Is probably not what most of us expect. We expect some sort of direct challenge from without, something like The Da Vinci Code. But I think the greatest danger that we face is from within, and I think it comes from well meaning pastors.
How could well meaning pastors pose the greatest threat to evangelical churches today?
Do they deny the truth?
No, the pastors who pose the greatest threat to the church today will all confess belief in the right things. They will say they believe in the authority and inerrancy of the Bible, that Jesus saves, and even that Jesus is the only way of salvation.
So how can these guys who mean well and make the good confession pose such a threat to the church?
Many pastors are a threat to their churches because they show from what they say and do that they do not understand what Christianity is. They think Christianity is the best form of therapy. They think Christianity is about self-help. They think Christianity is about better marriages, better parent-child relations, better attitudes and performance at work, and on and on. You can see that this is what they think because this is what they preach. Fundamentally, they think that Christianity is about success here and now. Also, for them, when it comes to how we do church, what the Bible says does not matter. What works best is what we should do.
But Christianity is not primarily about any of that. Christianity is primarily about the Gospel: about how a holy God has created a good world, in which the humans he made to worship him and enjoy communion with him have rejected him as King and sought to set themselves up as god in his place. Christianity is about these humans deserving the almighty wrath of God, and instead of judging them God sends his Son Jesus to take the punishment rebels deserve. Christianity is about telling this true story in the words of the Bible so that by the power of the Holy Spirit people come to see the world and themselves correctly.
Christianity is about the Triune God and the two natures of Christ. Christianity holds that humans are hopeless sinners but God has sent the Savior. Christianity is about the Holy Spirit supernaturally causing people to be born again so that they love this story and find in it their hope and joy. Christianity is about trusting the Word of God with all our hearts and not leaning on our own understanding—or our own ideas about what works or what is relevant. Christianity is about longing for the return of Christ, who, when he comes, will set up his Kingdom, which means that this is not our home.
Pastors who present Christianity as therapy and self-help do not present Christianity. They are like the liberals that J. Gresham Machen denounced. Machen said that people who don’t believe the Bible should be honest and stop calling themselves Christians because they have in fact created a new religion that is not to be identified with Christianity.
Similarly, the promoters of the American religion of self-help and therapeutic pop-psychology ought to be honest: they don’t believe the Bible is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). If they believed that the Bible really does contain everything we need to be saved and to live lives that are pleasing to God, they would preach the Bible from their pulpits. Not only would they preach the Bible trusting that God has revealed what he thinks his people need, trusting that God knows better than they do what is relevant, they would organize their churches according to the dictates of the Bible rather than the dictates of the market analysis and what works in the corporate world.
So how do you avoid winding up with a pastor who will harm the church by turning Christianity into the American religion of self help therapy?
1. Look at the biblical qualifications for men in the ministry (1 Tim 3:1–7; Tit 1:5–9), and ask pastoral candidates direct questions about whether they meet these qualifications. Ask the man’s references whether he lives up to these statements. Do not assume that every candidate will meet these qualifications, and don’t assume that every candidate understands these qualifications. Ask him to explain the qualifications.
2. Since the feature that most distinguishes the qualifications for an elder (pastor) from the qualifications for a deacon is that the elder be “apt to teach” (1 Tim 3:2), pay close attention to his teaching. Seek to discern whether this man “holds firmly to the trustworthy word as taught,” whether he knows enough theology “to be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Tit 1:9, ESV).
3. Based on what you have heard of his preaching, ask yourself these questions:
a. Was the main point of the text he was preaching the main point of his sermon? (If he did not preach a text, happily remove his name from consideration).
b. Does God rest heavily upon this man? Is it evident that he fears God? Can you tell that he knows that “teachers will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1)? Does he “tremble at the Word of God” (Isa 66:2)? Is the Word of God like a burning in his bones that he cannot hold in (Jer 20:9)?
c. Does he think that his main task is the explanation of the Bible, which is useful and relevant (2 Tim 3:16), or does he think that he needs to organize the Bible according to his wisdom in order for it to be useful and relevant?
d. Is this man going to help us to understand and live on the great truths of Christianity?
e. Is this man a theologian, or is he a just a gifted speaker with a good heart?
f. Do I trust this man’s ability to interpret the Bible and tell me what it means?
