Dear Pastor

DearPa1

By Donald K. Reiner

“DEAR PASTOR…” was first published in “The Messenger”, a small-circulation folksy paper, based in Pennsylvania. (In case you were wondering, this was long before MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger were even conceived…) The series of three articles were then reprinted (a number of times) within the covers of one booklet, which was circulated widely in many countries. If the circulation was wide, so were the reactions of the readers; they ranged from outright disdain, to disgust, shock, puzzlement, amazement, to thrilled and joyful acceptance. Our own reaction could be described by the last one mentioned.

With the addition of Appendix “One Example, Three Considerations” we trust “Dear Pastor…” will continue to open many eyes. If your appetite is whetted, then further and in-depth study of the subject in the New Testament is bound to leave you fully satisfied. The Author of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, is not a spirit of confusion, and, as you pray, He will guide you into all truth. He will also make clear how to apply the discoveries you are making. HE is faithful!

Jim van Heiningen

 This material is addressed primarily to those who have the preeminence among the saints. We also invite the special attention of those who only “love to have the preeminence.” The word “pastor” as used in our title is to be understood in the common usage of our times and not in the sense of Scripture – unless, of course, you consider them synonymous.

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“All of us who are Christians have no veils on our faces, but reflect the glory of the Lord. We are transfigured by the Spirit of the Lord in ever-increasing splendor into his own image”
- 2 Cor. 3:18 (Phillips).

“Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”- Romans 12:2.

“Whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son”- Romans 8:29.

We have cited these portions of Scripture to introduce to our minds the general idea of “reflecting the glory of the Lord,” of “not being conformed to this world,” and of being “conformed to the image of his son.”

Having said this much, we venture the suggestion that “the pastor,” as commonly understood by both “clergy” and “laity,” is not a Biblical concept but a worldly one. And we shall in this article under this heading, make some observations from the Bible and from common experience.

Now, perhaps, we ought to say just a bit more by way of introduction, namely, that we shall not intend to recommend a position as set forth by any particular group, such as the “Plymouth Brethren,” the “Campbellites,” or any others that take a view similar to our own. We are not ashamed of any of our brothers who fellowship under such names, nor are we afraid of any truth that such groups may hold. This paragraph should make it unnecessary for any of our readers to write to us on the assumption that we have “gone over” to some sect. If you wish, you may feel free to conclude that we are just plain “gone.”

In conclusion to our introduction, we wish to venture the suggestion that one of the most vexing and embarrassing problems now harassing the saints in “fundamental circles” is the ever-present problem of Diotrephes, of whom John wrote in his third epistle. Let no one, however, suppose that we take upon us the task of “cutting down to size” those many faithful servants of the Lord who have been endowed by the Spirit and acknowledged by the saints. Nor let any one suppose that we intend to put any or all of the Diotrephes practitioners out of business, for this is one of those evil spirits that responds to nothing but prayer and fasting. We confess that on the subject under consideration we have won many an argument by which we have lost our brother.

We are opening this discussion out of some sense of compulsion, for we discern that as a rule there is no forum available in which this matter can be heard. This subject enjoys what in the United States is called “Congressional immunity;” it is above indictment. It is a brave man who will dare to “beard a lion in his own den.” By using the present means we remove the discussion from the environs of the local church, trusting that our torch will do more good if held at a distance from the powder keg.

It is our present opinion that it will require a considerable perversion of Scripture to justify any concept of “the pastor”, equivalent to our present-day administrators-of-theology-and-program, within many of our churches. First of all we will consider only one of several reasons why we are of this opinion.

Have you ever observed how the writers of the Epistles greet the various churches to whom they address themselves?

Let the following incidents draw the reader out to do his own thinking, for we welcome neither a rash reaction to our own observations, nor a careless approval of our suggestions.

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle … To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.”
This much from the first chapter of Romans. Paul here speaks of himself in terms that are completely compatible with the tenor of Scripture and with the glorious person of his Master and Lord. Paul makes no reference to himself with any words that suggest human respect, achievement, training or rank. We feel that no “pastor” would hastily take to himself in these days the rank and station the Apostle Paul held in his times. But should any take exception with us here, we yield with this thought – let none such take to himself any title or definition superior to or in conflict with that which Paul uses.

It should be observed that Paul addresses himself to “all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.” We observe that Paul makes neither reference nor greeting to “the pastor” or to “pastors” in Rome. This omission is significant, to say the least. Had there been a “pastor” (or “pastors”) in Rome, Paul’s failure to recognize him would be inexcusable if considered in the light of present-day custom in our churches. No one of acceptable deportment in our times would think of addressing a local church without first addressing himself to “the pastor” thereof.

We cannot suppose that Paul made a breach of courtesy, so, we assume that there was no “pastor” in Rome. And, lest some reader forgets, we are here speaking of a “pastor” in the commonly understood sense, not in a Biblical sense.

“Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth.”

This much from the first chapter of First Corinthians. Paul calls himself neither Doctor nor Reverend, though by our contemporary standards he had an educational right to the former and a personal character right to the latter. Once more, he “un”gratiates himself with “the pastor” at Corinth by completely ignoring him. Paul’s spiritual stature among the churches was not sufficient to warrant his intentional or unintentional oversight of any “pastor” at Corinth. There was at Corinth no pastor such as we have today. It is in this chapter that Paul speaks against the Diotrephes spirit – “everyone says, I am of Paul; and I am of Apollos; and I am of Cephas … Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?”

It is not at all stigmatic in our day to say: “I go to Pastor So-and-so’s church.” “Pastors” invite this sort of thinking by being known as “the pastor” of such-and-such a church. But it was not so in the beginning. It will be seen that these observations hold true in the first chapter of Second Corinthians, and we shall take no further notice of it here.

