Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Traditions

I love Christmas and I love the traditions that go along with it. however never let us fall into the trap of thinking that our traditions are either true or even scriptural.

Take Mary riding on a donkey? I rather doubt that any nine month pregnant woman would submit to such a painful experience. it is also rather doubtful that she always dressed in a color that came to be known as blessed mother blue.

Look at the manger. we so often see a barn like structure made of wood (as well as the trough Jesus was laid in) but this is also a tradition from western thinking. excavations from the area show most were either built with stone or cut from stone and many were attached to the main house. this might explain how God could tell Israel to keep their chosen Passover lamb close by

We often hear and sing about choirs of angels at the announcement to the shepherds but scripture never tells us this. In fact Luke 2:12-14 tells us the heavenly host appeared and "SAID" "glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased". notice it says nothing of singing.

we often call the visitors to the stable "wise men" but we are never told this. they may well have been wise, we just are never told. scripture calls them Magi (magos) where we get our word magician like the man Simon Magus that Peter encountered. we are never told what country they came from although tradition suggests either Persia or Babylonia. this would support the tradition that they got their information about a future Messiah from Daniel's writings during the exile. all we are told is that they were from the East. We are also never told their number or their names (Casper, Mecheor, Beltshazzar). not in scripture or extra-biblical literature do we find their name or number. The number most likely comes from the number of gifts (Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh) but if Persian or Babylonian their number could have been dozens or greater. Almost every manger scene I have had or seen has the Magi present but this is also not scriptural. Matthew 2:11 says they came after the birth and visited the family in a house.

All of this is fun and tends to set the scene for the Christmas story we all love and think we know. Let us however keep the main thing the main thing. God became flesh and dwelt among us. that baby Jesus would one day be the savior of the world by His death and shed blood. Let no "Happy Holiday" or 'Seasons Greeting" ever detract from that truth. by the way, those who would separate Jesus from Christmas by saying "Happy Holiday" obviously don't know that the word Holiday comes from the Churches religious calendar for Holy Days of obligation where all Gods people were to assemble for worship so in fact they are wishing us "Happy Holy Days" and we thank them for this.

May this CHRISTmas find you in His Grace and Mercy and may the promise of His return always be the gift we share with others. Merry CHRISTmas and Happy Holy Days to you and your families

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When are we?

I used to be a big fan of the Television show "Lost" until it got really strange. There was in the beginning a question the survivors of that fatal plane crash asked, "Where are we". As the show progressed however it became obvious that the island where they crashed was not only a geographical place that moved making it impossible to find, but also that it moved through time making it even more impossible to locate. What began as "where are we" soon became "when are we"? and Christians find themselves asking this same question, "When are we"? Are we in a fixed geographical location in the 21st century or as Ephesians tells us, already seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus?

Ephesians 2:1-7 (NASB)
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

The idea of our dual citizenship has not only geographical ramifications but chronological ones as well. Are we living as prisoners in a world fallen and in rebellion with God or are we already seated with our Lord at the right hand of God? The answer to that question comes when we truly grab the promises made to us in scripture. We were dead but are now made alive. We were separated from Christ and the covenant promises but now are now brought near. A look at Ephesians shows the reason for all of the benefits we enjoy and they are summed up in the word "But God’ or "But Jesus" as the authors of our current state.

How we live says a lot about us. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 tells us this:
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,
4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
When Paul told Timothy to be aware of such times, we today seem to have forgotten the warning. Sound doctrine seems intolerance, and truth is subjective and relative. We prefer entertainment rather then doctrinal edification. We seek for what we can get, rather then what we can give as worship. We want a gospel of good things for everyone rather then a conviction of sin and error. To use Pauls words, we want our ears tickled.

I find it amazing that of all the names God could have chosen for His people, He chose the name Israel. And while different opinions exist as to what the name Israel actually means, it seems that the context in which the name is given in Genesis 32 favors the literal meaning of "he who struggles with God", over every other option. It seems that God in His wisdom chose to call His people "strugglers". As we consider what it means for the Christian to live in between the times, let us consider that as the true Israel of God (Rom 2:28-29; 4:11-12; Gal 6:12-16) Christians are heirs to the name that was originally given to Jacob; we are strugglers. And isn’t that what it means to live between times and kingdoms? Is there any better description than this of what Christians lives look like in light of the already and not yet? We are called like Jacob, "Strugglers", to wrestle with God and with man and in the end overcome that which binds us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why do we come together?

I know people come to Sunday worship for a number of reasons. Pressure from loved ones, a sense of obligation, a need to be served, good programs and services etc. However why we come and what we do when we gather says a lot about us.

After the 3000 came to the Lord on Pentecost, the very next verse reads this way: 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42 (NASB)

We then read: 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47 (NASB).

They were of one mind (homothumadon) they had one accord or impulse that drove them to assemble together. Their desires and goals were the same. They praised God for everything and not just the good stuff. They found favor with “all the people” having a God centered drive rather then a world centered drive. They could be seen as helpers of others, they were sincere in what they did, they shared meals and each others burdens (caring for any that had a need).
They also prayed daily as a body and individually. They continually devoted to the teachings of the apostles (Jesus) and their fellowship witnessed to their love for one another. Notice the use of the term breaking bread twice in this chapter. In verse 46 they were breaking bread from house to house. This was the sharing of meals together. But notice in verse 42, they were devoting themselves to “the breaking of bread”. The definite article there tells us this was the Lords Supper and this was done daily in the infant church.

While I think daily partaking of the Lords Supper is not practical in today’s world, I am saddened by the way the Supper has been treated in recent times. Some partake only monthly, while others only once or twice a year. In 1 Cor 11 Paul says “as often as you eat the loaf and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. This is a public declaration of what price was paid and it was according to Paul to be done often.

I have spoken with some churches that have moved the Lords table off to the side so as not to block the view of the stage where Drama’s and music presentations take place. Others have told me the emblems are in the back and people are free to partake as they leave. I believe we have lowered the place this Supper the Lord instituted and replaced it with entertainment. We make the preacher the star of the show and that is who people come to hear rather then share in the declaration of the Lord’s death until He comes. When people view the Supper as something that has gotten iin the way of why we meet, we need to reevaluate why we meet.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Preaching and the Pastor/Elder

I once heard someone say, "Our pastor’s (elders) are great shepherds but they really are not good preacher’s". I really did not know how to contain myself (those that know me will understand that statement). That’s like saying he’s a good shepherd but when it comes time to feed the sheep he either feeds them junk or he disappears. The pastor, the shepherd is to preach (feed) his flock with the most nourishing of God’s word.

