Must All True Christians Be Ministers?
“All things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of the reconciliation.”—2 CORINTHIANS 5:18.
1. What was the situation as to a clergy class in the congregation in Paul’s day?
“THERE was no distinction [in the apostle Paul’s day] between clergy and laity for there were no clergy.” That startling statement, which appeared in the London Times, expresses a basic truth regarding early Christianity. There was no clergy-laity division. Does that mean that the Christian congregation was without any visible leadership? And were there no ministers in any sense?
2. What kind of leadership existed in the early congregation? (Philippians 1:1)
2 Some time after Pentecost, 33 C.E., as the number of anointed Christians grew by the thousands, it became necessary to appoint qualified men in each congregation to serve as overseers and as ministerial servants. But they did not form a clergy class. Their appointment did not depend on a university or seminary career. They did not receive a salary for their services. They were humble men with spiritual qualifications, appointed by holy spirit to care for the flock. Were they, though, the only ones who preached the ‘good news of the Kingdom’? Were they the only ministers in the congregation?—Matthew 24:14; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-3; 1 Timothy 3:1-10.
3, 4. According to Paul, who had a part in the Christian ministry?
3 These questions are answered by Paul’s counsel in his letters to the Christians in Corinth. Note the introduction to his second letter: “Paul . . . to the congregation of God that is in Corinth, together with all the holy ones who are in all of Achaia.” There is no doubt about it—he wrote to the whole body of anointed Christians in Corinth and Achaia, not just to those taking the lead. Thus his comments on the Christian ministry are very pertinent to “all the holy ones.” Based on his activity and Timothy’s, he reasoned: “Since we have this ministry according to the mercy that was shown us, we do not give up.” “But all things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of the reconciliation . . . We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us.” He continues: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with; but in every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers, by the endurance of much.”—2 Corinthians 1:1; 4:1; 5:18-20; 6:3, 4.
4 These words imply that every anointed Christian has to be a minister and ambassador for Christ. For what reason? Because the world, by its sin, is “alienated from the life that belongs to God” and needs a ministry of reconciliation in order that obedient and loyal people from all nations may have a relationship through Christ with the Sovereign Lord Jehovah.—Ephesians 4:18; Romans 5:1, 2.
5, 6. How did Paul confirm this view in his letter to the Romans?
5 To the congregation in Rome, Paul wrote: “But what does it [God’s Word] say? ‘The word is near you, in your own mouth and in your own heart’; that is, the ‘word’ of faith, which we are preaching. For if you publicly declare that ‘word in your own mouth,’ that Jesus is Lord, and exercise faith in your heart that God raised him up from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one exercises faith for righteousness, but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation.”—Romans 10:8-10.
6 Did Paul direct those words to a select few? His introduction shows otherwise, for he wrote: “To all those who are in Rome as God’s beloved ones.” He added: “I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ concerning all of you, because your faith is talked about throughout the whole world.” Clearly, Paul directed his counsel and encouragement, including Ro chapter 10, to the whole congregation. The privilege of making public declaration was open to all. In fact, he strengthened his argument by adding: “However, how will they call on him in whom they have not put faith? How, in turn, will they put faith in him of whom they have not heard? How, in turn, will they hear without someone to preach? How, in turn, will they preach unless they have been sent forth? Just as it is written: ‘How comely are the feet of those who declare good news of good things!’”—Romans 1:7, 8; 10:14, 15.
7. How is genuine Christianity different from other religions? (Luke 19:36-40)
7 How encouraging that is for every anointed Christian! It means that all of them should have the joy of spreading the Kingdom message of salvation to others. Yes, in God’s sight, their feet can be and should be “comely” in a figurative sense. Why so? Because genuine Christianity is not an egocentric religion that leads to self-satisfaction, seclusion and vows of silence. On the contrary, it promotes an active Christian ministry expressed in word and deed! How conscious Paul was of that is seen by his exclamation: “Really, woe is me if I did not declare the good news!”—1 Corinthians 9:16; Isaiah 52:7.
8. What vital questions now affect many?
8 But what about the millions of true Christians who do not have an anointing by holy spirit because their hope is for everlasting life on earth, not in heaven? Must they also be ministers?—Psalm 37:29; 2 Peter 3:13.
Are Those of the “Great Crowd” Ministers?
9. What activity do those of the “great crowd” share in?
9 The book of Revelation supplies a partial answer to those questions. For example, after having seen in vision the anointed congregation of 144,000, John says: “After these things I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands. And they keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” Certainly these, who are now being gathered to survive the great tribulation, are not hiding their Christian identity. They are declaring with “a loud voice” the origin of their salvation. How do they do that today? Among other things, by aiding the small remnant of anointed ones in the fulfillment of other vital ministerial prophecies and commands.—Revelation 7:9, 10, 14.
10, 11. (a) What command did Jesus give his followers prior to his ascension to heaven? (b) What prophecy has to be fulfilled in our time?
10 For instance, this numberless crowd is playing an essential role in carrying out Jesus’ command to preach and teach, which he gave to his faithful disciples in Galilee. On that occasion Jesus said: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” That mandate was given to all Christians, not to a select clergy class.—Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6.
11 Jesus’ command is also closely related to the prophecy that he gave regarding “the conclusion of the system of things.” He stated: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” How has this challenge to preach the Kingdom message worldwide in one generation been met? Certainly the dwindling thousands of anointed Christians could not have done this lifesaving work alone. It would have been an impossible task!—Matthew 24:3, 14; Luke 21:32.
