Monday, April 30, 2007

Don't Be a Kill-joy

Thoughts on May Day Morning

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Tim. 6:6-10)."


As a Singaporean living in a developed country (and the word "develop" does not refer to the country's morality, social graces or ethics), the verse that strikes me most this morning is 1 Timothy 6:7, "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." Singaporeans and many folks living comfortably out there in "First World" countries (first in terms of covetousness?) are not too concerned with the concept of death. Death does not seem imminent at the very least. Christians can debate on and on for years concerning the Parousia of Christ, and Dispensationalist would argue that His Second Coming is imminent. But the most troubling thing is that many Christians do not realize that Death, likewise, is imminent. Although Reformed and Dispensational theologians cannot agree upon the doctrine of Imminence (that is, the doctrine of the "any moment" coming of Christ), what we can all agree upon is the imminence of death. And it is with regard to this particular event called Death that Paul here says, "It is certain we can carry nothing out [of this world]."

John Piper relates an interesting parable - if I may so call it - in his book Desiring God. He wrote,

"Suppose someone passes empty-handed through the turnstiles at a big city art museum and begins to take the pictures off the wall and carry them importantly under his arm. You come up to him and say, "What are you doing?"

He answers, "I'm becoming an art collector."

"But they're not really yours," you say, "and besides, they won't let you take any of those out of here. You'll have to go out just like you came in."

But he answers again, "Sure, they're mine. I've got them under my arm. People in the halls look at me as an important dealer. And I don't bother myself with thoughts about leaving. Don't be a kill-joy." (John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1996), 161.)


Isn't it true that many of us read the Bible with selective amnesia, that is, we choose which portions of Scripture to remember, and we tend to forget parts that don't appeal to us? Paul told us that is it CERTAIN that we can take NOTHING out of this world. Yet, many of us are following the trends of this world in seeking out academic, financial or professional success. The Singaporean government is urging mothers to continue working and to contribute to the dynamism of the workforce. Old folks are encouraged to retrain themselves, retire later, and make themselves productive for the country's economy. Christian students are following the other rats in this economic race: be successful academically, or be successfully irrelevant to the country's economy. We laugh at the foolish man who take the pictures off the wall and carry them under his arm, but we fail to laugh at our own foolishness. Since it is certain that we cannot take anything out of this world, why are we so consumed with the things of this world?

It is sad to see fellow Christian colleagues obsessed with career advancement and with so-called academic upgrading. Many of the doctors I knew have not only "fallen out" of church, but also with God. Their Lord's Day is spent in the hospital wards on the pretext of "work of necessity," but the last time they worshipped God was half a decade ago. Then again - so they say - it is a work of necessity. It is necessary for career development and promotions.(1) Likewise, some Christian youths are so fixated upon academic pursuits that they have very little time for the work of the Kingdom. They are so busy putting undergraduate and post-graduate degrees under their arms that they have forgotten that these papers cannot be brought before the throne of God in death. Some Singaporean couples are sometimes so infatuated with their children that their children have probably become the little gods of their lives. Worse, some Christian parents encourage and even train their children to run after the things of this world. Have you ever wondered why the Lord proclaimed, "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few (Matt. 9:27a)?" This is because those that ought to labor are not laboring for the kingdom of God, but for the kingdom of Self.

Dear friends, are we laboring for our own kingdom? Are we spending most of our time chasing after our dreams, or after those things that unbelievers seek after? If these were true, then how would you differentiate yourself from the non-Christian?

"Don't be silly, you can't bring any of those things out of this world. The academic degrees, the positions of honor, your children - these are not really yours."

But the Christian man answered, "They're mine as long as I've got them under my arm. People in the world look at me as someone important. And I don't bother myself with thoughts about death. Don't be a kill-joy."


Note:

(1) This is not to say that medical work is not a work of necessity. Medical officers bonded to the Singapore government most certainly have no choice but to work on most Sunday mornings. Some are able to do postings that do not require working on the Lord’s Day. What I am referring to are those who, out of personal ambition or gain, choose to work on Sundays. For example, Christian Family Physicians can certainly choose not to open their clinics on Sundays. Likewise, Christian doctors concerned with serving their church can choose career tracks that do not require work on most Sundays.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Was Matthew Henry a Presbyterian?



As I read Daniel’s recent post on 1 Timothy 5:17 with much positive interest, it becomes apparent to me that more and more Reformed Christians today are willing - and out of their own free will - to adhere to the principle of Sola Scriptura. I profess that I am Reformed according to the definition of the Five Solas and the Canons of Dordt. I adhere to a Reformed hermeneutics of the analogy of faith and the principle of progressive revelation. I believe in comparing Scripture with Scripture, and the general good sense of not deriving a major doctrine out of a single verse of Scripture. Whenever a single verse of Scripture seems obscure for whatsoever reason, it is a Reformed principle to refer to the clearer verses within the Bible. I believe in the Regulative Principle of Worship, and head-coverings for ladies during worship. I believe in complementary roles for men and women within the Church and the home. I believe that the Bible is inspired, inerrant and infallible, and that Scripture can never err on science, geography or archaeology. I believe in the rule of the church with a plurality of elders, and the ministry to the saints by the diaconate. Therefore, I believe I am a conservative, Reformed, evangelical Christian.

Nevertheless, I am beginning to reconsider the matter of Reformed church government with much urgency. Church history has shown that there had always been doubts with regard to the veracity of the “office” of “ruling elder” within Scripture. From the perspective of the Church of Scotland, Professor Torrance argued that the office of “ruling elder” was in fact performing the duties of the New Testament deacon. This is especially true if “ruling elders” were not allowed to teach or preach authoritatively in any capacity. Prof Torrance wrote,

“It was inevitable that in Scotland, as in the U.S.A., the theory of 'the ruling elder' would prove troublesome and indeed that the whole concept of the eldership should be reopened. That is what happened in the nineteenth century after the publication in 1831 of the book by Samuel Miller of Princeton on The Ruling Elder. The case for the theory that ministers and elders were both 'presbyters', differing only in respect of their particular functions, was now subjected to a thorough examination, if only because it was held to have associations with 'Brownist' or 'Congregationalist' notions of the Church and Ministry. In the U.S.A. this theory of the eldership was demolished by Smyth of Charlston [sic] and Hodge of Princeton with immense learning, but the same thing was done much more lucidly and succinctly by Peter Colin Campbell of Aberdeen, to name only one of those who entered the debate.

