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The Local Church and Personal Ministry III

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Question #1:   Hi; Here's a challenge to your notion that pastors should be paid:   http://wickedshepherds.com/ShouldPastorsBeCaredFor.html 

What say you?

Response #1: 

Thank you for your e-mail. I have perused this link, and while I am in sympathy with much that is said there, I have to disagree as to the underlying premise. Let me start by saying that Ichthys is a not only a non-profit ministry – I also do not take donations of any kind. This ministry is entirely self-supporting. Secondly, many of the observations made in this article have merit. For example, it is better to give than to receive, and ideally all of us would prefer to carry out our Christian ministries without the involvement of money at all, especially if it has to derive from other people. Tithing is indeed not legitimate today (at least as a mandatory system – individual Christians are certainly free to do whatever they wish on this score, but to teach it as a necessity or biblical suggestion is out of line, especially if the object is to fleece the sheep). A pastor should certainly try not to be a burden to others – as we all should so try not to do. Paul in particular avoided relying on the financial support of the Corinthians entirely, and of course did not have an actual salary, nor do the scriptures mandate this particular means of support. And of course many of the techniques and behaviors of many churches are certainly not above reproach (although this article lays it on a bit thick at times). The criticism I would add which applies more generally to the vast majority of churches is that in my reading of the Bible the reason for supporting a pastor-teacher is to give him time to prepare material to teach the congregation. Since very few churches have any true teaching ministry to speak of (sermons are not teaching), and since the pastor's time is usually taken up with anything and everything but studying and teaching the Word of God, the whole rationale for support is undermined in most cases where pastors are paid. All of the comments in the article you supply regarding the warnings about greed and the necessity of work are true enough in a general sense, but that is the only sense in which they can be applied to pastors. Everyone should avoid greed; everyone should support themselves if able to do so.

None of these arguments or observations in the article directly address the issue of whether or not a congregation should pay their pastor. At the very least, even before consulting scriptures on this point, it should be said that there is no biblical prohibition against doing so, so that a congregation which has freely chosen to take on such an obligation is certainly within its rights. A point I have often made is that the Bible very deliberately does little to lay out the precise manner in which a local church should be organized and run; we are given guidelines of behavior for those in authority as well as for those under it, but the mode of organization and administration is largely left unspecified – the better to allow necessary flexibility over the two millennia of the Church age in diverse and disparate groups around the world (in many things, one size and one format does not fit all). So if a congregation wants to pay a pastor a salary, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. They have the right to do so. This article seems to imply that there is a problem with such a system from a doctrinal point of view, but that is not supported by any scriptures.

The only real question worth considering here is what the Bible says about any necessity of support. If we were to take the implied recommendation of this article and end all monetary support for all pastors everywhere, we probably would not seriously degrade the quality of Bible teaching since so few paid pastors are doing any today. But we wouldn't necessarily improve the situation either: a big part of the reason why there is so little substantive Bible teaching going on is that so few people are interested in it. Christians, by and large, are getting exactly what they want. Most really do want a large, "exciting" church, with many programs and facilities, great music, exciting "preaching", and minimal disruption of their life-style. If we ended pastoral support, we would only get less practiced sermons and less professional administration. While that might be a good thing from my point of view, it most likely wouldn't change much from the standpoint of what biblical church is all about: teaching and learning about the Word of God. Simply put, most Christians like what they are getting from their pastors, and if they didn't pay them, they wouldn't be getting it, if for no other reason than somebody with a full time job is not going to be able to do the sort of pastoral care, counseling, administrating and sermonizing that people have come to expect. As I say, not a bad thing necessarily from my point of view, but not necessarily something that will improve the congregational level of spiritual growth either, since there has to be some desire for the truth for that to change. The one situation where the implied proposal of this article would make things objectively worse is the one the Bible actually envisions: failure to provide proper support for those who are genuinely teaching the Word of God.

As an academic by day and a Bible teacher by night, I can tell you that getting to the point of proper preparation, ramping up a teaching ministry, and diligently teaching the Word of God is not something to be taken lightly, even by those who really do have the gift and the calling. It takes a long lead time (decades, in my case), a lot of resources which generally must be self-provided, a good deal of commitment, and continuing self-discipline day by day when and if a person gets to the point of effective ministry. For the vast majority of individuals who have been so gifted and called, and have followed down this true path in the history of the Church, working a full-time job in the process has not been a realistic option (or at the very least has proved a tremendous, sometimes fatal hindrance). Scripture anticipates this, and addresses the issue directly. This is where the article is at its weakest (if one wishes to be charitable) or at its most deceptive (if one does not).

