Thursday, June 23, 2016

Leaders and Titles

***This is not mine. I did not write it or even originally come across it. A friend from preaching school shared this on Facebook, which was difficult to read. I shared it here and added some formatting to increase its clarity. This is a long article, but it is very important. I suggest reading it, especially if you are in leadership or considering installing leadership.***

Church Leaders and The Use of Honorific Titles
"But you, are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them" (Jeremiah 45:5)
by Darryl M. Erkel

The Lord Jesus, in His condemnation of the Pharisees recorded in Matthew 23, plainly forbids His followers from either giving or receiving honorific titles. Whereas the religious hypocrites love "respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men Rabbi" (v.7), this is not to be the mark of Christ's disciples: "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted (vv. 8-12).

Jesus is not denying functional differences and roles within the church; nor is He suggesting that it is wrong to term one's biological parent "father." Rather, He is prohibiting the use of self-exalting and honorific titles of distinction among those who have chosen to follow Christ. While conferring honorific titles upon prominent religious authorities may be the way of the world, it is not the path that Christ has called us to pursue.

Yet, in spite of the clarity of Jesus' command, Christians have historically ignored His words. We continue, for example, to address our church shepherds as "Reverend," "Doctor," or "Minister" and, unfortunately, far too many of them are glad to receive such flattery and even love to have it so! Commenting on the words of our Lord in Matthew 23, the noted New Testament scholar, R.T. France, has perceptively written:
These verses, while still commenting on the practice of the scribes and Pharisees, are addressed directly to Jesus' disciples, warning them against adopting this status-seeking attitude. "Rabbi" (v.8) and "Master" (v.10) probably act here as synonyms. They are titles appropriate only to the One Teacher (v.8), the Christ (v.10), in relation to whom all His followers stand on an equal footing as "brothers"... Over against that unique authority His disciples must avoid the use of honorific titles for one another ("Christian rabbinism," Bonnard)--an exhortation which today's church could profitably taken more seriously, not only in relation to formal ecclesiastical titles ("Most Rev.", "my Lord Bishop," etc.), but more significantly in its excessive deference to academic qualifications or to authoritative status in the churches (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Matthew [Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985] p.325).

Christian magazines are filled with advertisements for books or products recommended by "Doctor" so-and-so; and churches continue to promote their ministries led by "Reverend" so-and-so. The Christian world, it seems, is consumed with exalted and honorific titles for those in positions of leadership or influence. Some pastors, in fact, are rather offended when their congregational members address them by their first name or simply as "brother." It is thought by many to be disrespectful or unbecoming to address a Christian theologian in any other way than "Doctor" or "Professor."

But we must ask, are such titles necessary for church leaders? Have evangelicals genuinely honored the words of Christ in Matthew 23:8-12 by prefacing the names of their leaders with such flattering titles as "Reverend" or "Senior Pastor"? Church history, according to J.C. Ryle, has all too clearly demonstrated that we have missed the true meaning of Jesus' words:
Happy would it have been for the Church of Christ, if this passage had been more deeply pondered, and the spirit of it more implicitly obeyed. The Pharisees are not the only people who have imposed austerities on others, and affected a sanctity of apparel, and loved the praise of man. The annals of church history show that only too many Christians have walked closely in their steps (Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Reprint, 1977] p.299).

Greg Ogden, a writer and church shepherd in Saratoga (CA), states:
I mourn for the church because we seem to display so many of the characteristics that Jesus said, "Not so among you" (Mark 10:43). Shameful arrogance and haughtiness have reached epidemic proportions among church leaders... A direct implication of Jesus' servant stance was His obliteration of titles... We have refused to take Jesus' words at face value. Jesus' obvious intent was to remove any basis for "lording it over" others by dispensing with titles that give people an elevated place in the "pecking order." We all occupy the same level ground at the foot of the one Teacher, Jesus Christ. We are not "great ones" or "lords"... Finally, do not accept the designation "master" or "leader." No human can usurp the position of the head of the body, Christ. Our tendency seems always toward idolatry, to make someone larger than life. Never forget: Jesus alone is Lord (The New Reformation: Returning the Ministry to the People of God [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990] p.172,174).

The Son of God "made Himself of no reputation" (Philippians 2:7), yet His servants seem bent on following an opposite course. Christ bids us to learn of Him who was "meek and lowly" (Matthew 11:29), yet His representatives continue to exalt themselves with self-glorifying titles. But someone may ask, what real harm is there in such titles of prominence? Perhaps the following points will help to explain their danger and assist Christians in avoiding them.

1. The New Testament simply provides no warrant for giving congregational leaders priestly or honorific titles. Thus, any man who seeks or permits such titles to be given to him violates the express commands of Christ (Matthew 23:8-10) as well as apostolic practice. Alexander Strauch, a writer and shepherd in Littleton (CO), has stated:
The modern array of ecclesiastical titles accompanying the names of Christian leaders--reverend, archbishop, cardinal, pope, primate, metropolitan, canon, curate--is completely missing from the New Testament and would have appalled the apostles and early believers. Although both the Greeks and Jews employed a wealth of titles for their political and religious leaders in order to express their power and authority, the early Christians avoided such titles. The early Christians used common and functional terms to describe themselves and their relationships. Some of these terms are "brother," "beloved," "fellow-worker," "laborer," "slave," "servant," "prisoner," "fellow-soldier," and "steward." Of course there were prophets, teachers, apostles, evangelists, leaders, elders, and deacons within the first churches, but these were not used as formal titles for individuals. All Christians are saints, but there was no "Saint John." All are priests, but there was no "Priest Philip." Some are elders, but there was no "Elder Paul." Some are overseers, but there was no "Overseer John." Some are pastors, but there was not "Pastor James." Some are deacons, but there was no "Deacon Peter." Some are apostles, but there was no "Apostle Andrew." Rather than gaining honor through titles and position, New Testament believers received honor primarily for their service and work (Acts 15:26: Romans 16:1,2,4,12; 1 Corinthians 16:15,16,18; 2 Corinthians 8:18; Philippians 2:29,30; Colossians 1:7; 4:12,13; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:1). The early Christians referred to each other by personal names (Timothy, Paul, Titus), the terms "brother" or "sister," or by describing an individual's spiritual character or work: "Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5); "Barnabas, a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith" (Acts 11:24); "Philip the evangelist" (Acts 21:8); "Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus" (Romans 16:3); "Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you" (Romans 16:6) (Biblical Eldership [Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth Publishers/Revised, 1995] pp. 302-303).

