This Story Will Make You Think. Study It Carefully.

Interview With The Pulpit Committee

Jeff R. Rada

Corporatus: (Paper shuffling) The first order of business this evening will be discussion of the candidates for the position of senior minister, which as we all know, was vacated by the call of Dr. Clergius to First Christian Church, Greener Pastures, California.

The first candidate is a young man from BBCC [Bible Belt Christian College]. I don't know what they're teachin' there anymore.

Cosmopolitus: How's that?

Corporatus: In his philosophy of ministry statement, he says that the words which our English Bibles translate as "preach" except maybe once out of a hundred instances, never refer to a sermon to a Christian audience. "Preaching" in the New Testament, he says, was almost always personal evangelism, or persuading a non-Christian audience to accept Christ. Same with "preacher." He says, therefore, that he prefers to spend nearly all of his time winning converts.

Pragmaticus: Well that's just wonderful. Here we're kickin' a hundred bucks a month out of our missions budget into BBCC, and what do we get back? This idealistic young man who wants to write his own ticket and be a loose cannon. We need more of a team player here at First Christian. These Bible colleges had better start producing young men who can go along with the program.

Cosmopolitus: Now, Prag, take it easy. You're gettin' all worked up. What you're forgettin' is that BBCC doesn't teach these idealistic types how they're gonna make a living. Ya see, during those four years in Bible college, the young fellow didn't study a trade, did he?

Corporatus: Nope.

Cosmopolitus: So, as long as these guys don't have a trade, they've either gotta do what we tell 'em, or get out of the ministry entirely, and with nothing else to fall back on. Does this guy have a family, Corp?

Corporatus: Yep.

Cosmopolitus: Well then, there ya have it. He'll come around. We've got him where we want him. When he gets enough rejection letters in the mail, those hungry mouths'll put the squeeze on him.

I've got an idea! If he wants to be one of those old fashioned "itinerant preachers," why doesn't he apply for a job with MEA [Metropolitan Evangelistic Association]?

Corporatus: I can tell you right now that they've got as many full-time evangelists as they can afford.

Cosmopolitus: How many is that?

Corporatus: Four.

Pragmaticus: And what is the population of the Greater Metro area?

Corporatus: Four million.

Pragmaticus: That sounds about right. One for every million. Well, if he really wants to do soul-winning, we could probably bring him on with MEA. No, wait. No, we couldn't. We're already up to our ears financing church buildings through CBDA [Church Building Development Association].

Cosmopolitus: Yeah, we can't let the number of evangelists outrun our ability to finance real estate through CBDA. After all, who wants to go to a housechurch or a storefront church? Ya just get the low-lifers and transients comin' to those places. And with real estate costs skyrocketing, the kind of people those places attract never enable the operation to pay for itself.

Corporatus: Sounds to me like MEA isn't an option for this young man. In that case, I move that we send him along his way with our blessing.

Pragmaticus: Second.

Corporatus: All in favor say Aye.

All: Aye.

Corporatus: So carries. Now our next candidate to the pulpit ministry here at First Christian is rather unusual. In his cover letter, he proposes that we elders should either split the minister's salary among ourselves or designate one of ourselves as full-time and just pay that one elder what was formerly the minister's salary. That candidate is none other than our fellow elder, brother Restorius.

Cosmopolitus: Where on earth did you get this idea, Restorius?

Restorius: I didn't get it from "on earth" at all. Let me explain where I'm coming from.

In the original Greek New Testament, not one instance of the eight Greek words the King James translates "minister" ever refers to a leadership office proper. I challenge you to look for yourselves. Go to Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible and look up "minister." Under "minister" you'll find eight main Greek words and several more related words. Use those words to refer you to Moulton's and Geden's A Concordance to the Greek Testament. Out of the several hundred occurances of these Greek words you'll have to wade through, about a half-dozen could be and have been lifted out of context to mean a leadership office. But a careful contextual study of every critical passage will convince you that simply "servant" or "worker," with no necessary leadership connotation, is a better translation than "minister" with its connotations of office.

Furthermore, there is no inclusion of an office or a function of the "minister" in any of Paul's lists of the gifts. Neither Jesus nor Paul mandate an office of "minister." No explicit specifications are given for an office of minister in the New Testament. Timothy's and Titus' function can be much better explained by simply calling them evangelists. In spite of the cultural domination of this concept, even in so-called Restoration churches, the fact is that the evidence from the New Testament for this most celebrated office evaporates upon close inspection of the text. It amazes me how this fact escapes all restorationists' notice. It means that in the New Testament, the "minister" is just the Christian. The "ministry" is just the whole church, the whole body of Christ; not an elite leadership caste in the church. It is unbiblical to allow the word "minister" to mean a particular church officer, or leader. We pay lip service to the Biblical doctrine of the ministry of all believers and the doctrine of the gifts by using "minister" to primarily refer to a leadership officer who does the work of an elder but claims to do the work of a preacher. The strictly Biblical meaning of "minister" as worker or servant carries no necessary leadership connotation. Our brotherhood has built a whole theology around this misconception.

