"Preachers Are Preachers"

Art Thompson

It seems to me that we need to take one final look at preachers. After all, preachers are preachers, they say.

The other day I got to wondering what one was, so I opened the Bible and commenced to study about them.

What Preachers Are

One of the first things I noticed was that the word – preacher – is another King James-ism, like bishop, church, gospel, deacon, concupiscence, baptize, and many others. If the English word ever meant what the writers of scripture conveyed in Greek, it would be a total surprise to me. The word preacher, in English, means "a person whose occupation or function it is to preach the gospel; a person who preaches any doctrine, system or conduct, etc."

To preach is "to advocate or inculcate religious or moral truth, right conduct, etc., in speech or writing, to proclaim or, make known (the gospel, good tidings, etc.) by sermon; to deliver a sermon; to give earnest advice, as on religious or moral subjects; to do this in an obtrusive or tedious way."

Those are good representations of what the word means, not only today, but also during the time of King James. The concept carried within the English word preacher is of one whose occupation it is to deliver sermons. The act of preaching is most generally visualized as one standing in front of a group, and in a very formal way, delivering a lesson which contains some moral or religious truth.

This study would not be complete without looking into gospel, as well, Those of my background rarely use the word preacher without tacking gospel onto the front of it, as in gospel preacher. I don't know why that became the custom, since that phrase never appears anywhere in scripture. I guess it was to distinguish between one who is perceived to preach truth only from those who work for other denominations, and who might be preaching something other than the gospel.

Today, gospel is "the teachings of Jesus and the apostles; the Christian revelation; glad tidings, especially concerning salvation and the kingdom of God; the story of Christ's life and teachings, especially as contained in the first four books of the New Testament".1

What Preachers Were

In glaring contrast to today's concepts, the original words for which preacher is often substituted, meant to herald, to proclaim, or to cry out. One noted Greek language expert has said, "The herald is strangely unimportant in the New Testament. There are only three instances of the term." He cites Noah and Paul as the only two who were called that in 2 Pet. 2:5; 1Tim. 2:7 and 2 Tim. 1:11. "Since the word might seem to be so suitable for the New Testament preacher, this paucity of use is surely intentional." He continues by pointing out that the reason is that writers of the Greek scriptures place the emphasis – not on the proclaimer, but on the content of the message proclaimed. The proclaimers were not "sacral personages" but were rather like. "sheep among wolves". They were not officers nor anything else special.2 The only thing which distinguished them from any other sheep in the flock was their work – that of crying out the good news.

(I might add that the concept of today's preacher just simply did not exist in the first century. Noah cried out the news of the impending destruction of all human life. Definitely, only one of a kind. Paul apparently considered himself to be a special case. Unique, as well.)

To elaborate on the first century concept, consider another of the original words used to describe the activities of these people. I don't like the introduction of Greek words into an article such as this, but here it is anyway: euangellion. You probably recognize the major parts of the word to be eu-- which means good. The other part of the word is usually transliterated into English as angel. It means messenger. So the euangellion, literally, is a good angel – a messenger sent with a good message or good news. That message was Jesus Christ – His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection, and His offer of salvation to each of us.

Paul said "... we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not of us...", and that "God chose the foolishness of things proclaimed to save" believers. It is exceedingly clear that God never placed His emphasis on the person carrying His message, but on the content of the message carried.

The Things Proclaimed

Paul said, "I am not ashamed of the good news, because it is God's power unto salvation to everyone believing, both to Jew first and to the Greek." And again, "... God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message proclaimed to save those who believe."