John MacArthur said this: "the God-ordained means of saving, sanctifying and strengthening His church is preaching. The proclamation of the gospel is what elicts saving faith in those whom God has chosen (Rom 10:14). Through the preaching of the word comes the knowledge of the truth that results in godliness (John 17:17; Rom 16:25; Eph 5:26). Preaching also encourages believers to live in the hope of eternal life, enabling them to endure suffering (Acts 14:21-22). The faithful preaching of Gods word is the most important element of pastoral ministry.

The Apostle Paul told Timothy: 2 Timothy 4:1-4 (NASB)
1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

Those may have been the last words Timothy ever heard from his mentor and Spiritual father. In this Paul set forth the Pastors highest priority. But Paul had instructed Timothy in this earlier as well: 1 Timothy 4:13-14, 16 (NASB) 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery…. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

Paul made it clear that the "elder who rules well is to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching" (1 Tim 5:17). After giving Timothy instructions about relationships between Christians masters and slaves, Paul told Timothy to "teach and preach these principles" (1 Tim 6:2). What Timothy had "heard from [Paul] in the presence of many witnesses, he was to entrust to faithful men who would be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2). So important was this that the Holy Spirit through Paul made sure one qualification of the Pastor/Elder was that he be "able to teach".

Sadly many elders have surrendered this part of their ministry to paid professionals we call ministers or preachers (not found in Gods word). People have come to expect their elders to be a sort of corporate board under the CEO (Minister or Preacher). And since we pay him this is what he is expected to do while the Pastor/Elders do what? Well if it is not feeding the sheep of Christs flock He purchased with His blood, they had better re-examine just what they are doing.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sexual sin and the Pastor/Elder

When considering the qualification of a Pastor/Elder, it amazes me the different approaches some people take. Some treat them as absolutes while others treat them as suggestions or goals to be reached at some point during his life. The later would allow for clearly unqualified men in this office while hopefully striving to one day meet the standard. I do not see this as the purpose the Holy Spirit wrote through Paul.

First and foremost is the admonition of being above reproach. Both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 lead with this character trait. It is in fact what the Pastor/Elder is to be first and foremost. What follows are the different ways this blameless character can be verified or witnessed. The word used for above reproach or blameless does not mean a sinless man. There was only one sinless man, and if this is what was meant we would never have Elders. The word anegklêtos literally means “not to be called to account”. That a charge cannot be brought against the man.

In our poll this week, I ask if a man can or should be restored to the Pastorate if he has fallen into sexual sin or immorality? I believe he cannot! Once a man falls into immorality he may certainly upon confession and repentance be restored to God and to the fellowship of believers. However he has disqualified himself as a pastor. A charge can now be leveled against him in this and he has lost (or should have lost) a sense of moral leadership with his flock. The Pastor/Elder is to set the highest standard for his flock in every area mentioned in the passages listed above. He is the moral compass if you will. This has been lost in a case of such a sin. Again this should never be the unforgivable sin and should never stand in the way of restored fellowship. But it can never be that the man can function in the highest and most visible role Christ instituted for church leadership. Cast your vote.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are you merely reading or deeply Studying?

This week’s poll I believe asks a very important question. Do you simply read your Bible or do you study it? Do you merely skim the stories like a fiction or novel or do you really dig to see what God is communicating to His people?

I believe Christians have never been weaker or more vulnerable than they are today for the simple reason that they depend on others to tell them what God has written rather then, Like the more noble Bereans, study the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Scripture itself commands us to study to show ourselves approved. Did you know that was a command and not simply a suggestion? You would if you studied God’s word rather than merely reading it.

I asked a few people what tools they have at home for studying the bible and was amazed at the answers. The vast majority have no commentaries, bible dictionaries, lexicons, concordances, atlases or even a very basic bible handbook. Try reading the gospel of John chapter 21:15-17 without some of these tools and what you come away with is that either Peter is hard of hearing or Jesus often repeated Himself. However with some simple tools we come away with a rich back and forth dialogue concerning different types of love and what Peter was able to muster at the time, and Jesus’ commission of pasturing His small flock in a number of different way. That the difference between merely reading and studying Gods word and what will strengthen you and keep you firmly planted.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Made in God's Image?

Well, Mike (another poster at a froum I frequent) and I are at it again. This time on the topic of Gods image. In Genesis 1:26 (NASB) We read this 26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

The topic of disagreement revolves around exactly what image is being spoken of here. Many believe it is not a physical trait (arms and legs etc.) but has to do more with free will, an ability to love and show compassion etc. However the word used there is "Tselem" in the Hebrew and conveys the idea of something physical and something that can be seen. We are forbidden to make any "Image or Tselem" of anything on the earth or in heaven or under the heaven for the purpose of worship. An image of love cannot be made nor can we make an image of the ability to show mercy or compassion. They are intangible traits. So the word the Holy Spirit choose must have a different meaning here.

To make the topic more difficult, the Holy Spirit also chose the word "Demuth" translated here as likeness, which literally means a form or a pattern of something. Both word convey a physical representation of another thing and not its character.

When the Alexandrian scholars and scribes undertook to translate the Old Testament into Greek (the Septuagint or LXX) when they came to this word "Tselem" used the Greek word "eikon" it refers to a coin stamped from a master die. The coin is an exact representation of the die it is stamped from. Again something that can be seen and examined. When they came to the word translated likeness, they used "charakter" where we obviously get our word character from, and it literally means a tool of engraving, a stamp or to impress a likeness as a coin or seal.
Now please do not read into what I am saying here. I am not saying that God looks just like us with hands and feet, but the word the Holy Spirit chose implies something that could be seen and examined. When Daniel wrote in chapter seven (7) that he says the Ancient of Days, what did he see? A spirit with no form or something he could both see and recognize? It is difficult to imagine God sitting on a throne without the physical parts that make sitting possible. God covered Moses with His hand to protect him as He passed is also something to consider here.

We may find the words of scripture difficult but this does not allow us to change what they actually mean and meant to those who they were delivered to. Rather then strike out, better we try to understand what the Spirit is saying. So what do you think?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Are Pastor and Elder the same man

The word “poimen” translated as Shepherd or pastor is attributed to only one man in scripture, the Elder. It conveys the idea of tending the flock and not merely feeding them. Metaphorically feeding is done by preaching and teaching the word accurately. Supplying a steady diet of good and truthful nourishment for the strengthening of the flock. But tending implies far more than that.

In John 21:15 during Jesus’ restoring of Peter, Jesus asks three times if Peter loves Him. After each response Jesus tells Peter to do something and in verse 15 it is to ‘TEND MY LAMBS”. The word the holy Spirit used is “bosko” and means literally to feed. The word He uses for lamb is “arnion” and depicts little or young sheep.

In verse 16 Jesus repeats the question and upon Peters answer says “SHEPHERD MY SHEEP”. Curiously here different words are used. Here Jesus uses “poimaino” a verb meaning to care for, rule, shepherd or tend. The sheep also have changed. Here “probation” means a very young and defenseless animal or in this case a very young and defenseless lamb.

