ministry, in religion, term used to designate the clergy of Protestant churches, particularly those who repudiate the claims of apostolic succession. The ceremony by which the candidate receives the office of a minister is called ordination. Protestant ordination, unlike holy orders in the Roman Catholic Church, is not a sacrament. The Reformation doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers" underlies the inclination of many Protestant bodies to reduce the distinction between ministry and laity. In certain Protestant groups, e.g., the Plymouth Brethren, the ordination of ministers is dispensed with altogether. The Society of Friends (Quakers) ordains but makes little practical distinction between ministers and laity. Lutheranism and Presbyterianism invest the office with great dignity. Methodism (in the United States but not in Great Britain) has an episcopal form of church organization but one quite unlike the episcopacy of the Church of England. Fundamental to most Protestant groups is the belief that the soul can go to God without the need of priestly mediation. Hence the function of the ministry is interpreted strictly as one of assistance to the religious life through preaching, the administration of sacraments, and counseling.
See H. R. Niebuhr and D. D. Williams, ed., The Ministry in Historical Perspective (1956); R. S. Paul, Ministry (1965); D. D. Hall, The Faithful Shepherd (1972).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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