Church in Albany

Gathering all around the Albany New York area in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ



Pastor-ization of th Word of God
by David Hart

Are you convinced you are getting the Pure Milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2)? Christians today, for the most part, are addicted to a ‘pastor-ized’ diet of God’s word. To borrow from the analogy of milk pasteurization (where the unprocessed milk is heated to specific temperatures for certain lengths of time to sterilize the harmful bacteria in it), the “pure milk of the word” is subjected to the heated mental process called sermon preparation. The time needed for this varies greatly, and can often affect the finished product significantly. Its serving actually resembles more of a bottle-feeding instead of receiving the scriptural means for growth and maturity as a believer.

 

Another similarity is that of the intended consumer. For cow’s milk, it is mostly our children and youths. Pasteurization makes the milk safer to drink for those most vulnerable to its ill effects if left unprocessed. Now, the intended ‘consumer’ for the word of God is the average churchgoer. Although they are truly the ‘children of God’, yet they are for the most part, not children at all. Does ‘pastor-ization’ actually make the word of God safer to ingest; or, does it rather train the churchgoer to rely on the pastor for his ‘feeding’, while neglecting the study of the word for himself?

 

The neat, packaged, serving size, known as “the sermon”, is ubiquitous fare served up for the main spiritual meal every Sunday in virtually every church across America. No one seems to mind very much. Many actually prefer it. It has become the accepted form of “worship” that we have been taught to embrace from the time of the Reformation.

 

For most serious-minded Christians, it is the very heart of the service; the core of what it means to worship God. It is the ordained “means of grace” for their growth in Christ. But we need to ask if the bible actually supports this notion. Is the pastor and the sermon to be the ‘main event’ for the church-goer on Sunday? We take it for granted that it is, yet, the accepted explanation for it rests squarely upon church tradition developed through the centuries, and not on the scriptures themselves.

 

We have our habits of prayer, family devotions, fellowship, theological discussion, etc. These things are often quite helpful and a blessing; but take away the weekly sermon and you’ve just gutted the religion of many believers. What would the Lord’s Day be without preaching? Let’s be honest with ourselves, without the sermon we feel cheated. Pardon this directness of this next statement, but, after all—isn’t this what are we paying the pastor for? And just how can we be expected to really grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ without a preacher expounding and interpreting the sacred text for us? Imagine what would happen if we didn’t have a trained, salaried, profession who can devote his entire focus and energy into reading the scriptures and other theological books and then re-interpreting what he has learned and preach it back into our minds? Let’s be honest. This is serious business! It requires men of intellect and study. Why do you think we send candidates to seminary for training? Error in the pulpit can, and as history shows, has led many to ruin. (Translation: we want our milk pastor-ized!)

 

For most Christians, the pastor is the center of church activity. Most churches are actually referred to as “Pastor------‘s church. Be it a solo pastor, or a pair, or more; they run the show. A pastor-ized diet leads to a pastor-centric church.

 

Many churches believe that in worship, preaching is an indispensable part of the service, and there must be a qualified man to ‘stand in the pulpit’ to be the ’mouthpiece of God’ to the congregation. Pulpit committees sometimes conduct frantic searches often at the last minute to fill the pulpit when their man gets sick or is away. In fact, some churches have been known to cancel the service entirely because they couldn’t find adequate “pulpit supply”. Let’s face it, without the sermon delivered by the pastor, what would be the motivation for coming to church?

 

Imagine if you can, leaving out the sermon. This would cut the service down to about 30 minutes in most places. What then would be needed to run the service? Without the need for a qualified man to preach a sermon, it seems anyone able to: read the scriptures, lead a little singing, discuss a passage of scripture, bring a short devotional message, a word of testimony or praise, a short teaching, or offer prayer would do.

 

But isn’t this what we actually find in the words of scripture?

 

 “…speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and praising in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks at all times for all things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” Eph. 5:19,20.

 

 “ Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And everything, whatever you do in word or in work, do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks…” Col.3:16,17.

