A Study in Christian Leadership.
H. P. Barker
1 Apostles, Ambassadors
3 Deacons, Ministers, Servants
4 Bishops, Elders, Overseers, Presbyters
6 Missionaries, Pioneers
7 Pastors and Teachers
12 The Ministry of Women
13 John the Baptist
14 The Stranger, the Thief, the Hireling, and the Wolf
When little more than a child I heard an address given to young people on the text:
"The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands".
The speaker applied the words in this way. Christians have no visible head; Christ in heaven is their Lord, and the Holy Spirit their Leader on earth. Nothing further is needed for guidance and the maintenance of order. We may therefore go forth in bands, held together by the bond of our common spiritual relationship, and confident that we shall be led aright.
A great basic truth lies behind this contention. We have no visible head. Anyone who claims to be such, whether he calls himself Metropolitan or Pope, is guilty of imposture. Nor have individual churches, if they are of the New Testament pattern, any head, though there are not wanting persons who assume the position.
Christ is the sole Head of His Body, the Church, and He has no man for His Vicar on earth. It is He who (in the language of the apocalyptic visions) holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the golden lampstands, which are the churches. The Holy Spirit is His Representative on earth, administering things on His behalf (1 Cor. 12:4-11) .
But while all this is true and important, the New Testament speaks of men who bear rule over others (Hebrews 13:7, 17); who are "over" us in the Lord (1 Thess. 5:12); and who take the oversight of the flock of God which is among them (1 Peter 5:2).
Such men, guides and shepherds, do not usurp the functions of the Holy Spirit. It is He who makes them what they are (Acts 20:28). Besides these, there are those endowed with ability to take the lead in the Lord's service: evangelists, pastors and teachers. And there are yet others, of whom we shall speak in this book.
The reader will notice the very frequent references to Scripture. My aim is to bring everything to the test of that unerring standard of truth. Many claim leadership to-day under such titles as vicars, archdeacons, deans, generals, commissioners, colonels, majors, and so forth. I have never heard it maintained that such titles, and what they imply, are according to the Scriptures. They mean nothing to the one who seeks to be guided, wherever possible, by a "thus saith the Lord".
Should we not accept as an axiom the great principle that everything should be tested by the Scriptures? When I say "everything," I mean not only the great matter of our salvation, and things that have to do with our personal conduct and aims in life, but things also that pertain to our ecclesiastical relationships. It is to be feared that many Christian people are content to follow the traditions amid which they have been brought up rather than demand a "thus saith the Lord" for all that they believe and do, whether in connection with their work or their worship.
This book will have no meaning or message for any but those who in all sincerity desire to know and to practise what the New Testament teaches as to the things of which it treats. If the writer makes any appeal to the reader, it is that the latter may, in his turn, appeal to the Scriptures, with a prayer that the Holy Spirit may give him wisdom and understanding.
"First, apostles" (1 Cor. 12:28).
"The apostles last" (1 Cor. 4:9).
At the very beginning of our Lord's public ministry in Galilee He chose twelve special companions. None were college men. One was a tax collector. Others were fishermen.
These were the Apostles, and for three years and a half their Lord and Master devoted Himself very largely to their training. When He taught the crowds by parables He would give them the explanation in private. His miracles conveyed spiritual lessons. And in many other ways He fulfilled His promise: "I will make you fishers of men" (Matt. 4:19). For that word "make" has the force of "train."
All God's servants have to be trained, but in His school. David was trained to win his great victory over the giant in the presence of thousands of onlookers by his fights with wild animals when no eye was upon him. For forty years of service Moses received forty years' training in the desert. Isaiah and Ezekiel were trained by means of visions. Jeremiah devotes the first chapter of the book that bears his name to the account of his training. Other prophets tell us of theirs.
Coming to the New Testament we reckon that Paul, after his conversion, was for some eight years in his home province of Cilicia, active in preaching the Gospel, no doubt, but being prepared of God for the work that lay before him in a much wider sphere, and to which he was eventually called by means of Barnabas.
The Lord can use a university graduate to do what another man cannot do, just as He can use a carpenter to serve Him in ways beyond the ability of a mere scholar. A college course (even if the college be one for teaching the Bible) confers upon one who takes it no right to claim the title "servant of Christ."
Who shall say that it was not with the object of impressing this fact upon us that the Lord chose His apostles from the humbler walks of life, even at the risk of their being scorned as "unlearned and ignorant men"? (Acts 4:13).
The essential thing was that they had seen Christ and received their credentials from Himself at first hand. Paul, who was not one of the original twelve, was no exception to this. "Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?" he cries with indignation when his apostleship was called in question (1 Cor. 9:1).
Christ was not only seen by His servants during His ministry, but after His resurrection as well. The risen Lord was "seen … of all the apostles" (1 Cor. 15:7). "Seen of me also," adds Paul in the next verse. Thus they became the Lord's ambassadors, plenipotentiaries of the risen Christ. As such, they can have no successors, of course.
Cannot evangelists, missionaries and others say "We are ambassadors for Christ"? (2 Cor. 5:20). Not, I believe, in the strict, original sense of the word.
Only Paul uses the term. Twice he speaks of himself as an ambassador. In the early chapters of 2 Corinthians, though he writes in the first person plural, it is so manifestly to himself that he refers that some translators (Conybeare and Howson, Moffatt, et al.) translate "I" instead of "we." If they are right we must read : "I am an ambassador for Christ." Every apostle could have said the same.
An ambassador is one who, if he represents a Sovereign, has received his credentials from him, and lives in a foreign land in the interests of his King and country. Heaven's embassy is still on earth and, even if we cannot claim to be ambassadors, we who serve the Lord are attached to the Embassy in one capacity or another.
I was once walking early in the day through the streets of a continental capital, Madrid, if I remember rightly, or it may have been Copenhagen. Passing the British Embassy, I saw a rosy-cheeked lad, clad in a green baize apron down to his feet, vigorously polishing the brasses on the Ambassador's front door.
"You are putting some energy into your work, my lad," I said. Hearing his native language, he looked up with a pleased smile, and replied in tones that reminded me of Yorkshire: "Yes, I am trying to do my bit."
No one would have mistaken him for the Ambassador. But, in a sense, he was attached to the Embassy, though in quite a humble capacity. In like manner we, though not plenipotentiaries, have the honour of being attached to the Embassy. And, whatever the niche that is given to us to fill, in whatever capacity we are called to serve, it is surely for us, like my young friend with the green baize apron, to try to do our "bit."
It is quite contrary to the usage of civilised nations to kill or imprison an Ambassador. Yet this is what the world did with the Ambassadors of Christ. If tradition is to be trusted, only one of them died a natural death. One was killed with a sword (Acts 12:2); others were imprisoned. Paul speaks of himself as "an ambassador in bonds" (Eph. 6:20). Imagine what any nation would think and do if one of its ambassadors was arrested and flung into prison! Yet this was the treatment meted out to one who was here on an errand of goodwill, beseeching men to be reconciled to God.
The recall of an ambassador is often the prelude to war. The envoy and all his staff prepare to leave the country. The Embassy is closed; war follows. Even so will it be in a day that is drawing nearer all the time. Heaven's Embassy on earth will be closed. The attaches and all connected with it will be removed. War from God will follow.
These basic men, the Apostles, were to be at the foundation of the new structure to be built for "an holy temple in the Lord." In this sense the apostles were set "first" in the church. They were not, could not be, the foundation in the same sense that the Lord Himself is (Matt. 16:16-18; 1 Cor. 3:11). They were the foundation in that they were the first course of stones to be laid in the new building. A builder does not continue to lay the first course as he erects the walls of a house.
In another and secondary sense the apostles were the foundation (along with New Testament prophets) in that on their writings the edifice of Christian truth is based. The Lord promised that the Holy Spirit would lead the apostles into all truth (John 16:13). Finality would be reached with them, and through them the Faith was delivered once for all unto the saints (Jude 3).
No hint is given anywhere in Scripture of a primacy among the apostles. It is simple ignorance that depicts Peter as the doorkeeper of heaven. The keys of heaven were never entrusted to him, nor to any other man. The keys of heaven's kingdom, which is on earth, were indeed given to him, and he used them for the admission of Jews and Gentiles. How he used them for the Gentiles he himself tells us in Acts 15: "A good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe."
But this conferred no primacy upon Peter any more than God's choice of John to do something else made him the chief. Peter had no "see," as we shall show in our chapter on "Bishops." Neither he nor any of the apostles have successors in an official sense. Thank God, there are still successors of the apostles in the sense that there are men who willingly endure poverty and hardship, and go forth to serve their Lord, not as the emissaries of a corrupt "church," but as simple heralds of the Gospel. And they meet with apostolic success, which is infinitely better than claiming to be in apostolic succession.
Even the actual apostles had no authority to order the servants of Christ about. Paul desired Apollos to go to Corinth (1 Cor. 16:12), but Apollos was not disposed to go. He took his orders from his Lord, not from Paul.
There were such things as "signs of an apostle" (2 Cor. 12:12). They were enabled to do "signs and wonders and mighty deeds." Some claimed to be apostles who were devoid of these powers. Any faithful Christians could apply the test and discover the falsity of an impostor's claim (Rev. 2:2).
In what sense were the apostles "last," as in the second text at the head of this chapter?
The reference is undoubtedly to the games and gladiatorial contests, so well known to the people of Corinth. After lesser fights, in which both men and beasts were engaged, the great spectacle, reserved to the last, was staged. Perhaps there was some notable prisoner of war, some notorious criminal, some combatant that would draw upon him the eager eyes of the blood-intoxicated multitude who would shout for his death till they could shout no more. "I think," said Paul, as it were, "that it is like that." As Dr. Moffatt renders the passage: "It seems to me that God means us apostles to come in at the very end, like the doomed gladiators in the arena! We are made a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men!"
That is what it meant to be an apostle!
"Secondarily prophets" (1 Cor. 12:28).
The prophets of the Old Testament were the accredited messengers of Jehovah. But in the New Testament they are quite distinct from the apostles.
That there were New Testament prophets is abundantly clear from such passages as Acts 13:1; 15:32; 1 Corinthians 14:29; Ephesians 4:11.
Their ministry came under the head of "gift" rather than of "office." (The distinction will be dealt with in a later chapter). They were among the gifts with which the ascended Christ endowed the church (1) "for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry" and (2) "for the edifying of the body of Christ."
But, unlike the "evangelists," and the "pastors and teachers" also named in Ephesians 4:11-12 as being given for this twofold purpose, prophets were a "foundation" gift, like the apostles (Eph. 2:20). That is, their ministry was a temporary one, to be fulfilled in the first years of Christianity.
