The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
An Open Letter On “Ministry”
[I wrote this a number of years ago, when I still lived in Dallas, Oregon. The issues it discusses are of vital importance for the covenant community today, especially given the radical bifurcation of church and culture which is promoted by the Two -Kingdom proponants.]
Dear _____ -
Thanks for the heads up on your article interacting with my (and other’s) response to your earlier articles on ministry and the arts. Alas, I am still unconvinced by your (and Luther and Vieth's) arguments.
I think the bottom line is that you fail to acknowledge that the word "ministry" is really an archaic synonym for the word "service" (minister is directly taken from the Latin for 'servant'). The two terms can and should be used interchangeably. This follows the biblical usage of diakonos and its derivatives. It is not limited to ecclesiastical or pastoral situations. Rom 13:4 clearly demonstrates this:
“For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (italics added; quoted from the NKJV)
Surely you do not think that Paul is arguing that the civil magistrate (“ruler” in verse two) is an ordained church officer! (It is interesting to note that in the British parliamentary system, cabinet members are called “ministers”. Likewise, here in the US, we commonly call government workers “civil servants”.) In a similar vain, note how the diakonos is used in Acts 6:2:
Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables’.” (italics added, NJKV)
“Serving tables” is contrasted with the “ministry of the word” (verse 4). Luke clearly indicates that there is more than one kind of ministry. This passage is usually tied to the office of deacon (1 Tim 3:8ff). It should come as no surprise that we often refer to diaconal work as the “ministry of mercy”. We could point to other examples as well (Mt. 4:11, 8:15; Luke 10:40). If the Bible does not limit the usage of the term “minister”, why should we?
As I pointed out in my earlier email to you, recovering the idea of 'ministry' and applying it properly to all vocations (not just those associated with formal church ministry), will go along way to shaping our understanding of what it means to be redeemed/restored human beings. The Hebrew word abad used in Gen. 2:15 simultaneously has incorporated in it the idea of service as well as work as well as worship. This was what mankind - in our pre-fallen state - was given to do on and to the earth, transforming it unto and for God. The service and work of culture-making are one and the same and have their roots in the cultural mandate given to us in the garden. Service - in all its aspects - is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian (John 12:26).
The implication of this for a biblical understanding of the arts is important. Seeing art-making as a “ministry” is a powerful antidote to the self-serving and self-obsessed nature of the current “art for art’s sake” approach. When a Christian artist sees himself first and foremost as a servant, the focus turns to service rendered by the artist, whether it be the worship of God, the edification of the saints, or the challenging and healing of those outside the church.
Thus, it can be properly said that a Christian musician is a “minister”. Is such a musician a “minister of the word” as he composes or performs his music? Definitely not. But if a Christian musician is worth his salt, he will be serving his listeners; to do less is sub-Christian.
I find your last quote of Luther ironic. "The whole church could be filled with the service of God -- not just the churches, but the home, the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop and the fields." If you were to substitute the word 'service' for 'ministry', I think that would undo your whole argument.
There may be good reasons to keep the offices and tasks (="ministries") of the institutional church distinct from other types of work/ministry/vocations. But insisting the term "ministry" be applied only to church office/activities is linguistically and biblically unwarranted. (I would argue that this narrow usage among the Reformers is evidence of leftover sacerdotalism which had not yet been purged from their worldview.)
I am glad to see your efforts to put your ideas into print. There is way too little thinking on the arts in church – although this (thankfully) has been changing of late.
Regards in Christ,