19 June 2008

Preacher, lay down your cards

by Dan Phillips

I alluded earlier to a pastor who played the "guidance of the Holy Spirit" trump-card pretty heavily. It wasn't the only such card in his deck, though. He could also point out to us that he had been studying Greek for thirty years. Nobody could match that. Most of us hadn't even been alive for thirty years.

(I reflect that now I myself have been studying it for about thirty-five years. But that wouldn't matter; were he still with us, he would have been studying it for sixty-five years, and I'd still be handily trumped.)

He was a caring, patient man, and indeed very intelligent and learned. But this had the effect of putting any possibility of challenging him out of reach by two removes : (1) the Holy Spirit directly guided him; since we had no access to that private pipeline, we couldn't question it; and (2) he'd been studying Greek since well before I was born.

This sort of brow-beating within a church isn't much of the spirit of Paul, who said, "Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith" (2 Corinthians 1:24). He didn't lord it over their faith, not because the Corinthians were so bright and stable (they were neither), but because they were a priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9).

The Biblical truth about the priesthood of all believers isn't a note from Mom, excusing juvenile, chip-on-the-shoulder rebels from respecting Divinely-instituted authority (Romans 13:1-8; Hebrews 13:7, 17; etc.). It isn't about authority at all. It means that each of us approaches God directly, and is ultimately accountable to Him.

A practical application of this truth was brought to my mind tangentially in a book I'm reading, Thinking Like Your Editor. The author is explaining how to make a good case, an argument. Her second point stood out: "All your conclusions must come out of the facts you make available to the reader on the page." She elaborates:
For every conclusion there must be a trail of facts available in the text. I mean on the page, capable of being independently evaluated by the reader (p. 130)
She is talking about writing, but I immediately saw an application to preaching.

A chief way to avoid browbeating or lording it over a flock illegitimately is simply to lay your cards on the table, and let the case stand on the evidence.

I think that all of my hearers, in 30-odd years of preaching and teaching, would bear me out that I never base a sermon or a major case on anything out of their reach. Of course, I'll utilize the fruits of my training to illustrate, underline, add color and focus. But I'd be thunderstruck if anyone could ever point to a sermon in which I said anything approaching, "You can't possibly understand this because you don't know Hebrew / don't know Greek / haven't studied theology / don't have a degree / didn't hear God's still small voice like I did. You'll just have to take my word for it."

The training is a tool to use for my own understanding, and to help my hearers. It isn't a meat chub.

The honest and honoring approach to preaching is to lay it out for the priesthood to see. Make your case from facts in evidence. Lay out the texts, and look at them with your hearers. You're like an expert guide in an art museum, pointing out minute touches and flourishes — but as soon as you point them out, your audience sees them too! You aren't saying, "This is invisible to all eyes but mine, so you simply must trust me." Instead, you observe, "Maybe you didn't notice this stroke, this figure in the shadows, this perspective; but here's what that signifies."

Our aim is to be able to say, with Paul,
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:2-4)
Now, do I speak to pastors only? Not at all.

You have been, are, or likely will be in the position of looking for a church. Consider this as you weigh preachers. Does he lay it out for you, in a manner befitting an honest man openly serving God by serving the priesthood?

Or does he base major points on mysteries, deep knowledge, revelations, visions, special in-depth studies, things you have no possible way of seeing nor verifying?

If the latter, my advice would be to head out the door, and never turn back.

Dan Phillips's signature

56 comments:

Lilith said...

Dan Phillips: The Biblical truth about the priesthood of all believers isn't a note from Mom, excusing juvenile, chip-on-the-shoulder rebels from respecting Divinely-instituted authority. It isn't about authority at all. It means that each of us approaches God directly, and is ultimately accountable to Him.

None of us approaches God directly, but only through the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ. None of us are ultimately accountable to God, but Christ substitutes his perfect record for our blemished record into the divine retributive mechanism. So the priesthood of all believers is one and same with the priesthood of Christ, because when we are justified we put to death our self, the "man of sun", and allow Christ to abide in us. We have eternal life because Christ lives his risen life in us.

Does he lay it out for you, in a manner befitting an honest man openly serving God by serving the priesthood? Or does he base major points on mysteries, deep knowledge, revelations, visions, special in-depth studies, things you have no possible way of seeing nor verifying?