Our lad from BBCC is right. In the New Testament, they didn't have our current distinction between "preaching" a sermon to a Christian audience, and "evangelism" as persuading individuals to receive Christ. It is indeed true that out of 114 occurances of the two main Greek words translated "preach," perhaps one refers to a sermon to a Christian audience. That is Romans 1:15 where Paul says he is eager to preach the gospel to those to whom he was addressing his Roman epistle. But later, in the same epistle, 15:20, he emphasizes that his ambition was always to preach the gospel where it was not known. In the New Testament, the preacher was almost always a soul-winner. If he spoke to an audience, as in the speeches in Acts, it was predominantly non-Christian. And yet the exact opposite practice predominates so-called restoration churches. Our "preachers" do almost everything but preach in the New Testament sense of the word. Preaching in the New Testament is evangelism and evangelism is preaching. Preaching that is addressed to Christians is not New Testament preaching. As usual, the clergy of this age seek the honor and respect which the church gives to the New Testament evangelist, without doing his work. We are already frustrating this boy's attempts to try to conform his view of his role in the church to what the Bible says.

In New Testament times, the elder members of God's ekklesia (fellowship, community) shouldered the main teaching responsibilities. That means the elders were the most visible teachers by and large; not a so-called "preacher/minister." If the words translated "preach" mean evangelism almost exclusively, then the event which occurs from behind the pulpit to a Christian audience is better called teaching. The reduction of "preaching" to homiletics, that is, a highly stylistic culture-specific speech to a Christian audience, which one can only perform satisfactorily after attending a clergy school, it is merely a means for the clergy to perpetuate their control of the life of God's house.

In the New Testament, you never had this distinction between the elders, who today see themselves primarily as a decision-making Board of Directors, and the "staff" who run the week-to-week machinery of the local church organization. No, the elders were the primary teachers and ministered to the needs of the people. It would be tempting to merely say that the elders were the staff. But further, although elders may have received remuneration, there was no such thing as the "staff" comprised of a body of clergy who are categorically distinct from the laity, who gained their titles and honors by attending a bona fide clergy school. That "clergy" as opposed to "laity" even have a meaning in the English language that attests a sort of spiritual racism which they perpetuate. There was no "staff" in the New Testament because there was no office of minister in the New Testament.

From Acts 20:17 and 28, we see that "pastor" and "elder" and "bishop/overseer" are used to refer to the same persons. From I Peter 2:25 we see that "pastor" and "bishop/overseer" are used to refer to the same persons. Therefore, the three underlying Greek words name one and only one plurality of individuals in a congregation. The borrowing of three words from the Greek or Jewish usage of that time does not imply three offices but rather focuses on three aspects of the same individuals. "Pastor" refers to teaching, guarding, and feeding. "Elder" refers to experience and maturity.

"Bishop/overseer" refers to watchfulness and protection of souls. It almost goes without saying that our more "progressive" church organizations which have renamed the Senior Minister instead Senior Pastor or just the Pastor are creating an artificial separation between pastor and elder which is unsupportable from the New Testament. In addition, a few have observed that the title "Senior Pastor" is perilously close to "Chief Shepherd" of which there is only One.

Furthermore, it is amusing to watch Restoration writers pounce on the "pastorizing of the minister" with purifying zeal matched only in the Crusades. They are correct in observing that any separation between "pastor" and "elder" is unbiblical. But they fail to observe that the Restoration Movement's gradual adoption of the terminology of the denominations is indicative of a drift toward the position of the denominations. That convergence was accomplished a long time ago. In their zeal to "restore" the office of preacher/minister, they fail to notice that the office they are attempting to restore doesn't exist in the New Testament, and that the modern "pastor" has indeed taken over the functions of the plural New Testament pastors (with several culture-dependent functions and role expectations thrown in for good measure). In fact, the modern preacher/minister and his staff are functionally closer to the New Testament elder/pastor/bishop, than those who presently hold the elders' designation. This does not mean that the denominations' use of "pastor" is Biblical. Their pastors are clergymen. So are ours. These "pastors" are distinct and unbiblically compartmentalized from the Church Board which functions as Board of Directors of a modern corporation. But then is it any surprise to you that we function as a Board of Directors of a corporation? We are one! Oh, brothers, if I could only remove the scales from our eyes! Can't you see that cultural pressures have so distorted our view of our role and our view of God's intention in His people, that we have drifted away from our Biblical moorings?

