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Pastor or Minister?

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Is the person up front every Sunday morning a pastor?  Or are they a minister?  Does it make a difference?  To most people, it probably doesn’t make a difference.  Maybe it shouldn’t.  But I want to take a few paragraphs to explain my personal conviction of why those who are up front each week (and others who are involved in pastoral ministry) should be called pastors rather than ministers.

As I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog, I’m currently working through the book of Ephesians.  At one point in this beautiful book, Paul writes,

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son ofGod, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 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.

Eph. 4:11-14

In this passage, Paul is referring to gifts that God has given his church.  And contrary to most ‘spiritual gifts’ passages, the gifts in view here are offices within the church.  Without getting into the debates about the current existence of apostles (there aren’t any), prophets (no comment), and evangelists (definitely), I want to focus only on the final two (or one) office: shepherds and teachers (or shepherd-teahcers).  This is akin to the modern-day office of pastor in the church.  And that’s the term that is used here: shepherd, or pastor.

It is significant that Paul doesn’t refer to this office as a ‘minister’ but rather a shepherd for two primary reasons.

First, the term shepherd or pastor more accurately describes what the pastor does.  The biblical image of a shepherd is one that is used throughout Scripture for the leaders of God’s people.  In the Old Testament, Israel’s leaders (both secular and spiritual) were referred to as shepherds (cf. Ezek. 34 for a nasty indictment of Israel’s leadership).  This term is used in the New Testament as well for those who guide God’s people spiritually under the direction of Jesus himself (cf. 1 Peter 5).

Second, and more importantly, it is significant that Paul uses this term because of what comes next.  In v. 12, Paul describes why God has given these gifts to the church: to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.  Why is it important to not call pastors ‘ministers’?  Because all of God’s people are ministers.  We are all involved in the work of the ministry, not just those who are up front on Sunday mornings.  When we refer to pastors as ‘ministers,’ we are implicitly stating that the work of ministry is only done by a select few, and that the recipients of this ministry are those who attend the church.  But that’s not the case at all!  All Christians by definition are involved in ministry; pastors are there to guide and shepherd and equip those who do the actual ministry–to one another, and to those in their communities.  This does not mean that pastors aren’t involved in ministry; no, as God’s people they too should be involved in ministry; but that ministry is done in addition to or as a part of their ministry of equipping the saints.

Before people object, I want to make it clear that this is a bit of an overstatement.  I realize that this is much more of a ‘cultural’ or ‘traditional’ thing (neither of which is bad) rather than a theological thing.  It is my personal conviction that the implications of what we call those in vocational ministry are significant enough to be intentional in our choice of words, but I also don’t think that people are necessarily wrong when they call a ‘pastor’ a ‘minister.’  I would encourage a thoughtful reflection on the theological language that one is using, and that those who refer to their pastors as ‘ministers’ prayerfully consider calling them ‘pastor’.


Holy (Wedding Day) [The City Harmonic]

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If you have some time, listen to this song.  A beautiful song of the biblical theological imagery of the wedding of Christ and his bride (the church) in the last day.

A Summary of John Wesley’s “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection”

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Years ago, I was in a systematic theology class looking at different models of sanctification from different Christian traditions.

Having more Reformed tendencies, I was able to read John Wesley’s A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.  While I don’t agree with Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection,  I did appreciate the opportunity to broaden my horizons.  Wesley did incredible things for the kingdom of God, for which I am grateful.

A one paragraph summary for those who are interested and may be confused by Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection:

Essentially, Wesley believes that Christians are able to become perfect in this lifetime.  Before we immediately dismiss him however, two things must be understood to put this into context: his understanding of sin, and his understanding of perfection.  He has a much narrower understanding of sin than the Reformed position, i.e., fewer things count as sin to him.  And second, he has a lower understanding of perfection: the perfect Christian can still make mistakes.  Perfection means to love God fully.

While I still disagree with this doctrine and think that Scripture reaches a different conclusion, reading his own argument helped me to realize the gap between us was much smaller than I first thought.

Act of Approach

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A Puritan prayer concerning the gift of grace that it is to approach the throne of God.

I praise thee continually for permission
to approach thy throne of grace,
and to spread my wants and desires
before thee.
I am not worthy of thy blessings and mercies for I am far gone from original righteousness; My depraved nature reveals itself in disobedience and rebellion; My early days discovered in me discontent, pride, envy, revenge.
Remember not the sins of my youth,
nor the multiplied transgressions of later years,
my failure to improve time and talents,
my abuse of mercies and means,
my wasted sabbaths,
my perverted seasons of grace,
my long neglect of thy great salvation,
my disregard of the Friend of sinners.
While I confess my guilt, help me feel it deeply,
with self-abhorrence and self-despair, yet
to remember there is hope in thee,
and to see the Lamb that takes away sin.
Through him may I return to thee,
listen to thee,
trust in thee,
delight in thy law,
obey thee, be upheld by thee.
Preserve my understanding from error,
my affections from love of idols,
my lips from speaking guile,
my conduct from stain of vice,
my character from appearance of evil,
that I may be harmless, blameless, rebukeless,
exemplary, useful, life-giving, prudent,
zealous for thy glory
and the good of my fellow-men.

Service, Unity, and Jealousy (1 Cor. 12:12-31)

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If you were to pick one of the New Testament churches as the model church, the church of Corinth would probably be last on the list.  This church (remarkably still called saints in 1 Cor. 1:2–a true sign of God’s gracious nature) was filled with virtually every vice and was divided on essentially every issue of the faith.  Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul attempts to unify the body on different issues, and his plea for unity culminates in this chapter through an illustration that is easy for all of us to relate to.
Just as the body is unable to go anywhere if its right and left legs don’t work together, so also the body of Christ is not much good without being unified in the person of Christ.  Oftentimes in the church, jealousy runs rampant–people want to serve in one capacity, but they are ill-suited for that ministry and would be better used in a different area.  Paul’s call here is clear–don’t wish that you were someone else!  Use the gifts that God has given you, and why?  Paul gives us the answer in a similar passage in Ephesians 4:12-16: to build up the body of Christ.  How are you using your gifts to build up the body of Christ?  In what way are you bringing about unity in the church?
Holy, Gracious God, three distinct persons yet one united Godhead, we ask that our church body would reflect your unity.  As we serve you, we ask that your glory would be our single concern, as we build up the body of Christ unto full maturity.  For Jesus’ sake we pray, Amen.