Clearly the biblical grounds for the conception of elders in the Reformed Church had to be examined more thoroughly than before. As a result Reformed scholars found themselves forced more and more to the conclusion that there is no clear evidence in the New Testament for what we call 'elders', let alone the theory that there are two kinds of presbyter. The biblical passages to which appeal is made, when objectively considered, cannot be taken to bear the interpretation Presbyterians put upon them. Moreover, they were never understood in this sense by any of the Church Fathers, not even by Pseudo-Ambrose who did not make use of 1Tim. 5.17 in the way that was sometimes alleged. It is also the case that outside Presbyterian Churches, there is no Church that interprets the New Testament passages adduced by them in this way. Hence Presbyterians are isolated from the rest of Christendom past and present in claiming that these biblical texts provide evidence for 'elders' in their sense. The conclusion seems inescapable: Presbyterians adduced this 'biblical evidence' in order to have some authoritative justification for an eldership they found, not within the New Testament itself; but within certain sections of the The 4th/5th century North African Church. And yet even there, as we have noted, there is no evidence that these 'elders' were ever called 'presbyters'.

Even if the Church were to follow Calvin and the Westminster Divines (different as they were) in their approach to the eldership, it would still not be possible for it to do more than get biblical evidence for some office similar to that of the Old Testament 'elders of the people' who served in communities of Israel in a civil capacity and thereby shared with the religious leaders responsibility for governing the public life of the people of God. Calvin himself; however, never advanced biblical evidence for what we call 'elders', but only, and then very tentatively, for what he called 'elders'. He was definitely not a Presbyterian! In Scotland, with the Melvillean revolution, the Church embarked upon a course in which it was to substitute elders, set apart for life, in place of Calvin's deacons, transferring to them the functions ascribed to deacons in the New Testament, and detailed by Calvin in his description of their office in the Early Church, while restricting the functions of deacons in the Church of Scotland mainly to the gathering and distributing of the alms of the congregation in its social care of the needy. Perhaps we may put a better gloss on this departure from Calvin's model by claiming that actually our 'elders' are the nearest thing in any Church today to what the Pastoral Epistles speak of as 'deacons'.[11] However, the fact that our elders are called 'elders' and not 'deacons' means that they cannot draw support from what the New Testament has to say about deacons, and are thus unable to find in the New Testament any description of their specific office as elders. Consequently they can only turn to Presbyterian tradition rather than to Holy Scripture for any guidance in the fulfilment of their duties.”


He continues,

“The kind of ministry exercised by [ruling] elders in the Reformed Church does not seem to be inconsistent with the outlook we find in the New Testament, but there is no explicit evidence for the eldership as such. On the other hand, the nature of the office [ruling] elders hold and the kind of functions they perform bear a close resemblance to the office and functions of the deacon described in the Pastoral Epistles and Early Church documents.[18] There we learn that deacons fulfilled an important assistant ministry in the Church in association with bishops and presbyters, and had particularly to do with ministry of the divine mercy and with seeking the fruit of it in the life and mission of the community, and that they assisted Presbyters or Bishops in serving communicants at the Lord's Supper. Thus it would seem to be the case that our elders now fulfil a ministry which in the New Testament itself is ascribed to deacons. In other words, the best, and indeed the only, biblical evidence for the ministry fulfilled by our elders is found in New Testament teaching about deacons, supplemented by what we learn from Early Church documents.”


He concludes his study as such:

“The [ruling] eldership in the Reformed Church, like the diaconate in the Early Church, is essentially a sacramental office closely associated with the celebration and administration of the Lord's Supper or Eucharist. … That is to say, while elder-deacons are not to be regarded as included within the order of those ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, nevertheless they are to be regarded among those who have been solemnly set apart and sanctified for holy office within the corporate priesthood of the Church.”


Professor Iain Murray, a Reformed Minister, likewise questions the 2.5 office view in his treatise on “The Problem of the Eldership and its Wider Implications,”

“In the case of the first, the view which says that the one office of the eldership is made up of two distinct groups of men, its most serious weakness lies in its ability to offer only one proof-text to support a division in function. The text is 1 Timothy 5:17, 'Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine'. The NIV translation of that verse reads: 'The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.'

According to the NIV the meaning is plain. All elders 'direct the affairs of the church', or rule, but of that number it is only some 'whose work is preaching'. But the original is by no means so clear and the NIV translators are doing here what they appear to do too often, namely, interpret rather than translate. The words 'whose work' does not accord with the original. Other versions stay close to the KJV's 'especially they who labour in the word and doctrine'. On the latter wording, which stays closer to the original, the meaning can well be, 'All elders who do well as leaders are worthy of double honour, especially those who are painstaking in preaching, who "toil" (kopiao) unweariedly "in the word and in teaching".' On this understanding, the difference is not between elders who only rule and others who preach, it simply urges special commendation and support for those who are outstanding in their efforts in the preacher's calling. The text gives no leave to some elders not to preach at all.

The fact is that there is no unanimity among the exegetes on 1 Timothy 5:17 and it has to be hazardous to use it as a proof-text for divided functions in the absence of supporting evidence.”


Although I can co-labor with brethren who adhere to the 2.5 office view (i.e. with teaching and ruling elders within the church), this is not the matter of concern in this post. All I am asking is this: Are we following the commands of Scripture, or are we following some prescribed ecclesiastical order out of piety to learned men before us? I confess that I adhere to the novel "pi minus 1" office view (i.e. the 2.14159 office view). It must also be emphasized that this is distinct from the Brethren’s 2 office view, which prefers an absolute distribution of responsibilities - both teaching and ruling - between elders.

I am glad that I am not alone. Thomas Witherow, who once held to the classic Presbyterian view of church offices, seems to defend the "pi minus 1" office view in his later life, which was not the most popular of views amongst Reformers.