In verse 17 Jesus again asks the question and upon Peter’s answer says “TEND MY SHEEP”. What Jesus does here is interesting. He mixes the previous two commands. He uses “bosko” implying a feeding but this time with “probation” the very young defenseless lambs.

What we see is the fuller picture of the same man and his ministry. He is to feed the young sheep his care, he is to oversee or rule those too weak to do so for themselves and then he is to feed them as well. There is no distinction between feeding (preaching and teaching) and overseeing (ruling or leading). Rather they are to be done by the same shepherd as two different parts of the same ministry.

This same Peter many years later tells us this: 1 Peter 5:1-4 (NASB) 1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Notice Peter first exhorts them as elder (presbyters) and then exhorts them to both shepherd (poimaino) and to exercise oversight (episkopeo) over the flock. In doing so with a kind and gentile spirit they will receive the crown of Glory from the archipoimen or chief shepherd. So here we have elders, who are to shepherd and oversee. Paul said the exact same thing
Acts 20:17-18 (NASB) 17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.18 And when they had come to him, he said to them… just to be clear, Paul is returning to Jerusalem from where he has been told bonds await him. He calls the Ephesian elders for some final instructions

Acts 20:27-32 (NASB) 27 "For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers , to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.29 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.31 "Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.32
Paul calls the elders and gives the commands to be on guard for yourselves and the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopos) to shepherd (poimaino) the church of God…

Again we have all three titles for the same man. Elders, who oversee and shepherd. This is just what Jesus told Peter to do and what Peter later told other elders like himself to do. This is an awesome responsibility and only falls to one man in scripture under the leadership of the Lord and chief shepherd, and that is the Elder/Pastor


Monday, August 24, 2009


The idea of who the pastor is has been a long running discussion between brothers for some time now. I is a subject near and dear to my heart as I am sure you have become aware by now. On another blog run by a dear brother I have debated this subject any number of times some serious things were said I would like to address. You can also visit his blog, which is very good by the way, for the full discussion at

Now Tim and I will probably never agree on many of the topics we will discuss here and I attribute this to his youth (just kidding). Clearly neither of us is alone in our respective camps and I cherish the privilege to discuss and even debate since he is always civil and that is how these types of discussions are to take place.

Tim’s latest blog dated August 2 is titled "Pastorized". In it he makes a few comments I would like to address. The first is that there seems to him to be a distinction between Pastor and Elder, in which he states that an elder is a pastor but a pastor does not necessarily have to be an elder. I strongly disagree since the word pastor (poimen) in scripture is only attributed to the office of elder and no one else in a formal way. Like all Christians are commanded to share their faith, not all Christians are evangelists as to the office. So too some may care for others but this does not necessarily make them pastors in the official sense.

He also says that elder can be considered modern day apostles (not the 12). This flies in the face of what the word apostle actually means or is interpreted as. The word apostolos means one sent and would better refer to a church planter, missionary or traveling evangelist since they are in fact sent. But an elder is a located leader within a local assembly. As to the word Poimen and his view, Tim references the Latin, which we all know was not the language of the New Testament. It was the official language of Rome and the scriptures were later translated into Latin by Jerome for use in the Roman Catholic church. Poimen is the Greek word the Holy Spirit choose when he inspired Paul in Acts 20 to describe the ministry of the elders in Ephesus. Tim says this "Well, the root concept is from Greek, poimen as already stated. But the actual word we use is Latin. Both mean "to shepherd". I would imagine that this is a play on words. Christians are the sheep of His (Christ) pasture. Peter was told to feed His sheep or in other words, be a shepherd- hence pastor, a spiritual leader."

Sorry but the actual word we use is not Latin. In fact in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word Poimen is used some 27 times concerning shepherds and that was written about the 3rd century BC. The example of Peter is perfect although applied incorrectly here. Peter was in fact told to feed and acre for the sheep and this is the perfect example of Pastoring or shepherding. It also was writte in Greek and not Latin.

He also seems not to have any difficulty with the office of lead, or chief or head pastor depending on which response you happen to read. He says this "Biblically speaking there is no such thing as a head pastor. That doesn't mean you can't have one but by all means scripture does not say anything about it. However, there are specific people who stand out and lead over others, e.g., Aaron over the Levites, but that may be a different topic. The problem is churches hire people to be "senior pastor" and think that it has to be that way, when it doesn't." I think this ignores that the elders authority is not in their individuality but rather in their plurality. In others words the authority is in the office and not the individual elder or pastor.

One of the more serious statements made was this:
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
Somehow the words pastor and elder became interchangeable and that would not be accurate. That is not what this passage is saying. It is saying that some pastors will come from the eldership. Not all elders preach. But one who does preaching is especially worthy of a high honor.

Notice the wording here. The Elder who is worthy of double honor is the one who directs the affairs or more literal "rules well" the church, agreeing with Paul’s words in Acts 20 that the elder is an episkopos or overseer. This title was one attributed to local officials who administered authority over a city or district. Doing this well is worthy of double honor. Paul then say "especially those who preach and teach"? But that is not what Paul says. He says those who work hard at preaching and teaching. All elders are to preach and teach. This is the feeding process we see in the shepherding office. But there are those who especially work hard or labor hard at the ministry of preaching and teaching and these should be singled out for their labors. It does not mean that there should ever be elders who either can’t or don’t or won’t preach and teach. It is my opinion that much of the nonsense that has entered the church, entered because too many elders surrendered this great privilege.

Finally we have this
"So in essence the pastor needs to be a spiritual example that leads with compassion, understanding and knowledge. He needs to be tough yet gentle in his ways. The ego needs to be checked yet the vision needs to be explored. He is not an automatic elder but can be one. He does not have to come from a Bible Seminary but has to be God-lead. He is a spiritual leader but not the spiritual leader."

The problem with this is clear. It implies another person other then the elder we do not see in Gods word. It implies a man we have no qualifications for. It implies that Paul’s habit of appointing elders in every church and city may have been inadequate. Paul’s final words in Acts 20 to the church elders he not only mentored and ordained but within a church he spent the longest time with are worthy of deeper study. He mentions no other spiritual leaders in the church. he mentions no other defenders of the word. and he mentions no other office except the one he felt so strongly about he made sure every church was equipped with qualified men called Elder/Pastors.


Monday, August 10, 2009


Sorry for the delay in recent posting. I recently had some major surgery but all is well and God be praised.

The following was written by Tom Ascol, Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral Florida. What do you think?

Pastor – Theologian
Christ intends for His churches to be led by men who meet certain qualifications. In his letters to Timothy and Titus, the apostle Paul writes very plainly about what the Elders of a church must be. The main concern is character. They must be men whose lives are exemplary in holiness.
In addition to however, men who would shepherd God’s flock must be doctrinally sound. They must believe truth sincerely and be able to teach it clearly. In the first chapter of Titus, after highlighting the moral qualifications that every elder is to possess, Paul makes this point in verse nine. An elder he writes, "must hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict".

