Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The roles of Pastors, Elders, and Congregations in a New Testament Church

As I read through the scriptures, I find that we are led toward a polity in which a singular or plurality of pastors/elders teaches and guides those under their care, while the congregation corporately agrees upon a church wide vision and a set of goals that the church as a whole seeks to carry out, under the direction of the pastor/elders and the deacons. This model is virtually identical to the Congregational model, with the exception that it remains silent on the exact number of pastor/elders, largely because the scriptures themselves remain silent on this issue.

The Biblical Mandate for and Role of the Pastor/Elder

In its discussions of the Early Church, the New Testament calls for two offices to rule over and guide the church. The first office of pastor/elder is tasked with teaching and providing spiritual guidance while the second office of the deacon is tasked with caring for the temporal needs of the church so that the pastor/elder may devote himself to the study and teaching of the Word. For the purpose of this post, I will primarily focus on the biblical mandate and role of the first office of pastor/elder.
The New Testament identifies a church’s first office with three terms. The first is presbuterouV, which is translated "elder," episkopoV, which is typically translated as either overseer or bishop, and poimhn, which is usually translated as pastor or shepherd. Given that the New Testament uses these terms interchangeably and occasionally uses them together to refer to the different roles of the one office (1Peter 5:1 - 3), one may conclude that these terms are understood to be synonymous in the New Testament writings. While the aforementioned evidence establishes the fact that the New Testament calls for the guidance of pastor/elders over a New Testament church, it would be prudent to stop here to examine whether or not the biblical texts call for a specific number of pastor/elders. Some would correctly point out that the term presbuterouV is always plural in the New Testament, and thus conclude that the Bible calls for a plurality of elders. However, the terms episkopoV and poimhn, are often found in the singular tense in the New Testament, thus nullifying the conclusion that the New Testament calls for a plurality of elders. Based upon my readings of the texts, I find no reason to argue for a singular or plurality of pastor/elders dogmatically, and therefore conclude that such a decision may be left up to the congregation as it feels led and needs demand.
In Perspectives on Church Government: Five Views of Church Polity, Dr. Daniel Akin notes that the New Testament pastor/elder is given eight specific roles.

First, he has overall responsibility and oversight of his congregation (Heb. 13:17).
Second, he is to seek the mind of Christ (Eph. 1:22).
Third, he must be apt to preach and teach (Eph. 4:11).
Fourth, he shall maintain the health of relationships in the church (Gal. 6:1).
Fifth, the pastor/elder shall exercise at least a general oversight of the church’s finances (Acts 11:30).
Sixth, he shall lead in the appointment of deacons (Acts 6:1 - 6).
Seventh, he is to lead by example (Heb. 13:7).
Finally, the pastor/elder is to lead in the exercise of church discipline (Gal. 6:1).

From Dr. Akin’s overview of the roles of the pastor/elder, one may quickly see that the pastor/elder’s primary function it to lead the teaching ministry of the church, and provide guidance to the church in its decision making processes.

