By Donald Townsley
Dangers have always faced the church and always will as long as the world stands. Every generation of the church has had to confront dangers. In Acts 20:29-30 Paul warned the Ephesian elders of dangers from without and from within the church. Paul warned Timothy of the dangers of apostasy and told him to “put the brethren in remembrance of these things” (1 Tim. 4:1-6).
Churches of Christ in this decade face dangers which many don’t seem to see. I don’t claim to be aware of all the dangers, but I believe after forty years of preaching I can see some of them. We want to examine some of these dangers with a twofold purpose: (1) to call our attention to the dangers we face; and (2) to give a scriptural way to meet them.
A Decreasing Emphasis on “Thus Saith the Lord” In Preaching
In preaching today there is a decreasing emphasis on “thus saith the Lord.” From many we hear more human reasoning and logic than the word of God! When preaching is based upon human reasoning and logic the general thinking of members of the church is guided by the opinions of men who preach and not by the word of God. Paul warns us “not to think of men above that which is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).
When a preacher preaches on any subject he is to use the word of God as his authority for being “for” or “against” something. Christ is the one who has all authority and is the head of the church (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:22-23). Preachers need to quote the apostles of Christ, not distinguished men of the past (or present) to establish the truth. The church is strong when preachers use the Bible as their authority for what they preach: the church becomes weak when preachers stop preaching the word of God (2 Tim. 4:2-5).
Yes brethren, there is a decreasing emphasis on “thus saith the Lord” in many pulpits of churches of Christ today! Where this is happening the church is becoming weaker in the faith and more denominational in attitude. Let us get back to book, chapter and verse preaching before we are swept into another apostasy!
The “Pastor System”
Churches of Christ went through an organizational apostasy thirty-five years ago over institutionalism and the sponsoring church. What we all need to realize is that there are other organizational apostasies besides institutionalism.
One organizational apostasy is the “pastor system.” This is found in denominationalism. A denominational church calls the local preacher the “pastor” and gives him the responsibility of “shepherding the flock.” He is hired to take over the church and do “pastoral work.”
In the New Testament the preacher is not the pastor: the pastors are the elders (Eph. 4:11; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-3; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17). The work of the elders is to “oversee” and “rule” (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17). They are to “take heed” to themselves, “shepherd” the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2), and to “watch” for the souls who are under their oversight (Heb. 13:17).
The preacher’s work is to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2); he is to charge men to teach “no other doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3); he is to put the brethren in remembrance of departures from the faith (1 Tim. 4:6); he is to study to prepare to preach and teach the gospel (2 Tim. 2:15) and to baptize penitent sinners into Christ (Acts 8:37-38). The New Testament nowhere authorizes the preacher to take the responsibility of overseeing the congregation where he preaches.
There is a dangerous trend in many churches that leads toward the system of “pastor oversight.” Many members of the church of Christ are converts from denominationalism – from churches that use the “pastor system,” and this false concept of the preacher is deeply entrenched in their minds. This concept causes people to exalt and set the preacher apart from other members. The New Testament teaches no such concept (Matt. 23:8-12).
There is also the tendency for the preacher to do the work of elders. In many place no real effort has been put forth to develop men into elders (which has been the great weakness of conservative churches since division over institutionalism), and where there are no elders there is the great danger of “pastor oversight.” Many times this happens not because the preacher really wants it that way, but because members fail in their responsibilities (some having the “pastor” concept to begin with) and the preacher is put in the position of making decisions that should be made by the brethren. When Ws is the case the organization of the church has been perverted. A preacher breaks down the God-given organization when he allows himself to be put in a position of functioning where the elders should act. The local church is weakened and there can be no real spiritual development where this kind of arrangement has taken place. When preachers make decisions which should be made by elders (or the men of the congregation where there are no elders) they bring about a congregational organization which is just as sinful as the institutional perversion of the organization of the church.
There is also the “pastor system” of congregational growth. Many in the church have the idea that the church is to be built around the preacher and his personality – he is to be the “main leader.” Churches that are built around preachers are very weak spiritually – they fail when the preacher goes! Many times people are converted to the preacher instead of to Jesus Christ! Apostolic churches were not built around preachers (1 Cor. 3:5-6; 4:6). These churches grew because every member was at work teaching the word and laying Christ as the foundation (Acts 8:4; 2 Tim. 4:2; 2:2; 1 Cor. 3: 11).
Yes brethren, churches of Christ face the danger of “pastor (preacher) oversight.” Let us be busy developing elders in every church as the Lord intended (Acts 14:23), and let those of us who preach stay in our God-given place of preaching the word of God (2 Tim. 4:2), not trying to oversee churches!
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 7, pp. 198-199
April 4, 1991