4. Ask direct questions about what he understands pastoral ministry to be about:
a. Is pastoral ministry about “the ministry of the Word and prayer” (Acts 6:4), or is it about building a massive corporation that is successful by worldly standards?
b. Is pastoral ministry about the power of the Spirit of God through the Word of God, or is it about “persuasive speech” and slick presentations? (cf. 1 Cor 2:1–5).
c. Is the great commission (Matt 28:18–20) about notching decisions on our belts or about making disciples who have been taught all that Jesus commanded?
d. Are Jesus’ instructions about church discipline (Matt 18:15–18) to be taken seriously or is he not going to practice church discipline since it might be bad for business?
e. Is church membership mainly about a big number for us to report, or should church members really take the “one another’s” in the New Testament seriously?
f. Are the main tasks of pastoral ministry prayer, teaching, and shepherding souls, or is pastoral ministry more about growing the business and managing a conglomerate of campuses?
g. What are his plans for doing evangelism?
h. What are his plans for doing discipleship?
i. What are his plans for praying for the members of the church?
Paul told the elders (that is, the pastors) of the church in Ephesus that wolves would arise from within their ranks to destroy the flock (Acts 20:29–30). Jesus said that the false prophets would be like wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15). It might be hard to recognize these well meaning pastors as wolves, but Jesus said we would know them by their fruits (Matt 7:16–20).
Let me add that I am not necessarily saying that every pastor who does not preach the Bible and who arranges the church according to the business model rather than the biblical model is intentionally trying to destroy the flock. No doubt some of these guys are evil. They are in the ministry for their own advancement, they don’t like the Bible, and so they preach the religion they prefer and they pursue church according to their preferences. But not all are openly hostile to Christianity.
So what do we say about well meaning pastors who propagate an un-Christian, un-biblical, worldly kind of Christianity? I think the words that Jesus spoke about those who corrupted the Old Covenant are fitting: “Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matt 15:14, ESV).
Let us heed the words of Jesus about what a good shepherd does, “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Only Jesus can lay down his life for the sheep in the way he did at the cross. But his under-shepherds can lay down their lives for the sheep as they take up their crosses and follow in the footsteps Jesus, loving, teaching, discipling, evangelizing, praying, and protecting the sheep from the wolves. No servant is greater than his master (John 15:20).
Wow, that is such an excellent treatment of this subject Jim! Excellent job of unpacking what is important in a Pastor and a Pastor search. Thanks for your diligence in this article.
Outside of this I think the other issue is the issue of bad church Polity, A guest contributor wrote about this and how it affects the SBC. It is posted on my blog if you are interested. But, I think the bad polity comes from bad preaching and biblical illiteracy as a whole.
Here is a link to the post on my blog:
Amen, Jim. You hit the nail on the head. I am so grateful to have Tom Schreiner as my pastor. I know all to well what it is like in churches with the kind of well-meaning pastors you described. Thanks.
Excellent, Jim! We need more of this sort of discussion. I agree wholeheartedly that the grave danger comes from well intended efforts which simply fail to be biblical. Thanks for this. Not only great content but well said.
Thanks for the post Dr. Hamilton. I’m sending the link to several disparaged friends who need this encouragement and solemn warning.
God Bless. If you’re in Ft Worth some Sunday you’re not preaching stop by Christ the Redeemer. http://www.redeemerfortworth.org
That is a nice essay, however from a monotheistic perspective the greatest danger facing the church is offering rivals to God, which Created and Sustains the Heavens and Earth.
“Verily, in the sight of God, the nature of Jesus is as the nature of Adam, whom He created out of clay and then said unto him, “Be” and he is. This is the truth from your Sustainer; be not then among the doubters…”
“Say, O followers of earlier revelation! Come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common; that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to anyone beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings as objects of devotion and support beside God.” (Qur’an, 3:59; 64)
Thank you for your comment.
I want you to know that God is holy and you will never be able to live up to his standard of holiness. You know that you have done things that you knew you should not do.
You are a sinner, and God is holy. God will judge your sin.
There is a way for you to be forgiven of your sin, however, if you will trust Jesus.
God loved the world this way: he sent his only Son Jesus to die for sinners like you and me. Jesus took the punishment that sinners like us deserved, so that every sinner who trusts in Jesus can be justly forgiven in the mercy of God.
I invite you to trust Jesus and be saved. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).
This is your only hope. I am praying that God will cause you to trust Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks Jim for your powerful words. I left these comments also on Justin Taylor’s blog.
I fight this same battle on a different front. I minister full time as a biblical counselor in a “professional counseling” realm. I am both amazed and saddened by the number of “Christians” coming in for counseling who really don’t know much of anything about biblical and theological truths, and who are not very much in touch with living Soli Deo Gloria. They want better marriages, their spouse to change and love them better, a more positive parenting experience, and just an overall better life. They know nothing about the idols and broken cisterns in their lives When I point them to the CROSS standing in their way, they look either clueless or angry. Having worked for years now for and with the best known names in the Christian Counseling arena, I’ve seen up close and personal the desperate need for a powerful movement of our Holy God, and a return to the centrality of the Cross of Christ and the Word of God. God Help Us.
