Does “Every Member Ministry” Contribute to “Christless Christianity”?

An “every member ministry.” The name should be self-explanatory. This is a staple of modern American Evangelical and Fundamentalist discipleship, and likely of thecart-horse 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).


20 responses

  1. Translation of language is a task, I am glad someone else knows better then myself. If we are talking about new believers who come into the church, they certainly need trained. Just because you are a member of a local church does not necessary mean you ar real to minister in a ministry. Every believer is to minister in the church with their gifts yes, but not without training in that gift. And the pastoral staff, elders are to train those who are in the church.

  2. I’m no translation expert myself, Charles. However, sometimes I get “hunches,” like this one, and sometimes they pay off, although it has taken years for me to find any corroboration of my hunch. I find it pretty ironic, as a recovering KJV onlyist, that KJV onlyists preach Ephesians 4:12 the same way modern translations translate it. The contemporary, revivalistic, fundamentalist KJV onlyist would consider the vision of ministry as described in the KJV’s translation as “Catholic.” However, the KJV was, after all, translated by Anglicans, who likely had a concept of ministry as primarily the ordained ministers delivering Christ to the laity for the forgiveness of their sins, and anything the people do is just the living out of their gratitude for such forgiveness, rather than a response to a call to have everyone sign up to get involved in some program of the church or other.

    I hope I’ve made myself clear, that I don’t disagree that people should be involved at church in some capacity, but that believers should not be first and foremost going to church to do, but rather to receive. Sometimes, however, the ordained ministers can give the impression that such is, indeed, the case. I’ve had ministers in the past in a revivalistic church teach me that every week I ought to be witnessing and inviting folks to church with the personal goal of “making something happen at the altar.” This is the kind of emphasis of which I’m critical. When phrases like “win ’em, wet ’em, work ’em,” are thrown around regularly, this is the kind of environment where I think the practice of “every member ministry” contributes to “Christless Christianity.” First go to receive from Christ, then be about gratefully doing in his name, whether it’s at church or at home.

  3. John, I agree with your “win’em, wet’em, work’em, that was good. My motto about the altar idea: No altar call. No manipulation. No mood lighting. Just Jesus crucified, resurrected, reigning. Just the call to repent and believe. Could it be that simple?

    When pastors try to convince members they must make it happen, fall in to a false idea of doing ministry God’s way.

    The problem is not the KJV, NIV or ESV translation, as much as its the person who doesn’t know the meaning of the text, wouldn’t you say? And we know those who create the kind of environment you mention, don’t know the grammatical context or the discourse context, nor the situational context of Ephesians 4.

    The cart may be getting put before the horse is so correct.

  4. Capt.,
    Give us the difference between “gifts” (spiritual operation of God within) and those “ministries” for which we can “train.”
    You are VERY right in your thinking! But be careful that we don’t attribute to men working in ministry the clear operation of the Spirit.


  5. The distinction that is getting blurred by the use of this passage is that between “The Ministry” and ministry. It’s true the word ministry basically means to serve, and anyone can serve, whether they’re ordained to serve the Word of God or not. But Scripture (at least in the original) makes a distinction between the ordained ministry and lay service. Those God has gifted to preach the Word are given for these specific reasons, and “the work of THE Ministry” is one of them. It’s THE MINISTRY OF WORD AND SACRAMENT, as opposed to any service of anyone by any other one.

    To preserve the office and work of pastor/teacher, is not to attribute the power of God to men. It is to recognize that although God has the right and ability to sovereignly operate without means (something both mystics and hyper-Calvinists desire to see as the norm, when it comes to the Word of God), he has sovereignly decided to normally operate through the ordinary means of men gifted to preach the Word, which is what he uses to equip saints, and to build up the body of Christ by means of THE work of THE MINISTRY of Word and Sacrament. God usually uses ordinary means to supernaturally regenerate and sanctify and make fruitful the work of the members of the church.

    However, at the end of the day, I know I don’t have all the answers about this topic, and may miss the mark in some of my remarks above, but I do know I’ve always thought there was something funny about blending together those two purposes of the pastor/teacher, and I am grateful to God that he has begun to supernaturally illuminate the truth of his word through the ordinary means of solid Christian literature.

  6. I am confident there are gifted men given to the Church. They have specific tasks to accomplish in moving the “Church” toward spiritual maturity. There are also men and women (all believers) who are gifted by the Spirit for the work of ministering the grace of God to one another. We (all believers) have responsibility to carry forth that work empowered by the Spirit. They (the gifts) are all of equal value – “can the eye say to the foot” sort of thing. I would be interested in hearing if you think they have some “order,” however, since I would think that before one can “minister” they must be “MINISTERED” to. (If you see my separation as you have explained it.)


  7. It’s THE MINISTRY OF WORD AND SACRAMENT. Here is where I am lost in the idea of sacrament verses the Lord’s Supper. Baptist seem to use the term “Lord’s Supper” verses the Reformed using the word “Sacrament.” Give me your take biblical on this as a roll of the pastor/teacher?

  8. CW,

    I agree that every member is gifted by the Spirit for the building up of the body, and that the ordained ministers are not inherently “better” than the rest of the Body, however, their role is unique and essential in God’s plan to strengthen the Body. The case I’m making is not to reinstitute the old Roman chasm between clergy and laity, as if they were a priesthood who must mediate between us and Christ, the case I’m making is the same old case I’m always making: when the gospel gets neglected, and we stop consciously hammering on what Christ has done for us, and spend the majority of our time fixating on what we ought to be doing, we begin to think in terms of working to earn something, whatever it may be, from God. But the gifts through which we serve are gifts of grace, which means we get it from God, and the way God gives us his grace is through the gospel preached by the ordained minister, and by whose administration of the sacraments, God signifies and seals the benefits of the gospel to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    My problem with blending “. . . for the work of the ministry . . . ” with “. . . for the perfecting of the saints. . . ” (Eph. 4:12 KJV), is that the work of the pastor is literally “lost in translation.” In our minds, we’re jumping past the means of grace which are the pastor’s “work of the ministry” to the results of grace, which is ” . . . From 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” (v. 16).

