Every Believer is a Minister
by Geoff Volker
What is the CHURCH? (Hebrews 8:7-13)
The New Covenant
What is the church? This seems like an obvious question to answer. The local church is made up of professed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. The local church is a family of believers. In Hebrews 8:7-13 the author of Hebrews (whoever he was) describes the saving work of Jesus Christ as the New Covenant. This is contrasted with the covenant that God made with the nation of Israel on Mount Sinai through Moses. This was called the Old or Mosaic Covenant. This covenant did not produce a believing, God-loving people of God; it was never intended by God to produce a people of real believers. Of course I am not saying that there were no real believers in the nation of Israel. I am only saying that Israel as a whole was unbelieving. There was always a remnant of believers in Israel. But when the New Testament describes Israel as a whole, it is described as unbelieving (Matthew 8:10-12). Israel was NOT the church in the Old Testament, but merely a picture of the true people of God, that is, the church in the new covenant era.
Israel Was a Picture
The death of Jesus Christ purchased a people for God (Acts 20:28). The New Covenant states that everyone for whom Jesus died will receive forgiveness of all their sins and a new heart. That means that every true believer will be a God-lover. A true believer who lived during the era of the Old Covenant would have met with fellow Israelites for worship, but he would have been in the distinct minority. He would have been a believer among unbelievers; a God-lover among God-haters. The professed people of God, the nation of Israel, were only a picture of the true people of God. All those for whom Jesus died are a part of the New Covenant. Everyone who is part of the true people of God, regardless of when they lived, will be a God-lover (Psalm 119:97-104; Acts 13:21-22).
The Church is for Professed Believers
During the time of the Reformation the Anabaptists correctly understood that the local church is only made up of those who give evidence that they are a part of the New Covenant. Therefore a proper profession of faith included not just a trust in Jesus Christ alone to save them, but also a desire to live for Jesus Christ. The evidence of the changed life was a necessary ingredient to a biblical profession of faith. The Anabaptists could not conceive of a church made up of both believers and unbelievers, as did the Reformers. Since infants were not capable of a biblical profession of faith, then they also could not be part of the church. The Reformers ridiculed the Anabaptists for believing that the church could realistically be made up of only true believers. The Anabaptists did not hold to this view. They believed that unbelievers could indeed slip in among the believers, but they could only do so if they were masquerading as true believers. Scripture provides church discipline as the means to deal with those who were only professing to believe but were in reality God-haters.
Children in the Church
It does seem that most evangelical churches view the children of believers as an integral part of the church. But, in light of the New Testament teaching on the New Covenant, we would have to say that children of believers are not a part of the church unless they give evidence that they are participants in the New Covenant. The common practice of gathering the children together and having them sing special music in the worship service for the purpose of leading the family of believers in worship is an unbiblical practice. If they are not believers, then they are not members of the New Covenant people of God and are not a part of the local church. They are a very important field for evangelism but not a part of the people of God.
Who Does the Ministry in the Church? (Ephesians 4:7-16)
The Role of the Elders
The function of the elder is both as a pastor or shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-3) and as a teacher (Titus 1:9). He shepherds or pastors by applying the Word of God to the life of the believer. He teaches by systematically equipping the believer with a biblical foundation. The elder is to be the equipper, not the primary doer, in the family of believers. He functions both as a coach and as a player. He is to work in such a way that the family of believers is prepared to do the works of ministry.
An Unhealthy Picture of Elders
The elders who seek to be the ones who do all, or even most of the ministry are not fulfilling their function in the body of Christ. It would seem that they ought to be working themselves out of a job. If they are discipling the family of believers for works of ministry, then the better they do their job the more the believers will do the ministry and the more the elders will experience a lessening of the burden of being an elder.
The Ministers of the Church
It is the individual members of the family of believers who are the real ministers in the church. We ought to take back the use of the term "minister" from the professional clergy and once again begin to use it in its biblical sense.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16 NIV).
