07 August 2008

Worship service: how the vertical affects the horizontal

by Dan Phillips

The Biblical truths we discussed here and here could be derailed in 417 harmful directions, of which I'd like to discuss two.

First: a pastor could conceivably grasp the truth that his primary audience is the Triune God, and go over the cliff. He could immediately switch over to three-hour lectures, riddled (if he has what it takes) with Latin, Hebrew, and Greek, structured as five heads bristling with ten sub-heads each. He could read through Charnock's Existence and Attributes — in one service! He could mumble, he could scream; he could cajole and abuse and bully. And he could sweep it all under the "God" rug, claiming he's just serving his primary audience.

Equally, the congregation could go over the opposite cliff. They could reason — like Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16) — that they're every bit their (God-appointed) leader's equal, and so they don't need him. They could ignore him, abuse him, dismiss him. They could work around him, they could run roughshod over him. They could work to wear him down, wear him out, demoralize him. They could refuse to pay him, saying God should support him, so he should just trust God.

Both of these equally are the sorts of "what-if's" to which those particularly threatened by either aspect of this Biblical truth spin off. One pastor had spent months and months teaching a church about the Biblical structure of leadership. They all nodded and looked pious; no arguments nor objections were raised. Then he attempted one relatively minor change to the constitution, and was buried under an avalanche of "what-ifs." The business meeting was like "Dawn of the Dead," with the graves opening up to yield "church members" who had not actually attended for many, many years. "What if he has a [big-name secular rock band] come here and do a concert?" was one of the alarmed concerns.

The answer to all this is the same as the answer to most such things: take in the whole Bible, and bring all of it to bear. Never isolate one Biblical truth at the expense of others. (Failure to do this, children, is how heresies are born.)

So when the pastor pursues his primary, vertical relationship, what does the God he is worshiping tell him? "Feed my sheep," He says. "Lead, but don't bear oppressive rule over them. Be an example to them. Reprove and rebuke, yes; but encourage also. Be tender, as a nursing mother. Don't huckster the Word, but use plainness of speech." (Scriptures: John 21:17; Acts 20:27-28; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 2:1, 17; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8; 1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Timothy 4:2; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:3.)

And the congregation? What do they hear when they seek after God, their first love? "Get to know your leaders," He says. "Support them materially. Submit to their leadership, yield and obey. Follow their example. Make it your job to see to it that their oversight of you is a joyful affair, not a burdensome heartbreak." (Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 9:14; Galatians 6:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:7, 17.)

It all comes down to whether we're really seeking God, or whether we're seeking a fantasy of our own creation, and calling it "God."

If the latter, what we bring to worship dictates what we'll take away from it.

If the former, we'll seek to hear all He has to say, in all 66 books.

And that will take care of the "what-if's."

Dan Phillips's signature

29 comments:

Daryl said...

"It all comes down to whether we're really seeking God, or whether we're seeking a fantasy of our own creation, and calling it "God.""

That really says it all, about a lot of things, doesn't it?

SKO said...

The life of the church is one of the manifold reasons I believe in and treasure God's sovereignty. Given the various ambitions, egoes, personalities, pet peeves, prejudices, personalities, and bias of fallen individuals, how could the church survive for over a couple of weeks if THEY were in control? If this were the case, the "gates of hell" would have no problem in their endeavour. Thanks for insight, DJP.

donsands said...

Very nice post. Excellent words. Thanks.

"The business meeting was like "Dawn of the Dead," with the graves opening up to yield "church members" who had not actually attended for many, many years."

This happened at my last church, really. It was amazing in the sense of unbelievable, and horribly nasty.

DJP said...

Oh, I know, Don. You have to wonder, "What is going through these people's minds?!" (If anything.)

I mean, do they think, "By golly, not in MY church — that I never attend, don't support, and to which I break my God-witnessed vow every week of the year!!!"?

I think I'm doing that thing I keep doing that my dear wife tells me to stop doing: looking for rationality where there is none to be found.

Bo Salisbury said...

