Saturday, May 26, 2007

We Are Who We Hang Out With

I have written article on the importance of attending church. The article is at

Not only is it important to actively participate in the life of the church, one might say that not to do so leaves questions about your faith in Christ.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The New Testament Pastor

Recently a discussion in regard to the title of the office of Pastor took place on the Yahoo Group, Theology List. In response to that discussion, I decided to write a brief article on the New Testament Pastor. Please note that all Scripture quotations are from the NASB.

What is a Pastor?

To understand the role and function of a pastor, one may begin by looking at the words used to label this ministry. The words used are Elder, presbuteros; Bishop or Overseer, episkope; and Pastor, poimen. By far the most used term in the New Testament is the word Elder. However, it is clear that all three words refer to the same office. Acts 20: 28

Acts 20:28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (NASB)

They are called Elders, (presbuteros) they have been made, by Holy Spirit, overseers, (episkope) and they are to shepherd (poimen) the church. . . .

The same observation can be made in I Peter 1: 1-2.

1 Peter 5:1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,
2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; (NASB)

Peter calls them elders (presbuteros) and commands them to shepherd (poimen) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight (episkope). All three elements, all three words are used in both passages and leaves little doubt that the three words refer to the same office.

What do the three words tell us? Elder (presbuteros) has a Hebrew background. The council of wise men who were to govern or go give advice were called Elders. Members of the local council of a city or community and the members of the Sanhedrin were both referred to as Elders. Both the Hebrew word zaqen and the Greek presbuteros, carry the idea of an older man, who is mature and wise. I think that we can gather from the meaning and usage of the word, that an elder is one who is to give wise council and leadership to those placed under his charge.

Overseer or Bishop comes from the Greek word episkope. According to the BDAG, the word means: 1. the act of watching over with special ref. to being present, visitation, of divine activity, 2. position of responsibility, position, assignment; 3. engagement in oversight, supervision.

According to the TDNT, the root of the episkope or episkopos, means to watch or to look out. It was used of gods who watched humans and was used in the sense of a divine visitation. The word came to be used in the form of episkopos for offices and positions of oversight. Civil officials were referred to as episkopos. It became a common word for various positions in the Greek world that had oversight over things and people. Episkopos comes to the New Testament as the Greek word that corresponds to the Hebrew idea of pesbuteros. It is one who has oversight, in this case, over a congregation.

The word poimen (shepherd) has a rich Old Testament history. It is used of those who care for sheep. They feed them, tend to them, protect them from harm. David was a shepherd and described God as Shepherd. And God is described as Shepherd in various ways in various Old Testament passages.

Based on the words used to describe the office, one can conclude that the one who holds this office is to be a man who is wise and mature, who is called by the Holy Spirit to oversee, to administrate, to, in some sense of the word, rule over a congregation as one who is a shepherd who feeds, takes care of and protects his charge.

While the words Bishop, Elder and Pastor refers to the same office, I tend to use the word Pastor simply because that is my Baptist tradition. For the remainder of this paper, I will use the word Pastor but any and all of the three are clearly meant.

The Character of a Pastor

The meaning of the terms, particularly the word Elder, reflects the character of the holder of the office. Wisdom and maturity are paramount characteristics of a Pastor. First Timothy 3: 1-7 describes the character of the pastor. While these traits should be found among all mature Christians, it is imperative that the holder of the pastoral office be marked by them.

1 Timothy 3:1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity
5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),
6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.
7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (NASB)

While much can be said about the character of the pastor, suffice it to say that he must be above reproach, mature, not a new convert, and one who manages his own household.

The Work of the Pastor.

The work of the pastor is varied and requires the mastery of a wide variety of fields. Some of the important texts in regard to the work of the pastor are as follows:

Acts 6
2 And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
3 "But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
4 "But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."

NAS Acts 20:28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

I Timothy 4: 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.
14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed upon you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.
15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all.
16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

I Timothy 5: 17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
18 For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages."

2 Timothy 2:1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
3 Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
4 No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
5 And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.
6 The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.
7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel,
9 for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned.
10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.
11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him;
12 If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.
14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers.
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.

NAS 2 Timothy 4:1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires;
4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.
5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Ephesians 4:11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.
14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ,
16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

From these texts, one can see that the pastor is to give his attention to the issues of prayer and ministry of the Word. He is to preach and teach the Word and be ready to do so in season and out of season. Furthermore, we are to reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. And we are to minister in this manner because a time will come when men will not endure sound instruction. It is the pastor’s job to not be persuaded by fads and trends and the worldly wants of some. But he is to be prepared to teach and preach sound doctrine, even to the point of reproof and rebuke when those who are under his charge drift from the Scriptural norm. The pastor must be on guard that he is not carried away by the same trends but rather, guard his own heart as he consistently calls the people of God to repentance when they go astray. The pastor is the one who oversees the spiritual life of the congregation. He is to see to it that they are growing in holiness. He calls them to proper order when they go astray. The pastor protects the congregation from false doctrine, even those false teachers who arise from within the church. No other leader in the New Testament church has this burden laid on him.