But Saul ravaged the assembly, entering house by house, and dragging off both men and women, he delivered them to prison. Therefore, the ones being scattered passed through proclaiming the good news, the word. But Philip [one who was fleeing Jerusalem], going down to the city of Samaria, proclaimed to them the Christ. (Acts 8:3 - 5)

But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" -- that is, the word of faith which we proclaim. Because if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses to salvation. For the scripture says: Everyone believing on him will not be put to shame. For there is no difference between Jew and Greek. For the same Lord, the Lord of all, is rich to all the ones calling on him; for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How therefore may they call on one in whom they have not believed? And how may they believe about one about whom they have not heard? And how may they hear without one crying out? And how may they cry out if they are not sent? As it has been written: How beautiful are the feet of the ones announcing very good things. But not all obeyed the good news. (Rom. 10:8 - 16)

The picture in the Greek scriptures is of a disciple – a plain everyday, ordinary, person who follows Jesus Christ – going wherever he goes, doing whatever he does, and all the time he is crying out the good news about Jesus to any who will listen.

The "great commission" has been taught as a sacred command to be obeyed by every child of God. That is to "go into all the world, crying out the good news to all the creation. He believing and being immersed shall be saved …" The crying out the good news was to be done by every disciple of the Lord, not just a paid "clergy class".

Now if a person devotes his or her life to doing that, Paul said that person had a right to be fed by those whom he feeds, or to "live by the good news." With approximately 20/20 hindsight, Paul was pleased that he and Barnabas had worked with their own hands to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves while in Corinth. According to what he wrote in 2 Corinthians, he had been in dire need, but had not asked them to help him. That's the example modern preachers point toward to justify their taking wages from those to whom they "preach". Doesn't it strike you as more than a little ironic that Paul's example teaches exactly the opposite of what modern preachers say that it does. They say that Paul’s example authorizes them to take wages from a "church" for preaching to them. But Paul refused to ask them for anything. How long would the modern preacher preach, if the church cut off his "support" and he had to labor with his own hands to support himself and his family.

(Before you take exception, please know that I am well aware of many today who have never taken pay from a congregation for preaching, and though they suffer hardship, they continue to "preach". But those are exceptions – not the rule!)

In my opinion, this crying out the welcome good news was to those who had never heard – not to the saved.

During the last eight years, in The EXAMINER, various writers have pointed out many of the fallacies of the professional preacher system among Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ churches. The answer has been "There is no system." "We are not professionals." "We are not hirelings." "We do not work for wages." "We do not work for the church, we work for the Lord." "The church does not have a professional preacher system."

The reason I started wondering what a preacher was, is that a friend had given me a church bulletin. Covering the front page was a short article, titled: Preachers Are Preachers. I thought you ought to know what it says. It seems more than appropriate here. It begins with an "Editor's Note", written by the "local preacher" who is the editor of the paper in which it appeared.

(Editor's Note: I continue with some thoughts about preachers and preaching. I want more than anything in the world for my work to please God. I work for HIM; and I want to be what He requires of me. I also want OTHERS to understand my work. There are many MISUNDERSTANDINGS, and misrepresentations! The following is Good!)

Preachers are not judges, elders, apostles, popes, policemen. They do not own the church. Yet preachers are preachers! We listen to lawyers, doctors, CPA's, yes, mechanics – but we resent listening to preachers! Preachers are professionals, too. Why hire a preacher not to listen to him? Preachers are as competent in their field as others are in theirs! How come worldly, immature, unfaithful members think they know more about preaching? Why do we listen to preachers who live at a distance and not listen to our own local preachers?

Preachers are to rebuke sin (2 Tim. 4). This is part of their job. Preachers, with witnesses, can call down any who sin (including elders...1 Tim. 5) Nathan, a preacher, called down David the king. Preachers can call down other preachers. Paul called down Peter (Gal. 2). Paul warned about "itching ears" (2 Tim. 4). It has become an unwritten rule down at the church that no one can be "called down". It is "please one and all; keep everyone happy". Like Peter, even the BEST sin and need rebuked!

Simple advice to elders, or churches...

(1) Preachers represent God! Their power is in the pulpit, not in politics. Get you a preacher that represents God! If he does, you had better listen to him.

(2) Listen to him, back him, support him.

(3) Keep him.

(4) The church today is starved for holy preachers.

Me thinks he dost protest too much.

For eight years, writers in The EXAMINER have been saying that preachers (and elders) believe this. Preachers and elders have denied it, intensely. Now, immediately before the final edition of this paper, one of their preachers has finally put into writing their doctrine which they say does not exist.