Their mission seems to have been to speak the mind of God authoritatively in the days when no inspired writings were available for the instruction of converts in the Faith. When the Gospels, Epistles, etc., began to circulate among the churches the function of the prophets was at an end.
Unlike those who merely spoke with tongues, the prophets edified their hearers, and brought them comfort and instruction (1 Cor. 14:3). In the mouth of two or three witnesses testimony was established. Hence a plurality of prophets spoke at the gatherings of the church. No revelation could be received on the testimony of one. But the tendency at Corinth seems to have been rather to overdo this, and Paul directs that two or three are quite sufficient at any meeting (1 Cor. 14:2 9; 2 Cor. 13:1).
The prophets, though their gift savoured of the miraculous, were to keep check on their spirits, as verse 32 of the same chapter tells us. They were not to speak in ecstasy, but were to maintain sobriety of speech.
Prophets thus ranked next to the apostles, and were subordinate to them, as Paul's instruction concerning them and the exercise of their ministry shows.
It seems that, though there was no woman apostle, women were endowed with prophetic gift (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5). It is very clear, however, that they were not to exercise it in the assembly, but in a more private way. In Old Testament times men prophesied in song with harps, psalteries, and cymbals. The sons of Jeduthun are particularly mentioned as people "who prophesied with a harp, to give thanks and to praise the Lord" (1 Chron. 25:1-3). It is more than likely that the daughters of Philip "prophesied" in the same way.
But there were also prophets in New Testament times who, like those of former days, foretold things. Such was Agabus. Two predictions of his are mentioned (Acts 11:28 and Acts 21:11). This kind of prophetic ministry, like the other, has served its purpose and has ceased to function.
It has been maintained, strange to say, that because it is written that "he that prophesies speaks unto men to edification, and exhortation and comfort" (1 Cor. 14:3), therefore every one whose ministry edifies, exhorts and comforts is a prophet! One might as well affirm that because a schoolmaster encourages his boys, therefore everyone who encourages is a schoolmaster. No; the prophets, like the apostles, belonged to the initial stage of Christianity. With the completion of the New Testament the necessity for their ministry disappeared.
Deacons, Ministers, Servants.
"Epaphras … a faithful minister of Christ" (Colossians 1:7).
"Phoebe … a servant of the church" (Rom. 16:1).
The translators of the Bible might just as well have rendered the above words "minister" and "servant" by "deacon." For all three English words are but different translations of one and the same Greek word. Epaphras was a faithful servant, minister, or deacon. So was Phoebe. The Greek word is diakonos.
This word with its cognate verb occurs in the New Testament fifty times. Three times it is translated "deacon"; seven times "servant"; eighteen times "minister." The related verb diakoneo, to serve, or to minister, occurs twenty-two times.
Let us turn to a few of the passages where this Greek word, which in its English form is "deacon," is found.
1. THE GOSPELS.
The first who served as "deacons" were angels (Mark 1:13). it is the verbal form of the word that is used here. But in Matthew 22:13 the noun is used of those who are presumably angels. The King bids His "deacons" bind and cast into darkness the man without a wedding garment.
In Mark 1:31 a woman serves as a deacon.
The Lord directs that if any man aims at being first, he shall be "deacon" of all (Mark 9:35).
He tells His disciples that He, the Son of man, came to serve as a "deacon" (Mark 10:45).
Certain women served as "deacons" (Mark 15:41). They ministered to Christ of their own substance (Luke 8:3). How different is the modern conception of a "deacon," as a man appointed to handle other people's money!
2. THE ACTS.
Timotheus and Erastus served as deacons (Acts 19:22). As to the seven in Acts 6:5, there is no hint of their being "deacons" in any sense other than that in which all the servants of Christ are. When we remember that "deacon" and "servant" are but renderings of the same word, we see at once how unintelligent it is to speak of these seven men as "the first deacons." Say "the first servants" and the inaccuracy of the description is evident.
I remember the question being asked at a Conference of Christians at Bath: "Should churches appoint deacons?" In other words, should assemblies appoint the servants of Christ. To ask such a question is a sufficient answer for all who know what the service of Christ is.
But I may be told that the question does not mean this, but "should assemblies appoint deacons to serve them in any way?" Of course this is permissible. An assembly of Christians can appoint one (he may be a "bishop," "evangelist," or any other kind of deacon) to perform any service that such may be willing and competent to perform. An individual Christian can do the same. I may appoint one who may be an "elder" or a "pastor" to repair my clock, cut the grass in my garden, or go with a message for me. Such an appointment, whether by a church or by an individual, does not make the appointed person a deacon! Stephen and the others in Acts 6 were not appointed to be deacons (servants). They were appointed because they had already proved themselves to be servants (deacons) of Christ. As servants of Christ who had manifested capacity for the task, they were appointed to the temporary business of distributing daily rations among needy widows. In the same way others were "chosen of the churches" to travel with Paul in connection with a contribution of money made in Macedonia and Achaia for the poor in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:19).
3. THE EPISTLES.
A secular ruler is said to be the deacon (minister, servant) of God. Tax-collectors are God's deacons (Rom. 13:4, 6).
Christ Himself was a deacon (but not, while on earth, a priest! Hebrews 7:13-14; 8:4). For the same word is used in Romans 15:8. Paul, too, though an apostle, was a deacon (Rom. 15:25).
Phoebe was a minister, servant or deacon (Rom. 16:1), not a "deaconess." The masculine form of the word is used in describing her.
"Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos," asks the apostle in 1 Corinthians 3:5, "but deacons (servants, ministers) by whom ye believed?"
An important passage is 2 Corinthians 6:4; "In all things approving ourselves as the deacons of God (i.e. servants, ministers) in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses." An American Senator, at the close of the civil war between the North and the South in the U.S.A., trying to get a bill passed in the Senate, was bitterly opposed. His principal opponent, referring to him, said: "This man has never shown any true evidence of loyalty to the Flag and constitution." The defamed Senator, rising to reply, said: "I have borne the remarks of the honourable gentleman patiently, but this one I must refute." Baring his arm, he held it up to the gaze of all. On it was a long scar, got by fighting in his country's cause. The bill was passed, amid many cheers. The scar did it!
In the day of review that is coming, methinks the deacons (servants) of Christ will not be examined as to their university degrees, but will he looked over for scars. The question will be, not, "How many years did you study Greek and Homiletics?" but, "How much have you suffered for your Master's sake?"
Satan has his deacons. So we are told in 2 Corinthians 11:15, though to all appearance they are deacons (ministers) of righteousness.
A "deacon," in Episcopalian phraseology, is a clergyman of the lowest grade. Baptists have "deacons" that are not "in the ministry" at all. But the Apostle Paul speaks of himself as a deacon (minister) in connection with the very highest form of service, that of making known the "mystery" so long hidden, but now revealed (Eph. 3:7).
In Philippians 1:1 "bishops" and "deacons" are named together. We shall return to this text in the chapter on Bishops. Here let it be merely remarked (what will be amply proved) that the bishops in the churches of New Testament times were simply the elders. Were they not servants of Christ? Of course they were, and in this sense were "deacons."
But others, too, were deacons. There were evangelists, pastors and teachers. No doubt some of these were resident at Philippi and were the "deacons" (servants, ministers) referred to in chapter 1:1. Anyone writing to-day might send a similar message "to the elders of the assembly and to the ministering servants of Christ." This would be readily understood, and no one would take it as implying that the elders (bishops) were not also servants (deacons) of the Lord.
Paul was a deacon (minister) both of the Gospel and of the Church, Christ's body (Col. 1:23 and 25). Tychicus was a faithful minister, or deacon, of Christ (4:7). And Epaphras was another, for "minister" in Colossians 1:7 and "servant" are both translations of the Greek diakonos "deacon," as we have already remarked.
In 1 Timothy 3, the Apostle, after giving the qualifications of a "bishop", turns in verse 8 to the "deacons." That is as if, after dealing in verses I to 7 with the elders, he were to say "Likewise must the ministering brethren be grave," and so on. The "deacons" he had in mind would be evangelists, and those who moved among the churches as pastors and teachers.
"The office of a deacon" in verse 13 is a misleading translation. There is nothing about any "office" in the Greek. The five English words are represented in the original by a single verb, diakoneo, to serve, or minister.
In Titus 1:5 directions are given as to the appointing of elders. No directions are given as to the appointing of deacons either here or anywhere else in the New Testament. None can appoint these servants of Christ but their Master. And ability to act as His deacon, that is, to "minister" as the oracles of God, comes from Him alone (1 Peter 4:11).
I have gone at considerable length into the matter of ministers, deacons, and servants being but different names for the same person, for it is necessary, in view of the technical meaning given now-a-days to the terms "deacon" and "minister," that we should be clear as to what the New Testament teaches.
I do not affirm that there is no other word for "servant" in the Epistles. Indeed there is. There is a word which means "bond-slave." It is a term in which Paul especially seems to glory. Again and again he calls himself "a bondslave of Jesus Christ." So, too, do Peter and Jude. But this has nothing to do with our subject of Leadership. The humblest Christian may be a devoted bondslave of Christ.
The conclusion of the matter, as far as the present chapter is concerned, is that, however many different kinds of servants of Christ there may be, they are all included in the general term which, most unfortunately, is translated in our ordinary Bible, by three different words: deacon, minister and servant. How much would have been gained in clarity if the translators had been uniform in their renderings! If the Holy Spirit uses but one word, why should three be employed?
Bishops, Elders, Overseers, Presbyters.
"Elders in every church" (Acts 14:23).
"The Holy Ghost has made you overseers" (Acts 20:28).
"A bishop, then, must be blameless" (1 Tim. 3:2).
Honest and scholarly men (even though they be clergymen of the Church of England, and their ecclesiastical practice inconsistent with their concession) readily concede that the four titles at the head of this chapter refer to the same persons. The proof, from Scripture, is clear enough.
To begin with, the four English words represent only two in Greek. There is episkopos, rendered "bishop" and "overseer"; and presbuteros, "elder" and (in ecclesiastical writings) "presbyter." (cp. 1 Tim. 4:14).
When Paul said "the Holy Ghost has made you OVERSEERS" (Acts 20:28), to whom was he speaking? To the ELDERS of the church at Ephesus (verse I7). The elders, therefore, were the overseers, or bishops. To Titus the Apostle gave directions as to the appointing of ELDERS. He describes the necessary qualifications of such, and remarks: "for a BISHOP must be blameless," etc. (Titus 1:5, 7). What further proof is needed that an elder, a bishop, and an overseer are one and the same person?
The functions of elders, bishops or overseers are local. Their service is connected solely with the church of which they are a part. One who was a bishop or elder at Philippi was not one in any other church that he might visit.