True dat. That’s one reason why Christains need to read the Word for themselfs. I never would’ve thought of this, so thanks for posting.
I have a thought I would like to share, from a pastor’s perspective.
I don’t know that the points you raise are THE greatest danger facing the church, perhaps it is. There are so many potential dangers, and insidious undercurrents that to list one that far outpaces all the others would be difficult. However, you raise some good points. Yes, too much of Christian preaching has devolved into pop psychology and is described accurately by the terms you pose.
But there is another consideration to this.
As a pastor, I know my sheep better than anyone else does. I know the woman who was sexually assaulted recently, or the couple struggling with bills, or the family going through various pressures. I know those who are barely keeping their heads above water in different areas of life. Pastoring isn’t just about laying your life down for the sheep. It isn’t only about preaching evangelistic message after evangelistic message. Pastoring is also about being a spiritual father to my congregation, and teaching and preaching about WHATEVER area of life they are challenged in. Some are beaten down emotionally, and need to be taught that they are something special, a creature created in the image of God, loved by the Father so much that He gave His only begotten Son in their behalf. Helping them to see themselves as God sees them, and to be confident in their relationship with the Father through His Son Jesus, is not pop psychology. (I’m sure you understand that). Teaching people to have a generally positive outlook on life, expecting to be successful in their endevors, is not the same as “positive thinking,” in my book anyway.
One of my major functions as a pastor is to teach my congregation living skills, or in other words, how to make Biblicly-based, wise decisions in life. Including, but not limited to, having a good marriage, strong family relationships, loving relationships with their children. How to be a good employee. How to handle finances correctly and prosper through wise planning, not get-rich-quick schemes, or through sending a big check to a late-night TV evangelist. My job entails teaching young men what to look for in a godly mate, young women how to choose a man for a husband who isn’t walking through life backwards. Some of the people that come into my congregation have never had a father, or perhaps not a mother. They have no concept whatsoever of what it is to be a father, or a mother, or a wife, or a husband. They don’t know what it is to have what you and I would consider to be a normal home life. So I am the only source they have for learning many roles and necessities of life. My job is very wide-ranging. I’m like a teacher in the old one room schoolhouses of years gone by who taught all 8 grades at the same time. I am faced with a congregation of various races, various backgrounds and traditions, various hangups, old to young, well off to barely making it, new converts to old saints, and natures from wolves that need to be watched closely to lambs that are entirely harmless, and everything in between. And I teach and preach to all of them simultaneously. My messages have to touch on numerous issues of life, areas of the bible, reinforcing sound doctrines, all at once. Sometimes I have to speak very bluntly, using some earthy tones that I am not entirely comfortable with using, because some in my congregation don’t understand the polite terms. A pastor friend of mine said from his pulpit, “There will be NO Co-habiting in this congregation! If you’re co-habiting here, you’re OUT!” A little old lady came up to him after the service and said, “Pastor, what’s co-habiting?” He replied, “Shaking up.” She replied, “Oh my No! We can’t have that going on here!” Yet if he had said from the pulpit, “Shaking up,” half his congregation might have gotten offended and claimed he “let down the dignity of the pulpit.” We walk a tight-rope sometimes. Sad thing is, the little old lady was probably only just one of many who walked out of there having no idea what the pastor was talking about.
Anyway, some pastors err in getting too earthy, or too positive-thinking, or to psychological. And yes, it is always good to exhort us to make sure we don’t wander from the Bible. Yet at the same time, perhaps people should consider this. No sarcasm intended, but I’ve never known of a marriage breaking up because the husband and wife couldn’t agree on pre-trib or mid-trib. I’ve never seen a young man get a young woman pregnant because he misunderstood the 70-weeks of Daniel. I’ve never known of a person getting off on drugs because he had a wrong definition of the Trinity. But I have seen many, many, many Christians stumble and wander away from the faith because all they got on Sundays was one salvation sermon after another, doctrinal dissertations that were almost completely irrelevent to their lives, and theologically correct sermons that they couldn’t find any practical way to apply to desperate problems.
In closing–as we preachers like to say–did you read ALL of Paul’s qualifications for being a Pastor or Bishop?
