January 26, 2003
I have always been of the opinion that one of the "gifts" God has given to His people (in all eras) is insightful individuals who can guide them into greater understanding of His Word & Will. These individuals themselves, I believe, are specially "gifted" by His Spirit. I don't think this makes some people "better" than others (or even "smarter"), it just means God is using them in a special area of service to His people, and that area of service happens to be: providing deeper insight.
The eunuch from Ethiopia was not a stupid man (at least, I don't perceive him as such), he was just in need of deeper insight into the text he was reading. He lacked crucial background information which would make the text come to life in his heart and mind. Philip was sent to this man to provide that information. I doubt that Philip put this on his resume, or used it to his own glory; he simply exercised his "spiritual gift" to the aid of another and to the glory of God.
I will be the first to admit that our "religious system" in the churches of Christ (and, yes, there is a religious system) is seriously flawed. We have taken a very simple concept (the family of God) and institutionalized it beyond belief. I think I shocked the congregation for which I preached a few years back when I declared that I would personally like to see every church building burned to the ground!!! We have become a "people of the building" rather than a "people of the Book" ..... and that is terribly unfortunate!
Having said that, however, we need to realize that some men and women ARE specially and spiritually gifted in the art of speaking and teaching publicly, and they can be quite effective in touching hearts through this legitimate avenue of teaching. Peter apparently addressed some rather sizable groups, taking his stand and raising his voice so as to be heard, and large numbers were moved to obey (Acts 2). On other occasions (such as with the eunuch) the teaching method was more "one on one." There is room for a wide variety of methodologies in proclaiming the Good News, with each situation determining which might be the most effective approach to employ.
Not all preaching and teaching is designed to "evangelize the LOST," however. There is also significant need for "edifying the SAVED." Paul referred to these two vital aspects of our mission as the ministries of "planting" and "watering." I think we often assume that the only purpose of those called into "ministry" is to reach the lost. I contend that there is another vast "field ripe unto harvest," and that is the saved. They need to be nourished in the Word, guarded from harm, and guided in the Way. And there are those, I believe, "gifted" by God to provide this leadership and insight to His people. Call them what you may, but they are vital to the life of the Body. Pastors, elders, bishops, shepherds, presbyters, etc. certainly are important in this work. But so also are others gifted in scholarship, research, writing, teaching, and in-depth analysis, which many elders (due to their secular work and other demands upon them, or just due to the lack of this gift) are simply not equipped or able to pursue and develop.
When believers begin to increase in number in a given location, there is need not only for spiritual examples and guides (which is where elders come in), but also for insightful teachers (elders may indeed fulfill this need, but if not, then such men should be sought and secured).
The concept of a "pulpit preacher," as it has evolved down to our day, is really far removed from what the Lord would have such a servant to be, in my opinion. I see nothing wrong with one speaking to the assembled saints, nor with one being financially supported to do so. However, for such a one to embrace and promote the "clergy concept" and "institutionalize" his service, is a mockery of the ministry. Many do this, but not all. There ARE so-called "pulpit ministers" in the One Body who perceive the distinction. It is unfair to assume all are hucksters and hirelings. They are not.
By-the-way, there is actually a case of someone speaking from a pulpit in Scripture. In Nehemiah 8:4-5 we see Ezra the scribe standing "at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose ..... And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people." We also see the people saying "Amen" a lot during this presentation (so it IS "Scriptural," we might suggest somewhat tongue-in-cheek, for the members to Amen the preacher!!!).
Later we see that many of the Levites assembled the people, and they "explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading" (vs. 7-8). Ezra himself also spoke to the heads of households, the priests and Levites, "that they might gain insight into the words of the law" (vs. 13).
This all clearly tells us that there are times when those who are more insightful need to assemble the people of God (sometimes even the leaders of the people) and "translate" and "explain" the Word more perfectly to them so that they can gain insight. I believe there is just as much need for this today as there was during the time of Ezra. Call this functionary a "pulpit preacher," or whatever else you want ..... or give this person no title at all ..... but don't disparage the ministry itself, as it is of God.