I normally don't like articles which "review" other articles. I expect you'd rather read something else, too. But this one deserves some thought, prayer and comment, don't you think?

Who Works For Whom?

"I Work For HIM" I think I know what this preacher meant when he said, "I work for Him," but I'm not sure his congregation agrees. I think the preacher meant that he must answer only to God for the things he preaches and the things he does. He must think that he does not have to answer to any man or woman, to the elders, to the "men's business meeting", nor to any hobby or special interest groups. However, it seems to me that he is whistling past the cemetery", trying to convince himself and others of something that's not true. Just let him preach about something unpopular with or contrary to the views of one or two leading members of his congregation. He’ll find out in a hurry who he works for. His congregation thinks he works for them! He works for those who sign his paycheck. They hired him and they can fire him. There's no question about that.

Pleasing, Professional Preachers

"Preachers are professionals, too." As if to prove my point, our preacher pleads his professionalism. Yea, indeed, in one sentence he claims to work only for the Lord, and in the next he claims to work for anyone who will pay his professional fee – just like a lawyer, doctor, CPA, or a mechanic. He says that "preachers are professionals, too. Why hire a preacher and not listen to him?" Need I say more? What he is claiming is that modern Christians need to hire themselves a preacher to give them spiritual advice, just as they would hire a lawyer for legal advice.

Reminds me of the scripture he cites:

For there will be a time when sound (healthy) teaching they will not bear with, but according to their own lusts they will pile up teachers to themselves, tickling the ear, and on the one hand, they will turn their ear away from truth, and on the other, they will be turned aside to fiction. (2 Tim. 4:3, 4)

His recommendation to hire a preacher also reminds me of one more:

He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling, and it matters not to him about the sheep. (Jn. 10:12)

Competent In Their Field

"Preachers are as competent in their field as others (lawyers, doctors, CPA's, mechanics) are in theirs." He continues by disagreeing with himself and claiming to be a competent professional, paid by those who want his services.

I won't argue the competency issue with him. How easy is it to find a good, professional, qualified, lawyer, doctor, CPA, or mechanic? I expect it's about that easy to find a good, professional, qualified, preacher.

Worldly, Immature, Unfaithful Members

"How come worldly, immature, unfaithful members think they know more about preaching?" Now this is what I thought they thought – that those who hire preachers to preach are worldly, immature, and unfaithful! (I just wonder how they could be like that after listening to professional spiritual advice from the professional they hired to preach.) What can they possibly know about anything on their own without some preacher to give them professional advice? In other words, the work of a preacher is to turn these worldly, immature, unfaithful members into spiritual, mature, faithful members of something. I wonder why Paul didn't realize that was the work of preachers when he wrote to Christians in Ephesus. He told them that with the help of gifts Jesus Christ was giving, they would do it themselves. They would bring one another to maturity! The Ephesians were not to hire someone to do it for/to them.

And he gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some good news tellers (euangelistas), some teaching shepherds, for the maturing of the saints to the work of serving, to building of the body of Christ until we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, at a full-grown man, at the measure of the fullness of what Christ is, in order that we no more may be infants, being blown and carried around by every wind of teaching in the sleight of men, in cleverness unto the craftiness of error, but speaking truth in love, we may grow into him in all respects, who is the head, Christ, from whom all the body, being fitted together and being brought together through every band of supply according to the operation in measure of each single part, the growth of the body makes for the building of itself in love. (Eph. 4:11 - 16)

Also, I wonder if he overlooked the fact that these were worldly, immature, unfaithful members who exercised their judgment and taste to hire him in the first place!

Local and Distant

"Why do we listen to preachers who live at a distance and not listen to our own local preachers?" I thought it was a "true-ism" that an "expert" is anyone more than 50 miles from home. At least it seemed to be that way in my profession. Just when my ego believed my experience was extraordinarily deep, my knowledge without peer, and my mastery of giving professional advice matchless, someone would be hired as an expert consultant. Usually it was someone my ego considered to be much less qualified than I. But, my clients listened to him and seemed to hang onto every word, as long as he was from somewhere out of town. I call this "the grass is always greener syndrome".