Brother elders, we have been mistaken to think that there exists this thing called "the eldership" which comes into existence whenever a quorum of elders comes together; and that the principal work of an elder takes place when such a quorum takes place, to the neglect of the teaching, example, and comforting by the individual elder which are, in fact, the primary New Testament activities of the elder. Brother elders, we have been mistaken to see ourselves as a corporate Board of Directors whose Senior Minister is our Chief Executive Officer. Why don't we use this opportunity to come back around to the Biblical role of the elder in teaching, keeping of souls, and servant-of-all which is amply attested in the New Testament? And, one, since the preacher of the New Testament was primarily a soul-winner rather than an orator to Christian audiences; two, since the modern preacher/minister does not exist in the New Testament; and three, since it is Biblical for elders to receive remuneration based on 1 Tim. 5:17 and 18, I am therefore moving that we abolish the office of minister here at First Christian and return the duties of senior minister back to the elders where the New Testament says they belong.

Pragmaticus: Restorius, you've just unloaded an awful lot on us all at once. Where did you learn to handle the Greek New Testament?

Restorius: I studied classics at Metropolitan University.

Pragmaticus: So you haven't gone to Bible college and you want to earn your living by the gospel.

Restorius: I don't see any Bible colleges in the New Testament. I'm not saying they're illegitimate. If there were no Bible colleges in the New Testament, then minimally, we should not make attendance to a Bible college a prerequisite for a full-time responsibility in the church.

Cosmopolitus: Why is it that none of the other area congregations do what you're proposing?

Restorius: Because their elders rely on clergymen to study their Bibles for them, and to spoon feed them a view of the nature of the church which is more compatible with sectarian Christianity than the New Testament. You should decide on this issue based on your own study of the New Testament, independent of the practice of other area congregations.

I'm not asking you guys to learn Greek for this issue. I'm just trying to show you that the less in-depth knowledge of the Book we have, the more dependent we become on the clergy, and the more they will take advantage of our ignorance in offering interpretations which favor their power or prestige. Even now, much of the data, upon which this issue turns, is inaccessible to us because we do not really know the Bible first-hand anymore. We get it pre-digested from the clergy. So from your perspective, it is just my word against a long tradition of clergymen.

Cosmopolitus: But if all the churches in the brotherhood are doing the same thing, don't you think that's strong evidence against you?

Restorius: Let me quote for you Alexander Campbell, a prominent spokesman of the Restoration Movement with which your congregation is associated. This is from the April 3, 1826 issue of Christian Baptist. The article is entitled, "A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things" And I quote:

"A hireling is one who prepares himself for the office of 'preacher' or 'minster'...

"The Christian bishop is called by the brethren, because he has the qualifications already. The minister says he is inwardly called, and prepares himself to be called and induces others to call him. The former accepts of the office for the congregation of which he is a member, and takes the oversight of them, and receives from them such remuneration as his circumstances require....The latter goes about looking for a flock, and when he finds one that suits his expectation he takes charge of it for a year or two, until he can suit himself better. The former considers himself the overseer or president of the one congregation only who called him to the office, and that when he leaves them he resigns the office and is no longer president"

End of quote. And from the August 2, 1824 issue of the same journal, we read him in an article entitled, "A Familiar Dialogue between the Editor and a Clergyman." And I quote:

"Clergyman: And was not the apostle speaking of the ordinary preachers of the gospel -- of those we now call ministers of the gospel?

Editor: Those you call the ordinary ministers of the gospel, are very ill defined in the popular creeds, and not at all defined in the New Testament"

End of quote. I think, Cosmopolitus, that your "brotherhood" has by and large left the New Testament behind on this issue. It has so absorbed the surrounding culture into its worldview, that it reads the New Testament through its culturally conditioned interpretive glasses. Even your "Restoration Father" Alexander Campbell testifies against you.

Pragmaticus: But Restorius, don't you think that it is unrealistic to restore the exact features of the New Testament church? After all, our information is sketchy from the New Testament on many points. Don't you think that we can, at best, only restore the general parameters and only the most fundamental aspects of the New Testament church?

Restorius: I know that the church has divided over what men have thought about what it is to be. And I don't presume to force my views on you. But I think that a thorough program of deprogramming our culturally conditioned view of many aspects of the Christian life and the Lord's ekklesia is in order. All I am suggesting is that where our practices are manifestly different from what our Lord's desire is for his ekklesia, we do what the Bible says, even if it contradicts the common practice of men. And one of these "common practices" of men is the nature and institutions of power in local church organizations.

Pragmaticus: If all of this is true, then what do we tell our preacher boys who are still in the pipe? When they finally get outta Bible college, do we tell 'em, "Sorry, we've handed all the pulpits back to the elders"?

