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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Few questions can be so vitally important to any church, whether relating to its own peace and prosperity, or to the success of the work it is appointed to do, as that of the kind of minister who shall serve and lead it. The position commands high regard, for the minister is looked upon not only as a teacher, but as an example. He is therefore accepted as the one who, by his private and public life, is to illustrate the doctrines and ethics which he preaches from the pulpit.
The old prophet’s declaration, “like people, like priest,” is as true now as when Hosea uttered it. Where the people have freedom of choice, and select their own pastors, they will choose them on the level of their own religious thinking and acting.
Moreover, there is a constant tendency on the part of the preacher to keep somewhere near the standard of the people. It requires a heroic effort for the pulpit to rise far above the level of the pew, as to Christian teaching and consecration, and he who long sustains himself in that position may expect, sooner or later, to hear the mutterings of discontent. But then, contradictory as it may seem to be, the converse of the prophet’s epigram is equally true: “like priest, like people.” For, to a large extent, by faithful, judicious, and persistent endeavour, a godly pastor can mold and win the church to a higher standard.
The old prophets, notably Jeremiah, represented the people of Israel under the analogy of a flock, led and fed and guarded by shepherds, called pastors. Jesus used the same figure when he declared himself to be the Good Shepherd that gave his life for the sheep. The relationship between pastor and people is thus intimate, vital, and sacred.
It is one of the first and most important fruits of religious liberty and free-church polity that congregations of Christian worshipers can elect their own religious teachers. They may make mistakes, but they insist on the right, and they will not willingly submit to the dictation or control of others in this regard, from either civil or ecclesiastical authority. This is a point Baptists have always emphasized, maintaining this as well as other expressions of religious freedom for the individual church.
Every Christian is under obligation to preach the gospel according to his ability and opportunity; but special leaders and teachers are needed for the pastorates of churches. The Spirit of God prepares certain men for the work, while the providence of God develops and calls forth their ministry. It is all under the direction of the Chief Shepherd and Bishop of Souls, who sends among his people the under-shepherds.
Jesus began this work while among men. He “ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach” (Mark 3:14). Likewise, “After these things, the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come” (Luke 10:1). And his final instructions, as he was leaving them, were: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:19, 20).
The Purpose of the Ministry
The general purpose contemplated by the appointment and sustenance of an official ministry in the churches is clearly enough defined in the popular mind, and well enough understood by the prevailing customs of religious society: to shepherd the flock, to instruct congregations in religious truth, and to guide the churches as to internal order and the practical activities of Christian life. But, to be more specific, it may be said the ministerial purpose is twofold: the conversion of men, and then their instruction and upbuilding in the faith of the gospel.
Thus did Jesus, in his farewell injunction, command his disciples to go forth, preach the gospel, disciple men, baptize them, and then teach them to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded them. Not infrequently extremists are heard to say that there is nothing comparable to the conversion of souls; that is the one great object of preaching. Both goals, however, should be constantly sought, and devotion to one does not exclude the other.
God may be as much glorified and the world as much blessed by the development of character and the increase of good works on the part of believers, as by the addition of converts. Read the epistles to the churches, and see how much is said about edifying the body of Christ; about growth in grace; about perfecting the saints in holiness; about being filled with the Spirit.
In Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, after saying that Christ gave gifts, some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, he states for what purpose these gifts were bestowed, namely, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till 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” (Eph. 4:12, 13). Here is a grand concept of an advancing Christian growth, under the culture of pastors and teachers, even to the attainment of a “perfect man,” that is, a perfected humanity in Christ!
When Christians are living in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel and exhibiting the life of Christ, sinners will be converted.
The Call to the Ministry
If the spiritual life of the churches is to be maintained, and the power of godliness to be preserved, a divine call to the work of the ministry must be insisted on by the churches. It is not enough that a man, young or old, has piety and ability and education; that he possesses a facility in the use of language, and can address a congregation with ease and interest, both to himself and to them. Nor is it enough that he has an earnest desire to do good. It must not be the mere choice of a profession, nor the dictate of an ambition which looks to the pulpit as a desirable arena for achieving distinction, nor even as the best field for usefulness. Nor must it be a yielding to the opinions or persuasions of over partial, but, it may be, injudicious friends. A true call to the work of the ministry must rest on more solid ground than any or all of these evidences.
