The non-instrument Church of Christ has developed and is cultivating a professional clergy whose function is to speak for and represent the people. They are an elite group of spiritual officials who, like the priests under the old arrangement, go to God in behalf of the congregation. These men deny functioning as elders, and they are too qualified to be deacons! They might properly be called celestial aristocrats or exalted functionaries for they appear to be of sacred nobility.
Men of this class are considered to be of special rank. They expect to be listened to while behind the pulpit and saluted in the vestibule. They are very much like the Catholic priest and the Lutheran pastor since they perform the major part of teaching, preaching, exhorting, admonishing, edifying, comforting, praying, visiting, showing compassion, and exhibiting concern. They organize meetings, programs, conferences, and are usually on duty when problems arise or the enemy approaches.
It is interesting how Church of Christ people view the Catholic priest and Lutheran pastor. They easily recognize their positions and exalted titles as being foreign to the early arrangement. But these same people are unable to see that the professional preacher or minister within their ranks is just as foreign to the primitive order. I believe the time is coming when Church of Christ ecclesiastics will be wearing their shirts backwards and asking to be called "pastor" and "Reverend." Mark my word. Mark it well.
In the institutional church where fame and prestige are too often measured by theological achievements, it is comforting to know that divine revelation prohibits our elevating one believer above another. For when we refer to fellow believers by titles that tend to exalt them to "seats of honor" we clearly discriminate among ourselves. It was James who wrote that when we elevate one brother above other brothers we show favoritism, make distinctions between one another, and discriminate among ourselves (James 2:1-9). We are, for example, guilty when we call an educationally rich believer "Doctor" but refer to an educationally deprived believer as "brother."
Like "preacher" and "minister," even "brother" and "teacher" are not to be used to elevate one believer above other believers. We all are brothers, teachers, believers, and ministers -- although some are specially gifted in teaching and ministering. We are all priests. We discriminate just as much when we speak of the ministers as we do when we speak of the priest or the saint. Either we all are ministers, preachers, priests, teachers, and saints or none of us are.
Older men in God's community may be referred to as "elders," but not for the purpose of elevating them above their fellows. They are elders because of age, character, experiences, form of ministry, and leadership. The genuine elder is gifted to lead and instruct in a special way, but it would be contrary to divine ethics to place him on a pedestal because of the nature of his ministry. He is to be honored but not enthroned. In fact, we are to honor one another for the Christian system is a "one another" arrangement.
According to First Corinthians 12:22-25, all ministries within a community of believers are valuable. Those parts that seem to be weaker and less honorable are indispensable and should be treated with special honor. In an arrangement of this kind there is no place for legislative and arrogant authority, therefore no need for special titles and positions. Why confer titles of exaltation if autocratic authority cannot accompany them? Special titles have no place in a family where everyone is loved and respected equally and treated mutually. I do not object to higher education if it is compatable to the Christian walk. But higher education must not be used to make distinctions among brothers. Any act, any title, or any practice which elevates one above his fellows, is counterproductive to the spirit of humility. Jesus summed it up nicely in Matthew 23:5-12 when he condemned the clergy who purported to be teachers of the law of Moses. It will be worth your time to read it again.
To put this issue in still another perspective, none of us are professional if there is one among us who is nonprofessional. On the other hand, none of us are nonprofessional if there is one among us who is professional.
So, where are we now with professional preachers or ministers in Churches of Christ? Simply, if these "professionals'' are blessed with the gift of ministry of evangelism, and most of them are, they should surrender their professional church positions and get out and evangelize which, by the way, is the same as preaching, proclaiming, or heralding. No longer should they attempt the impossible by "preaching" to those who have already been evangelized! Since the very inception of the Christian economy, preaching has been associated with evangelism or heralding the good news about Jesus the Christ. As saints cannot be evangelized, neither can they be preached to. Believers are edified, strengthened, built up. And this comes about as a result of mutually teaching, instructing, sharing, and loving one another. "Edify" and "fellowship" are closely associated as both involve sharing. And sharing is the key to our problems within the corporate assembly. Warming pews while a professional priest spoonfeeds us will leave us stagnated and spiritually dormant with no hope of recovery. We must return to the practice of mutually exchanging ideas and experiences if ever we expect our spiritual sanity to be restored. This means the professional minister must go! He must give way to mature and older men ("elders") who will shepherd and guide the body of believers. It is interesting that Paul did not send for the professional minister at Ephesus. Instead he sent "for the elders of the congregation" (Acts 20:17). Who is sent for and relied upon, in most cases, in today's arrangement?
The man who decides to use his talents to evangelize the unsaved, and makes this ministry his daily spiritual vocation, will need full and adequate financial support from his brothers. To deny him the support he needs is to deny him the love he cherishes.
Occasionally, this man may decide to meet for corporate worship with those who support him. He may, of course, give a report of his work, during a mutual exchange, as Paul did in Acts 20:7. And so it goes.