By Ron Halbrook
The challenge of spreading the gospel includes a place for “the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). In the course of his work, an evangelist may “abide still” at one place and function as part of a local church, giving rise to the expression “a located preacher” (1 Tim. 1:3). Some brethren have opposed that arrangement. In surveying the preacher’s work, we shall assess the impact of opposition to located preachers.
The Work of An Evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5)
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation.” “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 2:2). The heart of every Christian should throb with the same confidence in and determination to spread the gospel as Paul had. We all have the sacred duty and privilege of “preaching the word” (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 8:3-4). “The Christians of every age are under the same obligation to preach the gospel to every creature that the apostles were. How are we doing it?” (M.C. Kurfees, ed., Questions Answered By Lipscomb and Sewell, p. 503)
All Christians share in evangelism, but a man who especially devotes himself to this work is an evangelist or a gospel preacher in the sense of 2 Timothy 4:1-5. Not every Christian was recommended unto this work. While others stayed in some trade or profession to earn a living, Timothy devoted himself to long hours of study in God’s Word, to sacrificial efforts in proclaiming the truth, and to diligent labors in training new teachers (Acts 16:1-3; 1 Tim. 4:13-16; 2 Tim. 2:1-3; 4:1-5). The evangelist must “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” as he presents the truth to both sinners and saints, but he has no office or position of authority over the affairs of the church as elders do (Tit. 2:15; Eph. 4:11).
The preacher may divide his time with secular work to provide his physical needs, but that limits his time for daily study and evangelism (Acts 18:3-4; 17:17). To free his time for spiritual labors, individuals may share their material blessings with him (Acts 16:15; Gal. 6:6). One or more churches wanting to have fellowship in spreading the gospel may provide him financial support (Phil. 4:15; 2 Cor. 11:8). The latter arrangement is in the realm of liberty and expediency on the parts of both preachers and churches, just as is the question of whether a person marries or not. But no one is to doubt that preachers have the scriptural right “to forbear working” and that churches ought to be ready to support them when circumstances warrant it. “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:1-14).
An evangelist may travel from place to place, preaching where Christ has not been named or visiting established churches to build them up (Rom. 15:20; Acts 14:21-23). Such work is right, but abuses can occur. Travel can help to hide dishonesty, immorality, false teaching, compromise, double talk, laziness (less need for fresh study), and greed (taking financial support from a church without staying to face and resolve problems in the church). He may not abide long enough with a church to help train local brethren to preach and teach; then they must depend on “outsiders” for most of their teaching program.
Some brethren insist that a true preacher must travel almost constantly on the theory that the word “evangelist” means a traveling missionary. But the word means one who brings, and expounds the good news of salvation in Christ, no matter how long or short his stay. One theory says that we can “preach” (but not teach) the “gospel” (but not doctrine) to the “lost” (but not to saints), but we “teach” (not preach) the “doctrine” (not gospel) to “saints” (not the lost). By this theory, preachers cannot address established churches but must always be afoot. Actually, “preach” and “teach” maybe used interchangeably (Rom. 2:21). The Apostles had only one message or revelation, not a “gospel” plus a “doctrine,” and it was called the gospel, doctrine, message, word, truth, will of God, way, light, faith, treasure, and testament or covenant (1 Cor. 2:2; Eph. 4:5; Col. 1:5; 1 Jn. 1:5, 7; 2 Jn.9). Paul could preach the gospel to saints and Peter teach the doctrine to the lost (Rom. 1:7, 17; Acts 5:28).
Since Ephesians 4:16 speaks of the church edifying itself, some say this requires “mutual edification” or public preaching by the general membership, excluding a located preacher. This makes the passage teach mutual sermons in public assemblies. In that case, women are included because it says “every part.” The passage simply teaches Christians to help each other and to seek to save the lost, according to our abilities and opportunities. The body has many members and functions – all are not mouths (1 Cor. 12:14-20). Arrangements for public teaching are matters of expediency, including the role of a located preacher.
Another abuse of the work of a preacher who travels is his pastoring the church. Some bluff a local church by claiming, “You cannot cancel my appointment to preach (because I am a member here, or because I oversee this church, etc.).” Some openly claim “evangelistic oversight” until they choose to personally select elders, based on a misuse of what Paul said to Titus, “. . that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders. . . ” (1:5). Paul did not tell Titus to oversee the church or to choose its elders, but to preach the word -including the qualifications for elders – so that he could ordain elders (2:15). When men are to be ordained or appointed to an office, the church itself does the selecting (Acts 6:1-7).