(3) My defense to those who examine me is this: (4) Do we have no right to eat and drink? (5) Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? (6) Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? (7) Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? (8) Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? (9) For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain." Is it oxen God is concerned about? (10) Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. (11) If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? (12) If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. (13) Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.
1st Corinthians 9:1-14 NIV

A couple of observations: After making a very clear argument to show how his own and Barnabas' conduct in not taking support from the Corinthians is unique (meaning that the norm would be to take such support),

1) Paul calls pastoral support a "right" (vv. 11-12);

2) Paul compares pastoral support to the very specific and stipulated support of the Levites under the Law;

3) Paul states the principle with utmost clarity: "those who preach [Greek katangello = proclaim/teach] the gospel should live (i.e., "make their living") from the gospel" – and this is a command that comes from the Lord.

Your author seems to have overlooked this passage. At all events, he does not comment on it as far as I can see.

(17) Let those elders who lead well be held worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and in teaching. (18) For the scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing the grain", and "A workman is worthy of his wages".
1st Timothy 5:17-18

Teaching the word is called "labor" in verse seventeen and directly connected (Greek explanatory conjunction gar "for") to what follows: don't deprive the worker of his due support. The entire refutation in the article you reference leveled against the very clear sense of these scriptures seems to be the author's desire to equate pastoral support with the support of widows. Paul does of course discuss support for widows: he wants it regulated in a reasonable way. Applying the same standard to pastors, we would be right to restrict support to those who "lead well" and "those who labor in the Word and teaching". Whether or not this means a salary is beside the point. Remuneration has come in many forms over the centuries and varies from place to place. A common sense rule would be to support the pastor in a comparable way and to a comparable degree experienced by the rest of the congregation. If that means a salary of X dollars per annum, so be it. The situation Paul seems to me to trying to head off here is that of congregations taking legitimate Bible teachers for granted, that is, dedicated men who are starving themselves to study and teach rather than spending their time earning money, and doing so in a situation where the congregation is more than capable of rendering the due support they need. This is indeed a pretty rare situation, and I for one am not arguing for some sort of "union scale" for pastors. But this verse clearly shows that abusing those the congregation relies upon for spiritual sustenance by failing to meet their legitimate needs is wrong.

(6) Let him who receives instruction in the Word share in all good things with him who gives instruction. (7) Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. For whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. (8) For the one whose sowing is directed to his own [sinful] flesh from that [sinful] flesh will reap corruption, but the one whose sowing is directed toward the Spirit, from that [same] Spirit will reap eternal life. (9) And [so] let us not grow weary of doing the good [work of God], for at [the appointed] time we will reap [our reward], provided that we do not give up. (10) So then as long as we have this opportunity, let us keep accomplishing the good [work of God] towards all [people], and especially to the family of faith.
Galatians 6:6-1

All good things should be shared with those who provide the instruction. Failing to do so is the equivalent of "mocking God", and that the Lord will not allow. The author of this article quotes Lenski on this passage as if he were the final word on any subject. Lenski is a better than average commentator, but not infallible. Also, I suspect that this is taken somewhat out of context. As a conservative Lutheran, Lenski certainly supported an organization that pays their pastors. More to the point, Lenski's commentaries are not distributed for free. People have to pay cash money for them. I suppose it is possible that Lenski himself didn't take any of the money, but I find it highly unlikely – and unnecessary. He was a seminary professor and dean, and so employed himself in Christian service, with a salary as well. In any case, nothing Lenski says really addresses the main point made by the passage to wit that if one employs a pastor, that pastor needs to be supported if necessary. I can certainly imagine situations where it would not be necessary (though not many rich are called), and other situations where it wouldn't be practical (a start up church with a small, poor congregation that necessitates the pastor-teacher moonlighting in the early going). But what is not acceptable according to the Word of God is a well-to-do congregation living at ease and refusing to feed their ox even as they benefit from his labors (until he drops dead). The Word of God envisions the Body of Christ nurturing itself. Some gifts are "weak" and need special care (1Cor.12:21-26), like that of the pastor-teacher, in that they require a lot of time and support to get up and running and then to do well thereafter. Very few of us have the physical, emotional, or, most important, spiritual constitution of Paul – and even he did indeed take contributions. He moonlighted in Corinth, for example, but when the Philippians gift came through Silas and Timothy, "Paul devoted himself exclusively to the Word" (Acts 18:5).

So even though I too find the demands that many churches, organizations, and pastors make for money appalling beyond measure, and have personally devoted myself to the ministry of the Word, counting myself fortunate to be able to prosecute this ministry in spite of having a day job, I find the extreme position that pastors ought not to be supported completely without biblical foundation. Indeed, the opposite is true, provided they are doing what the Lord has really called them to do.

In our Lord who made Himself poor that we might be rich with eternal life forevermore.

Bob L.