One of the oldest heresies is Gnosticismm, which preaches salvation through special knowledge revealed by men rather than through the free gift of God. The gospel is simple enough for a child to grasp, without recourse to Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic or Latin.

Luke 10:21 "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight."

Lilith said...

Typo: that's "Man of Sin"

Mike said...

There's another level that's more challenging to pastors beyond simply laying down the cards. That's to be ensamples (Php 3:17), patterns (Titus 2:7), to the flock. That means being transparent in your lifestyles by including references to it in your sermons. It's challenging because you have to internalize the truths in the Bible in order to show a pattern to others.

But there's yet another level: a pastor must be led by the HS. That means baptism in the HS, about which there is already disagreement.

The preisthood aspect has application in both ecclesiastical and domestic realms.

Nice post.

donsands said...

"The training is a tool to use for my own understanding, and to help my hearers."

And it's well appreciated my pastor brother in Christ.

Another fine teaching.

The Lord gives us gifts and thorns to keep us balanced, and make us humble.
He gave Paul a thorn, and so He will lovingly apply the right thorns for us as well. Or perhaps use us as a thorn.

JackW said...

“If the latter, my advice would be to head out the door, and never turn back.”

Every time I “head out the door,” I run smack into Frank who has that “get back in there” look on his face.

;)

Mike said...

lilith:
You've said on your blog that you'll let your posts answer my question which I posed to you. You are exposing yourself as ignorant of the Bible, and you've done it several times.

Mike said...

I should probably add that the post applies to the flock, too, in many respects.

DJP said...

Mike yet again: But there's yet another level: a pastor must be led by the HS. That means baptism in the HS, about which there is already disagreement.

1. A pastor should be led by the High School?

2. If by "HS" you mean "Holy Spirit," I'm not much on abbreviation for the names of God. If it's too much trouble to write the name, then please save your strength for other tasks.

3. Yes, a pastor should be a Christian. And since baptism with the Holy Spirit is definitional for Christian faith, that follows as well.

4. I'm beginning to think that you and Lilith have more in common than you may think.

David Castor said...

Where are your cards with respect to the assertion that understanding the Bible operates according to the principles of deductive logic? Surely God predates Aristotle?

Mike said...

Yes, surely. But I didn't see a reference to logic in the post.

DJP said...

Since David Castor seems to be unable to help himself, we do allow him one off-kilter "meep-meep" per day. This would be it.

David: 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 might help you. I hope so.

Lilith said...

Mike: You've said on your blog that you'll let your posts answer my question which I posed to you. You are exposing yourself as ignorant of the Bible, and you've done it several times.

Mike, at first I thought I better not respond to this one, because it would break #5. But I see a way to tie in to the topic. Your standing question is whether or not I'm a Christian. In your comment, you allege that I have demonstrated ignorance of the Bible on more than one occasion, which I take to mean that I am ignorant of the "true interpretation" of the Bible, since a person who had a literal ignorance of the plain text of the Bible would not be accompany her posts with biblical citations. If that answers your question, then you are saying a person's Christianity depends on knowing the true meaning of the Bible. So you bypass the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and set up a kind of Magisterium where a few gatekeepers dole out their special knowledge of those scriptures which bring us to salvation. And I disagree with that strongly.

Mike Riccardi said...

Great post, Dan.

When you think about what people like this guy you're describing are saying about God and the Gospel by presenting it so mysteriously, it's actually quite scary.

You're looking at the glorious simplicity of the Gospel of Christ and saying its casually complex. You're actually muddling the content of the Gospel and hiding it from people by your method of presentation. I think that's the sine qua non of "lording it over" people. Take the clear Gospel, and distort it so they can't follow or lean on it, so they need you.

And then about God. If the Gospel is indeed glorious in its simplicity, then that means its simplicity reflects a divine purpose. That is, God wanted it that way. He wants it that way because, by nature, He is a benevolent God who desires to make himself known, to communicate his fullness, to be marveled at and enjoyed. When you start saying that God hasn't revealed Himself sufficiently even for the "babes," as Lilith referenced, you're saying that God is stingy with Himself, and that He wants us to jump through hoops to demonstrate some threshold level of 'something' to prove to Him that we're worthy of receiving His revelation. But that's just patently false. Is there a more non-stingy, generous, merciful, good, and benevolent God than ours, who, as you've been quoting, "has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ"? And is there a God who hates partiality more than ours, that He would base His revelation not on His grace (i.e., not on Himself), but on anything else?