“blameless, the husband of one wife (if he can’t keep a marriage together, how can he teach others to), vigilent, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, (does he like to have friends over? Does he like going to other people’s houses and just enjoying himself with them whether he preaches to them or not?), not given to wine (MUST understand the intoxicating areas of life, and know how to keep those areas within Biblical boundaries), no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, but patient, etc. Please note what Paul did not require. Paul had a high theological education for his day, but he did not require it of pastors. Paul listed teaching, not preaching as a qualification. If you’re a great preacher, but no teacher, you are not qualified to be a pastor according to the Bible. Ever consider that? Paul also was a zealous evangelist, but did not list evangelistic zeal as a qualification. If you look at all the qualifications listed in Timothy and Titus for a Pastor, you come to the realization that the main characteristic of a pastor is that he will demonstrate by his life that he possesses a clear understanding of the Biblical living skills necessary to hold fast to sound doctrine, and good character while living a normal life in this world. Not a great theologian. Not a great evangelist. God calls evangelists to be evangelists. Not a great preacher. A competent spiritual father that will be able to teach and father others in the faith, and keep them in the fold until Christ comes to us, or we go to Him.
Just my thinking. No criticism intended. Your article was good, and made pertinent points. I’m just trying to get down to where the rubber meets the road. Which is where we pastors have to live most of the time.
I’m not a Southern Baptist. I’m Charismatic. I’m sure we have these challenges only in Charismatic churches. ( lol )
Rev. Mel Montgomery
Great points. Thanks for writing this brother.
Please keep reading your Qu’ran. Does it not tell you that Jesus is the Word of God (Surah 4:171) and a Word from God (Surah 3:39, 45). No one else–from Adam to Muhammad–is called the Word of God in the Qu’ran. Why? Because Jesus is completely unique. The Apostle John, a beloved follower of Jesus, put it this way in his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:1-3, 14). Jesus is the incarnated eternal Word of God, the Son of God who took on human flesh.
And does not the Qu’ran say that Jesus is also “Spirit from him” (Sura 4:171, ruhun minhu)? The “him” referred to is God. Jesus is a Spirit come from God. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus proves himself to be “a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45).
And does not the Qu’ran teach that Jesus is al-Masih, “Messiah”? Eleven times Jesus is given this title in the Qu’ran. Even in the passages of the Qu’ran you quote (3:59,64), you see that the Torah and the Gospels are “revelation” from God. That revelation tells us that the Messiah would be the One who would save from the coming judgment of God those who repent of their sins and place their faith in Him. Jesus is the Messiah who will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He is the One to whom all of the Scriptures point (Luke 24:44-49).
Does not even the Qu’ran teach that God send Jesus the Gospel and in it was gudance and light, and confirmation of the Torah that had come before him, a guidance and admonition to those who fear God? (sura 5:46; cf 3:3). Does not the Qu’ran teach that Jesus was strengthened by the Holy Spirit (sura 2:87, 253; 5:113), performed miracles (3:49; 5:113) confirming his message–which is a message about himself as Savior! And does not the Qu’ran even teach the resurrection of Jesus? “Blessed am I in the day of my birth, my day of death and my day of resurrection to life” (19:33)?
We don’t accept the Qu’ran as any valid revelation from God. Yet even the Qu’ran cannot help but teach some truth about the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, the only name given under heaven by which man can be saved! As a former Muslim, I pray you would see the truth about Jesus even as you read the Qu’ran.
I like how you stressed that Christianity is not ‘PRIMARILY’ all that. It is about the Gospel, the kingdom of God that Jesus told us to preach. I think your message is a wake-up call and should be read by Christians.
I think too though, that the Gospel or this Good News about Jesus is just really that good… for people to be given hope when they hear it.
As I prepare to enter the third chapter of First Timothy in my current preaching series, this was a great read. I really appreciate your passion and insight into the problem of “wolves coming from within, not sparing the flock”. Paul warned the Ephesian Elders that some of them were going to be the problem. (Acts 20.)
May God keep me from becoming a savage wolf!
See my post: Evil Pastors over at http://stilltruth.com
Because Truth is Still Truth Even if you Don’t Believe it.
Why does god need churches and priests – are you discussing scientology ?
I see in your “about” section on your page that you “like baiting god bloggers.”
Thanks for giving me this chance to interact with you:
In answer to your question, God does not need anything (Acts 17:25 says the God who made the world is not served by human hands as though he needed anything).
May I encourage you to think about the fact that one day you will stand before the God who made all things?
You will stand before him, whether you think so now or not, and you will have to answer for all that you have done.
There is one way to escape the just punishment due your sin: trust in Jesus Christ. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
I invite you to flee to the mercy of God in Christ,
It doesn’t matter. You’re all wrong anyway. It’s like Buddhists arguing about whatever they argue about.
i’m only a 7 year old christian. But I have a point to make.