Occasionally a "what if" or a "what about" is an honest objection or question, but usually it betrays a cynical form of pragmatism. It often means "I know what the Bible says, but it's just not practical..." It's the attempt to find the exception and, then, make the exception the rule. I would see most of the "what ifs" and "whuddubouts" falling under the dangerous habit of despising the Word:

Proverbs 13:13 The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, But the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.

And, if you think about it... if you despise God's Word, aren't you really rejecting the Lord? Saul looked for exceptions... "what about this... what if we keep some of the stuff to sacrifice? That seems like the reasonable, pragmatic thing to do... you, know... honor God with the best." Sounds reasonable... appears wise... looks like the godly thing to do, but:

1 Samuel 15:23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.”

Great post, Dan.

DJP said...

Good points, Bo. Of course, part of being a growing disciple is indeed thinking things through, counting the cost, chewing them over.

I have in mind (as I think you see) cases where what the Bible says is clear, but it's inconvenient or uncongenial. So in these cases the "what-iffer" has the unspoken thought that, if he can pile up enough "what-if's," then he'll look better when he disobeys the command he had no intention of obeying in the first place.

Like the guy (or gal) who doesn't like the flat, unambiguous prohibition of female pastors. So (s)he delivers him/herself of the profundity, "What if a Christian woman astronaut finds people on a distant planet, and wins them to Christ, and there's no man there to pastor them? What then, hah?"

donsands said...

"..looking for rationality where there is none to be found."

Word.

I also found out through this dark episode, that many in the Church, do not like authority, and have a big time problem with the word "leadership".

Being an elder ain't a picnic sometimes; it can be depressing, and incredibly heavy. It's definitly not a tip-toe through the tulips, or a bed of roses.

And that's just a lay elder, the pastor/elders is ratcheted up a few notches.

DJP said...

...many in the Church, do not like authority, and have a big time problem with the word "leadership"

Breaking News. Film at eleven.

(c;

Michael said...

"Support them materially. Submit to their leadership, yield and obey."

OK, I'll admit right up front that I have issues with these. I know, it is scriptural, and I have no problem with them in general...but I do believe we have a duty as stewards of God's blessings to us to spend His resources wisely, to not follow any human blindly, and to "yield and obey"...as long as the leader is leading down a scriptural path.

I know, it sounds like I've covered enough bases that I've built a little sandbox for myself to play in so that I effectively answer to no one but God. But for some reason, this doesn't seem all that self-centered to me...perhaps I'm wrong (I've been wrong before...will be again). To the contrary, I take it as a responsibility to the King to be discerning in these areas.

Support the leadership materially...absolutely. They deserve to live well but not extravagantly so. Money to further the cause of Christ and the Great Commission...certainly. But every new building project and conference doesn't accomplish that goal, and many times only addresses it tangentially, if at all.

Without undermining scriptural pastoral leadership, I do believe we have a responsibility to obey our leaders...unless they are leading us in violation of scripture. We answer ultimately to the King, so we should follow His direction. I don't believe we are EVER to follow a leader in violation of the King's directives for our lives just so they leadership will be joyful in doing so. We have plenty of that with the Joel Olsteen, Jesse Duplantis, and Kenneth Copeland crowd.

OK...let me have it... :-)

Mesa Mike said...

"What if" the pastor might start presenting himself as a leader of the congregation?

Does that say more about the congregants, or the pastor?

I've been to churches where the pastor takes practically no leadership role at all. His Prime Directive seems to be nothing more than to deliver a sermon on Sunday morning.

Steve Lamm said...

Dan,

You wrote: "And the congregation? What do they hear when they seek after God, their first love? "Get to know your leaders," He says. "Support them materially. Submit to their leadership, yield and [Photo]obey. Follow their example. Make it your job to see to it that their oversight of you is a joyful affair, not a burdensome heartbreak.""

After reading that, I have to tell you that I'm a very fortunate man. The people in my congregation do all of those things well.

God has been very good to me in spite of my weaknesses and blunders!

Thanks for these challenging posts.

Steve Lamm

Stefan said...