In this the elder or overseer is entirely different from the GIFTS: evangelists, pastors, etc. An evangelist is one wherever he goes, and while he is going! A pastor is one who feeds the sheep of Christ wherever he finds them. We shall speak of this matter again. At present we are concerned with elders, and we affirm that their function is local, in the place where they reside (Titus 1:5).
The origin of "elders" was earlier than in New Testament days. There were elders among the Jews, who held a special place in connection with the ruling of the synagogues. As far back as the days of Moses we read of "the elders of Israel" (Ex. 3:16; 12:21; 17:5, etc). Exodus 24:1 mentions "Seventy of the elders."
When the Lord was on earth the elders associated themselves with the chief priests and the scribes in their opposition to Him (Matt. 16:21). In the early chapters of the Acts the elders play their part, and are to be distinguished from the "rulers" and "scribes" (Acts 4:5).
Ritualists seem to entertain the notion that the service and worship of the churches was modeled on the pattern of the service and worship of the Temple. Hence their robes, their incense, and their elaborate ritual. It seems abundantly clear, however, that the churches followed the much simpler order of the synagogues, and were led by "elders." Instead of ritual and sacrifice there were prayer, the reading of the Scriptures, the breaking of bread, thanksgiving and worship of an informal kind. Elders, therefore, were an institution in the churches from almost the beginning. We read of them first, in the church at Jerusalem, in Acts 11:30.
The church there had, at the first, none to take charge of necessary business but the Apostles. Seven men were chosen for a special purpose (Acts 6:5). They are not called "elders," but it would be much more correct to speak of them as such than to call them "deacons" because of their appointment to this work. The first who are definitely termed "elders" (Acts 11:30) had to do with the administration of material things, like their seven brethren in chapter 6.
When churches were formed among the Gentiles through the apostolic labours of Paul and Barnabas, they were at first without elders. Time must necessarily elapse before the suitability of men for this office became apparent. So that it was not till the occasion of their second visit that the apostles appointed elders in these churches (Acts 14:23).
This is evidently the scriptural order. The assembly is gathered first. Then, as time passes, suitability for the office of an elder manifests itself in one and another, and they are duly recognised. Elders, therefore, are not essential for the existence of an assembly, however necessary they may be for its welfare.
Elders come into view as the coadjutors of the apostles in the church at Jerusalem in Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23. They are, it will be observed, referred to in the plural. The notion of one bishop or presbyter being set over a church finds no support in the New Testament, and far less the idea of one bishop having the oversight of several churches. We read, therefore, in Philippians 1:1, of the "bishops" in the church at Philippi; several bishops in one church.
The idea of a "diocese," and of a bishop with a "see," was a very early corruption of New Testament simplicity. There is no Scripture warrant for elders of different churches to meet together, or act together, as such. But this custom sprang up, and the chairman of such a meeting of elders became eventually a diocesan "bishop." And thus from a first unscriptural step a hierarchy has been developed: proud, worldly, arrogant and oppressive. "Bishops" have persecuted and tormented the witnesses of Christ and have been what their own historians have called "monsters of vice."
Can we thank God sufficiently that of recent years there has been in many quarters a return to New Testament principles, and that in most countries can now be found scripturally constituted assemblies with godly, humble and self-denying men as elders?
How such men are to be regarded we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:12. Believers are to know them, and recognise them as being "over" them, but only "in the Lord," that is, in a spiritual way. There is to be no "lording it" on the part of elders (1 Peter 5:3). This is important, for many troubles in assemblies have arisen from elders losing sight of the fact that they are called to exercise spiritual leadership. An unspiritual elder is anything but a blessing to the church.
At a Conference at Yeovil, where the subject of "Elders" was under consideration, Mr. P. W. Petter, the well-known Christian manufacturer of that town, fixed up a large black board in the Conference Room and asked any present to name essential characteristics of a bishop, or elder. Quite a number were given. The writer was present, and gave as his contribution to the study the essential truth that overseers must be made by the Holy Spirit. There must be spiritual fitness.
In Roman Catholic and other circles the character of a man who holds an office is not of much account. A pope may be a poisoner and a fornicator and yet be Christ's vicar on earth. A priest may be everything that is vile, yet because of his office be able to forgive sins and administer the Sacrament. In Christianity the very opposite principle holds good. A man holds office because of his moral suitability. He cannot do things because he is appointed; he is appointed because he can do them. An evangelist does not preach the Gospel because he is recognised; he is recognised as an evangelist because he preaches effectually. A missionary is not such because he is commended by an assembly; he is commended because he is evidently a missionary of God's making.
So with elders. Because they have the affections, and do the work, of elders, they are appointed or recognised as such.
Among other essential traits mentioned at the Yeovil Conference and written on the blackboard were the following:
They speak the word of God, Hebrews 13:7.
are men of faith, Hebrews 13:7.
watch for souls, Hebrews 13:17.
should support the weak, Acts 20:35.
must be blameless, 1 Timothy 3:2.
must be monogamists, 1 Timothy 3:2.
must be vigilant and sober, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach, 1 Timothy 3:2.
must not be addicted to wine, no strikers, not greedy of money, patient, 1 Timothy 3:3.
must rule their houses well and have their children under control, 1 Timothy 3:4.
must not be novices, 1 Timothy 3:6.
must be well reported of by persons outside, 1 Timothy 3:7.
must not be self-willed, Titus 1:7.
must be holy, Titus 1:9.
must be ensamples to the flock, 1 Peter 5:3.
Surely this is a list of qualities calculated to keep every elder low in dependence before God that he may be lacking in none of them! How terrible for an overseer, if a business man, to have the reputation of being "sharp" (i.e. unscrupulous) in his dealings with others! What endless trouble has been caused by one who is self-willed! How earnestly should all elders, every day of their lives, seek help from God that they may be true "ensamples to the flock"!
Elders have to take care of matters on behalf of the assembly. But this is a secondary duty. Their primary responsibility is to take care of the assembly itself (1 Tim. 3:5). It has often been pointed out that the word translated "take care of" in this passage is only found once elsewhere in the New Testament. It occurs in the Parable of the Good Samaritan where the Lord portrays him as going to the wounded, half-dead man who had been attacked by thieves, pouring oil and wine into his wounds (at his own cost, of course), setting him on his beast (himself having to walk), and bringing him to an inn (Luke 10:34). What a model to those who have been called to elder-ship! This is the manner in which they are to "take care of the church of God." it will cost them something. It will certainly mean self-denial.
The question is sometimes asked: What is to be done if no men are forthcoming who answer to the description and possess the divinely-indicated qualifications? We must beware of imitations. Solomon made some golden shields. When these were captured by an enemy, Rehoboam substituted brass ones. Let us not follow his example. If we cannot have the real thing, let us not have the counterfeit. Better no "shields" at all, than mere brass ones, men who are but "sounding brass" (1 Cor. 13:1). Nothing can ruin the testimony of an assembly more effectually than to have, as men who take the lead, mere "brass shields," brethren masquerading as overseers who are destitute of spiritual qualifications.
These remarks are not intended to apply to humble, godly men who, conscious of their deficiencies, are doing their best, bearing the burden of responsibility in assemblies, often a thankless task. I have in mind men who, devoid of spiritual affections and of grace, seek position and responsibility as bringing some honour to themselves. Such are an awful incubus to the church; they are but brass shields, sorry counterfeits of the real thing.
A question is sometimes raised as to the possibility of our having elders to-day, since there are no apostles to appoint them. But back of the appointment lay the fact that men were made overseers by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). We see no reason to doubt that the Holy Spirit still produces moral suitability for eldership in one and another, and that this shows itself in ways that make recognition easy. Emphasis must always be laid on suitability rather than on appointment. This is, I believe, the reason why no directions are given for appointing elders, but much is said about their qualifications.
It is remarkable that it is in the later Epistles, 1 Timothy, Titus, and 1 Peter that the passages describing the qualifications of elders are mostly found. These passages are part of the inspired Scriptures intended for our guidance in the years after the apostles had died. Are they to be a dead letter to us?
It is contended that there are no assemblies to-day like those in New Testament days, since they consisted of ALL the Christians in any locality, and were thus locally the "body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:27). The deduction is made that because of this, there can be no "elders" of a Scriptural sort.
The premise being false, the inference is necessarily false too. Churches of God, consisting of all the believers in the locality, exist in hundreds of places to-day in India, China, Africa, and other lands. If the churches at Iconium, Antioch and Philippi needed elders, and had them, it is difficult to understand why similar churches in the twentieth century, which certainly need overseeing men, should not have them.
in countries like Britain such churches exist here and there but are extremely rare. In most places the church of God (consisting of all believers in the place) does not meet as such, but is divided into sects. Those who, for the sake of the truth, stand clear of sectarianism and gather on simple, Scriptural lines are generally a small minority. But even to such assembly status belongs, as it did to the groups that met in the houses of Aquila and Priscilla, of Nymphas, and of Philemon (Rom. 16:5; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2). The assembly meeting at a certain Hall, though not the church of God in the town, is the church in that hall, just as those who gathered in somebody's house of old, though not the church of God in the city, were the church in that house. Therefore all that they had, we may expect to have, elders included. It is still incumbent upon us to "know" such, to "remember" and "obey" them.
"Some, evangelists" (Eph. 4:11).
"Do the work of an evangelist" (2 Timothy 4:5).
"Philip, the evangelist" (Acts 21:8).
The Gospel is primarily information. It is not invitation, appeal or exhortation, though these may be based upon it. It is news, and the evangelist is one who announces it. He is the proclaimer of glad tidings, the bearer of glorious news. He has information to impart; he communicates to men a message from God, telling them how they may be saved.
Evangelists are named third in the enumeration of the gifts bestowed by the risen Christ for the edification of His body. They are as necessary for the building up thereof as rough quarrymen are for the erection of a palace.
We hear it said sometimes that Mr. - has the gift of an evangelist. Quite right; but that is not the way the matter is presented in Ephesians 4:8-13. It is not that men are endowed with gifts, but that the Body of Christ is endowed with men who ARE His gifts to His Body.
Elders, or bishops, hold an office, as we have seen. Their function is local. Not so with evangelists, whose sphere has no local limitation. John Wesley was right when he said: "The world is my parish," if by "parish" he meant the sphere for his evangelistic labours.
In these days of widespread departure from New Testament order we rejoice that there are still many evangelists, pastors and teachers who can say, like Paul, that they are such "not of men, neither by men" (Galatians 1:1).
There are (1) those who are certainly not "of men." They are beyond all doubt servants of Christ, and they proclaim Him as Saviour. But it cannot be added that neither are they by men, they are servants of men, preaching to preach from men, in most cases by a ceremony known as "ordination."
