Opinions on faith and life

Perpetuating Error

2009-01-04

A few years ago I wrote something about the alleged “call to the ministry”. But today I’d like to focus more on this subtle error, even a mystical one, that tradition has perpetuated.

Here are some quotes of well-known Bible teachers concerning their own “calling to ministry”:

Lying face down on the field one night with his face on the ground, young Adrian prayed, “Lord, I want you to use me.” When he felt that this was not humbling himself enough, he dug a hole in the dirt, put his nose in it, and prayed again, “Lord, I want you to use me!” ~ Adrian Rogers

When I was eighteen, the Lord threw me out of a car traveling seventy miles an hour. I landed on my backside and slid 110 yards on the pavement. By the grace of God I wasn’t killed. As I stood up on that highway, having never lost consciousness, I committed my life to serving Christ. I told Him I would no longer resist what He wanted me to do, which was to preach His Word. ~ John MacArthur

Does anyone see what’s wrong with these testimonies? They have nothing whatsoever to do with NT teachings and everything to do with subjective experience (anecdotal evidence) or even the self-abasement Paul criticized in Col. 2:18 (not even Paul relied on experiences: see 2 Cor. 12:1-5). There is nothing like this in the pages of scripture to qualify as someone having been gifted to pastor (guard, nurture on the behalf of Another).

While it is true that humility is a Christian virtue that all should strive for, and that those being considered for leadership must exhibit, God does not take such outward shows of piety as proof of humility. Humility is shown daily in one’s life, both inside and outside of the Christian community. People of other religions take great pains (sometimes literally) to prove they are “more humble than thou”, but this is not what God wants. He wants a selfless heart, a servant, an obedient child. I’m not saying Rogers did not have these things, but that his lying face down in the dirt is not only no proof of humility, but also certainly not a “call to ministry”.

Likewise for MacArthur: many people have had changed lives after surviving an accident, and they’re obviously not all Christians. Perhaps this was what it took for God to get his attention, but again, it is not a unique experience, and not something upon which one should necessarily conclude they are “called to ministry”.

Biblically, all believers are “called to ministry”. We are all priests (1 Peter 2:9), all “preachers” (Mt. 28:19), all servants (Acts 2:18, Rev. 1:1), all “called” (Eph. 4:1, 2 Thes. 1:11, Heb. 3:1, 2 Peter 1:10). And it must be emphasized that “calling” as used in these passages is not at all the same as the “calling” of tradition and the wrong model of “church”. When some argue for a special “calling to ministry” they equivocate on “calling”, turning what God does for all believers into a special, mystical experience reserved for those God allegedly picks for something like a CEO position in a “church”.

In Eph. 4:11-12 we see a list of spiritual gifts, and in that list we see both “pastors” and “teachers”, as well as others. But if pastors are “called”, then so are teachers and prophets. Yet no one ever hears of one with the gift of prophecy or teaching (see also Rom. 12:4-8, 1 Cor. 12:1-11, 1 Peter 4:10) giving a testimony to their “calling” in the same way “pastors” say they are called. No, God’s “calling” is made evident in a person’s life in very practical and visible ways. I think we’d all naturally do what the Spirit has gifted us to do, were it not for interference from control freaks and usurpers who try to put themselves between God and “laity”.

So since scripture puts us all on the same plane, gifted by the same Spirit for each other’s benefit, and since the community of believers is a Body and not a business, then it follows that there is no such thing as “the pastorate” or “the pulpit” or any other such “offices” in a chain of command. There are only teachers with students who are expected to graduate someday, at which time the teacher-student relationship becomes one between peers; it is not permanent.

Yet that same MacArthur has written passionately in defense of this imaginary office and hierarchy. While I still have some respect for MacArthur as a Bible teacher, I have profound differences with him on many of his teachings. But if the Bereans were considered noble for challenging Paul, then I am sure Dr. MacA. wouldn’t mind similar scrutiny or consider it brash. Let me break down his article a bit.

First of all, let’s see the literal Greek of 1 Tim. 3:1-2:

faithful the saying if anyone (pas, not aner or andres) supervision is craving ideal work they are desiring; must then the supervisor irreprehensible to be...

Contrast that with this one:

It is a trustworthy statement; if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach,...

Note that the word “office” is not in the Greek at all, and is not implied by the context. Neither is any Greek word for “male” found there (we will deal with the phrase “of one woman husband” shortly).

Paul is writing to Timothy, who is never designated with the title “pastor” (for that matter, not one person is ever addressed as such in the entire NT). Timothy was an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5) who was also charged with “reading, encouraging (paraklesei), instruction, and training”. These may overlap the duties Paul is talking about regarding supervisors, but Paul never calls him a “pastor”. So it’s really a misnomer for this letter to be called a “pastoral epistle”; the word “pastor” is never seen in it once.

The concept of “offices” has to be inferred; we only see mention of gifts of varying kinds of service. What Paul is calling a noble aspiration is that someone would be willing to stoop to the lowest position of servitude to the Body, such that they take responsibility for keeping it free of error and living a life that can be considered a model of ultimate Christian behavior (Heb. 13:7). These were not to be authoritarians or bosses, but role models and guardians of truth, who were to be honored and learned from. Jesus’ command, “Not so among you” (Mt. 20:25-27), was given to all disciples; God is still not “a respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).