The Biblical Basis for the Congregation’s Participation in the Church’s Polity

Throughout the course of the New Testament, we find that the congregation was the final temporal authority within their local church. In various passages, we find that the congregation was responsible for the authorization of new leaders, the discipline of church members, and the approval of plans and goals presented to them by their leadership. Because this pattern of congregational participation is laid out for us in the scriptures, it is then mandatory for us to model our church’s polity in a similar fashion.
We best see evidence for the congregation’s first role in church government, the authorization of new leadership, in passages such as Acts 11:22 and Acts 13:1. In Acts 11, we see that persecution scattered the church at Jerusalem, and that some believers had settled in Antioch. While in Antioch, they had an opportunity to lead many to faith in Christ. When news of this work reached Jerusalem, the church body as a whole commissioned Barnabas to go to Antioch for the purpose of teaching and training those new believers. By the beginning of Acts 13, the church at Antioch had been well established, and through the leading of the Holy Spirit felt called to begin sending missionaries themselves. Following the leading of the Spirit, the church commissioned Barnabas and Saul as missionaries, and sent them on their first missionary journey.
Evidence for the congregation’s second role in church government, the discipline of the church’s members, is seen in many instances in the book of first and second Corinthians. From these passages, I believe that 1 Corinthians 5 is the best illustration of the church’s responsibility to exercise oversight over the spiritual purity of its members. In the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 5, Paul notes that an extreme case of sexual immorality existed in the congregation. After examining this case, Paul concluded that the Corinthians must remove the offender from fellowship. However, Paul does not exercise his Apostolic authority to excommunicate the offender, nor does he call upon the pastor/elders to remove him from membership. Instead, Paul calls on the congregation to remove this person from them "when they are assembled together" (vs. 4).
Evidence for the congregation’s third role in church government, the approval of plans and goals presented to them by their leadership, is best illustrated in passages such as Acts 6. In the opening verses of Acts 6, we find that the church had grown too large for the Apostles to govern alone, as evidenced by the fact that many were being overlooked during the daily distribution of bread. To solve this problem, the Apostles proposed that seven men should be selected from the church to oversee the physical needs of the congregation so that the Apostles could focus on their teaching ministry. However, while implementing this plan, the Apostles did not unilaterally exercise their authority over the church, but instead submitted their proposal to the congregation at large, which "found approval with the whole congregation" (vs. 5).
Finally, as a sidebar, there are also theological reasons for seeking a congregational polity, most notably based in the fact that the Holy Spirit has gifted every believer to lead. Throughout the course of the Bible, those endowed with the Holy Spirit have been charged with leadership over God’s people (Josh. 1, Judges 13, 1 Sam 9/16, Matt. 3, Acts 2). Today, all those who place their faith in Jesus have received the Holy Spirit, and with Him the call and responsibility to lead God’s people. By not allowing them to exercise that calling, we are robbing them of the exercise of their God - given abilities.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Theological Triage

Any time we stop to discuss a theological issue, one of the first questions we should ask ourselves is how important is this?

After observing a triage unit in a local hospital, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, developed a system of Theological Triage to help us determine how important any given doctrine is to our spiritual lives.

Dr. Mohler’s system of theological triage divides all doctrines into three main categories:

Primary Doctrines – those doctrines which all Christians can agree on, and separates Christians from Non – Christians.

Secondary Doctrines – those doctrines which we must agree on in order to cooperate together. These doctrines separates Christians into different denominations.

Tertiary Doctrines – those doctrines which should not divide Christians.

Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at SBTS, modifies Dr. Mohler’s system slightly to help us further assign importance to our doctrines. Dr. Moore subdivides the tertiary doctrines into 3rd tier and 4th tier doctrines. He notes that:

3rd tier doctrines are doctrines that we must agree on in order to cooperate within a local church. These doctrines would divide Christians into different local churches that are still able to cooperate within the same denomination.

4th tier doctrines are doctrines that Christians can "agree to disagree" and still remain in the same local church.

Thus, our theological triage pyramid would look like this:

While this system is very helpful, it does leave us with one big question: where do our various doctrines lie on this triage spectrum?

As I look at the various Christian doctrines, I believe that a good breakdown would be:

Primary Doctrines (Doctrines that all Christians should agree on) – Salvation through Christ alone through grace alone by faith alone. A proper understanding of God (Trinitarian, Human/Divine Nature of Christ). The physical resurrection of Christ.

Secondary Doctrines – (Doctrines that we must agree on to cooperate denominationally) – Biblical Inerrancy, The meaning, nature, and method of the ordinances (Baptism & Lord’s Supper). Security of the Believer. Gender Roles in church leadership.

3rd Tier Doctrines – (Doctrines that that we must agree on in order to cooperate within a local church) – Polity. Church Discipline. Tongues.