“Paul, an apostle, (not of men, etc.) and all the brothers which are with me, to the churches of Galatia.”
On this we observe that any man who has reason to believe it has “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” to set him in preeminence in the church – such a man ought to use only such prefixes and suffixes of which he can say “not of men.” Paul here associates himself with “all the brothers” in such a display of genuine modesty as fully justifies his preeminence among the saints.

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus.”
Briefly we observe here that Paul does not address himself to “the pastor and his people” who are at Ephesus. Had there been at Ephesus a “pastor” whose influence dominated the legislative, executive and judicial functions of the church in present-day fashion, then we must assume that Paul dealt him a deliberate insult.

“Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.”
Paul avoids any reference to Timothy that might suggest that he (Timothy) was anything but a “fellow servant” of Jesus Christ. Shame! Shame! that we have ever sought or used any credentials beyond this. And once more: “to all the saints at Philippi.” Does any man, with or without a diploma, wish to be in a class superior to “all the saints”? So did Diotrephes!

But some one will object that we have left out Paul’s words “with the bishops and deacons.” No, we saw this interesting phrase on first reading, but comment on it last, even as Paul mentions it last. We do not suggest that the appearance of this phrase at the end indicates a mark of low esteem or of disrespect, any more than, had it been at the beginning, we would have considered it a mark of distinction. At any rate, the use of the words “bishops” and “deacons” in this instance cannot by the utmost stretch of the imagination support “the pastor” concept with which we are dealing. We would like to deal with these two words later on in this article.

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ who are at Colosse.”
This incident substantiates what has been suggested above, and we make no further comment.

“Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The words are almost identical in Second Thessalonians. And we offer this only as another strand in the cord of argument. No administrative “pastor” was overlooked! None existed!

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.”
It was no quirk in the disposition of the Apostle Paul that made him so consistently avoid any reference to “the pastor” in all of his letters to the churches. James addresses himself, not to “the pastors and their people” scattered abroad. The obvious explanation for this is the same with James as with Paul. Should any object that James is writing to “the twelve tribes”, and that therefore his Epistle is “Jewish”, and not to the churches, and that for this reason our argument here is not valid, we observe that the contents of this Epistle are in substance compatible only with a message to Christians – they are not compatible with a message intended only to such as were Jews in contrast to or in exclusion of the saints in the churches, and therefore our use of this text is valid.

The Williams New Testament, which translation we highly regard, had a note prefixed to this Epistle, in which we are told that by A.D. 51 this James had become the honored pastor of the church at Jerusalem. We take no issue with Mr. Williams on this statement. We just don’t believe it. We consider it no dishonor to James to suggest that, whatever he was at Jerusalem, and preeminent as he surely was, he was not “the pastor.” Many a good and gracious man in this day would not hesitate to do what James refrained from doing, namely, address thus – “James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem.” Brothers, we have borrowed this in careless imitation of the world, through careless adherence to tradition, and through a careless reading of what the Bible says on this matter. Let us not in this matter continue in sin so that the grace of God may abound toward us! God forbid!

The point we are making has already stretched beyond our intentions. We invite you to examine for yourself the two epistles of Peter and that of Jude. Surely these men were not in league to pervert a right view of the early church. They consistently speak the same thing, for the simple and obvious reason that they all were ignorant of our present-day concept of “the pastor.”

We invite our readers’ response to this article, and we will try hard to not be as the man who said, “Don’t confuse me with the facts – my mind is made up.” We do not believe that the Bible is as a “nose of wax” that can be adapted to any one of several diverse views in a matter. In the words of another, we would say: “We are not entitled to an opinion about what the Scripture teaches. God’s word was meant to be understood and obeyed.” That Christians everywhere have acted so contrary to this classic statement is no reflection upon the Bible. It is not to be wondered at that, in the light of general Christian deportment, the world has judged the Bible to be uninspired and incomprehensible and the person of Christ unreal.

Our office is a crossroads and a lounge room for many “pastors” whom for Christ’s sake we love, whose fellowship we have enjoyed, and whose continued friendship we covet. We, as best we are able to know a deceitful heart, affirm that we write without rancor or enmity. The reader is well aware that the subject that we are considering has what might be called “personal implications,” which ingredient is quick and powerful to unsheathe our tongues, that we might use them as swords, every man against his brother.

Where our heads have been slow to understand, our hearts have been quick to condemn. It is with true shame that I recall being party to such “speaking in tongues” without love, and should this come to the notice of any brother who has had reason for offense in me, I invite such to explore my fellowship again, and discover whether or not I have been helped to be more like our Lord, who when He was reviled, reviled not again. To those who on this subject, and for reasons best known to themselves, have cut me off from their fellowship, I attest that you have cut me off from your fellowship. I have not cut you off from mine, and I shall do all within my power to “restore that which I took not away,” the grace of God helping me. For in real measure He has taught me that that which He has cleansed, I am not to call “common or unclean.” I am under an increasing obligation to “pray for those who treat me badly” (Phillips). May the Lord enable us to cease from preaching until we have commenced the practicing of that love and unity which Christ has already established for us in his own infinitely blessed Person, that men shall see our faith by our works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven.

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We observed that throughout the New Testament there is neither hint nor suggestion of anything comparable to what is known in modern fundamental churches as “the pastor.” We saw that the writers of the Epistles at no time make any allusion to such a thing as a “pastor” as head or spokesman for any of the churches. We observed that the Epistles are addressed to the saints and not to “pastors” over the churches. It will come as a surprise to many of our readers that the word “pastor” occurs but once in the entire (English) New Testament. The word “pastor” does not occur once in the entire book of Acts, that record of the founding of the first Christian churches. Only in Ephesians 4:11 does it appear: “And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” Does not this one single mention of this word in the entire New Testament seem all out of proportion to the position of “the pastor” as known in our times?

