CHAPTER XVII: The Helps, from "The Christian Ministry According to the Apostles" by Thomas Hughes Milner
I beseech you, brethren––ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first-fruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints––that ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboureth, 1 Cor. xvi. 15, 16.
1. THE NEW Testament affords the truest examples of Christian operation and co-operation. Never shall another such record of heroism, devotion, and success, be put into the hands of the disciples of the Prince of martyrs, for their study and imitation. And nothing, in these days of schemes and speculations, is more needful than that all who would be followers of those who, through faith and perseverance, inherit the promises, make the Scriptures in this, as in all things, their counsel and directory. Lo here! lo there! is the daily cry from all quarters, so that unless a Christian be well certified from the one infallible standard, nothing is more likely than that he will fritter away his means and opportunities of usefulness in the maintenance of projects which, after all, he discovers the Lord has nowhere instituted, nor required his people to support, and in the support of which he sees no commensurate good accomplished, nor finds that peculiar satisfaction which the unequivocal knowledge of direct service to the Saviour imparts, but rather on the contrary, has his mind embarrassed, and his proper and unquestionable duties at least partially neglected, by the aid he has given to these well-meant, but, after all, mere human expedients.
2. We are well aware of the thanklessness of the task of pronouncing against those “benevolent and religious institutions” which are universally lauded as the glory of our age and country. In doing this, however, we wish not to be misunderstood. We do not deny that much good has been done by many faithful and laborious men concerned in these undertakings, but we do say that the simple, unencumbered, inexpensive method of New Testament operation and co-operation is an incomparably more excellent way, and that the like amount of labour and means expended according to it must have resulted in the accomplishment of a vastly greater revenue of good to man, and glory to God. The early Christians had no societies but the one––the Lord’s––the ecclesia. Only as members of his body, the church, they laboured and co-operated, and so successful were they, notwithstanding that all the powers of earth and hell were arrayed against them, that it was found that within fifty years of the decease of the last of the apostles the number of Christians throughout the Roman empire was at least one in twenty of the population. But now, instead of there being but the one divine society in which the whole membership feel, and act out their individual responsibility towards its increase, we have human societies in such number, with such variety and complexity of name, machinery, and object, that pages would be required to enumerate them, while Christian propriety is outraged at the mere mention of the high-sounding pomposity of the long array of ostentatious titles that fill up the prospectus. It would almost seem as if no Christian act could be done without a society. If a few clothes are to be given to the poor, “a Dorcas Society,” the like of which that worthy woman never heard, must first be established! If young men are to meet to read the word, and speak upon it, a “Christian Institute,” or some such “Association,” as the author of the only true Christian Institute on earth never authorised, must spring into being, “under distinguished patronage,” and trammelled with as many laws and by-laws as most effectually secure the inconvenience of all concerned. And if any number of Christians or congregations are to unite in any work, there must be “standing committees,” to “meet once a month at least,” “with power to add to their number,” and “pass resolutions,” to be rescinded by “counter resolutions” at next sederunt. (Editor's note: "sederunt," in Scotland, is "a sitting of an ecclesiastical assembly or other body.") When, “as a matter of form,” and “in due course of business,” the minutes of the last meeting must first be approved, notwithstanding that the next motion is “the moving of an amendment.” And then must follow “the reports” of the “sub-committees,” consisting not uncommonly in intimations that said committees have not yet had “time to meet,” or were “not yet duly constituted,” or had “found the course recommended impracticable,” or had been “unable to obtain a quorum,” or that from “difficulties in the way” it was recommended to “the general board” to “recommend to the annual meeting of members” “to take into consideration the entire constitution of the society, with the view to the remodelling of the same, so as, by the proposed changes, to attain more efficiently the objects contemplated.” Then there is “the getting up” of “the annual report,” and “the annual meeting,” wherein and whereat “a respectable appearance must be presented,” in order “to obtain funds for the defraying of expenses already incurred,” and “for the more vigorous prosecution of the important objects of the institution during the coming year.” To effect all which it is recommended to obtain “the platform services” of some of the most popular ministers,” those “whose very names are sure to draw a meeting,” and to get “my Lord Provost to take the chair” and as many of the nobility and gentry as possible for “honorary presidents” and “patrons,” with, of course, “an influential list of subscribers to begin with,” since “it is further proposed to purchase, or erect, more central and commodious premises for the transaction of business,” and to appoint “corresponding” and “travelling” “secretaries,” “treasurers,” and “agents,” all of whom must be salaried, but under whose “judicious and experienced management” it is hoped the valued institution will reach a degree of usefulness unexampled hitherto. Reader, this is not satire: it is fact. We have the reports of such societies, which have expended thousands of pounds per annum, with scarce a convert to shew.