μὴ γένοιτο!

As you've pointed out, these are important messages for anyone in leadership as well as anyone under leadership to enjoy the glory of Christ presented by the simplicity of the Gospel, given by a God who mercifully desires that we all partake of His fullness. How awesome is that?

VcdeChagn said...

Now how did you know to write this the day after some friends walked out of a church in the middle of a sermon for a very similar'ish reason.

When they went back to get some posessions left there (the husband was a drummer), the pastor said "I knew you were going to leave. The Holy Ghost told me so. It's because your children needed to hear this message."

And for the record, 7 and 6 year olds don't need to hear the "Fred Phelps slang word for homosexual" from the pulpit...or from anywhere for that matter.

I told them "Maybe it's because you needed to get out of that church."

Glory to God! :)

DJP said...

For the record: Frank's stance on leaving a church has been alluded to. Whatever differences there might be between Frank and me on that issue (and i suspect they're minor, if any), I'd just point out that in this post I was referring to somebody who is looking for a church. I neither sited nor had in mind any specific circumstances, beyond maybe having moved into a new community.

JackW said...

All joking (and a poor joke at that) aside Dan, I agree with what you’ve said and it seems to fall in line with something that I am re-reading at this time; Body Life by Ray Stedman.

What really gets me to stop and think is this idea that one guy in one body can hold so much sway in so many things. What about the rest of the body? What about the other elders in the body? Why is so much put on this one super elder?

DJP said...

Perhaps I'll post one day on "the other side" of this truth. There's no doubt in my mind that Scripture depicts the office of elder is a significant office meant for decisive leadership in the church body. I'm not an amoebitarian. But the sort of thing I'm critiquing in this post is not that.

believer said...
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Bible Burgh said...

Great reference/illustration on the museum DJP. Having just been on a trip to Washington, D.C. with my son's 8th grade class, we had a tour guide who was very knowledgeable and wanted to transfer that knowledge to us, with passion and authenticity of truth . . . a great thing for all preachers and teachers to do . . .

Bible Burgh

"Hear Dan Phillips on Bible Burgh at www.wordfm.com, Sunday night June 22 and 29th at 9pm!"

Dave .... said...

Would it be too much to say that good preaching/teaching is like some of the shows on the Food Network? The best of them not only presents you with the finished dish, but also tells you how it was prepared. Even if you don't "get it", you have enough information to work through it yourself. There are no secret ingredients or methods (except in really outstanding BBQ) and any clear thinking person can arrive at similar results using just the normal conventions of the trade.

Now, in preaching, the "trade" is communication and we observe the rules of speech, literature, language, logic, etc. We do stipulate that we are dealing with revealed truth and we bow to its authority. Done right, the sheep we feed will learn to feed themselves and it moves them into a more priestly standing before their God.

And BTW, Alton Brown rocks. You, too, Dan.

DJP said...

Actually, Alton Brown really does rock. And it says here he's a born-again Christian. My whole family (ages 8 to me) loves his stuff; so, being classed with him is... nice, in a kind of weird way.

(c:

Solameanie said...

Dan,

I am surprised no one has yet chided you for the use of playing cards in your graphics.

My grandmother wouldn't allow playing cards in the house -- those tools of the devil! How utterly un-Baptist of you!

(Tongue firmly planted in cheek)

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Matt said...

Phenomenal post, Dan. Terrific. If all preachers would follow the guidelines you lay down, then we'd automatically rule out a lot of the "me-centred" errors that are so common in North American evangelicalism...

Jim Crigler said...

If I didn't know better, I'd guess that Phil got you to post this so he could pick up his long-promised (lo! these thirty months or so — almost as old as the Hamburger Helper™ debate itself) series on personal revelation (making specific reference in due time to the teachings of Gothard and Blackaby).

DJP said...

Yes, of course.

Because we all know that I never write on the subject of semi-hemi-demi revelation even once, let alone again and again!

(c;

LeeC said...

