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Men & the Ministry

10 Mar

I am going to continue posting some of the late Dr. John Stott’s views on the pastorate and I will use the words ‘ministry’ & ‘minister’ as a synonym here for pastorate/pastor as it is just easier and we all have a very good idea what is meant by the terms ‘ministry/minister.’ Again, I like a lot of his thoughts, which will be posted here, but there are some that leave me scratching my head as they seem to contradict his own points at times in the same paragraph. These quotes come from his book Guard the truth and from his section on Titus.

#1.First, the elder…and the bishop…were the same person. They are not two distinct church offices. (pg. 174)

It may seem like a pointless clarification but in reality it tells us that certain denominations’ usage of the terms is misleading and not truly biblical. When the biblical authors use the different terms we can know that they are talking about the same position in the church and not establishing a hierarchical order to the church.

#2. Secondly, God intended each church to have a team of overseers. (pg. 174)

First, I agree with Dr. Stott on God’s intention for his church. That the church has a true leader is God ordained and not man-made is vital in how we look at the position of minister or the minister. We can then see the importance of the position and respond accordingly, biblically and not rebelliously as those who opposed Moses did when they questioned his leadership.

But I do not agree with the idea of a team. I think that word reflects a borrowing from sports and has no place in God’s leadership. At no time do we see God appoint ‘a team’ to lead his church. He got angry when Moses asked for help so we need to be careful in how we handle the framework of the office of minister. This point though is one of those places where Dr. Stott seems to disagree with himself as he continues in the next quote

#3. For Titus was told to appoint ‘elders’ in every town. This might mean a single elder in each house-church… But it could mean that there were several presbyters in each church… So the one-person pastorate… is not a New Testament model of the local church. it is rather in a team ministry can be found for different people with different gifts… (pg. 174)

So which is it, a one elder house church or a team for a church?  Then if it is the former why is this not a model for the local church? Sadly, he does not explain. Needless to say, some local churches cannot afford more than one minister to lead them.

#4. Thirdly, the main function of presbyter-bishops was to care for God’s people by teaching them. In Verse 7 the overseer is called God’s steward, dispensing food to the household, and elsewhere a ‘pastor’ or ‘shepherd’, who leads his flock into good pasture. (pg. 174)

I like this concept but sadly it is a train of thought that has long been lost by many in the ministry today. To many church leaders evangelism has taken priority over ‘feed my sheep’ an admonition made by Jesus himself.

#5. Fourthly, the selection of presbyters-bishops was a corporate responsibility. (pg. 174)

I like this idea because a church leader affects all of the congregation not just the leadership committee. The whole congregation should have a say in who gets to lead them as long as they are listening to God in their decision-making process. We have no guarantee that the search committee is listening to God when they make their private selection, so opening this duty up to all members of the church is only a benefit not a hindrance to filling the pulpit.

#6. As we approach the question of eligibility for the pastorate, we are struck at once by the requirement of blamelessness…This does not of course mean that candidates must be flawless or faultless, or we would all be disqualified… however means not ‘without blemish’ but ‘without blame’, ‘unaccused’. So candidates for the pastorate must be people of unquestioned integrity, of unimpeachable or irreproachable character. (pg. 175)

I like this definition because it tells us how seriously God takes the position of minister. This position is of such great importance only certain kinds of men can fill its shoes. As Stott says, the reputation of the man is very important.

#7. The conclusion reached there is that it is not intended to exclude from the pastorate either those who have never married or remarried widowers, but rather the polygamous and those who have remarried after divorce. (pg. 175)

Dr. Stott’s point comes from the words ‘the husband of one wife.’ Unfortunately, he does not offer an explanation of why he includes never married men in those who are qualified to be a minister and why he excludes divorced men who have remarried. These might be personal criteria or conclusions and I will disagree with him on his application of those words, ‘husband of one wife.’