Question #2:  I wanted to know what you thought about this article and if you agreed. It seems to me that most churches today are as you say "lukewarm" and have their ears tickled and the fear of God is left out in church sermons by Pastors. Here is the article:

"HOLD THE HELLFIRE AND BRIMSTONE By Paul Proctor March 5, 2008

A friend showed me an interesting cartoon that appeared in USA Today bearing a caption that read: Study shows nearly half of U.S. adults have switched or dropped their religions, which included a pensive couple standing in line at the U.S. Religious Beliefs Cafeteria, where customers can pick and choose their favorite doctrines and commandments from the sacred buffet. Pointing to one of the selections, the male character in the drawing tells the server behind the counter: "I'll take that with a little less hellfire and brimstone." Wouldn't we all? As it happens, my wife and I reminisced earlier in the day about having to eat things we didn't like, growing up. When it came to something unfamiliar or unidentifiable, she said her mother insisted that she at least try it to see if she liked it. If it didn't taste good, she wasn't required to finish it. Things were a little different around my folk's dinner table. When mama handed me a plate of food, I was expected to eat it - all of it. If I said I didn't like something, I got an extra helping of it. Consequently, I grew up consuming a lot of things I didn't particularly care for, and in the process, digested some nutritious lessons on life - most important being: What you like, isn't necessarily what you need. From what I can tell, most kids today seem to get just about anything they want to eat - that is, if their family can afford it - which may explain, at least in part, America's childhood obesity problem. The USA Today cartoon was apparently a response to an earlier article by Cathy Lynn Grossman concerning a recent Pew Forum poll called the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey where, after interviewing over 35,000 people by telephone, it was determined that Americans are changing churches, denominations and even religions like never before. In a related Tennessean piece, Grossman wrote: "…the main thrust of the study is that the religious landscape is changing, and Nashville is no exception," adding that Vanderbilt divinity professor Robin Jensen "…had observed that there's much more of a 'marketplace quality' to religion: People are interested in finding a church that matches their value systems and that has programs that fit their family's needs." Sounds to me like we're god shopping - and considering the "marketplace" mentality, I can't help but wonder if we're really talking about needs here or just wants. Moreover, there seems to be an insatiable appetite for all the wrong things, as evidenced by the fickle frenzy - a craving for food that leaves you hungry and drink that leaves you dry. Could that be why so many spiritually starving mega-churches today have a fat and sassy feel to them - because members are getting everything they want and nothing they need? Who knows - a serving of hellfire and brimstone from the pulpit now and then might be slimming - and spare us that extra helping of Hades later. "…Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things…" - Isaiah 30:10

http://www.newswithviews.com/PaulProctor/proctor147.htm

What do you think?

Response #2:   

Indeed, and the Isaiah 30:10 quote is right on the money. Here's the passage that occurred to me (alluded to by you), one that is specifically targeting the Laodicean trend abroad in the church visible today on the doorstep of the Tribulation:

For the time will come when they will not put up with sound teaching, but will [instead], desiring to have their ears scratched, heap up by their own [devices] teachers to match their specific lusts. And they will turn their ears from the truth and resort instead to fictions.
2nd Timothy 4:3-4

It is a decidedly good thing to change churches if a person is genuinely seeking solid Bible teaching and not getting it at their present place of worship. But to choose a place of entertainment, comfort, and justification of all your bad habits, that is to make a very poor bargain indeed, and also to jeopardize your spiritual health and status. Failing to preach the consequences of dying without faith in Jesus Christ is just one of the ways false or insufficient doctrine can lead to that very place.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #3:  

In the church, who is to lead the congregation? the pastor or the church? Does the local New Testament Church has all authority over its pastor? Seems that some believe that the pastor was established to be like the sheriff in Christ's church. Does the pastor makes all decisions final? Shouldn't he as a member of a church be just as responsible as any other member? These passages seem to suggest that the church is the authority rather than the pastor. Acts 1:15-26, 6:1-6, 11:21,22 13;1-5 1 Corinthians 5:1-6. There are certain things in which the church votes and other things in which the pastor does what God tells him. I think that if God tells the pastor to do something Biblical then he should do it regardless of church vote. Do you agree? What does that phrase pastoral authority mean to you and how is it exercised? Specifically, I would like to hear about the relationship of deacons and pastors and whether you believe that there is a single sole pastor to a church, or if there can be multiple pastors with one taking a lead position, or if you follow the "elder" position that seems popular in reformed theology.

