One phenomenon we are continuing to experience, which has been identified by Nathan Hatch in The Democratization of American Christianity, is that our view of church ministers has changed within our American environment, where we have placed such a high value on the equality of all. We have sought to ensure that abuses of clerical power no longer plague us and that everyone is on an equal playing field. “Everyone is a priest, so why should someone act like a priest, as if he’s closer to God than everyone else? All Christians have gifts and a relationship with God, so surely everyone can contribute to worship in their own way, right?”
Some of the sentiments expressed above are true, but others are an overreaction to abuse or a misunderstanding of what it means for a man to serve as a minister. One common misconception is that “different means unequal.” In other words, people think that giving a minister a different function means that he is given a greater importance before God. This is not true, though. When we look at the Trinity, we see a difference in the order of the Persons and, consequently, their works in creation and redemption; yet, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal. The Father speaks in the Son by the Spirit; the order of that statement cannot be restructured. The Father sent the Son to accomplish redemption, and the Father and Son sent the Spirit to apply it. Once again, there’s a difference in function but equality in their Persons. When a minister leads worship, it isn’t that he’s better than the people but simply that he is called to perform a unique task.
Prior to a man receiving the office of minister, he is trained to execute this office faithfully. But that’s not enough. A congregation must approve of his character, which must also be recognized by the elders. Further, in the URCNA, elders and ministers from our sister congregations test his doctrine. Only then may a man receive the office of minister by public ordination. He becomes an official ambassador, a workman approved, who heralds a message on behalf of his Lord. We believe that God uses this man as a mouthpiece for addressing His people (provided the minister’s words are biblical). As a result, the minister is set apart – not from the people but for the people. This is why he, or someone that is being trained and tested for that office, speaks on God’s behalf in a worship service and prays to God on behalf of the people. He was trained and called by God to this task.
But, given that the minister has a unique function, what is the congregation’s function, since it has priestly access to the Father, as well? Each of God’s people are not “a church of one,” but they are members of a single Body – a local expression of the Body of Christ. This one Body finds its unity in one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. It partakes of the one Spirit, who sanctifies and comforts. This principle of gathered-oneness means that individual expressions of worship are out of place during a worship service. A unified voice should characterize congregational response (e.g., Exod. 24:3,7; Ezra 10:12; Neh. 8:5-6). We at WRC gather for a total of 2 hours each week, so we think it’s reasonable to request that Christians relegate their individuality and spontaneity to the week’s remaining 166 hours. By this, we are seeking to honor the Lord’s command that everything be done decently and in good order in worship services (1 Cor. 14).