Churches are to be served by pastors who are sound theologians. That idea strikes many as strange today because the last hundred years have witnessed a separation of those two roles. Pastors belong in the churches while theologians, we have been led to believe, belong in the Universities and Seminaries.

Paul’s instruction to Titus, however, forces us to admit that every pastor is called to be a theologian. The truth that God has revealed in His word is to be explored, understood, believed, taught and defended. That describes the work of a theologian, and pastoral ministry cannot be effectively carried out by a man who does not engage in this kind of effort. Churches are to be governed by the word of God. Those men who bear the responsibility to lead a church have no alternative but to be well grounded in scripture.

A pastor must be firm in his grasp of the word "as taught" or more accurately "according to the teaching" as the NASB renders it. Paul is referring to what by that time had become a recognized body of doctrinal teaching. Before a man can be qualified to serve in the role of Pastor in a church, he must "hold firm" to the doctrines revealed in God’s word. That is, he must understand these doctrines and believe in them. neither superficial thinking about nor half hearted commitment to the teachings of scripture will suffice for the man who would be a pastor in the church of Jesus Christ. This means the pastors are to be men who give themselves to diligent study and who constantly cultivate humble faith.

Paul mentions two reasons why a pastor must be a careful theologian. The first has to do with his responsibility to nurture and care for the flock he serves. Shepherds must feed their sheep and the only diet that God has prescribed for His people is His word (Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:2). An overseer in the church must be "able to teach" (1 Tim 3:2) because it is through the ministry of the word that believers are nourished. As David Wells rightly suggests, a pastor is a truth broker whose primary responsibility is to study, proclaim, and apply God’s word so that "moral character is formed and Christian wisdom results" in the people of God. This is the first reason a pastor must be a theologian – so that "he can give instructions in sound doctrine".

But a pastor must not only teach God’s people, he must also defend them. he must affirm truth and refute error, both of which require discernment born of careful study. The church of Jesus Christ has always been plagued with people who "contradict" sound doctrine. It is the job of pastors to rebuke such persons so that their error does not spread like gangrene through the body (2 Tim. 2:15-18). The Pastor must be "well instructed" Calvin wrote, "in the knowledge of sound doctrine; the second is that, with unwavering firmness of courage…and the third is that he make his manner of teaching tend to edification".

The greatest theologians in the history of the church have been faithful pastors. And the greatest pastors in the history of the church have been careful theologians. Obviously the names appearing on both lists (with rare exceptions) are the same. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Gill, Edwards, Fuller, Spurgeon and so many others, were pastor theologians. They were men who took the apostolic qualifications for elder seriously and in fulfillment of their calling to shepherd God’s people, faithfully gave themselves to the work of theology.

J. I. Packer has wisely noted, "To be a good expositor…one must first be a good theologian. Theology…is what God has put into the texts of scripture, and theology is what preachers must draw out of them". if we hope to see renewed spiritual vitality come to our churches, then we must insist that those who serve as pastors recognize that inherent in their calling is the responsibility to be sound theologians. Only then will God’s people be properly instructed in the way of Christ and effectively protected against the errors and heresies that corrode spiritual health.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Evangelists in Scripture

I think the following paragraph can be a useful tool in how we address/discuss/debate the different topics that face the church today.

Thomas Campbell in "The Declaration and Address" noted that we often reach conclusions from biblical data using inferences. In the 13 propositions, Campbell set the principle of deductions and inferences when "fairly inferred or deducted from scripture" may be taught as doctrine. However, he went on to say that these deductions or inferences should not be made a test of fellowship. His reasoning was that even though biblical teachers reached their conclusions using solid hermeneutical principles, there may be some who simply do not see the connection. As a result, the conclusions reached by deduction or inference should not be binding on others beyond their capability to make the connection. (Michael Hines, June 2009, Restoration Herald)

The reason Michael Hines made this comment was an ongoing discussion in the Restoration Herald concerning the Evangelist and the Elder/Pastor in the church.

Michael Pemberton is an Evangelist with White Fields Evangelism and strongly believes that the located minister is in fact the Evangelist in today’s church. In his view the Evangelist is a valid office within the church based on what Paul told Timothy. He sites 2 Timothy 4:1-5 as the work of this office. He sites Ephesians 4:11-12 as evidence of the office itself.

In Pembertons view the office of both elder and evangelist must coexist since in his view each is to appoint and ordain the other. He sees the evangelist as the one who is to rebuke and discipline the sinning elder and the elder the sinning evangelist. No elder is appointed and ordained by elders he says. To Pemberton the command to Timothy to "do the work of an Evangelist" is evidence that Timothy was in fact an Evangelist

Hines on the other hand, says that to draw such deductions and inferences based on only three mentions of the Evangelist in scripture is at best weak and a defense of ones own paid position in the church. The three instances mentioned are Luke’s identification of Philip as an Evangelist in Acts 2:1-8, the admonition by Paul to Timothy to "do the work of an Evangelist in 2 Tim 4:5, and the Gift of God in Eph 4:11. From these three passages it is deduced or inferred that there is an office of Evangelist. Since it is his opinion that there is no other reference in the NT of this title and absolutely no writings in either the second or third century of any such office, we should be careful in drawing such inferences.

While he thinks it can be legitimately inferred that such a role existed in the early church, there may be better explanations of the use of the term. The clearest example we have is Philip (actually called an evangelist) who spread the good news (which the Greek implies) and was what Jesus commanded all the disciples to do in the great commission but never as a located office. Paul he says was simply reminding Timothy that part of his responsibility included what some might call "soul winning" along with setting things in order in the Ephesian church as his representative or delegate. There is no indication that this was to be a located office within the early church. More accurately we may see this functioning as a church planter today.

One would see this church planter as the establisher of new assemblies, appointing the elders and then moving on but in no way as a located minister of salary working along side of or either over or under such elders. Hines concludes with this. "In my view, those who argue for the term Evangelist recognize that the New Testament says nothing specific about the one "man minister leader" in the early church yet want to defend their role as a paid servant". Stranger still, as has been my position, is the lack of any qualifications for said office or any criteria in which to judge this mans ability or competence to hold this office if it exists. Simply saying he should be held to the same standard as the Elder/Pastor is a noble goal but again there is no scriptural support for this either. If a man meets all the qualifications and desires of Eldership, then he is an elder and not an evangelist.

Keeping in mind the first paragraph and not making this a matter of any test for fellowship. I will be curious to see how this plays out over the next few months. What do you think?


Monday, June 8, 2009

Riddle me this.

As the joker often asked Batman, Riddle me this?