Then (2) there are those who are both "of men" and "by man." Besides being appointed by men, they are servants of men, preaching what pleases and flatters men. Such are not servants of Christ.
(3) There are those who are "not of men, neither by man," but not in the same sense as Paul. Self-appointed, they exhibit themselves as mere lovers of self, self-seeking. Their object is notoriety or gain.
(4) Thank God, there are those of whom the words in Galatians 1:1 are as true as they were of Paul. And of such there are, I rejoice to say, not a few. They are not servants of men, but spend their time and strength in making the Saviour known. Nor have they looked to their fellow-men for their title to preach. They can say:
"Christ, the Son of God, has sent me through the midnight lands;
Mine the mighty ordination of the pierced hands."
With this ordination they are content. In the New Testament we find servants of Christ set apart to fulfil a definite mission sometimes, as in Acts 13:2-3. But this was not "ordination." Barnabas and Saul had been preachers and teachers long before this took place.
A man does not become an evangelist by the commendation or recognition of the assembly with which he is connected. If he desires to go forth on a special mission, as, for instance, to preach the Gospel overseas, such commendation may be necessary. But he is commended as an evangelist because he is one, not in order that he may be one.
If an evangelist feels called of God to devote his whole time to the work of the Gospel, it is right for him to seek the commendation of the assembly where he is locally in fellowship. Their commendation will be given if his brethren judge that he is truly an evangelist; it will not be given with any thought of conferring upon him the status of one.
But such commendation is only called for when the evangelist has a certain object in view: a journey, a new path, a definite mission among persons to whom he is unknown. No commendation is needed for a Christian to preach the Gospel where and when he can. And some of the best and most successful evangelists that Britain has ever known have been men who have never needed to seek the commendation of their brethren for any of the objects indicated above. Earning their livelihood by trade or by the practice of their profession, they have preached the Gospel up and down the land, not only accepting invitations to preach in places owned by others, but hiring halls and theatres, pitching tents, and addressing huge companies in the open air.
A well known instance of this is the late Charles Stanley, a Sheffield manufacturer, and author of the "C.S. Railway Tracts." His autobiography is published under the title of "Gospel Incidents," a thrilling narrative indeed. Divine guidance and blessing were vouchsafed to Charles Stanley in no ordinary degree. He was the first man for whom D. L. Moody enquired when he landed in Britain. He was truly a God-sent evangelist.
If the gift of an evangelist was not, in New Testament times, conferred through any human channel, it is equally true that it brought no human distinction or title with it. To assume such was forbidden by Christ to His servants (Matt. 23:8-9). Yet professed servants of Christ claim a title which, unlike that of Rabbi, really belongs to God alone. "Holy and reverend is His Name. Others insist on being called "Father -," in defiance of our Lord's prohibition.
Nor, again, do we read of any such thing as the ministers of Christ, whether evangelists, pastors or teachers, wearing any distinctive collar or clothes. These departures from New Testament simplicity, whether in dress or in title, are really of pagan origin and should be shunned by all with whom the word of the Lord is paramount.
Many of the servants of Christ named in the Acts and in the Epistles were undoubtedly evangelists. But only one, Philip, is actually described as such. He was one of the seven men, "full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom," mentioned in Acts 6. A whole chapter (Acts 8) is devoted to the description of how he did things. it will repay a careful study.
Let us observe first how he was guided.
There is no record of his having been sent by the church or by any group of men. There had been a great scattering of the Jerusalem Christians as a result of persecution, and Philip was one of those that were driven from their homes. It is simply said that "Philip went down to the city of Samaria."
When, later on, he was wanted for a very special errand, "the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south." This is a method of guidance that we need not expect to-day. It was apparently not repeated in Philip's case, for we read (verse 29) that "the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near"; and (verse 39) that "the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip." Thus is indicated the normal and divinely-appointed method of direction for the servants of God.
It is true that they may be sent by others for certain purposes. The apostles sent two of their number to investigate (verse 14). Peter and John preached in many of the Samaritan villages (verse 25), but for this purpose they had not been sent by their fellow-apostles. The church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas (Acts 11:22), but this again was on an errand of investigation, and not for ministry. He exercised his ministry, but was not sent by any church for this.
Just as "the servant that was set over the reapers" represented Boaz in the harvest-field, and directed the activities of "his young men" (Ruth 2:5, 15), so the Holy Spirit orders things in the interests of Christ. He, and not the man at Rome, is Christ's Vicar upon earth. It is He who guides, controls, fills, energises and uses His servants.
Other men may sometimes serve as the medium of His guidance. But a study of the New Testament would lead us to conclude that this is special and abnormal, and that the usual way of guidance is by the direct prompting of the Holy Spirit. Happy is that servant who has learned to recognise and obey His direction
Secondly, let us note the evangelist's message. It is stated, very simply, that Philip went to Samaria and "preached Christ unto them." The sum and substance of his preaching was Christ, Christ as Saviour and Lord. But we also read (verse 12) that Philip preached "the things concerning the kingdom of God." This would include the whole body of Christian truth, and the claims of God upon the soul, with the necessity of repentance. (Preaching the kingdom of God in this way must be carefully distinguished from preaching "the Gospel of the kingdom," which no Christian preachers are said to have done).
Verse 25 tells us, further, that Peter and John "preached the word of the Lord." This, of course, does not mean that they preached the Old Testament Scriptures. (There was no New Testament yet). It simply means that they declared the message of the Lord. Well they knew what it was! Had they not learned it from His own gracious lips?
Yet again we are told that, in the case of the Ethiopian official, Philip "preached unto him Jesus" (verse 35). This would suggest that he laid stress on the life and teaching of the Saviour, which ended only in His rejection and crucifixion. His life was taken from the earth. The official's heart was evidently drawn out in faith to the Lord Jesus, and he straightway desired to be identified with Him in His death and burial. Philip, of course, was only too pleased to obey the Lord in baptizing the new convert.
Philip had baptized the believing men and women in Samaria (Acts 8:12). It seems to be indicated that it is the responsibility of the evangelist to do this when he is out pioneering with the gospel in new regions. But, lest he should give any handle to those who would accuse him of making disciples of his own, it is better for him to get others to do the baptizing when such are available. This appears to be the teaching of 1 Corinthians 1:14-15. One is glad to see an evangelist stand aside and let the elders of the assembly attend to the matter wherever this is possible. The evangelist's great duty is to preach the gospel.
Every Christian should aim to be a winner of others to faith in the Saviour. Each may have his hook and line, baited with the gospel message, the hook kept sharp by prayer. An evangelist, however, does more than this. He fishes with a net. He is divinely qualified, commissioned and sent to open men's eyes, and to turn them from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins (Acts 26:18). Let us heartily thank God for all such. Let us help them by our prayers and in every possible way.
These, of course, are included in the general term evangelists. But a distinction is sometimes drawn, so that it may be well to devote a separate chapter to the consideration of them. We can place no text under the heading, for the words are not found in Scripture.
It is hard to define a missionary. Perhaps the best definition to be found is this: a missionary is one who leaves a country where there are many Christians to make the gospel known in a land where there are few or none. Some "missionaries" that we know hardly come under this heading, but it is a question whether they should be called "missionaries," and not simply evangelists overseas.
A true missionary is an evangelist in the most real sense of the word. He goes to those in darkness to bring them the light. He makes Christ known to those who are in ignorance of Him. Whatever else he does, whether medical or educational work is secondary to this.
One can be a missionary without being a pioneer. Many go to China, to India and other lands to help in places where the pioneering has been done by others. A true pioneer has the heart of an evangelist, though he may not be gifted as a preacher. David Livingstone and Fred Stanley Arnot are not usually spoken of as evangelists. But they were men of prayer and faith. As pioneers they blazed the trail where other feet have followed.
Our blessed Saviour had the heart of a pioneer-evangelist. Towards the close of His three and a half years of public ministry the shadow of Calvary cast itself with increasing definiteness upon His soul. He warned His disciples that "the Son of man must suffer many things … and be slain (Luke 9:22). But even then, He appointed "other seventy also" (Luke 10:1), besides the twelve apostles, and the man sent to preach in Luke 9:60. And then He declared that "the labourers are few." That is, He deemed eighty-three too few for a small country no larger than Wales!
It is significant that the Lord sent forth the seventy "two and two before His face into every city and place whither He Himself would come." That is, even when His busy life on earth was approaching its end, He had it before Him to visit at least thirty-five more places.
Paul also was a great pioneer. Though he cared for all the churches, he was ever thinking of "the regions beyond." He was cognisant of the great need for his ministry in the church at Rome, though the Christians there were already filled with all knowledge and were able to exhort one another (Rom. 15:14), yet he purposed merely to visit that city on his way to the further west (Rom. 15:24).
The great apostle to the Gentiles was unwearying in his labours. He surpassed all the other apostles (1 Cor. 15:10). Over an enormous stretch of territory, as big as from London to Moscow, to the south of Italy, or to Morocco, he had not only preached, but fully preached, the gospel (Rom. 15:19). From Illyricum Titus carried the gospel further afield, into the adjoining province of Dalmatia. Paul spared him, when he was within a few days of his own martyrdom, to go off on this pioneering journey (2 Tim. 4:10).
Paul himself, after his release from his first imprisonment at Rome, seems to have gone with Titus pioneering in the great island of Crete. Assemblies sprang up as the result, and the Apostle left Titus there to set things in order and to appoint elders "in every city" (Titus 1:5). He was then to rejoin Paul at Nicopolis (Titus 3:12) .
Timothy was evidently a man of a different stamp. Subject to frequent infirmities, he seems to have lacked initiative and courage, and to have been inclined to take the line of least resistance. So Paul bids him "neglect not the gift that is in thee" (1 Tim. 4:14) and "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Timothy 4:5). Timothy was an evangelist, or he would never have been told to do the work of one. But he was so concerned about standing for the truth among the Christians at Ephesus that he was apt to forget that the great Asian city was still a stronghold of heathenism, and the votaries of Artemis to be numbered by tens of thousands. So Paul writes: "I charge thee therefore before God … preach the word; be instant in season, out of season" (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
We are never to forget that we live in a world where the majority of men are still pagans. The true sphere of the evangelist is among such. We thank God unfeignedly for those who have gone forth, whether as pioneers or as helpers of others, to the lands where Buddhism, Hinduism, Romanism, Mohammedanism and African fetishism still hold sway. We rejoice to hear their tales of victory, and of the blessing of God so abundantly given upon their labours.
Pastors and Teachers.
"Some, pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11).
"As a nurse cherishes her children" (1 Thess. 2:7).
"As a father does his children" (1 Thess. 2:11).
"Thirdly, teachers" (1 Cor. 12:28).