I’m also a 29 year old man. I was born in 1976 and re-born at some point in the eighties as a kid. I became a spirit-filled believer in my early twenties. And that is when i became a christian or disciple of Christ–a “Christ one.”
One thing that boggles me even as 7 year old kid is our refusal to–well–grow up.
Jesus never taught from the scriptures, though he is the scriptures! I guess he was pretty secure. In fact he read from the scriptures in one single solitary instance (after being tempted by the devil) and correct me if i’m wrong but that was it. He also used it in warfare against the devil, but not in his sermons. His sermons/teachings were primarily allegorical, 1-minute stories or parables. The “sermon” on mount itself reads like most secular self-help: “blessed are you, if you do this or that.”
Corporate America would’ve embraced this first class communicator’s eschewing of corpspeak in favor of anecdotes and stories and “blessed are you’s”. But unfortunately this would disqualify Jesus as a self-help therapist according to point 3a. His greatest commandment In fact, the summation of the Law as He put it, was an indirect commandment to love yourself! (gasp).
Similarly, Apostle Paul’s work is comprised mainly of “letters” and not explanation of scripture.
He gives opinions and suggestions on many occasions. Doctrinal issues (like the qualifications of an elder) having nothing to do with the “Gospel”.
I guess my point is this:
“So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it!”
I believe that another threat, equally insidious, is church doctrine and church action which conflicts with the actions and words of Jesus – not Paul but Jesus. It is about time the Church started to cast off doctrines and traditions that descend from Roman paganism and concentrated on the essence of Jesus and his message – and for that matter the Bible that Jesus himself followed and put into practice, namely the Tanakh.
I have in my own experience found the opposite to be true. I was raised Catholic and have belonged to both conservative and liberal congregations. The conservative congregations of my childhood drilled into me the ritual, mysticism and devotion all good Catholics adhere to. But the liberal congregations sustained my faith long after the conservative congregations failed in the task. I have found through my own personal experiences and those of many of my peers and friends that a critical evaluation of the Bible in combination with a comparative study of other cultures and religions is the greatest threat to Christianity.
Regardless of what many Protestants believe Catholics do in fact study the Bible. They just don’t take biblical study to the extreme which Protestants do. A Catholic may read the Bible as often or as little as they wish. It is widely accepted however, that Catholic priests serve as teachers with a deeper knowledge and understanding of the complexities of the Bible, then the average Catholic layperson. While I had never memorized whole passages, I had as a Catholic read the Bible from cover to cover at least three times. I also discussed theology often in my Catholic school religion classes.
As I grew into adolescence the morals of these conservative churches started to clash with my own. The explanations of my elders (who all pointed to the Bible) weren’t making any sense anymore. My family moved to another city then and we started to attend a more liberal church. I no longer clashed with my Church and I continued my progress in the Sacraments and I was soon Confirmed.
However, when I reached university and began to study anthropology and other world religions I was often taken by surprise. Other cultures, I discovered, didn’t feel abortion was a moral issue, and homosexuality was often accepted as normal. I even learned about an aboriginal culture which allowed trial marriages before the couple committed. Needless to say, for a little Catholic school girl the idea of premarital sex endorsed by a whole society was scandalous.
I started to ask myself how these other cultures justified this behaviour. Why did other religions believe in other gods? The answer was rather shocking. They had divine scriptures too! They had the Qu’ran, the Vedas, the Sutras and a million other books. All of them given to their adherents from god/dess (s/es).
I started to study the Bible intently looking for something that would differentiate the evidence Christianity provided from that of every other religion. I knew little about other Christian sects I thought they were a little weird, a little misguided, but still good people and good Christians. I was quite startled to learn that there were different versions of the Bible. The realization that the Bible was edited, questionably translated and otherwise altered from its original form was a rather disturbing blow.
The Catholic understanding of the Bible was once explained to me in this manner: while you might tell a young child to cross the road only when holding the hand of an adult, this same behaviour would be rather odd once the child had reached adolescence. In other words, while the Bible is a great source of moral guidance it cannot be interpreted literally as issues such as cloning, stem cell research and clinical death could not have been foreseen when the Bible was written.
If I had stayed with the conservative churches of my childhood I would have eventually been pressed to examine the Bible critically in an attempt to reconcile my personal moral convictions, the teachings of the Church and those of the larger society around me; just as the study of other cultures forced me to do so in university.
The priest of the liberal congregation listened patiently to my questions, understood my frustration with the Church and discussed these matters with me in an honest and respectful manner. I have no doubt that a conservative Catholic priest would have dismissed my questions in the same manner the Protestant minister I spoke to did, referring me to Bible passages and prayer (which when you are questioning the veracity of the Bible is rather…unhelpful).