The office of church leadership--specifically a pastor or an elder--is limited to men. The conclusion is supported by Paul’s use of the masculine gender in the context.

Dr. MacA has made an elementary grammatical blunder here. Grammatical gender is not indicative of biological gender; every language except modern English keeps them separate, and no first-year student of Greek would pass a test with this claim. And again, not only is it the word “anyone” instead of “men” or “males”, there is no word or phrase having to do with an office or title.

The phrase following, “of one wife the husband”, was seen even on the graves of women in the first century. It was an idiom meaning “a faithful spouse”. There was no point in telling women of the day that they were to be faithful, since it was presumed already, while men were expected to have any number of female consorts. If Paul is intending here to specify males, he would be overstating the obvious.

Even if we brush off the historical evidence, a reasonable explanation is that Timothy has a particular individual in mind, who happens to be a male. Then it would be natural for Paul to refer to this person in male terms. He is known to shift from plural to singular in the middle of a topic, and when he does it seems to indicate that an individual is in view, whose name Paul either doesn’t know or does not wish to identify publicly.

In the interest of keeping this post short, I’ll just say that Dr. MacA makes many more such blunders in the statements following. I highly recommend the resources at CBE for challenges to the common proof-texts given here. Suffice it to say that he seems to go out of his way to pursue this rabbit-trail of “roles” when the topic is qualifications for “pastors”.

In his discussion of the “desire” to this alleged “office”, he seems to ignore the fact that this is just one area of service among many. All who serve must do so from the purest motives; the only difference is that those who are to serve as examples must have first been already proven to have reached spiritual maturity (1 Tim. 3:10 ref. “deacons”). The context here is not emphasizing the desire but the service.

It’s a great responsibility to serve as the pastor.

No one doubts the responsibility, but again, there is no “the pastor”. There were to be a group of elders in each assembly (Titus 1:5); no mention is ever made of one person in charge.

The position includes preaching, teaching, caring for, and discipling everyone the Lord places under him.

There is no “position”, and no “underlings”. There are students and the immature, but no one who has desired to serve can have anyone “under” them. Respect, yes; obedience as under a boss, no.

One should not pursue the pastorate lightly.

Again, “the pastorate” is an invented term, and no service of any kind should be taken lightly.

The pastor must understand the responsibility of ruling,

I about fell off my chair when I read that! After all he said about humility, to throw in the word “rule” is completely out of place. And the idea of “ruling benevolently” is doubletalk. You either rule or serve.

The highest calling a man can have on earth is to preach the Word of God.

All believers are to preach the word of God. The idea of a sole lecturer ruling over a passive audience is not anywhere near the sort of “preaching” the NT is talking about.

The call to church leadership is a serious, limited, compelling, responsible, worthy, demanding, and holy calling.

All of us are called to salvation, called to serve, called to spread the gospel. But the “calling to the pastorate” is a contrived and unbiblical notion of some mystical event that only happens with regard to one spiritual gift which has been turned into a kind of CEO position over the Body-- as if the Body has two Heads!

Through the whole article, I have the impression of someone trying to keep others from prying his hands off the wheel, from taking away his self-proclaimed privileges. He seems proud of his humble position (!) and in other articles has fought zealously for male entitlement. But the heart of a servant does not vie for preeminence (3 John 1:9) or cling jealously to rights (see Phil. 2:5-11). It does not seek power or control over others, even if it is allegedly sought for benevolent reasons. It does not consider itself as a better “part of the body” than others (see 1 Cor. 12:12-27).

By claiming a mystical “calling” that accompanies no other gift or believer, those who call themselves “Pastors” of a “Pulpit” and think others are under their rule are usurping the place of Christ and ignoring His example of true humility. Paul does tell us to desire the greater gifts (1 Cor. 14:1, 1 Tim. 3:1), but note that the gift of prophecy is right up there with “oversight”. And if anyone is quick to equate this gift of prophecy with the traditional concept of “preaching” done from a “pulpit”, then they’d have to admit that females are not excluded from this activity (Acts 2:17, 21:9).

No, there is no Pastorate, no Pulpit, no special mystical “calling” for only one spiritual gift. There are only servants whose lives exemplify the ideal Christian life, who have proved their grasp of scripture and can defend the faith from all falsehood, people whose examples we should follow and whose advice and teaching is known to be wise and faithful. And when we have learned and walked the walk, we too can then be such leaders.

That’s a healthy, growing Body.

12 Comments

Paula Fether

Tanx Rachel! Glad to be of service. ;-)

Rachel

This is brilliant, Paula and so helpful and inspiring God bless you Rachel

Greg Anderson

I don’t know about Rogers, but I know that MacArthur’s theology is heavily steeped in Calvinism, so it would follow that he places great emphasis on hierarchy and strong leadership in church governance.