 

 “How is it then brethren, when you come together, each one of you has a psalm, he has a teaching, he has a tongue, he has a revelation, he has an interpretation, let all things be for edification”, “Therefore brethren, eagerly seek to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues”, 1 Cor. 14:26, 39.

 

 “And let us consider one another, to incitement of love and of good works, not forsaking the assembling together of ourselves, as it is the custom of some, but exhorting, and by so much more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24,25.                                [all italics by the author]

 

 It seems in just this small sample of texts regarding church-meeting activities that the omnipresent pastor is nowhere to be found!? In fact the sermon isn’t found either. What is splattered all over these texts is the focus upon “one another” and “as each of you has” with the goal being to edify, exhort, teach, encourage, admonish, rejoice with, pray with, and sing with one another. This is precisely what Paul tells us is the principle goal of the church as realized through their meetings. Eph 4:11-16 informs us that apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers are God’s gifts to the church (notice the biblical terminology, they are gifts—not offices to be filled, the NT never mentions an office in connection with the operation of the church).

 

 

 

 

Notice carefully the great end for which there are given:

 

“And He gave some… pastors and teachers with a view to the perfecting of the saints to the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ…that we may grow up into Him in all things, who is the Head, even Christ, from whom all the body, having been fitly and compacted together by that which each joint supplies, according to the effectual working of the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Eph.4:11,12,15,16

 

“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: shepherd the flock of God which is among you, exercising oversight, not by compulsion, but willingly; not eager for base gain, but readily, nor as exercising lordship over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock” 1 Peter 5:1-4.

                                                                                                                     [italics added by author]

 

Note well from these two passages that elders/pastors/overseers are positively to:

 

·        perfect ( to completely qualify) the saints (not do it all himself!)

·        (so that the saints can) do the work of ministry (service)

·        (that the saints might) build up the Body (through each other in the church).

 

They are also to shepherd, exercise oversight, and be examples to the flock. None of these activities fall in with the ‘pastor-izing’ of the flock seen today.

 

Negatively, they are not to be motivated by compulsion (an unwillingness), or the desire to receive financial gain (‘filthy lucre’ in the KJV), nor by the desire to dominate (lord it over) their brethren in Christ. No warrant to ‘rule’ is found here, or anywhere else in the New Testament. All authority in the church belongs to Christ alone! (Matt.28: 18)

 

Gifts are given to assist the body’s growth. Many gifts are listed in Romans 12, and more are found in 1 Cor. 12 & 14. All are necessary for growth to maturity. Anything that deliberately excludes, or stultifies any giftedness, save for just one joint—what the pastor supplies—leads to immaturity and dysfunction in the body. The pastor is merely one of several gifted facilitators—nothing more. Where did we ever get the notion that the pastor is the most indispensable person in the church? That without him, real, solid teaching would cease? Tragically, pastor-ization exults the pastor’s gift over the rest.

 

 Listen to the writer of Hebrews as he rebukes his infantile readers:

 

 “…after the order of Melchisedek, Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing that you are dull of hearing, for when the time has come when you ought to be teachers, you have need of someone to teach you again of the first principles of the oracles of God…”

Heb. 5:10,11,12.

 

The writer is not addressing would –be pastors. No, he is telling the readers, the church, men & women together that they should have matured to the point of being able to teach.

 

As we noted earlier:

 

 “…each one of you has a teaching” 1 Cor. 14:26

 

 “teaching  and admonishing one another” Col.3:16).

 

No pastor-ization here! The responsibility for the “making increase of the body”, i.e. maturity; is found in “that which every joint supplies”. Not just the pastor. Not just the elders. Not just the deacons. No, it is incumbent upon the entire body because the Head of the body is Christ!

 

But isn’t it true that we all give practical assent to the notion that the pastor is somehow closer to the head than the rest of us, and therefore better able to discern the mind of Christ? My reader friend, such thinking is idolatry disguised as piety for it establishes a special class of believer that is over other believers; a caste of priests above the regular priesthood of believers, clergy as opposed to laity. We have for all practical purposes cried up the theory of the priesthood of all believers, while at the same time created a de facto mediator between God and the congregation—the modern pastor.