Although Matthew Henry was a minister of a Presbyterian congregation at Chester - removing in 1712 to Mare Street, Hackney - I am wondering if he was a Presbyterian at heart. At the very least, his commentary on 1 Timothy 5:17 does not advocate classic Presbyterianism. He wrote,

“I. Concerning the supporting of ministers. Care must be taken that they be honourably maintained (v. 17): Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour (that is, of double maintenance, double to what they have had, or to what others have), especially those who labour in the word and doctrine, those who are more laborious than others. Observe, The presbytery ruled, and the same that ruled were those who laboured in the word and doctrine: they had not one to preach to them and another to rule them, but the work was done by one and the same person. Some have imagined that by the elders that rule well the apostle means lay-elders, who were employed in ruling but not in teaching, who were concerned in church-government, but did not meddle with the administration of the word and sacraments; and I confess this is the plainest text of scripture that can be found to countenance such an opinion. But it seem a little strange that mere ruling elders should be accounted worthy of double honour, when the apostle preferred preaching to baptizing, and much more would he prefer it to ruling the church; and it is more strange that the apostle should take no notice of them when he treats of church-officers; but, as it is hinted before, they had not, in the primitive church, one to preach to them and another to rule them, but ruling and teaching were performed by the same persons, only some might labour more in the word and doctrine than others. Here we have, 1. The work of ministers; it consists principally in two things: ruling well and labouring in the word and doctrine. This was the main business of elders or presbyters in the days of the apostles. 2. The honour due to those who were not idle, but laborious in this work; they were worthy of double honour, esteem, and maintenance (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume).”


Just some food for thought, my Reformed brethren!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Back to Classics: John Gill on the Office of Elder

For those who want to peruse the rest of Dr Gill’s excellent treatise on church offices, please see here.



Excerpted from John Gill, A Body of Practical Divinity, Book 2, Chapter 3.

1. Pastors: these are shepherds under Christ, the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls; who take the care of the flock, and feed it, as their name signifies; such were promised to be given under the gospel dispensation; and such Christ has given to his churches, #Jer 3:15 Eph 4:11 and still gives; to whom he says, as he did to Peter, "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep", #Joh 21:15,16. Who,

1a. Are the same with "teachers", according to #Eph 4:11 "Some pastors and teachers"; not "some pastors" and "some teachers", as if they were different; but "and teachers", the kai or and, being exegetical, explaining what is meant by pastors, even such who are teachers, to instruct in the knowledge of divine things; which is the pastor's work, to feed men with knowledge and understanding: and it may be observed, that in #1Co 12:28 where each of the officers of the church are enumerated, mention is made of "teachers", but "pastors" omitted, because they are the same; for they are not to be distinguished with respect to the place where they perform their work, as if the office of pastors was in the church, the flock they are to feed; but teachers or doctors in the school; whereas, it is certain, that a teacher is an officer in the church, as well as pastor, #1Co 12:28 nor are they to be distinguished as two distinct officers in the church, because of the subject of their ministry; the one, the pastor attending to exhortation, to things practical, and the teacher to things doctrinal, asserting, explaining, and defending the doctrines of the gospel, and refuting errors; since both belong to one and the same: if these were distinct, it should seem rather that teachers design gifted brethren, called to minister the word, but not to office power; and are only assistants to pastors in preaching, but not in the administration of the ordinances; yet it is pretty plain, that those who have a commission to teach, have also a commission to baptize, and to attend to whatsoever Christ has commanded; yea, it may be observed, that even extraordinary officers are called "teachers"; as apostles and prophets, #Ac 13:1 1Ti 2:7.

1b. These pastors and teachers are the same with "bishops", or overseers, whose business it is to feed the flock, they have the episcopacy or oversight of, which is the work pastors are to do; which office of a bishop is a good work; and is the only office in the church distinct from that of deacon, #1Ti 3:1,8 Php 1:1.

1c. And these bishops are the same with "elders" {1}; when the apostle Paul had called together at Miletus the elders of the church at Ephesus, he addressed them as "overseers", episkopouv, "bishops", #Ac 20:17,28 and when he says, he left Titus in Crete, to ordain elders in every city, he proceeds to give the qualifications of an elder, under the name of a bishop; "A bishop must be blameless", &c. plainly suggesting, that an elder and a bishop are the same, #Tit 1:5-7 and the apostle Peter exhorts the "elders", to "feed the flock of God, taking the oversight", episkophv, acting the part of a bishop, or performing the office of one, #1Pe 5:1,2.

1d. These pastors, teachers, bishops, and elders, are called rulers, guides, and governors. A pastor, or shepherd, is the governor and guide of his flock; a teacher, and a ruling elder are the same, #1Ti 5:17. One qualification of a bishop is, that he know how to rule his own house; or how shall he take care of the church of God, to rule that well, which is a considerable branch of his office? #1Ti 3:1,4,5 these, indeed, are not to lord it over God's heritage, or rule according to their own wills, in an arbitrary manner; but according to the laws of Christ, as King of saints; and then they are to be respected and obeyed; "Remember them that have the rule over you, and obey them"; for they are over the churches in the Lord, and under him as the great Lawgiver in his house; and though they are described as such who have the rule over churches, and are guides to them, #Heb 13:7,17 yet they are the churches servants, for Jesus's sake, #2Co 4:5.

1e. These are sometimes called the angels of the churches; so the pastors, elders, bishops, or overseers of the seven churches of Asia, are called the angels of the seven churches; and the pastor, elder, bishop, or overseer of the church at Ephesus, the angel of the church at Ephesus, #Re 1:20 2:1 so called because of their office, being sent of God, and employed by him in carrying messages of grace to the churches, and publishing the good tidings of salvation.