A professional in most fields usually comes to recognize and accept this as fact, and put that information to good use for the benefit of his or her clients.

Our writer doesn't seem to recognize one of the principal problems of any system of hired professionals. That is, that many seem to think that the more a thing costs, the more it's worth. Since it costs more to get professional spiritual advice from someone out of town than it does someone local who is on a salary, people tend to take the visiting professional much more seriously. That's a funny thing about people. Perhaps you've noticed it, too.

A Part Of Their Job

"Preachers are to rebuke sin. This is part of their job." A part of their job? I thought this was a profession – not a job! I wonder which it really is? As long as someone works for someone else under the conditions that a preacher works for a church, believe me, that’s a job. He is hired for that purpose.

Isn't it odd, how far away some have gone from the first century way of doing things? With messengers telling good news to those who have never heard it? How can anyone believe that what this preacher is describing is anything akin to what first century saints were doing?

It seems to me that the good news just welled up and poured out of first century messengers – our examples. I don't read anywhere that anyone ever hired one of them for the job of telling that good news. Perhaps this writer is following some quite different examples.

Nathan, A Preacher?

"Nathan, a preacher, called down David the king." I never knew Nathan was a preacher, did you? Scripture never calls him that. In fact, this is the only person of whom I've ever known who called Nathan a preacher. Nathan was a personal friend of David. He was also a prophet—that’s a spokesperson for God. Nathan delivered God's message to his friend David. He did not collect a paycheck from David. He did not stand on a platform behind a podium with an overhead projector projecting charts on the wall. He didn't ask David to provide him a housing allowance, a study, a car allowance, to pay his Social Security, and his utilities. He didn't ask David to "support" him. He simply came to David as a friend to a friend and delivered God's message to David.

"Calling Down"

"Preachers ... can call down any who sin (including elders ...). Preachers can call down other preachers." I'm still looking for the scripture which "authorizes" calling down someone. The nearest I can find is Isaiah 28, where the witch of En-Dor "called up" Samuel. I don't think that's the same thing though. Scared her and king Saul nearly senseless. Surely, he means something else.

In 1 Kings 18, I found Elijah as he called down fire from heaven. That fire consumed the sacrificial bulls he and Baal's prophets had sacrificed, the wood, the stones of two altars, the dust, and even licked up at least 12 barrels of water from a surrounding trench. Is that what a preacher calls down? Godly fire?

Was it a preacher at the base of the city wall of Damascus, calling down Paul, while others lowered him in a basket?

Seriously, that's what I thought many preachers thought, that it was their God-given mission to be "God's prosecuting attorneys" – responsible for the conduct of everyone – even people they do not know.

Christians are to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4 – again). But I never read in scripture about anyone sent by God with this kind of an attitude – the attitude expressed by calling down someone. This attitude gives me real concern for souls.

"Down At The Church"

"It has become an unwritten rule down at the church" ... Didn't you already know it? Didn't you already know that the church had rules? Didn't you know that they were unwritten rules, because 1) they're not God's rules, and 2) "the Lord s church has no creed but Christ" – it has no creed book? All the church's rules are unwritten.

Didn't you already know that the church was a place? Haven't you been reading about that in these pages? Haven't you heard it being denied by preachers, elders, and other leaders "down at the church"?

Of course, you and I already knew that the concept of the church held by this preacher and most other preachers and elders just is not in scripture. Jesus never built anything like today's church organizations, systems, and buildings. Someone else has built them all. Jesus died for people. For you. For me. Jesus builds people – not organizations, systems, and buildings.

Who Represents God?

"Preachers represent God! Get you a preacher that represents God! If he does, you had better listen to him." This preacher really does believe that he is God's representative, just like a prophet, just like a Pope, just like an apostle, just like a prosecuting attorney represents the people of a state. What kind of a world would it be if that were really true? What if God really had built His people on the foundation of the apostles, and prophets, and preachers as this preacher imagines? What a weird world this would be if we were always being called down for not agreeing with some preacher's own peculiar doctrine.

