Lesson 1: Ministry as Theological Task - Where and how should we begin?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
What is Ministry? What does the word mean and how do we experience its use?
“Minister” is from the Old French “menistrer” which is derived from the Latin “ministrare” “to serve, attend, wait upon” . (Note the combined words “minus”+suffix “-teros”.) This is the translation of the Gk diakoneo (noun Deacon) with the same meaning. The NT context would suggest the general word “service” or “one who serves” as a more meaningful background. The Latin and French word have been encumbered with ecclesiastical tones which were not a part of the NT usage. ( See DNTT, Vol II, “Serve”;, TDNT II, “diakoneo”)
In classical Greek and to an extent Hellenism, “to serve” was contrary to the aspired position of being a “free man.” The Greek sophist philosophy was “How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?” (TDNT, II,pg82). “For the Greek, the goal of a human life is the perfect development of individual personality.” (ibid)
In Judaism, service is not unthinkable esp. when the ultimate value is to please God. The Covenant has bound humanity with God so to serve one is to serve the other. The twist for Judaism is that the word group has changed from the secular diakoneo to doulos, or slave. That is the concept of being “bound by an obligation” is now at the root of service. We serve as a commitment to co-hunanity as to our Creator God. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18) has provided a new foundation for understanding our “perfect development.” Ultimate servitude (table waiting) was seen by the Rabbi’s in saying “God…spreads the table before all men, and should not Rabban Gamaliel therefore… stand and serve us?” (ibid, 83)
In the NT, Jesus has taken the OT usage, not the Greek, and re-structured the thought to mean “service” is what differentiates you as his disciple. True and final freedom is found in serving one another, our “acceptable service.” Jesus radically reverses the social and ethical estimation of serving and being the one served (Lk 12:37, 22:26f).
Anderson challenges us to move from a focus on the human acts of service as primary to the One who has first served us: “All of God’s actions in history are what we mean by God’s ministry. Ministry is first of all what God does by speaking and acting within the framework of human history.” (SofM*, pg 3) “It is God’s ministry that expounds God’s nature and purpose.” From this “Theological” foundation, we can say that human service is made possible out of the primary events of God’s service to us. “We love because He first loved us” from John is a clear representative of this thought. Jesus himself says “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (John 14:10) For Jesus, his “ministry” is to do the will and work of the Father and have his disciples do the same, and further to us, “for apart from me you can do nothing.”
All ministry has a theological foundation in the ministry of God.
“Where is the theological beginning point in the Old Testament?”
“Exodus” – “Exodus precedes Genesis in the same way that knowledge of God as Redeemer precedes knowledge of God as Creator.” (SofM, 3) Particularly Ex 3.
What does it mean to say that Exodus precedes Genesis?
“The concept of the seventh day (the Sabbath) cannot be logically found in the sequence of the days beginning with the first day. To know that the seventh day is the “last day” one must have a special word of revelation from God. The meaning of the first six days is thus revealed through the seventh day. In this way, one can say, theologically, that the seventh day precedes the sixth day. In the same way, God’s ministry precedes our concepts of God. It is through God’s ministry of redemption that we understand the meaning of God’s work as Creator.”(SofM, 3 Italics mine) Yahweh is the basis. YHWH, as the tetragrammaton defines the nature of existence in the Being of God who IS. “But ‘I AM THAT I AM’ is not a philosophical statement like that of Rene Descartes’ “I think therefore I am,” since even thinking is a derived event. In the statement out of the burning bush, the very foundation of meaning in this life of experiencing the bush is grounded in the Revealer.
“The Acts of God determine the Hermeneutical Horizon for the Being of God.”
Let’s think about this and the actual implications that it might suggest towards our current understanding (theology) of God, Jesus, Church, etc.
“Who was the first theologian in the Bible?
“Moses” – Why not Abraham who precedes Moses. – Moses tells the stories of Others – he is the interpreter of the history and life in theological retrospective.
“Moses is the first theologian in the Bible, because everything told of the Genesis account of Creation is written from the perspective of the exodus event.” (SofM, 4)
Throughout the biblical witness the Exodus of Israel is the paradigm of salvation. Israel will continue to read the events of the Passover as the event of deliverance where God demonstrates his Covenant Promise. “Exodus is the theological beginning point that serves as the exposition and explanation of all that precedes.” (SofM , 4)
“Through the prism of Yahweh’s might act of liberation, Moses expounds the inner logic of God’s purpose in calling Abraham, of God’s judgment and grace revealed though Noah, and of the creation of the first humans in the divine image and likeness. Yahweh is the thological beginning point for all concepts of the deity, for Yahweh is the God who breaks the “silence of the gods” and reveals a divine pathos in which both mercy and wrath are expressions of a love that is creative and redemptive.” (SofM, 5)
“All ministry is first of all God’s ministry. Every act of God, even that of creation, is the ministry of God. God’s ministry of Word and deed breaks the silence and ends all speculation about whether or not there is a God and of how the deity might be disposed toward us. In responding to the cry of the people of Israel suffering under bondage in Egypt, God’s ministry of hearing reveals the nature of God as one who cares and acts.” (SofM, 5)
What does this mean in terms of our “knowledge of God?”
*SofM will be used here on out for “Soul of Ministry”