I still have many friends who still strongly believe in Christianity (as well as many other religions), and I respect their right to believe so. I still marvel at the beauty created by the many religions around the world. I adore the poet-saints of Hinduism, the solemn architecture of Protestant churches is glorious and the stained glass and incense of a Catholic Church move me to tears sometimes. I enjoy the poetry of the Vedas and the Sutras; I love the parables and imagery contained in the Bible. But for me the evidence presented by Christianity (and every other religion) doesn’t withstand critical evaluation.
I really enjoyed this. Christians would come across more like followers of Christ if we worked towards that goal sincerely and not so that we feel better about ourselves or buy into false views, such as prosperity theology.
This is not to say that there aren’t external threats to the Church but suffice it to say that the Da Vinci Code is alow among them.
Very good treatise on the subject. The more external ‘threats’ are usually the least threatening.
What would we and God do if The Holy Bible did not exist.?
.. you might find RichardMcChurch.wordpress.com interesting — on these and related topics…….. Rod Smith
What would you do, Carl?
I hear what Jim is saying and for the most part, I agree wholeheartedly.
We do risk watering down the system of beliefs when we peddle it as the latest self help solution to “get your life right” and “reap great benefits”. If all we are offering is ten steps to get the most out of life then yes, Pastors and Christians alike are totally off the mark. But, in agreement with Rev. Montgomery, I do think that pastors have a calling and a responsibility to lead their sheep. That covers the full range both in terms of foundational knowledge and in terms of living our lives according to biblical principles.
Jesus was the greatest example of this kind of pastoral care. While Pharisees were in the temple memorising laws, he was out with the people speaking on everything from doctrine to how we should treat our brothers to the payment of taxes. Christianity cannot and should not be sectioned off into Sunday theory…that makes us closer to Pharisees than anything else. Our belief system must speak to and be reflected in our every action, every single day. If pastors lead the church, they must be prepared to provide guidance there as well.
It is important to note that we, as individuals, remain responsible for our walk with Christ and it is up to us as to maintain a close relationship with God where we study his word and seek his will in our lives. At the same time, Pastors play a key role in guiding the church and (I feel) must speak to all aspects of our lives as we make that walk.
This does not mean that we may not disagree with their methods or that all pastors are perfect…the bible also speaks to what to do in a situation where you disagree with the actions of a member of the church. But I deeply feel that as a society, and especially as christians we need to move away from just highlighting problems and move towards positive action and solutions.
So I appreciate what Jim has stated and I recognise that he has highlighted a real problem that exists within the church. That is a great first step. What now?
The pastoral calling, like many, is a challenging one. As instructed, (1 Tim 2:1) let us commit to bearing up our leaders in prayer. This is what God has called us to do and I believe that many of us (including myself) forget to do so. We need to support, encourage them. We need to differentiate between semantics/different styles of working and items that are genuinely against what we know to be true. We need to have the courage to speak to our leaders about concerns that we have but we must also have the courage to (in areas where the issue is just semantics) to submit to them and pray (since we are supposed to believe in prayer) that God will work through them and his will will be done.
Pray for your leaders.
Hey, thank you for the post. The Lord grant mercy to our pastors, that they would be seekers of His heart and not the people’s. (and yes, I know that statement needs to be qualified).
I’ve linked it here.
and by “here,” I really meant here.
I found the listed criteria really helpful, especially with some issues that I’m having with my church and our pastor at the moment concerning the quality/honesty of his preaching.
Thanks also to Brother Mel for his comments….the church does need more than evangelistic sermons to grow properly. We must never forget that the cross of Christ is central, but there are times when we need to hear of God’s healing as well as our failings. Sin must be acknowledged, but the emphasis should be on how God deals with that sin, and the forgiveness He offers – the point is God’s glory, not focusing on us, be it on our worth or our sin.
Faithdeezy – Jesus definitely DID teach from Scriptures! He is constantly referring to them, though not always in direct quotations as in the time when He was tempted. You’re right – He was the fulfillment of many Scriptures concerning the coming Messiah, and His whole life demonstrated what the Kingdom of God is all about. Often His teaching would take a concept familiar to the Jews and turn it on its head, showing the true meaning. Check the Beatitudes – not just self-help blurb but taking commandments from Hebrew Scriptures and expounding them. eg: Matthew 5:21 concerns the command not to murder (Exodus 20:31); Matthew 5:21 adultery (Exodus 20:14); Matthew 5:31 divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1); and on throughout that chapter. Jesus clearly upholds the Jewish Scriptures (see Matthew 19:16-22) and their authority, but gives fresh revelation on how to live them out.
