Bannerman Take Two: When the Levy Breaks

Paul Levy has a penetrating review of Paul’s Tripp’s Dangerous Calling over at ref21.  He rightly sees the problems with the dangers of detachment of well-known conference speakers from everyday life, of continual self-reference (naming ministries after yourself simply proves the point that celebrity culture fuses both brand and personality), and of an evangelical industrial complex where the most banal observations on life can be marketed as if they are the most unique and sophisticated insights.

Levy might also have pressed forward on the issue of the use of the term ‘ministry.’   Rereading Bannerman, it is clear that in the context of Christianity, the word ‘ministry’ is best restricted to that pertaining to Word, sacrament and discipline. That keeps it connected to biblical qualifications, office-bearing, and accountability. The danger, of course, is that this could fuel the rise of a new priestly caste within the church, though that seems hardly the most pressing problem today.  Rather, the failure to restrict the term has led to a democratic free-for-all where anybody doing anything for the church (i.e., anybody who professes to be a Christian) has a ministry.  And when a word means everything in general, it means nothing in particular.  Thus, the linguistic stage is set for the downplaying of word and sacrament.  And when we name ‘ministries’ after ourselves, we surely point back to ourselves and not to the one in whose name we claim to minister.

Maybe we can start to address the problem by having capital M Ministry for church office and small m ministry for everything else.  And as ministry is by definition ministerial (authorized and regulated by the one in whose name we minister) maybe we can stop naming them after ourselves.  In addition to the obvious confusion that creates about who is the authority in our ‘ministry,’ it might also reflect more accurately biblical notions of appropriate modesty.