At its heart, Christianity is all about Jesus. New Testament believers were amazed at His love, transformed by His grace, and witnessed through His power. They shared a Christ they knew. They testified of a love that was real. Christ changed their lives, and they could not be silent. When the Jewish authorities tried to silence Peter and John, the apostles exclaimed: “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard”(Acts 4:20, NKJV).*
The dynamic of first-century Christianity was simply this: the disciples shared a faith in Jesus that was authentic. Theirs was no make-believe, artificial Christianity. They proclaimed a Christ whom they had experienced. Their witness was powerful because their faith was personal. Paul cried out: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16, NKJV). John added: “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3, NKJV).
These newly converted believers, filled with the Spirit, had hearts overflowing with the desire to proclaim His love to everyone they met. Historian Will Durant made this insightful observation: “Nearly every convert, with the ardor of a revolutionary, made himself an office of propaganda.”1 Ellen White adds: “No sooner does one come to Christ than there is born in his heart a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus; the saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart.”2
From the New Testament record, we learn that witnessing was not the role of some select super-gifted few. Soul winning was not the exclusive function of the disciples. It was the role of the entire church. The apostle Paul gives us a beautiful picture of what the church is all about in 1 Corinthians 12: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body. . . . Now the body is not made up of one part but of many” (verses 13, 14). Paul likens believers to members of Christ’s body: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (verse 27). Just as each part of the human body has a special function that contributes to the whole, so each member of the church has been gifted by God to contribute to the mission of the church.
Witnessing is not a spiritual gift. It is a calling God gives to each believer. We are all called to witness. God gives us different gifts so we can witness effectively. All believers are witnesses and all believers have been given gifts to witness. This is the revolutionary teaching of the New Testament. In this light we can never say, “I am just a layperson; I don’t have a theology degree, I don’t really have the knowledge or skill to do the work of witnessing.” Every one of us as a member of Christ’s body, the church, has been called by God to witness and each one of us has been given gifts to minister for the Master. Even if you feel your gifts are exceedingly modest, those gifts are indispensable to the whole church. God longs to use you powerfully. As you use the gifts He has given you, they will increase. He will bless your efforts beyond what you can ever imagine.
An Old Deception
One of Satan’s greatest deceptions is that soulwinning, witnessing, and evangelism are the work of a few highly trained clergy specialists. This falsehood has its roots in the Middle Ages when various heresies compromised the church. In that era, the clergy were elevated far above the laity. Their standing before God was sharply divided from that of their congregations. The clergy were considered to be spiritually strong and the laity spiritually weak. The clergy were thought to have special privileges as dispensers of the sacraments and interpreters of Scripture. As a result, the laity remained spiritually dependent on the clergy. The clergy had a spiritual calling for the work of God, and the laity a secular calling. And according to the theology of the day, in heaven the clergy would occupy special positions close to God that ordinary believers could not enjoy. We might summarize the medieval understanding of clergy and laity this way: the clergy were spiritually strong and the laity were spiritually weak. The clergy had a spiritual calling and the laity a secular calling. The clergy would receive a special reward in heaven and the laity would receive an ordinary reward.
A Revolutionary Discovery
In the sixteenth century the Reformation truth of the priesthood of all believers burst upon the horizon in the blazing light of Scripture. Students of Scripture made this startling discovery: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, NKJV).
All believers are priests with direct access to God through Jesus Christ. Just as the Old Testament priests were representatives of God, witnesses for the Most High, each believer, called as a priest of the Most High God, is a witness to His grace and glory. It sounded like heresy when Martin Luther thundered from his pulpit in Wittenberg: “Every shoemaker, every carpenter, every farmer, every doctor is a priest.” But Luther was right. Sharing the gospel is not the exclusive right of the clergy: it is the privilege of the entire church. Every believer takes Christ into this world through his or her profession. Sharing Christ in the marketplace is what we do because of who we are. Our occupations provide opportunities for witness. William Carey was right when he said: “I cobble shoes to pay expenses, but soul winning is my business.” Protestants armed with the truth of the priesthood of all believers during the Protestant Reformation changed the history of the world.
Today many Protestants still unwittingly cling to parts of the old medieval construct. The attitude that I do my secular work, earn wages, and pay the preacher to witness in my behalf is part of the heresy of the Medieval church. In an article titled “The Priesthood of All Believers,” Theodore Gill makes this penetrating observation: “Martin Luther especially made the priesthood of all believers a touchstone for the true church and a mark of the Reformation’s faithfulness to an original Christianity.”3 Are we truly heirs of the Reformation if we leave the work of soul winning to the paid ministry? Can we actually say that we stand on the shoulders of the Reformers if we have little interest in sharing our faith? If the “priesthood of all believers” is a touchstone for the true church, are we truly champions of this Reformation truth when our local congregations have little interest in witnessing? Certainly God has called church members to do much more than to pray and pay and obey. Each one of us is a priest, ambassador, steward of the mysteries of the kingdom, and witness for the King of the universe (Rev. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Cor. 4:1; Acts 1:8).
Whatever your job—whether you are a lawyer, physician, construction worker, teacher, truck driver, or computer programmer—the purpose of life is to share Jesus’ love with others. Ellen White was certainly on target when she declared: “The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work, and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers.”4
God longs for the entire church to come alive with missionary zeal. He longs for each of us to recapture the passion of the New Testament church. He is waiting to pour out His Holy Spirit on a church passionate about sharing a Christ who has changed them personally. It happened in the first century and it will happen in the last century. It happened at the beginning of church history and it will happen at the close of church history. It happened then and it will happen again. It happened there and it will happen here.