Frank A. Viola has, likewise, written:
In keeping with our Lord's command, biblical elders did not permit themselves to be addressed by honorific titles such as "Pastor Bill," "Elder Tom," "Bishop Jake," or "Reverend Sam" (Matthew 23:7-12). Such titles naturally elevate church leaders to a plane above the other brethren in the assembly. Thus, congregations and clergy alike are responsible for creating the current "Christian guruism" that is rampant in the church today wherein religious leaders are recast into spiritual celebrities and lauded with fan club status. By contrast, New Testament leaders were viewed as ordinary brethren and were just as approachable and accessible to the saints as any other believer in the church. For this reason, 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13 exhorts the saints to intimately know their leaders (a near impossible mandate to fulfill in most contemporary churches where the pastor is trained to keep his distance from the people lest he lose his authority). In this regard, the common image of church leaders as "sacred men of the cloth" is utterly foreign to the biblical concept (Rethinking the Wineskin [Brandon, FL: Present Testimony Ministry, 1997] p.63).

2. The apostles of Christ employed lowly and unofficial terms when describing themselves or others. Notice the expressions which Paul, Peter, and John repeatedly chose to use--which tends to argue against any notion of honorific titles:

Acts 15:23, "The apostles and elders, your brothers."

1 Corinthians 4:1, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God."

2 Corinthians 12:11, "I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody."

Ephesians 3:8, "To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given..."

1 Thessalonians 3:2, "And we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the Gospel of Christ..."

1 Timothy 1:15-16, "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience..."

1 Peter 5:1, "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder..."

2 Peter 3:15, "And regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as our beloved brother Paul..."

Revelation 1:9, "I, John, your brother and fellow partaker..."

In light of these clear passages, should we not, then, heed the practice of our Lord's apostles? "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us" (Philippians 3:17).
Acts 15:23 ("The apostles and elders, your brothers") is particularly interesting since, in an official decree that was to be sent to all the churches, the apostles and elders simply referred to themselves as "your brothers." It contained no honorific titles or hierarchical expressions; only the phrase, "your brothers." Thus, the apostles and elders are brethren writing to fellow brethren. The Lutheran Bible commentator, R.C.H. Lenski, writes: 
"'The apostles and the elders' write for themselves and for the entire church but as 'brethren.' Some texts have 'and the brethren,' referring to the congregation, but this reading lacks attestation. The apposition 'brethren' is highly significant in this communication. The apostles and the elders of Jerusalem speak to the Gentile Christians only as brethren and not as superiors... Brethren salute brethren. The communication is fraternal and asks to be accepted as such and as such alone" (The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961] p.621).

Another significant passage is 1 Peter 5:1 ("Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder"). Here was Peter's great opportunity to use an exalted title for himself (e.g., "Senior Pastor," "Chief Elder," "Bishop of Rome"), but chooses not to. Instead, he simply refers to himself as "your fellow elder." Such terminology, as Peter H. Davids points out, is "consistent with the tendency among the early leaders to avoid the use of exalted titles such as were used about them in the second century" (The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle of Peter [Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1990] p.176).

It is important to emphasize that such terms as "elder," "overseer," and "pastor" are functional terms, and were never intended to serve as formal titles. In other words, the terminology is descriptive of one's task; they help to picture a church leader's function or may even denote one's spiritual maturity as in the term "elder." Thus, it is just as foolish and unnecessary to speak of "Pastor Bob" as it is to speak of one who possesses the gift or function of hospitality as "Hospitality Harry"; or one who has the gift of mercy as "Mercy Mary"; or one who has the gift of giving as "Giving George."

3. Honorific titles feed the pride of men. It tends to inflate one's ego, thus provoking church leaders to think more highly of themselves than they should (Romans 12:3). Let's face it: we all struggle with sin and pride; but why compound that struggle by exalting oneself with special titles which have no basis in the New Testament? While seeing nothing inherently wrong with titles per se, even Craig L. Blomberg, associate professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, is compelled to recognize its dangers:
But one wonders how often these titles are used without implying unbiblical ideas about a greater worth or value of the individuals to whom they are assigned. One similarly wonders for how long the recipients of such forms of address can resist an unbiblical pride from all the plaudits. It is probably best to abolish most uses of such titles and look for equalizing terms that show that we are all related as family to one Heavenly Father (God) and one teacher (Christ)... In American Christian circles perhaps the best goal is to strive for the intimacy that simply makes addressing one another on a first-name basis natural (The New American Commentary: Matthew, Vol. 22 [Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992] p.343).

