Who Are God’s Ministers?
SEVERAL years ago a number of objections were raised against having the term “minister” apply to all dedicated and baptized Christians. These objections were based on differences in language, the way other religious bodies and men in official positions might view their claim to be ministers, and so forth. However, it does not appear that such objections are sufficiently strong to negate the position that Jehovah’s people have held for the greater part of the last 100 years.
In the English translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures the verb “minister” and the noun “minister” occur many times. The Greek noun thus translated is di·aʹko·nos, which literally means ‘through the dust,’ as though applying to one who gets dusty running errands. It appears to be used in three distinct senses, which we will now examine.
First of all, the term di·aʹko·nos is used to refer to one who serves in a material, secular sense, and may simply refer to serving in a household. Thus, in one of Jesus’ parables, we read: “The king said to his servants [di·aʹko·noi], ‘Bind him hand and foot.’” (Matt. 22:13) The same word is rendered “minister” at Romans 13:4, where the reference is to secular governments.
In certain contexts, this Greek word di·aʹko·nos is used in a special restricted official sense, as at Philippians 1:1, where it is applied to certain persons in the Christian congregation who hold an appointive office, for it is there linked with others holding the office of overseer, or “bishop.” Thus we read: “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in union with Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, along with overseers and ministerial servants [or, “deacons,” di·aʹko·noi].” The term is also used in this special sense at 1 Timothy 3:8, 12, where the apostle Paul lists the qualifications of such ministerial servants, or “deacons.”
Finally, there are other instances in which these inspired Christian Greek Scripture writers appear to have used this term in a broader way, which also carries more weight than merely referring to a servant that performs mundane duties. This is when it is used to apply to any dedicated person who serves God in sacred or spiritual matters, and so here some languages translate it by a more fitting word, namely, “minister,” which conveys the sense of an elevated or godly service. Thus the apostle Paul at Colossians 1:23 refers to himself as one who was “made a minister [di·aʹko·nos],” or one who ‘had become or became a minister.’ (See Authorized Version; Revised Standard Version; Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English; The New English Bible.) Paul also speaks of others as ministers, as in the case of Timothy.—1 Tim. 4:6, AV; RSV; New International Version.
Closely related to the Greek word di·aʹko·nos is the noun di·a·ko·niʹa, referring to a “service” or a “ministry.” This Greek word is also used in both a secular and a religious, or sacred, sense. It is used in a secular sense at Acts 6:1, where we read: “Now in those days, when the disciples were increasing, a murmuring arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution [footnote, “ministration”].”
When di·a·ko·niʹa is used in a religious sense some translators in certain languages use a special word for it, rendering it not as a “distribution” or a “service,” but as a “ministry,” meaning an elevated, godly service. Thus in such languages the apostle Paul is made to say regarding his apostleship to the Gentiles, “I glorify my ministry.” (Rom. 11:13, RSV; NE; NIV)* He further wrote that he was grateful that God ‘considered him faithful by assigning him to a ministry,’ a godly, elevated “service.” (1 Tim. 1:12, Kingdom Interlinear Translation) Thus Paul wrote Timothy: “You, though, keep your senses in all things, suffer evil, do the work of an evangelizer, fully accomplish your ministry.” Timothy’s evangelizing, or preaching of the “good news,” was not a mundane service. It was a godly, elevated service—a ministry—and it constituted him a minister. By the same token today, all who share in this evangelizing ministry are indeed ministers.—2 Tim. 4:5, AV; NIV; RSV.
It is the way Christian Greek Scripture writers under inspiration use the Greek words di·aʹko·nos, di·a·ko·niʹa and similar ones that sets the pattern for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Actually, not only are Jehovah’s Witnesses a religious organization in the commonly accepted meaning of the term “congregation,” or “church,” but they also constitute an association for the training and equipping of men, women and youths to be ministers, “servants,” in an elevated or godly sense, preachers of the good news of God’s kingdom. For this purpose they have an ongoing body of study courses for the education of men, women and young people in the vital knowledge of the Bible so that they may be increasingly effective as God’s ministers. These study courses are covered at five weekly meetings in which there is exposition of Bible doctrine, interpretation of Bible prophecies, instruction in Christian conduct and training in the preaching and teaching of Bible truths.
