What makes the Christian ministry special?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
16 May, 2024

All of Christ’s people are called to be His witnesses, and speak His truth into the situations and relationships they find themselves in. There is one body, and each member its own place and usefulness. Yet not all are called to be preachers or hold the office of minister in Christ’s church. John Brown of Wamphray explains the distinctiveness of the Christian ministry in the following updated extract. After showing that it is not unspiritual to value the forms and order of Christ’s church, he points to a large number of Scripture references which demonstrate that some but not all are called to be ministers. It is when people follow the Scripture pattern in preference to the promptings of their own spirits that God the Holy Spirit is genuinely honoured and will add His blessing.

Church order is more than empty formalism

[Our opponents in this controversy are prone to] accuse us of adhering to externals, devised by human wisdom, because we cleave to the rules and methods and orders prescribed by Christ to be followed in His house. On the other hand, they see themselves as the ones who follow the Spirit and are led by His direct help and influence.

The problem is that they end up accusing the Holy Spirit of leading them in a method and order that is not prescribed in the Word, but is only the invention of their own brains, blasphemously attributed to the leading of the Spirit of God. There is no basis to imagine that the Spirit of God will lead anyone in courses opposite to, and reflecting on, what Christ has instituted, because He is the Spirit of Christ, and sent by Him from the Father, with the work of testifying to Him, and not working at cross-purposes to Him, or trampling on what He has appointed.

Although there are differences of opinion about the order to be observed in the house of God, there is no warrant for our opponents to reject all order. They seem to want to bring in the confusion of Babel instead of the beautiful and edifying order which Christ, the supreme head and king of the Church, has appointed, and signally blessed, for His own glory and for promoting the good and edification of His subjects.

According to our opponents, it was not the mind of Christ “that Christians should establish the shadows and form of officers, without the power, efficacy and Spirit of Christ.” However, the power, efficacy and Spirit of Christ, is not in Christian’s power to establish (the Spirit bloweth where He listeth; John 3:8). I am not familiar with the Spirit which can be established by men — it is not the Spirit of God who is so under their power that He can be established by them as they please.

Also, although we are not trying to make a case for shadows and forms, yet we acknowledge (and desire to observe) the ordinances which Christ has appointed to continue in His Church, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–13), even to “the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). We have no ground to think that all these offices and officers were appointed only for that time and age, seeing the work is of the same necessity now as it was then. It is true, there was a special piece of work called for then; i.e., the founding and settling of gospel churches, and of gospel order and ordinances, and special, extraordinary officers were called, qualified and empowered then, which are not now necessary.

Now that the foundation has been laid, no is more required but a continual building on that foundation, for which, ordinary officers, and a standing ordinary ministry, are sufficient and necessary, in order that the ordinances of perpetual use may be administered, according to Christ’s appointment, for the constant edification of the Church. When the Church is denuded of her officers and watchers, she becomes easier prey for these grievous wolves who now enter in, not sparing the flock, and speak perverse things to draw away disciples after them.

The Christian ministry is a distinct office

Our opponents argue that there were no distinct office-bearers, particular individual persons, separated and set apart for the work of the ministry in the days of the apostles. However, the opposite is true. There were apostles, there were evangelists, and there were the other ordinary officers ordained and settled in the churches. See Acts 6:1–6; Acts 14:23; 1 Cor. 12: 28–30; Eph. 4:11; Phil. 1:1; Phil 4:3; Phil 2: 25; Col. 4:7, 12, 17; 1 Thess. 5:12–14; 1 Tim. 3:1–15; 1 Tim. 4:14–16. 1 Tim 5: 17, 22; 2 Tim. 2:2; 2 Tim. 4:1–2; Tit. 1:5–9; Heb. 13:7, 17; Jam. 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 1:20; Rev. 2; Rev. 3.