4. Honorific titles, contrary to what many ecclesiastical authorities would assert, are a form of self-promotion. In fact, some men employ the title "Doctor" for the express purpose of making their opinions or books carry greater authority than they actually do. We tend to assume that the man with an earned doctorate is an "expert," whose words are beyond question. But no man's opinions should be accepted merely because he has a Th.D. or Ph.D. behind his name. Every doctrine or human opinion is to be tested by the rule of Scripture (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Revelation 2:2), not one's educational achievements.

If we were to look at degrees only, we might also conclude that the apostles of our Lord were not particularly trustworthy, since none of them (except Paul) had any recognizable formal training: "Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Moreover: 
"teachers amongst the Lord's people do not need titles granted by men as a sign of theological authority to teach; authority and ability to teach in spiritual things come from the Lord through the Holy Spirit, and not through the schools of men. Such titles, both then and now, distract from the preeminence of Christ over all those who are brethren in the family of God... We are all brethren and we are all servants (diakonos); this excludes self-exaltation. God reverses what man would esteem" (J. Heading, Ritchie New Testament Commentaries: Matthew [Scotland: John Ritchie, LTD., 1984] pp. 307-308).

Perhaps one reason why some pastors feel compelled to preface their names with a degree or honorific title, is because they have an inferiority complex or are ineffective in gaining respect in ways that are more servant-oriented. It's also important to note that many clergymen have pursued a career in pastoral ministry for reasons less than the glory of God. Far too many are seeking the honor and recognition of men, rather than the honor of Christ (John 5:44; Galatians 1:10). The use of self-glorifying titles only helps to attract such kind.

One common argument used to support honorific titles is that the man who has earned a doctorate in theology worked hard for it and, thus, is entitled to display his accomplishments. But so has the man who has earned a Master of Divinity degree or even a Bachelor of Arts! Should we, then, continually refer to such persons as "Master of Divinity Dave" or "Bachelor of Arts Bill"? If not, why should we continue to employ the title "Doctor" before one's name?

We remind the reader as well that Jesus clearly forbid such titles of distinction among His followers in Matthew 23:8-12. Any person, therefore, who seeks to justify the use of honorific titles must ultimately answer to Jesus Himself. It might also be interesting to note that "Rabbi," as used during the time of Jesus, was employed "much as 'Doctor' is today. In fact, the Latin equivalent of rabbi comes from docere, which means to teach and is the term from which the English word doctor is derived" (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 16-23 [Chicago: Moody Press, 1988] p.366).

Another argument used to justify honorific titles is that they are a means of expressing respect to church leaders. The early Christians, however, were still able to express their esteem toward each other without having to resort to special titles (Philippians 2:25-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17).

5. Honorific titles draw unnecessary attention to oneself. The man who uses them is subtly telling others that he is someone important and worthy of their respect. Although he may never admit to it, the great day of judgment promises to disclose his true motivation and inner-secrets (Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5).

6. Honorific titles detract from the glory that rightfully belongs to Christ alone. Such titles of distinction as "Reverend" (meaning, "he who is to be revered") not only esteem persons higher than is humanly permissible, but it intrudes in a realm that is not rightfully theirs. We would be wise to listen to the counsel of J.C. Ryle:
But still we must be very careful that we do not insensibly give to ministers a place and an honor which do not belong to them. We must never allow them to come between ourselves and Christ. The very best are not infallible. They are not priests who can atone for us. They are not mediators who can undertake to manage our soul's affairs with God. They are men of like passions with ourselves, needing the same cleansing blood, and the same renewing Spirit, set apart to a high and holy calling, but still after all only men. Let us never forget these things. Such cautions are always useful. Human nature would always rather lean on a visible minister, than an invisible Christ (Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Vol. 1, pp. 299-300).

Many churches in our day refer to their most gifted or experienced leader as "Senior Pastor." However, the only "Senior Pastor" that the New Testament speaks of is Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5:3). He alone is "the great Shepherd of the sheep" (Hebrews 13:20; cf. John 10:11,14,16; Ephesians 5:23). Those who serve in a leadership function within the local church are undershepherds. They are called to be humble servants of the sheep (1 Corinthians 3:5; 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:5), not lords who reign over their fiefdom (1 Peter 5:3). Thus, it is quite arrogant to take on the lofty title of "Senior Pastor" when Scripture reserves this for Christ alone! Even the apostle Peter merely referred to himself as a "fellow elder" (1 Peter 5:1). The Christian apologist, J.P. Moreland, has said it well:
The local church in the New Testament contained a plurality of elders (see Acts 14:23, 20:28; Philippians 1:1; Hebrews 13:17). The New Testament knows nothing about a senior pastor. In my opinion, the emergence of the senior pastor in the local church is one of the factors that has most significantly undermined the development of healthy churches... Given these facts, the senior pastor model actually produces a co-dependence that often feeds the egos of senior pastors while allowing the parishioners to remain passive. None of this is intentional, but the effects are still real. The senior pastor model tends to create a situation in which we identify the church as "Pastor Smith's church" and parishioners come to support his ministry. If a visitor asks where the minister is, instead of pointing to the entire congregation (as the New Testament would indicate, since we are all ministers of the New Covenant), we actually point to Pastor Smith... The local church should be led and taught by a plurality of voices called elders, and these voices should be equal... No one person has enough gifts, perspective, and maturity to be given the opportunity disproportionately to shape the personality and texture of a local church. If Christ is actually the head of the church, our church structures ought to reflect that fact, and a group of under-shepherds, not a senior pastor, should collectively seek His guidance in leading the congregation (Love Your God With All Your Mind [Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing, 1997] pp. 190-191).