Restorius: I truly feel for the preacher boys who, after marrying their Bible college sweethearts and starting a family, would find themselves without a pulpit and livelihood. But, better to discover and practice the truth while one is young and while it is easier to make a transition, than to wash out of an unbiblical occupation at midlife due to the pressures attendant with the occupation. Furthermore, if something I said or wrote could bring about such an unlikely cataclysm, any pain such boys would experience in a temporary transition would be minor in comparison to the increase, I believe, in the number of souls that would be likely to be won to Christ in the process of freeing those truly gifted to do evangelism to actually concentrate on winning the lost rather than being managers of ecclesiastical corporations. Plus, your question assumes wrongly that if a young man steps forward during a campfire or a chapel service and dedicates his life to full-time Christian service, that he no longer needs to learn a trade, and that for him to do so is tantamount to not trusting God. Although the scriptures certainly justify earning one's living by the gospel under certain circumstances, there is no guarantee either from the scriptures, or from the experience of preachers, that church is going to provide for your living. And this is especially true for a person who has convictions which are contrary to the groupthink, and who has the courage to say that the groupthink is unbiblical. Only the culturally conservative can afford to make themselves wards of the church.

Corporatus: I think a professionally trained minister could do a better job than one of us.

Restorius: That assumption is due more to your cultural conditioning than to your careful study of the New Testament. If local Christians had instituted the habit of thorough biblical training, paid elders, which is a New Testament practice, then this concept would not be so foreign to your thinking.

As I evangelize in the community, one thing that I hear loud and clear from unbelievers is that there is too much lack of continuity in leadership here. For whatever reason: whether because we burn them out, or because it is in their professional self-interests to move on, we lost a minister about once every two to three years. Most of us elders have been elders for at least ten years. So there is not only more continuity in having one of us receive full-time support or all of us receiving an honorarium; there is also no lead-time during which we must get to know the congregation. We already know the congregation and the community. Did it ever occur to you that it is not only Biblical for a man to move on just about the time he has gotten to know his flock and community, but it's unnatural; and seeing that he likes to be called "pastor," it's ironic as well. It certainly hurts the congregation's credibility and pastoral effectiveness and overall evangelistic effectiveness.

Did it ever occur to you also that we always hire a minister who's about 30 and proceed to burn him out? Of course we're just trying to get the most minister for the money. But since most churches do the same, this poor guy is washed out and unwanted by the age of fifty. Not a very good way to attract lasting talent. Seems to me that it's better to pay a man to do what he's gifted to do. If it is evangelism, let him win converts. Let's stop fooling ourselves and stop calling the minister a "preacher." He's not, primarily. If it is teaching and administration, then let him receive remuneration as an elder.

Pragmaticus: Then what would the brotherhood do with all the presently existing ministers?

Restorius: Let them receive their remuneration as New Testament elders, or as New Testament evangelists, whichever they are gifted to do. If we do not allow them the option of being "ministers," that is, clergymen, then they must make up their minds to apply Biblical categories to themselves. When local Christians remunerate elders, and understand that a relative newcomer to the community cannot be as effective as one who knows the community, we will go a long way toward eliminating this unbiblical semi-itinerant clergy-class we've created.

Cosmopolitus: Suppose a Bible college student discovers, while in school, that his gifts lie more in pastoral work than in evangelism. Since his only recourse for making a living would be that of pastoral work, then what is he supposed to do for a living until he receives remuneration as an elder?

Restorius: Being a pastor or an elder is not a trade you train for, after which the church is financially indebted to you. This problem is a product of our unbiblical thinking. It had a gradual development within the Restoration Movement with the rise of a clergy class. And the Bible college movement, in its cultural conservatism, has only reinforced an unbiblical practice by precluding, in most circumstances, a student from concurrently learning a trade.

We need far more highly equipped persons, who know the Book at least as well as a Bible college graduate, than all of the Bible colleges can possibly produce. The lost of the world need more evangelists, missionaries, and Bible translators than the church can support. It is probably unwise for a young man to cut off all of his opportunities to learn how to do something for his livelihood other than pastoral work. In an age of cultural compromise, the person who wants to radically practice what the Bible says in a local body lacks the cultural conservatism necessary for drawing a steady paycheck. These reasons mandate that we provide local Bible and Christian service training so that the Christian can receive such in-depth training not only in places where Bible colleges have cooperative programs with universities, but everywhere.

As you can see, how we view the nature of the ekklesia profoundly affects many related questions.

Cosmopolitus: Restorius, I must confess that I'm very uneasy about what you're presenting. After all, we've never done it that way before.

Restorius: Did the early church? (Silence...)

Corporatus: I move that we table any decision until we get another opinion. Why don't we call a couple of area ministers...er...preachers...whatever we're supposed to call them.

Restorius: Clergymen. What kind of opinion do you think you're gonna get from them?

Pragmaticus: I guess the one they want us to hear.

Restorius: Why don't you study the issue yourselves? That's what Thomas Campbell did before he abandoned infant baptism.

Corporatus: I don't know any Greek. I never went to Bible college. That's why we paid Dr. Clergius