Walk With the People
The idea of ordination to the ministry is, at best, unhelpful. All believers are in the ministry of Christ. The moment pastors see their ordination as giving them special powers or spiritual privileges, they unnecessarily isolate themselves from the people. Instead, all church leaders should see themselves as fellow members of the Christian community along with all God’s people. Being among them and walking with them not only ends the isolation, it accurately reflects our unity and equality before God.
There should be no clergy-laity divide. The ‘ministry’ belongs to the Body of Christ. There 47 ‘one another’ scriptures in the New Testament.
Much that surrounds historical and contemporary practices of ordination is drawn from the Old Testament model of ministry. The Priesthood was instituted by God in the context of his covenant relationship with Israel. It ensured that the Temple in Jerusalem was preserved as the sacred space where God manifested his presence. Thus the central promise of the covenant was fulfilled, “I will dwell among you”.
The priests of the Old Testament were given special privileges and special powers to approach God in the sacred space and to maintain its sanctity performing rituals on behalf of the community.
The whole community of Israel was also considered to be part of a corporate priesthood. But this did not rule out the special role of some. For example Moses and Aaron as High Priest, the sons of Aaron and the Levites all had sacred roles to fulfill within the Old Covenant context.
Now, that mediatorial role has been fulfilled by Christ, the only Mediator between God and humanity. And with that, all special powers belonging to special people are rescinded. Or, perhaps better expressed, they have been dispersed to the whole Christian community.
In the New Testament Church, the priesthood of all believers is the central emphasis, where we are all servants of God and ministers of one another. Believers, both individually and together, are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. There are some 47 verses in the New Testament which describe our role in encouraging, teaching, admonishing and serving one another.
Ministering to one another
Leadership in the New Testament also takes on a different form. Specific people with specific ministry gifts are called to leadership in Christian communities. But these are not given special powers to preserve sacred space or to prepare the people to approach God. Christ the Mediator fulfills this role perfectly and exclusively.
Originally, the terms ‘pastor’, ‘elder’ and ‘overseer’ all referred to the same calling. Pastoral leaders, elders and overseers were given ‘delegated’ or ‘derived’ responsibility from Christ himself, the Chief Shepherd. Their responsibility, for which they were given the spiritual authority to discharge, was the overall care and spiritual leadership off the flock of God, but the overarching concern was pastoral. Above all, this service was offered from among the people, not exalted above them.
From the Second Century onward ministerial roles were developed and separated into hierarchical categories. With the coming of Constantine, the situation worsened. Church structures reflected the administrative structures of the Roman Empire.
Ending the isolation
It is time we stopped giving mere lip service to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Imagine the difference it would make to church life and ministry and our influence in wider society, if we removed artificial distinctions between sacred and secular, and between clergy and laity. Certainly, it would end the isolation of pastors thinking they have to walk alone.