Speaking with the “Same Line of Thought” About Our Service to God
NO DOUBT you have had the opportunity to read the December 1, 1975, Watchtower and the information it gives about the terms “minister” and “ministry.” What effect will this Scriptural presentation have on our service to God?
In reality, our service to God continues to be what it always has been. The information in the Watchtower articles simply helps us to view that service in a somewhat clearer light, enriching our appreciation for it. It also helps us to understand more accurately the meaning of certain Bible terms and to use them in a way that will bring out more fully their original sense and “flavor.” It aids us to avoid causing misunderstanding on the part of persons in the world through our speech, not using English terms in a way that is contrary to their generally accepted sense in modern-day language. And, finally, it helps us to bring the thinking and speaking of all of us, on a global scale, no matter what our language may be, into greater harmony through our having the “same line of thought,” solidly based on the Scriptures.—1 Cor. 1:10.
As you will notice, the monthly publication that has for many years been called “Kingdom Ministry” has had its name changed to “Our Kingdom Service,” beginning with this January 1976 issue. In this way the thought of service expressed by the Greek Scripture term di·a·ko·niʹa is more fully conveyed. This change primarily affects just a few languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. Why these? Because in the other languages in which this monthly publication is printed, the title already contains the corresponding word for “service,” the reason being that there had been a problem in translating “ministry” accurately into those languages. So this new title in our language will bring the name of this publication into closer harmony with that used elsewhere around the world.
Along with the October 1975 Kingdom Ministry you received your “Theocratic School Schedule for 1976.” Perhaps you noticed that the School is there called simply “Theocratic School” rather than “Theocratic Ministry School” as in the past. From now on we will use that name, “Theocratic School.” This will simplify the name of the School even in some languages other than the five mentioned earlier. In German, for example, because of not having a corresponding term for “ministry” in a religious sense our brothers have had to develop a substitute term and thus have called it the “Theocratic Preaching Service School” (Theokratische Predigtdienstschule).
The “Kingdom Ministry School” will continue to be known by that name in English. Those now being invited there are elders and are therefore persons who have, in effect, had ‘hands laid upon them,’ assigning them to carry out a congregational service or “ministry.” (Acts 13:2, 3; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22) So the name of the School remains appropriate in English.
Use of the Term “Minister” in the Field Service
What about our use of the term “minister” in the preaching activity we carry on in the field? Since the original meaning of the word “minister” is that of a “servant,” a Kingdom proclaimer is not wrong in referring to himself or herself as a “minister” in the sense of being a “servant” of God. But will our use of the term be properly understood by the persons to whom we carry the Kingdom message? Or will it raise questions in their minds that might not otherwise be raised, particularly if women or perhaps young persons introduce themselves as “ministers”? Will it really aid in opening up the minds and hearts of people to the message we bring? These are questions we should consider in deciding what will be advisable.
For example, in the land of Greece, where some of the Christian Greek Scriptures were written, a Witness would not go to the doors of the people and refer to himself as a di·aʹ·ko·nos. Why not? Because the people would think he meant he was a “deacon” of the church, since that is the way the word is now used in modern Greece.
Even where their language contains a word for “minister,” brothers in certain countries have found it inadvisable to use it. For example, in most Latin-American countries the majority of the people are of the Catholic religion. Since the Spanish and Portuguese word ministro is usually understood to refer to a Protestant or Evangelical preacher, its use may prejudice Catholic persons against the Kingdom proclaimer who uses it.
Then, too, we may keep in mind the apostle Paul’s statement as to his manner of endeavoring to reach people with the truth. He says at 1 Corinthians 9:20-23: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those under law I became as under law, though I myself am not under law, that I might gain those under law. To those without law I became as without law, although I am not without law toward God but under law toward Christ, that I might gain those without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some. But I do all things for the sake of the good news, that I may become a sharer of it with others.”
When we talk to people in their homes, do we not want primarily to present ourselves as being fellow humans, neighbors who are interested in them and their welfare? Thereby they will feel, as it were, “on a level” with us and, we hope, express themselves freely to us. If we introduce ourselves by the term “minister,” may this not instead convey to their minds a sense of superiority, as though we were on a higher level than they? We know that in the world the clergymen who are called “ministers” have that designation as a title of considerable prestige, one that gives them a feeling of superior distinction, setting them apart from the rest of the flock in their church. So we will want to consider this factor, too, in deciding whether the use of the term “minister” will actually be beneficial in the witnessing we do among the people in our territory or whether some other form of introduction is to be preferred. Having these points in mind, you may realize, as you think back, that for quite a few months the Society’s publications have not used the expression “field ministry” in connection with our field service.