7. Honorific titles tend to attract carnal and power-seeking men to positions of church leadership. As pointed out earlier, if our churches continue to give to their leaders lofty and self-glorifying titles of distinction, we will continue to attract a large percentage of men seeking prestige, recognition, and power. This is not meant to suggest that every church leader who employs an honorific title is necessarily seeking to have his ego stroked or possesses less than genuine motives, but only that far too many fall into this category. Some are simply naive as to the dangers and implications of their lofty titles.

Let's face it: if you set up a religious clerical system that promotes power, prestige, and self-exaltation (as opposed to the humble servant-model of Jesus presented in Mark 10:35-45 and John 13:3-17), such a system will repeatedly attract men seeking such power and prestige. This is one of the major reasons why our churches have historically had the wrong kind of men in positions of leadership. But, we must ask, what kind of men would be attracted to church leadership if they were told they will be servants, not lords; not titled; probably not salaried (Acts 20:33-35); not the sole preacher/teacher (Acts 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:17); an equipper, not a shining superstar; and only one amongst a plurality of other leaders (Acts 14:23; Hebrews 13:17)? Only the most dedicated, humble, and self-sacrificing would be desirous of such a noble task! And, yet, these are the very kind of men that Christ wants to shepherd His sheep--and who are often most lacking in our churches. Greg Ogden writes:

We get the kind of leaders we deserve. It often seems that the world's view of greatness is the standard we use when we select our leaders. We have allowed arrogant, unaccountable, and self-professed channels of the Spirit to shoot off like loose cannon. We sometimes have a penchant in the Christian community for holding up the proud and arrogant as our ideal because "they get the job done." Using the world's view of power, we want leaders to exercise influence, work their way into positions of power, and throw their weight around. We therefore get what we ourselves honor--Christian leaders who act like potentates rather than self-sacrificing servants of Jesus Christ. Our actions show that we do not believe that real power is expressed through servanthood that leads to a cross. The Church Growth Movement has identified strong pastoral leadership as a key ingredient in the growth of a congregation. I will grant that leaders must lead. But what gets passed off as leadership often has no resemblance to servant leadership as modeled and taught by our Lord... Our natural tendency is to concentrate power at the top, but Jesus modeled and taught a different way of life (The New Reformation, pp. 172-173).

8. Honorific titles tend to promote an elitist attitude and authoritarian forms of church leadership. Even the best of men can find self-glorifying titles intoxicating and begin to form lofty opinions of themselves. Within time, they begin to look upon their congregational members as mere "common folks"; an ignorant mass of "laity" who desperately need their wisdom and insight (John 7:49; 9:34).

Church leaders, however, must never give themselves the airs of stuffy, official, and fussy "ministers" as is common among many claiming to be pastors in our day. Instead, their behavior and attitude should conform to the words of Paul in Romans 12:16, "Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly" and in Philippians 2:3-4, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." The 19th century Baptist preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, warned his pastoral students of the danger of ministerial pride:
My brethren, be not priests yourselves. It is very possible to give yourselves the airs of hierarchs, even though you are avowedly nothing more than Nonconformist pastors. There is a style of dress--the affectation of it is not praiseworthy. There is a style of language--the imitation of it is not commendable. There is an assumption of superiority, looking down upon the common people as mere laity; this piece of pompousness is ridiculous. Avoid the way of certain clerics who seem intent on making their people feel that a minister is a dignified individual, and that the rest of the members of the church should hardly venture to differ from him. Say what we like about all believers in Christ being a generation of priests, we still find vain fellows among us who would be thought of as possessors of a mystic specialty. Our office, as pastors, deserves to be respected, and will be if properly carried out; but I have observed that some who are very anxious to magnify their office, really try to magnify themselves (An All-Round Ministry [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1960] pp. 371-372).

9. Honorific titles help to perpetuate the "clergy-laity" division. While it is common for people to speak of church leaders as the "clergy" and the rest of God's people as the "laity," the New Testament never divides the body of Christ into two classes known as "clergy" and "laity."

The root meaning of kleros, from which we get our word "clergy," is "inheritance" or "lot" and refers to the believer's inheritance in Christ, not to a special class of ministers. The word laos, from which we get our word "laity," refers to all of a group; in some cases, it specifically denotes the people of God. Thus, all believers in Christ are part of the laos (or "laity"), including pastors! Every believer is a minister and priest before God with authority to do the work of ministry (1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6). The New Testament never confines "ministry" to a select few.

Clericalism has done much to harm and weaken the body of Christ. It clearly divides the Christian brotherhood; it hinders the saints from behaving like the ministers they are; it obscures, if not annuls, the essential oneness of the people of God; and it exalts the pride of church leaders by conferring upon them special titles and privileges. Howard Snyder, a prolific author on the subject of church renewal, has stated:
The New Testament simply does not speak of two classes of Christians--"minister" and "laymen"--as we do today. According to the Bible, the people (laos, "laity") of God comprise all Christians, and all Christians through the exercise of spiritual gifts have some "work of ministry." So if we wish to be biblical, we will have to say that all Christians are laymen (God's people) and all are ministers. The clergy-laity dichotomy is unbiblical and therefore invalid. It grew up as an accident of church history and actually marked a drift away from biblical faithfulness. A professional, distinct priesthood did exist in Old Testament days. But in the New Testament this priesthood is replaced by two truths: Jesus Christ is our great high priest, and the Church is a kingdom of priests (Hebrews 4:14; 8:1; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). The New Testament doctrine of ministry rests therefore not on the clergy-laity distinction but on the twin and complementary pillars of the priesthood of all believers and the gifts of the Spirit. Today, four centuries after the Reformation, the full implications of this Protestant affirmation have yet to be worked out. The clergy-laity dichotomy is a direct carry-over from pre-Reformation Roman Catholicism and a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principle obstacles to the Church effectively being God's agent of the Kingdom today because it creates the false idea that only "holy men," namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry. In the New Testament there are functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity (The Community of the King [Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977] pp. 94-95).