To come to any sort of right understanding of this subject, we must make an examination of the Word of God only. Any attempt to justify existing conditions by a reference to history, or to great men of God, living or dead, and to what they believed or practiced, is worse than useless. History proves but one thing in this respect, that good and evil, truth and error, have struggled with each other down through the centuries. Antiquity proves nothing. The church fathers are not adequate reference in such a matter as this. If God’s Word has not instructed us, then we are without instruction, and one guess is as good as another.

The word “pastor” means “shepherd or feeder.” This same word, which in Ephesians 4:11 is translated “pastor”, is elsewhere in the New Testament translated “shepherd” seventeen times. Now, that this word which is but once translated “pastor” should be used only eighteen times in the entire Testament is indeed significant, in view of the popular usage it is given today. I have heard pastors refer to themselves as “the pastor” almost as many times in just one sermon! It is quite a big word in our churches and in our thinking, but not so in the Scripture. And it is time we did some serious thinking about this. It is just possible that on this point we have demonstrated again that “that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination to God.”

Let us for a minute compare this word “pastor” in its Biblical meaning and in its commonly understood meaning. Stating it in rather bold language, a “pastor” is a trained and authorized man, employed by a local group of people or by their duly appointed spokesman, from outside the local group, to perform the function of management among them.

We say that the “pastor” is “trained and authorized” in view of the fact that in just about all of our fundamental churches “the pastor” must be a seminary graduate and must be ordained by a body of men acceptable to the local church. An untrained and unauthorized man would not be acceptable in the average fundamental church.

We say that the “pastor” is “employed” in view of the fact that he came to the local group after the offer of and acceptance of a certain consideration of monies, and his continuation with the local group is determined largely by this same consideration of monies. We therefore consider him “employed.”

We say he is an “outsider” with the express purpose of implying that for all practical purposes that is just what he is. For some reason it is commonly understood that a local man will not do as well as “pastor.” The “pastor” comes to the group as an outsider and, by and large, remains an outsider, as seen in the entire attitude of both the group and “the pastor.” The group is at any time free to replace the pastor or apply for his replacement, depending upon the type of political structure of the group. And the pastor is free at any time, upon reasonable notice, to pack up and leave. The whole of which is completely foreign to the Biblical concept of pastor and church.

We say that “the pastor” is hired to perform the function of “management” over the group. This is all too obvious to need extended argument. Oddly enough, this function of management is very piously called “service.” A pastor says, I “served” such and such a church, when the fact may more correctly be that he made them serve him.

On the other hand a “shepherd,” a “feeder,” a “pastor,” in the Biblical sense, is one of the gifts which the resurrected Christ gives to his people for “the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). And lest someone should say, “Well, a man can be this and all of the other too,” we suggest that a man cannot be in word and in fact what the Scripture calls a “pastor” or a “shepherd” and at the same time be what is today known as “the pastor.” We know of but one Biblical account of a modern “pastor” and that is in Third John. Read it for yourself and determine whether or not we are correct in this.

It is difficult to make a study of the pastor without taking into account also the present false, carnal, unscriptural structure of our present-day churches. The church and the pastor of our day go hand in hand, and if someone asks, “how can you run a modern church without a pastor?”, the answer is simple: you can’t! You cannot run a modern church without a pastor any more than you can have a church (in the New Testament sense) with a pastor. We will for the present try to avoid the problem of the church, saving this for later consideration if we are permitted.

Let us here observe something basic. “Christ is head of the church”. This does not mean that Christ is only nominal head of the church, but that He is the actual and functioning head of the church. “For the husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23). This does not mean that, as some men are but the titular head of their wives, bringing home the money with which the wife runs the home, so Christ “paid it all” while the church manages her own self and takes to herself a manager other than Christ. No, No! Christ is resident with the church. Where two or three meet, there He is in very fact. He is there to feed, to comfort, to admonish, to manage. This thing is real; it is not just imagination, not just fancy. Christ’s people are given to understand that they are to have the presence of the Lord himself among them. That the average fundamental church does not even begin to understand this is obvious by the position that they grant “the pastor” and also by the resulting ignorance that prevails among the “laity” concerning spiritual things in general.

In order for Christ to be head of the church, the usual democratic machinery would have to be abandoned in favor of a direct spiritual control by the Lord himself, a thing which our pastors, boards, committees, synods, classis, cannot understand. It is amazing how thoroughly we have persuaded ourselves that all of our present church order, programs and elections are at the top somehow under the direction and sanction of the Lord. It is also amazing that when we see that our machinery is bringing the church to a state of collapse, we still do not take ourselves to God or to his Word for help, but continue to try and make the old lifeless machinery produce life among us.

Brothers, let us dare to examine ourselves, and ask the question, “Just how different are we after all, from the unbelieving churches in the neighborhood?” We have a secure feeling that all is well with us and that we are on the Lord’s side. But are we? Or will honest investigation show that we have long ago abandoned Biblical principles in favor of worldly principles? We have in scores of ways joined ourselves to a harlot and not to Christ.

Under our third and last point we wish to take a view of what the New Testament says of the pastor’s character and place in the total church picture. May the Lord grant us the spirit of circumcision in this matter, that we may be his own special people once more.

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Now, of course, you are perfectly free to look all this up for yourself, for you have a Bible and a concordance of your own. But you see, sometimes a Bible and concordance are not enough, for often the real trouble is with our eyes, and we need our glasses changed, or sometimes we just need our special colored glasses removed so we can see things in their natural color. Actually it is not the eyes at all, but the mind. The mind gets into a rut. The ruts are usually made by someone else, someone that went before us and made the thought ruts for us. Seldom do we make our own ruts, for most of us do not have the ambition to get lazy in our own ruts.

So, speaking about the pastor, I find it hard to separate him from the church. Under today’s conditions it seems that – take away the pastor and the church folds up, or, take away the church and the pastor folds up. They are two institutions that mutually create and support each other.