4th Tier Doctrines – (Doctrines that we can "agree to disagree" and still remain in the same local church) – Issues of Practical Holiness (Such as alcohol use). Millennial Views. Political Affiliation. Issues surrounding God’s sovereignty.

I think that this is a fair and balanced breakdown of Christian doctrines. However, In order for Christians to cooperate and not fight over tertiary (3rd & 4th tier doctrines), we must all agree on their proper place on the spectrum of triage – something that I seriously doubt will ever happen.

Take for example the issue of tongues – an issue that, in my opinion, gets discussed way too much given the fact that it is a tertiary doctrine.

I have met many people who have assigned this doctrine to very different places on the triage spectrum.

I have friends from college who hail from a Fundamentalist Pentecostal position, who argue that because tongues illustrates the receipt of the Holy Spirit, all people who are saved will speak in tongues – thus elevating the doctrine to a primary position.
Even though I see tongues as a tertiary doctrine, I cannot cooperate with these people in spiritual endeavors.

I have other friends who feel that one can be saved and not speak in tongues. However, they feel that glossolalia is normative and all Christians should seek out the gift – elevating the doctrine to a secondary doctrine.
I have an easier time cooperating with these people, but still, we should probably remain in different denominations

I also have friends who are of the "3rd wave charismatic" persuasion – people who agree that tongues is a tertiary doctrine - but for some reason they think that everyone must see glossolalia as possible, so they talk about it and argue about it every chance they get.
I do have a hard time cooperating with these people. Not so much because of their theological position, but because they’re jerks about it.

Agreeing on the proper place of our doctrines on the spectrum of theological triage (and treating said doctrines accordingly) will do much to help us cooperate with others who disagree with us over tertiary doctrines. I believe that agreement in this area will also help us to define the "size of the tent" in the SBC.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Has the gifts of tongues ceased?

First – an important note – there are no true cessasionists in the church. All believe that the Holy Spirit continues to work in the life of the church guiding, convicting, and bringing Biblical teaching to the mind of the believer. Equally, there are also no true continuationists either. All agree that not all of the abilities given to New Testament personalities are still given today. Things like being able to read people’s minds, knowing the condition of their hearts, and pronouncing judgement on them.

That being said, we must ask what continues now and what has ceased.

My position is that glossolalia; the speaking of tongues as ecstatic worship and as a personal prayer language has ceased in the church. I will support this position through a historical analysis of the phenomenon and a Biblical explanation of the purpose and use of glossolalia.


The use of tongues (a typically unknown or angelic language) may not have been prevalent in the early church, but was present. (Its purpose will be discussed later) 1 Corinthians provides us with ample evidence of the practice’s presence in the early church. It has been noted before that most scholars agree that the term tongues (glw,ssaij) did mean ecstatic speech.
However, after the apostolic period ended, there were no further credible accounts of the use of tongues in the church. In fact the only account of the use of tongues outside of the apostolic era came from a monk in the mid 6th century. He claimed to have spoken in tongues - but since he also claimed to have evangelized wild beasts, tamed dragons, and converted demons into angels, this account is less than credible.
For almost 1900 years of church history the issue of tongues was settled – it had ceased. No one ever claimed to have spoken in tongues. Not Popes, not heretics, not the reformers, not the "revolutionary" anabaptists, not even in the mystical Catholic sects led by Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross. Tongues was not an issue for 1900 years, they had stopped.
But, in 1900, the "gift of tongues" was rediscovered in Kansas, taken to Texas, before being made popular at Azusa Street in California. I think that most of us know the history from there.
From this we see that the question that charismatics must answer is not whether or not the gift of tongues has continued, but why did it cease for 1900 years before reemerging at Azusa St.?
The earliest Pentecostals had a somewhat reasonable answer to this question. They reasoned that the time had come when "young men have visions & old men dream dreams." They figured that the Spirit was now being poured out because Christ’s second coming was eminent. However, 106 years has passed since then & now few people will argue this reasoning. Now they suggest that the gift of tongues has always existed in the church. But this ignores the historical record & the question remains, why did tongues cease for 1900 years before reemerging at Azusa St.?