Response #3:    

On this issue of pastoral authority, I do think that what guidance we have from the New Testament is all consistent on the point of the pastor, pastor/teacher, bishop, teaching elder, lead-elder – or whatever one would wish to call such a man – as being deserving of the respect and responsiveness of the congregation on the one hand (1Tim.5:17; Heb.13:17; cf. 1Cor.16:16; 1Thes.5:12), and also of owing a unique measure of responsibility to the Lord for diligence in teaching on the other (1Tim.4:6; 4:14-16; 5:17; 2Tim.4:2; Tit.1:9; 1Pet.5:1-4). As I often say in such discussions, no matter how a group or a church might choose to officially structure things, because of the way that human beings are made and thus how human groupings always and inevitably work out, in any group large or small there will always emerge a definite leader/leadership, even if the "constitution" of the organization demands the perpetuation of the fiction that there is not one. In a group which is definitely dedicated to learning and living the Bible as the fundamental purpose for their existence and assembly, then the person who ends up taking on the lion's share of the teaching duty and does so effectively will become the de facto spiritual leader of that group, even if there is another titular head. Everything else is semantics. In my view, scripture anticipates this principle perfectly, and that is precisely why there is no definitive organizational structure given for the governance of local churches (even though there are numerous opportunities to provide one) beyond giving the canons for behavior of those who will lead (pastors/teachers/elders) and those who will assist the leadership in administrative roles (deacons). In the biblical conception, those who teach the Word are the pastors/teachers/elders (and one man will always come to be at the very least the primus inter pares – the "first among equals", even if not given the title); those who engage in administration (i.e., "call" on members, work on and implement policy which reflects the teaching, engage in outreach ministries, do funerals and weddings, meet with new members, deal with financial considerations, decide on bulletins, preach "sermons") are the deacons. As you can no doubt see from this description, most of our local churches in this country at present have deacons running the show with no true "elder" or "pastor-teacher" even present, at least in the biblical sense. That is because most local churches have entirely abrogated their responsibilities in the one key function of the local church, its overriding purpose of teaching, learning and living the Word of God.

I realize that is a round-about way to answer your question, however, if a church is not really what I would call a "church" in the Bible's estimation of such things, then it is really all the same whether or not they have a polity which reflects biblical standards. And on the other hand, if a church really is a biblical, Bible-teaching church, that is, really does have a teacher who has established his authority by accurate exposition of the Word of God and its truths, then by definition the essential governance will be good, at least for the most part. For it is impossible for a man in such a position not to deviate in his teaching if he begins to deviate in his behavior (and vice versa). So from the point of view of the individual Christian, both the behavior of the lead teacher and his teaching are of one piece. Of course as I say it is really difficult to make any such assessment in most churches since there really is no substantive teaching going on in the first place which one may then compare to the behavior and administrative policies of such a pastor/teacher/elder, since most churches are in fact run by deacons calling themselves pastors although in truth they are not in any way either gifted or prepared or inclined to teach what is in the Word of God. Finally, since all Christians are empowered to "vote with their feet", the technical issue you bring up is also, in my opinion, a moot one – or should be. Were I a lay person in a congregation where there was a change from a Bible teaching pastor-teacher to a non Bible teaching but rather sermonizing administrator, I would most definitely withdraw myself from that group. For on the one hand it is impossible for a Christian to keep growing spiritually without orthodox, substantive Bible teaching of some sort, and on the other continued association with a group which has rebelled against that essential biblical principle is fraught with all manner of spiritual dangers. Bad associates corrupt good morals (1Cor.15:33), after all, and in the case where the moral deficiency is subtle rather than obvious, the dangers are actually more rather than less extreme.

I do hope you find this helpful. Thank you again for your patience. Please also consult these links:

Pastoral Authority

Some Questions on Church Polity

Church Polity

Tent Making

How important is education for a pastor?

Pay the pastor

How much should we pay the pastor?

Pastoral Support

The Local Church

In the Chief Shepherd of the sheep, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #4:  

I've noticed several having the pastor's photo (and maybe the family too) on church websites. I was wondering if that's really appropriate, and I'm not talking about stalkers or identity theft. But is the pastor that important? Does it really matter to visitors to the website to know who the pastor is and what he looks like? Or does having the pastor's photo on the website give him celebrity status and could lead to his feeling of self-importance? I know the office of pastor is vital to the church. But if I were to visit your town and look for a church on the internet to visit, I'd be more interested in what the church preaches and teaches. First impressions mean a lot, and some pastors don't necessarily make good first impressions in photos . I wouldn't care what the pastor looked like. In fact, I might look at it (depending on how it's done) as him puffing himself up. I see the church and its stand more important than the pastor. Someone had told me that the space could be used for better things. Unless they want to put pictures of church events on their web site, I saw such a sight sometime back, it was a very good way of sharing pictures from a church event with all members. Am I being silly? Thanks!