Suffice it to say that no organization, church or secular body is above human politics, and I dare say that even the church plantings that Paul nurtured so tenderly in the first century were prone to human foible and decay over time.

Remember that it only took three hundred years for the ruthless Constantine to emerge and galvanize the young church into a political and worldly power.

My point is simply this. We cannot fully contain the deleterious effects of the desire in some to wield and exercise power in the church, it is part and parcel to our fallen human nature. But what we can do is maintain a vigilance so that its worse abuses are checked and not allowed to reach maturity in the form of bad fruit.

I applaud your watchfulness in this regard Paula!

Cindy K

Paula,

This is an excellent post. My husband is one of those who had a horrible day when he went to try to return to school. He arranged for off campus housing which turned out to be in the worst and most unsafe neighborhood imaginable, and the door on his newly rented residence was more durable than the door or door frame. He went to check in with his advisor, and he was told that there was no room in the program (after he drove 6 hours to get there?). He went to see the place where he’d arranged to work, transferring to a new work place to tell them he couldn’t start working. He came out to find that he’d driven in glass that had destroyed all of his car tires. And after having run from God for many months, God got his attention. He walked the streets of Richmond, VA that day and officially surrendered to the will of God, whatever that was. And his life started to come together, a little at a time.

I’m grateful that God got his attention that day, as I likely would not call him husband today. And I am grateful that God does orchestrate our circumstances in this way to drive us to Him, whether we want to go to Him or not.

But I am reminded to many evangelists that I heard growing up who said God showed them the untold and unnumbered thousands of people that would walk right into hell if these men did not heed the call to become evangelists. I thought the rocks would cry out if we didn’t? I think that if God wants to get my attention, and I miss the mark, He sends more than one messenger. He goes after his lost sheep, and I believe he keeps sending people to those hoards on their way to hell until they hear, the whole way to the gates that can’t prevail. I think that these messages were meant to put the listener in awe so that we who listened would perceive them as greater than those who they were "rescuing from hellfire."

By God’s grace, I am invited into the kingdom, as we all are. And God even uses my missed "divine appointments" to bring glory to Himself. If it all depends on me and a path of perfection or a path of self denegration, then we are all seriously in trouble. I think I get far too much wrong, and only by God’s grace do I get it right. And He makes a miracle of good out of my meager attempts.

Paula Fether

Greg,

I’ve heard some of Rogers’ sermons and lessons, and they were very good. But I’ve also heard that he was involved in some less than admirable shenanigans in the SBC. Of course God will judge each of us, and things like this are a reminder to never whitewash our leaders but instead keep their feet to the fire, to help guard against the temptation to abuse power that seems to plague those of great influence. Thanks for all your encouragement! I need that scrutiny just like everyone else, and it’s good to know I’m being watched. :-)

Cindy,

Thanks for all your encouragement as well, and for an excellent point about the fact that God will accomplish His purposes, with or without us. We will lose rewards if we fail to respond to God’s call on each of us, but He assuredly will send another if needed. It is dangerous for us to think that we get the glory just for doing our jobs. Yet even though that’s true, God still does reward us. I’m very thankful that it’s God and not me who will sort everything out.

DB

Like they have been doing such a swift job.

Read my blog and Noel’s story. We need to bring to the forefront what these men have attempted to sweep under the carpet.

Paula Fether

Will do, DB.

Paula Fether

DB, I couldn’t make myself read it all, but this is a clear account of church bondage and mind control. More than that, a clear account of "the privileged" putting themselves above the law so they can save face, and even indulge in any and every sin while thinking themselves righteous.

How long, Lord Jesus, till you return and put an end to proud men, till you avenge the victims and force the liars to confess?

Lin

"The pastor must understand the responsibility of ruling,

I about fell off my chair when I read that! After all he said about humility, to throw in the word “rule” is completely out of place. And the idea of “ruling "

Now, Paula.Haven’t you heard about the new and improved ’Servant-Leader’? (wink)

Do you find it strange that God never calls them to give up their status and high salaries/perks while serving Him? Somehow that never happens. How can these guys help but equate followers with success? Book sales with success and so on.

I was thinking about this the other day from another point of view. Can you imagine the Pharisees talking about what happened to Paul after his conversion and thinking he was not being blessed by God because he was living like a begger with no status or material comforts?

Paula Fether

Good questions, Lin, and ones The Entitled will never answer. It will have to be God who pries their fingers off the wheel, but I’m hoping that long before that, the passengers in the car will have gotten out.

Don

Many good thoughts.

When I was saved, I had a Paul-like experience. God said, "Do not live for yourself, live for me!" I would not call that a call to the pastorate, but it was a call of some sort.

Also, I am charismatic and have been in churches with the 5-fold ministry operating, not everyone was a pastor or claimed to be. It is good to have various ministries among the elders as they have different visions.

Paula Fether

Hi Don,

Yes, there is both strength and safety in numbers. We need to keep leaders transparent for their own protection as well.

I was just thinking about Paul’s command to Titus to "appoint elders". Nothing there about calls, no repeat in each case of a "Damascus Road Experience", just appointments based upon reputation, walk, and knowing scripture.