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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.

The Modern Church: A Replica of the Levitical System? June 23, 2010

Posted by Henry in Tithing.
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In many respects the modern church seems to be a reproduction of the Levitical system which was operated in Israel under the Old Covenant. Today the pastors seem to occupy the office of High Priest whilst the deacons, junior pastors and elders form the rest of the “priestly” class. Thus there is a division of “labour” between those who are part of the priesthood (the Levites) and those who form the laity (the other 11 tribes).  This importation from the Levitical system seems to be the generally accepted method of “doing church” across the whole of Christendom today. One of the main practices which has been brought along with this system is the paying of tithes to the Levites. Indeed in attempting to justify the tithe many Christians argue that the pastors and leaders do indeed represent or stand in the place of the Levites and thus should be given the tithe. Along with the tithe the Levitical priests would also accept offerings from the people, which they would then present before God their behalf, a practice that is carried on in the church today. Although in today’s terms the symbols of the tithes and offerings have changed (from goods to money) the practice is nevertheless the same, whereby the priest/pastors take the tithes and offerings to the altar and offer them before God. Only the mode, such as burnt offerings, seems to have changed.

The main question here therefore is whether such importations from the Levitical system are Biblical in the context of the New Testament church. Is the church model we have today founded in the New Testament scriptures? For one thing the Levitical system was abolished along with the Old Covenant which decays and vanishes away (Heb 8:13) through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Why then should we even think to seek to try and re-establish a system that has long been abolished? Could the main motive be to guarantee the churches’ finances? And or to establish a system of authority and control?

In looking at the first question aforementioned scripture tells us that in our Gospel we have one High Priest (Heb 3:1, 8:1-2) who is Jesus Christ and who is the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5). Furthermore in the light of the Gospel all who are in Christ are priests (1 Pet 2:9) and whereas the old priesthood offered tangible items as sacrifices we are required to offer Spiritual sacrifices unto God through our High Priest Jesus Christ (1 Pet 2:5). This is in stark contrast to the Levitical system in which sacrifices of tangible items were given to the priest to make propitiation for the sins of all Israel. The modern church system however seems to have appropriated this system into the new church as a way of ensuring the church coffers are kept fed. Some churches have even gone to the extreme of blatantly suggesting that the church today should observe certain religious dates in the Hebrew calendar, such as the Day of Atonement, and to bring the associated offerings (translated into money of course) to be offered before God. Of course all of this is simply preposterous in light of the Gospel message.

 Under the Levitical system the high priest had a lot of sway in directing the affairs of the tabernacle or temple. His authority derived not only from his senior rank but perhaps also from the fact that only he could enter in to the Holy of Holies to stand before God and as it were “advocate” on behalf of the people of Israel. In today’s churches however many pastor appropriate lofty titles such as, senior pastor, general overseer, bishop in order to establish their rank and authority in much the same way as the high priest. To add to this the vestry (or sacristy) is treated as some kind of Holy of Holies from which the pastor/priest emerges to deliver his sermon and this in turn adds to an air of mystique about the pastor/priest.

 None of these associations with the Levitical system are however biblical. Perhaps it should be said that one of the reasons the traditional churches aren’t growing is because a lot of them have moved away from the examples shown to us in the New Testament scriptures and instead sought to institute man-made structures and organisation based off a defunct system.