Why I Resigned from the ‘Ordained Ministry’
Old Testament history shows that those who inherit privileges purchased for them by the sacrifice, and conflict, of others seldom value those privileges aright and eventually lose them. It was to help believers brought up in assembly fellowship that we invited the following testimony, and in view of the delicacy of the task we are all the more grateful to Mr. Holmes for his cooperation.
It has been represented to me that a brief outline of the exercise that led me to resign from the ‘ordained’ ministry may be helpful to others. Therefore I write this, not to commend myself (for “whom the Lord commendeth is approved”), but to show why I believe that New Testament principles relating to worship, ministry and baptism are still vital in the Lord’s sight.
Throughout the course of my ministry I held that believers’ baptism was clearly shown in Scripture and I rejected baptismal regeneration, but nevertheless took the view that it was permissible to ‘baptize’ infants whose parents desired it. I thought the way of worship shown in 1 Corinthians 14 was only one among many. I believed, as do many evangelical clergymen, that any inconsistencies in my position were offset by the opportunity I had of preaching the gospel and teaching believers. I had enjoyed much fellowship with those called “brethren” but somehow the real nature of their position had never dawned on me. I simply regarded them as people who could be relied upon to give faithful gospel witness free from all taint of modernism; but then I knew Baptists, Anglicans, and others who could be relied upon for this. Of course I understood that brethren allowed liberty for the exercise of gift in their gatherings, but I was very much of the opinion that this privilege might be abused by people who liked the sound of their voices. (I was to learn later that in 1 Corinthians 14 the Spirit of God guards against this possibility.)
I wonder now whether “brethren” say as much as they should about New Testament church principles when they are with other believers. Perhaps the fact is that those who have been brought up in assemblies do not always find it easy to understand where other believers stand in regard to these things, and this may help to explain why it was my experience to discover the truth about these matters in a rather roundabout way.
Some time ago I selected Lindsay’s “The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries” as a text-book for private study. This book is designed to lead the reader to the conclusion that Presbyterianism is the ideal church-system. It led me to a very different conclusion. There was a great deal in the book with which I could not agree, but, as I read it, three simple facts stared me in the face:
- The Episcopal system existed before the Papal system.
- The Presbyterian system existed before the Episcopal system.
- New Testament church order existed before any human system.
I began to ask, Since it is right to reject the Papal system, why stop short of a full return to the order set out in the New Testament?
I saw that on 1 Cor. 14, Lindsay said quite frankly: “What cannot fail to strike us in this picture is the untrammelled liberty of the worship, the possibility of every male member of the congregation taking part in the prayers and the exhortations, and the subsequent responsibility laid on the whole community to see that the service was for the edification of all.”
I went back to my Bible now, not to manufacture ‘proofs’ that my position was a correct one, or that the preaching of the gospel was the only thing that counted today, but to discover the truth.
I had always claimed to believe in ‘the priesthood of all believers,’ but its implications were vague to me, and I was astonished to discover that I could find no instance in the New Testament of one man set apart to conduct public worship.
With regard to ministry, I tried for some time to encourage the free exercise of gifts, but I was not permitted to do so in the Sunday services. When faced with the question, Was it right to tolerate such a position?, I read these words: “If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14. 37). Clearly the directions given in that passage were not of merely local or temporary importance—they were “the commandments of the Lord.”
I recognized now that my accommodating views on baptism were not tenable, since the New Testament always insists on previous repentance and faith, but it may seem strange to many “brethren” when I say that for a considerable time I had no exercise as to meeting only in the Name of the Lord Jesus. I suppose this was because I have never been denominationally-minded, and consequently have had no consciousness of meeting in any other name but the Lord’s. Nevertheless when I began to want to put New Testament principles into practice, I was made acutely conscious that denominational allegiance conflicted with allegiance to Christ. I learnt the shortness of my chain when I tried to act as Christ’s freeman. It seemed clear that I should have to come out from my position in a denomination and meet with those who met simply in Christ’s Name.
But then, rather more than a year ago, a wave of blessing attended my ministry—for a month souls were converted in every service. The Spirit of God moved in a wonderful way, and, although it was a great mystery to me, the Lord showed me that I should remain where I was at that time. I would have liked to have cut the knot, but I dared not.
In recent months, however, repeated evidence showed that the time for action was near, but I told the Lord that I dared not take the actual step of resigning until He made it absolutely certain that the hour had come. He did this in a very simple way.
As I was studying the Word I was given a message for the following Sunday morning. It was summed up in Mark 7. 9: “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” But when I began to ponder on this passage I knew that I could not speak on it without showing that infant ‘baptism’ was a human tradition, which set aside the Scriptural insistence upon previous repentance and faith. I had to choose, therefore, between delivering the Lord’s message, knowing the consequences, or composing some other message of my own. The Lord gave me grace to take His path and, resign from the ‘ordained’ ministry, and take my place with believers who are seeking to carry out the simple New Testament order.