We find no biblical teaching in other passages of scripture that includes single men or excludes divorced men from the ministry. A remarried divorced man is still a ‘husband of one wife’. And I wonder how he would handle those men who were divorced against their will? Should they be disqualified from the ministry because of an action that is not their fault or responsibility?

I am beginning to feel that if we get to nit picky on the details of whom those words apply we will be instituting human criteria or personal feelings to God’s position and not following God’s will. This does not mean that we rubber stamp every never married or remarried divorced man’s application. We need to be wise and discerning concerning those we hire to minister in the church as pastor.

#8. Not overbearing means not ‘self-willed, stubborn or arrogant.’ Leadership roles bring prestige and power and leaders are tempted to misuse these in order to get their own way and pander to their own vanity.’ (pg. 177)

Ministers will be tempted during the performing of their duties thus we must be careful and check their character before offering them the vacant position.  Then we need to put them on the prayer list as there is no guarantee that some men will not change during their career as a minister. It does happen and has happened.

#9. Pastors should be motivated by service, not by greed (pg. 177)

I whole-heartily agree though this attitude should not be used as justification to pay the man a lot less than he should be paid. This attitude also does not mean that a man checking the salary to see if it is sufficient for his and his family’s needs is not being greedy. He is being prudent and looking after his family.

#10. Secondly, let us maintain Paul’s standards. When there is a shortage of pastors, the temptation is to lower the standards of eligibility and accept and appoint everybody who applies even if they are not blameless in home life, behavior and doctrine. (pg. 184)

This is another part of Dr. Stott’s views that seems to contradict himself. In The 1 Timothy section, he argues for a cultural flexibility for hiring women as pastors yet here he is declaring that we need to ‘maintain Paul’s standards.’ How can we maintain Paul’s standards when we are bending them to appease a gender who is not allowed to hold such positions?

It would seem that hiring women would violate his plea to not lower those standards because of a shortage of qualified men.While I agree with him that we should not lower Paul’s standards, I will disagree with him and state that we cannot bend them either in order to appease secular cultural trends.

#11. Instead, in some churches today it is no barrier to ordination that a candidate has a public reputation for a lack of Christian integrity and consistency; is married, divorced, remarried, even more than once; is a practicing homosexual; has children who are both unbelieving and undisciplined; has a serious flaw in character or conduct; or holds liberal theological views with little respect for the authority of Scripture. it is something of a scandal that, in defiance of the apostle’s teaching, such persons are recommended and accepted for ordination. (pg. 184)

Yet violating Paul’s teaching is acceptable when culture demands a woman be hired instead of a man for a ministerial position. This is the problem in this issue. Even good church leaders are swayed by cultural trends instead of sticking with the word of God over such demands. if we allow women, then divorced and remarried men and other questionable candidates should be acceptable as well.

What ruins this issue is this hypocrisy when it comes to gender qualifications and restrictions. Serious flaws in character and conduct can be repaired and changed via the redemptive work of Christ and those who hold liberal theological views can repent of such thinking thus we should not be so hard on these men if they express a willingness to seek God’s way over their current condition.

Then, divorce and remarriage are not the unforgivable sins thus the church should not act like they are. We need to be discerning in this issue and most likely need to deal with these applicants on a case by case basis. We need to find out when those divorces occurred, the circumstances behind them and the spiritual state the man was in when such acts took place.

Simply disqualifying people based upon one’s personal views of divorce is unjust and unfair. It also places personal ideas above God’s call on the person’s life. We need to be cautious in our job search for ministers and the criteria we use to see if they are the person God’ wants in the pulpit.

In general, Dr. Stott’s views on men in the ministry are quite good and only have a few areas that are misleading, not because he erred on purpose or turned his back on God but merely out of his own ignorance on the issue or some influence on his thinking.  I am not going to toss the baby out with the bath water when it comes to Dr. Stott and his views. His misleading ideas do not trump those points of his which contain the truth and are very insightful and biblical.

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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in academics, Bible, church, faith, leadership, theology

 

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