Yes, we need to speak out against those abuses which have arisen within and around this ministry, and also against those preachers who abuse this service to the people of God (just as the prophet Ezekiel did against the spiritual leaders of his time -- Ezekiel 34). This ministry of service HAS been abused on occasion. We also need to speak out against any institutionalizing of the family of God. But let's be careful as we do so lest we "throw out the baby with the bath water!"
Just a few random thoughts from a so-called "paid professional pulpiteer."
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Am I like Jesus? If my answer is negative then I must change to grow into his likeness. If I am unwilling to change I need to repent of my pride. On this side of glory we must continually change as we grow into maturity in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks for being a change agent, Al.
From a Minister in New Mexico:
My dear brother Al,
I'm very glad to live and work with you here in Alamogordo, and knowing you as I do can attest that you don't have horns. I have to commend you because you diligently seek and stick to the truths found in the scriptures regardless of criticisms whether in person or via the internet.
May I point out that God made the apostle John a "change agent" in recording what our Lord had to say about seven churches described in the opening chapters of the Revelation. Surely the apostle Paul was a "change agent" as demonstrated by the myriad admonitions in the letters God inspired him to write. Is there a single author of the documents bound in the New Testament we cherish who was not a "change agent"?
Today's churches have restored much of the character of the churches we find described in the New Testament. Look at the letters. Every one points out the need for change. I hope and pray you'll conserve that truth, and continue to be liberal in the application of truth to admonish and teach those mired in the cement of tradition.
Thank God for "change agents" who stand for truth rather than tradition. You, my dear brother Al, stand in good company.
From a Minister in Texas:
I wanted to thank you for another great article on responsible reformation. I am sad. People who put labels on one another make me upset. I appreciate receiving your article because it gives a reasoned response to negatives and you always take your words to scripture and to our heavenly Father which cannot be heretical.
The term "change agent" is being slung around the brotherhood as if it were a term like "slime ball" or "jerk." It hurts me to see and hear about my brothers and sisters treating each other in this way.
When I read Romans 14, I can see clearly that I should never judge a man's heart, intent and motive. As you said, the people who are disagreeing with your views don't really know what your views are to begin with. It makes me think of things like the Tulsa Workshop where our ultra-conservative brothers condemn it when they've never even been. I guess I am a "change-agent" too (yet I've never changed anything in our church or in the churches of Christ).
I think that our "ultra-conservative" brothers need to realize that their divisiveness and "writing up" of other brothers is evil, ungodly, unholy and of the devil. Our conservative brethren don't want change because they obviously think they have all the answers and have the gospel completely figured out. I pray every day that God will not let me hold grudges and hold bitterness in my heart for these people. That would make me like them ... a Pharisee.
Again, thanks for the article and keep them coming!
From another Reader in Texas:
Do not grow weary in seeking what the Lord has for you to do. People will suffer if they do not make the "right" changes over a life time. This is especially true of our spiritual lives. Please be encouraged to continue to seek changes that bring you closer to the Lord.
Like most churches, we in the Church of Christ think our way is best. I am a member of a Church of Christ, and a former elder there, who has seen and been a willing part of change. Years ago we began to realize that the Lord may not be happy with the way we treated others in the community about their chosen faith. Years ago we started teaching Jesus Christ and quit preaching Church of Christ. For too long we had placed God in a box and predetermined what He could and could not do in the area of spiritual and physical development. When we took the lid off and realized God had His own plan, great things started to happen. Methods change, the message does not.
May God Bless you (and the people who do not understand you). I would like to stay in touch and continue encouraging you in your efforts to help others to find freedom in Christ.
From a Reader in Ohio:
Wow! .... again! I wish I knew how to put some words together to express the pleasure!! I assure you that I have a "bundle" --- and I mean a "big one" --- of brothers and sisters in the Lord who I am "itching" to get them a copy of all your messages. I want to do what I can to be an asset by sharing your Reflections! I hope to share your web site too!!
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