Its Use in Dealing with Officials
At times we may be required to answer official inquiries as to our position in relation to the Christian congregation. It may be asked whether one is a “minister” and, if so, whether one is “ordained.” As the December 1 Watchtower pointed out, on page 733, paragraph 23: “By the term ‘minister’ such governmental agencies do not describe or mean the service that every individual Christian may perform in his or her personal efforts to share the good news with others. In answering the inquiries, then, one would reasonably reply in harmony with what the official inquirers are seeking to know, rather than imposing one’s own definition on such terms.”
To be “ordained,” according to the accepted meaning of the term, does not refer to one’s becoming a Christian disciple at baptism. Ordination refers to a person’s appointment to congregational responsibility, to serve on behalf of the other Christian disciples in the congregation. It applies especially to those doing shepherding or pastoral work within the congregation, although we note that the Greek word di·aʹ·ko·nos, often rendered “minister,” applies as well to those who are “ministerial servants.”
As stated earlier, those serving as elders and ministerial servants do have ‘hands laid upon them’ in the sense of their being appointed to serve the congregation in positions of responsibility. (1 Tim. 3:1-10, 12, 13; 5:22) In this regard they may be said to be “ordained,” in the sense that ordination is generally understood today. We do not view them as a “clergy” class or superior to the rest of the congregation as though these latter ones formed a “laity” class. Rather, they are assigned servants of the congregation, being put into such assignments to work on behalf of the congregation and serve the interests of its members. So, while all baptized Christians are servants of God, not all are put into such congregational work assignments or positions of service.
To illustrate the principle here involved, just consider the activity of teaching as done by members of the congregation. God’s Word instructs all Christian parents to be teachers of their children. (Eph. 6:4) Older women are to be “teachers of what is good” in recalling the “young women to their senses.” (Titus 2:3, 4) And Christians in general serve as “illuminators in the world,” which service calls on them to teach inquiring ones of the world about God’s purposes, as we do in our Bible study activity. (Phil. 2:15) So all God’s servants are invited to do teaching. But does that mean that they are all to receive the designation of “teachers” in the congregation, or that they should be viewed as “ordained” teachers?
We know that is not the case, do we not? For the disciple James says at James 3:1: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment.” He was referring to those who are congregational teachers, assigned to do such teaching work. (See Ephesians 4:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 12:28, 29.) It was in that regard that the apostle Paul wrote: “I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man.” (1 Tim. 2:11, 12) So, while the activity of teaching was something in which all Christians could participate, in one way or another, not all were designated to serve as “teachers” in a congregational sense, having an assignment to serve as such.
This helps us to understand why the apostle Paul could refer to Phoebe as a di·aʹ·ko·nos of the congregation in Cenchreae. (Rom. 16:1, 2) As The Kingdom Interlinear Translation shows, he was thereby stating that she was a “servant” of the congregation. This evidently does not mean that she was an appointed congregational servant, such as an elder or ministerial servant, but simply that she rendered voluntary service to the congregation in a commendable and notable way. Her serving was doubtless of a kind like that of the women who earlier ‘ministered [di·a·ko·neʹo] to Jesus and his apostles from their belongings.’ (Luke 8:1-3) Along similar lines, we may note that Philip the evangelist had four daughters that “prophesied.” (Acts 21:8, 9; compare 1 Corinthians 11:5; 13:8.) That does not mean, however, that they were designated as “prophets” and hence next to the “apostles” in terms of vital service rendered within the congregational framework. (1 Cor. 12:28, 29) Only men are referred to as such Christian “prophets,” as can be seen by such texts as Acts 11:27, 28; 13:1; 15:32.
So we see that all Christians serve (or minister), but not all are given a congregational assignment of duties to perform, as are the elders and ministerial servants. This does not cause a division in the congregation, such as the “clergy-laity” division found in Christendom’s many religions. It is rather a faithful copying of the structure of the first-century congregation of true Christians and the spirit-inspired arrangements then prevailing, as revealed in the Scriptures. There is nothing wrong with the congregational arrangements that Jesus Christ instituted in giving “gifts in men” and in having procedures whereby some would be assigned or appointed to certain duties of service within the congregation. (Eph. 4:8, 11) It is the way those so assigned conduct themselves that determines whether the arrangement works out for good and has a unifying effect, or works for ill with a divisive effect. (See Hebrews 13:7.) The apostasy that produced Christendom resulted in large measure from a misuse of the congregational structure and a perverting of its purpose to achieve selfish advantages.—Acts 20:29, 30.
