those who believe they are gifted to perform any of a myriad of tasks in the local church. Some of us are gifted to teach, though we’re not ordained pastor/teachers; some are gifted to serve the physical needs of the least of the congregation; some are gifted to aid in the musical operation of the local church; some are gifted to do any myriad of other things that are indded vital activities that ought to take place in the context of the local church, and by the members of the congregation, not just the ordained pastors, elders and deacons. I’m not out to overturn the apple cart of an “every member ministry” as it happens to currently be manifest in American churches. But I would like to address, or rather, cite Michael Horton’s remarks regarding, one passage of Scripture that is famously associated with the idea of an every member ministry, and in fact, serves as part of the Scriptural basis for such activity.
But first, let’s look at the passage: Ephesians 4:1-16, as it is translated in the King James Version. And let us pay special attention to where the punctuation falls in verse twelve, which I’ve highlighted.
1I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. 7But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
8Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 10He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
Now let us see what Michael Horton has said about this passage in his latest book, Christless Christianity, on pages 248-249, in the final chapter, “A Call to the Resistance.”
And now, as we are reminded in Ephesians 4:8-16, the ascended King moves his gifts of this subversive revolution down to us; we do not have to climb up to him. Here the apostle Paul teaches that the same one who descended to the uttermost depths for us and ascended “far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (v. 10), does not keep the treasures of his conquest to himself but liberally distributes them to his liberated captives below. The original Greek emphasizes, “The gifts that he himself gave . . . .” They originate with Christ, not with individual members or the body as a whole. The gifts he gives are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (v. 11). They are not given as a hierarchy of control, like “the rulers of the Gentiles” who “lord it over” their subjects instead of serving (Matt. 20:25; see vv. 25-28). Rather, Paul says they are given . . . (here he cites Ephesians 4:12-15, which we’ve just read above). More recent translations typically render the clasuse in verse 12, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (e.g., ESV, NRSV, RSV), which has been used as the chief proof-text for every member ministry. For various reasons, I am persuaded that the older translations (especially of verse 12) are more accurate and also capture better the logic of the argument.
This does not mean, of course, that the official ministry of the Word (now exercised by pastors and teachers) is the only gift or that ministers rank higher in the kingdom of Christ than everyone else. Rather, this gift of the ministry of the Word is given so that the whole body may be gifted: brought together in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. Only then can each member receive the additional gifts that make them function together as one mature body with Christ as its living Head (Eph. 1:15-16). The gifts flow down from Christ; the Great Shepherd serves his flock through undershepherds who minister his gospel through preaching and sacrament. Of course in other places Paul expands the list of gifts that are exercised by the wider body (see Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12). A church that is lacking in generosity, hospitality, and other gifts of mutual edification is unhealthy; a church that lacks the Word is not a church. Therefore we come to church first of all to receive these gifts, realizing more and more our communion with Christ and therefore with each other as his body. (emphasis mine)
I always wondered if there was something up with this difference in punctuation between the KJV and many, if not all, modern translations (I haven’t checked). I know just bringing up the matter will draw criticism as if I’m out to tell everyone in the church to stop doing stuff for Christ, and just sit and listen to the preacher. This is the great fear of those who zealously proclaim this passage as it is translated and punctuated in modern translations (even if they’re KJV onlyists!) Rather, the point I want to make is the same simple point I always make. For ministry to be Christ-centered, the cart must not go before the horse. The Law and Gospel preached and the sacraments properly administered is the horse, and this and only this, is what makes the cart of our fruitful service go. The Law and Gospel preached and the sacraments properly administered turns some goats into sheep, and then the same Law and Gospel preached also feeds the sheep and strengthens them to love one another, not only as a congregation, but also as sojourners and strangers among our unbelieving neighbors in the world. Profound in its simplicity; simple in its profundity!
The cart may be getting put before the horse sometimes when our focus on the “priesthood of the believer” somehow turns into the “ministryhood” of the believer, as Horton frequently says. Hear me clearly, brethren: don’t give up your Sunday School class, don’t drop out of the choir or praise band (or whatever your church calls it), don’t stop helping in all the little, unnoticed ways you do. Just don’t make your primary focus–don’t make these activities your main purpose for being there. If you do, you may be living a Christless Christianity, intending to earn God’s grace by your good works. Rather, first look to being served by Christ through the ordained ministry of Word (Law & Gospel! Not just Law and not just Gospel!) and sacrament as your source of grace and faith and strength . . .
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, 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. (Ephesians 4:13-16, ESV).