The Ordination of Pastors in Ephesians, Part 3
As I launch into Part 3 of a theology of the ordination of pastors in Ephesians, let me start with a brief review. Ephesians 1:9–10 sets forth God’s plan for the ages, to “sum up” or “unite all things” in this shattered universe back into harmony with him. Because of the cross work and resurrection of Christ, God is accomplishing this oneness by bringing people into fellowship with himself through faith (Eph 2:1–10), and by bringing believers into fellowship with each other (Eph 2:11–22). The proof of this new oneness is seen in God’s creating “one new man out of two” (Eph 2:15), or by bringing the two most unlikely people groups—Jews and Gentiles—into fellowship with each other. Since the church was created for oneness, therefore, Paul commands those in the church to live in oneness and maintain that oneness (Eph 4:1–6).
How does the Lord intend for the church to maintain oneness in the body, thus becoming the picture of reconciliation that the congregation is created to display to the broken world? He has given the church ministers—including pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11)—and has tasked them with the responsibility of uniting or reconciling the saints, and to do the work of the ministry, so that the church body is built up. Ordination, therefore, is the formal process of the church’s recognition that the man being ordained is genuinely Christ’s gift to the body to fulfill this task.
In this post I want to focus on the task of this pastor being ordained. What does it mean for him to accomplish the ergon diakonias or the “work of the ministry”?
The phrase “work of the ministry” is somewhat elusive for the simple fact that it does not occur in precisely this form anywhere else in the NT. However, the ideas of “work” and “ministry” appear in parallel phrases in 2 Timothy 4:5, where Timothy is exhorted, “Do the work (ergon) of an evangelist, carry out your ministry (diakonia). Here the terms “work of an evangelist” and “ministry” are brought together to refer to the same act of service. This observation, coupled with the recognition that Paul often refers to his own evangelistic ministry with the same word, diakonia (e.g., 2 Cor 4:5) suggests that the “work of the ministry” has to do with preaching the gospel, or at least more broadly the proclamation of truth.
If we proceed to the interpretation of the larger Ephesians text with this understanding of “work of the ministry” in mind, thinking of a pastor as primarily a teacher and proclaimer of truth fits nicely in the overall context. For as we continue to read past Eph 4:12, we discover that sound doctrine is at the heart of the church’s unity. The church does not function as “one” despite its doctrine, agreeing to disagree. Rather, the church functions as “one” because of its doctrine, agreeing to agree. The church unites around sound doctrine.
Because of this truth, the ministers of the church continue their work, which builds the body (Eph 4:12) “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (4:13). “Faith” does not refer to the act of believing, but to what is believed. That is, the unity of the doctrines of faith, or the propositions of faith; i.e., until we are one in doctrine (cf. “one faith,” Eph 4:5). And alongside of unity in propositional truth is unity in experiential truth, or “knowledge” of Christ (cf. Phil 3:10).
Being built up in unity of faith and knowledge is to continue until the church becomes an aner telios, or a mature male. This aner telios is most likely the culmination of Paul’s image of the “one new man” in Eph 2:15, a picture of the church as a robust, mature male in his prime, a body as healthy and virile as that of Christ himself (4:13).
What is the result of such unity? Paul says that we will “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (4:14). Here, then, Paul is drawing a contrast between the church as an immature child who is weak in doctrine and therefore unstable, and the church as a mature male, the church united by faith and knowledge.
Finally, Paul draws his imagery to a stunning climax. If the church is taught to speak truth in love—that is, to know and practice sound doctrine while loving one another (cf. 4:1–3)—they will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (4:15–16). Here again is Paul’s depiction of the sovereign purpose of God to unite the world to himself through Christ, by uniting believers to himself, and by uniting those who are united to him to each other.
Now back to my main point. The ministers of the church, those men whom Christ has given as gifts to the congregation (Eph 4:8, 11) are tasked with the responsibility of helping the body to mature in this fashion. Paul says that in order for robust growth to occur, each “part” of the body of Christ must be “working properly.” It is the pastor’s responsibility to oversee the proper function of the members of the body. He must oversee and take part in their teaching, their discipleship, their relationships with others in the body. They must be taught not only to know doctrine but also to live out the implications of doctrine; not only to know the love of Christ, but also to love; not only to celebrate the forgiveness of Christ, but also to forgive; not only to know the care of Christ, but also to care for one another.
There are at least two observations we can make which shows that the rest of the New Testament harmonizes with this idea that God has given ministers to the church for the purpose of uniting the church. The first observation is made when reading so much of Paul’s instructions to the churches in his letters. Take the letter of Philippians as a case in point. Paul sets an example by celebrating without rancor the preaching of the gospel by those men who were critical of his ministry (Phil 1:15–18), before urging the Philippian believers to let their manner of life be “worthy of the gospel of Christ … standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27; note the strong parallel with walking worthy of one’s calling in Eph 4:1–3). Then Paul launches into his well-known exhortation to oneness based on the mind of Christ (Phil 2:1–11), before exhorting the Philippians, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent …” (Phil 2:14–15a). Later in the same letter, Paul urges Euodia and Syntyche to “agree in the Lord” (Phil 4:2). But then Paul instructs some unnamed person, calling him his “true yokefellow” (KJV) or “true companion” (ESV), to “help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers …” (Phil 4:3). The exhortation to “help these women” to “agree in the Lord” is an exhortation to do the work of a minister, or to fulfill a pastoral task: helping people in the body learn to maintain their unity with one another.
We could continue to probe Paul’s letters, especially 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, and Philemon, and show example after example of Paul’s concern for unity in the church, unity that centers around sound teaching, that centers around truth. We would observe Paul doing the work of the ministry in exhorting and discipling and rebuking, all to edify the church as the “pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim 3:15), and to see God’s people function in unity around sound doctrine. But there is a second observation we can make which shows that the rest of the NT supports the idea of ministers keeping unity in the congregation as the center of their calling. We can see that the pastor must be equipped to fulfill the task of helping the body maintain the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:3) by examining Paul’s pastoral qualifications.
In 1 Tim 3:2–7, Paul instructs,
“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
For our purposes, we can divide these qualifications into at least three skill sets which would be excellent for maintaining doctrinal and behavioral unity in the body of Christ.
- Harmony in marriage, family, and community. The pastor sets an example of a life in which the responsibilities in his relationships are fulfilled.
- Gracious and gentle with people. The minister is not out of control, not a drunkard or violent, or a person who will strongarm his will on the congregation. Instead he is gentle and hospitable.
- Ability to teach the truth. Besides his managerial skills implied from his family, the teaching of truth is the one actual skill that is required of a pastor.
The process of formally ordaining ministers for the church, therefore, is a highly essential responsibility that no congregation should take lightly. The unity of the body of Christ, united around sound doctrine, believing and living out the implications of truth, knowing the love of Christ and loving one another is that picture given by Christ to the world that reconciliation is possible with the Creator. Churches must therefore take seriously the calling of a pastor, or the recognition of the “gift” that Christ has given to the church. The oneness of the body of Christ, the microcosm of all that God is doing in redemption history, depends on it.