3. And it is not alone of the wasteful inutility of these schemes we have to speak, but of the despotism arising out of them. Ecclesiastical tyranny dawned with their rise. It was when the early bishops established their provincial and state synods and councils, that the priestly reign of terror began, which duly found its head quarters and climax in the halls of the Vatican. And it is to the district, provincial, and national presbyteries, synods, assemblies, convocations, associations, and conferences, that protestantism owes its chief share in the history of religious persecution, and tyranny. Christians never can be free so long as they acknowledged the authority of these self-constituted tribunals. We do not say that it is unsafe or unlawful for Christians from different parts to meet for the carrying out of the will of the Lord, but in such a case there is not the formation of any standing body, nor the framing of any laws, nor the assumption of authority, nor the binding of the Lord’s freemen. There must be nothing beyond the ascertaining and doing of the expressed will of Christ. Such conference is alike lawful and useful, and quite within the example of the apostolic records. Paul shews in Gal. i. and ii. that there was in his time no stated “annual meeting,” no “standing committee.” So much is evident from his saying that he went not up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before him for three years, and that when he did go up, he saw none of the apostles save Peter and James; that he went thither again not for fourteen years, and that then he gave place by subjection not for an hour, and that those who appeared somewhat in conference added nothing to him.
4. And while we are objecting to what are regarded as lawful auxiliaries, it is not out of place, when most sects of protestants are “wondering after the beast” in as close imitation of her architecture, music, and ritual, as their means will allow, to submit, that in all this passion for fine chapels, instrumental music, and ritualistic formulas, there is positively nothing but the consulting and pleasing of the flesh. The spirituality of true worship is set at nought, and the sensuous alone is made the rule. Since Christians are carried away with this furor, we may well repeat the apostle’s question: Have ye begun in the Spirit: and are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Let all remember that these things do nothing either for the conversion of sinners, or the sanctification of saints. The expenditure is worse than vain.
5. The helps on which the apostles relied were living faithful men and women. It was the custom of the apostles to associate with them in their labours and travels such brethren as they found “profitable for the ministry” under prosecution. Thus Peter was accompanied from Joppa to Caesarea by certain brethren; thus also Paul and Barnabas had John Mark as assistant in their tour from Antioch; and so likewise on the separation of Paul and Barnabas, the latter took Mark with him to Cyprus, while Paul chose Silas, and went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches, Acts x. 23; xiii. 5; xv. 37-41. From this practice we have such notes of commendation as those with which the apostolic letters abound, of which the following are examples: I commend unto you Phebe our sister, who is a servant (minister or deaconess) of the church in Cenchrea, that ye receive her in the Lord as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatever business she hath need of you, for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also....Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus, who have, for my life, laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles....Greet Mary who bestowed much labour on us. Salute Urbane our helper in Christ....Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa who labour in the Lord....Salute the beloved Persis, who laboured much in the Lord, Rom. xvi. 1-16. When I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by letters, them will I send to bring your liberality to Jerusalem; and if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me. Now I will come to you when I shall pass through Macedonia, (for I do pass through Macedonia), and it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey withersoever I go....If Timothy come, see that he may be without fear, for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also. Let no man, therefore, despise him, but conduct him forth in peace, that he may come to me, for I look for him with the brethren....As touching brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come to you with the brethren, but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time, 1 Cor. xvi. 3-12. What a contrast there is between this free and generous co-operation, and the stiff, formal officialism of these clerical times! What full, ready acknowledgment on Paul’s part of the unconstrained labours of the brethren! How little he thought––apostle though he was––of removing brother Apollos against his choice, notwithstanding the apostle greatly desired his coming! How different altogether from the minutes, resolutions, acts, decrees, and laws of the modern powers that be!