1f. They are said to be "ministers of Christ", or his "under rowers", as the word uphretav signifies, #1Co 4:1 the church is the ship or boat, which they work; Christ is the pilot, who is at the helm, under whom, and by whose direction, they row; and the oars they row with are the word, ordinances, and discipline they administer. And in the same place,

1g. They are called, "Stewards of the mysteries of God"; and sometimes, "Good stewards of the manifold Grace of God"; that is, of the more sublime truths of the gospel, and the various doctrines of divine grace, #1Pe 4:10 so a bishop or elder is called a "steward of God", #Tit 1:7 a steward in his house or family, to give to everyone in it their portion of meat in due season: and which office requires wisdom and faithfulness, to execute it aright, #Lu 12:42 1Co 4:2.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Looking For A Few Good Men

By Mark Dever and Paul Alexander

Excerpted from The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel



How do you go about looking for elders, and what exactly is it that you’re looking for? Answering this question requires us to consider what exactly an elder is not, and then what an elder is.[1]


WHAT AN ELDER IS NOT

A biblical elder is not simply an older male. There are plenty of godly older men who do meet the character qualifications for biblical eldership. I hope the Lord blesses our church with more! But bare chronological advancement, even when married to upstanding church membership, is not sufficient to satisfy the requirements outlined in 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1. In fact, there are some thirty year old men (or even younger) who are more qualified to be elders than some men twice their age. Life experience alone does not qualify a man as an elder.

A biblical elder is not simply a successful businessman.

In fact, some of the very principles or character traits that get some businessmen to the top of the business ladder may actually put them on the bottom rung of the church leadership ladder.[2] We’re not looking for people who "know what they want and know how to get it." Nor are we looking for people who know how to manage people, raise money, climb the ladder, or close the deal. Leadership in the church is fundamentally different than leadership in the business world.[3] The church is not simply a non-profit business. It is the body of Christ, and as such is the most unique corporate institution in the world. It operates on principles of distinctively Christian doctrine, servant-hood, holiness, faith, hope, and love. This is not, of course, to say that it is impossible to be a biblically qualified elder and a successful business man at the same time. It is simply to say that success and leadership in the business world do not always or necessarily bode well for eldership in the local church.

A biblical elder is not simply an involved community member.

Being elected to sit on a city or neighborhood council is a wonderful privilege and a unique evangelistic opportunity for any Christian. But again, it is neither necessary nor sufficient for meeting the qualifications of elder. A man can be the president of the PTA, coach little league, be an alderman, and lead a boy scout troop and still not be qualified as an elder. Serving the community in these ways certainly doesn’t preclude a man from qualifying. But as we look around to see who might meet the biblical requirements, community service alone cannot be our ultimate criteria.

A biblical elder is not simply a "good ole’ boy".

Living in the same location and having the same friends or even being a member of the same church for 30+ years doesn’t make a man an elder. Serving in the capacity of elder in a local church should not be dependent on whether a man is willing to "play ball", or whether he is a part of the right social network, or whether he’s from the right part of the country (or county, depending on where you live!). Likeability can often be deceptive.

A biblical elder is not a female.

The criteria laid out in 1Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 assume male leadership in the church. The office of elder is an office that requires the ones holding it to be able to teach. Teaching is an authoritative act, and women are forbidden to exercise authority over men in the church (1Tim 2:9-15). Paul roots that prohibition in the order of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 – Adam was created before Eve, revealing Adam’s God-given place of headship over her. Both are equally created in the image of God, but God has given them different yet complementary roles to fill both in the home and in the church.[4]

A biblical elder is not a politician.

The biblical office of elder is an elected office. But the man who fills it should not be one who subtly or overtly campaigns for it, or one who is noticeably vocal about promoting political positions in the context of the local church.

What, then, is a biblical elder?

WHAT IS AN ELDER?

Our question can be answered first in terms of the office and second in terms of the man. The office of elder is an office designed for the leadership of the church through the teaching of the Word.[5] The character of the man who qualifies to fulfill that office is described in 1Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. An elder is simply a man of exemplary, Christ-like character who is able to lead God’s people by teaching them God’s Word in a way that profits them spiritually. We are looking, then, for men who display this character and demonstrate both an aptitude for and fruitfulness in teaching God’s Word to others in an edifying way.[6] This definition might serve as a good spiritual snapshot or profile of the kind of men you’re looking for to be elders.

Qualification Quadrants

A helpful way to think about the criteria for choosing leaders might be in terms of the quadrants below. Again, the call to being an elder is a call to leadership through biblical teaching. This means that at a bare minimum, you need men who, first and foremost, share a deep, biblical understanding of the fundamentals of Christian theology and the Gospel. Areas to consider first are the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, God’s sovereignty, the divinity and exclusivity of Christ, and the atonement. No man who falters in the basics of biblical doctrine should be considered for eldership, no matter how gifted or likeable he may be. The Word builds the church, and as such it simply can’t be healthy for any of our elders to have reservations about fundamental Christian truths.

Once it’s been determined that a candidate is sound in the central Bible doctrines, it is our practice to confirm that the candidate shares our particular doctrinal distinctives; namely, the necessity of believers’ baptism for local church membership [note: Mark Dever is a Baptist]. These issues, while not saving, are nevertheless important for how we decide to conduct our life together as a church. Such distinctives will obviously vary depending on the convictions of the congregation. The principle, however, is simply that the leaders of a congregation should understand and be conscientious advocates of a local church’s distinctive doctrines. The elders need to be agreed on these matters so that their own unity doesn’t fracture, and so that they can provide a unified lead for the congregation to follow.

Third, it is extremely helpful to ensure that the candidate is courageous enough to stand against the culture on certain clear biblical issues, such as the role of women in the church. An elder must model for the congregation both a strength and a willingness to live a counter-cultural lifestyle in areas where Christ and culture conflict. If, as an elder, a man caves in to the conforming pressures of the culture on well-defined biblical issues, his example and teaching will eventually lead the church to look more like the world.

Finally, we need to be able to discern from the candidate’s relational involvement in the church that he loves the congregation. We want to be able to recognize his love for the other members of the church by the fact that he’s already involved in doing elder-type work, even before he’s given the title. So we might reasonably expect a man who is recognized as an elder to be attending regularly, initiating with others to do them spiritual good, and serving the church as faithfully as he can.

CONCLUSION

One of the most significant human dynamics in the church’s continuing spiritual growth and health is the kind of leadership it is following. When biblically qualified men are leading a church with character and skill, it is a deep and wide blessing for the unity, holiness, and spiritual growth of the church. Put somewhat negatively, so many potential mistakes and heartaches can be avoided simply by ensuring that only those men who are biblically qualified become elders.