Response #4:     

The "personality cult" of the pastor/teacher is to some extent an inevitability (even mediocre teachers in school get put on a pedestal by some), but as you discern, correctly in my view, there is no need to make it worse. Still, these matters are judgment calls that every church and every pastor have to make, and not something I feel comfortable passing judgment on. I don't think you are being silly. While I am not privy to all the details and we all react differently to the actual circumstances we are experiencing as opposed to ones reported to us, I think I too would be inclined to see such things as "symptoms" of an overarching point of view and mind-set about how to do things and what's really important with which I would likely be uncomfortable.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #5:  

I got an opinion today from a brother in Christ on pledging, and he believes what is written below.

"I have no problem with people in their own prayers asking God what they should give and doing that. However, proclaiming how much you will give or saying how much you did give; making promises before men is not prudent and is certainly discouraged in the scriptures. Keep it between you and God and he will deal with whom is faithful accordingly. I would much rather do something for the Lord and have it be only known by God, then to have it be known publicly and receive the praises of men.

"Take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

You and God decide what you'll give. You simply write only that figure on a card and turn it in, so the church has some idea what to expect. It's an administrative tool to help determine the missions budget."

This seems biblical, would you agree?

Response #5:   

I would agree with the first part. I don't agree with the second – the idea of pledging. Paul told the Corinthian church to "put by on the first of the week according as how you have prospered" (1Cor.16:2). From this I get that giving is based upon what you actually have earned and now possess, not on what might or might not happen in the future, and that giving is a weekly not a yearly thing. If local churches have budgetary problems with that, then they need to re-think their approaches, because this is the biblical standard. Wanting to know a year ahead of time what they can expect and requiring members to commit to a certain level of giving when they have no idea if their roof will leak or their kid will get sick or they will lose their job is outrageous, in my view, a bespeaks a very worldly preoccupation with money and little faith in God. At the very least, Christian churches ought to operate on the same principle of faith which they ostensibly teach their parishioners: since they are teaching them to "have faith that God will provide" even when things look bleak, shouldn't they also have faith in divine provision, instead of seeking to "nail it down" ahead of time through their own human efforts?

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #6:  

I was wanting your help on the grammar construction of these verses.

2Jo 1:6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.

When it says, walk in it, the truth has a center.

2Jo 1:9 Whosoever transgresseth (parabaino), and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.

This means to go by the side of, to go pass or overstep according to the Blue Letter Bible. My pastor says the construction is: Whosoever runs ahead of (not to continue in the bounds of). And when churches are being "emergent", seeker-sensitive or liberal by not calling sin sin, or hell hell or righteousness righteousness because they want to be relative or not offend people then the Purpose Driven Life movement or other movements are running ahead of the truth and they aren't in the center of truth.

Is this correct?

Response #6:  

Despite the KJV's translation, the word in the first verse here, 2nd John 1:9, is not parabaino, which is generally used to describe sin, but proago. This word is not a technical term in the GNT, so that any number of translations would be appropriate: "run ahead", or "go ahead" or even "go too far" (my preference) all capture the idea. We can see very clearly from context what John means by this, since "going too far" is the other side of the coin from "remaining in the teaching of Christ". So the essential idea here of "going too far" is not sinning in general terms, but rather of developing and teaching "doctrine" which is not biblical, and which in fact is very much anti-Christ and anti-truth (in other words, it is far worse than garden variety sin since it involves and fosters apostasy, the loss of faith and salvation). So I do think you have a point, however I would wish to distinguish between churches and organizations which are "merely" not interested in and consequently are not teaching the truth of the Word of God on the one hand, and those who are substituting the devil's lies for the truth on the other. Though the former is terrible, the latter is clearly far worse. Still it is impossible I suppose to entirely separate the two. Proverbs 18:9 says, "he who is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys". Attempting to destroy the truth is what John has in mind with proago because by definition this aggressive act is a failure to "abide" in the true teachings of Jesus, the Word of God. So all in all I would essentially agree with you in terms of organizations which are in essence substituting their own "clever ideas" for the truth of scripture. Deciding whether a group or church is merely slack in regard to the truth or is actually intent on destroying it is to some degree, after all, merely an academic question, since in either case any dedicated Christian ought to want to stay clear.

In Him who is the truth, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #7: 

I have a lady in our church who was very faithful and very active. She fell into the sin of adultery and fornication. She was gone for nearly three months. She has recently returned, within last two months. she was dealt with at the alter, confessed her sin to God and received forgiveness, she then stood before the church and tearfully asked forgiveness for her sin, of which the church forgave her. Now three months later, she is wanting to do something, she seems to be truly contrite. She used to teach k-2nd grade. I believe she is ready, others have said we need to let her prove herself; since when does God require a probation period ? Please give me some scripture, not just opinions.