One of the side issues that came to mind reading this is just how important a plurality of elders, and lack of a "King elder" is.

i.e. a group of qualified men who consider each other as more important than themselves who hold one another accountable.

We are all prone to some form of self deception. being a pastor is heady stuff rife with pitfalls. And issues that no one man should have to face alone in the body of Christ.

There should be no Lone Ranger Christians...even less so should there be any Lone Ranger pastors.

Josh said...

I am not sure this is appropriate or not but I also wonder about the fact that there is a strong backlash against authority structures in the modern church. People almost despise the fact that pastors would insuate some kind of authority or shepherding over their lives.

I believe this has contributed to many pastors asserting themselves in the wrong way because they feel they have no respect from the congregation at large.

I will never forget what my mentor said to me when I left for my own ministry - use your weaknesses for God's glory. This has become more and more true for me as I spend more time serving in ministry.

I will say this though - it is a scary thing to be vunerable to the point of being open to criticism and rebuke.

Tim Bertolet said...

DJP Perhaps I'll post one day on "the other side" of this truth. There's no doubt in my mind that Scripture depicts the office of elder is a significant office meant for decisive leadership in the church body.

I thought is was a great use of the 'one side' of the truth of the priesthood of believers. The preacher should find anything in the text that other people couldn't find as well.

I for one would love to hear the other side elaborated. It amazes me how popular this misunderstanding of the priesthood is so that it is used to argue against elders and preachers and everything else 'pagan'.

Martin Luther: "The devil has no better way to conquer us than by leading us away from the Word and to the Spirit."

Thanks Dan for leading us to the Word.

Mike said...

Martin Luther: "The devil has no better way to conquer us than by leading us away from the Word and to the Spirit."

Divide and conquer, that's the method he uses.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Great Post, DJP.... as usual!

Josh: "I am not sure this is appropriate or not but I also wonder about the fact that there is a strong backlash against authority structures in the modern church. People almost despise the fact that pastors would insuate some kind of authority or shepherding over their lives."

Satan didn't like God's authority either. The phenomena you observe has been a constant throughout history. However, I will hypothesize that this negative trend that you've witnessed in the Church in America has accelerated tremendously since the advent of radical feminism in the 1960's and its incursion into the churches through evangelical feminism, aka egalitarianism.

Stefan said...

It seems the "You don't know enough to understand" line works with liberal theologians as well. You can't "understand" the Bible "properly" unless you have a BA in Comparative Religion and an MA in Jungian Psychology.

Rick Frueh said...

And those that seemed somewhat in conference added nothing to me.

Rick Frueh said...

The old preacher said he would rather hear a man say "I seen the goodness of God" when he has, then a man say "I have seen the goodness of God" when that man hasn't seen anything.

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Susan said...

Mike Riccardi: "I think that's the sine qua non of "lording it over" people. Take the clear Gospel, and distort it so they can't follow or lean on it, so they need you....When you start saying that God hasn't revealed Himself sufficiently even for the "babes,"...you're saying that...He wants us to jump through hoops to demonstrate some threshold level of 'something' to prove to Him that we're worthy of receiving His revelation. But that's just patently false."


IOW, PRIDE is the culprit here. Even though layman Christians can harbor pride and do much damage (I, sadly, have done so), it is even more dangerous for the preacher to be prideful because of his position and responsibility. At this I remember Jesus's exhortation for all who labor and are heavily burdened to go to him and learn from him who is gentle and lowly in heart (Mt. 11:28-30). THAT should be the heart of a preacher--gentle and lowly, doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with his God (Micah 6:8). (Yet I cringe when I meditate on these verses to see how short I fall from these standards, even though I'm not a preacher!)

Susan said...

BTW, Alton Brown IS fun to watch--when my brain isn't too tired. He has a knack of making simple cooking into a much more complicated activity--in a fun way--with his chemistry models and homemade gadgets!

Puritan said...

All good preaching is done with simplicity and faithfulness to the text, something the one you are posting about seems to lack.

theoldadam said...

I've always thought that a preacher should know how to wield that two-edged sword that God gives us.

He ought ust it to slay us and then to raise us.

God's law to kill us off and then the gospel to raise us again from the dead.

And administer the sacraments in accordance with that gospel.

If He does those things (in good order), I don't really care whether he's a nice man, or a jerk. But I have a right to expect those things.