The year is 1932. Two men are walking down the street very late one night, and a policeman stops and questions them. Since they are acting suspicious he searches them and finds a pint of whisky on the one and only a few gold coins on the other. The man with the whiskey is quickly arrested and tossed in jail for 18 months.

The year is now 1934. The first man gets out of prison and meets his old friend and once again they go out and are stopped by the same policeman while out very late at night. The first man again has a pint of whisky in his possession and the second man only a few gold coins in his pocket. This time the police arrest the man with the gold coins and the man with the whisky is let go.

What's happening here?

Just reading the account I gave gives little clue as to what happened or was happening. Scripture is often like this. We read something and it seems not to make much sense until we go to extra-biblical history to fill in some blanks. Take the account of the Pilate telling the Jews he had found no guilt in Jesus, but upon hearing "you are not a friend of Caesar", Pilate immediately folds, washes his hands and does as the Jews wanted. Unless we read what Pilate’s standing was at the time with Augustus and Rome we would not know why this was such a powerful statement. Pilate had fallen out of favor due to many bad reports of abuse and killing of Jews and another report would be disastrous to him.

Another example would be why the Pharisees would not go into Pilate’s residence for fear of defiling themselves and not being able to eat the Passover that evening. But hadn’t Jesus eaten the Passover Seder the night before? Could Jesus have been mistaken or was it merely a meal of convenience? But since Gods command was to eat it on Nisan 14 according to the ordinance wouldn’t this have been disobedience and eliminated Jesus as a sinless lamb to go to the cross? Well since the Jews followed a Lunar year and we a Solar we can see some interesting developments. We know we have to add one day every four years (leap year) to make up the accuracy of our calendar. The Lunar year was far more fragile and sometimes up to 5 days had to be added periodically to keep it accurate. There was also a division between the cities in the northern regions and southern regions as to what day Nisan 14 fell during certain years. Jesus being from the North and most Pharisees adhering to the Southern reckoning (Judea) we then see this discrepancy.

Now back to the riddle above. In 1932 prohibition was still in effect and so having a pint of whisky in ones possession was against the law. However in 1934, prohibition was repealed but Franklin D Roosevelt had signed a law making it illegal for United States citizens to possess gold. Knowing the history, culture and traditions of a given time and people makes our understanding all that much clearer.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Our New Electronic Age

One of my fellow Elders just e mailed me a link to a story about a church that now allows twittering during service. Really, Twittering? You can read it yourselves at

This got me thinking that perhaps we have gone too far. I can agree with using all the tools available to us but this may be over the top. As the Pastor said its not like I can say double click here to be saved or click here to have communion sent to your desk top, etc.

This same Elder and I got to thinking, what kind of message we could expect during a sermon? "Didn’t you preach on this last year"? "Isn’t it a bit too cold or too warm in here"? I used to preach in a bi-racial church where the "Amen’s" and "Praise the Lords" were a sense of encouragement and urged me on in the word. I dare say there is no encouragement in something twittered behind me that I can not see or hear.

On one of the forums I participate on, a newly hired pastor let us know that he was an assistant pastor. The senior pastor had just left some months back (under good conditions) and he was made interim senior pastor. After a couple of months the congregation voted to remove the "interim" from his title. He got resounding congratulations and prayers of encouragement. One Pastor however made a statement that got to me. "It’s nice to see a congregation test driving a minister before they hire him". Test driving ministers? That got me to thinking again. By now you probably see I think way too much about such things.

What if we instituted a system like "Pastor fax" for ministers we hire? Like Car Fax where all the previous repairs and accidents are listed so the buyer has an informed history before buying. Perhaps his doctrinal stand was a bit skewed and had to go into an authorized dealership for realignment or had some major body work done. Maybe we could classify pastors as we do cars? Those who graduated in the 60's’ rather then senior ministers, could be called muscle ministers. Those older ministers could be called classics. The Gen X ministers could be called hybrids and those smaller new church plants who can’t afford a minister yet and have sermons pod cast into the assembly can be the new electric ministers? This may catch on.

Don’t get me wrong I love the new tools available to us in ministry but we should be careful not to remove the human factor. Community and personal relationships are very important. Right before each time I preach I ask the assembly to go and greet any visitors or to greet someone they had not spoken to that day yet. Watching this interaction is a blessing for me in the preparation to speak Gods word. I cannot see the same blessing if they all remained in their seats twittering hello’s to each other.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Keep it Simple

As a coin collector I try to keep informed with what the US Mint is doing with the coins so many of us take for granted in our pockets. My mind immediately goes to thoughts of who once held that coin before me. Especially the really older ones. Coins from the Roman and Greek periods can still be gotten inexpensively and who knows who once held them. But back to our own Mint. Edmund Moy, the US Mint director has said there are discussions going on concerning a "Strategic Coin Reserve" to hold coins should there be a disruption of production at either of the US minting facilities, that would disrupt the production of coinage for commerce. That sounds pretty ominous doesn’t it? More like a home security issue. But there is not now or will there be in the near future any coin shortage. What is clear is that with these hard economic times, many people are emptying those coin jars and cans they toss their pennies and nickels into at the end of each day. As a result the banks are not ordering new coins from the Federal Reserve (those responsible for the distribution of coinage) and so the Reserve is not ordering from the Mint. What has become clear is that this is a ploy to keep Mint workers on the payroll during lean times and this got me to thinking.

In the church we have a lot of programs that either do not work, are not being worked or are simply on the books because some old time leaders put them there years ago. Sadly we refuse to let them go or discontinue them from a sense of tradition or habit. Some are such sacred cows that for any pastor to suggest ending such programs would probably cost him his job.
A recent article in the Christian Standard was geared toward "Simple Church". that is not to say Easy Church but just a more simple way of doing what we are called to do. One pastor I spoke to still has a Sunday Evening service where only he and his wife and another couple attend. While I am sure these few are being blessed is this the best way to continue with time and resources being stretched so thin? Some churches do VBS at a financial loss just because its always been done. Perhaps a rethinking of what we want to accomplish and how we are to get there is in order. This may mean cutting some sacred cows and trimming some fat but in the end it may produce a more efficient church ministry or outreach.

A church of less then 100 people with 24 different ministries on the books has to be stretched to their limit. While that same church ministering with less programs and more involvement in the ones they decide on would be more beneficial. I think what has elevated these sacred cows is the idea that we have to be relevant to each and every person we encounter and I think we all know that is impossible. Just as we do not all have the same Spiritual gifts, I do not think every assembly has to be relevant to every person. As someone once said, "Keep the main thing, the main thing". We as local assemblies are to be about seeking and saving the lost. We cannot do it all, nor should we even try. One plants and another waters and the Holy Spirit brings forth the harvest. Focus on what you "can" do and do it well. Keep it simple but keep it productive, rather then keeping it complicated and nothing being done of any significance to further the kingdom.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day Thoughts

I used to get a kick out of Jay Leno questioning young people about current events, history and names of certain Americans to test their knowledge. I say I used to, because it became very obvious that our young people have been cheated out of a rich knowledge of things I guess I take for granted. Not one group of 100 College Students could find six (6) majors countries in Europe on a map. That same group could not identify at least ten (10) states within the continental United States on a map. I find that sad.