Notes:

1. With the exception of the opening paragraph, this entire article is excerpted from the chapter "Looking For a Few Good Men" in The Deliberate Church, by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander (Crossway, 2005).
2. E.g., being a lover of money, being argumentative, not being gentle, not managing his own household well (1Tim 3:1-7).
3. Mark 10:35-45; John 13:1-17.
4. For a full exegetical and practical treatment of gender-based roles in the home and church, see John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Biblical Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway, 1993). For a specific treatment of 1Tim 2:9-15, see Andreas Kostenberger, Thomas Schreiner, and H. Scott Baldwin, eds., Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995).
5. This is distinguished from the office of deacon, which is designed for the service of the church through tending to the physical and financial matters of the corporate body.
6. We will think more carefully about the practical necessity of this character in chapter 15, and what it means to be "able to teach" in chapter 16.


Mark Dever is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Paul Alexander is the pastor of Fox Valley Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Responsibilities of Elders

Paul, speaking to the elders of the church of Ephesus, commanded:

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:28-35).”

I would like to draw your attention to Alexander Strauch’s excellent book, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership. A short course based upon this book is found here.



Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, Rev Exp edition (Littleton, Colorado: Lewis & Roth Publishers, 1995)

Instead of providing the readers with a book review, I would like to explore briefly the theme of biblical eldership with some quotations from Strauch’s superb book. Many churches, including churches from the Protestant tradition, have reduced the office of the elder to only an administrative authority within the church. These “elders” serve within the session only to provide his vote on certain issues or to accompany the pastor during house visitation. They are sometimes policymakers, financial controllers, administrative officers, or the church’s resident psychologist. But their responsibilities do not go beyond the scope of community and social service. They oversee the flock by smiling regularly, and of course, by providing a goodly example in a very secular sense of the word. But it seems that the theological sense of the Word is neglected.

So what are the very basic responsibilities of the elder within the church? Are they simply the “members of parliament” within the church’s session?

1. Pastoral leadership (“to feed the church of God” Acts 20:28)

Regarding the office of elder, Alexander Strauch wrote, “When most Christians hear about church elders, they think of an official church board, lay officials, influential people within the local church, or advisers to the pastor. They think of elders as being policymakers, financial officers, fund-raisers, or administrators. I call these types of elders “board elders.” People don’t expect “board elders” to teach the Word or to be involved pastorally in people’s lives. … A person doesn’t need to read Greek or be professionally trained in theology to understand that the contemporary, church-board concept of eldership is irreconcilably at odds with the New Testament definition of eldership. According to the New Testament, elders lead the church, teach and preach the Word, protect the church from false teachers, exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine, visit the sick and pray, and judge doctrinal issues. In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church.”

So it boils down to basically what it means to “rule” the church. What does Jesus our Lord expect of the elder? The answer is: to feed His sheep (John 21:15-17). And what does it mean to feed His sheep? As Strauch has perceptively stated, it is to provide pastoral, spiritual, doctrinal and disciplinary leadership within the church. The elder’s job is not simply to sit in session to cast a vote, or to provide more sound and fury to session meetings. He must be a qualified man of God, and qualified to teach, preach, lead, and edify the saints (by now I know I’m getting into a lot of trouble with some Reformed folks out there!).

2. Protecting the flock (“Therefore watch” Acts 20:31)

According to the apostle Paul, the elder must be a man well versed in the Scriptures, and able to refute false doctrines and false teachers. The shepherds of the church - the elders - must protect the church from ravaging wolves. “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers (Titus 1:6-9).”

When questioned about certain doctrinal or practical issues (i.e. basic theology, practical theology), the elder should not tell the member that all views are acceptable, as long as he respects the other contradictory views. Likewise, he should not say, “I am not qualified to teach you. Ask the pastor. I cannot give you an official answer on behalf of the church.” The elder must and should give an accurate answer according to Scripture, and also in accordance to the doctrine of the church. The elder is, of course, expected to give an answer! Or else, he should not aspire to be one.

3. Feeding the flock (“able to teach” 1 Tim. 3:2)

Strauch continues, “Paul reminds the Ephesian elders that he has taught them and the church the full plan and purpose of God: “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). Now it was time for the elders to do the same. Since elders are commanded to shepherd the flock of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2), part of their shepherding task is to see that the flock is fed God’s Word.”

In 1 Tim. 5:17-18, Paul wrote, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.” Although we realize that this verse is the cause of debates even amongst Reformed circles concerning the categories of elders within the church (i.e. teaching and ruling elders), it seems that Paul does not limit the responsibility of authoritative teaching to only a special class of elders. It is true that there are those “who labour in the word and doctrine.” But this does not mean that the other elders are not to serve by teaching the word and doctrine.

We must try to restrain ourselves in making fine distinctions and categories within the office of elder based upon this verse of Scripture. If there is any distinction within the elders, it is not in the realm of function, authority or domain, but as Towner had aptly said, “The main distinction is probably between those elders who had faithfully discharged their duties (whether leading well and preaching/teaching, or, in the case of some lacking the latter gifts, just exercising leadership), and those who had failed. The instructions imply that one or more elders had been accused of something (Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdsman, 2006), 361).”

Elders who are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17), according to Paul’s definition of “double honor” (see 1 Tim. 5:18), seems to involve some form of “material compensation (p. 363),” although the precise meaning of this phrase is difficult to ascertain. But certainly this verse in 1 Timothy cannot be used to exclude the responsibility of authoritative teaching/preaching from the other elders. Knight, in his excellent commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, confirms that all elders must be able to teach, “It is likely, therefore, that here [1 Tim 5:17], too, he is speaking of a subgroup of the “overseers” that consists of those who are especially gifted by God to teach, as opposed to other overseers, who must all “be able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2).” (George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 233.) It, therefore, seems logical to conclude that elders, who must all be able to teach, ought to teach the congregation.

4. Leading the flock (“Let the elders who rule [lead, direct, manage] well be considered worthy of double honor” 1 Tim. 5:17a)

Strauch continues, “In biblical language, to shepherd a nation or any group of people means to lead or govern (2 Sam. 5:2; Ps. 78:71, 72). According to Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5, elders are to shepherd the church of God. So, to shepherd a local church means, among other things, to lead the church. To the church in Ephesus, Paul writes, “Let the elders who rule [lead, direct, manage] well be considered worthy of double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17a). Elders, then, are to lead, direct, govern, manage, and otherwise care for the flock of God. …”

“In Titus 1:7, Paul insists that a prospective elder be morally and spiritually above reproach because he will be “God’s steward.” A steward is a “household manager,” someone with official responsibility over the master’s servants, property, and even finances. Elders are stewards of God’s household, the local church.”

