THE MINISTRY THE WORK AND THE CHURCHESPrint This Page.
In the earlier chapters of this book we have already seen what the ministry, the work, and the local churches are. In this chapter we have seen the connection between the ministry and the local church, and also the difference between the church and the work. Now we can consider more minutely the relationship between the ministry, the work, and the churches, in order to see clearly how they stand, how they function, what their respective spheres are, and how they are interrelated.
In Acts 13 we saw that God had established one of His churches in a certain locality; then He gave gifts to a few individuals in that church to equip them to minister there as prophets and teachers, so that the church might be built up. These prophets and teachers constituted the ministry in that church. When in life and in gift these ministers had reached a certain stage of spiritual maturity, God sent two of their number to work in other places; and history repeated itself in the churches established by these two apostles.
Do you not see here the relationship between the churches, the ministry, and the work? (1) God establishes a church in a locality. (2) He raises up gifted men in the church for the ministry. (3) He sends some of these specially equipped men out into the work. (4) These men establish churches in different places. (5) God raises up other gifted men among these churches for the ministry of building them up. (6) Some of these in turn are thrust forth to work in other fields. Thus, the work directly produces the churches, and the churches indirectly produce the work. So the churches and the work progress, moving in an ever-recurring cycle—the work always resulting directly in the founding of churches, and the churches always resulting indirectly in further work.
As to the gifted men raised up of God for the ministry, they labor both in the churches and in the work. When they are in their own locality, they seek to edify the church. When they are in other places, they bear the burden of the work. When they are in the local church, they are prophets and teachers. When they are sent to other places, they are apostles. The men are the same, at home or abroad, but their ministries differ according to the sphere of their service. The prophets and teachers (and shepherds and evangelists), whose sphere is local, plus the apostles, whose sphere is extra-local, constitute the ministry. As the former serve the churches, and the latter the work, the ministry is designed of God to meet the spiritual need in both spheres. Here again we see the relationship between the churches, the ministry, and the work. The work is produced by the churches, the churches are founded as a result of the work, and the ministry serves both the churches and the work.
In Ephesians 4 we see that the sphere of the ministry is the Body of Christ, which may be expressed locally as a church, or extra-locally as the work. It is for this reason also that apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers are linked together, though actually the sphere of an apostle's work is quite different from that of the other three. But all belong to the one ministry, whose sphere of service is the Body of Christ. These two groups of men are responsible for the work of the ministry, the one being gifted by the Spirit that they may be enabled to serve the local church, the other called from among these gifted ones to serve Him in different places and given an office in addition to their gifts. Those who have been gifted use their gifts to serve the Church by serving the church in their locality. Those who have both gifts and apostolic commission serve the Church by serving the churches in different localities.
God uses these men to impart His grace to the Church. Their various gifts enable them to transmit grace from the Head to the Body. Spiritual ministry is nothing less than ministering Christ to His people. God's thought in giving these men as a gift to His Church was that a Christ, personally known and experienced by them, might through the gifts of the Spirit, be ministered to His people. They were given to the Church "for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the Body of Christ."
Thus, in the ministry we have the prophets and other ministers using their gifts to serve the local church, while the apostles, by their office and gifts, serve all the churches. The ministry of these two groups of men is of great importance, because all the work of God—local and extra- local—is in their hands. That is why God's Word declares that the Church of God is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
And in the offices instituted by God, we have the elders occupying the chief place in the local church, while apostles hold no office at all there. Apostles, on the other hand, hold the chief office in the work, while the elders have no place there. Apostles rank foremost in the universal Church, and elders rank foremost in the local church. When we see the distinction between the respective offices of apostles and elders, then we shall understand why the two are constantly linked together (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23). Apostles and elders are the highest representative of the Church and the churches. Apostles hold the highest office in the work, but in the local church they—as apostles—hold no office at all; elders, on the other hand, hold the chief office in the local church, but as elders they have no place in the work.
And in the local church, there are two departments of service, one relating to business management, the other to spiritual ministry. Offices are connected with the management of the church and are held by the elders and the deacons. Gifts are connected with the ministry of the church and are exercised by the prophets and teachers (and evangelists). The elders and deacons are responsible for the management of the church, while the prophets and teachers concern themselves chiefly with the meetings of the church. Should the deacons and elders also be prophets and teachers, then they could manage church affairs and at the same time, minister to the church in the meetings. We must differentiate between the elders and the ministers. In everyday life, it is the elders who rule the church, but in the meetings for edification, the ministers are the ones ordained by God to serve the church. It should be repeated that elders, as such, are appointed for church government, and not for meetings to edify the church. In 1 Corinthians 14, where meetings are in view, elders do not come in at all. But elders, in order to be effective, should also have the gift of a prophet, teacher, shepherd, or evangelist. Yet it must be remembered that when they minister in the meetings they do so, not in the capacity of elders, but as prophets, or teachers, or other ministers. It is in the latter capacity that they have part in the ministry. First Timothy 5:17 makes it clear that the usual sphere of their service is to rule, but some of them (not necessarily all) may also teach and minister.
So the ministry, the work, and the churches are quite different in function and sphere, but they are really coordinated and interrelated. Ephesians 4 speaks of the Body of Christ, but no discrimination is made there between the churches, the work, and the ministry. The saints of the churches, the apostles of the work, and the different ministers of the ministry are all considered in the light of, and in relation to, the Body of Christ. Because whether it be the local church, the ministry, or the work, all are in the Church. They are really one; so while it is necessary to distinguish between them in order to understand them better, we cannot really separate them. Those who are in the different spheres of the Church need to see the reality of the Body of Christ and act relatedly as a body. They should not, because of difference of responsibilities, settle themselves into watertight compartments. "The church, which is His Body," includes the churches, the ministry, and the work. The churches are the Body expressed locally, the ministry is the Body in function, and the work is the Body seeking increase. All three are different manifestations of the one Body, so they are all interdependent and interrelated. None can move, or even exist, by itself. In fact, their relationship is so intimate and vital that none can be right itself without being rightly adjusted to the others. The church cannot go on without receiving the help of the ministry and without giving help to the work; the work cannot exist without the sympathy of the ministry and the backing of the church; and the ministry can only function when there is the church and the work.
This is most important. In the previous chapters we have sought to show their respective functions and spheres; now the danger is lest, failing to understand the spiritual nature of the things of God, we should not only try to distinguish between them, but sever them into separate units, thus losing the interrelatedness of the Body. However clear the distinction between them, we must remember that they are all in the Church. Consequently, they must move and act as one, for no matter what their specific functions and spheres, they are all in one Body.
So on the one hand, we differentiate between them in order to understand them, and on the other hand, we bear in mind that they are all related as a body. It is not that a few gifted men, recognizing their own ability, take it upon themselves to minister with the gifts they possess; nor that a few persons, conscious of call, form themselves into a working association; nor is it that a number of like-minded believers unite and call themselves a church. All must be on the ground of the Body. The church is the life of the Body in miniature; the ministry is the functioning of the Body in service; the work is the reaching out of the Body in growth. Neither church, ministry, nor work can exist as a thing by itself. Each has to derive its existence from, find its place in, and work for the good of the Body. All three are from the Body, in the Body, and for the Body. If this principle of relatedness to the Body and interrelatedness among its members is not recognized, there can be no church, no ministry, and no work. The importance of this principle cannot be over-emphasized, for without it everything is man-made, not God-created. The basic principle of the ministry is the Body. The basic principle of the work is the Body. The basic principle of the churches is the Body. The Body is the governing law of the life and work of the children of God today.