I recently visited a discussion forum where someone had asked if there was a web site that had some of the Old favorite Hymns but with modern wording? I wondered why anyone would rally want that? To which I was told "to make it relevant for young people today". It seems this person thought the that the "Thee’s" ad "Thou’s" were archaic and needed some revision. Well, I did some investigation and found that while most newer English translations of the Bible have eliminated these two words from the older versions (The KJV in particular), and translate both words in the newer English versions as "You". The problem with this is that in the older English, Thee and Thou meant something entirely different. Thee is general and often plural, while Thou is singular and more specific and personal. It seems we are willing to sacrifice accuracy for relevancy and again at a cost to our young people.

One objection was made to my comment where one hymn says "we lift up our Ebenezer". The poster said a better translation would be we lift up our "stone of help" which is what Ebenezer means in Hebrew. But in doing so we miss the significance of not only the word itself but its biblical and geographical significance.
This Hymn line comes from 1 Samuel 7:12-13 (NASB)
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far the Lord has helped us."
13 So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
Today Eben Haezer still exists as a small town and any student of scripture should be aware of its significance.

All this is to lead to my main point. I asked a few youth this week what Memorial Day was and why we celebrate it? One youth answered that it is the day LifeGuards officially come on duty at the beach. Another said it was the official start of summer. Anther said it was an official school holiday. Not one said it was a day we set aside to remember and honor those who have fallen in the line of duty in the protection of this great country. Not one. Have we cheated out young people to the extent that Memorial day is nothing more then a day off from school or the day they can finally and safely go into the water? One has to wonder what is being thought about when we commemorate the Lords Supper on Sunday. Is it to them what scripture tells us, a remembrance of the Lord and His sacrifice for us? A proclamation of the Lords death until He comes? Or is it just a mid service snack? Or a refrain in service in preparation for the sermon time? I think the dumbing down of America has finally come of age.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Angels and Demons?

Dan Browns first movie (actually his second book) The DiVinci Code was a very controversial one to say the least. Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus, Jesus having Children, the church only having an edited version of the scriptures and all the other nonsense. It did open the opportunity for some great discussion however and that is always a good thing.

Browns second movie (actually his first novel) called Angels and Demons is also church based in its story line but far less controversial. It concerns the kidnapping of four (4) Cardinals who are to be branded and killed and an amount of anti matter made into a bomb hidden in the Vatican during the choosing of a new Pope. This would devastate the Catholic church at its highest level.

Robert Langdon is once again the hero of the story, who must locate the Cardinals and the bomb before its too late. Throughout the movie he is led by clues left by a group called the "Illuminate". A group of science minded individuals who after the excommunication of Galileo for stating a scientific truth (that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around)set out to destroy the Catholic church. In a reaction the church sets as as well to destroy them and so they are forced to go underground. leaving clues in Art and literature as to their existence.

Like The DiVinci Code this is one of the most thrilling suspense stories I have ever read and could not put the book down. What do you think? would you see it or not?


Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Communion Controversy

As I said in a previous blog, the Lord left the church two ordinances, rites or sacraments. They are baptism and the Lords Supper or Communion. We already looked at the controversy surrounding Baptism and so now lets look at the second.

I am not going to discuss the "what Communion is" issue, whether the literal flesh and blood or Spiritually the flesh and blood or just emblems as a remembrance. That is a different discussion. What I would like to talk about is how the Lords Table is treated today and its frequency of observance.

In a recent forum discussion where Pastors from different assemblies discuss (debate) different topics, we were talking about the Lords Table and its placement in the assembly. I almost fell over when one Pastor said, "you still have one of those?" To which he explained that his church had removed the actual table as it had become "an idol" for too many in that assembly. An Idol? I had to wonder if the cross would be the next thing removed, or the pulpit?

Many recently have relocated the Table to the rear of the assembly hall or meeting place. Some of these same churches do not have a communion time but tell people they can partake on their way out. I can imagine inviting some friends or relative over to dinner and telling them the food was in the garage on their way out. Is that what they were invited for?

I think we have lost our sense of what the Lords supper originated as and what it was meant to convey. It was instituted during a Passover Seder, instituted as a remembrance of Gods great deliverance of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. Jesus took this very Seder to institute another remembrance different in some ways but very similar in others. Both were memorials and had a specific purpose.
Luke 22:19 (NASB)
19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
The word remembrance there is anamimnēskō and does not only mean to bring to ones mind intellectually but to actually relive or participate again in something. This is why Israel was told at the Seder to read the Exodus story along with the 10 plagues. They were to go back in their minds for the purpose of never forgetting what was done for them. the idea is made clearer in Paul’s words to Timothy 2 Timothy 1:6 (NASB)
6 For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

Timothy was not only to be reminded but to kindle afresh the gift. It was more then merely remembering but to make it real again.
Paul’s account or record of that evening uses the same word for remembrance but adds some other information we need to look at.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NASB)
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;
24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

First this information was given to him by the Lord and is now passed on to the church in Corinth. For both the bread and cup he says in remembrance. But there is more. like Luke Paul uses the words "which will be broken" of the bread. It is in the future tense. Something not done that evening at the table but at a point we now know was on a cross. He also uses the word "often" twice. Once concerning the cup and the second time concerning both emblems. So what does often mean?

Many today have reduced the amount of times they participate in the remembrance. Some once a month, others once a year at Easter. The word for often there is hosakis and means often. No hidden meaning or difficult to understand. But it is only used three times in the NT. Twice here and once in Revelation 11:6 (NASB)
6 These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.
This really seems like little help in this matter since it seems that often in Revelation depends on desire or decision rather then a strict sense of doing it as often as possible. But how did the early church understand the Lords Supper and its participation?

Acts 2:40-47 (NASB)
40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"
41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;
45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Right after the great sermon of Peter’s on Pentecost we are told that those who received (believed) his word were baptized and at that point were added to the churches number. They then communed or fellowshipped together in specific ways. Devoting themselves to the apostles teachings, fellowship, prayer, sharing what they had with one another and doing this from house to house "daily" and with gladness and sincerity of heart. As a result the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved. But I purposely left some things out (I hope you caught them). They were breaking bread from house (v 46) to house taking their meals with one another. This is a common meal shared among brethren. However in verse 42, we are told they were devoting themselves to "the" breaking of the bread. The definite article there distinguishes this breaking of "the" bread and breaking bread taking their meals together. The earliest church did both and they did it daily. That is how they understood the word often.

