Well, I got back Monday afternoon from the Northern California Bible Conference which was held in Burlingame, CA (just south of San Francisco on the Peninsula) and sponsored by Grace Bible Church but which my Pastor did not attend, and so, obviously, did not teach at. Instead it was taught by one of the pastors my pastor has ordained, a man who has started his own ministry out here in the west.
The subject was Authority — how it is the most important thing in the universe. The question asked was “Do you know who/what your authority is?”
The answer… it’s a threefold construct — a triangle of God, His Word and the Pastor Teacher God has assigned to you to communicate that Word.
We were reminded that God is not the author of confusion. (I Co 14:33)
That God does things in ones — One Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph 4:5) — and that we each have one spiritual gift and one pastor teacher assigned at a time.
We reviewed the scriptures that document the fact that we are assigned a Pastor Teacher — Ephesians 4:12, 13 which tells us the gift of Pastor-Teacher is given for the training of the saints for the work of the ministry. I Pe 5:3 reveals that each pastor is assigned a specific congregation, and I Th 512 adds that each believer is assigned a pastor… and thus a specific congregation as well. The local congregation operates as a body in itself, and all the parts are needed by all the other parts. (I Co 12)
In times past the notion of staying loyal to an assigned pastor and local assembly was mostly unchallenged due to the difficulties of travel and the limitations of technology. If you wanted to hear someone you had to be there. Or perhaps, as in the first century, ou could rely on letters or books. Now with the explosion of printed material as well as internet technology which puts the works of thousands at our fingertips, and with transportation having advanced to the point you can travel thousands of miles in a day… this is more of a challenge. And that challenge was what the bulk of the teaching — and the conversation — at the Northern California Bible conference was about.
With the proliferation of prepared, doctrinal pastors in recent years, many of whom have their messages recorded and made available through the internet or other digitized means, it has become very easy to go “church hopping.” Don’t like what your pastor is teaching this week? With a couple of mouse clicks, you can see what Pastor B is teaching. Angry and offended because your pastor has dared to tell you the truth and thereby become your enemy (Gal 4:16), you can click out of his site and go to someone else who teaches more in line with what you want to hear. Do you just want to accumulate knowledge? Feel good about your life and your self? Or are you simply curious as to what else is out there? Are you bored? Familiarity can be a subtle attack on your mental attitude with respect to doctrine which can cause you to become dissatisfied, restless or feel dry — though sometimes that dry feeling is just part of the Christian life, a test to see if you will proceed regardless or wander away in search of something new and more exciting.
The problem with this “spiritual adultery” (as the concept was taught this weekend) is that even prepared, experienced doctrinal pastors disagree in what they teach. Some say the rapture will occur at the end of the church age and other place it mid Tribulation. Some say we don’t need rebound (confession of sins to regain the Filling of the Holy Spirit) and others say rebound is central to the function of the Christian life. Some have taught that you can reach in this life a state of sinless perfection and others are aghast at such a suggestion.
All of them can support their positions scripturally because, as my pastor says, you can make the Bible say anything you want it to. So then, how does the congregant determine which is right? To think that you have the ability to discern through all the different teachers and pick out which one is correct here and which is correct there is really pretty arrogant. It assumes that you out of all of them are the one with the greatest knowledge and ability to see truth. It’s especially arrogant if you consider the fact that most of the men you are critiquing spend their days digging into God’s word, study the Greek and Hebrew and have spent years doing so, whereas the average congregant has devoted maybe only 20% of the same amount of time to their studies.
Actually, that mindset, the one of roaming about sampling from this and that source as you determine (or perhaps you think the Holy Spirit is guiding you… but not anyone else, apparently, or wouldn’t they be right?) is pretty close to today’s post-modernist thinking that says you don’t need an authority, someone to teach you, but that you can figure things out for yourself. It says that there is no absolute truth, either, that image is more important than words, that personal experience and emotion trumps reason. A 2002 article in Christianity Todaypoints out that “when we speak of truth…our postmodern neighbors hear just one more opinion among many.” I wonder if that might not also apply to some of our fellow Christians, their thinking influenced by the prevailing viewpoint of the times.
But the Bible doesn’t hold that a man’s opinion or his experience is important. God’s ways are not man’s ways; His thoughts are not man’s thoughts. The fool is right in his own eyes. The ways of a man seem right to him… And pastors were given to train and instruct the saints for the work of service. Yes, the Holy Spirit is our ultimate teacher — we can’t understand a thing the pastor teaches apart from Him; nor can the pastor study and teach correctly apart from Him. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the gift of pastor teacher has been given for our edification and we need him. One pastor. One human authority at a time to respect, trust and submit to — not merely to the man himself, but ultimately to God, who provided the man and delegated the authority to him.