We read in Peter’s epistle, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind (1 Peter 5:1-2).”

As overseers, elders are to provide pastoral oversight of the local church. This oversight is part of spiritual leadership, and definitely involves more than making one’s presence felt within the church. The elder needs not be handsome like Absalom, or tall and dark like Saul. He needs not be eloquent like Prime Minister Lee, or be a master of equivocation like President Bush. But he is definitely required to be an over-seer of the church’s spiritual and physical welfare. This spiritual leadership is via godly example, “neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3).” The church has no place for a Hitler or a Diotrephes.

It is a shame whenever the elder’s family is not ruled appropriately. How can he rule the church when he cannot even rule his own wife and children? How can he teach the church when he is not even sure of what is right and wrong according to Scripture? Any elder should know that his life and family is opened to scrutiny from the church members. If they are not fulfilling their ecclesiastical duties, they should rightly be rebuked with a view for improvement. In a sense, yes, there may be gossips, and such gossiping is sin on the part of church members. But if the church leader is sinning, or if his family members are sinning, it reflects badly upon the leader’s attitude towards correction from his brethren if he considers such advice as “gossiping.” An elder or leader is not beyond reproach, and not all who comment on a leader’s life and family are doing out of spite or jealousy.

5. Meeting the flock’s practical needs (James 5:14; Acts 20:35)

This lies within the territory of practical theology. If one is not even knowledgeable of basic scriptural teachings, how can he apply the Word to everyday living? The elder must be able to answer questions such as these: “Should we go clubbing? If not, why?” “What should we wear whenever we go out?” “What are the roles of the man and woman?” “Why can’t we sing jazz or rock and roll in church worship?” “Why am I dying of cancer?” “Why are there sufferings?”

The elder must be gifted and able to apply the Word to the members’ life. He must be able to meet the spiritual needs of the congregation through his skilled usage of Scripture and doctrine. “As shepherds of the flock, the elders must be available to meet the sheep’s needs. This responsibility includes: visiting the sick and comforting the bereaved; strengthening the weak; praying for all the sheep; visiting new members; providing counsel for couples who are engaged, married, and/or divorcing; and managing the many, day-to-day details related to the inner life of the congregation (Strauch).”

6. Sacrificial hard work for the Church

Regarding the office of elder, Alexander Strauch emphasized, “When the church eldership is viewed as a status or board position in the church, there will be plenty of volunteers. When it is viewed as a demanding, pastoral work, few people will rush to volunteer. One reason there are so few shepherd elders or good church elderships is that, generally speaking, men are spiritually lazy. That is a major reason why most churches never establish a biblical eldership. Men are more than willing to let someone else fulfill their spiritual responsibilities, whether it be their wives, the clergy, or church professionals. …”

“Biblical eldership, however, can’t exist in an atmosphere of nominal Christianity. There can be no biblical eldership in a church where there is no biblical Christianity. If a biblical eldership is to function effectively, it requires men who are firmly committed to living out our Lord’s principles of discipleship. Biblical eldership is dependent on men who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33), men who have presented themselves as living and holy sacrifices to God and view themselves as slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:1,2), men who love Jesus Christ above all else, men who willingly sacrifice self for the sake of others, men who seek to love as Christ loved, men who are self-disciplined and self-sacrificing, and men who have taken up the cross and are willing to suffer for Christ.”

If a man does not love Christ and his teachings more than material comfort, mammon, or his own reputation, how can he be trusted with the things of eternity? Eldership is great responsibility, and an elder cannot be chosen quickly. The quantity of elder should never be the priority, but the quality of the elder should be. Even in cases of dire need of leadership, we must not put a man into the office of elder simply because of the necessity of the circumstances. A man must be tried and tested, and be found worthy of the office of eldership.

7. A comment on the practice of term eldership

There is a sensitive and taboo area within Reformed circles that I hope to mention in this short discussion. Those who disagree with me would do well to note that I do not want to take issue with this. But I am, after all, entitled to voice my thoughts.

The traditional Reformed practice of term eldership creates an interesting scenario whereby numerous men who were ordained as elders are coexisting, serving, and teaching within the same local church. Such men - whose term of eldership has expired - are officially no longer elders, despite the fact that there were ordained by the laying on of hands by the presbytery. I have heard of men being put out of the eldership because of serious sin, doctrinal aberration, or other disqualifications. But to be “unordained” because the pages of the calendar were irreversibly torn off is something truly novel and refreshingly disturbing. Or perhaps these ex-elders were never “unordained;” in which case, they are still ordained elders! This creates the tricky situation whereby men who are unofficially church officers serving with men who were never church officers. But no one can deny the fact that there is always a lingering shadow of unspoken authority behind an ex-elder-teacher, especially when compared to a never-was-an-elder ordinary member. And such was the situation in some churches whereby half a dozen ex-elder-teachers “share” the Word together with currently serving elder-teachers. The never-was-an-elder-member to elder/ex-elder ratio is sometimes 1:1, of even 1:2 or 1:3.

So what is the big deal? James taught, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation (James 3:1).” The word masters here means teachers (didaskaloi). Both Dan Phillips and my brother-in-Christ Daniel had posted on this issue. Daniel, particularly, posted this after he realized that certain churches actually have numerous ex-elders within its membership. The point is this: do not put a man into office as elder unless he qualifies, and this includes being apt to teach. The church is not meant to have “many teachers (James 3:1).”

It will be strange if God plans to gift certain churches with so many mouths, and tilting the balance of body parts towards the mouths. But the church is a body of believers, each with a different gift. It is indeed odd if Christ has given a church so many elders and ex-elders, each one serving a term of a few years, and after that, disappearing into the background of anonymity and inactivity. An elder is called. An elder is gifted by God. And an elder serves willingly without constrains.