Typically a discussion on glossolalia centers on 1 Corinthians 14. Here Paul outlines the proper uses of tongues in the church.
In verses 1 – 27 he shows how they should be used in an orderly fashion. He then goes on to state in vs 28 – 33 to explain how the gift should be used when not in order (when no interpreter is present).
But one verse in this passage is usually dismissed by the charismatics I know, verse 6, in which Paul outlines the purpose of tongues. He states:
1 Corinthians 14:6 6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? (Emphasis added)
Here Paul shows us that the purpose of tongues is providing direct revelation from God that is authoritative and binding upon the church. (For a full discussion on these terms, please refer to the Barclay Newman Greek English Dictionary, Friberg Analytical Greek Lexicon, Gingrich Greek NT Lexicon, Liddell Scott Abridged Lexicon, Louw Nida Greek English Lexicon of the NT, and the Thayer Greek English Lexicon of the NT, all agree that these terms were used to describe authoritative revelation from God).

Unlike the Corinthian church, we now have a complete revelation from God, the Bible. The need for direct authoritative communication from God to His church is no longer needed, thus the gift of tongues is no longer needed.
This principle can also be applied to other biblical precedents that have now ceased, such as the office of Apostle.
(note: I am aware that some denominations do confer the title Apostle upon some of their leaders. However, these denominations recognize that these people are Apostles in the general sense of the term (messengers), not Apostles in the technical sense of the term (as applied to the twelve and Paul).
The qualifications of being an Apostle are found in Acts 1:22, that they walked with Jesus in the flesh and witnessed his resurrection. Today, no one can meet the qualifications of the office, thus the office of Apostle has ceased.
Equally, the need for tongues has ceased, thus the gift has as well.

Can this happy cessasionist become a happy continuationist when it comes to glossolalia? Absolutely, but I’ll need some help on the way. Three questions must be answered.

First, why did tongues cease for 1900 years before reemerging at Azusa St.?

Second, does the modern use the tongues fit the purposes outlined in 1 Corinthians 14:6? Are they providing direct revelation from God that is authoritative and binding upon the church?

Third (from #2), if the Bible is sufficient for holiness, then why do we need a gift that is providing direct revelation from God that is authoritative and binding upon the church?

I’ve asked these questions to every continuationist I’ve met for the past I don’t know how many years. Usually I just get blown off. If someone could provide an answer I am willing to listen.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Parental Theology

I started pastoring my current church about 4 months ago. In that time my congregation has generously embraced many of my quirks – like making up words and phrases that some times sounds like gibberish. I figure I should have some latitude in my use of the language – my undergraduate degree is in English after all – that makes me an authority if the field right?
One of the phrases I catch myself using quite a bit is the phrase "scary exciting". I use it to define a goal that is so big and lofty that the work, time, and luck required to make it a success is, well, scary. But at the same time the rewards of meeting that goal are so equally large that you can help but being excited about it. That’s scary exciting.
I had a scary exciting moment today with the birth of my first child.
As I looked at my boy I saw so much potential – potential that may be unlocked or squandered through my parenting.
As I looked at him, I couldn’t help but to ask myself, how on earth am I suppose to raise him? How should Christians parent their children?
This may seem like an elementary question to some, but for me this idea of being a Christian parent is a great quandary – mainly because I have never seen a consistent example of Christian parenting.
My father is a Christian man of the highest caliber. When he accepted Christ his life turned on a dime. Today he is an example godliness and dedication. The only problem with this is that he accepted Christ in 2000, while I was attending college 3 hours away from home and pastoring my first church. I accepted Christ nearly 15 years earlier and immediately became a Christian island in my community. Outside of my church that I attended for a few hours on Sundays, I never had any contact with another Christian. My family was lost; my neighbors were lost, as were my friends and their families as well. And so as I grew up, the only parenting that I ever saw was worldly parenting. Parents raising children based on principles that were family traditions or that "got them through life." Parents disciplining their children with punitive discipline done in anger as opposed to discipline that guides to righteousness.
As a teen I started to associate with other Christian families through my youth group. This gave me a chance to see some Christian parenting from a distance, but hardly enough to guide me now.
So now I ask myself, how should Christians raise their children? Below I list the 4 principles that I came up with. These principles are hardly exhaustive, but they should provide us with a foundation and a starting point to help us as we seed to become godly parents.

