Ministry and Authority by Glenn Conjurske


Ministry and Authority

by Glenn Conjurske

God has joined ministry and authority together. But we live in an age which is impatient of authority as such—-an age of democracy and independence and pride and self-importance. Many there are who are content that their elders should feed them, so long as they do not endeavor to rule them. We know some who wander about here and there, refusing to join any church, for the simple reason that they are not willing to be accountable to anybody, or to allow anybody to require anything of them. I know some also who have left our church primarily or exclusively because of our doctrine of authority—-though I am mild to a fault in my use of that authority. But mildness is no consolation to the proud and independent. They can brook nobody over them. If the Bible says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves,” this must evidently apply to the dark ages, or to popery. It has never entered their heads to apply it to themselves. They are like the refractory child, who says to his parents, “I will eat your food, sleep under your roof, soak up the warmth of your stove, come to you for a hug and a bandage when I fall and skin my knee, ask you for a little spending money—-but don’t require anything of me.” They want privilege without responsibility, and this is nothing other than worldliness. Privilege without responsibility is the common doctrine of the world, in this its most degenerate age, ripening for the unsparing judgement of God, and these independent spirits, who think themselves too advanced or too spiritual to submit to anybody, are in reality only conformed to the world.

The Bible teaches no such doctrine, but unequivocally links ministry and authority together. Those who feed the flock are to rule the flock. “Feed my lambs”—-”Shepherd my sheep”—-”Feed my sheep.” Such is the Lord’s commission, and it is not the business of the shepherd merely to feed the sheep, but to tend or shepherd them also. Nor can this ruling be supposed to be for the sole good of the individual sheep. It must be to maintain the rights and interests of the Lord, who is the owner of the sheep, and also to secure the good of the whole flock. All this is to be accomplished by the use of authority.

Paul joins ministry and authority also, saying, “I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) that ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth.” (I Cor. 16:15-16). Here are men who evidently have no official position of authority. Their ministry gives them their authority. They have addicted themselves to the ministry to the saints (as the Greek says). To all “such” the saints are to submit.

Yet further, in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” They have the rule, in the present tense, by virtue of the fact that in the previous days, in the past tense, they have spoken to you the word of God. Their ministry has given them their authority.

Once more, “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” (I Thes. 5:12-13). This also evidently refers to men who have no official position, or why does Paul exhort us to know them? We are to know them by their work. And as before, those who labor among you are also over you in the Lord. Their labor gives them their authority.

We see the same again when Paul forbids the public ministry of women. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” (I Tim. 2:11-12). In Paul’s mind to teach is to exercise authority. God has linked these two together. The two are not the same thing, but they belong to the same persons.

But all this requires to be guarded. Many there are who desire some official place of ministry, who have little desire to labor therein. They are addicted to shining in the eyes of men, but not to ministry, which is another word for service. They want a ready-made platform from which to preach and teach, but they care not to rise to such a place, or create one, by dint of their labor or their merit. Others there are who addict themselves to labors indeed, but they have no gift of God for it. They preach many sermons, or what is worse, write many pages, and all of it shallow or unsound—-nay, unspiritual and worldly and secular. Others there are who may preach some sound doctrine, but it is dead, and dry, and dull. They preach and pray with neither fire nor tears, as an arid intellectual exercise. They are not sent of God. They are not gifted of God. They do not belong in the ministry, and so of course not in authority. The scriptures which we have quoted really have nothing to do with such. “Such” as Paul describes have gained their place of authority by their ministry, but then this must be understood to be a ministry which is of God. Every novice and worldly-minded man who sets up to minister in the church of God, without the gifts and calling of God, cannot be supposed thereby to gain the right to rule. The angels of the churches are stars in the right hand of Christ. How did they get there? Certainly Christ does not take up in his right hand every proud, self-important, officious, shallow, worldly, blundering tyro who thinks himself fit to preach. Men gain their right to rule by their ministry, but they gain their right to minister by the gift of Christ. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth.” (I Peter 4:10-11). We have no doubt whatsoever that if this scripture were seriously considered in the present day, the majority of the pastors of churches, as well as the popular radio preachers and conductors of national seminars, would take their seats and hold their tongues, while ten thousand authors and editors would put up their pens.

Neither is there anything arbitrary in the gifts of Christ. Paul says, in I Timothy 1:12, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” We could point to a number of the most unfaithful of men, who yet aspire to the ministry, or actually occupy ministerial positions, while they shamefully compromise to please men, fail to keep their engagements or meet their responsibilities, and are as unstable as water. The Lord never intended that the saints should submit to such men, nor did he ever count them faithful, nor put them into the ministry.

Here, then, is the Bible sequence. First, faithfulness on our own part. Then, the Lord’s gifts and enablements, and those open doors which put us into the ministry. Finally, the exercise of the authority which our ministry gives to us. Of all this Paul speaks in Acts 20:28, when he says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” They have not taken this place of themselves. The Holy Ghost has moved them to it. Neither have they been made shepherds by any call or ordination or other act of the people. The Holy Ghost has made them overseers, and as such they are as bound to oversee the flock as the flock is to submit to them. The word “feed” is here again “shepherd” in the Greek. This is not merely to provide food, but to tend and lead the flock, to use whatever means are necessary to keep the sheep in the right way. This implies authority and discipline as well as instruction and advice.