What Can Church Leaders Do to Help Correct This Problem?
They must humble themselves and begin to view their ministry in terms of servanthood, not lordship (Mark 10:35-45; 1 Peter 5:3).
They must remove all clerical titles and gowns (Matthew 23:8-12). The saints must be taught to refer to their leader(s) as "brother" or by one's first name.
They must return ministry to the people of God, seeing them as full partners in the task of building up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:4-14; 14:12,26; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11).
We are in dire need of language reform. The terms that we use for ourselves ("layman") and those used to describe our leaders ("Reverend," "Minister") are very important since, not only do they convey our thinking on such fundamental issues as the nature of the church and how local church leadership should be structured, but the use of unbiblical or improper terms may help to stunt the growth of Christ's body. As Alexander Strauch has wisely stated:
It is critically important for Christians today to understand that the language we use to describe our church leaders has the power to accurately reflect biblical thinking and practice or, conversely, to lead us far away from the true Church of Jesus Christ and into the false church... In the end, every local church is responsible to teach its people the meaning of the terms it uses to describe its spiritual leaders, whether it be elders, overseers, ministers, preachers, or pastors. Biblically sensitive church leaders will insist that the terminology they use represents, as accurately as possible, the original biblical terms and concepts of a New Testament eldership. False teachers have had their greatest triumphs when they redefine biblical words in a way that is contrary to the original meaning... Much of our church vocabulary is unscriptural and terribly misleading. Words such as clergyman, layman, reverend, minister, priest, bishop, ordained, and ministerial convey ideas contrary to what Jesus Christ and His apostles taught. Such terminology misrepresents the true nature of apostolic Christianity and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to recapture it. As a result, most of our churches are in desperate need of language reform (Biblical Eldership, pp. 32-34).

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The End of the World

I believe that we as humans all too often forget just how little the things in this world really matter. Our finances and homes and entertainment, even our health and our clothes and our food, really mean nothing in comparison to what ultimately awaits us. This is because all that is in this world, even our own bodies, are mere shadows and vapors of what is truly real. Yet we get caught up in this world and these things because they are the things we can see and touch and taste and feel. It seems real, and so we begin to believe that it truly is. But it is not. It is a mist, a dim reflection of the real world and the real life that is waiting just on the other side of the mirror.

At the end of The Chronicles of Narnia, the character Lord Digory states,
Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan's real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.
This is what we so often forget, and why we often hold so tightly to the things around us. Reconciling what our senses tell us is real and what God tells us is real is difficult. Our world and especially western culture tells us either verbally or implicitly that it is this world that is real and it is this world that matters. It is what much advertising and marketing is based on. It is what politics, our financial system and our entertainment is largely based on. In some cases, it is even what our religion is based on when we get things mixed up.

Believing this world matters most causes fear and doubt. It strips us of power and courage and leaves us husks of what what we can be and are called to be. When it is this world that we concern ourselves with, we will accomplish comparatively little in the way of helping it.

The reason behind this is simple: we care about losing that which we love the most. As long as we leave our old attachments to this world intact, we will fear their loss or decay. When we fear their loss or decay, we concern ourselves with preserving them at all cost.

In Romans 6:4 Paul writes, 
We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
When a person dies, they do not hold on to their possessions. They are passed on to someone else. By law the deceased ceases to be the owner. They no longer hold sway over their money, their possessions, or even their own body. It all belongs to someone else to do with as they please. Should it not be the same when we die and are buried with Christ? Should not all that we have and all that we are become His property by default?

The reason we have so much trouble, I believe, is that we desire to hold onto our money, possessions and bodies even though we have died. We have been raised again, but it is as a new creature and a new man, not the old. In that sense, we struggle to hold on to possessions, bodies and minds that do not belong to us, but to God. Yet even as I write this I see this in my own life as an exceedingly difficult concept to grasp and live out. I want my life. I want my rights and my possessions. Even in those last two sentences as I write this I call them mine! How ridiculous is that?!

We need deep prayer and understanding to accept the reality of the situation. All this world is but a shadow. As God says we are but a mist, here one moment and gone the next. When we give ourselves to live for the next world, we will by necessity help and aid those in this one. We cannot help but do so. But as long as we keep our attachments to the things around us, we will not get very far.

The end of the world comes for us all. It may happen at our death or before then. At that moment we will realize truly that all the things, all the stuff, was nothing more than dust. If that is what we desired and held onto most dearly we will be left only with that dust slipping through our fingers never to be held again. 

But if we grasp for the eternal things of the Father, we will be left with the Real Things that can never pass away or be destroyed. We will have acquired a True Reality at last. In that moment we will see the silliness of all those things in this world that we held onto dearly as being real. In that moment, when faced with the glory and magnitude of what has been given to us, we will know what Real Joy is because we will know and be present in the Real Love of the Father.

And once we taste the True Reality, we will never want anything less ever again.

The End of the World comes.

Let us let go of the dust and embrace it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

You Matter Because God Made You

I am currently re-reading a book I received a few years ago. In it the author explores how faith can agree with science and still show that God created the universe, the world and everything in it. In the intro to the third part of the book he says this:
How we view where we came from affects how we view everything else about ourselves, such as whether we're loved or valued or intended for some special purpose in life. When people began to question whether God created us, they also started to doubt that He cared about us. They began to think that we're all just a cosmic accident, people with no real value or purpose in the grand scheme of things. This depressing outlook has dominated the way many people have been thinking about things for the past few hundred years.
The author, in this statement, is unfortunately exactly right. Even more so, it is on display all around us. All we have to do is open our eyes with understanding in order to see it.

