Tuesday, January 30, 2007

This is Certainly a Contrast

I heard about this yesterday on a local Christian radio program. ("Moscow Mayor Calls Gay Pride Parade Satanic", MosNews) The mayor of Moscow, Russia, spoke out against the pressure from the west to sanction gay relationships. Apparently, Moscow has been under considerable pressure to allow a gay parade to take place in the city. Mayor Yury Luzhkov went so far as to describe these events as “Satanic”. It was also this conservative mayor who refused to allow Portuguese bullfights in 2001 due to their violence, and did not allow the rock group Leningrad to perform in the city because of their explicit lyrics.

Luzhov went on to say, Religious thinkers throughout the world have said that the West has reached a crisis of faith. Some European nations bless single-sex marriages and introduce sexual guides in schools,” Luzhkov said. “Such things are a deadly moral poison for children.”

That is a very bold public statement. Compare this to what typically takes place here in the U.S., where the push for tolerance is rampant. Read this article about the furor that erupted after a man warns potential visiting families concerning the “Gay Ski Week” in Tulleride, CO.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Biblical Church Leadership – Pt. 2

There are inevitably pitfalls to the use of any term used to refer to the leadership of the local church. Even using the term predominantly used in Scripture, “elder”, poses some issues. This is largely due to the fact that the term is so entrenched in the notion that elders are members of a church board or committee. As Strauch has noted in his book, it has become necessary to explain that the term is referring to “pastor elders”, “shepherd elders” or simply “pastors”. This is necessary in order to convey the biblical concept of elders as church leaders. There are very few churches that practice biblical church leadership and use the term in its true New Testament form, where the congregation understands that the elders are the spiritual leaders. In fact, many have needed to refer to their elders simply as “pastors” in their endeavor to implement biblical church leadership. [1] To illustrate the confusion and misunderstanding even when using the terms defined in Scripture, I myself have run across someone who thought that I was referring to deacons when I used the term elders! Deacons are a form of leadership in the church, but they function more in the role of servants to the church under the direction of the elders, the official leaders who are providing the overall direction for the church.

Another term that can be used that Strauch points out in his book is the term shepherd. The Bible also uses the term frequently to bring to mind the imagery of the role of a shepherd to describe the work of NT elders. (1 Peter 5:2; Acts 10:28) Shepherd seems to be devoid of much of the unbiblical associations that the terms pastor or elder have come to represent. However it is unfortunate that even the term shepherd can introduce problems as well. It is a word that has no religious association for people outside and even within the church. People may just associate the term with a literal shepherd who tends sheep and miss the association with the role of NT church leadership. [1]

As I wrote in my first post on this topic, the terminology used must closely mirror the terms and concepts described in Scripture. Unfortunately, many of the terms that have become traditionally used in the church are unbiblical and misleading. To quote Strauch, “words such as clergyman, layman, reverend, minister, priest, bishop, ordained, and ministerial convey ideas contrary to what Jesus Christ and His apostles taught." The adoption of such terminology is a severe hindrance to recapturing the biblical model of the church. [1]

In my next post, I will begin discussing the biblical qualifications of the local church leadership.

1. Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, p. 32-34

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Biblical Church Leadership – Pt. 1

1 Timothy 3:1-7

“1 It is a trustworthy statement: if a man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
2An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.

4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity.
5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),
6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.
7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into the reproach and the snare of the devil." (NASB)

Biblical church leadership or “eldership” is a very important subject and I find it tragic that not only is it not practiced in a vast number of churches, but it is sorely misunderstood by the vast majority of Christians today. Unfortunately, many church members only recognize the office of pastor or senior pastor as one man presiding over a congregation, and relegate the office of elder to a select group of men who serve as some council or board of elders. These men are generally perceived as the pastor’s helpers or advisors who only assist him with some basic tasks associated with the governing of the church. Yet the New Testament paints a very different picture of the office of elder. There are basically two offices that exist in the local church as described in the New Testament; elder and deacon. This series will focus on the qualifications and duties pertaining to elders, who are responsible for leading the church. Much of the material will be taken from the book by Alexander Strauch, “Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership”, but other sources will be used as well. Strauch’s book is one of the best that I have found that handles the subject from a Scriptural standpoint.