ORDINATION AS MINISTERS
As with all religious organizations, Jehovah’s Witnesses have the privilege and right to determine when their students have reached the point where they qualify to be ministers of God’s Word, “servants” in an elevated, godly sense. After an appropriate personal training period they are examined by the duly appointed elders in their congregation. If students can give evidence of having an adequate knowledge of God’s Word, a heart appreciation of its message, and have unreservedly dedicated themselves to Jehovah to do his will and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and if they have brought their lives in line with God’s requirements and principles, they are admitted to baptism and are thereby ordained as ministers. There is sound Scriptural precedent for this procedure, for it was only after Jesus had presented himself for baptism that he began his career as God’s anointed minister, preaching the good news of God’s kingdom.—Mark 1:9-15.
But is there sound reason for considering baptism, complete submersion in water, as an adequate ordination ceremony?* Perhaps not according to prevailing customs in Christendom, but there certainly is from a Scriptural point of view, even as can be seen from what M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (1877), Vol. VII, page 411, has to say on the subject. According to it, an ordination is “the appointment or designation of a person to a ministerial office, whether with or without attendant ceremonies. . . . A scriptural investigation of this subject can hardly fail to impress any ingenuous mind with the great significance of the fact that neither the Lord Jesus Christ nor any of his disciples gave specific commands or declarations in reference to ordination.” A diploma or an ordination certificate is no more needed by ministers today than one was needed by the apostle Paul.—2 Cor. 3:1-3.
MINISTRY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
How do Jehovah’s Witnesses carry on their ministry? Some of them serve as appointed elders, and as such they preach and teach in their congregations from the platform and at congregational Bible classes held in the homes of the Witnesses. However, the most extensive and most distinctive method used by the Witnesses in their ministry is that used by the apostles and other early disciples of Jesus in obedience to his command: “Into whatever city or village you enter, search out who in it is deserving . . . When you are entering into the house, greet the household; and if the house is deserving, let the peace you wish it come upon it.”—Matt. 10:11-13.
Similarly, the apostle Paul distinguished himself by preaching both to congregations and to individuals in their homes. As he told the elders of Ephesus: “You well know how . . . I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house. But I thoroughly bore witness both to Jews and to Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:18-21) This provides a fine precedent for God’s ministers today.
Regarding modern-day house-to-house ministry with the use of religious tracts the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Murdock v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1943) ruled: “The hand distribution of religious tracts is an age-old form of missionary evangelism—as old as the history of printing presses. . . . This form of religious activity occupies the same high estate under the First Amendment as do worship in the churches and preaching from the pulpits.”
Also, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in the case of Ransom v. United States (1955), that court stated that it could not “validly distinguish . . . between ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses who preach from door to door and on street corners as their vocations, and ministers of more conventional faiths who preach in pulpits, teach in church schools or carry on various other religious activities for their churches.”
Would the fact that these ministers did not devote all their time to their ministry reflect unfavorably on their claim to be ministers, meaning they did not qualify to be such? Not at all, for even the apostle Paul engaged in secular activities to support himself and those with him. (Acts 18:3, 4; 20:33, 34) This position was supported by this ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case of Wiggins v. United States (1958): “Ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . have no choice except to engage in secular pursuits in order to obtain funds to make the ministry their vocation. . . . The test . . . is . . . whether, as a vocation, regularly, not occasionally, he teaches and preaches the principles of his religion.”
So who are God’s ministers? They are the dedicated and baptized Christians who make service to God and neighbor their chief aim in life! (Mark 12:28-31) Please see also the three succeeding articles.
See succeeding article.
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Scripturally, ordination as a minister of God takes place at one’s baptism
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Following the Bible precedent, Jehovah’s Witnesses pursue their ministry “publicly and from house to house”