Mandate to Minister

PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS

SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION

MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA, 1967

H. FRANKLIN PASCHALL, was pastor of  First Baptist Church of Nashville, Tenn. A native of Kentucky, Paschall was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bowling Green, Ky., from 1951-55, before coming to Nashville. Previously he was pastor of the Hazel Baptist Church in Hazel, Ky.  He is a graduate of Union University, Jackson, Tenn., and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., where he earned the Doctor of Theology Degree. Paschall was born May 12, 1922, in Hazel, Ky.


President’s Address:  Mandate to Minister, part I

By H. Franklin Paschall

 

Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister.”  And again He said, “As the Father hath sent me even so send I you.”  From the mountains of inspiration and worship we go down into the lowlands to serve.  Sir Walter Scott observed that the most beautiful scenery in Scotland is where the highlands and lowlands meet.

The Pattern of Ministry in the New Testament

There is a pattern of ministry in the New Testament.  It is a ministry under authority.  One word translated “minister” means under-rower.  It is the picture of a servant rowing the boat under the authority and direction of the captain.  In the New Testament, ministry is not optional but mandatory.  It is under the authority and direction of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Chief Captain.

There is the liturgy type of ministry, ministering to God in worship.  It is public.  Luke wrote, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2) (also note Romans 12:1,2).  An alive, relevant, spiritual worship service will issue in missionary action.  The need today is not to do away with the corporate ministry of worship but to make it vital and productive.

There is the deacon type of ministry.  Jesus was a deacon.  This type of service predominates in the work of Jesus and His disciples.  It is a ministry in little things.  The deacons were chosen to care for specific and neglected needs.  There may be many volunteers to do big, noteworthy things but where are the volunteers to do the menial, unnoticed tasks.  Christian ministry is at its best when credit is not sought for services rendered.  It does not really matter who is concerned to serve wherever there are human needs.

The deacon type of ministry is to persons.  Jesus was concerned with the needs of human beings.  Christian service is never cold, impersonal and matter-of-fact.  It is warm, friendly, compassionate, personal.  The organization, the profession, the movement must always be subordinate to human needs.  In an age of population explosion and computers, bigger and bigger organizations in Church and State, it is easy to forget the dignity and worth of human beings and personal needs.

Jesus introduced a new dimension in service.  Before Him, the many served the few, the poor served the rich, the small served the great, the disciples served the teacher.  Jesus reversed all this.  He inverted the pyramid of service.  The one at the apex became responsible to provide for the welfare of all under him.

The Purpose of New Testament Churches

The ministry of Jesus was passed on to the churches.  It was to be a ministry to the saints (II Corinthians 9:1; Hebrews 6:10; Ephesians 4:11, 12) and to the world (II Corinthians 4:1; 5:18-20).  The ministry committed to us is one in source and purpose.  We have received “this ministry,” not these ministries.  We are the churches of the Word, not words.  We are the churches of the Truth, not truths.  Ministries, words, truths, divide and fragment us.  This ministry, the Word and the Truth unite us.  This ministry of reconciliation gives us an overarching, overruling, integrating purpose in all that we do.

Our ministry is redemptive.  We plead with men to be reconciled to God.  The word for “reconcile” means exchange.  The old passes away and the new takes its place.  There is a marvelous exchange.  Once there was the stony heart.  Now there is the tender heart.  Once there was hate.  Now there is love.  Once there was the life of the flesh.  Now there is the life of the Spirit.  When men are reconciled to God they can be reconciled to one another.  Every organization or movement will become a curse to mankind when it is divorced from God.

True churches have a place in the purpose of God in Jesus Christ.  Institutional churches are under bitter attack today.  Some say they are no more than ghettos of Christianity and islands of real estate.  Swinburne called the church Christ’s leprous bride.  Others say that at best the churches are irrelevant and at worst an obstacle to genuine human experience.

It is true that the churches have spots and wrinkles and that many times they stumble and stutter.  There is the continuing need for repentance and renewal.  Let us face our sins honestly, confess them and repent from them.  Let us break out beyond ourselves—beyond our frozen orthodoxy, organizational routines, religious rigamorale, prejudice and pride—and minister in the world.  But let us see the difference between trying to renew the churches and trying to liquidate them.  Apart from the churches there is no purpose for a single agency of this Convention.  Southern Baptists cannot successfully by-pass the churches and minister to the world.  If we try it, one day it will be plain that we are trying to do everything with nothing.  The churches stumble but they are trying to go somewhere.  The churches stutter but they are trying to say something.

What is the primary purpose of the churches in the world?  I am indebted to Dr. Wallace Hamilton for some helpful suggestions at this point.  Some say the churches should seek to destroy civilizations.  Is Christianity a subversive force in the world?  Herod felt threatened by Jesus, the new-born king.  The Pharisees accused Jesus of trying to destroy the law of Moses.  But Jesus said that He came not to destroy but to fulfill.  The Pharisees made common cause with Rome in Pilate’s judgment hall as they charged that Jesus was an enemy of Caesar.  Emperor Julian said:  “This Jesus is the greatest rebel who ever lived.  What was Brutus, what was Cassius, compared to him?  They murdered only the man Julius Caesar.  Jesus murders all that is called Caesar, all that is Rome.”  Apparently Nero found no difficulty in blaming the Christians for burning Rome.  Edward Gibbon believed that the fall of Rome represented the triumph of barbarism and religion.  Nietzsche considered Christianity an obstacle to progress and called it “the one great curse, the one great corruption, the one immortal blemish in the earth.”  Communists think Christianity is an enemy of mankind and call it “the opiate of the people.”

Some say the churches should preserve civilizations.  When the Nazi blitzkrieg was at its fury over London, Winston Churchill said:  “The battle of Britain is beginning.  Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.”

One may ask if there is any such thing as a Christian civilization.  But we must confess that our history would have been decidedly different if our forefathers had come from a Moslem or Buddhist or Hindu land.  Our cities, rivers, mountains and roads have Bible names.  Our Constitution and government reflect the influence of the Gospel.  Our way of life is rooted in the Christian tradition.  Is it our business as churches to preserve a way of life or support a particular form of government?

When the Gospel is preached and the Christian ministry performed a mighty force is unleashed against all of the evils in civilizations.  At the same time, this mighty force is a support to all that is good in civilizations.  Then it is an inescapable conclusion that Christianity is independent of civilizations.

Civilizations are mortal.  They die. The Roman civilization and Christianity were closely intertwined.  Some said that Christianity would fall when the Roman Empire fell.  But it survived and proved its independence.  Later, Christianity became identified with the institution of feudalism, a civilization that was destined to die.  Again Christianity survived and proved it independence.  Out of this survival came the Renaissance and Reformation.

In modern times there have come the industrial revolution, science and technology and space exploration.  This civilization of technocracy too will pass away.  The Christian faith will survive and flourish.

The primary purpose of the churches is not to destroy or to preserve civilizations, but to proclaim the reality of the Kingdom of God whatever may be the kingdoms and civilizations of the world.  Arnold Toynbee was right when he said that Christianity does not exist of civilization but civilizations exist for Christianity.  Jesus and the early Christians used the Greek language, Roman roads and other fruits of civilizations to communicate the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  There are many magnificent means in our day which we should use for the furtherance of the Gospel.  Paul declared, “All things are yours in Christ.”  Tennyson in the prologue to “In Memoriam” said:

“Our little systems have their day.

They have their day and cease to be;

They are but broken lights of thee,

And thou, O Lord, art more than they.”

End of part I, cont’d next Sunday.