“No man taketh this honour unto himself; but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Heb. 5:4). He that would enter upon this work must do it from a deep, abiding, and unalterable conviction, wrought into his soul by the Holy Spirit, that such is the will of God concerning him; and that nothing else is, or can be, the work of his life, whether it may bring joy or sorrow, prosperity or adversity. This inward movement and guidance of the Spirit is not always continuous, but recurs from time to time, calling him back from all other purposes and plans to this conviction of duty.
As this conviction is slowly working its way into the soul, various emotions are excited. Not infrequently his mind revolts against what seems the inevitable conclusion. He is troubled by thoughts of unfitness for the work, by the apparent impossibility of being able to secure the proper qualifications, by the fact that many cherished plans for life, which seem to promise more of pleasure and of profit, must be abandoned, and by many other worries. But through it all the Spirit holds his mind true to its destiny, until at length it submits, silences every objection, sacrifices every consideration, accepts every condition, and implicitly obeys the divine call.
The evidences of this divine call are various. The most convincing is that just named, where the Spirit works the ever deepening conviction into the soul, that it must be so. Another sign is that the mind is being led into a fruitful contemplation of the Scriptures, whose spirit and meaning, whose deep and rich treasures of truth are unfolded and made plain to an unusual degree. Still more, if one has been divinely called to this work, there will soon rise a conviction of the fact in the minds of others. And further: If one is divinely called to preach the gospel, Providence will open ways of preparation for the work. Precisely what that fitting preparation may be, it is impossible here to tell. It should be the best that can be secured.
The Source of Ministerial Authority
Whence does the minister derive his authority for the exercise of ministerial functions? Not from the church, for no church holds in itself any such authority to bestow. Not from a council, since councils possess no ecclesiastical authority. Not from the state, for the state has no right of interference in matters of faith and conscience, and possesses no control over ecclesiastical affairs. The minister, therefore, derives his credentials from no human source, but directly from Christ, the great head of the church, by the witness and endowment which he has received from the Holy Spirit.
All that a church or a council can properly do is to recognize and express approval of a man’s entering the ministry. The force of ordination is simply a recognition and sanction, in a public and impressive manner, of what is believed to be the divine appointment of the candidate to the sacred office. The object of church and council action is not to impart either ability or authority to preach the gospel, for these they cannot give; but to ascertain whether such ability and authority have been divinely given, and if so, to approve their public exercise.
Qualifications for the Ministry
It is not to be expected that of all men the minister alone will be perfect. And yet in no other man is a near approach to perfection so imperative as in him. Of all men, he should prayerfully strive with God’s help to have as few faults and as many excellencies as possible. For in no other man do they count for so much, either for or against truth and righteousness, as in him.
He should be a man of good physical health. This counts for vastly more, even in a spiritual point of view, than is usually supposed. If he is not physically fit, he should, by careful self-training in regard to diet, exercise, and otherwise, strive for improvement.
It must not, however, be understood as saying that a man manifestly called of God to the work, should not undertake it because he does not enjoy robust health. Some of the most godly and useful ministers who have ever blessed the world and the churches, have not been vigorous.
Moreover, the minister should be a Christian gentleman in the best sense of that term, courteous, considerate, gentle, generous, and kind to all. There is no excuse for a minister’s being rude, boorish, and indifferent to the feelings or comfort of others.
But those special qualifications named by the Apostle, and detailed in the epistles to Timothy and Titus (I Tim., chap. 3; Titus, chap. 1), should be insisted on by both churches and ordaining councils. According to these inspired specifications, the bishop or pastor should be “blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, but patient, not a brawler, not covetous, one that ruleth well his own house.” (1 Tim. 3:2-4)