Randomheather – I hope one day you’ll meet the person of Jesus Christ for yourself. I understand a little of what you’re saying – I grew up in the church but stopped attending in my teens as it seemed boring and irrelevant to me – but I’d love you to know that Jesus is a lot more than the buildings and ritual that unfortunately dominates so many churches. I was grateful to have become a Christian whilst working abroad in a very poor country. There were none of the trappings I had previously associated with ‘church’, but only a group of people who had a relationship with a living person, who loved Jesus whole-heartedly. So I would encourage to you to look at the Bible again, not to try and convince yourself about a particular religion, but to get to know the person of Jesus Christ.
Blessings to you all! I hope my words haven’t been out of place.
Hmm one thing I forgot…
I wonder if the phrase ‘Bible scholar’ might help people understand the point about pastors being theologians?
There’s no Biblical requirement that a good pastor/preacher should be able to quote the ideas of Jonathan Edwards or should knows the strengths and weaknesses of Wesley’s texts. The works of another theologian certainly shouldn’t be the subjct of a sermon – a reference to highlight a point in the Scripture passage if anything. I also don’t believe it’s necessary for a preacher to be a renowned academic. But if you’re going to preach, you have to know the Bible. Sounds obvious, I know! But that was what I understodd by point 3e in Mr Hamilton’s post. The best, most God-honouring, instructive and edifying sermons I’ve ever heard were given by those who were personally devoted to God, knew the Bible, and were prepared to share with us how they had learned and lived by Scripture in their lives. They focused on a Biblical text, and used their knowledge of Scripture (other texts, exegesis and Bible history) plus personal experience to show the meaning of a text and how it applies today.
I think we need more of this – preachers shouldn’t be afraid to share their experiences; shouldn’t be afraid to ‘be real’ rather than relying on reading out a beautifully-flowing but dead sermon. I know how much I have appreciated knowing that my pastor is a human being too!
Response & Rebuttal to Mr. Hamilton’s Article “The Greatest Danger Facing the Church”
In his article, “The Greatest Danger Facing the Church”, Jim Hamilton makes an important point to those who are easily swept away by their feelings of being “spiritually enlightened” because of their Christianity. He correctly states that the focus of our Christian activities is not to improve ones life here on earth; the focus is not to help us “deal with our problems”. Let me begin by saying that I completely agree with this concept. This rebuttal takes no objection to that subtle but accurate statement concerning the Christian walk. However, Mr. Hamilton makes the seemingly unavoidable misstep that people have made for centuries when attempting to counteract bad influences coming from an identifiable direction: and that is to overreact in the opposite direction. Mr. Hamilton overshoots the precise truth that our focus should not be on these things, and goes farther to say that Christianity is not even about these things.
His rather lukewarm phrase, carefully inserted once near the beginning of the article – that Christianity is not “primarily about” these things — belies the much more accurate description of his view which becomes apparent as one reads on: that unless a pastor is preaching to his flock only concerning what a specific passage in the Bible means in terms of the gospel story as Mr. Hamilton presented it, then that pastor represents an example of this greatest danger facing the Church. He says for example in point 3a., “Was the main point of the text he was preaching the main point of his sermon? (If he did not preach a text, happily remove his name from consideration)”. Right away, we see a broad gap between the easy-to-swallow and diplomatic statement that Christianity is not “primarily about” the quality of our marriages, our parent-child relationships, and our attitudes … and the idea that preaching with a focus on any of these things makes for the greatest danger facing the Church. Mr. Hamilton continues to conveniently make the opposite side appear extreme by talking about these pastors as if when running the church, for them, “what the says Bible does not matter”, and later that “they hate the Bible”, and that they may be identified by seeking to turn their pastoral ministry into a “business” that is about “managing a conglomerate of campuses”. He shifts his earlier and softer premise — that these pastors “do not understand what [presumably the Bible says] Christianity is” — to the more extreme and inflammatory premise that they are “liberals … who don’t believe the Bible”. Another contradiction and gap in his presented arguments. These things show more of an interest in persuasion and flare than they do in presenting an unbiased and truly sober exposition of the truth.
Let’s examine closely the more detailed analysis of these issues which Mr. Hamilton is overlooking in his attempt to so thoroughly slaughter this dragon of “self help” that is creeping it’s way in to the Church (and this author does not deny that it is creeping in).