I'm sorry, but there is no one on earth today with the authority to represent God the way he means. John Paul II, and millions of Catholics believe that the Pope does. A preacher or anyone else who claims to represent God on earth, puts themselves in the same position as the Pope – being able to issue orders in the name of God, and to expect hearers to obey as if obeying God.

From his statement, he apparently thinks there are some preachers who do not represent God. Should we listen to them? How can we tell which one does and which one does not represent God. Should the ones who do get more "support"? Are they more professional? What if a church slips and hires a professional who does not represent God? Should they fire him? Or should they keep him? Or just not listen to him? It's easy to be confused by this professional preacher system, isn't it?

Brothers and sisters, please. Don't you see? This is exactly what the church system with its professional preacher system has come to. The end result is that those men stand in the place of God – in a way that no Mosaic priest, prophet, nor apostle of our Lord ever did. Please give it up! Tear it down! Don't enthrone any man, men, organization, nor system. In the name of the Lord, and for His sake, go back to the simplicity of the earliest disciples. Love Jesus Christ, follow Him only, and you be the one who tells everyone you meet about Him. Don't hire someone to stand in the place of God and to do the telling about Jesus Christ for you.

The Power In The Pulpit

"Their (preacher's) power is in the pulpit ...!" Folks, it seems to me this is really the key to understanding the professional preacher system. Power! The power in the pulpit!

I'm afraid that for some of those professional preachers I know and have known, that's what means the most to them. Power! It seems to me that if a psychologist were to study preachers, he would find many that couldn't "amount to anything" doing anything else for a living, so the power of the pulpit attracted them to it. That way, they can draw a regular paycheck without any required professional degree. They can be recognized in the community as professionals. They can "be somebody". They can have the power to call down people and to be applauded by others instead of getting punched in the nose as the rest of us probably would.

I know there is power in the name of Jesus, there is power in His blood, and God's power to save is in the good news. Now we all also know there's another spiritual power – not from God, but in the pulpit. (Where'd that word come from, anyway? Did anyone in the first century have one? Can you read about a pulpit in scripture?)

"Support Him"

"Listen to him, back him, support him." "Support him," is written in code. Support him means "pay him a paycheck".

I fully recognize that the attitude portrayed by this preacher is not universal among those who preach. I know some good, sincere, God-fearing men who humbly serve God at great personal and family cost. I also know many who "preach the word" and never accept any pay for doing it. They are following their own consciences as they do what they believe the Lord wants them to do.

I know of at least one brother who recently said that the church does not pay him a salary to preach. He preaches and does much work peripheral to preaching and the members of the church support him so that he can continue to give his full time to it.

One day, I pray that he will recognize this as pure semantics. I'm confident that in his mind now there's a difference in substance and that difference is important to him. But if he and others who feel the same way will just take two or three steps back so they can get an objective view, they will see that there's no difference. If they (and you) believe that there is a difference, then try a simple test: stop the "support". Just don't pay them anything ever again. Well all discover – and quickly – what is supporting the professional preacher system – pay. I know that some would find other ways to support their families and would continue to do what they believe the Lord is leading them to do. But the system would crumble. The church organization which supports the system would disintegrate as well.

If you don't believe it, please test it.

"Keep Him"

"Keep him!" Another code phrase! This one means, don't fire him, but, if he chooses, let him quit when he finds a bigger church that pays better.

Doesn't that strike you as being strange and ironic? "Don't fire the preacher. Keep him, no matter what." Most preachers I've known feel that they should be free to move when they want to, though. Two weeks notice. A month. Six weeks. Whatever. They ought to be allowed to leave at any time of their own choice. But the "members" ought to keep him. They ought not to have a choice, I reckon. Wish I could have bad a "no cut contract" like that in my profession.