Consider the latest movements in social justice. We are told that what you feel and what you want is more important than anything else. We are told this, I believe, because people do not have a sense of identity, and are desperate to have one and to find meaning and purpose in it. We have grown up being taught by science that the universe created itself by cosmic accident without reason, that our planet is a cosmic accident without purpose, and that we are a cosmic accident that just kind of showed up. At the same time, we are taught by our family and society that we are special, that there is a place just for us in the world and that what we want and desire should take precedence over all other considerations. When you put these two sets of teaching together it is easy to see the danger and confusion caused by it.

When you are taught that you are nothing but a cosmic accident while being told you are special, you have to search for what it is that makes you special. Since there is no outside force or being that provides a reason, it must be something within you. I believe this is what has lead to the frantic search for identity and acceptance among those of us who are younger today.

This is how we end up with people defining themselves by what they feel they are or want to be. It is why Nano, who lives in Norway, chooses to live as a cat. It is why many are fighting tooth and nail to allow transgender people into bathrooms not according to their biological sex, but what they feel they are inside. It is why these college students struggle to say that a 5'9" white man is not a 6'5" Chinese woman. I could go on, but you get the point.

The background behind it all is the belief that there is no God; no Creator that created us for a purpose. If that does not exist, then it is up to us to determine our purpose and specialness for ourselves, because otherwise everything is meaningless and hopeless. It is this search, this drive for personal clarity and worth in the face of a universe that is nothing more than an accident, that causes such chaos in how people view themselves.

Unfortunately much of Christendom has not entirely helped matters. Instead of allowing, for example, the age of the universe to be a matter of faith and opinion, many turn it into a litmus test for true Christianity. There is no lack of morality in keeping your mind open and following the evidence where it leads if you are being as honest with the evidence as you can. The is no moral high ground in saying the earth is 6,000 or 6,000,000,000 years old you are still putting your faith in the fact that God has created it all and did so for a purpose. We can certainly debate among ourselves about it, but to make it a test for determining whether someone is or can be a Christian is to erect a barrier to entry which Christ did not erect. The goal, rather than to convince those in the world about the age of the earth, should be to convince them of the Creator of the earth. Because it is only in the Creator that we find purpose, meaning, and our true identity.

The fact of the matter is this: you matter because God made you.

If we are nothing more than a cosmic mistake, there is no purpose for our lives. We get a short time to do what we will, then vanish back into nothing. Chances are almost no one will know who the President of the United States is today within 100 years. What chance do I have that someone would remember me? If that is the case, then when I close my eyes for the last time and am buried in the ground, I will turn to dust and nothing I did will matter to anyone shortly after. Personally, I have no desire to live under that great burden. It is too heavy and too dreary and too useless for me. I would fight tooth and nail for an identity that I felt gave me purpose too if I thought I were in that situation.

But Christians know that is not the case, and I know I am not in that situation. I know that there is a God who is loving, who cares about me, and who is just in all He does. He is a God who is eternal, who exists outside of time, who is not bound by the restrictions that I am. He is also a God who desires my existence not to end with my body on this earth, but who says He will resurrect my dead body, change it into the likeness of Christ, and take me to His side to live in His glorious presence forever. He is a God who says that I am His child. Not because of what I have done or how great I am or because I am a human, but because He gave His Son to die for me so that the price could be payed and He could remain a just judge while at the same time absolving me of all my sins against Him.

That is my identity.That is where I find my hope and purpose in life. Not in what I like or what I do or what I think, but in what He says I am. Regardless of any other factor, it is God alone who defines my identity, and in so doing I do not have to fear losing myself in a sea of nothingness in the gaping maw of space and time. I am accepted by God, made perfect in His sight, and given meaning from one infinitely greater and infinitely stronger than myself. Because He says I have meaning, because He has proven it by His actions, I know now and forever where my identity lies.

The question is, do you?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

I Give You Back to God

This week, a short clip, and a short encouragement. First, the clip:

This is a fairly well known clip in many circles. If you have not seen it, I encourage you to take the 3 1/2 minutes of your day it will take to watch it. Then, I ask you to consider what I have to say.

The question to be answered is very simple: do we as Christians treat those who have wronged us in this way? I ask because it is the Biblical answer is very simple to come up with. In Luke 6:27-31 Jesus states:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Is this how we live our faith? In giving and forgiveness so extreme that it changes those around us? Is this how we treat those with different ideas? Is this how we treat our enemies?

It is to this extreme lifestyle that Christians are called. I once read in a commentary something along the lines that it is only common sense that what Jesus is speaking about here is an ideal and not an actual expectation. But there is nothing in the context that shows that, and much of what Jesus said defied and continues to defy the "common sense" of our world today.

So the second question is this: will we as Christians going forward live our lives with such a radical faith that it cannot help but change those who it comes into contact with? Valjean in the clip above was changed by an extreme act of both mercy and giving. How many more could be reached if we, in our actions and reactions to others, did the same? It is what we are called to.

So let us live it, and in so doing take those who we win and give them back to God.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Eustace the Dragon

Eustace as seen in "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" movie.

I have just started trying to finish the Narnia series of books by CS Lewis. I have really enjoyed the ones I have read, but for some reason I have never seemed to be able to complete the whole series. This time, however, I am trying to read them with the worldview that Lewis wrote them from to see the deeper meanings behind the stories that are told.