In enumerating the gifts with which the risen Christ has endowed the Church, His Body, in Ephesians 4:11, the Apostle names four kinds, not five. First apostles, then prophets, then evangelists, then pastors and teachers. Paul does not say "and some, Pastors; and some, teachers." Pastors and teachers are named together as being a duplicate gift. The pastor and teacher would be the same individual.
A pastor is one who cares for the souls of God's children; he feeds them lovingly with meat in due season. A teacher is more occupied with the Scriptures. He unfolds their treasures, and seeks to build up the saints in the Faith. How happy indeed it is when a servant of Christ is both a pastor and a teacher!
It must be repeated here that in speaking of a pastor we are speaking of gift, not office. Gift, unlike office, is not local. An evangelist may settle in a place (we had almost written "settle down"), so may a pastor and teacher. But neither the one nor the other is a local office. A pastor is called to feed the sheep of Christ wherever he finds them. Pastors IN churches are worth their weight in gold; pastors OF churches are men who assume to be what Christ has not made them and to fill a place of which the New Testament knows nothing. Search it from cover to cover, and you will not find the counterpart of a modern "pastor" of a church.
Paul, besides being a great pioneer evangelist, was a tender-hearted pastor. In his Epistles to the Thessalonians he appears pre-eminently as such. The Christians at Thessalonica were converts of not more than a year's standing. In studying what the Apostle writes to them we gain great insight into the way in which a true pastor exercises his gift. He had carried what was of God to them (chapter 1:5), and then carried what he had seen produced in them to God in thanksgiving (1:2).
Let us notice the following points.
1. Paul refers to the manner of men that he and his co-workers were among the Thessalonians while they were yet idolators (1:5). Their lives and conduct were irreproachable. How tremendously important is this! If a lodestone be rubbed with garlic it loses its power to attract. And if an evangelist or a pastor be tainted with worldliness or self-seeking he repels men. His name is held in contempt; his preaching falls upon deaf ears.
2. Paul speaks also of his behaviour among them after that they had believed (2:10). "Holily, justly, unblameably" are the words that he could use in describing his manner of life. Gentle among them (2:7), like a nurse caring for the children entrusted to her charge; working with his hands for his livelihood so as not to be burdensome to any of them; exhorting and encouraging them, not as a master does his pupils, but as a father does his children. He abounded in love toward them (3:12).
A little Jewish girl in Palestine had been to see two missionary ladies. She could not remember their names, nor where they lived, but said: "I have been to see the two ladies who live next door to God." The life of a real pastor, and of every servant of Christ, should be such as to merit this description.
3. The summing up of Paul's charge to the converts at Thessalonica was that they "would walk worthy of God." For this he laboured and prayed, exhorted and charged.
In the days of Tiberius Caesar it was considered a crime to carry a ring stamped with the image of Augustus, the first Emperor, into any mean or sordid place. We are set here as God's image, to give men a right representation of Him. To be guilty of mean or sordid practice would be the very opposite of walking worthy of Him.
4. How they "ought to walk and to please God" (4:1) was another thing that Paul taught the converts. The sin of fornication was not regarded as a serious offence in the big heathen cities of the empire. But the Christians were to abstain from it, and to remember that "God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness" (4:7). To urge purity and practical holiness is a duty that the true pastor will not neglect.
5. The servant of Christ will not lead the converts to expect an easy life. Material blessings, such as those promised in connection with the future Kingdom (e.g., in Ps. 112:1) are not guaranteed to Christians. Paul, while he was at Thessalonica, told them that we must suffer tribulation (3:4). Christians have their present "great tribulation" as surely as Israel will have "the time of Jacob's trouble" in the future.
6. The Apostle also taught the principles of God's holy government among His children, causing us to reap what we sow. "The Lord is the Avenger" of all who are wronged by their brethren, "as we also have forewarned you and testified" (4:6).
7. Then in the Second Epistle we find that Paul taught the newly-converted Thessalonians about "the man of sin" who would be revealed, the great sinister personage of the last days, otherwise known as the Antichrist. The Apostle did not think the subject unsuitable to be put before the recent converts. "Remember ye not," he says, "that when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" (2:5).
8. Finally, lest the simple believers should be wrongfully impressed by what Paul taught them as to the coming of the Lord, and should wander into ways of idleness, he gave command, while at Thessalonica, that "if any would not work, neither should he eat" (3:10). A pastor's teaching is practical and wholesome, and has reference to the daily lives of those among whom he ministers.
But Paul was also a teacher. He was wont to declare the whole counsel of God, the whole scope of revealed truth. He taught not only in meetings, but from house to house (Acts 20:20, 27). His epistles bear witness to the wonderful things he had to teach. Who among us has not been taught by Paul, by means of these letters of his?
The pastor may feed the souls of God's children by public ministry, but he finds the chief sphere of his service in the homes that he visits. The teacher exercises his gift in the ordinary gatherings of the churches and on special occasions, such as Conferences and Conventions, or when he visits a place to hold special meetings for a short or long period.
It is of the utmost importance that we should distinguish between the different ways in which God has dealt with men at different times. Certain things were true under the reign of Law which are not true under the reign of Grace, and vice versa. Principles that obtained under the Mosaic economy have in this Christian era been superseded by others.
Under the Law one of the tribes was set apart as being peculiarly Jehovah's portion. This was the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:12, 45). The Levites did not inherit land like their brethren of the other tribes (Joshua 18:7). Jehovah was their portion, even as they were His. They were set apart for the service of the Temple and of the altar.
It is reasoned that because it was so in the past, something of the same kind must exist to-day. And so it has come to pass that certain men, by a ceremony known as "ordination," are set apart to be "clergymen." The word clergy is derived from the Greek kleros, which means portion, or lot. It occurs once in the New Testament, in 1 Peter 5:3, where it is translated "heritage." But very significantly it is used of the whole of the people of God, not of any special class of men among them.
In sub-apostolic times leaders in the churches began to assume a position in virtue of their gift. Soon appointment was substituted for gift. They became officers of the church rather than gifts of the ascended Christ. Among them some soon asserted priority of rank. And thus, from what seemed to be but a trifling divergence from apostolic precept and practice, a hierarchy has arisen consisting of various grades of "clergy," from the humble curate up to the almost regal monseigneurs, archbishops and cardinals: "princes of the church" as they are fittingly termed.
Connected with the clergy we find other things, such as Baptismal Regeneration, the Altar, and the Sacrament.
Perhaps there is no one thing that has wrought such damage to souls and has bolstered up so many in the delusion that they are all right, as the fiction that an unconscious babe is regenerated, and made a child of God and a member of the Body of Christ, by having some water sprinkled upon it, accompanied by the repetition of a formula of words by a "clergyman." But it is a great buttress of the position and power of the clergy. Hence, no doubt, their insistence upon it.
The term "altar" is one that does not belong to Christianity. It had its place in the ritual of the former days, before the "shadows" (Heb. 10:1) had given place to the substance. The Jewish priests, who served the altar, were partakers with it of what was offered thereon (1 Cor. 9:13), a privilege which the Levitical attendants did not share (Heb. 13:10).
This passage from Hebrews has been strangely misunderstood and perverted. In a pamphlet that lies before me the writer, speaking of the foreshadowings of Christ in the early books of the Bible, remarks: "In Genesis we have the skins with which Adam and Eve were clothed; in Exodus we have the passover lamb; in Leviticus we have the day of atonement; in Numbers we have the brazen serpent." No one would imagine that the author means that in Christianity we possess the skins, the lamb and the serpent of brass. We have these things in the sense that we read about them in the books mentioned.
But when the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, evidently referring to the book of Leviticus, and especially chapter 16 (compare Lev. 16:27 with Heb. 13:11), says "we have an altar," it is solemnly asserted that he means that we possess an altar in Christianity! The real meaning, of course, is that we have an altar in Leviticus 16. (see verses 18, 20, 25) just as we have a brazen serpent in Numbers 21.
The notion of an altar being used in the worship of Christians, based as it is on nothing more substantial than the bit of whimsical reasoning to which we have referred, is put in the very forefront of the ritualistic teaching of the "clergy." Naturally so, for the theory is a tremendous support of their position as a separate caste. Their claim is that none can "serve the altar" but themselves. Of course this gives them enormous prestige in the eyes of those whom they thus mislead.
Would that Christian people, instead of letting themselves be hoodwinked in this way, would read the thirteenth chapter of Hebrews for themselves. They would learn that the material altar and sacrifice have, in Christianity, been superseded by spiritual worship. "By Him" (that is Christ, not an earthly priest) "therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (verse 15).
Then there is the Sacrament, as it is called. It has become a powerful weapon of defence of their caste in the hands of the "clergy."
In a certain small country town a number of people had been truly converted to God and rejoiced in the present assurance of His salvation. These, with some others who had tested their ecclesiastical connections by the Scriptures and had resolved to abandon everything that was contrary thereto, decided that they would do as the Christians at Troas did. As disciples of Christ they would, every first day of the week, come together to break bread, whether anyone was there to preach to them, as Paul did, or not.
A zealous Anglo-Catholic curate heard of this and called on one of the aforesaid Christians. "I do not much care what else you do," he said, "but I beg you to keep your hands off the Blessed Sacrament."
Since they were but unordained "laymen," in the eyes of this clergyman it was a terrible sin for these simple believers to eat the Lord's Supper together, as they did in New Testament days. It would make the "clergy" unnecessary. In their hands the Scriptural "breaking of bread" becomes a Sacrament. Many speak of it as a Sacrifice. How utterly contrary to the Word of God!
Ritualists even quote Hebrews 13:16 in this connection: "To communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." "To communicate" with them means to kneel before an altar and receive consecrated bread at the hands of a "priest."
One with an unbiassed mind would look elsewhere in the New Testament for the meaning of the word "communicate." "Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teaches in all good things" (Galatians 6:6). "No church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving but ye only." "Ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction" (Phil. 4:14-15).
To communicate in these passages so manifestly means the gift of money or other material things that one cannot understand any other significance being read into the expression in Hebrews 13:16. We shall have something further to remark on this passage in the chapter on "Priests."
The main buttresses of the caste of "clergy" have been shown, therefore, to have no support in the Scriptures and to be directly opposed to their teaching. No wonder that such numbers of true servants of Christ have abandoned the position, being content to be ministers after the New Testament manner. Nor can we wonder that one such, the late J. N. Darby, a zealous Church of Ireland curate in the Wicklow Hills, wrote, after his resignation, a pamphlet entitled "The Notion of a Clergyman Dispensationally the Sin against the Holy Ghost." The candid reader of the pamphlet must admit that the writer has proved his thesis.