Have you ever tried to find something in the New Testament comparable to the modern church: the membership, the board, the trustees, the “temple”, the pulpit, the pews, the committees, the departments, the young people, the cradle roll, the married young people, the old ladies, the old men, the Dorcas, the Sunshine group, the Willing Workers Band, the annual meeting, the pulpit committee, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Music, the choir, the worship leader, the annual call of the pastor, the bylaws, the constitution, the church covenant, the Association, the Synod, the Classis, and I’ll save the rest for the next time. Let’s be thinking about the true nature of the church while we go on a bit and get into the matter of the Bible pastor.

Let us suppose for a starter that an evangelist (or for that matter, just an ordinary saint – for the minute we say ‘evangelist’ we are liable to think in terms of something professional).., let us suppose that some saint begins to proclaim the gospel in a certain neighborhood. And let us suppose that it is the good pleasure of the Lord to bless his word to the salvation of souls in that area, say perhaps a dozen men are converted.

Conversion to Christ is at first a personal thing, that is, a man can be saved and go it quite alone throughout life with the help of the Spirit. But since there is a social aspect to being in the family of God, the saints begin to meet together for fellowship and prayer, for praise, for instruction, for whatever else belongs to the community of the sons of God.

Now this group is the local church, the ekklesia, the Lord’s called-out ones. So far it is simple! It is wonderful!

Now, what is this group of saints going to need in the way of organization and in the way of officers? Most of us agree that the Bible should be our guide at this point, but we differ as to what the Bible says. It is commonly agreed that there are prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, helps, deacons, elders. From this assortment we are going to select the word “pastor” and ask ourselves: Just why is it that this particular office has come to be a profession in contrast to and superior to the others? We grant that the evangelist is often a professional man, but we feel that it is not so commonly required of him that he be a trained school man. Just what in the Bible suggests that the “pastor” becomes the dominant character in this group of saints?

What suggests that the pastor become a man-over-men in this fellowship? What suggests that the pastor goes on the payroll, that he has a house and privileges supplied for him, that he does the preaching, that he controls “the order of service,” that he becomes the public spokesman for this group of saints, that he gets a discount on merchandise and services that the other saints are not entitled to?

Getting back to this group of 12 men, recently saved, can we escape the thought that it is the Lord’s intention to give to this group of 12 men such gifts and graces as are necessary to the functioning of a healthy local church? The Lord will give to one the gift of evangelism, to another the gift of public preaching, to another the gift of healing, to another teaching, to another helping, to another that of pastoring or shepherding, to another the gift of pitching a tune. Have we any reason to suspect that the Lord will not make any or all of these gifts in multiple, that is, more than one with special gifts of evangelism in the group, more than one teacher in the group, more than one pastor?

If we read the Bible with this view in mind, we will see why it was not necessary for the saints to “import” and to “hire” men from outside the group to come in and manage them. That the established churches sent out men to assist the newer churches is not in question, nor does it conflict with what we are saying.

We suggest that the present system of church and pastor, practiced in greater or lesser degree by almost all fellowships of saints, is basically carnal and was largely borrowed from the ways of the world and not taken from God’s word.

We have seen a local fellowship of believers move in the very direction that we are suggesting, until they felt they had enough money to “hire” a pastor, and then the trouble began.

We have seen churches prosper in the interim between pastors, for this was a time when they were cast upon God’s strength and guidance, through the local men whom the Lord had called to lead his people. We have seen more than one church longing for the day when the Lord would “remove” the pastor they had hired for themselves, looking for the time when they could get a new pastor who would presumably know how to run things better than the last pastor. What a mirage all this is!

The guiding agent in a company of saints is the Spirit of God. This guidance is not a mystical thing, not just a theoretical thing, but it is to be a real and visible guidance. The Spirit will empower some to give, some to help, some to teach, some to lead, some to evangelize. And the same Spirit will empower the Lord’s people to recognize and assist and yield to any and all to whom the Spirit has given the gift of oversight (1 Thes. 5:12-13; Hb. 13:17). Under the direction of the Spirit this fellowship will be harmonious. Under the direction of a paid professional man, harmony cannot be attained, unless of course you intend to achieve harmony by breaking all but one string on the fiddle.

But we do not understand this leadership of the Spirit of God. We are afraid of it, and well we might be. A board member once said, “I suppose that you would just sit there until the Holy Spirit told us what to do?” Of course! Why not? Is this undesirable? Is this unobtainable? Is a democratic vote to be preferred to the leading of the Spirit of God?

Now this brother was not knowingly defiant of the Spirit of God; he just did not understand that it was possible to be led of the Spirit in such a realistic fashion. We are such strangers to the ways of God that we cannot even meet together as saints without putting ourselves under the control of a moderator! We do not know about the control of the Spirit in our personal lives, and we thus cannot experience the control of the Spirit in our gatherings. So, we follow parliamentary law, the law of the world.

Summing up: Can you find in the Bible anything to justify our present-day pastors in our so-called fundamental churches? I cannot. I honestly believe that our churches have gone the way of the world in this matter. We want a king over us. This is not to say that there are not many good and faithful men of God functioning as “pastors.” They are doing the best they can, so to speak, under this carnal worldly system. They were taught this system in the schools, and they have not taken the time to consider the matter from the Scriptures. These pastors are often doing much better spiritually than their “lay” brothers, for they have taken to themselves all the functions of study, preaching, praying, visiting, teaching and counseling. Thus the blessings that come from these toils and obligations and ministries in the fellowship of the saints go to one man instead of to many, and all this while the one man often wonders why there is no growth and response in the fellowship.

“Now may I who am myself an elder say a word to you my fellow-elders? You should aim not at being ‘little tin gods’, but at being examples of Christian living in the eyes of the flock committed to your charge”- 1 Peter 5:1, 3 (Phillips).
Appendix

One Example, Three Considerations
by Jim van H.

The example is a striking one. A multitude of others could be given, but this one, at least, should not be excluded.

