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The Fullness of Christ: J.H. Yoder – Part V

7.    The Centrality of Preaching. Especially since the Reformation, the “proper preaching of the Word” has been central in definitions  of both the church and her ministry.  Just what the “Word” means and what the “proper” means have varied immensely from Luther to Calvin, and from...

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The Fullness of Christ: J.H. Yoder – Part II

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 12-01-2012

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2.   Religion In The Old Testament.

The priesthood of Israel takes over most of the traits of the general religionist. The priest is qualified by heredity and initiation.  He presides over celebrations of the annual cycle and blesses the king.

In sum, in Israel the function of the religionist is present, accepted, used, but it is also filled with new meaning, relativised in value, and removed from the centre.

3.    The Vocabulary of Ministry In The New Testament.

 If we come to the N.T. with this “professional religionist” view of  ministry, asking, “What is said on this subject?” then we can add together some things which Paul said about himself as apostle, some things he wrote to Timothy and Titus about themselves, some other things he wrote  to them about bishops and deacons, some things Acts reports about the leaders in Jerusalem and Antioch, salt the mixture with some reminscences from the O.T, and come up with quite an impressive package as the “Biblical View of Ministry”.  But if we ask whether any of the N.T. literature makes the assumptions listed above:

–          Is there one particular office

–          In which there should be only one or a few individuals

–          For whom it provides a livelihood

–          Unique in character due to ordination

–          Central to the definition of the church

–          And the key to her functioning?

Then the answer from the biblical material is a resounding negation.

There is no concept (in the N.T.) of “laity” in the negatively defined sense, as “those with no ministry” (cf. G Alan Richardson Introduction To Theology of the N.T.  p.301).  The people (laos) includes all the ministries.  The bishop is a member of the laity just like everyone else.

4.    The Meaning of Ministry In the N.T.

 The most striking general trait is what  we may call the multiplicity of the ministry. Under this label we gather three distinguishable  observations:

– The diversity of distinct ministries; that there are many, and the listing vary.

–          Plurality. The fact that in some roles, notably the oversight of some congregations, several brethren together carried the same office.

–          The universality of ministry: that “everyone has a gift” is said explicitly in 1 Cor. 7:7. 12:7; Eph. 4:7, and 1 Pet. 4:10, and implicitly in Rom.12:1.    Does this multiplicity have a  theological meaning?  The multiplicity of gifts assigned by the one Lord who fills all is thus itself an aspect of Christ’s saving work and of His rule from on high.

The “fullness of Christ” in Eph.4:13, or the “whole body working properly” of 4:16 is precisely the interrelation  of the ministries of 4:11,12 in line with the divine unity  of 4:3-6. ”Unity of the faith”, “mature humanity”, and “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” are not descriptions of a well-rounded Christian personality but of the divinely co-ordinated multiple ministry.

The conclusion is inescapable that the multiplicity of ministries is not a mere adiaphoron, a happenstance of only superficial significance, but a specific work of grace and a standard for the church.

The vestiges of the multiple ministry remained in the (theoretically) sevenfold ministry of the medieval church.  Yet despite the persistence of these vestiges, the anthropological constant ….. soon wore off  the originality, the universality of the first age.  The special clerical class was soon there again, with the term “lay” redefined as “non-ministerial”…. And Christianity had lost  it’s cutting edge.

Losing the specific and original trait of the primitive community, the church by and large became again subject  to the usual anthropologically universal pattern of the single, sacramentally qualified religionist.    By and large … this pattern has continued to our day in churches of every polity and theology.

 

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