Right now I am in the middle of Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In it there is a horrible, nasty boy named Eustace who is close-minded, cynical, narcissistic and arrogant. It is only by accident that he ends up in Narnia, but it does not change him at first. Despite the magic, wonder and newness of everything around him, he continues to be a brat who believes he should be the first and most important consideration in any situation.

Needless to say, I'm not really a fan of Eustace, or at least I wasn't.

Trapped on an island after a hurricane leaves their ship in terrible shape, Eustace sneaks off by himself in a fit. He ends up lost, only to see a dragon die apparently from old age. Now the boy, being a close-minded realist, did not even know what a dragon was. He simply saw it as a frightening beast. Upon entering the dragon's lair, however, he discovers its horde of treasure. Being a selfish person, he put on a bracelet and stuffs his pockets full of jewels and treasure before falling asleep.

When he wakes up there is a great pain on his arm where the bracelet was, and he discovers to his horror that he has become a dragon himself. He ends up finding the crew of the ship, who discovers his true identity. This is where his change begins.

Before, Eustace had been a beast on the inside but a person on the outside. He had lied, cheated, tried to steal and been terrible to everyone he met. He hated everything. Now that who he was outside matched who he was inside, he saw the true horror of the situation. It was at this point that who he was inside began to change.

You see, his companions did not leave him, fight him or try to run him off. They did not say good riddance or ignore his plight. Instead they looked for how they might be able to help him. Having experienced that kind of love and care as a beast, inside he changed to become helpful, kind, humble. He lost his selfishness and became a beneficial member of the group.

But there was still the problem of being a dragon.

As the rest of the crew tries to figure out how to continue their journey with Eustace's new shape (Do they tow him? Can they make room on the boat?), the boy dragon wanders off, only to find Aslan. In this meeting Aslan leads Eustace to a well, where he tells the boy the water will ease his pain.  All he has to do is undress first.

Now, being a dragon, he had no clothes. But upon realizing that he is much like a snake, he begins to shed his skin. After doing this three times, each feeling better than the last, Aslan tells him that he needed to do it. Afraid, but desperate, Eustace lies down and allows the lion to do what must be done.

Eustace recalls the moment by saying, "The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peeled off."

Once it was done, however, Eustace was a boy again. The constricting and painful experience of being a dragon was gone, the arm ring could come off, and he could live again. He had been changed from a beast on both the inside and out to a person inside and out.

But it did not come without pain and submission. He could have fled from Aslan, could have gone off to try and fix it himself, but the problem would have remained. It was only when he allowed the Lion to do what had to be done that he could finally become his true self.

Often I feel that we are the same way. We want (or believe) that our way is best. That if we can only have the time to take care of it ourselves, we will find a way. But the truth is that we cannot. It takes Someone more, Someone greater than ourselves to tear us out of our beastliness and make us real. It requires acknowledging that we cannot do it ourselves, and submitting to the process that must take place. Often, it will take a great amount of pain as well as we are ripped and pulled away from the things which have attached themselves to us, and what we have attached ourselves to.

So today is a call to submit and give in to the Lion. To allow Him to take His claw, and tear into you so that you can be free from the constriction and pain that sin has placed you in. It is not death or pain that He desires of you, but life and freedom and change. I will not lie and say it will be easy or simple or pain-free. As I have said above it is quite the opposite. But it is worth it. To be free from the penalty of sin, to be changed from a beast into a son of God, to be given a new lease by the only one who can give it.

Regardless of what is going on in your life or how difficult and scary things may be, I encourage you to lie in submission to He who saves, and make you new again. To take your fears and anxieties and redeem them for His purposes. Not that there will never be pain or fear or anxiety in the future, but so that you can know He is working to take those things and redeem them for something better and greater and pure.

Doesn't that sound better than trying to do it all yourself?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Follow Me

I am convinced that "Follow Me" is one of the deepest, most meaningful songs put to paper in dealing with how a Christian relates to Christ. If you stop to consider the lyrics as written, it strips away every worry, every bit of pride, and every overreaction in relation to the beauty of what Christ has done for us. I would like to take this song verse by verse and consider what we can learn from it.

Verse 1:
"I traveled down a lonely road, and no one seemed to care. The burden on my weary back had bowed me to despair. I oft complained to Jesus how folks were treating me, and then I heard Him say so tenderly, "My feet were also weary, upon the Calv'ry road. The cross became so heavy, I fell beneath the load. Be faithful weary pilgrim, the morning I can see. Just lift your cross and follow close to Me."

There are times when, even surrounded by our brothers and sisters in Christ, we can feel like a lone ship being tossed about in the sea of life. There may or may not be a reason for it, but everyone has been there at some point. It is easy to come to Jesus worried and fearful that this will always be the case, but when we look to Jesus we see something different.

In Jesus we find a Savior who has already conquered. And not only who has already conquered, but who was at one point completely alone, with no one to rely on. He endured the beatings and torture with no one there to take it away, He carried the cross until there was no strength left, and another man was forced to help him. He was staked to the cross, and hung, during which He was truly alone in a way you and I never have to be.

As Jesus hung on the cross, the entire weight of the law and all its curses came crashing down on Him. In that moment, He was completely and utterly separated from all that He had known, even God Himself. He had to carry the weight of all sin, of all curses, upon Himself. Alone. But in doing so He conquered sin and its consequence of death and made a path to the Father for those that follow Him. So when the song says "the morning I can see," we know that it is more than just the next time the sun comes up. It is the morning of no more pain, no more sorrow, no more fear and no more loneliness. It is the morning of God, filled by His presence and overflowing with His love. It is the morning of wholeness in everything.

