Thursday, August 18, 2011

How shall they hear? Exhortation Four: Sent and Authorized Preachers

I began last Sunday's message, How shall they hear? (Romans 10:14-15) by noting: "Today I stand as a preacher who is going to speak to you about a preacher, the apostle Paul, who wrote about the centrality of preaching." At the end of the message I offered four closing exhortations. Here is the fourth of the four:

Fourth:  This passage implies that God’s preachers are only those especially sent and authorized by the Lord himself.

I realize that some might be offended by this last statement. We live in a democratic, egalitarian age. The evangelical church has been influenced by the Brethren and Quaker notions that there should be no distinctions within the body of believers between the officers (teaching elders or pastors) who have set apart vocationally for prayer and the ministry of the word and the people (Greek laos, the root of the English word "laity").

In 1 Kings 12:31 among the indictments against King Jeroboam who corrupted Israel’s worship was this:  "And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi."

Romans 10:14-15, however, runs against the current of what we might call an “open pulpit.” Those authorized to preach are those who have been sent by God Himself. They have been gifted by God. They have been called by God. They have been set apart by God for this task.

I recently read an article written in 1876 by the old Reformed stalwart R. L. Dabney titled “Lay-Preaching” in which he had the temerity or maybe we should call it the courage to question the then growing popular preaching of D. L. Moody, an unordained lay preacher of the times, and other lay preachers. Dabney wrote: “If love and duty to Christ prompt them to preach as laymen, we see not how the same affections can fail to draw them into the ministry” (Discussions, Vol. 2, p. 84).

In 2010 a group of ministers in the UK wrote out a statement of faith titled “Affirmation 2010.” Article 12 affirms “the holy ministry,” a called and set apart ministry for the church. It closes with this denial:

We reject the view that the ministry “lies in common,” so that anyone may undertake public ministry in the church, even as we reject the idea that women may lead any part of divine worship or preach to the gathered church. We also repudiate any used of drama, mime, puppetry, and the like, as illegitimate and improper means to communicate God’s revealed Truth, since we believe God has appointed preaching as the proper way to make known His Truth to this needy world (p. 24).

Indeed, when everyone is a preacher, then no one is a preacher.

Our Confession of Faith states that it is especially “the work of pastors” to be diligent “in the ministry of the word and prayer.” It adds that it is “incumbent” on them to be “instant in preaching the word, by way of office.” It also adds, however, that preaching is not “peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it” might preach, adding that they should be especially “approved and called by the church” to this duty. Certainly this did not mean that the pulpit was open to any and all. In fact, the early Baptists referred to those set apart to help in preaching as “gifted brethren” or “teachers.”  These were men who were especially approved for this work (see James M. Renihan, Edification and Beauty:  The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705, pp. 107-114).
Our passage today exhorts us to return to the old paths and to be careful in overseeing that the preaching of the gospel is by those who have been sent out by God himself for that task.


Chris Kelly said...

It would seem that at first you insist preachers be "sent and authorized by the Lord himself." I agree. By the middle you assert that "everyone" can't be preachers. Finally you place the right to call and approve who gets to preach with a church body. Maybe centralized power is an "old path". But I don't see it maintained in the New Covenant. Rather, "in the latter days I will pour out my Spirit on all people", sons and daughters, and they will prophesy.

It almost appears that you are arguing the Great Commission in Mark 16:15 should not apply to ALL Christians, but only to those ordained by a church body.

What if every Christian took up preaching, or even a quarter of them? Even if they were poor at it and had wrong motives, God would be glorified and the kingdom of God would come "on earth as it is in heaven". In Phil 1:14-18 Paul seems to echo the same feeling.

This is one reason I'm not very impressed by "Affirmation 2010". It ADDS to the scripture not a few restrictions. I take issue with the Regulative Principle in general for this reason. Christ has set us free. Why should we restrict things He doesn't?

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for your comment, though we are obviously not in agreement here.
Here’s my feedback:

You’re right about the first part of the sermon. I was stressing God as the primary “sender” of preachers (rather than men). I don’t think I said anything in the middle or elsewhere about everyone being a preacher (see below). Here at the end I do make mention of the church acknowledging those called to preach by the Lord and set apart for an office for vocational preaching (cf. 1 Cor 9:14: “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”).

Yes, I am questioning a contemporary “every member ministry” view. As for some of the Biblical evidence:

You mention Peter’s prediction that sons and daughters will prophesy (Acts 2:7-21, quoting Joel 2:28-32). This is fulfilled within the Acts narrative (cf. the mention of the prophesying of the Ephesian converts in Acts 19:6 and Philip’s prophesying daughters in Acts 21:9). This is extraordinary, however, and not normative. The daughters of Philip prophesy but they do not fill an office of prophet. Women are not permitted to exercise authoritative teaching in the church (cf. 1 Tim 2:11-12). Elders (office bearers) are to have aptitude for teaching (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9). Do you believe that women, for example, can be public preachers and teachers today?
I think it would be disastrous and sinful if everyone took up public teaching in this age (though, in the age to come all will know the Lord directly, Jer 31:34). I see no difference between the standard of the OT and the NT. Only those whom the Lord sets apart for office are allowed to exercise particular holy and spiritual duties. In the OT, Korah and his rebellious cohorts challenged Moses and Aaron by saying, “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?” (Num 16:3). They speak like modern-day brethren or house-church leaders who are ready to allow anyone to be a teacher. Moses retorts, “and seek ye the priesthood also?” (Num 16:10). Uzzah is struck down for the error of touching the ark (2 Sam 6:7). So also, in the NT only the officers can touch the holy things of pubic doctrinal teaching. James urges that not many be made teachers (James 3:1) and Paul urges no hastiness in ordination (1 Tim 5:22).

Note that the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20 or Mark 16:15) is not addressed to all disciples but to the apostles, in particular. They were committed to the ministry of word and prayer (see Acts 6:4). In this post-apostolic era, this task is given to pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11).

As for Affirmation 2010, it is, of course, a man-made document and not infallible. I think its points on “the holy ministry,” however, are on target.

As for your comments on the RP, I am a bit confused. The whole point of the RP is not to add to worship what is not expressly commanded in Scripture.