Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Free gas - hot air five bucks

by John D Ramsey

On Sunday afternoon, I happened to open the front door of our house as people were canvassing the neighborhood hanging cards on people's doors. A woman and a boy were walking in front of our house. I thought they were distributing political literature. When the woman saw my door open, she retrieved the card that the boy was carrying and brought it to my door herself. I appreciated her willingness to be personal rather than anonymous, so I did not deadbolt the door and run to the basement before she walked up the drive. Actually, Lisa was taking a nap, and I did not want a doorbell to awaken her.

I did not have my hearing aid inserted, so I am not certain what the woman said, but her spiel was short and the card she handed me was self-explanatory. I was relieved to see that the card was not a political solicitation; rather it was an invitation to attend a church event. I have seen signs for the church on the vacant lot on which they plan to build. In the quest to become whatever it is they want to become they are now soliciting new members-preferably those who might contribute to the building fund.

The card itself was worth a "free snow cone" to cool our tongues, but it promised much more including:
  • Over 30 free games
  • Water games
  • Giant inflatables
  • Prizes
  • Free food & drinks
  • Hot air balloon rides (for five bucks)
  • And a chance for the "$100 Gas Card Door Prize."
I know that there are many ideas about what church is supposed to be, but honestly, I have never attended a church that takes its ecclesiology from the Bible. There are some that take Biblical ecclesiology seriously, but the closest that I know of is about 250 miles away.

The problem with Biblical ecclesiology is that it turns everything upside down. For instance, the word pastor appears exactly once in the entire Bible and then only in its plural form. Read it yourself from the New American Standard Bible:

He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

Now, if the Bible says something once, it is important. I might point out for my evangelical friends that if God gave us evangelists, pastors, and teachers "until we all attain to the unity of the faith" then we might have a difficult time dismissing apostles and prophets any earlier.

Words are empty containers into which we put ideas, and when we approach the Bible, we need to fill its words cautiously with the Author's ideas and not our own misconceptions. What did the word pastor mean in the first century? Its meaning relates to the archaic meaning of the English word pastoral. Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, for instance, conjures visions of the countryside.

A pastor in the strictest sense is then a shepherd of men. A comparison of Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2 reveals that the responsibility of shepherding falls upon certain old men. An elder possessed certain qualifications to be sure. Explicit among them was age, married with believing children, and faithfulness. Paul sent Titus to Crete to identify the men who met the criteria and appoint them as overseers. Paul did not tell Titus to appoint them in every church, but rather to appoint them in "every city". I consider my dad to be an elder. He is old. He has children who believe. He is married only to my mother. He is able to teach. He works among several groups of believers serving all and mentoring some. Some people call him Pastor.

Some denominations call this position bishop, which does not bother me, so long as they do not also call them, "Father". Yet, if bishops are elders are pastors, then it seems that churches have inserted an extra layer or two into their ecclesiastical hierarchy, which affronts Jesus' own words:

But you are not to be called "Rabbi," for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth "Father," for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called "Teacher," for you have one Teacher, the Christ.

Matthew 23:8-10 (NIV)

The position of elder follows a natural order; older and wiser men have the responsibility of leading others by example according to 1 Peter 5. Younger men have the responsibility of respect and deference to their elders. The hierarchy Jesus taught was between man and God and not between men and other men. Paul referred to fellow apostles Peter, James, and John as "those who seemed to be important". He then says, "Whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance." Galatians 2:6 (NIV)

Churches today make much ado about hierarchies, but I demur. Some well-meaning pragmatists have informed me that church just does not work without hierarchical structures. I have to admit, they are right. Our modern churches do not work without hierarchies. Someone has to be in charge.

Yet I must ask whether we have made the same mistake that Israel made in 1 Samuel 8 when they rejected God as their king and insisted that Samuel appoint a king for them. I suspect that many of our churches are not spiritual entities but rather businesses.

I think that godly men who fulfill the role of pastor in these businesses today are actually apostles and prophets who would preach in any forum where people would listen. I do not fault them for preaching the Gospel, but I do fault the audience for not listening. After all, according to Ephesians 4, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers do not do the work of service. Rather, the rest of us, those whom they equip, we do the heavy lifting according to Biblical ecclesiology.

When I read words on a church flier like, "$100 Gas Card Door Prize!" and "Hot air balloon ride -- $5", I wonder whether we have forgotten what the work of service is. When Jesus said, "When I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me", I do not think he was speaking of hot air balloons.

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