Let’s consider the typical Western mindset concerning the nature of Christian life, verses the typical Eastern mindset concerning the nature of Christian life. In general, the Western mindset likes to put things into a box, have them well under our visible, analytical control, and easily dissected for organization and presentation. And in general these are not entirely and always bad things. The Eastern mindset tends to take a more holistic view, which sees everything as interconnected and at some level of abstraction equivalent in ways that the Western mindset does not care to get its head around. Mr. Hamilton shows all the hallmarks of being strictly grounded in the Western mindset. The most relevant example is where he describes such things as “better marriages, better parent-child relationships, better attitudes, and performance at work” as things that are “about success here and now”. In a very real way he is describing these things as disconnected from what Christianity is “about”, which is a fallacy. Mr. Hamilton takes what is undeniably the central focus of Christian contemplation – the gospel – and puts a box around that aspect, calling it what Christianity is about … yet if we consider this more carefully we remember that Christianity is about Life in Christ!
Christianity is about living a life that has the gospel story as its contemplational basis and the spirit of Christ as its spiritual basis. A perspective of Biblical teaching that has the breadth of just the New Testament alone would rightly include the fact that the quality of ones marriage, ones parent-child relationships, ones attitudes, and even ones service in ones vocation are essentially equivalent to the quality of ones relationship with Christ. That is, you cannot separate life in Christ from your relationships with others. The Western mindset thinks that if you are talking about the quality of those relationships you cannot be talking about what Christianity is about. And that is the clear message that Mr. Hamilton is getting across concerning the influence of the pop-psychology and self help movements on today’s preaching in the pulpit. We may be tempted to think he has a point because of the seeming disparity between having these good relationships and the few statements where Jesus points out the preeminence of following Him over staying in “good rapport” with your friends and family members. Well, perhaps, Mr. Hamilton thinks that the pop-psychology and self help movements pretend and espouse that better relationships simply mean “getting along”; if so he is gravely misinformed. They do not. What these movements primarily lack is the centrality of God’s love rather than self love as the motivating factor behind their often accurate descriptions of what really turn out to be Christian perspectives and behaviors (fruits). The problem with the message of these movements is not that they see good relationships as a fruit of good spiritual centeredness, or that their perspectives about what our lives would be like if we got this “help” actively working for us are wrong perspectives … the problem is that they deny that Christ must be the good at that spiritual center, and that ultimately, by the Father and Holy Spirit He is the only one that can help us … not our “self”.
In summary, I must repeat that there can be no issue with the basic idea suggested in Mr. Hamilton’s article: that our focus (i.e., that which we begin with, and look at first, as the basis for further contemplation) must be the gospel message and what it tells us about God in relation to us. But it is clear that Mr. Hamilton does not see this focus as a baseline for further “leavening” of the bread of our entire Life in Christ … the thing which Christianity is truly about. Instead he sees it as the only matter for contemplation, leaving the average church-goer content to be thoughtless and lazy about serious application of that gospel message to his entire life in Christ. Are we to believe that the pastor of the church has no part in teaching his flock about how to connect that spiritual centeredness in Christ to a changed life in terms of relationships and attitudes? The pop-psychology and self-help movement teach the same, with the fatal exception that they put “self” in the place of Christ and His work on the cross. So then pastors should be free to put Christ back into that central place and preach the same connectivity to Christ-centered relationships and attitudes … showing the meaning of Christianity to be Life in Christ, a holistic yet analyzable and dissectible thing.
One must commend Mr. Hamilton for bringing up an important issue to be aware of and call people on when they are pastors of a flock, yet they disregard the central place of the gospel within the Christian walk. However, with utmost clarity, we must seek to be sober and perceive with the preciseness of Christ Himself that anything which throws us out of that precarious balance of singular dependence upon the Spirit of God as manifested in the Son, Jesus Christ … is a significant danger to the church. And that is true whether what is throwing us off is that the contemplational basis of that dependence (the gospel) is pushed to the side, or if it is stifled and not fed and trained upward, and with the help of our pastors tied to the stakes which allow its full fruit to grow and flourish to the glory of God. This is the kind of glory that to non-Christians is visibly apparent because it is right there in our marriages, parent-child relationships, attitudes, and even our performance at work. That is indeed the kind of “success here and now” which we would like to achieve and be able to present to the Lord when we stand before Him.
I believe you have read a false dichotomy into my article.
I am all for the whole Gospel to the whole person, and I am all for strong relationships and joyous lives centered around the glory of God in Christ.
My complaint is that much of evangelical theology as it is lived out in the church no longer has God at its center. God has been replaced by the self.
This article was influenced by Mark Dever’s interview of David Wells, which you can download from http://www.9marks.org. I would also commend to you David Wells’s book NO PLACE FOR TRUTH, which I believe substantiates the points I have briefly made in this piece.
Hope this helps!
Wow… excellent brother-
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