The other issue with regard to term office is this: it results in numerous “retired teachers” within the same church, each with a tenure whereby he is held accountable for what he taught as an elder. The responsibility of an elder-teacher is huge, and God will not only hold us accountable for every idle word (Matt. 12:36), but also for the teachings of the man who hold the office of elder. So James exhorts us, “not many of you should become teachers.” But in the case of churches having term eldership, there are indeed many ordained teachers within the same church.

This, however, is not the case in all Reformed churches. Most churches re-elect the elder to serve for terms on end. In some Presbyterian circles in Singapore, the eldership is a term office of two years or so, but the elder almost always serve for life. This is because the church recognizes the qualifications and gifts of the godly man of God, and he continues to serve the church until the Lord pronounces a sabbatical upon his tenure either by sickness, inability or death.

The office of elder seems to be a permanent office in the New Testament churches. With regard to the permanence of the office of elders and deacons, even Douglas Kuiper admits that based upon “scriptural data … it is pointed out, for instance, that Scripture nowhere speaks of such limited tenure; but, on the other hand, it does seem to teach the principle of lifetime service. In the Old Testament, the kings of Israel/Judah, in the line of David, served in office for life or until sickness or old age prevented them from carrying out their work; the priests served many years in the temple; and the prophets also were not limited in their tenure. In the New Testament, we find no limit on the length of service for deacons or elders. And our own practice, as well as that of the church throughout history, has been that our ministers serve in their office for life. Consistency would require us, then, to allow elders and deacons to do the same.” See Douglas Kuiper, “The Election and Installation of Deacons (6) Tenure of Office,” The Standard Bearer 79, no. 19 (2003).

Some had argued pragmatically that the practice of term offices allows other equally (or more) gifted men within the church to serve as church officers (i.e. elders and deacons). But this suggestion can easily be turned upon itself by asking the question, “Why is this pragmatic reasoning not applied to the election of the office of pastor-teacher, who is likewise an ordained elder in a very technical and theological sense?” There can easily be seminary-trained men within the congregation who can replace the “term” office of a pastor-teacher! So should we then ask the pastor to serve out his term of say two to four years, and subsequently ask the other men to “serve” and “use their spiritual gifts?” If the pastor-teacher is an ordained church officer, the other “ruling” elders are also ordained by the laying on of hands and were similarly set apart for their ministry. This conclusion only shows the weakness of such pragmatic paralogism. God often gives the church only one pastor-teacher, and a handful of elders. These men are not to be changed according to the whims of some traditional ecclesiastical practices.

Rev Kuiper, arguing for the term office practice, writes, “(The) more weighty (reasons), again, are the principle reasons. One is that Scripture, being silent on the issue, leaves it to the liberty of the churches to do as they please. The fact that God does not expressly require that office bearers serve for life means that He could be glorified either way.”

It is strange that the Regulative Principle of Worship is often applied in the order of worship and sacraments, but not in the important realm of ecclesiastical leadership. But again, Rev Kuiper had stated that Scripture “does seem to teach the principle of lifetime service.” How is it, then, that Scripture is being extremely silent on this issue? The church father Polycarp did not seem to have served only a term office, only to give himself to the flames of martyrdom. Neither did Peter or John the elder served for only a time, and subsequently was converted to the status of ex-elder “emeritus.” It seems clear that the ordination of elders in the New Testament churches were a permanent setting aside of certain men for the office of elder, and the same can be said of deacons. These men were not ordained with the view of temporal service. These men were tested, examined against the high standards of Scripture, and accepted both by the session and members as men of extraordinary faith, maturity, and knowledge. Most of all, the men who are to be installed as elders should be selected by God himself.

Rev Kuiper continues, “Another argument (for term office) is that, generally speaking, the Holy Spirit has given the gifts of ruling and shewing mercy to many people in the church. By having terms of office, more people are given the opportunity to use their gifts in the service of the church and God.” We also know that many members of the fairer sex also possess “gifts of ruling and shewing mercy to many people in the church.” Should we then ordain women as elders? I’m sure Rev Kuiper is not encouraging an egalitarian interpretation of the Pastoral Epistles.

In summary, Christ has given the church some to be elders, some deacons, and some to serve in other areas. It is very unlikely that the spiritual gifts get rotated through the members via term offices, and it is even more unlikely that God withdraws the gifts of specific men as elders and deacons from a church in a short span of a few years, only to give other men for similar offices. If an elder falls due to sin or disqualifies himself in any manner, the church should withdraw him from the office of elder. Until such a man fails Christ and the Church, let us recognize the spiritual gifts given to such a man of God, and let us place him in his God-ordained office for the edification of the saints, and for the glory of God our Creator, who is blessed forever more. Amen.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Thoughts on Galatians 4:16

“Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth (Galatians 4:16)?”

Truth has finally become the enemy of the average church member. For by it, “The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law (Luke 12:53).” Perhaps it is more blessed to be ignorant, than to be brought before the mirror of God’s Holy Word. Mere man of God, are you not fearful of being rejected or even defrocked by your own flock? Remember this: preach with a soft voice; pussyfoot around touchy issues, lest the light of His Word pierces the hearts, and many men would be turned against you. And alas, your reputation would suffer, and your pocket would suffer, and the numbers would dwindle, and what will be left for your own glory? Would you not glory in your own flesh? Would you not rather preach before the thousands than before the few? Would you not rather gather the offerings from amongst the thousands of goats than from the faithful remnant of God? What would you live with thereafter? Can the Truth feed your family and yourself?

Oh foolish man of God, who would listen to the doctrines you preach Sunday after Sunday? The people of this generation are going after the media - the sights and sounds of TV land. They want to gratify their felt needs, and they have their own bellies to fill. Do you not know the basic rules of homiletics? Firstly, reinterpret the Word of God as a demand for God to act rather than a demand from God to man. Secondly, break down complex doctrines into applications for lively living in the context of cultural demands, materialistic needs, and worldly desires. Thirdly, the Word of God must be likened to the flavors of Baskin-Robbins. The members must surely pick and choose what they want, and spew out what they want to reject. Save yourself the trouble of troubling their conscience, lest you be labeled as the “troubler of Israel.” Fourthly, preach as if you are preaching from the Bible, but only instill the words of motivational speakers from the marketplace into your sermons, and let them flow with the points of your peroration. Fifthly, always impress your listeners with recent scholarship from the latest publications, and try to throw in at least a word or two from the Near-Eastern languages. You will be almost guaranteed a wide-eyed audience and, of course, uncritical acceptance.