Ephesians grammatically links the role of Pastor-teacher, though some dispute this. This does not mean that only pastors are teachers. However, it is the role and responsibility of the Pastor to teach. Fist Timothy 3 says that one of the qualifications of the Overseer is to be able to teach.

The pastor is to lead the church. The means and method of this leadership is found in First Peter:
1 Peter 5:2-3
2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;
3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.

The pastor is to lead by persuasion and by example. The model for such leadership is Jesus himself. Pastors are to be true servant-leaders. Following the example and command of Jesus, the pastor does not exist to be served but to serve. He becomes the servant of all, according to the words of Jesus, those who would be great, become the servant of all.

The only model for pastoral leadership is that of a servant who leads his congregation by persuasion and example. He cannot ask people to do what he will not do or to become what he will not become. And while he is to lead in such gentle fashion, he is also, when necessary, to speak boldly the Word of God to reprove, rebuke, and exhort when necessary. A pastor cannot make people follow him. And he can no more make people act and behave a certain way than he can cause to moon to rise. Therefore, his leadership comes from his calling, his gifts, his character and from his commitment to the very Word that he is to teach and preach. The result of his ministry should be church whose members grow up into a mature man with Christ as our head. Fist and Second Timothy and Titus are instructions to young pastors on pastoral ministry. One should seek to understand these books if they are to have a biblical understanding of the role and work of those who hold the pastoral office.

The Church’s Responsibility to the Pastor

Hebrews 13: 17 calls for the church to follow its leaders. This followship is not absolute, in other words, if the pastor is misleading the congregation it should not follow him. But neither should he be pastor.

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (NASB)

The word for obey is a peitho. It is an imperative verb. It means to persuade, appeal to, be won over, and thus, to obey. It is not a word that tells us to be a robot but that we are to be persuaded and to trust the one who has persuaded us. In other words, obedience is not blind trust but trust in one who, by word, deed, and call, persuades us. The word for submit is hupeiko and it means to yield to someone’s authority. It must be remembered that such yielding is to one who is a servant leader to the congregation. The immediate purpose is so that they pastor may have joy in his labor. The work of the pastor can be like herding cats or leading an army. It all depends on the will of the church to follow the leadership of the pastor. And for the pastor, the work is hard and emotionally draining. This mutual labor of servant leadership and yielding to authority produces the harmony and peace that make it possible for both church and pastor to enjoy.

The congregation also has the responsibility to pay its pastor as one who makes his living from the Gospel. He, like a soldier, is not to be involved in the things of the world, but reserve himself for his pastoral work ( 2 Tim. 2: 1-7) Furthermore, the church is commanded to pay and to pay double to those who teach well (1 Tim. 5: 17-18 ). In other words, the pastor should give his life to the work of the church and the church should take care of his needs so that he may not be encumbered in his work. This does not mean that somehow the work of the bivocational pastor is wrong. There are times when a church cannot pay its pastor. Paul himself worked to support his ministry. But it should be recognized that it is not the ideal and a pastor in such circumstances cannot give himself to the church as one who labors full time.

The office of Elder, Bishop, Pastor is a God appointed office. It cannot be set aside because we think we can find a better way. The church is to give the pastor their attention as he instructs them. The Pastor must give himself to the study of the word so that he is not ashamed but rather approved before God. And no matter what modern forms may tempt us, the biblical pastor will always be the servant leader of the biblical church.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

God's Priorities

Luke 12: 22-34

I am no more immune to the materialism than anyone else. Being a pastor does not automatically kill the materialism gene that resides in us. I want. I want a big house, a rambling house, one you can get lost in, one with a spacious library where I can study. And it needs a room for my wife, call it a sewing room. The kitchen will have a lot of room, a big island in the middle, and a real grill with a vent to pull the smoke out of the house. I haven’t gotten any further with that fantasy but we have food and hobbies covered.

I like cars too. I would not mind driving a high end BMW or maybe a Corvette wearing a pair of $300.00 sunglasses. A top of the line pickup truck would be delightful. And a few late 60s muscle cars to waste gas in would be an added bonus. While we are at it, let’s throw in a big boat and a nice camp with a dock. And how about a nice vacation home in the mountains some place. It over looks a long valley where you can watch the storms roll up in the summer and see the snow fall in the winter. The deer play there.

Being a baby boomer, I like technology and gadgets. So, of course I want the latest computers and sound systems, GPS systems, satellite systems, high end video systems and enough time to enjoy it all.

