Monday, January 09, 2012

Book Review: Ministers of God

Since being ordained, I've been trying to read more books on ministry, to keep learning and growing in the task of proclaiming Christ. One of the books that has been on my shelves for quite a while was this little volume by Leon Morris: Ministers of God. It even travelled with me to New York back in November, but didn't get read then, but with the turning of the new year, its been finished.

Leon Morris is an Australian New Testament Scholar, a careful Bible teacher, perhaps best known for his work on The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. On beginning to read, it was clear that the Bible teaching would be sound, but it turned out to not be the book I was expecting.

I was hoping to read a book on the ministry, with exposition on the proclaiming of the gospel, but this was a very different book. Still profitable, but different.

Written in the 1960s, Morris takes up his pen because of the contemporary ecumenical maneuverings and discussions on the validity of ordinations and orders, as churches sought to work closer together towards unity. As he says early on, 'This, then, is an attempt to deal with the ministry from the standpoint of an evangelical approach to Scripture.' The issue he's dealing with is the tendency of denominations (and non-denominations!) to assert that theirs is the truly biblical form of ministry, whether that be congregational, presbyterian, or episcopalian. 'Most of our modern denominations preserver something of New Testament teaching on the ministry, but also that they fail to do full justice to other aspects.'

Recognising the legitimate diversity in the church, Morris has a telling line: 'None of us has a divine mission to impose all his views on other Christians.'

Morris then continues by considering the scriptural evidence for Jesus' view of ministry, within the teaching of Jesus on the church. The evidence is the important part of Morris' approach, rather than imposing on Jesus our ideas of what he must have intended. For Morris, the evidence shows that: '1. Jesus definitely envisaged his followers as being equals... and 2. by the choice of the seventy and the twelve and the three, Jesus plainly intended that within the brotherhood some might be singled out for special service.'

Through the remaining chapters he carefully examines the scriptural evidence of the office and work of apostles, presbyters and deacons, before considering how we got to where we are now with episcopalian three-fold orders and the teaching elders and ruling elders of presbyterianism, as well as the local leadership of congregational congregations.

As he sums up, Morris states that the New Testament simply doesn't answer our questions about how ministry functioned in the early church: 'the New Testament ministry is characterized by fluidity'; indeed the only necessary requirement from the New Testament is not a particular system or office: 'the really important thing is the call and equipment of Christ. Lacking this no man can be said to be a true minister. Possessing it he has what matters.'

As I say, not the book I thought I was getting in to, yet still profitable as a good reminder of the biblical basis of all ministry: 'there is but one essential ministry, the ministry of Christ. All valid human ministry is a reflection of this.' And there were lessons in ministry too: 'The minister ought to regard himself as no more than a servant to his people, but his people should regard him as a shepherd over the flock.'

With ecumenical discussions continuing, Morris still has an important contribution to make, in calling us to re-examine the Bible as we consider ministry. It can only be in returning to scripture that we can unite, rather than holding on to the later developments, however dearly loved.

[As an aside, it was interesting to read an annotated copy of the book. The previous owner obviously liked it when Morris was arguing against certain Anglican developments with lots of underlining and additional comments!]

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