Note. That no existing altar is referred to in Hebrews 13:10 is clear from the mention of the tabernacle. When the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, there had been no tabernacle for hundreds of years.
"Priests unto God" (Rev. 1:6).
"An holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5).
We have hesitated before deciding to write a chapter on "Priests." For it has nothing to do with the subject of the book. All genuine Christians are priests, including women and children. In Christianity priesthood does not imply leadership. The New Testament idea of a priest is not one who represents others, but one who has the right to enter the sanctuary, the immediate presence of God, and who owes this right to the atoning blood of Christ.
"Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood," cries the Patmos seer in his ascription of praise to Christ. He continues: "and has made us a kingdom of priests unto God" (R.V.) Every true believer can say that. The youngest disciple of Christ is one of that "kingdom of priests."
But to omit all reference to priests in a book with this title would suggest to some minds an evasion. We purpose therefore to point out the teaching of the Scriptures on this subject.
In the times of the old Persian monarchy not even the royal consort had right of access to her husband's presence. It was important for Esther to have an interview with the king Ahasuerus. But she dared not make the venture; it might mean death to her. Her relative, Mordecai, urged her, reminding her that death would be her lot if she refrained. So, gathering courage, she resolved to take the step. "So will I go in unto the king," she said, "and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16).
In the Roman Empire, where such a large part of the population consisted of slaves, a slave might not enter his master's presence unbidden, nor speak to him unless first addressed.
Think of the contrast! It is not an Eastern despot and his queen, nor a tyrannical master and his slave, that are in question, but the Supreme and Almighty God and ourselves, poor creatures of the dust. And we, even we, have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" (Heb. 10:19).
God has revealed Himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of all who belong to Him. And it is our Father's good pleasure to have His children near to Himself. Priesthood is based on relationship, as we shall see further on in this chapter.
But let us begin our study at the beginning.
The intention of God with regard to the people of Israel, whom He chose for Himself, was that they should be "a kingdom of priests" unto Him (Ex. 19:6). They were also to be "a peculiar treasure" to Him above all people (verse 5) and "an holy nation."
How they failed to answer to God's desire! In order to draw near to God in a way to give Him pleasure one must know Him, and must be instructed as to what is agreeable to Him. It became apparent with the course of years that Israel found no pleasure in knowing God. "There is no … knowledge of God in the land" cries Hosea. And because of this, the word of the Lord to that unappreciative nation was: "Because thou past rejected knowledge … thou shalt be no priest unto Me" (Hosea 4:1 and 6).
Some three hundred years later, in the days of Nehemiah, some of the priests that could produce no evidence of their sacerdotal pedigree were, "as polluted, put from the priesthood." But the Tirshatha (Nehemiah), in depriving them of priestly privileges, spoke of a day when a Priest should stand up with Urim and Thummim (Neh. 7:64-65). What these mysterious things signified we shall enquire further on in this chapter. But the prediction, we believe, is of Christ. The force of the passage seems to be that priesthood, being forfeited, should be recovered in association with Christ, the great Priest of years that were yet to come.
How gloriously has the prediction been verified! Those who in themselves have no title to priesthood have this wonderful privilege conferred upon them because they belong to Christ. In Him they find their true lineage; they are of His race and order.
In days of glory yet to come for this sin-spoiled earth, Christ will not only be King, but Priest. He will be "a Priest upon His throne." "The counsel of peace shall be between them both," that is, between the King and the Priest. Both offices will be united in one Person (Zech. 6:13).
In that yet future age the restored remnant of Israel will have an honoured place. What Israel forfeited through faithlessness will be restored on the ground of grace. They shall then "be named the Priests of the Lord … the Ministers of our God" (Isa. 61:6). This, it seems, will be true of the whole people, and not only of the house of Aaron.
Moreover, some who are martyred by decapitation during the days when that awful personage called The Beast is in power, will receive this special favour. "They shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Rev. 20:4 and 6).
But the Epistle to the Hebrews reveals Christ as our great High Priest now. And with Him are associated those whom He is not ashamed to call His brethren (Heb. 2:11).
In this connection we have perhaps a clue to the meaning of the Urim and the Thummim. They are Hebrew words, both in the plural. They have been translated "Lights" and "Perfections."
Christ came here as the great Light. He revealed God as no mere prophet could. In Hebrews 2:12 He says: "I will declare Thy Name unto My brethren." That is the function of the Priest with the Urim. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God is in His face (2 Cor. 4:6). He fully reveals the Father, in all His love.
But He is Man as well. As such He takes His place with His brethren, to be the Leader of their praises. He sings praise to God in the midst of the church, so that the response to the wonderful revelation of God is as great as the revelation itself, for both are in Christ. Here we have, as it were, the Priest with the Thummim, displaying in Himself the perfection of man's response to the light that He brought.
As the Priest with the Urim He, the Divine One, was alone.
As the Priest with the Thummim He has His brethren, His companions, who are "all of one" with Himself, and whose privilege it is to chime in with the song which He raises in their midst. The highest form of worship is, as a hymn puts it, to
"join the singing that He leadeth."
For this it is necessary, of course, to be conversant with the things that form the subject matter of His song.
For some years I lived in a cathedral city in the Midlands. A gentleman, with whom I was conversing, asked: "Where do you worship?"
I replied that I went to a certain Hall to worship with fellow-Christians.
"That place!" he exclaimed, with a touch of scorn in his voice, "Whatever makes you go there?"
"I go there," I replied, "because I believe they have the best singing."
He stared at me in amazement. "The best singing in that Hall!" he said. "Why, you don't imagine it is better than we have at the Cathedral, do you? You should just hear our choir!"
I had to explain, of course, what I meant. I was not referring to sweet-toned human voices, but to the singing of Christ. Sometimes, in the quiet of worship, one's thoughts are led up to the things for which HE gives thanks to God. When we praise God for forgiving and saving us, we are singing our song, not joining in His.
For what, then, does the risen Christ sing praise in the midst of the church? When you have found the answer to this question, Christian reader, but not till then, you will have discovered what constitutes the highest form of the worship of the Father, which is the true function of those who are priests unto Him.
A passage already referred to (Rev. 1:5-6) shows just who God's priests to-day are.
(1) They know Christ's love, as warm and tender as when He laid down His life for us upon the Cross;
(2) they know that they are loosed from their sins by His blood, not a spot of guilt remaining upon them;
(3) their hearts are full of praise, and they ascribe glory and dominion to Christ for ever.
It is sometimes asserted that, because all Christians are thus constituted priests, all have the right to take part in praise and prayer in the gatherings of the assembly. What? May women and children do so? They are priests as truly as any, but it is not for them to lead in prayer or worship. Nor is it fitting that just any brother should do this. An essential thing, for the priest is, as we have learned from Hosea 4, that he should have the knowledge of God. What we learn of God is to form an avenue, as it were, along which our souls travel in their approach to God.
His thoughts are more in number than the sand (Ps. 139:18). One who would be effective in leading the praise of others must have his mind richly stored with them, and be constantly gathering more. It is true that God's thoughts "cannot be reckoned up in order" (Ps. 40:5). We cannot rehearse them in a methodical fashion; they rush together, overlap, and coalesce in our minds. But they must be the things on which our souls feed if we are to function as priests, and especially if we are to voice the worship of others.
Two significant adjectives are used in connection with the priesthood of Christians in 1 Peter 2. In verse 5 we are called "an holy priesthood" and in verse 9 "a royal priesthood."
The thought of the "holy priesthood" is we draw nigh to God with spiritual (not material) sacrifices, thus to serve Him in the sanctuary of His presence.
The thought of the "royal priesthood" is that we represent God in a kingly way here in the world, not "offering up" praises, but showing them forth, so that people may get a right impression of what God is like by beholding the deportment of His children. No mean service this, and it is essentially the service of royal priests.
The Sin of Korah.
When we bear in mind the holy and wonderful function of Christian priesthood, it is awful to think of unregenerate men, who have neither part nor lot in the matter, claiming to be priests, as if some rite or appointment could constitute them so.
Korah and his associates were not born of the priestly family. Some of them were Reubenites. They presumed to claim the right to the priesthood, and acted as if they were sons of Aaron. Their destruction was swift. The Lord spoke of them to Moses as "these sinners against their own souls (Num. 16:38).
To-day, to be one of God's priests the first necessity is to be "born of God" (John 1:13; 1 John 4:7; 5:1). No rite or ordinance can bring this to pass. But unless a man is born from above, and knows Christ as his Saviour, and has received the forgiveness of his sins, to claim to be a priest is a modern counterpart to the sin of Korah. One trembles when one thinks of the fearful responsibility of unsaved men who masquerade as priests. May God give them repentance, or terrible will be their end.
We have already hinted that sonship is the basis of priesthood. It is so in the case of Christ Himself. "Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest; but He that said unto Him, Thou art My Son" (Hebrews 5:5). "The law makes men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, makes the Son, who is consecrated for evermore" (Heb. 7:28) .
It was so also in the case of Israel, though with them sonship was a national rather than a personal matter. The message to Pharaoh was: "Let My son go, that he may serve Me" (Ex. 4:23). In a truer way still it will be so in the glorious future. Concerning Israel it is written: "Where it was said unto them, ye are not My people, there shall it be said unto them, ye are the sons of the living God" (Hosea 1:10).
But it is pre-eminently true of Christians. The God to whom we draw near in worship is our Father. It is the Father who seeks true worshippers, to worship not with material things such as incense and trained choirs, but "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23).
Thank God there always have been, there are to-day, and will be to the end, those who (outside the bounds of a "Church" which can not be distinguished from "the world," and a priesthood consisting largely of men who know not God, and have not been born of Him) function as His priests.
"The race of God's anointed priests
Shall never pass away;
Before His glorious Face they stand
And serve Him night and day.
Though reason raves and unbelief
Flows on, a mighty flood,
There are, and shall be till the end
The hidden priests of God:
His chosen souls, their earthly dross
Consumed in sacred fire,
To God's own heart their hearts ascend
In flame of deep desire;
The incense of their worship fills
His Temple's holiest place;
Their song with wonder fills the heavens,
The glad new song of grace."
So wrote G. Ter Steegen, his words being translated into English by Mrs. Frances Bevan.
We get an ideal description of what a true priest of God, who is also His minister, or servant, should be in Malachi 2:5-7. Eight things mark him.
(1) The fear of the Lord. In the prevailing state of things it was everywhere lacking. Of the official priestly caste the Lord enquires: "Where is My fear?" (1:6). Oppressors are mentioned, of whom Jehovah says, they "fear not Me" (3:5). They that "feared the Lord" did what was very precious to Him (3:16) and to them a glorious promise was given (4:2). It was the first mark of a true priest.