Speaking of time, I want to travel. There are all kinds of places I want to see. So, for us to travel, we need new wardrobes and luggage and all the things that make travel comfortable. And, of course, I need lots of free time to travel.

Whew, it is tiring being materialistic. Thinking about all of this makes me so depressed because I ain’t gonna get it. Don’t you think that is how the world thinks? Don’t you think that much of the modern discontent comes from the fact that I can’t get all that I want? And have you noticed that even those who have, are not too happy as a result?

It is a sad state of affairs. It is true that a certain amount of material pursuit makes the economic world go around. Nevertheless, I don’t think that God ever intended for us to be consumed with consumerism, or to be mad with materialism. Keeping up with the Jones or whoever has all the cool toys is not how God intended for us to use our time. In fact, it was this kind of obsession that caused the first murderer to kill his own brother.

Americans and Westerners are addicts. Materialism produces an Endorphin high that only lets us down demanding more and more. Sadly, there are preachers and pastors and evangelists within the Church today who tell you that God wants you to be prosperous. He wants you to have the unreconstructed desires of your heart. In other words, they say that God wants you to be a materialist. Yet I tell you, this is false.

When we become obsessed with things, the Bible calls it Mammon. No matter how rich or poor we are, if things, the drive for money, the wants of our life become our obsession, God cannot, at the same time, be our obsession. If we are serving materialism, we cannot be serving God. Jesus said that you cannot serve two masters.

What does Jesus mean? "I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” Jesus knew the troubles of man. So what Jesus offers is a principle by which members of the kingdom of Heaven are to live their lives.

We who are followers of Christ are people who have placed our full trust in God. We have been called to place our treasure in heaven. Our conviction is that God loves us and wants the best for us. Yet, when the hard times come, we begin to doubt God even though we know that God never promised that Christians that we will be healthy, wealthy, and wise. We feel choked by life. We stumble and come to believe that God is not able to take care of our needs or that we are not of infinite value to God. In that sense, anxiety becomes blasphemy, it becomes an accusation against God. He does not love us nor can help us, we accuse. Either our wants and needs will be our master or God will. It takes us a long time to figure this out. Instead we live our lives with all kinds of fear and anxiety.

Jesus said that, that kind of fear and anxiety is unnecessary. Look at the birds of the air, how beautiful they. They don't farm and harvest and gather into barns. God feeds them. Are you not of far more value to God than these? Jesus said, don't you understand, you are of ultimate importance to God. So much so that God became flesh and died for us.

Jesus calls on us to place our trust in the Father who loves us and will take care of our needs. He said that worry will not add one inch to your height or one minute to your life. And as to clothing, look at the flowers how beautiful they are. God made them that way, will he not do much more for you?

"So God will take care of our needs" we might ask with some skepticism. What about the people in Sudan who are starving and have no clothes or shelter? The response from God might be, What is your treasure? Perhaps you are laying up for yourself treasure on earth rather than treasure in heaven. Perhaps they starve because Christians have not done their job to feed them, to educate them, to take the gospel to them. We need to minister to those who are less fortunate than we are. We need to get our hands dirty with those who need help and they need to see a real Christian acting in their life.

The bottom line is, we have been called to seek first the kingdom of God, FIRST, before anything else and all of the other things shall be added to us. There is an economy in God's kingdom. It is an economy based on our commitment to follow Christ.

In God’s economy, he blesses us so that we can bless others. In the Old Testament, Israel was much like us. They were obsessed with money and profit and things. Their materialism stole their heart from God. Through the prophet Amos, God said to Israel:

Amos 2:6-8
6 Thus says the LORD, "For three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they sell the righteous for money And the needy for a pair of sandals.
7 "These who pant after the very dust of the earth on the head of the helpless Also turn aside the way of the humble; And a man and his father resort to the same girl In order to profane My holy name.
8 "On garments taken as pledges they stretch out beside every altar, And in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined. (NASB)

These are serious matters. God’s judgment comes when his people refuse to serve him and particularly when we refuse to serve the poor and needy. Israel was just like us. God brought judgment on them because they did not carry out the basic functions of the kingdom of God. Do you think God will do anything less to us? Doesn’t the violence and death in the world make you nervous? It could easily turn to a kind of global war where weapons of mass destruction would render all our materialistic pursuits into a cruel joke. What good are houses and cars and kitchens and vacation homes and gadgets if there is no power to operate them or people to live in them? What good is our materialism if we are starving to death, or dying of disease or watching our skin peel off after a few survive a nuclear detonation? When we place our minds and desires on the wrong things, we humans will run headlong to destruction.

God’s priorities call us to lay up treasure in heaven through our good works. God’s will defines our treasure and where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Images and Idols

I know that we are a media driven world. Advertisers use images to tell us what they want us to see, feel and understand. The images themselves may not contain any reality. As an example, there is an insurance company that has a very successful ad campaign using a Gecko as its spokesperson. They even address the fact that he is a Gecko, though they never address the fact that it is a computer generated image. Instead they pretend that an interviewer asks the Gecko questions and he, err, it, makes interesting and witty responses. By this time, the viewer has gotten past the fact that you have to suspend reality to accept the truth of the message.