An evangelist may abide, remain, or locate in one place and work with an established church for any length of time. Paul established a church in Ephesus and ended up staying three years (Acts 20:31). Timothy was to “abide still at Ephesus” and “do the work of an evangelist” even though there were elders there (1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 4:5). A preacher may be paid wages in order to give his full time to this work. Some object to the wages being stipulated in advance, but the Holy Spirit used a word for the preacher’s pay which can include a stipulated salary just as a soldier received (1 Cor. 9:7; 2 Cor. 11:8; Lk. 3:14). The work of a located preacher is scriptural, but he must guard against many of the abuses mentioned earlier. He must never try to be a one man pastor nor fail to develop local talent (2 Tim. 2:2).
Opposition to Located Preachers
Why do so many churches use a located preacher? It increases the time he has for evangelistic work in all phases and therefore increases the fruit or harvest of such work. This strengthens the overall work of the local church as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). He is not doing someone else’s work so that they can sit down and do nothing in the service of God, any more than Paul or Timothy did. If 30 people work in a factory and harvest oranges when not in the factory, they may support one of their number so that he can harvest oranges on a full time basis. This does not mean the others quit harvesting when not in the factory or that the one man claims to do all their picking for them. They have simply made a wise provision for a larger harvest. God made it possible for us to increase our labors and harvest in the same way!
Not every church without a located preacher opposes the arrangement. Some may have a located preacher but allow him to receive outside support for a time. There may be many reasons for such variations because expediency teaches us that it is not always best to exercise a legitimate right at certain times (1 Cor. 9:12). Planting new churches in a region or rescuing churches from a rising tide of apostasy often requires preachers to travel more. But sometimes churches which could increase their labors with a located man are guilty of apathy and neglect. Some folks will not sacrifice to give enough money to adequately support a man.
The basic arguments of opponents of a located preacher have already been noted. False theories have been built around terms like evangelist, preach-teach, gospel-doctrine, mutual edification, and evangelistic oversight. Opponents harp on abuses such as greed, failure to develop local talent, or the one-man pastor (which they themselves advocate before elders are appointed!). They object to a preacher locating, then to his being paid by the church where he is located, and then to a stipulated wage.
It is often claimed that past preachers who emphasized the restoration plea for Book, Chapter, and Verse uniformly opposed located work but that it came only with the extreme liberalism and apostasy associated with instrumental music and missionary societies. Actually, brethren have differed on the located preacher through the years and generally avoided division over it. Apostates favored the idea of a preacher literally being a one-man pastor about 1875-1900 (W.M. Smith, Servants Without Hire, pp. 40-64, gives the history of this transition), and some brethren over reacted by equating the one-man pastor with all “settled,” “stationed,” or “located” preachers. Ironically, a number of those who over reacted themselves advocated the “evangelistic oversight” theory mentioned earlier. From 1900 through the 1950s brethren who opposed such apostasies as instrumental music suffered division at times over the located preacher controversy.
The roots of controversy and over reaction over this issue reach back to the beginning of the restoration efforts in America (and even earlier in Scotland). Alexander Campbell 1788-1866) throughout his life struck needed blows against the presumptions of the priests and other clergymen in Catholicism and denominationalism, but especially during the Christian Baptist years of 1823-30 he went to such an extreme in opposing “the hireling system” as to hinder the just “remuneration of preachers,” as his friend Lard observed (Lard’s Quarterly, Oct. 1866, pp. 377-82). The results were that many preachers suffered want, many churches were stingy, and many charlatans posed as traveling preachers – all of which Campbell tried to solve by helping to organize the American Christian Missionary Society in 1849 (Smith, pp. 30-36). He could not see that this step introduced a spirit of liberalism and apostasy which would lead succeeding generations to embrace the pretensions of the one-man pastor system which he detested so much! And, over reaction to such apostasies led to strife and sects centered on the no-located-preacher concept – a division he would have detested!
Philip S. Fall (1798-1890) preached for the church in Nashville, Tennessee during 1826-31 and 1858-77, as did Jesse B. Ferguson (1819-70) during 1846-56. J. W. McGarvey (1829-1911) labored full time with the church at Dover, LaFayette Co., Missouri (1853-62), and in Lexington, Kentucky with Main St. (1862-67) and Broadway (1870-82). “When I first returned to Kentucky, in the spring of 1862, there were only seven congregations in the State, I think, that were supporting preachers to labor exclusively in their midst; now I can count twenty-three that are doing so habitually,” McGarvey noted later (Apostolic Times, 19 Nov. 1874, pp. 4-5). As a result of this improvement, churches were growing stronger, he added. Moses E. Lard (1818-80) has been quoted as opposing a located preacher, but he plainly said, “We have not the least objection to a preacher laboring for the same congregation, if need so require, for one year or ten, as the case may be, but we want him to do so simply as preacher and not as pastor” (L.Q. Apr. 1865, pp. 258-59).
