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.