It is a century ago that the Welsh Revival took place. Untold thousands of people of all walks of life were marvelously swept into the kingdom of God, among them criminals, drunks and other ‘misfits’, but most were religious people. They had had “religion” all their lives; now, suddenly, under the Holy Spirit’s conviction, they found they had no more than a ‘system’ – a ‘system’ into which they had been fitted as soon as they were born, and by which they would eventually be buried. There were many good things in the ‘system’, but it didn’t really offer them LIFE. In effect, in those days, to be able to find a Welshman with ‘assurance of salvation in Christ’ was quite a feat. To testify that you had such assurance was considered presumption… But then God changed all that wonderfully!

One of the most remarkable features of the revival was the pulpits… The pulpits? Yes, because they mostly remained empty. Every church and chapel had always had its pulpit. From that ‘sacred spot’ the congregation was constantly being preached at. But come the revival, what happened to the pulpits? Of course, we should rather ask: what happened to the ‘pastors’? Where were they? The answer is, they were among the people, crying, repenting, singing, listening, praising, praying and getting thoroughly converted.

Heaven broke through in the most beautiful and stunning ways, but it wasn’t through the ‘pastors’. If there was any preaching, it was often done by members of the congregation, not seldom by young people and even children. The Holy Spirit was conducting things, and He didn’t need paid pastors for that. The pastors were effectively sidelined – what a blessing!

Then after many months of “aggressive” revival, things sort of calmed down. At that stage, what happened to the pulpits? Well, pretty soon the system reimposed itself. The ‘pastors’ got back into the pulpits… And most congregations acquiesced.

Take Moriah Chapel in the small town of Loughor, not far from Swansea in South Wales. It was there, in 1904, that the revival had been unleashed through a young miner by the name of Evan Roberts, just a ‘member’ who, we might say, had been through God’s school of total surrender to the Holy Spirit.

But, when in 1906 things had calmed down somewhat in Moriah Chapel, they felt they needed a new ‘pastor’ and so they appointed one. Whether the congregation realized it or not, this pastor’s attitude, in regards to the revival, was different to the previous one’s. He was not in favor of “all that emotionalism,” and so he started to lay down rules. It proved to be an effective way to extinguish the revival. After a while this ‘conservative’ ‘pastor’ packed his bags. So again, a new man was called upon to come and be the Moriah Chapel pastor. Now you may find this hard to believe, but the new pastor was of the variety that espouses a ‘liberal’ theology, in other words, he did not preach the Gospel. For nearly forty years this man occupied the pulpit, progressively emptying the pews.

Today the large chapel still stands. But if ten people turn up for the service, they’re having a pretty good Sunday…

The “Wineskin” consideration

There are spiritual laws and natural laws, and, just like the natural ones, spiritual laws cannot be set aside. Spiritual laws in the Bible are often “adaptations” from the natural ones. There is, for instance, the one that says that whatever you sow, that is what you will also reap.

The Welsh Revival, occurring in the midst of an established ecclesiastical system, illustrates one very important law. It is the following one, laid down by our Lord:

“No one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved” - (Luke 5:37-38).

To transport water or wine, wineskins were convenient containers. They were bags made from goat skins. For easy access to the precious liquid, they could also be hung in some convenient spot in the home. “New wine” is unfermented grape juice. As every Jew knew perfectly well, once this juice starts to ferment, unless it is regularly attended to, it will cause a considerable build up of pressure inside the wineskin. If the wineskin is new, there is sufficient elasticity to expand with the growing pressure. If the wineskin is old and not supple anymore, it will eventually burst, right in its weakest spot. Its contents are lost and the ruined wineskin can be thrown away.

On the other hand, Jews could, of course, tell the difference between a new and an old wineskin. Once a wineskin was considered old they would not discard it, but use it only to store “old wine”. Old wine will not ferment anymore.

What really happened in the Welsh Revival was that God ‘poured out’ an abundance of ‘new wine’. There was nothing ‘old’ or ‘organized’, or ‘systematized’ about it. Its order, control and structure were heavenly.

Now, if that is so, why should the Welsh Revival fade away? There is more than one answer to that question, but one important reason was that ‘man’ took it upon himself to contain God’s new wine in man’s old wineskins, i.e. in the ‘old wineskins’ of man-made traditions, systems, programs and denominations. They took it for granted that that was the one common-sense way forward. It was a fatal mistake! The blessings were eventually lost, and so were the ‘wineskins’. Wales still is a country full of chapels, even after many have been demolished, but a high percentage now serve other purposes – secular purposes that is.

Of course, it would have been costly, spiritually speaking, to follow the New Testament way forward, and to leave the old religious systems on one side; looking by faith only to God and to the Scriptures for ‘new wineskins’ that would perfectly match his ‘new wine.’ Costly, indeed, it would have been to the flesh, but to not do so, would, in the words of the Savior, in the end, be far more costly. He said it would mean loss and ruin. Looking back now, we can see how right He was.

Jesus also added these words in the next verse:

“And no one having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’”

Congregations and ‘pastors’ decided that, after all, the ‘old wine’ wasn’t so bad. The ‘new wine’ had been a great and wonderful blessing, but now as ‘the dust was settling’ it was better to go back to the ‘old wine’, to the old order of things… And that is what they did. It meant, among other things, that the ‘pastors’ settled happily back into their pulpits!

Undoubtedly some readers, having come thus far, will already have been wondering something along these lines:

a.“So, if we are to understand that a ‘pastor-church-set-up’ is completely foreign to the New Testament, what are we to think of the ‘Pastoral Epistles’? Weren’t they addressed to two local pastors, namely Timothy and Titus, who were pastoring the churches in Ephesus and Crete?”

b.“And what are we to make of the ‘angels of the seven churches’ in Revelation 1-3? Surely the Lord himself is there referring to pastors, perfectly comparable to modern day pastors..!”

These are valid queries that show the need for this appendix.

The “Pastoral Epistles” consideration.

