What is the ministry of the church?

This post continues a series examining key points of Andrew Purves' book Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 467891011.

Friends by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with permission)
Having noted that authentic (fully Christian) pastoral ministry is gospel- and trinitarian-shaped, Purves examines what that ministry looks like in "practical" terms. He begins by reminding us that pastoral ministry is "empowerment for faithfulness," which God does in and through us by "joining us to the faithfulness of Jesus" (p. 43). He also reminds us that our obedience to God, expressed as ministry, involves "sharing by the Holy Spirit in Christ's [own] obedience" as our High Priest (p. 44). In making these points, Purves wants us to understand that ministry is not something that is up to us, for "Jesus Christ is the primary minister (Hebrews 8:2), and our ministry, [being] derivative, [is] participation in the apostolic and priestly ministry [of Jesus]" (p. 44).

It looks like this

But what does our participation look like? Purves replies by noting that rather than being an obligation that involves mechanical application of pragmatic ministry models, our participation with Christ in ministry is gospel. It's a gift of grace, lived out freely and creatively in a Christological pattern. It means sharing ministry with Jesus in ways that are in sync with (or we might say "entrained with") the patterns (or we might say the "rhythms") of what Christ, by his Spirit, is actually doing in ministering the healing grace of God to a sin-sick world.

Jesus: God's word to man and man's obedient response to God

Fundamental to understanding the Christological pattern of Jesus' ongoing gospel ministry is recognizing that he (the incarnate Son of God) comes to us both as God's saving Word to humankind (gospel); and humankind's perfect, obedient response to that Word (gospel-shaped ministry). With that in mind, we can begin to grasp the truth that the Holy Spirit enables us to participate in Jesus' twofold ministry that is both apostolic and priestly (Hebrews 3:1). When Jesus says he is "the way, and the truth, and the life" he has in mind not only faith and piety, but also ministry, "For it is in union with Christ that we can walk the way, know the truth, and live the life of those who serve in the name of Christ" (p. 45).

That said, it's vital that in approaching ministry we not throw ourselves, and those we mentor and supervise, "back on themselves." We do that when we fail to understand that as ministers of Jesus we do not heal the sick, forgive sin, raise the dead or even comfort the bereaved. Jesus, by the Spirit, is the one who accomplishes these ministries through his word (proclamation) and deeds (acts). Our calling is to be actively present with him in the lives of others as he accomplishes this gospel-shaped ministry.

Purves then proceeds to examine various tasks of pastoral ministry from this vital, realist perspective. He does so by reminding us to look to "what it is that the Spirit of the risen Christ actually affects in and through the church at the point of the exercise of his priesthood." That priesthood has ministries that are both diaconal (diakonia) and eucharistic (eucharistia)

Diaconal ministry

Jesus Washing Peter's Feet by Ford Maddox Brown
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Jesus' diaconal ministry is sacrificial servanthood lived out in accordance with Jesus' gospel pattern seen in John 13:14-15. There Jesus the servant washes feet, and calls his followers (fellow ministers) to join him in so doing. As ministers of and with Christ, we minister "according to the pattern laid down by Christ," in a ministry of "personal sacrificial sharing in Christ's self-sacrifice and self-offering to God for the sake of the world" (p. 100).

Eucharistic ministry

Jesus' eucharistic ministry is seen most clearly in the Lord's Supper (the Eucharist) where Christ comes to us in both word and the elements, "bringing God to the people" and taking "the sacrifice of praise and in his own name... offering it as rational worship to God (Romans 12:2)." Purves continues: "In the Eucharist Christ is truly present with his people and by the Spirit binds them to himself in bread and wine and to his priestly self-offering to the Father" (p. 100).

As those who officiate (preside) at the Lord's Table, we do so knowing Jesus is truly present---he is the host (not we), and we, as officiants, minister to the people of God alongside their Lord. To serve well with Christ at his Table certainly requires that we be appropriately called and suitably trained, but service as an officiant is not exclusive to a certain class of Christians as though they were the ones in control of the Table because Christ is absent. Purves comments:
No one by virtue of gender or race can be excluded from sharing in Christ's ministry, eucharistic or diaconal. The limiting of eucharistic ministries to men only is a deep and sinful violation of Christ's encompassing and inclusive priesthood given for all in incarnation and atonement. (p. 102)
Next time we'll take a look at other aspects of the ongoing ministry (mission) of Christ to which we are called and equipped by the Spirit for active participation with Jesus in the world.