6. And the contrast appears still greater when we consider the honourable account which the apostle takes of the share which the Christian sisterhood took in the sacred ministry. The “honourable women not a few” who laboured with him in the gospel, held, even in the exclusive east, an acknowledged position in the work of the Lord, which, with all our boasted freedom and civilisation, is far from being accorded. Woman’s––the best of earthly help must be evoked if the primitive faith is to triumph. Any attempt to restore the primitive gospel and order which fails in recognizing the true position and influence of woman, must itself fail. It is frequently said that the gospel has secured for her that high and honourable place in society which the divine Parent destined her to occupy in making her the crowning act of creation; and there is no saying more true than this. But it should not be overlooked, that in the dark foreshadowing clouds that covered the prophetic horizon of the apostles when predicting the apostacy from the faith, it was seen that the designing abettors of the false faith would attempt and succeed in bringing her again into bondage. Her finer sensibilities render her more easily tampered with, and her readier susceptibility to religious influence, gives the designing priest a power over her which men, ungarbed in robes of sacred office, cannot wield. The false teachers, forbidding to marry, creeping into houses and leading captive silly women, have verified the predictions of Paul to Timothy beyond all cavil. This, few if any readers of these pages will deny, but many may be disposed to say that the reformation of the sixteenth century undid the wrongs which the apostacy had inflicted, and that under its benign continuance the Christian sisterhood have enjoyed their full share of Christian liberty, usefulness, influence, and honour. This we deny. Granting, with utmost readiness and gratitude, that the most gross, and manifestly infamous restrictions and wrongs imposed upon woman by the apostacy were swept away by the reformers, yet we do not find her occupying in modern Christianity that place of honourable usefulness in the Christian service which she so illustriously filled in the primitive age. Conceding, also, that the liberty of the press, and the advance of civilisation, concurrent with that of the truth, have combined to give her opportunity, previously unenjoyed, to demonstrate the fallacy of the unsupported conceit of the inferiority of her intellect, yet has she not had accorded to her that scope for action in the highest and best field of all labour, for which, in many respects, far more than man, the heavenly Father has endowed her. While almost every department of honourable exertion, at all consonant with woman’s nature, has had to acknowledge her powers, clericism, worst of all monopolies, and most insolent of all assumptions, would still retain its barbaric exclusiveness, and, at the most, would do no more than condescend to employ her as an ecclesiastical hewer of wood, and drawer of water. Never has clericism had any objection to employ her time, talents, and treasure in ministering to the vain glorification of its different orders. By needle-work in jettest silk, and purest lawn for the personal adornment of the priests, by handicraft in velvet of Tyrian dyes for the embellishment of their thrones, and by all sorts of industry in gathering for the splendours of their temples, and the increase of their incomes, and the furtherance of their schemes, her willing aid has lent and spent its powers whenever called for, under the pretence that God was thereby served. But to acknowledge her as a co-labourer in the gospel, as equally with others the minister of Christ, and in her native sphere as much entitled by the Lord to make known his gospel to the ignorant, and to teach the young and less experienced saints his will––to acknowledge her, in a word, as much the servant of the Lord and of his church as any minister he ever honoured, is what clericism refuses, notwithstanding it is what the word of God commands and exemplifies.
7. In the nurture and admonition of the young, the visiting of the sick among the sisterhood, the entertaining of strangers, the attending upon the females at baptism, and in the teaching of the younger women the duties of Christian life peculiar to them, there is an all-important diaconate, the duties of which none but experienced female piety can fulfil. Let faithful women realize this, and fulfil the ministry which they have received of the Lord.
8. By word of mouth, and with stylus and papyrus, the apostles and first Christians laboured and co-operated. The pen is perhaps the most important of secondary means in the service of the gospel. It carries the truth where the living voice cannot reach, and gives permanency to it, where, otherwise, it would have been forgotten. But while writing is thus a legitimate and important aid in this as in all other services, the servant of the Lord should not forget that it must not be allowed to supersede the living speaking of the truth, nor must any human composition, private or public, hold any higher regard than is proper to a mere help to the understanding of the living oracles. Only thus is the press a lawful means to the Christian: let him use it so, and he will find it no inconsiderable aid. God has set helps in the church, and whether persons or things, it is ours to make no more of them than he has done.