We don’t know who invented this title for the three gems in the New Testament, which are often designated like that. What we do know is that it is not found in the New Testament. We also realize that calling Timothy and Titus “pastors”, betrays the hold that systems and traditions have on so many good church people. Being carried along by such currents may be pleasant enough and undemanding, but it is not a sign of real Life. “Live fish” will go right against the current. The currents of ‘tradition’ are making “paid pastors” out of good men, and some women. Even Timothy and Titus, so to speak, have not escaped from being dragged into the fray, posthumously. By God’s grace, this e-booklet may make a difference. It may get you swimming the other way..

Jim I. Packer is a beloved brother, a keen theologian and author in a denomination where the word “pastor” is not the usual designation for the man (or woman) in the pulpit. In his (Protestant) denomination there are priests, curates, vicars, rectors, prebendaries, deacons, archdeacons, canons, bishops, archbishops and primates. Of course, all of them are “Reverend” or “Right Reverend”, or even “Very Reverend”. Nevertheless, Packer has given this interesting comment: “The church is not to be like a bus, where passengers sit quietly and let someone else do the driving, but like an anthill, where everybody is at work.”

The comment shows real insight, yet there he goes – drifting along with the flow.., or, in his own words, being driven around by his clergy bus-drivers. Good Evangelical men keep saying and writing wonderful things, while at the same time pushing all kinds of unbiblical traditions. Take their treatment of Timothy. Condescendingly, many will persist in calling him something like: “the young pastor in his parish…” Tradition’s ways have such a hold on us that it takes a miracle of God’s grace to wean us away from it all.

Such miracles do happen! Even in Paul’s day there were people, Jews in this case, who refused to simply drift with any human flow. They were into the Scriptures daily, doing some thorough researching in order to make sure they’d got it right. They didn’t even take the apostle’s word for it (Acts 17:11). Once the Word had illuminated them, they stepped out boldly by faith, risking their lives in the process!

So, back to Timothy and Titus. The following points should be kept in mind, when we think of these NT servants of God, all of them verifiable in the New Testament.

a) Both were itinerant apostles (or missionaries, which means exactly the same, viz. ‘sent ones’). They formed part of the team of missionaries of which Paul was the leader.

b) These workers, as they traveled to the various centers for evangelistic work, or for instructive and/or corrective work in churches already ‘planted’, would necessarily stay for periods that could run into months or even years.

c) Paul had traveled to the island of Crete, where he enjoyed the company of Titus. It is not unlikely that Paul had arrived there en route from Spain. After a period of hard work together, in a number of the Cretan cities and towns, planting churches, Paul left for Ephesus, either with Timothy, or to meet Timothy there.

d) Titus is left behind in Crete for the express purpose of completing the work already done and appointing elders in all the congregations planted (Titus 1:5).

e) Later, in his epistle, Paul urges Titus to leave Crete, as soon as another worker should arrive, and meet him in Nicopolis (3:12).

f) There is not the slightest hint that Titus acted like a modern “pastor”. To the contrary, far from being “the pastor” of who knows how many congregations all over the island, he keeps on traveling between the various centers to see that elders-pastors are duly appointed.

g) So Paul heads for Ephesus. He had ‘planted’ the church there during his three years’ sojourn; later he had paid a brief visit to all the elders of all the different house groups in the city (Acts 20); after which he had traveled on to Jerusalem in the company of Luke and others.

h) That chapter, Acts 20, makes it crystal clear (precisely in the Ephesian context!) that the elders (always mentioned in the plural), established in the congregations by the Holy Spirit, were the shepherds, or pastors. They were the ones charged with the ‘oversight’ of God’s flock, which is what the Greek word “episkopos” – overseer (bishop) stands for. In other words, the Ephesian Christians had their pastors. They were true NT pastors. Timothy was not needed to replace them, starting his own “modern” pastorate.

i) Now, some seven years later, when Paul goes back to Ephesus, he, presumably after some time of spiritual ministry, urges Timothy to stay on longer, while he himself travels on to Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3). From the epistle we understand that this prolonged stay was necessary because of acute problems that had arisen with false teachers. A number of other problems also had to be dealt with. Timothy was there to further help, instruct and correct the existing elders-pastors in their superhuman task.

j) Timothy was among the Ephesian congregations for a limited time, purely in his capacity of missionary/church-planter. There is no hint anywhere that he was looked upon by Paul and/or the Ephesians as “the pastor”.

k) Paul writes to Titus and to Timothy from Macedonia or Greece. Later he leaves for Nicopolis to meet with Titus. At some point he is captured and sent to Rome a second time, this time to face the death penalty. (His beheading probably took place in AD 67.)

l) From Rome he writes to Timothy again. It is the apostle’s last written document in our possession. Not even in these pages does he grasp his very last opportunity to confirm and encourage his companion’s “pastorate”. He calls Timothy (or compares him to) a soldier, an athlete, a farmer, a worker, a servant of the Lord, a man of God, and last of all an evangelist, when he tells him to do the work of an ‘evangelist’. Seven beautiful names or ‘word pictures’, but ‘shepherd’ or ‘pastor’ is not one of them.

m) At the time of this 2nd epistle Timothy is still in Ephesus, or again in Ephesus, but Paul urges him to leave Ephesus and travel to Rome, where he is being kept a prisoner (4:9-13, 21).

n) Timothy and Titus had never been “members” of any congregation in Ephesus or Crete. As far as can be ascertained, they came from the Lystra and Antioch congregations. There, well before entering missionary work, they had come to know and trust their Lord. This fact in itself was enough to keep them from becoming any sort of “pastors” in Ephesus or Crete.

The NT practice shows, in four cases at least, that “elders-pastors” could only be appointed from among the men of the local congregation itself. They could not be called in from other congregations. We see this in the following cases:
Jerusalem congregations: Acts 15;
Galatian congregations: Acts 14;
Ephesian congregations: 1 Timothy 3;
Cretan congregations: Titus 1.