Not long afterwards the Lords Supper was taken only on the first day of the week when the church met to give its offerings but not until recently do we see any less then that. When the church assembled it met to offer praise and worship, hear Gods word, pray and share in the fellowship meal the Lord had left them. It was a sharing of something common they all shared. What does it say when we move the table to some outside vestibule and focus our attention on the preacher or the sermon? It says that the Lords Supper is some how of lesser importance then the man standing at the podium. What does it say when we only partake in remembrance once a month or once a year? As humans we are prone to forget and the Lord knew that. This is why he has always given His people visuals to bring their minds back to what is important.
Perhaps even more important are Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11 as to why often is a better way to partake then seldom
1 Corinthians 11:26 (NASB)
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

This message can never be done to often. It is our proclamation of what price was paid for our redemption and reconciliation and we are not ashamed to let everyone know it.
I have heard the notion that if done too often it becomes "common". I find it interesting that this is never said of prayer, which is commanded to be done continually. Does prayer, communicating with our Lord, ever become common? I am not aware of any preacher who tells the assembly not to give their offering every week so it wont become common. Do you?


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Clergy System

So how did we get from the Elder led assemblies Paul established to the clergy system we currently have in the church today?

Acts 14:23 (NASB)
23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
1 Timothy 5:17 (NASB)
17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
Titus 1:5 (NASB)
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you,
1 Timothy 3:1-2 (NASB)
1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

Elders appointed in every Church/City to oversee and rule in the manner of a shepherd and not a tyrant was what the earliest plan or model was. So what happened? how did we get terms like Senior Minister, Bishops, Cardinals, and even Popes? We know that many things unscriptural entered into the church over time and please do not always equate unscriptural with anti-scriptural, they are not the same. Sound systems and overhead projectors are unscriptural (not mentioned in scripture) but they are not necessarily anti-scriptural (against scriptural teaching)
Ignatius one of the earliest church fathers who lived from AD 30-107 in writing Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna in chapter VI says this: "Give Ye heed to the Bishop, that God may also give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the Bishop, to the Presbyters and to the Deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God".

Now we do not accept the early church fathers as inspired and certainly there is much included in their writings that can be debated and rejected. My point here is that before the close of the first century, the office of Bishop and Presbyter had already been separated into two distinct offices. Many other of the early fathers spoke in this same fashion. This seems counter to what Paul had said in Acts 20, where upon calling the Elders (Presbyters) said they were made Overseers/Bishops (Episkopos) to Shepherd/Pastor (poimene) the flock. So what happened?
It seems that the church took as its form of worship and meeting the example of the synagogue model from which many had come and even remained as their model. In the synagogue there were elders but also a ruling or chief elder. He had no more authority then the others but was elected as a sort of chairperson for the purpose of orderly assembly and meeting. A leader among equals he was called. So very soon the church seems to have adopted at first this leader among equals and called him the episkopos or Bishop. The other leaders were called presbyters or lower bishops at first but eventually presbyters were called priests under the leadership of a bishop. While this original separation came quickly in the churches history, the term priest came later by way of the teaching of a man called Tertullian. He taught that since the Lords supper was a continual sacrifice, it necessitated a priesthood. That’s another topic all together.

While at first we see elders in every church, most probably house churches, since church building as we have them today did not exist and persecution was still frequent. There came a time when this lead Bishop became the overseer of an entire city or town with the lesser bishops now called presbyters overseeing local assemblies. These later became known as dioceses. The stronger and wealthier the diocese, the more influential the lead Bishop. Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Smyrna were the leaders in this system. Eventually Rome became the chief city and its Bishop considered the Bishop or Bishops and later called the Pope or papa.
Over the centuries this Bishop of Rome acquired more and more power and influence and was even said to have certain authority as if speaking from God as infallible (ex- cathedra). Their thinking was that they could trace back this unbroken and successive Bishopric back to the Apostle Peter based on Matthew 16 where upon confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God Jesus says "you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church". the church in Rome saw this rock as Peter himself rather then the confession Peter made by Gods inspiration.

At the time of the reformation many different men sought to reform or change what was wrong (according to them) with the now all-powerful Roman Catholic church. they sought to change the selling of indulgences (Luther’s 95 Theses), infant baptism, the authority of the Pope and much more. the one thing they never considered however was the clergy system itself. Priests and Bishops and Arch-Bishops and Cardinals all seemed to go unchallenged for the most part. The church leaders took on the title of ministers after time with no Pope but still certain clergy hierarchy still in place.

The restoration movement under Stone and Campbell saw some early talk on Elder led churches but the few who followed this biblical model soon found they were in a vast minority. It seems people liked the system they had and so it is to this day. When we first implemented an Elder led, Elder fed system at our church I remember one minister calling and telling us we had entered upon a slippery slope. I still do not know what he meant since that is the model we see in scripture.

The difficulties are many with a Senior Minister system. First and foremost the Eldership becomes an advisory board for this Senior Minister which is not seen in scripture. Secondly at times the Eldership exerts itself too far and becomes the dictator of the Senior Minister and he is at their mercy for his job and often times his residence. Both are wrong and lead to more problems then they solve. The church is to be led by a plurality of Pastor/Elders. No Seniors among them. It is in this plurality that their authority is seen and administered and not in any one individual.

Some have suggested that this would lead to a rash of Seminary and Bible college closings but I disagree. Leaders in Christ’s church still need training in preaching, council, Theology and so much more. Churches should be willing and even desire to send their men to be the best equipped leaders they can be. With home courses now so readily available they would not even have to leave their ministries to get this training.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Baptism Controversy

The Lord left the church two ordinances, rites, sacraments depending on your church affiliation for the purpose of comforting, uniting and proclaiming who we are and who we serve. Sadly both have become a source of confrontation and separation and at times down right discord. The first I will address is baptism. There are nine instances of conversion in the book of Acts and all nine include baptism. To consider conversion apart from baptism is simply not biblical. The last words of our Lord recorded in the gospels concerned the Great Commission, in which Jesus told the apostles to go into all the world and make disciples. Disciples are students or learners which is what we all are. The master teacher is the Lord Himself. The way they were to accomplish this was "…baptizing them… and teaching them all that I have commanded you"

At the very onset, at Pentecost in Jerusalem, Peter preaches the first church sermon, and the result is that a question is asked after the listeners have been convicted that what Peter preached was true (they were cut to the quick). The answer came immediately: Acts 2:38 (NASB) 38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It seems to me unthinkable that Peter speaking by way of the Holy Spirit would have gotten it wrong on the very first occasion but some seem to think he did. At the very least they think it is merely a misunderstanding of a word Peter said that day.

Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; the word in question is "for". Are we baptized for (in order to receive) forgiveness of sin, or are we baptized "for" (because we have already received) forgiveness of sin? Opponents of baptism for the remission of sin will say the later is what Peter meant in the same way we take an aspirin "for" a headache. Not to receive a headache but because we already have one. In the same way wanted posters would say, "Wanted, Billy the Kid for bank robbery". They do not want Billy so that he can rob a bank but because he has already robbed one. But this is a limited view of the Greek word "eis" (for) as can be seen by comparing how it was used with the same end in mind.
Matthew 26:26-29 (NASB)
26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."
27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you;
28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.
29 "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."
At the Last Supper Jesus says that the cup, representing the new covenant in His blood was for the forgiveness of sin.

Opponents say baptism does not wash away or forgive sin and so Peter had to mean we are baptized to symbolize that our sin has already been washed away. But then wouldn’t the same hold true for what Jesus said that evening? His blood poured out for (eis) the forgiveness of sin would then mean that our sins were forgiven at some earlier point and Jesus shedding His blood was only a symbol of what has already taken place? even the opponents would reject that as do we.

The problem has been the argument over "what saves" us. Scripture is clear on this point and I think both sides can agree. We are saved by grace through faith as Paul tells us. But that is really an over simplified statement. It neither tells us how, or by who or from where. The who is obvious from taking the whole of scripture into account and it is God who saves us. The how is by the death burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the "from where" is where the two sides part waves. Some think this can be accomplished while driving your car, standing in the line at the supper market or just about anywhere you make that decision to accept and follow Jesus. But there is little if any scripture to support that position.
I am not a fan of names or titles so please do not take what I am about to say the wrong way. The position of anywhere by accepting Jesus through faith has been called the "Faith Alone" position. Let my first response be this. The words faith and alone only appear once together in all of scripture and they appear in the negative.
James 2:24 (NASB)
24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
That is the only time the words appear together.
Contrary to popular belief we are not saved by faith alone. As Paul tells us we are saved by grace through faith. But this grace as undeserved does not mean without any participation on our part.

Example: Noah believed God was about to destroy the earth and that he and his family would be saved. But would simply believing this have been enough had he not obeyed God and built and entered the Ark?
How about Abraham? He believed God was going to establish him in a Promised Land and give him more descendants then could be numbered. But would Abraham have been so blessed had he not obeyed and left Ur?
A negative example would be Israel who were told the Promised Land was theirs. God had already given it to them. But because of fear they refused to enter in and so were marched around the wilderness until that generation died.

While the water of baptism is nothing more then water. The place itself is where we are told to be so that God may bestow the grace through faith already mentioned. It is not a "by what" argument but rather a "from where" argument. Only from within that water grave, where Paul tells us we must die to self and be joined to the death of Christ, are we told we are raised to new life in Christ. We can say this is symbolic or a type but then we have to show where the reality takes place and scripture shows only one place this occurs. It is also the only place from where we are told we are clothed with Christ, and where our sin is washed away calling on the Lord. Yes we are saved by grace through faith but from where God said He would bestow such grace and not where we choose.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Who is the Pastor?

This would greatly depend on who you ask and from what denominational affiliation they follow. Some would say the Senior Minister but finding such a person in scripture will be difficult. The word most times translated "Minister" in scripture comes from [diokonos] and is translated either minister or servant. It is where we get our English word (transliterated) as deacon.

The word for Pastor or shepherd is found 18 times in the New Testament. most times it refers to a literal shepherd of real sheep. It is however found three times in reference to church leadership. The first is in Acts 20 where Paul upon returning to Jerusalem and knowing he most likely will not see the churches he established again calls for the "Elders" of Ephesus for some final instructions. he concludes with this:
Acts 20:28-31 (NASB) 28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 "Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.

Paul first calls the Elders (presbuteros) and this is their title or designation. they are the spiritually more mature within the church.
Paul tells these men that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (episkopos) sometimes translated as bishops in the church. This is their ministry or the work they have been called to do.
Finally Paul says they are to shepherd (poimene) the church (also translated Pastor) and this refers to how the overseeing is to be accomplished. as a shepherd tends to his flock. lovingly. kindly, compassionately but also with a firm hand.

All three designations, Elder, Overseer and Shepherd/Pastor refer to the one man or one office. His title, his mission and the way the mission is to be carried out. I is he who is the protector of the flock from false teaching and teachers. This is a very serious and special ministry because those under the care of the Elder/Pastor are tending those purchased with a special price, His own blood.

These men are to be qualified as required in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. It is not a popularity contest! We do not appoint men Elders merely because we need Elders. We do not appoint Elders because they are the biggest givers or the most influential or have great influence over others. They are to be Spirit gifted and qualified men who strongly desire the office first and foremost.

The Holy Spirit gave four offices for church leadership as is recorded in Ephesians 4:11 (NASB) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,. The keen eyed reader will notice there is no "and some as" between Pastors and Teachers. I fully believe this is the same office. Pastor/Teacher or the Pastor who teaches. we do not see Senior Minister in that list. The Pastor/Elder is the Spirit designated shepherd of Christs flock as under-shepherd of the Chief or Great Shepherd. In a future blog we will examine how this system of Ministers came about.

The third passage that speaks to this man is 1 Peter 5:1-2 (NASB) 1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;
Peter exhorts the Elders as a fellow Elder to Shepherd (poimene) or Pastor the flock. not by compulsion but by a strong desire (voluntarily) as scripture tells us in I Timothy 3 and according to Gods will for the church and not his own will or desires and not with a view to what he will get out of it. I know of few men who become elders thinking they will either get rich or some elevated praise. usually the exact opposite is the case.

Finally, we are told that Paul appointed Elders in every church/City as was his habit. He did not appoint Ministers or those with the proper credentials (degrees from one of our colleges) or any other recent requirement. He appointed Elder/Shepherds to continue the work after he left. He also commanded that Timothy (an apostolic delegate) do the same. This is not to say that those fine men we call Ministers today cannot be one of the Elders in the church in which they serve. Many a church has made this restriction and frankly it is unscriptural. Whether it is for better control over the man or some other misguided agenda, it is just plain wrong. A man gifted and qualified by the Holy Spirit should not be treated any less then any other man simply because we have chosen to hire from without.

I have talked with many ministers who quite frankly feel like monkeys who are made to dance for the organ grinders (elders) to receive their weekly coin. They are treated merely as employees and given the least amount possible for the most amount of labor. Is it any wonder that so many churches today focus on numbers? Numbers are what keep the paid minister in the good graces of the Elders and are his job protection. As a part of what is called the Restoration Movement of Churches it has been our goal to restore the church of the first century. In many areas we have succeeded. we have no man made creeds, no denominational affiliations, the scriptures are our only rule of faith and we accept any and all as brothers who adhere to Gods word and what it demands, but in the area of church leadership, we have sadly failed to even address the topic.