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The Qualifications of a Pastor July 2, 2010

Posted by Henry in Matters of the Faith.
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 In many contemporary churches, particularly the established ones, it is needful for an individual who wants to become a pastor to attend a seminary, at the recommendation of their church. After completing seminary education the individual may then have the right to append the estimable title of “Reverend” to their name and he or she may then seek appointment to a “local” church. This usual involves them being interviewed by the deaconate and approved by the members. The question which needs to be asked however is whether attending seminary automatically qualifies an individual to “pastor a church”? We could equally ask whether it is biblically correct to have a single individual as the “pastor” of any particular church. Indeed this is what has become the norm in churches today but the biblical efficacy of this needs to be tested.

 In order to answer the questions aforementioned perhaps it is useful to first understand what the term “pastor” denotes. The term is used to refer to a “shepherd” and in different translations of the Bible the word “pastor” is sometimes replaced by “shepherd” so the two words are interchangeable. A shepherd or pastor therefore is someone who tended the sheep and this is symbolic of God’s people being the sheep of His pasture and those who tend to them are seen as shepherds or pastors. In the Old Testament for example, God appointed pastors to tend to the flock of Israel:

 Jer 3

15And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.

 The role of the pastors here were that of “feeding” the sheep with knowledge and understanding. The role of the pastors here are somewhat similar to the role of pastors in the New Testament. Under the New Covenant it is God who gives the gift of “pasturing” in the church:

 Eph 4

11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

 It should be said here that although the role of the pastor contributes to the “edifying (knowledge and understanding) of the body of Christ” this is not their role exclusively and we can see this from verse 11.  It stands to reason therefore that the body cannot be fully edified without the apostles, prophets and teachers who together with the pastors play the role of enablers in the perfecting of the saints till we all come into the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. But in our churches today we see a system where a single individual, the pastor, who supposedly fulfills all these other roles. In a similar vein, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to different individuals in the church and all these different gifts were meant to be working together for the edification of the whole church (1 Cor 12). But again in most churches today these gifts are recognized in the pastor alone, and he alone his treated as being able to manifest these gifts. But we can discern clearly from scripture that this is not what the Lord intended for His church. However, it would seem that a certain level of confidence is invested in a person who has attended seminary in that only he or she is regarded as having the “competence” to operate in the spiritual gifts. For example, only the pastor is viewed as having the “ability” or sufficient skill to demonstrate or impart the word of knowledge (or wisdom), a skill derived from his/her seminary education. But the result of this is to quench the Spirit to the detriment of the church.

 If we should look at the early church, instead of one man (or woman) standing at the head and preaching a sermon on Sunday we instead see a church which edified one another through hymns and psalms:

 Col 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

 This of course is not to say that sermons from men holding Theological qualifications isn’t relevant but it should not replace what Christ already laid down for the church in how it should operate. Attending seminary doesn’t automatically qualifies one to be a pastor as this is the gift of God although it could be beneficial in aiding one’s understanding of scriptures. The implication here however is that the ordinary Christian who has not attended seminary will not be able to understand the scriptures and this is clearly not true since wisdom and understanding comes from God alone. Another very important consideration here is that if an individual can attend seminary in order to be “qualified” as a pastor, based on Eph 4:11 above, what school does the apostle, prophet, evangelist, or teacher attend in order that they may be equipped to fulfill their roles? Evidently this lack of scholastic competence on their part increases the pastors’ profile as the only ones having the competence to officiate in spiritual matters.

 If we should however look at the original disciples/apostles we note from scripture that they were not learned yet the Lord chose them as the first apostles. We note that the Holy Spirit worked mightily through them to establish the gospel throughout the world as this was the commission given to them. The Holy Spirit is therefore more than capable of working through an individual without the need for formally attending a seminary and this should never be overlooked. The scripture says we should not quench the Spirit but this is exactly what the church has done by a displaced confidence in those who attended seminary vs those who have not. The only qualification that one needs therefore in order to operate in his/her gift is the qualification by the Holy Spirit. May the church return to this essential truth.

By what title do you address your pastor? June 25, 2010

Posted by Henry in Matters of the Faith.
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In Christendom today it is quite customary for church ministers, pastors and certain elders to append titles to their names to perhaps signify rank and authority. For example, today we have pastor with titles such as, Senior Pastor, General Overseer, Apostle, Bishop, Archbishop, Cardinal, Rt Reverend, Patriarch, Metropolitan, Father, Abbot, Dr, etc. All of these different titles enable a system of hierarchy within the church and enables individuals to be exalted and venerated above their congregations as if they are somehow different or superior. The question I would like to ask though is whether any of this is biblical? Why have we become so besotted with lofty titles in the church? Does the Gospel support this milieu?

In attempting to answer the aforementioned questions we may note what Jesus said:

 8But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. (Matt 23:8-12)

From verse 1 of the passage we note that Jesus was speaking to both the multitude gathered before Him and His disciples when He uttered these words. Jesus has made it plain here that we should not seek to appropriate titles unto ourselves as Christians but rather that we should see each other as brothers and sisters. Jesus fully well knew of man’s lust of the flesh for power and recognition and this can be seen from His description of the Pharisees and scribes in the previous verses. Are we not therefore disobeying Christ by maintaining this hierarchical system along with its associated titles? Howbeit that man’s heart has become so haughty to the point where he can claim to be a follower of Christ but blatantly ignore His position on this issue? It is interesting to note that even the disciples suffered from this haughtiness when they came to Jesus and asked who is greatest in the Kingdom (Matt 18:1-4)? Jesus’ response however was that unless one humbles himself as a little child he cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus made it clear also in Matt 23:11 that the greatest amongst “you” would be “your” servant. It is clear then that this system of hierarchical structures and associated titles are an affront to the Gospel to say the least.

It goes without saying that in our church structures today those that assume lofty positions certainly do not act as servants but are rather treated in a lot of cases as demigods. Instead of them being servants to the church they are instead served by the church in a relationship akin to sovereign and subjects thus creating a system of government with the church. The idea of priest vs laity for example is promulgated throughout the church yet scripture has made it know to us that in Christ we are all priests (1 Peter 2:9). If we also look at the example of the early apostles like Paul, we note that he addressed the Thessalonians for example as brothers as opposed to lauding it over them as General Overseer. This was the example given to him by the Lord Jesus, and this was the example that he followed.

Peter also laid down the standard of how the elders who “pastor” the flock should conduct themselves:

1The 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: 2Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. 5Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. (1 Peter 5:1-5) Emphasis added.

It is clearly laid out here that pastors/elders should not be “lording” it over the flock (God’s heritage) but should instead display a sense of humility in their character. Why then has the modern church become so far removed from these examples? Have we become so wise in our conceit? I pray the church would return to the truth of scriptures concerning this area.