If scrutiny of Acts 15 raises eyebrows in that it does not at all show that the elders-pastors originated from the local congregations, it should be born in mind that these were the very first Christian congregations ever. In their early history there simply were no other congregations to whom an appeal could be addressed for a new “Jerusalem pastor”.

It is true that Luke does not tell us when and how the Jerusalem congregations came to have their elders-pastors, but through Acts 6 we have a good idea. This is where he tells us how the deacons in Jerusalem came to be deacons. Stephen, Philip and the other five were local men in full fellowship, even though some might have been immigrants from other geographical areas.

When all of these historical realities are properly registered and digested, any thought of projecting Timothy and Titus as local “pastors” will be seen as no more than fanciful, and clutching at straws.

3   The “angels-of-the-seven-churches” consideration

Our Baptist brothers especially seem to be fond of the “angel-pastor” theory, which they base on what they find in Rev. 1-3. To their mind it is clear that what the Lord really meant to say in his opening statement was: “To the ‘pastor’ of the church of Ephesus…”, etc. Others go further and see no reason why these ‘angels’ should not actually be celestial ‘angels.’

The word “angel(s)” occurs no less than 176 times in the New Testament. Usually it refers to actual celestial beings, but not always. Often their ‘celestiality’ is extra clear when they are called “angels of God” or “angels of heaven”.

We must remember that the word “angel” is not really a translation of the Greek word, but rather a transliteration. When you translate it, you get “messenger”. Compare the related Greek word for “gospel” (or “evangel”). It translates as “good message” or “good news”.

Seven times, out of the 176, the word is actually translated as “messenger” in our English Bibles; i.e. in the cases of John the Baptist; the messengers sent by John; the disciples the Lord sent before him; a satanic messenger; and the two Israelite spies in Jericho. Except the messenger from Satan, who may have been a demon, all of these “angels” were human beings of flesh and blood. The context makes that very clear, so the translators had no problem in putting “messengers”. Translators are bound to look very closely at each individual case, to make sure what kind of “angels” are in view, celestial ones, or terrestrial ones.

But when they came to the “angels of the churches” in Rev. 1-3 (plus an additional case in 1 Cor. 11:10), they didn’t think the context warranted translating the word, so they just left it at “angel(s)”.

We don’t know all their arguments, but it seems reasonably clear that our Lord isn’t telling John to write seven letters to seven celestial angels… The seven “angels” of Rev. 1-3 were, undoubtedly, terrestrial angels, in other words, messengers of flesh and blood, and that in sharp contrast to another set of “seven (celestial) angels”, which are very prominent from 8:2 to 21:9.

What was the situation? John wrote these seven letters during his year of exile on the small island of Patmos, off the western coast of Asia Minor. From active service among the congregations that were situated more or less along that coast, he had been exiled to Patmos in his extremely advanced age. The island was barren and uninhabited. Logically, the Christians’ love for him wasn’t going to let John suffer needlessly, if they could help it.

So we can envisage how they established some arrangement among themselves to take turns in going to see the apostle, taking along supplies, and above all to enjoy fellowship together. The simple and logical arrangement might be that one of the elders of each congregation would go, possibly accompanied by other brothers. The Lord prepared John for their visits and made sure that for each of these “messengers” a divinely inspired letter was ready for the moment they traveled back to their congregations.

Can we find any precedent for this type of ministry in the New Testament, i.e. before we get to the book of Revelation?
There certainly are precedents. Let me point out two of them.

When Paul went to Ephesus for the first time, he crossed over from Corinth and took Aquila and Priscilla with him. This married couple stayed on in Ephesus, while he traveled on to Jerusalem (Acts 18:18-21).

Eventually Paul arrived back in Ephesus and ministered the Word there for three years (Acts 19). Towards the end of his stay, he wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians. The opportunity? – Not one, but three, messengers from Corinth were going to travel back home.

From 1 Cor 1:11 we know that messengers from the Corinthian congregation crossed the Ægean Sea to be with Paul, but at the end of the epistle this becomes even clearer: “I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men” (16:17-18).

When the three were about to sail back, Paul had his letter ready, his first letter to the beloved congregation. He hadn’t seen them for about four years. The three brothers acted as messengers from the congregation to Paul and then from Paul to the congregation, delivering to them his epistle. This case sheds needed light on what the circumstances may have been that surrounded the messengers of Revelation 1-3.

The other case is found in Philippians 2:25-30. The Philippian congregation, concerned about Paul’s imprisonment in faraway Rome, sent messenger Epaphroditus to “minister to Paul’s need,” which resulted in tremendous blessing to the apostle (4:10, 18). However, Epaphroditus fell ill while in Rome and nearly died. Once he had recovered and was strong enough to travel back to Philippi, Paul committed his Philippian epistle to his care for him to deliver to the congregation. Once again the ‘two-way’ ministry of the messenger, including the carrying back of a letter, stands out.

Also from Colossians 4 we may glean that such ministries of love between congregations and missionaries, through the means of go-between messengers, were common.

Why then should we now imagine something different, truly out of sync, for the Asia Minor congregations in their relationship to the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos? Note that Ephesus, the main city in the area, where such ‘messenger-ministry’ was surely remembered from the time that Paul lived and worked among them, is now the first one mentioned of the seven.

We can only conclude that the messengers mentioned in Rev 1-3 must have represented, first of all, their congregations to John. Undoubtedly some of these men, active in Christian work, must have been ready, just like Epaphroditus before them, to lay down their lives for their Lord. In regards to their ‘return’ ministry, it was even more special than that of the previous messengers – the letters, which each of these seven carried back home, had been directly, and specially, dictated to John by their Lord in heaven.

 Question: So in what way might we reconcile the “seven angels” with the modern setup of “paid pastors”?

Answer: It cannot be done, not in any scriptural way. The two positions, the scriptural and the traditional, are apart as far as the East is from the West.