There are a variety of terms used interchangeably to describe the office of local church leadership and includes, “elder”, “bishop”, “pastor” and “overseer”. The predominant term is “elder”. The term overseer used here is from the Greek word “episkopos” and was a common designation commonly used in the Greek culture in reference to a variety of officials. Nothing in the use of this term violates the character of the biblical office of the local church leadership, in terms of the humble servant nature of the office. This was in contrast to other priestly or lordly titles. The fact that the apostles saw fit to utilize a term such as “overseer” as a synonym for “elder”, gives indication to the flexibility that was used in communicating among the Greek speaking people. However, while there was flexibility employed in the use of terms, we must take note as to the carefulness that the apostles used, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in describing those with the responsibility of leading God’s people. This is also the same care applied to the terms describing the person and work of Jesus Christ and the Church. This is especially important because accuracy in the language used to describe the office of church leadership is critical to developing biblical thinking and practice. To get this wrong will place us in danger of drifting far from the biblical model of the church that Christ intended. And this is precisely what has happened over time as the church developed into a hierarchical model, far outside of the biblical model. The term “overseer” became known in a way far different from the usage in the New Testament, soon becoming known as the English term, bishop. This title of course came to refer to a high level church official who had charge over several churches and lower level clergy. Tragically, the original meaning of “episkopos” referring to a leader of the local church was lost. [1]

This is why it is crucial to teach the congregation the meaning of the terms chosen to describe those in charge of the spiritual leadership in the church. It is imperative that the terminology reflect as closely as possible, the original terms and concepts described in the New Testament. As Strauch points out, “False teachers have had their greatest triumphs when they redefine biblical words in a way that is contrary to the original meaning.” These are sobering words that should provide a clarion call for the church to keep due vigilance and guard against loose interpretations and alternate meanings. This issue is true of many alternate definitions and redefinitions used to describe many other concepts and truths of the Christian faith as well. Strauch sites Greek grammarian, Nigel Turner:

“The Church today is concerned about communicating with the contemporary world and especially about the need to speak in a new idiom. The language of the Church had better be the language of the New Testament. To proclaim the Gospel with new terminology is hazardous when most of the message and valuable overtones that are implicit in the NT might be lost forever. “Most of the distortions and dissensions that have vexed the Church,” observed the late Dean of York, “where these have touched theological understanding, have arisen through the insistence of sects or sections of the Christian community upon words which are not found in the NT.” [1]

The church would certainly do well to be careful with how terminology is defined and used.

1. Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, p. 32-34

Sunday, January 07, 2007

False Teachers Seem Nice – Piper

Excerpt from "Watch Out for Those Who Lead You Away from the Truth"
By John Piper

"For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive." (Romans 16:18, ESV)

False Teachers Seem Nice

That brings us finally to verse 18 and the two reasons Paul gives for why doctrinal vigilance is so important. Verse 18: “For such persons [that is, the persons who depart from the doctrine] do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

Let’s take the second one first. Verse 18b: “By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” The word for flattery is simply blessing. And smooth talk doesn’t necessarily mean manifestly slippery. It just means pleasant and plausible. So the reason we must be so vigilant over biblical doctrine is that those who depart from it take simple people with them by pleasant, plausible speech that presents itself as a blessing. False teachers don’t get a following by being rough and harsh. They get a following by being nice.

Just take two examples from history: Arius (d. 336) and Socinus (d. 1604)—both of whom denied the deity of Christ. Parker Williamson describes Arius like this:

Here was a bright, energetic, attractive fellow, the kind of citizen whom any Rotary Club would welcome. Singing sea chanties in dockside pubs and teaching Bible stories to the Wednesday night faithful, this was an immensely popular man. His story reminds us that heresy does not bludgeon us into belief. We are seduced. (Parker T. Williamson, Standing Firm: Reclaiming the Chastain Faith in Times of Controversy [Lenoir, North Carolina: PLC Publications, 1996], p. 31.)
And another writer describes Socinus like this:

He was a gentleman. His morals were above reproach and he distinguished himself by his unfailing courtesy. Unfailing courtesy was remarkable in an age when even the great Protestant leaders, Luther and Calvin would use vile street language when arguing with their opponents.

This means that it will seldom be popular to resist false teachers in the church because they are almost always perceived as bringing a blessing and speaking with winsome words. They are gentlemen. And Paul says the innocent are carried away. Hence he says, “Watch out for them. And avoid them.”

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.