What happens when Christians use this or any method of image making? Recently I came across a website of a very prominent evangelical leader. This particular website presents this person in two interesting scenes. One has him kneeling in prayer with a spotlight on him. The other show him holding up the heads of several big game kills, which we are to assume he just killed. Later in the narrative found on the site, something is said about hunting dangerous big game. When I saw these images, I wondered what they were supposed to convey.

Im not against hunting. I have hunted but not such big game. I pastor a church full of hunters. Some of them will take an occasional picture of a particularly large deer they killed but rarely is it displayed so prominently. Most often, it is shown to other hunters for bragging purposes. These men hunt for several reasons. For some, it connects them to their past. It was not many years ago that their family tables were supplied with the rabbit, squirrels, quail and deer that their fathers killed. It was necessary food in the poorer regions of the south. They still eat what they kill. Wildlife is managed like domesticated animals and provide a supply of food for those who like wild game.

Many hunters enjoy being in the outdoors. They see and hear and experience things that most folk miss because they are willing to go to the woods before dawn and watch the drama that unfolds as the daytime animal world awakes. Others enjoy the comradery of fellow hunters in the camps after the hunt is over.

While many of the men here love to hunt, I am fairly certain that they do not hunt for the purpose of proving their manhood. Most men I know, know they are men, they act like men, and they take on the responsibilities of men. They do not need to hunt to prove they are men. So, why does a prominent evangelical leader pose with dead big game if it is not to prove that he is a man’s man? And why emphasize that these are dangerous big game? Maybe a century ago when one had to make the hazardous journey to the jungles of Africa to find a lion or a leopard it was a dangerous adventure. But today, you can go to a private hunt club in Texas or to a wildlife management reserve in Africa where a guide takes you to the lions. From the comfort of the Land Rover you can take a photo or shoot them with your Weatherby. What is manly, what is dangerous about such acts?

Some of the men in my church go frogging. I know that does not seem dangerous. Where I am from, folk would use a gig stick to catch frogs or shoot them with a rifle and then dress them and fry the legs. And yes, they taste a lot like chicken. But here in south Louisiana, going frogging means something different. They mount a board on the front of a small boat. A man will lay on that board while the driver will ease up to the frog and the man grabs the frog by hand. This usually happens at night in the dark rivers and bayous and they often grab the frog out of the mouth of an alligator or snake. I realize that frogs are not big game but I don’t think anyone with common sense would suggest that this was not a dangerous practice. A dead cat just cannot compete with the giggles that come from stealing a frog from the mouth of an alligator or water moccasin.

What’s my point? Men who pose with dead lions, even if they shot it, look silly to men who grab frogs from the mouths of alligators. Real men just are. They don’t have to prove themselves to others. It is one of the great secrets of life that boys learn as they cross into manhood. They don’t have to pose for pictures and display them to show others that they are a real man. Real men become known by their actions. Scripture says that real men have the humble character of Christ, they live controlled lives, they turn the other cheek, they live at peace with others and they love people with a love that strongly resembles the love of God. Paul draws a picture of a real man in I Timothy 3 when he describes the man qualified to be a Pastor and a Deacon.

For evangelicals who believe the Bible and take it as the sole authority for faith and practice, would it not be better to take our ideas of manhood from Scripture? It seems to me that the PR craze of projecting images of our selves and our churches to try to attract a lost world is fruitless and silly. If we portray a false image it will become obvious very quickly. And if we present a worldly image that is real of ourselves or our church, then we have a problem with worldly compromise and we are leading people away from God. You can’t lead people away from God so that you can lead them to Him.

It is a sad world where we have to show pictures of ourselves with dead wildlife to prove to others we are men. And it is equally sad that we have to show pictures of ourselves under a spotlight in prayer. It certainly flies against the words of Jesus who said that we should go into our prayer closet and that private, hidden prayer would be rewarded in public. Christian men should be known by the sweetness of their disposition, their humble demeanor, quickness to offer a helping hand and swift feet that flee worldly temptation. Such men are becoming rare in our Christian world. So, I guess the solution is to create them with PR snapshots. Holiness no longer requires us to spend time in prayer, Bible study and disciplined living.

No, I think images can easily become idols. We believe our own manufactured images about ourselves. We expect to be honored by others for our images. We even want men to flock to us because they see a projection of a real man. I can’t think of a better picture of idol worship. I imagine that there is a great deal of weeping in heaven for the men who are lead astray by idols. Now, there is an image for you: heavenly tears shed for the men lead astray by “real” men. God help us to regain real Christian manhood.