Declaring that there is no such thing as office-bearers established in the house of God, distinct from other church members, destroys the whole order of the ministry. It contradicts what is taught in Rom. 12:6–8; 1 Cor. 12; Acts 15:4, 6; Acts 21:18; 2 Cor. 5:18–19. It contradicts what is evident in the titles, or particular designations which are given to individual persons set over others in the New Testament, such as “pastors” (Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:20; Acts 20:28), “doctors” (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11), “stewards” (1 Cor. 4:1; Tit. 1:7), “preachers” (Rom. 10:14), “overseers” (Acts 20:18; 1 Pet. 4:15; 1 Pet. 5:2), “angels” (Rev. 1:20, etc), “stars” (Rev. 1:18), “ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:19–20), “such as are set over others” (Heb. 13:17); and “rulers” (1 Cor. 12:28; 1 Tim. 5:17).

The same thing is also evident from:

  • the special work given to them, not only included in the fore-mentioned titles, but expressly mentioned, such as preaching the gospel, administration of sacraments, care of the poor, exercise of discipline, etc. (see Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 9:16–17; 10:16; Rom. 12:6–8; 2 Cor. 12:15; 1 Tim. 4:13–16; 3:5; 2 Tim. 2:25; 4:2; Acts 6:2, 4).
  • the duties required of others, in reference to them (1 Thess. 5:12; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17).
  •  the qualifications required in them (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:2–6; Tit. 1:5–9).
  •  the orders given about examining and ordaining them (Acts 6; 1 Tim. 3:10; 5:11–12).
  •  the special commands and injunctions laid upon them, to mind their work aright (1 Tim. 3:5. 1 Pet. 5:2, 3. 1 Tim. 4:14, 15, 16. Act. 6:2, 4. 2 Tim. 4:2. & 2:25. 1 Cor 9:16, 17 2 Cor. 12:15. Heb. 13:17).
  •  the promises of God’s presence and assistance in the discharge of this work (Matt. 28:20; Rev. 1:1).
  •  God’s approbation of them in it (Matt. 16:19; John 20:23; Matt. 10:40; Luke 10:16; John 13:20; 1 Thess. 4:8).
  • In this way, the work which God has committed specifically to these officers, is made common.

The Spirit is a God of order and uses ordinary means

Some even go as far as to say that everyone, according as his own spirit (falsely called the Spirit of God) moves him, may take on this work (although for the sake of order they may allow something like a call from the people). But the Lord has restricted this work, ordinarily, to specific officers. Any encroachment is expressly prohibited (e.g., Rom. 12:3, 6, 7, 8; 1 Cor. 12; 1 Cor. 7:20; 1 Thess. 4:11).

That God is free to call whom He will, we know; but He has told us by His servant Paul, that He will not call women to this public ministry. Seeing He has appointed an ordinary and settled way whereby persons are to enter into this work, we have no warrant to think that those who do not come in by the door that He has set open, but creep in at windows, or suchlike unlawful ways, are called of the Lord. Rather, they run unsent, in contempt of God and His established order.

Some argue that anyone who is moved by the Spirit may instruct, teach, and exhort, when the saints are gathered together. This does not refer to private admonishing and exhorting, but the teaching which is ministerial, and is to have ministerial authority, when given by persons clothed with the authority of the ministerial office. This work is unique to the office, and ought to be performed only by those who are clothed with the office.

Also, in ordinary cases, God moves no one to violate the order established in His own house. Because of this order which Christ has established, we judge that all those persons who suppose themselves moved by the Spirit to teach publicly in the assemblies of the saints, are moved by their own spirit, and not by the Spirit of God, who is a God of order, and not the author of confusion; or rather by the spirit of Satan, in contempt of Christ’s order.

It is small wonder that their brethren, who are under the power of the same delusion, receive them, hearken to them and honour them. Yet this is more a confirmation of their delusion, than an argument evincing the lawfulness of their way.

Some argue that it is wrong to exclude from the ministry those who are not educated for it. But why does it offend them, that men put effort into being instructed and qualified for this work? Why does it offend them that only those who are qualified should be admitted into the office? It seems that the work of the ministry is a light business with them, and may be carried out by those who have no learning or qualifications. But the Lord qualified His apostles by teaching them for several years, as well as by extraordinary infusion of knowledge. Are we supposed to wait for such miracles now? Experience tells us that the Lord does not work in this way now, so why are they offended when we use ordinary means to attain knowledge? The work of the ministry is something that will take up the whole man, and his whole time, if he is faithful and diligent.




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