Verse 2:
"I work so hard for Jesus," I often boast and say. "I've sacrificed a lot of things to walk the narrow way. I gave up fame and fortune! I'm worth a lot to Thee." And then I hear Him gently say to me, "I left the throne of glory, and counted it but loss. My hands were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross. But now we'll make the journey with your hand safe in mine. So lift your cross and follow close to Me."

Now I have never heard anyone literally say these things about themselves, but I have seen it played out in people's attitudes about their faith (including my own at times). It is so easy for people to look at what they do and what they've done and become very impressed in how "good" they are. But the truth is, it all comes from pride. There is nothing we can give of our own that can amount to anything before God. Isaiah says in 64:6, "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." We have nothing to be prideful of before God. We can be joyous in what He has done, and we can take pride in the fact that Christ has made us perfect and perfects our gifts and worship, but in ourselves we simply have nothing to take pride in.

Jesus, on the other hand, gave up the glories of Heaven itself. Surrounded by worship and praise and light, in the presence of perfection, He chose to come one of us in this world. He chose to come here, with sickness and death and war and suffering in order to make a way for us to come to God. And He invites us to take His hand, lift our cross, and journey with Him there.

Verse 3:
[I said] "Oh Jesus if I die upon a foreign field someday, 'twould be no more than love demands, no less could I repay. "No greater love hath mortal man than for a friend to die.'" [But then] these are the words He gently spoke to me: "If just a cup of water I place within your hand, then just a cup of water is all that I demand." [So I said] "But if by death to living they can they glory see, I'll take my cross and follow close to Thee."

This is the verse that make the entire song for me. Having realized and understood how much Jesus has done for us, we can feel bad sometimes that we cannot or are not doing more. Unreasonable guilt or zeal (depending on the person) can take over, saying that we have to do more! We have to be great! We have to make sure that we go so far that we die for Him! Because really, what less could we do?

The problem with that train of thought is that Jesus calls us where we are. We are not called to compare ourselves to each other. We are not called to feel guilty because we cannot do as much as another person, nor are we called to feel better than someone else because we can do more.

We are simply called to give what we can from where we are.

Some people have been given amazing gifts and numerous opportunities to turn the world upside down for Christ, and that is wonderful! Others have nothing more than a cup of water to quietly give to someone in need. We need to understand that too, is wonderful! Remember the poor widow who had only two small copper coins to give. To those with vast sums it was nothing, but to Jesus watching her it was everything. Understand that it is is a blessing to be a cup of water person. Because of your "meager" gift and position there are people you will see and people you can help that no one else can, so don't be afraid to use your cup of water. The person dying of thirst in the desert does not care about speeches and programs and vast sums of wealth. They just want the water, and you are the blessing they need to see Jesus living today.

So no matter where you are, no matter who you are, know that Jesus loves you. He cares for you, and He sees the morning coming even in your darkness. You have no need of pride, but a simple joy in the fact that Jesus makes you perfect. Finally, if all you have is a cup of water, do not despair. Jesus gave you that cup so that you can accomplish exactly what He wants you to accomplish for His name. All it takes it to take up your cross and follow Him.

So let's take it up together.

Untethered Joy

This post originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of the North Park church of Christ newsletter, The Encourager.

Over the years, it seems as though more and more the world tells us that all happiness and all joy is and must be tethered to the things in this world. Watch nearly any show or movie, read nearly any book, and you will see this played out. We see it in culture, politics, entertainment, discussion, everything. It is one of the driving factors in how people relate to everyday life.

It is the basis for much of the Social Justice Warrior’s dogma. If something out in the world offends me or makes me upset, it robs me of my joy and happiness and therefore cannot be allowed at any cost. It is the basis for much of Socialism. If everyone cannot have the same result, that robs me of my joy and happiness and so everyone must be made the same at any cost. It is even the basis for much of the Christian backlash against the direction the country is headed. If the government says I cannot practice my faith the way I see fit without penalty, that robs me of my joy and happiness and must be brought into line at any cost.

Brothers and sisters, we cannot and we should not base our joy in things of this world. When we do, it is a very small step to start treating things in this world as though they have power over who we are and what we do as people. It gives the enemy a foothold in our lives and places us in territory filled with traps for us to fall into.

Advertisements, politicians and trend-setters use this to an astonishing degree. Advertisements attack with “you need this to be fulfilled!” They are banking on the idea that things in this world will bring us joy. It is why Apple can sell someone a slightly upgraded iPhone 6 months after the last one came out. It is why HGTV can convince newly married couples that a $30,000 kitchen is a necessity for a new home. It all banks on the idea that joy is found in the things of this world.

Politicians give calls to “take our country back,” and claim they will make stores say Merry Christmas again (without bothering to say anything about how to make a private entity say what the government tells them to). It all spins on the idea that it is this world that is important. It is about creating a sense of desire for things in this world so that power can be accrued to themselves.

Trend-setters do the same. It is the basis for those claiming that all sexuality must be viewed as equal and moral. It is the basis for those claiming guns should be allowed anywhere and everywhere no matter what. The underlying concept is that joy is found in this world, and no one should be able to do anything to disrupt it.

But that is not Christian joy. Christian joy is found in God the Father and what Jesus His Son has done for us through the cross. It is found in the fact that those in Christ will be with Him forever, and that everything in this world, though it may be painful or frightening, is ultimately temporary. It is our destination that is eternal, and nothing in this world can tear us away from it. Our joy is in knowing that, as Paul said, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is our joy.

So let us do our best to live like it.