1 – Model the Christian life through your life.

Titus 2:7-8 7 in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.

In my house the phrase "do what I say, not what I do" was almost a mantra. My parents realized that they had bad habits ingrained into their lives that they did not want to pass on to me. Accordingly, I was taught that such things were wrong. But I still did them. Why? Because I saw my parents doing them. The morals that we teach our children will have only a limited effect on their lives, but the morals we model for our children will be embraced and imitated by our children throughout their lives. We must model the Christian life for them through our life because ultimately more is caught than taught.

2 – Use every opportunity to teach your children the full counsel of God.

Deuteronomy 11:18-19 18 "You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 19 "You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.

When it comes to a child’s education, no one is more important than a child’s parents. This is even more true when it comes to a child’s spiritual education. God’s word and its implications are sometimes difficult to grasp, especially for small children. Therefore parents, especially fathers, should constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to teach their children about God in their day to day lives.

3 – Discipline your children as a means of teaching and restoring them.

Unfortunately, at some point in time in a child’s life, they will "color outside the lines" and do something that they know is wrong. At those times, we must discipline our children as a way of loving them. Proverbs 13:24 says he who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.
But what is the purpose of discipline? We disciple to correct. We discipline to teach boundaries. We discipline to bring our children willingly back into God given guidelines for living.
When the Bible speaks of discipline, it speaks of a restorative discipline. Speaking on church discipline, Matthew 18:15 says "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. Equally in our families, if a child does something wrong, show him his fault & guide him out if it to righteousness.

4 – Realize that ultimately God is in full control of their lives.

Psalm 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.

A wise man once said; "You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink." In life there is so much that a person can do. We can teach our children about God, we can model faith to them, we can pray for them and put them on the path of righteousness, but we cannot force them to become Christians or follow after God. When we look in the lives of the Old Testament saints we see people who were put on the right path by their parents, but only became faithful men or women by seeking and following God. The best example of this is the life of Samuel. Samuel’s family dedicated him to the Lord – they set him on the right path, but it was God who led him.

Father God, tonight I pray that you would build me into a God honoring father. Help me to never forget that my son is both a gift from you and a gift to you. Please help me be a wise steward of his life as I guide him to you.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Why Another Blog?

As I sit here writing my first blog, I ask myself why on earth do we need another blog? My mind wanders to one of my guilty pleasures in life, watching the Simpsons. In one episode, Lisa takes on the media-industrial-complex by publishing her own newspaper. Her endeavor fails, but it inspires everyone else to start writing and distributing their own papers. As he is handed several papers, Homer gets the in last word when he says "finally, now everyone with access to a photocopier can spread their worthless ideas."
That’s how I have felt about blogs for a long time (still do to some extent). But, it is a valuable tool, and if everyone else is going to publish their ideas, then I might as well get in on it too.
My hope is to publish one thought per week, on Mondays, on theological issues we face as Christians as a whole, and Southern Baptists in particular. Given that I am a new pastor with way too much on my plate and my first child due in a week or so I cannot promise consistency, but that is my hope.
Quick note – I really just want to deal with topics, but inevitably names will get attached to those topics. As Christians we must keep our comments dignified and respectable. That too will be a goal of mine.

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