Laypeople are the key to fulfilling the Great Commission. This is the only way the good news is really going to cover the globe. As important as radio, television, the Internet, and each of the media outlets are, they can never replace a living witness. God longs to reveal His love and truth through people. Jesus did not merely send a media message from heaven: He came to this sin-polluted world to reveal heaven’s love and teach heaven’s truth. So please never think, I’m just a lay person. I can’t do much for the kingdom. Away with such thoughts! Andrew was just a layperson, but he led Peter to Christ. And Peter the layperson, an uneducated fisherman, preached a Spirit-filled sermon on the day of Pentecost and 3,000 were baptized in a single day. The book of Acts is alive with the powerful effects of lay witness. Farmers, merchants, tax collectors, and sheep herders turned the world upside down as ambassadors for Jesus Christ.
Dwight L. Moody was a layperson won to Christ by another layperson, and he rocked two continents with the power of the gospel. William Miller the farmer, Joseph Bates the sea captain, James White the teacher, Ellen White the humble teenager—they are all examples of laypeople who were mightily used of God in the Second Advent movement. God is gathering laypeople around the world for a final movement at the climax of earth’s history. But if this lay movement is going to fulfill its destiny in this generation, it will require rethinking the role of the local pastor and the local church. It will necessitate recapturing the biblical role of the pastor. It calls for a radically new understanding of the church.
Recapturing the Biblical Roles of the Pastor and the Local Congregation
Although there is a variety of New Testament descriptions for the role of the pastor, one of the most powerful is found in Ephesians 4. Paul describes the gifts Jesus gave to His earthly church as He ascended to heaven this way: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11, 12, NKJV). A casual reading of the text gives the impression that the gifts of pastors and teachers are separate gifts. But the word “pastor” here is better translated “shepherd”—one who nurtures, guards, and nourishes the flock. The word translated “and” linking “pastors and teachers” is the Greek word kai. It literally means “that is” or “in particular.” The passage can be more accurately translated “teaching/pastors” or “spiritual shepherds who teach their flocks.” According to Ephesians 4:12, God has placed “teaching pastors” within the church to equip each believer in His work of witness and service. Any pastor who does not place priority in equipping members to both discover and use their spiritual gifts in service is not fulfilling their biblical role as pastor. The Lord impressed Ellen White with this same biblical truth: “So long as church members make no effort to give to others the help given them, great spiritual feebleness must result. The greatest help that can be given our people is to teach them to work for God, and to depend on Him, not on the ministers. . . . Just as soon as a church is organized, let the minister set the members at work. They will need to be taught how to labor successfully. Let the minister devote more of his time to educating than to preaching. Let him teach the people how to give to others the knowledge they have received.”5
The major role of the pastor is to equip members as disciples of Christ to use their gifts in witness for the Master. Jesus focused most of His attention equipping His disciples to be powerful leaders and soul-winning evangelists.
The church is not a social club where people of like interest gather each week to make one another feel good. It is the arena of God’s grace where the people of God meet to be filled with His grace, equipped to serve, and prepared to be sent back into the community to make a difference for the kingdom of God. As the Quaker scholar Elton Trueblood once said: “The church of the twenty-first century will become a mini-seminary.” Ellen White certainly echoes this thought: “Many would be willing to work if they were taught how to begin. They need to be instructed and encouraged. Every church should be a training school for Christian workers.”6
The prophet’s vision of the church was far ahead of her time. She saw Adventist churches as training centers where members discovering their gifts were empowered and equipped to witness. She saw churches with broad-based ministries reaching out to touch their communities with God’s love. She saw members growing spiritually because they were actively involved in service. The church is not really the church of the New Testament if it has little concern for the community around it. The church is certainly not the church of the New Testament if pastors and members have little passion for souls. The church is certainly not the church of the New Testament if there is greater interest in church socials than taking the gospel to lost people.
In his volume The Institutes of Biblical Law, Rousas John Rushdoony makes this disturbing statement: “The purpose of the church should not be to bring men and woman into subjection to the church but rather to train them into a ‘royal priesthood’ capable of bringing the world into subjection to Christ the King.” Speaking of the Christian church at large, Rushdoony then observes: “The church has by and large paid lip service to the priesthood of all believers, because the hierarchy has distrusted the implications of the doctrine and because it has seen the church as an end in itself, not as an instrument.”7
I pray that as Seventh-day Adventists we will do much more than pay lip service to the priesthood of all believers. I pray that this truth will seize our hearts, grip our souls, fill our minds, and compel us to share God’s love and truth with a new urgency and passion. I pray that every Seventh-day Adventist church will indeed become a training center for Christian workers and that every Adventist pastor will reevaluate his/her role to become an equipper, a disciple-maker, a trainer of the people for God to use their gifts as soul winners. I pray that denominationally funded ministries and supporting ministries will work in harmony in an atmosphere of trust to reach the unreached. I pray that each layperson will sense anew the call of God to witness for the kingdom so that very soon we will see the fulfillment of the prophet’s vision.
“Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given.”8
May that day be soon, and may your voice and mine be heard proclaiming His grace and glory until He comes to take us home.
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, vol. 3 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), p. 602.
2 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 78.
3 In A Handbook Christian Theology, Marvin Halverson and Arthur A. Cohen, eds. (New York: Meridian Books, 1958), p. 281.
4 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 352.
5 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, pp. 18-20. 6 Ellen G. White, Christian Service, p. 59.
7 Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Phillipsburg, N.J.: The Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1973), p. 764.
8 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 612.span>
Mark A. Finley has been a pastor, administrator, and evangelist for the Seventh-day Adventist Church for 40 years. This article was published August 12, 2010.