Response #7:   

In my reading of scripture, 1st Timothy 5:19-20 is talking about disciplining elders and deacons for serious malfeasance in their duties and/or witness, not members of the congregation. Confession of sin should be a private matter between the believer and God, not a matter to be made public in front of the entire congregation. If it were, then churches would have time for little else, since we all sin. To "cherry-pick" some group of sins that some find more shocking or offensive and to make a person humiliate themselves in front of everyone else (as if everyone else were pure) makes a mockery of Christianity in my opinion. Church leadership should only become involved in such matters when a member makes it an issue (i.e., instead of confessing to God and reforming, willfully continues whatever the sinful pattern may be in a way so as to be sure to let the rest of the fellowship know), or if there is predatory or criminal behavior involved. However, you ask for scripture which deal with the subject, so here goes:

On the one hand, we are called to forgive our fellow believers:

If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
2nd Corinthians 2:5-11 NIV

And . . .

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:12-14 NIV

On the other hand, we are to exercise wisdom in dealing with their potential or actual sinful behavior:

"Don't place your hands upon anyone quickly (i.e., to install them in an office), don't [by so doing] share in the sins of others. Keep yourself holy."
1st Timothy 5:22

And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.
Jude 1:23 KJV

The standard is especially high for anyone in church leadership, even those who are not teaching the Bible, and even for their spouses:

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
1st Timothy 3:8-11 NIV

In my view, the only possible rationale for even having the church consider this case is the issue of this person wanting to engage in some sort of church leadership. In which case, on the one hand forgiveness must be absolute to be forgiveness. But on the other, forgiveness does not mean suspense of good judgment. If a man was convicted of embezzling church funds, even if he repents very publicly, it would not be a good idea to make him treasurer the next day. But I wouldn't have any problem letting him direct traffic in the parking lot. So I suppose it all depends what it is we are talking about here in terms of the service being contemplated. As I say, I am not a fan of "church discipline" in any case where those being disciplined are not church officials and the sin in question does not constitute an open affront or a direct threat to the congregation as a whole. I don't know all the details here so I'm not really in a position to judge.

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #8:

What exactly does this Bible verse mean?

2 Thessalonians 3:6: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us."

Response #8: 

In the context (verses 6-15), the particular "disorderly" behavior Paul has in mind is the habit of some of the Thessalonian believers had gotten into of sponging off the church and other believers rather than working for a living. The verse itself states a principle that is general and applicable to other sorts of "disorderly behavior". Where one "draws the line" is not set out by Paul, so that this must remain a matter of personal application of scripture. We could put forward any number of hypothetical situations which would most certainly be over the line (like a believer involved in a real-estate scam and conning the other members of the church) and others which would certainly not be over the line and would not demand our separation (like a person who doesn't dress exactly the way we think they ought to dress). But from Paul's example we see that the standard of separation is such so as to require some fairly horrific behavior. No doubt the Thessalonians were not perfect any more than we are and no doubt many of them were still having problems with sin. The case Paul mentions is extremely outrageous and could bring down the church if enough people stopped working and relied on other people to support them. Further, Paul also intimates the need to receive these people back into fellowship if they respond to this rebuke (v.14-15). So while the principle here is pretty clear, namely, we must separate from those whose conduct has so departed from Christian good order as to be characterized generally as "disorderly", the application we make has to be based on the specifics we observe. The word "disorderly" is actually a military term (ataktos from whose root we get "tactics") and means "out of ranks". In the ancient world, keeping your order in ranks was essential for success in battle, and a soldier who was perpetually "out of ranks" or "in disorder" was not only a danger to himself but to the whole formation. This would seem to be the litmus test: if a person's aberrant behavior is severe enough to affect not only him or herself but also the entire church (as in the case of the freeloaders in Thessalonica), then they would qualify for this command to separate. If not, then they may perhaps be tolerated by us and allowed to grow, letting the Lord handle their imperfections while taking care not to be dragged down into questionable behavior ourselves.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #9:  

Jesus said "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." What is the proper way of rebuking someone without being too soft where you're in danger of compromising the truth? Some of my church friends rebuke with condemnation, arrogance, ad hominem attacks (but they deny it). Examples:

ME: Is there something I am missing?

Other person: A whole lot of common sense

Also in 2Tim 2:3 we are told to "endure hardship," and I take it to mean that we are to suffer afflictions coming from wickedness and evil. However, my friends who "rebuke" me tell me that it means that we should "roll with the punches" and "take it on the chin" when rebuked by our brothers and sisters in Christ, such as the example above. I don't see how hateful and contemptuous criticism in rebuke is in biblical; of course my friends would deny such. Are we to separated from and treated as unsaved until they repent? How do we deal with such situations. This has been on my mind for such time and it somewhat bothers me. I would greatly appreciate all the feedback I can get.