  9. Charles,

    I’m not clear on what biblical case you want me to make on the pastor’s role in the Lord’s Supper. Could you rephrase the question, please?


    But to begin with, I’ll point out one Scripture that is applied to the relationship between the pastor and the sacraments among the Reformed–1 Cor. 4:1 (ESV):

    “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

    Although the idea of the “mysteries of God” is usually associated with the truth of the gospel, and perhaps other related truths, the fact that the word “sacrament” is the Latin word for “mystery” seems to have led those of us who subscribe to sacramental (not to be confused with sacerdotal) theology to lump the “sacraments” themselves in with the subject of this verse. In other words, we conclude that here Scripture calls the ordained ministers to be the stewards of the sacraments of God, and so they are the only ones permitted to administer them. I know this differs from non-Reformed Baptistic practice. But applying the standard for the priesthood as stated in Hebrews 5:4, ” . . . no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God . . . ”

    Romans 16:25 reveals the fact that the gospel is not only for the “saving of the lost” but also for the “strengthening of the saved.”

    “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery (hey, there’s that word again! Not that it’s talking about the sacraments here) that was kept secret for long ages.” (ESV)

    cf. KJV: “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began. . . . ”

    And the Reformed believe that the sacraments, as signs and seals of the New Covenant (Heb. 4:11, the basis for assigning such labels to the New Covenant ordinances), are signs and seals of the gospel. We believe the sacraments go together with the gospel preached and that the promise of sacramental efficacy in them is dependent on their conjunction with the gospel preached. That’s why we call it the “Ministry of Word and Sacrament.” Not only the gospel as preached by the pastor strengthens the faith of the saved, but also the gospel as signified and sealed in the sacraments, strengthens the faith of the saved. The gospel and the sacraments are a package deal, we believe. And to apply this to the present discussion of Eph 4:12ff, as the faith is strengthened, love for God and the brethren will grow and so the members will effectively exercise their gifts among each other and thus corporately build up the body in their way. So you see the source of this is the work of the Spirit through the pastor as he performs “the work of the ministry (of Word and Sacrament).”

  10. John

    I am in complete agreement with you on this issue.

    I notice you used the term SACRAMENT rather then the Lord’s Supper, I have heard some say we don’t use the term sacrament. How or do you see any different in the terms as used by Baptist verses Presbyterian?

    Also you use the term “gifts of grace” verses “spiritual gifts” do you see those the same or different?

  11. Charles,

    That’s funny! I just posted a response to your previous comment, and just as mine appeared, yours showed up too.

    Anyway, to answer your new questions, I’ve heard confessional Reformed (or Calvinistic) Baptists say they acknowledge the legitimacy of the word “sacrament” but generally tend to favor “ordinance” for whatever reason, which I believe is part of what contributes to the non-Reformed Baptists making the “ordinances” acts of the believer primarily, rather than the Reformed emphasis of their primarily being the action of God dispensing his grace to his people.

    As for the gifts, question, the answer is “the same.” I was just wording it differently because I thought it would help make my point. But if you don’t get the point, then I guess it didn’t really help. Hope it did.

  12. John,

    Thanks. Sacrament, ordinances, Lord Supper, communion. Thanks for the explanation. I am finally getting an understanding.

    You are making me think about these issues, like how as a pastor to I preach or teach the gospel, and then present the “work of the ministry” to the people. Thanks.

    God dispensing his grace to his people through the preaching of the gospel and the ordinances? Is the primary why Reformed and others have communion each week?

    I particular like the statement: their role is unique and essential in God’s plan to strengthen the Body. That is some wisdom in that.

  13. This is the reason the Reformed are getting back to practicing weekly communion. It’s not universal by any means, but it was the emphasis of Calvin and I think some of the other magisterial Reformers may have as well, but in Calvin’s case, the Geneva city council forbid weekly communion for a reason I’m sure you’re very familiar with: if it becomes too routine and ritualistic, it’ll lose it’s “specialness.” I’d like to recommend a book, if I may: Keith Mathison (of Ligonier Ministries, so he’s an employee of R. C. Sproul) wrote an extensive book on the biblical, theological and historical issues related to the Lord’s Supper, called Given For You.

    Here’s the link to the book:

  14. You might also check out a previous post of mine on “Why Weekly Communion?”

  15. John

    Would you believe I had never read any articles on why the weekly communion. And I need to get the book. Thanks.

    As with this whole post you have written, the need to view our methods as preacher and church needs to take another view. But old viewpoints are hard to change, you know.

    Happy New Year, this may indeed be a new year of methodology.

  16. Keep me up on your ongoing reforms! Happy New Year!

  17. Cap’n,
    There is historical evidence to suggest that the reason the Genevan council forbade weekly communion was not because it would no longer be “special” but simply because it was too much of a break with Roman Catholicism.

    Gage Browning

  18. Gage,

    Yeah, I knew I was probably repeating urban legends. Pardon my lack of “scholarly precision.”

  19. Cap’n,

    Great post. I’m with you on Eph. 4:12. I used to think oppositely, but it makes better sense in the passage I think. ‘Course I’ll need to study it out more probably, but you have a strong case.

    Blessings, brother.


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