Michael:

Unless I'm missing something, your position seems reasonable to me. We are answerable to the elders in our church, but they are members in addition to elders, and if one (or more, God forbid) of them should stray from biblical teaching, then it would seem that we are entering into Matthew 18 territory, where the disciplinee (I know, not a word) is not Joe-living-with-his-girlfriend, but Jedediah-the-straying-elder.

Dan:

Are you suggesting by this post that there are some Christians who neglect or misapply scriptural teachings!? I'm truly shocked to learn of this.

;)

Stefan said...

"Reasonable"—yech, there's another word that seems, er, reasonable at first glrance, but in this context, reeks of worldly pragmatism. I should have said "scriptural" (or, to truly have my bases covered, "not unscriptural").

I am assuming that while Paul counsels us to submit to civil authorities no matter how benevolent or malevolent (which is a whole other topic of discussion), there is no similar counsel to continue submitting to spiritual authorities when they "go bad" (to use the vernacular). And since your "bad" is my "good" in these relativistic times, the only rulebook to discern if we have a problem on our hands is the Bible.

Stefan said...

Titus 1:9 seems to address this, in reference to the qualifications for an elder:

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Were an elder to stray from this (or from the other qualifications), then it seems that it would become a matter of church discipline.

Chad V. said...

Stefan If it were a matter of church discipline, what if the church's constitution is written so that the Pastor has final authority? Who disciplines the pastor? That becomes a problem doesn't it? Many churches have had their constitutions adjusted or amended to give deference to the pastor in all matters of controversy.

DJP In the example from the post you gave about the pastor who wanted to make a minor change to the constitution of his church and was inundated with endless "what if's", could you provide us with the specific change that was suggested? What ever it was prompted one member to respond with "What if he has a [big-name secular rock band] come here and do a concert?" If the change prompted such a response perhaps it was a very unscriptural change. Perhaps the pastor was not biblically qualified and should have been challenged.

In my former church we heard a series of messages on the scriptures teaching on giving or tithing. It was really quite good. What followed next though was hardly a scriptural move by the pastors in the church. Are you familiar with Faith Promise? If not then I'll explain. Basically at the beginning of the fiscal year the pastors hand out little cards to the congregation and ask that each member fill out how much they plan to give each week over the next year. There is also this pushy little section at the end that prompts you to trust the Lord to give either 5,10,15 percent extra each week even though you can't afford it. You are told to trust God to provide the means for you to give even beyond your means as you "promised in faith".

This practice amounts to faith in no way at all. It's called testing God. The scripture commands that each is to give as he prospers and with a cheerful heart. There is nothing in scripture about promising to give a certain amount annually and trusting God that he will provide or through any kind of compulsion.

Wouldn't you say that such a program should be challenged through appropriate biblical channels?

yankeerev said...

Dan,

People can agree with us as preachers all day long, but they are not always moved by truth to change something as sacred as a Constitution. To do so means that for all the years we have functioned with this constitution you want to change we have been doing it wrong. Often it comes down to pride and being teachable. From moving from a good constitution to a better one.

All of this is to be done before the One and most important audience. To barrel away and not nurture a congregation through the implications of the truth or to not deal with what they will have to face or come to terms with is often not a process that we pastors are taught in. We can parse a Greek word, but try to parse people and change and we can be quite novice.

There is a balance needed...a God ordained balance...

Chad V. said...

Oh, let me add quickly; We didn't fill out the Faith Promise cards at home and then hand them in. No no. We filled them out in the service while the pastor stood in the pulpit and told us how much of God's blessings you would be missing out on if you didn't step out in faith and give a little extra etc. Basically he guilt tripped us while we filled them out. It was definitely a high pressure sales pitch.

Solameanie said...

"Dawn of the dead."

LOL. I think there was a Vincent Price movie called "The Last Man on Earth." I could see Dan running through the streets with zombified church-lady types running after him. Only instead of "Morgan . . . Morgan . . . " they'd be shouting "Phillips . . . Phillips."

That's an image that's going to be stuck in my forehead for some time.

Stefan said...

Chad V.:

I agree. If biblical remdies for these kinds of situations cannot be applied, that does become a problem.

donsands said...