 

Remember when the people shrunk back in fear at Sinai while exclaiming to Moses, “You speak with God for us, we are too frightened” (Exodus 20:19)? The modern version of this reads something like, “Pastor, you lead our worship, you offer our corporate prayers, you explain God’s word to us, you tell us what to sing; it is too much for us! For we lack the special calling and anointing of God (as we have repeatedly been told), and the libraries of theological books and the seminary degree”. But the sad reality is what we really lack most, is the willingness to do any of these things for ourselves.

We find all sorts of plausible rationale to support this:

 

“Lets face it, it’s a busy world! Specialization is the way things are done nowadays. We are even willing to pay you full time to be our special emissary before God. We know that the scripture says that ‘there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ’, but having you to be our full-time religious expert just makes good sense. Yes, we know about the Holy Spirit teaching us, but we still might get it wrong so please do not leave us to ourselves. We would rather be as children, for our Christian life becomes easier when someone else just tells us what we must do; and, as a bonus, we are less accountable (be you not many teachers! James 3:1) than the elite clergy! What a load off our minds that is! Thank you pastor for being our pseudo-mediator! You’re the greatest (after Jesus, of course).”

 

No doubt some will be offended by this caricature of the pastor-ization of the church. But is it really that far from the actual truth? Before you decide to stop reading any more of this article, or crumple it up in anger, just humor me in taking this simple test:

 

·        Locate and count the NT passages that have clear reference to a learned, educated man, ordained as the pastor of a local congregation, engaged or being instructed to prepare ethical and moral monologues, to deliver through the medium of preaching to the believers of that local church on a regular weekly basis.

 

·        Locate and count the NT passages that clearly give believers the responsibility of constructing special houses to worship in, and then hiring trained professionals to lecture them from elevated platforms, behind pulpits, to which the congregation becomes a passive audience without any vocal opportunities for questions or interaction of any kind with the pastor-preacher.

·        Locate the NT passages that clearly record instances of preaching and then determine who the speaker is, his audience, and the content of the preaching. Then, see if it is the pastor who is preaching a gospel message, or, an ethical discourse (sermon), to the congregation.

·        Finally, find out how many spiritual gifts God has given the church. Count the passages that command certain activities to be done to “one another”, read the major accounts of actual NT church meetings to see who the active participants are, note the salutations found at the beginning and end of the NT epistles and count the references to pastors.

 

Now, be honest with your findings. Have I wrongly caricatured the church today? Or is it the stark reality that has you upset? “Search the scriptures,” we read in John’s gospel. Be like the Bereans who Paul declared were “more noble…” than those who did not care to search the scriptures to confirm what Paul was saying.

 

The startling truth is that you, my protestant friend, are guilty of accepting the “traditions of the church fathers” over the plain teaching of God’s word. And what’s more, you’re probably quite content with the status quo. We’ve removed the Roman Catholic altar—but replaced it with the pulpit. We’ve exposed their priesthood as fraud—but substituted it with the modern ‘pastor’. We’ve thrown off the yoke of Popery and its iron hand—and transformed it into something called ‘elder rule’. We’ve busted out all the stain-glass windows, and toppled the statues—but kept the religious building. We’ve stripped the priest of his colorful garments—preferring the sharp and snappy three-piece suit and tie. We’ve banished the Mass and its blasphemies—but retained the ‘service’. We have in truth only cleaned up the undesirable parts of the Roman Mass, keeping the form. And the most essential part of that form is the Roman clergyman/priest becoming the Protestant clergyman/pastor. Without the pastor, the clergy system will crumble.

 

My reader friend, don’t settle for the pastor-ized diet that dominates the church today. Milk is for “babes in Christ” (1 Cor.3:2). We all start out there. It’s simply the beginning stage of our spiritual life. The apostle Paul relates how real growth to maturity is achieved—without pastor-ization!

 

“But speaking the truth in love, we may grow up into Him in all things, even the Head, who is Christ, from whom all the body, having been fitted and compacted together through every assisting bond, according to the effectual working of one measure in each part, produces the growth of the body to the building up of itself in love.” Eph. 4:15,16