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The 'Ministry' vs. 'The Body'

Submitted: 5/30/2004
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Question: A concern I have been thinking about lately is that it seems that you teach that there is absolutely no distinction between 'the ministry' and the rest of the body. But Paul talks about being called into 'the ministry' and also says that he is 'a father,' that you have many teachers, but not many fathers in the gospel. I wonder if you have any articles you might direct us to that address this issue.

Answer: We do teach that there is absolutely no distinction between 'the ministry' and the rest of the body, as though some members are excluded from ministry. Paul, in fact stated clearly that the purpose of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers is the equipping of 'the saints for works of ministry.' Everyone with the Holy Spirit is called to ministry. This is of course using the word ministry in a broad generic sense. Ministry is simply serving the Lord.

We do teach that there are distinctions between ministries, since 1 Corinthians 12:3-5 says, 'There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.' In a similar vain I teach that there are differences of function, since Romans 12:3-6 says, 'For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us....' Some believers function in leadership roles such as elder-overseers. Some function in prophetic roles. Some function in administrative roles. Some function in preaching roles. Some function in helping roles. The ways the members of the body function are almost limitless, but they are all simply members of the one body, none in a distinctive class called 'the ministry.'

In the original Greek, Paul said he was called into ministry. There is no definite article in the original. He was not called into 'the ministry' but into ministry. Again, this is using the term ministry in a broad generic sense. He was called into service. Or, he was called to serve the Lord. The particular way he was to serve as an apostle to the Gentiles may have been distinctive, but he was nevertheless called to serve just like everyone else in the body is called to serve.

When Paul referred to himself as being a father to the Corinthians, he was referring to the fact that he had brought forth this assembly as a father does his son. He is also stressing the idea that he ministered to them not as one operating in some official position, but as one who loved them and cared for them as a father does his son. So he was not establishing a pope-like office, but rather describing the character and authenticity of his ministry to them (pope means father).

The best article we have on this subject is The Big Bright Target.