"Holy Preachers"

"The church today is starved for holy preachers." In the Greek scriptures, I've read of His Holy name; the Holy Father; the Holy Spirit of God; He that is Holy; Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty; Lord, Holy and True; the Lord who only is Holy;

The Holy One of God; thy holy child Jesus; a holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and higher than the heavens high priest (Jesus); he who has called you is Holy;

The Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit which dwells in us;

The holy angels;

His holy prophets; the holy prophets; holy apostles and prophets; His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; Holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit;

His holy covenant; the holy commandment; the holy law;

The Holy Scriptures;

The holy city; the holy city, new Jerusalem; the holy Jerusalem; the holy place; this holy place; the holy mount; holy ground;

The holy root and the holy branches; the holy firstfruit and the holy lump (now, there's a concept that deserves to be explored);

Holy living (conversation); most holy faith; a holy, acceptable, living sacrifice which God accepts; a holy calling; the holy temple of God (which temple we are); holy children (who had been unclean); we, who should be holy and without blame before Him in love; all the building, fitly framed together, which grows unto a holy temple in the Lord; the glorious assembly (holy, without spot, or wrinkle, blemish, or any such thing); you who are holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight, whom He will present to His father; the holy and beloved elect of God, who put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; the holy brothers (brethren); holy brothers (brethren) – partakers of the heavenly calling; you are to live a holy life; "Be ye holy; for I am holy"; a holy priesthood; a holy nation; holy is he that has a part in the first resurrection; a just and holy man; he that is holy, let him be holy still;

The holy women; the unmarried woman (who cares for the things of the Lord) that is holy both in body and in spirit;

Timothy – a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;

They which serve about holy things who live of the temple;

Holy hands;

... even "an holy kiss".

But, never have I read of Holy Preachers. Just what do you suppose one is? How would he be different from an ordinary preacher? From an ordinary disciple – a "holy child of God who should be holy and without blame before Him in love"? Would he be different from the ordinary person in the pew?

Holy Preachers, Batman!

1st Century Preachers

Yes, brother. Today, preachers are preachers. Preachers are professionals. Preachers are indeed as competent in their professional field as lawyers, doctors, CPA's, and mechanics. And, sometimes, the worldly, immature, unfaithful members who hire them do know more about preaching than the ones they hire. Preachers do rebuke sin – even sometimes when it doesn't exist. Preachers, with and without witnesses, call down those they believe have sinned. Preachers call down elders. Preachers call down other preachers. Preachers "write up" others, as well. Preachers make unwritten rules down at the church. Preachers establish churches one can go down to.

It is like that now, but it wasn't like that in God's plan.

The original men and women who proclaimed or cried out the good news were not paid to do it. They were ordinary disciples who were persecuted by Saul, scattered from Jerusalem, and who went everywhere crying out the good news. They were the original good news tellers – or, if someone insists, the "gospel preachers" of the first century. They were our examples. They had no schools of preaching, no Christian colleges, no seminaries, no paychecks, no housing allowances, no "gospel meetings", no library allowance, no travel expenses, no telephone allowances, no paid vacations, no time off for six "meetings" each year, no time off to visit and speak on the lectureships, no power. They were not professional preachers. They were not as competent in the preaching profession as lawyers, doctors, CPA's and mechanics. There was no preaching profession. Why is there one today? They were not specially empowered by God to call down people. There was no church organization to pay them a professional wage. There was no church one could go down to. No rules down at the church – written nor unwritten. These disciples did not represent God in the sense preachers think they do today.

Where was their pulpit? Where was their power? Paul said that God's power is in the good news itself (Rom. 1:16). Not in the person crying it out. And most certainly not in the place from which it is cried out.

Won't you please pray for all of God's children to return to the simplicity taught by Jesus and His disciples? Pray that each of us can lay aside our own selves – everything that is centered around self and personal power—and keep our focus only and always on Jesus our Lord. Pray that we can each give up everything of ourselves and put on Jesus Christ in our lives. Someday soon, may we all say with Paul, "To live is Jesus Christ!"

1. The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition

2. Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament, Abridged in One Volume, Kittel & Friedrich, Ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley