A Seventh-Century Opinion On Every-Member Ministry

It does not befit a layman to dispute or teach publicly, thus claiming for himself authority to teach, but he should yield to the order appointed by the Lord, and to open his ears to those who have received the grace to teach, and be taught by them divine things; for in one Church God has made “different members,” according to the word of the Apostle and Gregory the Theologian, wisely interpreting this passage, commends the order in vogue with them saying: “This order brethren we revere, this we guard. Let this one be the ear; that one the tongue, the hand or any other member. Let this one teach, but let that one learn.” And a little further on: “Learning in docility and abounding in cheerfulness, and ministering with alacrity, we shall not all be the tongue which is the more active member, not all of us Apostles, not all prophets, nor shall we all interpret.” And again: “Why dost thou make thyself a shepherd when thou art a sheep? Why become the head when thou art a foot? Why dost thou try to be a commander when thou art enrolled in the number of the soldiers?” And elsewhere: “Wisdom orders, Be not swift in words; nor compare thyself with the rich, being poor; nor seek to be wiser than the wise.” But if any one be found weakening the present canon, he is to be cut off for forty days.

Canon 64, Council of Trullo (692).

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  1. This may not be totally on subject, but I’m reminded of the practice in some churches of handing out questionnaires and surveys to members so that they can discover their “gifts.” The idea seems to be that unless someone has a specific task (as defined by the survey, of course), he or she is not really involved in “ministry.” Accompanying this is the idea that every new member must immediately get “plugged in” to some sort of visible service in the church – as if growing faithfulness in church attendance, work, and family life were lesser matters than your assigned “ministry service.”

    Ok, I got that off my chest. Happy New Year!

    • Sounds like you have the gift of Discernment. I hope you’re plugged in to your local assembly, using that gift for the benefit of the other congregants. Remember, the Church doesn’t need more deadweight to merely warm the pews. 😉

    • I was a member of a church that did the questionnaire thing.

      It was as if this wasn’t enough –

      1 Thessalonians 4:11 “…and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you”

      Do you want to discover your gift? Do you want to know how to serve the Lord and others? Visit the sick, the orphans, the elderly, those in prison. THOSE are gifts.

      • Thank you Matt. I appreciate this.

        Americans (and others) love religious excitement and the describing ordinary phenomena in extraordinary, apostolic terms. I don’t think the NT is nearly so interested, however, in such things. I’m reasonably sure that what is described as “tongues” and “prophecy” today bear no resemblance to what occurred in the apostolic era.

  2. May I ask if a quote like this might not be a bit anachronistic? I’m guessing that in the 7th Century that the literacy rate was low, compared to today. I’m further guessing that few layman had access to, or could read, the Bible in their own language. And, that layman had limited access to Biblical training. Hence, this particular quote is somewhat culture and time-bound.

    Is there not a legitimate role for laymen to obey the Biblical admonition that we are to “encourage one another” and “teach one another” (Col 3:16)?

    Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive to a quote like this being used to justify passivity in the church, leaving solid study and sharing and teaching of the Word to the “professional clergy”?

    Your thoughts?

  3. Correct me if I am wrong, but officers are given for the well being of the church, not the being.
    And while the church is not a democracy, the priesthood of believers means at times, the pew warmers speak up. I have been in two situations where TPTB didn’t do their job and the hoi polloi had to take things in hand. IOW when you go to the elders and they won’t do anything, there’s a place and a time to state the obvious to whomever has ears to hear. If that means you get “excommunicated” so be it. Been there, done that.

  4. Frank – you’re exactly correct. I joined a congregation once where they had us go through an entire survey so we could discover our “spiritual gifts.” What this all boiled down to in the end had little to do with the real business of the church, but rather an amalgamation of “works” that the local congregation needed to be done. While it’s true that diaconal tasks are important and need qualified people to carry them out, it’s hard to think of most of them as “spiritual gifts,” rather tasks that simply need to be completed by people who have the proper talent or personality traits. No sense trying to prepare meals for the homebound or ill if you can’t cook; doesn’t do much good to visit the hospitalized, invalid, or lonely if you have an introverted demeanor and don’t like to talk (especially to strangers); hardly does much good to do any kind of home repair work for a financially struggling widow if you have no trade skills.

  5. Thanks for the links, Dr. Clark. They’re helpful in me better understanding the Reformed view.

    Your thoughts (and critique?) of John Wesley and his utilization and mobilization of lay preachers, and his fostering of smaller group Bible studies led by lay people?

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