By Dan Walters
Acts 8:4 tells us that after the great persecution against the Christians at Jerusalem, “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” The New Testament does not make a distinction between “teaching” and “preaching” or between private and public proclamation of the Word. In Acts 8:35, we find that Philip preached unto the eunuch; one man preached to one man. When the word is used in this sense, every Christian must be considered a preacher of the Word. If we allow any of our traditions to detract from the importance of this individual responsibility, we will have “made the commandment of God of none effect” (Matt. 15:6).
Both liberals and conservatives in the church are today concerned about the fact that we are falling behind other religious groups in numbers of conversions. We might have something to learn from two of these groups: the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. They both teach false doctrines far removed from the teachings of the Apostles, yet they are experiencing rapid growth. Is false doctrine more attractive than truth? Speaking from a totally detached standpoint, I would rather try to convince someone of the truth of the doctrine that we teach than of the doctrine taught by either of these groups. It should be an easier job. The truth is simpler, more logical, and easier to grasp. It can be established from Bible testimony alone, without the need to acquaint people with other “inspired” literature. Could it be that members of these groups are doing something right, in spite of their overall error? Could their success be due to the fact that they are going everywhere preaching their doctrine, instead of relying on a professional ministry?
Some of these people seem to be practicing what we preach. We have always condemned a separation of clergy and laity, a pastor system, and preacher professionalism. Yet when taking a realistic look at ourselves it must be admitted that we have adopted many elements of the denominational system as it relates to preaching. Young men in the Mormon church are expected to spend two years in evangelistic work, regardless of the career they expect to choose later. I have talked to some of these young men, and it is my opinion that they know just about as much about Mormon doctrine as the average young gospel preacher knows about the New Testament. Yet they are not “preachers” as we think of the term; they will become lawyers, doctors, farmers, carpenters, writers, salesmen, etc. Go into any church of Christ and take a sampling of our young men, aged 18-20, and compare what they know about the truth to what the young Mormon missionaries know about their faith. If you do this in a representative congregation, I have no doubt that you will be severely disappointed. As a rule, the only ones to measure up will be those young men who are planning to preach as an occupation.
Most of those members who spread the doctrine of Russellism and Mormonism are not paid to do so; they support themselves at secular jobs. Most of the time the members contribute their time and effort to build the meeting houses where they worship. They are expected to have a profound knowledge of their respective religions. And they do not quit preaching because of lack of support; they expect no support. Are these people superior in moral fiber to Christians? If not, the answer must be that they really believe that their members have an equal obligation to preach.
When we use the word “preacher” in its modern sense, it is true that not all Christians can or should be preachers. Women are forbidden to be public proclaimers and some men do not possess the ability to speak effectively. But even in this area we may have restricted the “ministry” too much. Consider those occupations in which it is necessary for a man to be able to speak publically. We have in the church lawyers, sales promoters, school teachers, public officials, entertainers, etc. What is the excuse if these men cannot teach a Bible class or deliver a simple lesson from the pulpit? They cannot plead lack of ability. After having been in the church for ten years, they cannot plead ignorance of the Bible without admitting the sin of neglect. Is it possible that they have never developed themselves simply because they have not been expected to do so? Because we do not think of them as “preachers”?
We all ought to be thankful for those faithful men who have devoted their lives to preaching the gospel. But the rest of us cannot afford to allow them to bear the burden alone. We must discard the denominational notion that if a man makes his money by operating computers, that means he is not really a preacher. One proof that there is a problem is a fact brought out recently in Truth Magazine by Brother Wallace Little. He says that many preachers in the Philippines have come to regard preaching as a “job,” and if their support is lessened or cut off, they have lost their “job.” Where did they learn to think of preaching in these terms? Is it possible that they have learned it from us?
What should be done to correct this tendency? Our young people should be taught that they are personally responsible for spreading the gospel and edifying their brothers and sisters in Christ. They must understand that his is not a job that is already filled merely because the church has decided to support a certain man to do evangelistic work. Our young men must be taught that they are already preachers, whatever occupation they may go into, and that the extent of their preaching depends upon their individual ability and opportunity. That means that if a young man has no mental or physical handicaps, he should start preparing himself during his early teens to take a leading part in the work of the church, and to be able to deliver a public lesson from the Bible whenever he is called upon.
We have noticed that a number of liberal congregations have styled themselves as brotherhood “preacher training schools.” Faithful churches should go them one better. Every church of any size should become a preacher training school for all of its male members who can reasonably be expected to profit thereby. That will mean a sacrifice for some “full-time” preachers who might feel that they have a monopoly on the pulpit and for those members who insist on being entertained every service by an eloquent speaker. While the local pulpit is being filled by other members, the supported preacher can be out working in new fields or helping some struggling new church in the area.
If such suggestions were carried out, it just might be that we would see fewer signs in front of churches saying, “So and so, Minister.” It would be understood that we are all ministers and the church with just one minister is in a sad condition.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 32, pp. 524-525
August 16, 1979