Since at times a request is made by officials for some evidence of “ordination” on the part of those serving in such capacities, a “Certificate for Ordained Minister” has been prepared and will be supplied on request to those elders or ministerial servants needing it. It will show the date, not of their baptism, but when they were appointed to serve in such capacities and hence when a ‘laying on of hands’ took place in their case.
When an elder or ministerial servant moves, it would be advisable for the body of elders where he was serving to write to the body of elders of the congregation where he has moved, giving their recommendation as to his continuing to be used in the capacity in which he served, rather than wait until such time as that body of elders might write requesting such information. Thus, if this person’s “ordination” is at issue in his dealings with officials, and if the body of elders sees fit to recommend his continuing to serve in the capacity of elder or ministerial servant (taking into consideration the recommendation of the body of elders where he served previously), it may be possible to avoid any apparent break in his service as an “ordained minister.”
But what of those who are engaged in full-time service as pioneers or members of Bethel families? From the Scriptures it is clear that being an elder or a ministerial servant is not something that one can apply for by filling out a form, such as a pioneer application form or a Bethel application form. Nor is it primarily the number of hours that one may spend in sharing the good news with others that qualifies one for such congregational responsibilities as being elders or ministerial servants. Instead, those receiving such appointment are those meeting the qualifications set out in the Scriptures at 1 Timothy 3:1-10, 12, 13; Titus 1:5-9 and related texts.
Many of those who are pioneers or who serve as members of Bethel families do qualify to be recognized as elders or ministerial servants. Those who do not are, of course, still voluntarily making the direct service of God their vocation, giving of themselves on a full-time basis to that service. Their appointment as a pioneer or member of the Bethel family is an acknowledgment of such voluntary service. Such appointment, however, does not fit the meaning of “ordination” as that term is generally understood. And the fact that sisters and also young persons yet in their teens are accepted for pioneer service and Bethel service would also make the application of that term inappropriate. Since the Bible itself sets out only the two congregational positions of responsibility, that of elders and of ministerial servants, we limit our application of the term “ordained minister” to those in this Scriptural arrangement.
Nevertheless, in addition to the term “ordained minister,” in the United States some governmental agencies, such as the Selective Service System, have used the term “regular minister” as describing one who is not “ordained” but who preaches and teaches the beliefs of a religion as his vocation. For that reason, one who is a pioneer or member of a Bethel family and who is not an elder or a ministerial servant, but who wishes some evidence to present that his vocation is of full-time service to God, may request a certificate for that purpose. The certificate will give the date of his becoming a pioneer or a member of the Bethel family, stating that, by virtue of making such full-time service his vocation, he qualifies to come under the governmental definition of a “regular minister.”
Does the information we have considered bring any actual change in the position we as individuals Scripturally occupy? No, it does not. How could it when our brothers speaking languages other than the five mentioned above are serving in the same way we are and yet have never applied to themselves terms that correspond to the modern usage of “minister” and “ordained minister”? In reality, our speaking will now harmonize more closely with theirs. Thus, rather than affect what we are, our adjustment simply brings our use of the terms “minister” and “ordained minister” into conformity with what most people speaking English and other Latin-based languages mean by them, and it also eliminates a distinction between our way of speaking and that of our brothers in other lands. Each of us continues to be just what he or she was—a servant of God, in some cases having a congregational appointment to some assignment of service, in others not.
So, then, let us all serve unitedly, having the “same line of thought” as our brothers throughout the world, and may our love “abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment.” (Phil. 1:9) Let us recognize that it is God who qualifies persons for particular assignments of congregational responsibility and service. (2 Cor. 3:4-6) If we are assigned in this way let us carry out our ministry or assignment of service uncomplainingly and free from selfish motive or desire for self-glorification, relying on “the strength that God supplies.” (1 Pet. 4:11; 5:2; 2 Cor. 4:1, 5; Rom. 12:6-8) May those so assigned prove themselves like the apostle Paul and his associate workers who were concerned that the ministry or service assigned them “might not be found fault with,” and who were therefore humbly and willingly undergoing all manner of hardship so as to ‘recommend themselves as truly God’s ministers or servants.’—Read 2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 11:23-28.