Writing on the reasons of the waning authority of our Lord Jesus Christ in the churches, A. W. Tozer pointed out that one salient cause “is the revival of intellectualism among the evangelicals. This, if I sense the situation correctly, is not so much a thirst for learning as a desire for a reputation of being learned. Because of it good men who ought to know better are being put in the position of collaborating with the enemy. I'll explain.

Our evangelical faith (which I believe to be the true faith of Christ and His apostles) is being attacked these days from many different directions. In the Western world the enemy has forsworn violence. He comes against us no more with sword and fagot; he now comes smiling, bearing gifts. He raises his eyes to heaven and swears that he too believes in the faith of our fathers, but his real purpose is to destroy that faith, or at least to modify it to such an extent that it is no longer the supernatural thing it once was. He comes in the name of philosophy or psychology or anthropology, and with sweet reasonableness urges us to rethink our historic position, to be less rigid, more tolerant, more broadly understanding.

He speaks in the sacred jargon of the schools, and many of our half-educated evangelicals run to fawn on him. He tosses academic degrees to the scrambling sons of the prophets as Rockefeller used to toss dimes to the children of the peasants. The evangelicals who, with some justification, have been accused of lacking true scholarship, now grab for these status symbols with shining eyes, and when they get them they are scarcely able to believe their eyes. They walk about in a kind of ecstatic unbelief, much as the soloist of the neighborhood church choir might were she to be invited to sing at La Scala (A.W.Tozer, The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches, The Alliance Witness, May 15, 1963).”

Arguably, the love for large crowds is greater sin than the obsession with scholarship. For the love of scholarship per se does not necessarily remove the courage to preach against sin, but the love of popularity will. These preachers, leaders and elders have a way of giving an exposition of the Word, and even explaining accurately the meaning of the passage, but they always stop short of addressing the exact issues and sins within the congregation. Perhaps they might even find the courage and integrity to preach against certain sins not perceived at the time of preaching, but they will not point out the obvious and devious transgressions of the flock that are clear to the naked eye. They will preach the Word. Nevertheless, they are terrified of offending the conscience of the congregation.

Quoting an article by my previous pastor from Gethsemane Bible Presbyterian Church, “We have no shortage of “evangelical” pastors and preachers who preach biblical and helpful messages. But, in modern days, one erroneous trend is increasingly found among such preachers. The error is not that they outrightly teach false doctrines, but they do not preach truth explicitly so as to uncover the widespread sinful and worldly habits in their congregations or the apostasy and compromise in the modern Christian world.

A great number of preachers of our times prefer to leave the errors and evils among their flocks untouched in their preaching. Though they preach that repentance is a necessity, they will not rebuke immodesty, carnality and materialism in their congregations. They are only concerned about giving cosmetic beauty to their preaching. Their preaching seldom goes beyond surface; it hardly touches the raw nerve of the people’s conscience (Das Koshy, A Serious Error of Preachers: Not Exposing Errors).”

Such a preacher is doomed to be a sycophant and man-pleaser, not a priest and prophet. Pastor Koshy continues, “Such a man will rather cherish the comfortable relationship that he enjoys with the congregants than the holiness and glory of God. He feels more at ease with the abominable ways of men and women of his congregation than with uneasiness resulting from bold rebuke of their immodest, carnal, materialistic ways. So he develops a style of preaching which appears to be biblical and yet without full, appropriate and necessary application of God’s Word into the lives of his hearers (Das Koshy, A Serious Error of Preachers: Not Exposing Errors).”

The prophet Isaiah wrote in chapter 56:9-11, “All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest. His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.”

These dumb dogs exhibit certain common traits and abilities. Firstly, they allow the beasts of the field to devour the flock of God. They have lost their ability to bark against aberrant teachings and false doctrines. They would rather embrace all views as viable interpretations of the Word of God, saying, “Let this be your interpretation, and that my interpretation. We can all live with all kinds of interpretations, except let not your interpretation interpret my interpretation. All interpretations are therefore correct.”

Furthermore, these dumb dogs are blind and ignorant. They believe they are mature in faith simply because of their ecumenical and accommodative attitudes. They bleat day in and day out for unity and peace, but in fact, they are ignorant of the truth of God’s Word. They are slumbering, professing Christians who are lackadaisical with their spiritual walk with Christ. The hoi polloi love them because they will never offend the masses. They will win the popularity votes hands down, and they know this because such men often make it up the ladder of church polity with their perennial smiles and sparkling teeth.

Tragically, the great giveaway which reveal who they really are is this - these men “all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.” They can never have enough, and they will always covet for more earthly goods. They are men for their own bellies, and their master is mammon, “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:5).” These are religious shams with a pious look, but their hearts are not after God but after man. They do not challenge the congregants to live for Christ. Rather, they have the uncanny ability to build up their own reputation by pandering to the demands of the congregation.

Lastly, these men will not contend for the faith they so claim to profess. There are too much at stake: their position, status, income, conveniences, and authority. As Vance Havner had said, “Contending for the faith is not easy. It is not pleasant business. It has many perils. It is a thankless job. And it is highly unpopular in this age of moral fogs and spiritual twilights. It is a day of diplomats, not prophets. It is nicer to be an appeaser than an opposer. It is the day of Erasmus, not Luther; of Gamaliel, not Paul.” (Vance Havner, “The Forgotten Anathema”, Sword of the Lord, January 7, 1955).

As a concluding word, I am thankful to all those faithful ministers who had preached against my sins, and had brought me before the throne of grace in tears of repentance. Although I continue to struggle against my fleshly old man, I am grateful for those sermons that had torn my conscience and pricked my pride. If not for those faithful words and godly counsel, I might not have learnt the urgency of crucifying myself afresh daily. And it is by this means of grace called preaching that we are cleansed with “the washing of water by the word (Eph. 5:26).” May we be found faithful when He comes again in glory.