(2) Life and peace. The priest was one who had emerged from a state of spiritual death and doubt. There must be the possession of the new life; we must be "alive unto God through Jesus Christ" (Rom. 6:11) and be in the enjoyment of personal "peace with God" (Rom. 5:1) before we can have any notion of what it really means to be a priest unto God.
(3) He walks with God. For this a man must he companionable. To have as a companion one who takes no interest in what greatly interests me is most distressing. To be an agreeable companion one must find out what one's friend is interested in, and let that, and not one's own concerns, be the subject of one's conversation. A priest finds out what God is interested in, and thus becomes companionable to Him. Thus he walks with God.
(4) Peace and equity. This is a different kind of peace from that of verse 5. It is peace in the sense of peaceableness. A priest will love peace and be a peacemaker. And equity will mark all his dealings.
(5) The law of truth is in his mouth. He knows what the truth of God is, loves it and teaches it.
(6) He is evangelistic in heart, and turns many from iniquity. If we cannot all be evangelists we may seek to win souls for Christ. Even children may do this. Sometimes they do it most successfully.
(7) He has knowledge, as well as zeal. He is a student, not merely a reader, of the Scriptures and has thereby learned much of God and His ways. His lips keep this knowledge; that is, he communicates it to others, as Aquila and Priscilla did to Apollos.
(8) He is God's messenger, representing Him, and is as His mouthpiece to men, not in any official sense but because, knowing God, he is able to declare Him.
Such, then, is the ideal priest. We shall do well to study the portrait, for it is one thing to say "I am one of the kingdom of priests" and quite another to function as a priest in a way that is for the pleasure and glory of God.
"The Gospel, whereunto I am appointed a preacher" (2 Tim. 1:11).
"That I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8).
"We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus The Lord" (2 Cor. 4:5).
This is a very general term, applicable to all who proclaim the glad tidings of salvation. We read of many preachers in New Testament days, but the actual word is used only of Paul, in the passage quoted above.
The apostles were originally chosen that, after their training by Christ, they might go forth and preach (Mark 3:14). The Saviour Himself was their Example in this. To the very end of His ministry He continued to preach the Gospel (Luke 20:1).
To preach is not the same thing as to argue, prove, reason, demonstrate or exhort. These things are all right in their place and time.
Preaching, however, is announcing. The word for preacher, kerux, simply means "herald." But there is another word used, euangelizomai, and this means "to bear good news." The preacher of the Gospel is a herald, and he heralds glad tidings.
Of Old Testament men, two are said to have been preachers.
First there was Noah, called in 2 Peter 2:5 "a preacher of righteousness." We do not read that he was a proclaimer of good things or that he invited men to take refuge in the Ark. He bore his testimony in "the world of the ungodly" and presented righteousness as God's demand. If the hundred and twenty years of Genesis 6:3 be the period of God's patience, before the Flood was sent, then Noah preached for a hundred and twenty years without making a single convert. Up to the time of his entering the Ark, Noah was the one man that was righteous in the sight of God (Genesis 7:1).
Preaching righteousness as God's demand upon men is all right but it was not, and is not now, effectual to produce repentance. We preach righteousness to a drunkard when we urge him to become sober. What effect does our counsel have? It leaves no more mark upon the man than a finger dipped in a bowl of water and withdrawn leaves on the water.
Noah himself, after preaching righteousness to others, fell into a terrible snare. "He drank … and was drunken" (Genesis 9:21).
Preachers of the Gospel are also preachers of righteousness. But it is "the righteousness of God," not that which He demands from men, that they proclaim (Rom. 1:17). Righteousness there must be, as the basis of all God's dealings with us. But we have none. God, however, provides it (Rom. 3:22). He not only shows mercy to ungodly men, and justifies them freely on the ground of the redemption work of Christ, but He clothes the believing sinner with a robe of righteousness in which even His own all-seeing eye can find no blemish. The Gospel comes to us, therefore, with the hall-mark of eternal righteousness. It must be so, for it is "the gospel of God."
Some preachers, it is to be feared, are "unskilful in the word of righteousness" (Heb. 5:13). They preach about God's goodness, and also of His righteousness in punishing the Christ-rejector. But to preach the righteousness of God as revealed in the Gospel (not the Law), as the first four chapters of Romans enable us to do, is to bring glory to God and lay in people's souls the foundation of solid peace.
Solomon also was called "the Preacher." His father, King David, was wont to declare the wonderful works of the Lord "in the great congregation." He probably addressed the multitudes that gathered several times a year for the great religious festivals at Jerusalem. Solomon apparently did the same (Ecc. 1:1).
He preached of wisdom in contrast with the vanity of vanities" that characterises everything beneath the sun. The wisdom of God was in this royal preacher (1 Kings 3:28). God gave him "wisdom and understanding exceeding much." Moses was "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians," but the wisdom of Solomon "excelled … all the wisdom of Egypt" (1 Kings 4:29-30).
He preached it to others. Who of us has not learned wisdom from his Book of Proverbs?
He was wise also in the way he prepared his discourses. He "sought to find out acceptable words," so that what he "taught the people" should remain with them as securely fastened nails remain in the wood into which they are driven (Ecc. 12:9-11).
Moral maxims, such as those for which we are indebted to this old time preacher, are of immense value. But they have no regenerative or saving power. Solomon himself, the wisest of men, fell a victim to folly and ultimately turned to idolatry. He "loved the Lord (1 Kings 3:3) but did not, even at the beginning, walk in the ways of wholehearted obedience. He ended by letting his wives turn his heart to their false gods; his heart was "turned from the Lord," and he "did evil in the sight of the Lord" (1 Kings 11:4-9). What a fall!
Preachers of the Gospel are also preachers of wisdom. They proclaim Christ as the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23-24). Paul spoke "the wisdom of God in a mystery" (1 Cor. 2:7).
In Christianity the preaching of wisdom is the presentation of a Person—Christ. The truth is not set forth in a creed, in a code of moral maxims, or in a system of theology, but livingly in a glorious and attractive Person. In this Christianity differs from any religion, philosophy, or code of ethics, whether ancient or modern, and the difference is vital.
Wisdom, righteousness and everything else that is desirable to have is summed up in Christ. If men preach Him they are preachers of every necessary virtue.
Of Paul, the only one in New Testament times to whom the descriptive word "preacher" is given, we have already spoken at some length. It will be sufficient here to contrast the end of his life of service with that of Noah and Solomon.
The preacher of righteousness became "drunken" and was the unconscious participator in a shameful scene.
The preacher of wisdom became a backslider and an idolator.
How did the preacher of the Gospel end his days? In his last Epistle, his second to Timothy, written at the very close of his life, probably within a few days of his martyrdom, he declares: "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day … if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him … I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day."
With the joy of all this in his soul, the great preacher, apostle and "teacher of the Gentiles" went from his prison cell to seal his testimony with his blood. Happy man!
"Stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1).
"A bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God" (Titus 1:7).
The meaning of the word Steward is so obvious that it might be thought unnecessary to devote a chapter to this subject were it not that the term has been adopted by at least one denomination for certain of its officers. It has thus acquired a certain technical significance. Are the Circuit Stewards of Methodism the counterpart of the stewards of whom we read in the New Testament? We shall see.
The first man to be called a steward in the Bible was Eliezer of Damascus (Gen. 15:2). He was, however, not God's steward, but Abraham's. His position was an important one and, failing the birth of a direct heir, he would inherit his master's possessions. If this man Eliezer was the servant sent to find and fetch a bride for Isaac (see the whole narrative in Genesis 24), we may appreciate his self-denying zeal on behalf of the heir that had superseded him and had frustrated whatever hopes of the inheritance he may have entertained.
"It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2). Fidelity is the trait most valued, and indeed essential, in a steward. It is the first quality mentioned by the Lord in His parable of the Good Steward. "Who then is that faithful and wise steward?" He asks (Luke 12:42).
When He speaks of the unfaithful man, He drops the title "steward" and refers to him merely as "that servant."
A steward, then, is essentially a faithful man, whom the Lord has put into a position of trust, and to whom something has been committed for administration. He is expected to be wise, as well as faithful.
Paul and his co-workers were "stewards of the mysteries of God." A mystery, in the Scripture meaning of the word, is not something mysterious, but a secret, once hidden, but at length revealed. There were mysteries connected with both the Kingdom of Heaven and the Church (Matt. 13:11; Eph. 3:3-6, 9). They had now been made known by the Holy Spirit to the apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:5), that they might faithfully and wisely administer them by sharing their knowledge with others. This administration, this stewardship, had nothing to do with material matters.
Will our Methodist Episcopal friends in America kindly observe that a bishop is a steward? (Titus 1:7). That is, a certain charge has been committed by God to those whom the Holy Spirit has made overseers in the churches. They are responsible to Him for the faithful and wise administration of the truths, the ability, the grace, committed to them.
If any wish to call those servants of God who are endowed with wealth His stewards, we shall not object. Wealth is a trust from God, just as other things, material and spiritual, are. The wealthy Christian may acknowledge the money that he possesses as a solemn trust, and may show the fidelity of his stewardship in his administration of it as the servant of Christ. If he is one entrusted by his fellow-Christians with funds to administer on their behalf, he is, of course, responsible to them. But his primary responsibility even in this is to the One whose servant and steward he is.
Are Methodist "stewards" men of this kind? Alas; it is a matter of personal knowledge with us that some are men who afford no evidence of having been converted to God. They have been appointed to their office because of their possession of money or in virtue of their social position. We fear that many of them would, in John Wesley's judgment, be numbered among those whom he calls in his Journal "Mongrel Methodists." Certainly those whom we have in mind are not stewards of God.
May God graciously help every one of us to whom anything, however small, has been committed, to be faithful in connection therewith. For the day will assuredly come when the Lord will say to us: "Give an account of thy stewardship" (Luke 16:2).
The Ministry of Women
"Phoebe … a servant of the church" (Rom. 16:1).
"Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord" (Rom. 16:12).
"Those women which laboured with me in the Gospel" (Philippians 4:3).
In Christianity many disabilities that lay upon women have been removed, and a wonderful sphere of service lies open to them.
This, however, has nothing to do with leadership. It does not, strictly speaking, belong to the subject of this book.
In ancient times there were great women leaders of Israel. Miriam was one (Micah 6:4). Deborah was another (Judges 4:4). This makes it all the more remarkable that in Christianity, while women have an honoured place, leadership is reserved for men.
Prayer in public is leadership. We rightly speak of a brother as leading us in prayer. When Christians are gathered together for prayer it is not that they may pray about their own personal needs. The one who takes part audibly does so as the mouthpiece of the whole gathering. He is leading the assembly's prayer.