- Steve Martin

Susan said...

"I've always thought that a preacher should know how to wield that two-edged sword that God gives us.
He ought ust it to slay us and then to raise us....If He does those things (in good order), I don't really care whether he's a nice man, or a jerk. But I have a right to expect those things."

I agree with the saying that a good preacher should be able to "wield that double-edged sword" from God--not out of his own smarts or craftiness but out of the wisdom that God has given him in the Word. However, I can't say I wouldn't care whether he's a jerk or not, as long as he can preach. If he acts as a jerk consistently, I'd wonder about his qualifications as a preacher in the first place(cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7). Of course, the people on the receiving end of the preaching should strive to be good Bereans and live according to God's Word, despite the preacher. (I think I better stop here--many have already shared their comments on related subject ["Jonah's Preaching" post] two days ago!)

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lawrence said...

good stuff.

Ben said...

I appreciate posts like this that encourage my young 20 something self to restrain my education not to Lord over others and my peers, but to build them up.

Gilbert said...

Dan,

Thank you for this encouraging and guiding post. In our ministry training, the "final exam" is to write a sermon. And I'm, um, slacking because a) I've been busy, b) didn't Paul say something about "if you teach, you will be judged more strictly"? Or maybe even get beaten with a meat chub if you blow it? :-)

Well, guess what. I got "distracted" from writing this post after reading yours, and finished my sermon. Now, I get to preach it. Yikes. I'm scared. Oh, I can talk on a stage to a billion people, that doesn't bother me. It's James 3:1...

Jack said...

Some evangelical preachers cite Greek the way old-line Roman Catholic priests chanted Latin. It was a mystery language to 99% of the cheers, and gave the speaker leverage in an argument.

People who get even a little bit of training in Greek soon learn that it doesn't suddenly answer all your questions, like a teacher's answer key book. After all, the best Catholic scholars know N.T. Greek, and they're still teaching Catholic doctrine anyway. Protestant theologians argue about a lot of things, even though they all know how to use the standard Greek helps. We're all still forced to do hermeneutics.

So two answers to your trump-playing former pastor would have been, "You still have to interpret the Greek; after all, there are lots of other people who know Greek who don't agree with you"; and, "Are you saying mall the English translations are so bad that none of us have access to the Word of God?" It sounds to me like your former pastor just said that out of pride, in order to set his peculiar opinions outside the realm of normal testing.

Jack said...

That should be "hearers"; and why listen at all to a woman who names herself after a Hebrew demon? (Lilith)

Lilith said...
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DJP said...

Lilith, a reminder: you have an email from the three of us to which you must respond via email, before posting further on this site.

Teresita said...

Truth Unites said, "I will hypothesize that this negative trend that you've witnessed in the Church in America has accelerated tremendously since the advent of radical feminism in the 1960's and its incursion into the churches through evangelical feminism, aka egalitarianism."

Feminism asserts the equality of men and women through legal reform. One might make the case that Calvary was the ultimate legal reform, and afterwards there is no longer "male and female" but we are all one in Christ Jesus.

DJP said...

No, feminism is formally premised on the interchangeability of male and female, rages against God's created and mandated order, and seeks reform through legal means. The Cross affirms neither of those fairy tales.

And you're both off-topic, except insofar as feminism is indeed simply another form of rebellion against God's authority... which is, at best, very tangential to the post.

Daryl said...

I'm not a pastor nor the son of a pastor...

But it seems to me that the very best of men in the pulpit are the ones who admit that they must preach the text first to themselves. My church is blessed to have a man who preaches the word as it is written and if it's hard for him and us to hear, then hard it must be. But he doesn't avoid it.

I think that's what you're after. If it's in Scripture, understand it and teach it so that those listening can go back to the Scripture itself and see what was taught right there in the text.

DJP said...

Absolutely, Daryl. I've often assured my hearers, with absolute sincerity, that the text bloodied me well before it laid a glove on them.

S. Todd Young said...

My Greek professor said, "Your study of the languages should be like underwear; it should support you, but it should never be seen!"

:-)

Caron said...

The last paragraph reminds me of WoF teachers... Justin Peters spoke at my church (Grace) last fall on this movement and comes highly recommended by Dr. MacArthur...

See: http://www.justinpeters.org