Response #9:    

I'd like to know where people think they are authorized to treat their fellow believers poorly. It seems to me that Jesus told us to take the log out of our own eye and stop worrying about the mote in our brother's. There are lots of verses telling us support our brethren, to encourage them, to love them, to pray for them, to help them – I can't remember one where we are told to rebuke them. The only thing I recall is the command to rebuke church leaders when caught in gross sin (and this is to be done by the leadership with great circumspection and in formal way according to careful strictures: 1Tim.5:20), and the command to pastor-teachers to "rebuke" – but even this is to be done, as the context shows, by means of teaching the group (rather than individual rebukes to individual sheep: 2Tim.4:2). It is, after all, the Spirit who guides us, and the best rebukes always come from the Word of God, often attending to us as we listen in quiet privacy to the Bible being taught in a group setting.

All scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for admonishing, for correcting, and for training in righteousness.
2nd Timothy 3:16

We are all responsible to the Lord for what we think, say and do. He is our High Priest, and it is to Him that we are accountable. We should practice civility and respect for privacy with all of our fellow believers in Jesus, and not violate that principle except in the most serious of circumstances (where separation is likely to be the appropriate course of action). If we are tight with someone, a friendly suggestion is always a possibility (e.g., "rebuke a discerning man, and he will gain knowledge" Prov.19:25b NIV), but this only works with the spiritually wise, and the out and out mean conduct you relate is most definitely not what scripture envisions. I don't think I would be going back to your church after such an experience!

In our Lord Jesus who loves us and died to cleanse us from our sins,

Bob L.

Question #10:  

What about these passages on rebuke. Do these apply to our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Webster's list these among his definitions of the word rebuke: "1. To chide; to reprove; to reprehend for a fault; to check by reproof. 2. To check or restrain. 3. To chasten; to punish; to afflict for correction. 4. To check; to silence." The idea here is to correct and stop the wandering into sin, and to put to silence the doubts or murmurings. While there seems to be some overlap in the meanings of reprove and rebuke, both indicate correction, but rebuke seems to also carry the idea of forbidding and restraining what is wrong (i.e. taking the correction one step further). It is interesting to note that to Biblically love our neighbor means we correct him when necessary:

Leviticus 19:17-18 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

Proverbs 27:5-6 Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

Proverbs 28:23 He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue

Response #10:     

I think that Keil and Deilitszch are correct in the case of Leviticus 19:17-18, despite the tortured KJV translation, namely, that the part you ask about is essentially the same as what Jesus is saying at Matthew 18:15-17: if you have something against a brother/sister, if they have done you some wrong, then instead of hating them or sinning against them, follow the procedure outlined both places of frankly addressing the matter with your brother or sister before taking any further action. So this passage (and the Matthew passage) gives us the mechanism whereby we can address a situation of personal wrong-doing by someone else in the Church against us. Of course, 1) Jesus' words to the effect that we should be very careful about such things since we are likely to be tolerant or unaware of our own short-comings and really need to address those first (Matt.7:1-5), and 2) Paul's application of that standard to wit that it is better to be wronged than to take the chance of doing wrong in such instances (1Cor.6:1-11), taken together suggest that we should be very, very reluctant to make use of this procedure and do so only in the most extreme of circumstances, remembering to be kind in the process and keeping in mind that unless there is spiritual wisdom on the side of the one we plan to "correct", the operation is likely to backfire. These parallel passages also suggest that we would almost if not always be better served by letting the offense pass. I take the two passages cited in Proverbs to have the same basic meaning; that is, they too are speaking about personal offenses of one to another (rather than being a license to "watch-dog" other believers).

What these passages most certainly do not do is to allow for a culture within the local church of cruel hyper-criticism of all of the perceived faults great and small of other believers. As I say, such passages that address the issue at all call for the greatest restraint. Making off-hand and ill-considered criticisms of others is nothing more than legalistic self-righteousness, and has no place in the Church of Jesus Christ.

Don't judge [others] lest you be judged [yourselves]. For by the [same] standard you use to judge [others] you [too] will be judged, and by the [measure] you measure out [judgment] to others, it will be measured out to you.
Matthew 7:1-2

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #11:  

A friend of mine thinks that there is nothing wrong with going to a seeker sensitive church, but I disagree with her. She sent me this article to prove me wrong.

http://mondaymorninginsight.com/index.php/site/comments/
does_seeker_sensitive_really_equal_watered_down/

Do you agree with this article, and do you think that seeker-sensitive churches are bad for those who are honestly seeking the truth?