When Paul gives directions to Timothy concerning prayer he emphasises the fact that it is Christian men who are to pray (1 Tim. 2:8). The word for "men" in this verse is not the general term for human beings, it is the word for men in contrast with women. The words "in like manner also" in verse 9 do not mean that women are to pray in like manner also, but that just as Paul says "I will" in connection with men, in like manner also he has an "I will" in connection with women, and what he wills is told us in verse 9.
It is sometimes deduced from 1 Corinthians 11:5 that Christian women prayed in the churches. Otherwise why should praying with their heads uncovered be deprecated? The deduction does not appear to us to be legitimate. Remembering what Paul wrote elsewhere, we take the force of this verse in Corinthians to be somewhat as follows: If Christian woman prays or prophesies in the assembly with her head uncovered she does two things. First, she sets at defiance the order as to the sexes, given in detail by Paul elsewhere. Secondly, she dishonours her head. Only the second of these is mentioned here, for the first has no immediate bearing on the subject, which is the hair: how should Christian men and women wear it?
Both in the homelands and overseas we see to-day the splendid service that is rendered by Christian women who loyally keep within the bounds of New Testament teaching. Our sisters are valiant soldiers of Christ. What a reward will be theirs by-and-by! But we venture to surmise that no Christian woman will hear her Lord's "well done" for having assumed leadership.
The Apostle's words are perfectly clear: "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (1 Tim. 2:12). "Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak … for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" (1 Cor. 14:34-35).
It is amazing what people will say, and to what devices they will resort, in order to get away from the apostolic words. Here are a few sample excuses, out of many that might be quoted.
"We find our plan of having women officers works very well; it is no use telling me what Paul said." Evidently not.
"Paul was a misogynist; we needn't pay too much heed to what he says." But a spiritual man regards what Paul wrote as the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37).
"Paul was the son of his age and spoke according to the ideas then prevalent. We have got on a bit since then." Sometimes getting on really means getting away.
"Paul never made a bigger mistake than when he relegated women to an inferior place." In some respects women have the superior place, even though leadership is reserved for men.
"When Paul said women were not to speak in the church he meant that they were not to chatter." Indeed! The word is exactly the same as that used in other verses in the same chapter: verses 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. Does it mean "chatter" there? The prophets (verse 29) were to do what women were not to do. Does it mean that two or three of them were to chatter?
We rejoice to place on record that we have the privilege of knowing hundreds of godly, zealous Christian women who loyally and wholeheartedly obey the apostolic injunction, but who serve their Master most acceptably, and are used of Him to lead sinners to the Saviour's feet. They know their Lord's pleasure too well to desire leadership in the assemblies or in public ministry. But what wonderful lives of service they can and do pursue!
John the Baptist.
"A man sent from God" (John 1:6).
"The friend of the Bridegroom" (John 3:29).
"A burning and a shining light" (John 5:35).
The story of this great witness of Christ and preacher of repentance is one of the mysteries and tragedies of the New Testament. His short life was cut short before he was forty, and he reached his end before the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. His story therefore belongs to pre-Pentecostal days, and he was not, strictly speaking, a Christian.
Filled with the Holy Spirit from the hour of his birth, he became the immediate herald of Christ. Earlier prophets had borne their witness to the coming of Messiah. John announced His actual arrival, and cried: "Behold the Lamb of God."
To be the forerunner of Christ was such an honour that it made the man whose privilege it was the greatest that had yet been born. Greatest, that is, of course, in point of privilege (Matthew 11:11). But when the kingdom was established, not merely as being among men in the person of the King, but as a sphere where heaven's rule is acknowledged, the least in that kingdom was greater (in point of privilege) than all who had lived and died before, greater even than John.
John must have been a powerful preacher. People flocked to hear him from all over the southern province, and from the trans-Jordan territory. The metropolis poured forth its thousands; and all these not only listened, but submitted to baptism at John's hands, confessing their sins.
But in reading the narrative of his life how often we are constrained to ask, Why? What a magnificent apostle he would have made! Why was he not chosen to be one of the twelve? What a fearless Christian leader he would have been! Why was not his life prolonged that he might have been one?
When Peter was put in prison by Herod, who purposed to kill him, an angel was sent to deliver him. Why was no angel sent for the deliverance of John?
I do not raise these questions merely to invite speculation as to the possible answers. I have myself a suggestion to offer as to why John was left outside the ranks of Christian leadership.
Fearless and faithful witness for Christ that he was, it seems clear that he missed the opportunity of becoming one of His disciples. One day two of John's disciples left him to follow Jesus (John 1:37). Oh, why did not John do the same? Why was he not with those who "abode with Him that day"?
Instead of becoming a disciple of Christ, John continued to have disciples of his own, a thing for which he was never sent. His disciples resembled in many ways those of the Pharisees (Luke 5:33). They formed an organisation which ultimately seemed as if it would be a rival to Christianity. It had spread even as far as Alexandria, in Egypt, and had taken root at Ephesus (Acts 18:24-25; 19:1-3.
Was this the reason why John was not permitted to continue? God never sends His servants to make disciples for themselves. I cannot but think that John lost a magnificent opportunity when he failed to throw in his lot with Christ, and become a humble disciple of His.
Paul, after his conversion, was but a zealous, uninstructed young Christian. He, too, after his sojourn in Arabia, began to make disciples of his own, for the true reading of Acts 9:25 is generally acknowledged to be: "Then his disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket."
It was a serious thing, and Paul, as far as we know, was never allowed by God to set foot in Damascus again, though he was saved from repeating the mistake elsewhere.
People sometimes speak of the churches which Paul founded as his churches. Paul would vehemently have disclaimed such a thing. To him they were "churches of God" and he never called them "my churches." Yet men to-day, who bear little resemblance to the apostles, will brazenly speak of a congregation as "my church," or "my people." The only One who has the right to use such terms, and who does use them, is Christ.
Leadership of Christ's flock does not imply ownership. No intelligent leader would call any of the Good Shepherd's sheep "my flock." Let all who are tempted to talk after this fashion remember John the Baptist and the great place in early Christianity that might have been his, but which it seems probable that he forfeited through persisting in having disciples of his own, instead of exhorting them, as Barnabas exhorted the converts at Antioch, to "cleave unto the Lord," and unto Him only.
The Stranger, the Thief, the Hireling & the Wolf
Read John 10:1-16.
There were false, faithless, self-seeking shepherds among God's ancient people of Israel. Their falseness is exposed and their selfishness denounced in Ezekiel 34:1-10. In contrast with all these, Christ is the Good Shepherd, who has even given His life for the sake of His sheep.
It was predicted that there should also be spurious leaders, wicked teachers, preachers of falsehood among professing Christians. "I know this," says Paul, "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" (Acts 20:29-30). Even during the days of the apostles there were many (we should perhaps read "the majority") who were already corrupting the word of God (2 Corinthians 2:17). Peter plainly declares: "There were false prophets also among the people [of Israel], even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies … and many shall follow their pernicious ways … and through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you" (2 Peter 2:1-3)
The Lord, in the tenth chapter of John, speaks of various kinds of men who assume leadership of the flock, but who are in reality only seeking their own ends.
There was, first, the Stranger (verse 5). He spoke to the sheep with an unfamiliar voice. There was not the ring of love in it. The sheep had never met him; he was nothing to them. They flee from such men. There are people like this to-day. They assume to guide and teach; but the sheep of Christ instinctively give them a wide berth; they do not recognise the voice of the Shepherd speaking through the lips of these strangers.
Then there was the Thief (verse 10). His object is predatory; gain for himself is all he seeks. The sheep may perish: what cares he? Nay, he may destroy them by his wicked ways and wicked preaching. Nothing matters to him so long as he gains what he is after: money, popularity, fame or social position.
Thirdly, there is the Hireling (verse 12). He may serve the sheep in useful ways; may give them food and water. But he is not their owner; he does his duty in return for his wages. When an emergency comes, however, he fails. He considers his own interests rather than those of the sheep.
Fourthly, there is the Wolf (verse 12), Satan himself, who acts through his servants, masquerading as "ministers of righteousness." The wolf is out to do all the damage to the sheep that he can. He cannot catch them (same word as "catch" in verse 12) out of the Shepherd's hand but he can and does catch them in other ways, and scatter them. He has been only too successful in this evil work.
Contrast with all these the true Shepherd. The sheep, when He came, were in a fold, "shut up" as Galatians 3:23 puts it. Into this fold the Shepherd graciously enters in a regular way, the gate being opened to him by the porter, John the Baptist perhaps. He delivers His sheep from the fold and brings them to a place of safety, liberty and pasturage (John 10:3, 9). Then He speaks of other sheep which never belonged to the fold and did not, therefore, need deliverance from it. These are the Gentiles, far away and needing to be brought. "Them also I must bring," says the Shepherd (verse 16), and the two kinds of sheep, those delivered from the fold, and those who never belonged to any fold, should be formed into one flock (R.V.), and both should have one and the same Shepherd.
Teachers of error abound on every hand today. May God grant that it may be true of us that "the sheep did not hear them." May He at the same time grant that our ears may be attuned to the Shepherd's voice, that we may listen to and follow Him. Then we shall be able to discern whether those who take the place of preachers and teachers are truly His servants or not, whether they speak to us in accents that we can recognise as being the Shepherd's voice or the contrary.
There are some who, like Jephthah in Judges 12, begin by being quite right, but who set up Shibboleths of their own and lift up the sword against all who say "Sibboleth." These do the work of the wolf in that they scatter the sheep. They become leaders of parties. Paul lifts a warning voice against such. They were to be avoided (Rom. 16:17). The divisions and offences that they cause are contrary to the great truth of the unity of the Body of Christ, the flock of the Good Shepherd.
Such leaders practically resuscitate the "fold" idea. They raise hurdles and fences between the sheep of Christ and will not allow them to communicate with one another, even at the Lord's Supper. What an evil work is this!
We have to remember, as the hymn puts it, that—
"No party name may blazon
Upon His banquet wall;
No rivalry obtaineth
Where Christ is all in all."
There are still faithful men, however, who have regard to the Flock as one, and who seek to feed the household with meat in due season. None will suffer spiritual loss if they cease to follow the banner of a party, or refuse to sit under the ministry of a "hireling" or a "stranger."
It would be easy to write pages of suitable exhortation based upon the truths herein set forth. But I forbear. I beg my readers to examine the Scriptures to which reference has been made and to allow them to have weight with their souls. If they prayerfully seek to know the will of the Lord they will assuredly not seek in vain. If they are content with what they find practised so generally to-day they will lay this book aside with a shrug of their shoulders. But "magna est veritas et praevalebit" ("The truth is great and will prevail"). Whether it will prevail with the reader is, of course, for him or her to decide.