And yet it appears that many of those who occupy the places of ministry are as deficient in the exercise of their authority as the sheep are delinquent in submitting to it. A wife cannot submit to her husband if he gives her nothing to submit to—-if he tamely follows her as a puppy dog, or shows himself as passive as the teddy bear which she kept on her pillow in her girlhood. Neither can the flock of God follow a shepherd who will not lead them, nor submit to a general who will not command them. Preachers suppose it is none of their business to require anything of anybody. That they leave to God, supposing it were presumption to do it themselves. They only advise and instruct and persuade, and hope the people will conform. It is the Spirit of God who must give to every man his convictions, and move every man to embrace the truth, and to walk in conformity to it. We have known some souls—-inexperienced, ignorant of the Scriptures, and misled by false notions—-who would have no standards in the church, no requirements for membership—-indeed, no membership at all. They would have every individual responsible directly to God. But this is very shallow thinking. They might just as well omit to preach, and leave the instruction to God also, as to omit to exercise authority. If God has made men ministers of the word, he has made them overseers also, and the business of an overseer—-or bishop, as the same term is translated elsewhere—-is precisely to rule. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.” (Heb. 13:17). It were preposterous of the Lord to require the rulers to give account of the state of the people, if they have no right nor power actually to rule over them. If the rulers are responsible for the people, then the people must be responsible to the rulers. He must be a great fool who would accept the responsibility for the state of the people, if the people were free from any responsibility to him. No sane man would accept the responsibility for the state of his neighbor’s children, whom he may neither command nor discipline. He cannot secure their righteousness merely by advising them, nor can any man secure the holiness of the church merely by preaching. The preaching of Christ himself would not move all men. For some he must employ a scourge of small cords.

Yet the Lord does actually hold the rulers responsible for the state of the church. In Revelation 2:14 he says, “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam.” He does not blame the church, but the ruler. It is to the angel that he says, “I have a few things against thee,” and this “because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam.” “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” The angel has them there, in the church, and the Lord holds him responsible to change them or put them out. There is nothing here of “the action of the Holy Ghost in the assembly”—-nothing, that is, of modern democracy under a pious name, but a responsibility laid upon the ruler actually to rule.

The same again in Rev. 2:20. “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.” He suffers her—-allows her—-and this he has no business to do, any more than the county sheriff has to allow robbery or murder. It is not the sheriff’s business to advise and persuade, but to enforce, and this is the business of every one that has the rule in every sphere. If the Holy Ghost has made a man a ruler over the flock of God, that man must rule, and give an account of it also.

We know, of course, that authority is often abused. We read in Third John of a Diotrephes, whose very name is odious as an abuser of authority. “I wrote unto the church,” says the apostle, “but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not.” Yet observe the remedy. “Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.” The modern ideas of democracy had evidently never entered his head, and John does not advise the church to deal with him. That may not have been possible, for he may have had too much power. John will deal with the man himself, employing his own authority to protect the flock, and set matters right. “If I come” may seem almost preposterous in this day of rush and hurry, but doubtless there was no alternative. Certain evils at Corinth must wait also till Paul could come. Independent spirits in our own day have objected to a man exercising authority over a church from a distance, yet it is certain the apostles did so, and that without telephones or automobiles or airplanes.

Paul takes just the same ground, saying in I Corinthians 4:19 & 21, “But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. … What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” The rod is authority, and here we see the unspeakable benefit of the authority of a man of God to the congregations under his care. The authority of John Wesley over the English Methodists, and of Francis Asbury over the American Methodists, was a benefit of inconceivable value to those people, though the authority itself was a heavy burden to the men who bore it.

Now as to the connection of this authority with ministry, this is plain in all those scriptures which we have rehearsed above. Yet it may be beneficial to speak a little of the reason and congruity of all this. The fact is, the true minister of God imparts not only the truth of God, but his own soul also. And in so doing he wins the people not only to his Lord, but to himself also. He is no distant official, but a respected counsellor, and a beloved father over his own children. It is as such that Paul writes to Philemon, saying, “Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee.” He claims the right to command, but refrains from using it, and it is thus that the best of rulers always govern, reserving the use of bare authority for the refractory and belligerent. “What will ye?” says Paul, shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” He would not use the rod—-would not use his powers to command and enforce—-unless they compelled him to it by their own wrong spirit. But whence comes Paul’s right to command? How is it that he may enjoin Philemon if he so choose? “Albeit I do not say to thee,” he writes, “how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.” Though he was an apostle of Christ, it was his ministry which confirmed his place of authority, for to be of any use authority must be not only possessed by the one, but recognized by the many also. That authority which is founded upon ministry is not recognized only, but even prized by those whose hearts are right. It is the authority of a father over his children, the further exercise of the care of a man who cares for his subjects in all things else besides.

The authority which John Wesley exercised over the Methodists was broad and sweeping, yet all but a few self-important souls gladly submitted to it. He was not only a prophet of God, but their father, to whom, directly or indirectly, they owed their own selves, or at any rate their spiritual prosperity. When he died, “The funeral service was read by the late Rev. Mr. Richardson, who had served him as a Son in the Gospel for near thirty years, and who now lies with him in the same vault. When Mr. Richardson came to that part of the service, ‘For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God to take unto himself the soul of our dear Brother, &c,’ he substituted, with the most tender emphasis, the epithet Father instead of Brother; which had so powerful an effect on the congregation, that from silent tears, they seemed universally to burst out into loud weeping.” It was his ministry which gave him that place in the hearts of his people, and not his preaching merely, but his fatherly care for their souls.

It is thus that the ministry of a faithful, self-denying prophet of God gives to him his place of authority. This may be doubly difficult in the present day, when pride and self-importance reign everywhere, when ungodly principles prevail even in the church, and when authority as such is questioned and despised. But the plain fact is, all the ways of godliness are more difficult in the present day than ever they have been before. The world is more refined and sophisticated and powerful than ever it has been before, and has more influence over the church than ever it had before. If this makes all the ways of godliness doubly difficult, the remedy is to redouble all our endeavors. Let the prophets of God be more faithful, more holy, more self-denying, more consistent, more loving, more gentle, more firm, and they shall find that the ways of God will work still.

Glenn Conjurske