Response #11:   

The problem I have with the article is the same problem I have with the definition. The real test of any church is in the details (and the article deals in generalities), not in how a church may choose to market itself or how it may be portrayed by others. The purpose of the local church ordained by God is to provide for the spiritual growth of its members, with a primary teaching component coming from the leadership and with each of the members of that body supplying the other collective needs. Since very, very few churches even come close to approaching this definition and, indeed, are in truth not at all interested in doing so, for me the "seeker sensitive" moniker is just another variety of whitewash among many. We should all want to "seek God", which is another way to say "get closer to God" which means "getting to know God better" which is all about "learning, believing and applying the truth of the Bible" . . . which gets us back to teaching the Bible in a substantive, orthodox, and authoritative way – something that is extremely rare nowadays because 1) few pastors are qualified to do it; 2) fewer are interested in doing it even if they could; 3) they would be thrown out by their "seeker sensitive" congregations if they tried it because learning the truth in a disciplined and detailed way is neither particularly easy, nor most people's idea of fun, nor titillating and exciting, nor "traditional". But all who seek truly do indeed find, because God never lets genuine interest in His Word go unrequited.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #12:  

Dear Bob,

I read your response to a question posted on your website regarding the gift of healing and wish that you had responded with more depth as to the power of the Holy Spirit in healing. Healing still happens today today! If you have time or inclination or your heart is open to heed my word, I kindly encourage you to read The Healing Reawakening by Francis MacNutt.

In Christ,

Response #12:    

As it happens, there are a number of such discussions available at the site, for example (just to pick out a few where this is the main or a main topic of discussion):

Are Miraculous Gifts Operational Today?

Faith Healing

The Gift of Healing

All Things Charismatic

I hope that you will be able to see as you delve deeper into the materials available at Ichthys that I have complete confidence in the absolute power of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God can do anything, and He can surely heal anyone He chooses to heal whenever He chooses to do so.

My main concerns in discussions of this sort are:

1) False claims that if a person prays for healing and it doesn't happen, it is because the person lacks faith. In fact, sometimes we are left to endure precisely in order to test our faith (as was the case with no less a spiritual giant than the apostle Paul: 2Cor.12:7-10).

2) False claims that if a person prays for healing and it doesn't happen, it is because the person does not have the Spirit. In fact, all who are believers in Jesus Christ have the Holy Spirit (Rom.8:9).

3) False claims that a person may receive an apostolic-like gift of healing through some self-generated means or other (prayer, corporate prayer, a second baptism, more faith, etc.). In fact, the Spirit distributes spiritual gifts according to His will, and without His decision in which we have no part there would be no such distribution (1Cor.12:11).

4) False claims that the apparent absence of apostolic-type gifts such as healing over the last two millennia are a result of a lack of faith or knowledge. In fact, the apostolic period from Pentecost to the close of the canon of scripture and the passing of the apostles was a unique one wherein special gifts helped to "pick up the slack" until the "perfect" Bible along with the means of learning/teaching/transmitting it arrived so that these temporary gifts could "cease" (1Cor.13:8-13).

5) Perhaps most destructive of all is the false authority that false claims of healing et al. provide. Healing was a sign and sure symbol for Jesus that He was who He said He was ("if you do not believe me, then at least believe the works I am doing"); so when false healers make it seem like they too have such gifts/powers, they are usurping authority they do not rightly possess and lending their teaching an aura of divine authority which it does not rightly have

The essence of what I believe and teach on this subject is not that God is unable to heal or unable to give such clearly miraculous apostolic gifts and effects. Far to the contrary. But in the history of the Church, especially in the last hundred years or so, the number of false teachers who have deceitfully claimed to possess miraculous powers of this sort have been myriad, and much damage has been done to gullible believers in the process. I don't doubt that God heals people every day, and miraculously so. But in my understanding of what scripture has to say about such things, such healing is something any Christian may ask for, but it is not being currently given as a sort of "automatic" gift which can be mediated by someone else through the laying of hands (or in any other supernatural way controlled by that person). I have never seen any definitive evidence of a legitimate example of this "sign gift" having been employed, although I am well aware that people make this claim hundreds and perhaps thousands of times a day. It is not that I am a skeptic or doubt God or His power. But I do take our Lord's admonition about being "wise as serpents" very seriously, and so reserve judgment in all such claims coming from human lips. For I have definitely seen many demonstrable examples where people have made these sorts of claims, but falsely and in order to deceive.

Show me someone who is healing all comers without fanfare, and especially without charging money for it (and that includes not accepting donations and not selling books or other paraphernalia), and I will be happy to look into it if I can. I realize that this is a high standard, but in my reading of scripture, the only gifts which may legitimately seek compensation are teaching gifts (1Cor.9:6-14; Gal.6:6-7; Phil.4:14-19; 1Tim.5:18-19), so that this sort of healing would not qualify, and thus the introduction of a monetary element into the mix is a cause for great suspicion.

In the Name of the One who bore our all our sickness on that tree, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

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