M.C. Kurfees (1856-1931) wrote a monumental refutation of apostasy, Instrumental Music In Worship, but he also warned against making a law which says “a preacher may remain at a place three weeks, three months, or three years, and then move to another place” (Gospel Advocate, 6 Feb. 1913, p. 129). For over 45 years, 1886-193 1, he worked with the same church in Louisville, Kentucky. When F. W. Smith (1858-1930) discussed different views on the located preacher in 1917, he agreed that a preacher may “make tents” for a living, but asked, “Should churches permit him to do this while the time spent in making bread could be devoted to saving souls?” (Murfreesboro Addresses, pp. 135-47) As to the “settled ministry or salaried preacher” F.B. Srygley (1859-1940) warned against the idea of preacher as a mere profession or as a “modern pastor,” but added that no one could justly say “a man might not stay two whole years in one city and keep busy all that time trying to save people and teach them to worship God ‘as it is written'” (G.A., 5 June 1930, pp. 539-40).
Dangers, Tendencies, and Results of Opposition
What are the results of dogmatic opposition to the located preacher? (1) It may cause us to reach fewer souls with the gospel. (2) Unworthy and unprincipled men can pose as preachers by constantly moving before brethren learn their true nature. (3) There is the danger of preachers taking unscriptural authority over churches under the theory of “evangelistic oversight.” (4) The “appointment system” of having a different preacher each week of the month often gives the church an unbalanced and superficial diet of teaching. (5) It hinders growth in giving upon the first day of the week for the support of gospel preaching. Rather than learning to sacrifice for the Lord’s work, Christians feel justified in their covetousness since men “will avail themselves of any excuse to retain their money” rather than part with it even in the Lord’s work (L. Q., Oct. 1866, pp. 377-82).
(6) The spirit of binding where God did not bind may grow stronger if cultivated. There has been a tendency for the no-located-preacher idea to be clustered with other extreme views and tangents, such as the doctrines of one-cup, no Bible class, no women teaching classes of women or children, and no Bible study literature.
(7) The agenda of no located preacher and a few related items are often stressed while many great truths of the gospel are ignored. Where such traditions reigns, brethren and churches are judged “sound” on the basis of the limited agenda in spite of personal ungodliness or liberalism and apostasy in the church (Matt. 23:23; Mk. 7:9).
(8) The swinging pendulum syndrome can be seen in the no-located-preacher movement. History teaches us that a factional spirit causes friction, alienation, disruption, and division among brethren. As the circle of fellowship is drawn smaller and smaller, some brethren become so isolated and disillusioned that an opposite reaction sets in. Now the pendulum swings in the opposite direction and people draw the circle of fellowship wider and wider. It is hard to stop the pendulum at the medium of truth.
In opposing the liberalism of 1875-1900, Daniel Sommer (1850-1940) also opposed located preachers, thus causing friction among brethren in the early 1900s. But then he stood with several friends in publishing “The Rough Draft: Can’t We Agree on Something?” – a plea for located preachers, “mutual edification,” and similar matters to be settled as expediencies by each church (21 June 1932, American Christian Review). Sommer’s peace effort came too late for son D. Austin and protege W. Carl Ketcherside, who with Leroy Garrett continued holding debates and dividing churches over the issue well into the 1950s. (The best debate is the Humble-Garrett Debate of 1954.) But after that, Ketcherside and Garrett led a new unity movement now embracing Catholicism, denominationalism, and modernism. In debating the located preacher issue at Beech Creek near Meador, West Virginia (22-26 July 1985), my opponent argued that “gospel preaching, as done by Timothy,” passed away with miraculous gifts and cannot be done either by locating or traveling today. Such extreme views isolate brethren from all who use evangelists in any way, which can prepare the pendulum to swing over to a radical ecumenical position.
Three things are needed. Let every Christian diligently spread the gospel of Christ (Acts 8:3-4). Some men must be fully devoted to preaching the word and churches willing to support them, that we may increase the harvest of souls (1 Tim. 4:1-5; 1 Cor. 9:14). Brethren and churches should never be divided over the use of authorized expedients in evangelism, but should show mutual love and respect while each church tries its best to sound out the word of the Lord. (1 Thess. 1:8).
Guardian of Truth XXX: 1, pp. 16-18
January 2, 1986