The work order by God for the church is that each member of the New Covenant community is to be involved in ministry, so that the whole body is built up in the faith. It is ministers who do the works of ministry, and it is to the members of the family of believers that the works of ministry are entrusted.
The Potential Curse of a Staff-Oriented Church
There is nothing unbiblical with having paid staff at a local church. But the temptation that often comes with it is the pitfall of having the staff do the work of ministry. It is very time consuming and difficult to equip members of the body for ministry. It is just easier to pay someone else to do it. Since you are paying them, the issues of accountability and excellence are much easier to manage. The local church must be set up in such a way that the very structure of the church encourages each member of the body to do the works of ministry.
What Has God Given to Each Believer? (1 Corinthians 12)
Each Believer is a God-lover
Because each believer is a recipient of the benefits of the New Covenant, all believers come to faith in Jesus Christ with a love for God and a desire to live for him (Romans 6:1-2,17-18). All believers are in the process of being supernaturally motivated by the Spirit of God to live for Jesus Christ (Romans 8:5-14). There is no such thing as a "dumb sheep" mentality in the body of Christ. Every member of the body is equipped and motivated for ministry.
Each Believer is Gifted by the Spirit
God the Holy Spirit has spiritually gifted every believer for works of ministry (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). Each member in the family of believers is supernaturally equipped for ministry. He does not determine his function on his own, but should to seek to determine what God has given him and then develop that giftedness for works of ministry.
Each Believer Has a Function in the Family of God
Since all those who are of the New Covenant have been made a God-lover and are gifted by the Spirit, it is clear, then, that each believer has a specific role to fulfill in the body of Christ. It was not our idea to come to faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5,11). It was not our decision that determined what gift the Spirit would give us (1 Corinthians 12:11). Each believer has a vital God ordained purpose in the family of God. Our Sovereign God has determined that the church should function in just this way. To be a part of the family of believers and yet have no ministerial purpose is impossible in the New Covenant community.
The Danger of By-passing the Body in Decision-Making (Proverbs 15:22)
The "Dumb Sheep" Mentality
The New Covenant guarantees that every believer will be transformed and motivated by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:5-14). The Scripture describes each believer as having the "mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16). Therefore, the notion that the church body is somehow made up of "dumb sheep" that cannot be trusted to discuss and discern biblical issues is a rather silly idea. It would seem unwise to cut out of the decision-making process the wisdom of the family of believers and limit the interaction to just the elders. Many church leaders simply do not trust the body of Christ. They fear that if they allow the body in on the decision-making process, then Pandora's box will be opened and chaos will reign. If the body is that untrustworthy then you do not have a New Covenant community but an assembly of unbelievers.
The Illustration of the Husband and Wife
It is clear that the husband has the final authority in the marriage relationship (Ephesians 5:22-33). Yet, with that being understood, it must also be stated that any husband would be foolish to eliminate his wife from the decision-making process. He would recognize that he does not know all that he needs to know, that he has a limited point of view and that he has blind spots. His wife will provide a very different perspective and will protect him from himself. In the same way it would be foolish to refuse to consult the wisdom of the family of believers, the New Covenant community, when the leadership is seeking to make a biblically sound decision. Why cut yourself off from a source of wisdom that the Spirit of God is responsible for? The local church does have elders and they do hold the final authority in the church (Hebrews 13:17). Yet they are a part of a family of believers, and it is the whole family of believers that has been the recipient of the transforming work of the Spirit of God that was purchased by our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the High Priest of the New Covenant.
All Believers are Priests in the New Covenant Era (1 Peter 2:9-10)
A prophet represents God to the people while a priest represents the people to God. In the Old Covenant era only a very few, the priests, had access to God in the sacrificial process. In the New Covenant era every believer is a temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). God the Holy Spirit is in the process of transforming each believer. Every believer is gifted by the Spirit and is called to ministry. Any concept or structure of the church that does not biblically express the priesthood of all believers is fundamentally unbiblical and does not bring honor to the Lord of the New Covenant.
Note: This article also appears in the In-Depth Studies website.