"Perhaps the pastor was not biblically qualified and should have been challenged." -Chad

I think the premise is that God has His pastors leading His sheep.

Biblically we are talking about proven pastors, who are faithful servants of God, who surely have sin, and miscues in their service as called pastors to feed the Lord's sheep.

As an elder, along with two pastors, and another elder, we had some difficult decesions to make, for the Gospel's sake, and for the church's sake. But the church didn't like it too much.
Did we make some mistakes? Yes. Were our hearts set upon the Lord, and good of the people? Yes. Did we have our own agenda? No.
Did some in the church, and some who wreen't in the church, but all of a sudden were in the church, have an agenda? Yes.

The respect for the elders went from high, to nothing for some. The congragtion took a vote on whether the pastors and elders should stay in office. Just a few months before, I was revoted in unainmously. This vote was 2/3 for and 1/3 against.
It was very hard. Bitterness came in, and is still here. Though the Lord has helped me to fight this bitterness, and hate my sin, and love those who resented me.

I don't know if this helps really.

Young Calvinist said...

I'm hoping to go to seminary one day to serve as a local church pastor so your series on what the minister is was very insightful. I think a good set of caveats are very important.

Chad V. said...

donsands I see your point and I agree with you entirely. No church is going to handle every situation perfectly and if we are charitable toward one another and we handle all controversies according to scripture things will turn out fine. In fact it would be silly to think that everything will go without a hitch. The way we handle a difficulty within the local church may go far in proving our Christian character and shed light on areas that are yet lacking. Also, glad to hear that you have been voted back into the eldership at your church. That is good news.

It's just that the example given in the post proper made me sort of scratch my head a little. The reaction given seemed a bit extreme for a "minor change" leading me to wonder what the change was. After all, a change to a church's constitution should not be taken lightly. Even a minor change could have huge ramifications depending what exactly was changed.

donsands said...

"glad to hear that you have been voted back into the eldership at your church."

I stepped down. The reasons are more than the turmoil at church. Though to have a church where love and forgiveness abounds would be nice, instead of scheming and politics, which is what the church became.

The by-laws became equal to the Bible, and it got quite ugly. This particular church has since split, all five elders stepped down, and I am attending a new church. Christ Fellowship Church.

God is sovereign. And what you said about, "proving our Christian character", was spot on. God allows this strife for the great purpose of showing us our hearts, and letting us see how ugly they are, and so we can repent, and grow in his grace and love; become more committed to His Word and prayer; and learn how to forgive in a more genuine way.

Susan said...

Chad V. said: "Oh, let me add quickly; We didn't fill out the Faith Promise cards at home and then hand them in. No no. We filled them out in the service while the pastor stood in the pulpit and told us how much of God's blessings you would be missing out on if you didn't step out in faith and give a little extra etc. Basically he guilt tripped us while we filled them out. It was definitely a high pressure sales pitch."

Chad, I don't see a problem with "Faith Promise" IF--and here's the BIG "if":

1. The pastor comes straight out and asks for more financial support for certain ministries and explains (or describes) the extent of need to the church members in a clear fashion;

2. He explains clearly that the giving is between each individual person and the Lord, that each person should weigh his or her personal financial need before giving, and that the giving should be done voluntarily/cheerfully and not under compulsion;

3. He makes no promise that if the members gave, God would indeed bless them with an overflowing bank account, etc. (as if God could be bribed); AND

4. He leaves it up to the church members to fill out the cards on their own and turn them in within the set time.

In fact, I was at a church service when the pastor directly asked for support for the missionaries and passed out the cards within the boundaries I mentioned above. Yes, he did ask the congregants to trust the Lord for His care (for material things), but he was not manipulative or coercive and left it up to the congregants to prayerfully consider their possible giving while keeping in mind their own financial situation. There was no guilt trip whatsoever.

Oh, I almost forgot: he also didn't preach on the importance of tithing that day!!

Susan said...

Trying to steer my previous comment back to the topic a little here....

The aforementioned pastor serves in a church that is governed by a body of God-fearing elders who care about God's glory and His people. That makes all the difference in the world.