12. What do the anointed today happily recognize?
12 The anointed “joint heirs with Christ” are happy to recognize the part played by the more than two million ministers of the “great crowd” who have spread the message of the Kingdom throughout the world in such a relatively short space of time. Even back in the 1930’s, many true Christians accepted the responsibility of the ministry in other lands and offered to serve where the need was greater. Thanks to the self-sacrificing example of these brothers and sisters, whether of the anointed or of the “other sheep” class, the Kingdom work took stronger root in many countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.—Romans 8:17.
13. (a) How has Jehovah accelerated the work since 1943? (Isaiah 60:22) (b) What part have those of the “great crowd” played in missionary activity?
13 Prior to 1943 “the faithful and discreet slave” class of anointed Christians saw the need to establish a missionary school so that Christian ministers could receive additional training and preparation with a view to opening up and accelerating the preaching work in many other lands. From its inauguration in 1943 and up till March 4, 1984, that Gilead School (“Gilead” in Hebrew means “witness heap”) has trained some 6,100 graduates, most of whom have been sent to foreign assignments around the world. Only 292 (4.8 percent) of these Gilead graduates professed to be of the anointed class, so the majority of these specially trained ministers have been of the “great crowd.” Like the rest of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide they accepted the Christian ministry as an integral part of Christian life when they made their dedication to Jehovah through Christ Jesus.—Matthew 24:45-47; Hebrews 10:7.
Vocation Based on What?
14, 15. On what is the Christian vocation to the ministry based? (Matthew 22:37-40)
14 Does that mean that Christians have a personal vocation, or calling from God, to the ministry? It is true that some in Christendom have depicted their “vocation” as an extremely emotional experience, as if God had called them directly to his service. But is the Christian ministry mainly based on something as transient as emotion?
15 When the apostle Paul spoke of sacred service to God, what did he show to be the basis of it? He wrote: “Consequently I entreat you by the compassions of God, brothers, to present your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason [“as an act of intelligent worship,” Phillips; “as rational creatures,” The New English Bible, footnote].” Yes, sacred service to God is based on reason. How so? Because one’s dedication and personal relationship to Jehovah are founded on knowledge of the true God. Thus the Christian’s calling to the ministry, although a happy experience in itself, is not just the result of an emotional reaction. It has a solid motivation—love of God and love of neighbor.—Romans 12:1; John 17:3.
16. Does full-time secular work exclude one from being a minister? (Acts 18:1-5)
16 But you may ask, Were those early Christians also ministers even if they had full-time secular work or were housewives? Yes, they were. Maybe they could spend only a small fraction of their time in the Christian ministry, preaching and teaching, but that was their prime purpose in life. They knew they had to ‘let their light shine’ as true disciples of Christ. In effect they were worker-ministers long before Christendom had its worker-priest movement.—Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:9.
Proof of Their Ministry
17, 18. (a) What general principle did Christ lay down about true Christians? (b) What is the true recommendation of a minister?
17 How do Jehovah’s Witnesses prove that they are ministers if they have no diploma or university degree? Well, how did the early Christians establish that they were ministers? Christ himself provided this insight: “Every good tree produces fine fruit.” Christian ministers should produce “fine fruit,” which includes sharing in the disciple-making work.—Matthew 7:17.
18 The apostle Paul explained it this way: “Are we starting again to recommend ourselves? Or do we, perhaps, like some men, need letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, inscribed on our hearts and known and being read by all mankind. For you are shown to be a letter of Christ written by us as ministers, inscribed not with ink but with spirit of a living God, not on stone tablets, but on fleshly tablets, on hearts.” How was that writing on hearts accomplished? By the preaching of the seedlike word of faith that became implanted in the heart. In turn this seed motivated the receiver also to preach the same message of salvation to others.—2 Corinthians 3:1-3.
19. What solid recommendation as ministers do Jehovah’s Witnesses have?
19 Do Jehovah’s Witnesses have proof of ‘a letter of Christ written by them as ministers’? The facts speak for themselves. In 1931, when they first accepted their unique name, there were about 50,000 Witnesses preaching around the world. The report for 1983 shows a peak of over 2,652,000 ministers preaching the Kingdom good news in association with 46,235 congregations. Yes, there are nearly as many congregations now as there were Witnesses in 1931! The truth has indeed been written on millions of hearts over the last few decades—and that is irrefutable proof of the ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Isaiah 43:10-12.
20. As Christian ministers, what do we need today? What questions remain to be answered?
20 The need for Christian ministers today is more urgent than ever. The time is short and the harvest is great. All the more reason, then, for us to be qualified, capable ministers who preach and teach in a productive way. How can we do that? How can we be more effective ministers? Are the examples of Christ and the apostles of practical value for us today?—Ephesians 5:15, 16; Matthew 9:37, 38.
Points for Review
□ How do we know that all of Christ’s anointed followers had to be ministers?
□ What role has the “great crowd” played in the modern-day ministry?
□ On what is the Christian vocation to the ministry based?
□ What proof of their ministry do Jehovah’s Witnesses have?
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Was there a Christian clergy class in apostolic times?
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In 1943 Gilead School opened in South Lansing, New York. The school moved in 1961 to Brooklyn, New York
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Now in new facilities near the Brooklyn Bridge, Gilead School continues to prepare ministers for foreign service