New Covenant Ordained Ministry

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”

- 1 Peter 5:1–3

Through the mediatorial work of Christ, God’s people are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Because the priestly work of mediation has been fulfilled in Christ, He is the only mediator between us and our Creator (1 Tim. 2:5). There are no other mediators between us and God or even between us and our Savior. Furthermore, having consecrated us as a royal priesthood, Jesus has also blessed all lawful service to God and to neighbor. There are not two classes of believers, the truly spiritual Christians and the ordinary Christians. Instead, believers offer holy and acceptable service to the Lord whenever they seek to glorify Him in their calling, whether that calling is to full-time ministry or to work in a secular context (1 Cor. 10:31).

However, none of these truths about our vocations means that all distinctions between clergy and laity have been eliminated in the new covenant. As we see throughout the New Testament, there remains a place for setting apart certain men for leadership in the church. For example, today’s passage is an exhortation to elders in the church to care for the flock that has been entrusted to them (1 Peter 5:1–3). This text assumes two different groups of Christians—elders and those for whom the elders care. Other texts add at least one other grouping, namely, deacons (1 Tim. 3:8–13).

Let us note at the outset that these divisions are not concerned with holiness or worth. Instead, the divisions pertain to God’s gifting and calling. One does not become more holy by being called as an elder or deacon, though elders and deacons are to have exemplary lives (1 Tim. 3:1–13). Scripture never says that an office of leadership in the church entails a level of personal holiness that nonleaders cannot or will not achieve. Furthermore, being called to leadership does not make the man so called more important to the church than those who are not called to ordained ministry. Paul stresses in 1 Corinthians 12 that those who appear to have the least valuable gifts and callings in the church are just as vital to the health of the body of Christ as those who have a more recognized and public role.

Elders and deacons are set apart for specific tasks, for the equipping of the saints for ministry and for making sure that things are done decently and in order (Eph. 4:11–12; 1 Cor. 14:40). But those who are not set apart for those offices are also essential members of Christ’s church.

Coram Deo

The calling to be an elder or a deacon is a high one indeed, but it does not invalidate or make insignificant the callings of those who are not appointed to those offices. If we think we cannot engage in ministry or are not valuable to the church if we are not elders or deacons, then we have misunderstood what Scripture has to say about the clergy and the laity.

Passages for Further Study

Nehemiah 4
Matthew 20:20–28
Romans 12:3–8
1 Peter 4:10–11

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.