Barbara said...

Good words, but also good points brought up in the discussion on two points -

Michael talked about following the leadership of and obeying the church leaders (and then there was the thing about women being silent)

WHAT IF...(not hypothetically, but in the reality of a really rural little Arminian southern Baptist corner of a fallen world) -- what if you're a *gasp* divorced woman in a wonderfully loving but equally busy congregation of about 30 people and your pastor has to be prompted by you, the divorced working woman with no family and the only Calvinist in a 50-mile radius (guessing) to move beyond the narrow tunnel vision of turning every Bible verse into a version of the Great Commission?

What do the Mary Magdalenes do without solid male leadership in their churches and communities?

Stefan said...

Barbara:

First of all, remember that Elijah thought he was all alone, until God revealed to him otherwise (1 Kings 19:9-18).

Secondly, God have mercy on me, but the only thing that troubles me in your scenario is that the woman in question is the only Calvinist in a 50-mile radius.

The examples of Deborah (Judges 4) and Lois and Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5) seem to suggest that there is some place for a woman to play a role in the guidance of a man. And in the case of Mary Magdalene (since you mentioned her), she played a pivotal role in the unfolding of God's redemptive plan, communicating as she did (along with the other women) the glorious news to the Apostles of Jesus Christ's resurrection.

I'm not quite sure how this squares with 1 Timothy 2:12 (and the former are all stories, whereas the latter is direct counsel—and there's an exegetical rule about these kinds of things), but the perspecuity of Scripture behooves us to find a way to reconcile all these passages, in such a way as to not contradict the express or implied principles behind any one of them. I'll leave that to wiser and more discerning readers than myself.

The woman in your scenario is not even actively attempting to take on a preaching role, but as the only Calvinist in a 50-mile radius, attempting to communicate biblical teachings to her pastor. If God chose to lift the veil from before the eyes of one believer in a community, it's not at all inconceivable that He did so, so that that one believer would in turn communicate the clear meaning of His Word to others.

Oh, and I would advise her to pray that God would bring her into contact with other like-minded men and women.

(Caveat: Having come from a egalitarian perspective before I was saved, I have to be careful in how I divide the Word in this area. I still feel weird looking at things from a complementarian viewpoint. If I'm on the wrong track in my comments, I'm open to correction from others.)

Barbara said...

Very thoughtful answer, Stephan. Thank you for that.

It's very rural here, as I mentioned - I live in the midst of farmland between two towns of about 2500 each. There aren't many people in that 50-mile radius, but it is in the middle of the Bible Belt, we have a gazillion southern Baptist churches and I was raised with the altar calls - decisional regeneration is the Gospel according to these folks....it is only through the utter failure of that in my own life and God's grace really saving me that showed me the error of that.

My pastor is coming along and beginning to acknowledge that the "decision for Christ" - um - "has to be real and from the heart" for it to "really save you". Work yet to be done, but at least he's moved away from counting every prayer prayed as another soul for heaven.

Baby steps...we need some good hard-hitting Reformed revival speakers in small-town south Georgia. Badly. You're right - I do feel alone in that, having to tread water carefully because I am a woman, and a new convert not wanting to fall into error, and simply wanting to live Biblically. God has been gracious and wonderful and I don't want to be guilty of running off on my own agenda in my own way rather than waiting on Him.

And again - thank you.

Patrick Durkee said...

I believe Michael raised an interesting point with this comment:

"Without undermining scriptural pastoral leadership, I do believe we have a responsibility to obey our leaders...unless they are leading us in violation of scripture."

I agree with his point, that we certainly shouldn't follow a pastor who is leading in violoation of scripture. However, that being said, I've (as a pastor) had a member of my congregation take issue with how I translated one Greek word of scripture (even though he had no training in Greek). He certainly has every right to believe that I was translating it wrong, since that's his opinion. Where I believe he erred was that he then used that as an excuse to do what Michael was referring to, and said that since I was in error (according to him) on that one point, he shouldn't have to follow me on anything.

Patrick
www.theologyofomaha.com