Q.: What function, then, did the seven “messengers” have back in their congregations?

A.: We cannot know for sure.

Q.: Is it not important to know that?

A.: No, in fact, it is rather beside the point.

Q.: Were they elders-among-the-elders in their congregations?

A.: It seems likely. They may also have been deacons. At the same time, it may be observed that, in view of the contents of some of these letters from the Lord, several of these men may not have been as faithful as they should have been.

Q.: But if tradition sort of mandates that they be considered “pastors”, and if 95% of all Christians have that idea, why should we go against the grain?

A.: Traditional thinking, or majority thinking, when clearly unscriptural, is no more than, well.., a pious pipe dream, or ‘sinking sand’. It is safer to build on the ‘solid rock’ of Scripture.

Something has to be added to this. Mainly from Revelation chapter 1 we learn that the seven churches were symbolized by the seven golden lampstands, familiar from the seven-armed lampstand in the Jewish temple. The High Priest attending to the lamps, seen by John, is none other than the Lord Jesus. The Jewish temple had been destroyed and its lampstand had been carried off to Rome. But the Lord now takes the seven local churches of Asia Minor and presents them as his new light bearers in the world. ‘Seven’ is the figure of the Lord’s full accomplishment, the completeness of his work. In other words, these seven churches, attended by the High Priest, represent the complete, worldwide Church of Christ through the ages.

Why would the Lord do this and use this imagery? Simply so that every one of his congregations, in any place, at any time, might be assured that it has the Lord’s personal attention, is useful to him as corporate light-bearer, and is an integral part of the whole company of the redeemed. Of course, once a congregation becomes unresponsive to the High Priest’s attention (supplying oil, trimming wicks, etc.), its light will grow dimmer and dimmer and go out completely. That is what the Lord saw coming for the Ephesian testimony in Revelation 2.

We thought we should call these facts to your attention, because in close conjunction with them we read in verse 20 what the explanation is of the mystery of the “seven stars” (individual light-bearers) in the High Priest’s right hand. We are told that they are “the angels of the seven churches”.

Stars are angels are human beings??
Have a look at the following verses for the background:
1. The stars were put in place by God: Psalm 8:3.
2. They are countless: Heb 11:12.
3. All of his stars have names and He calls them by name: Ps 147:2-4.
4. God’s people, Abraham’s descendants, are like stars: Heb 11:12.
5. They are shining in the midst of the present darkness: Phil 2:15-16.
6. And, if faithful, will shine like stars for ever and ever: Daniel 12:3.
7. The Son of God, who consigned all the stars to their positions and courses in the first place, now shows himself, as the risen Son of Man, employing ‘seven stars’ in his right hand: Rev 1:16, 20.

Parallel to the way the Lord uses “the seven congregations,” symbolizing and summing up His universal Church, as it is expressed in all of its local congregations, we find that He uses these seven local Christians, the seven “messengers”, servants of his, to symbolize and sum up all the ministry of all God’s children. They are the shining stars in his right hand.

Immediately following, that same right hand is placed on John’s virtually lifeless and prostrate body, giving a dramatic illustration of the powerful, life-giving ministry of God’s star-messengers, if moved by his right hand.

At Pentecost, in Acts 2, it was Joel’s prophecy that was fulfilled. All of God’s children, from Pentecost onwards, are chosen and enabled to actively serve God with the gifts He has given them. If there was a selected priesthood and a selected ‘prophethood’ before Pentecost, these are now radically done away with. In other words, all the members of the “body of Christ”, the universal Church, which was born at Pentecost, are priests and prophets. For further reading, see these passages: Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-26; 14:24, 31; Eph. 4:16; Hb. 10:24-25; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9-10; 4:10-11.

Joel’s prophecy quoted by Peter and written down by Luke, could not be clearer (Acts 2:17-18). All his children are henceforth to be his instruments, full of his Holy Spirit, regardless of age or gender.
We find that “prophecy” stands out – it is the ministry that “faithfully transmits the word as given by God.”

At Patmos, some 65 years after Pentecost, all of this is confirmed with our Lord’s emphasis on the complete number of seven shining stars in his right hand. Who is going to exclude who from actively serving his Lord as a “star-angel”? Can a “clergy” or a “hierarchy” exclude a “laity”? Our High Priest has included all of his children. He made them ‘messengers’, and He ‘employs’ them in his right hand!

“Not good enough!”– is what a vast majority of Christians have been saying for many centuries now, “we want to pay a ‘pastor’ to do the Lord’s work for us!” “If we cannot have a selected priesthood and a selected ‘prophethood’, like in pre-NT times, at least we’ll have a selected, seminary-trained, ordained, “pastorhood” for these post-NT times…”

‘Not good enough’, when HE has promised to be in the midst among his children, whenever and wherever they would very simply gather in his Name!

The Israelites didn’t think it was good enough to just have the Lord in their midst, and so, in 1 Samuel 8, they insisted to Samuel: “Give us a king.., that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles!”

God’s response to Samuel was: “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.”

We can praise God for godly kings, for a David, a Hezekiah, a Josiah. And why not praise him for godly pastors? Yet, once a heart is won back to that incredible promise of Matthew 18:20 – the Lord Jesus himself in the midst of his ordinary, humble and unpretentious people, in order to manifest himself in blessing, guidance, correction, edification, preparation, etc., etc., whenever and wherever they are simply, very simply, gathered in his Name, the paid-pastor thing goes out the window. It has become a non-issue!

What blessings He brings (congregation-wise) when we so gather with open Bibles and open hearts, truly bowing to HIS reign over us.

“The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing”

(Zeph. 3:17).

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching”
(Hb. 10:24-25).

“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ”
(2 Cor. 11:3).

© PRESSING ON!, Apartado 31, 29700 Vélez-Málaga, Spain; e-mail: presson@telefonica.net

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