The Ideal Ministry 3/11

In Memory of the 100th anniversary of the death of P. T. Forsyth this year (2021), I will outline his eleven points in the chapter entitled ‘The Ideal Ministry’ (as printed in The British Congregationalist, 18th October, 1906), in the book Revelation Old and New.

3. The Ideal Ministry: PRIESTLY

“We must go further and say that the ideal ministry must be a priestly ministry. That would follow from the nature of the Church whose organ the ministry is. One chief function of the Church in the world is the sacerdotal. Conceive it truly and this is as real as the Church’s missionary function. If the Church confesses it, it confesses not its own sin only but the sin of the world. It carries that sin to the presence of God.

We should remember this when we stumble at expressions like “miserable sinners” in the General Confession. The Church in Christ is carrying into the sin-destroying presence the heinous, crushing sin of the world. Again, if it intercede, the Church does not intercede for its own members alone, but for the world. It is joined in a mystic communion and effect with the perpetual and universal intercession of Christ. It is united with His priesthood. Or if it labour, or suffer, it is making sacrifice in Christ (not with Christ) for the world.

Here again is a priestly Church. And, above all, when it offers to God the sacrifice of Christ, which it does in every one of its sacred functions – for they are all acceptable in Christ’s sacrifice alone – the Church is a priestly Church, and it is doing a priestly work for the world. And a Church is a true Church only insofar as it is doing this work and exercising this priesthood. It is a useful test for the Church to apply to itself, and it would rid us of some weak Churches that seem to be pillars. The weakest Churches are not the smallest.

Well, it such be the true Church, so also is the true ministry which is the organ of the Church. The ideal ministry is a priestly ministry. The idea minister is three things at least. He is prophet, and he is pastor, but he is just as much priest. What he is not is king. It is the imperial element in the priesthood that is its bane. Christ alone is Kingly Priest and Pastor. We shall never realise our true difference with the wrong priesthood of the ministry till we have grasped the right priesthood in a real sense and not in a figurative and feeble sense in which we mostly use the word.

We must of course, protest against the Catholic desecration of the word priest. Let us take care that we do not deconsecrate ourselves in that process. Let us be sanctified, for priests we are. The minister as prophet speaks to the people in the name of God; but he is not fulfilling the whole of the Christian Gospel unless he also speak to God as priest in the name of the people.

He must pray as well as preach; and in private as well as in public he must carry his people into the presence of God. If he confesses, he confesses far more than his own sin. If he suffer, it is not from personal trouble alone, but also from the sins, negligences, and ignorances of his people, which he has to bear, and, if he is a true minister, bears to God. And if he toil, it is not simply with opportunities that the Church provide him, but it is along with the Church itself toiling, and suffering for people through him.

Our temptation is to sacrifice the priestly side of the ministry to the prophetic, and, in consequence, to lose the stamp of the holy, and, in farther consequence, to lose command of people. People are so made that they yield entirely to that holiness alone which is the ultimate Godhead of God.

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