It's an Epidemic!
That is what my friends said as they looked for a church in their neighborhood. “It’s an epidemic! Poor theology, false theology, no theology: It is everywhere!” I asked my friends to explain what they were seeing. They said that at least three messages seemed to be in churches all around them:
The “Win Souls” message.
This is the church that only has one message. Every week there is a salvation message for the “unsaved,” most of whom aren’t in attendance. Those who do attend receive a reprimand if they have not "won" any souls that day or week.
The problem here: God is the Author and Finisher of our faith. Surely, we participate as witnesses to Christ, but God alone works in the human heart to bring salvation. We have no power to make a person believe. This approach gives a human being the place that belongs to God.
In Hebrews 12:2 we read, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
In the “Win Souls” church, the un-believer is pressured to convert, and the Christian is pressured to “make” someone convert. After “conversion,” this church typically has little else to offer in terms of spiritual formation, biblical education, and theological explanation.
The “Clean Yourself Up” message.
This is the church that tells its members that righteousness depends upon them. “Clean yourself up, stop sinning, and get yourself right with God,” they say.
The problem here: No one can clean himself up, and no one can get himself right with God. That is the work of Christ alone. By the Spirit’s leading, we war against sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. We confess and repent of our sins, and for Christ’s sake God forgives them. Christians do not approve of sin. But, we will sin again and we will confess again. We will never be righteous by our own works or efforts to live a holy life. It is only through faith in Christ that we are made righteous and clean before God.
In 1 John 1: 8-9 we read, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
In the “Clean Yourself Up” church, the leaders give the impression that they never sin, and a member is made to feel guilty for admitting that s/he still does. There is often little opportunity for a member to confess sin and receive God’s forgiveness.
The "Good Life" message.
This is the church that says that Christians don’t have troubles if they have real faith. They teach that God shows His love by giving Christians all that they have faith to receive. If you are poor or in need, it is the fault of your lack of faith.
The problem here: The Bible teaches something else.
In 1 Peter 1: 6 we read, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…”
In the “Good Life” church, the Christian is made to feel inferior when s/he is grieved or anxious because of life’s troubles.
My friends wanted to know what is wrong with churches today. Why couldn't they find a place that taught them the true Word of God and enabled them to grow into maturity as Christians.
Loss of the Office
Though most Christians have some understanding of the importance and purpose of the Church, I believe that many have little understanding of the importance and purpose of the Office of the Ministry.
Is there an Office of the Ministry? Yes. The Bible teaches that God established the Office of the Ministry:
“And He (Christ) gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4: 11)
“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” (1 Timothy 3: 1)
The primary task of the Office is to teach and preach the pure Word of God and rightly administer the Sacraments. God works faith through these means of grace. On behalf of Christ and at the command of the Church, those who hold the Office of the Ministry are: to baptize and teach (Matthew 28: 18-20), forgive and retain sins (John 20:19), celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11: 23-26), and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:44).
Isn’t every Christian a Pastor?
The short answer is, “No. Every Christian is a priest.” The Bible teaches that every Christian belongs to the “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9).
All Christians are indeed priests (1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6), because they offer spiritual sacrifices to God. Everyone also can and should teach the Word of God in his own house (Deut. 6:7; 1 Cor. 14: 35). (Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II.)
Though all Christians are called to be priests, not all are Called to the Office of the Ministry. The Church designates and ordains certain persons to perform the functions of the Ministry on behalf of the Church.
Their qualifications are listed in several places in the Bible: 1 Tim. 3, 2 Tim. 2, & 4, Titus 1, and I Peter 5. In addition to prerequisites of character, a very important requirement is to be apt to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). The Pastor must have special aptitude and knowledge in the areas of Bible and Theology. He must be able to teach sound doctrine and be able to refute those who contradict the truth of the Word of God (Titus 1:9). The Pastor is held accountable before God for the care and proper nourishment of the souls entrusted to him (Hebrews 13: 17). The care of eternal souls is based upon the pure and clear presentation of the Word of God. Such presentation requires extensive education and practical preparation. The person in this Office must be rightly certified (examined and Ordained), recognized by the Church (Called), and invested with the authority and responsibility of Word and Sacrament Ministry.
The Pastor is no more holy and no less sinful than any other Christian. It is even possible for him to disqualify himself by unrepentant unfaithfulness. However, when he acts according to his Calling, he represents Christ (Apology to the Augsburg Confession, VII, 28). Through no power or character of his own, the one who is in the Office of the Ministry is used by Christ as His tool and instrument. It is Christ who baptizes, Christ who forgives, Christ who distributes His body and blood, Christ whose Word is living and active. Christ has given us these means of grace. The Pastor is used by Christ to perform these functions.
A Word of Caution
I believe that our current plight in the North American Christian environment is the direct result of the loss of the Office of the Ministry. Today, it is often thought that there are no special requirements necessary in order to be a Pastor. He has no need for knowledge of the original languages of Holy Scripture. The Pastor does not need training in biblical interpretation. He is not aided by comprehension of systematic theology or study of Church history. The one who occupies the Office need not have had a supervised, practical internship in the performance of the duties of Word and Sacrament Ministry. Why? Anyone can be a Pastor, right? Everyone’s interpretation of Scripture is acceptable, isn’t it? No and No!
My friends have been looking for a church. They do not want superficial spirituality and weak theology. They do not want a minister who implies that Christ’s forgiveness and love are given to those who deserve them. They do not want hyper-faith-ism that denies the realities of sorrow and suffering in this world.
My friends said, “It’s an Epidemic!” I suggested to them that not just anybody should be permitted to be their Pastor. God has established an Office with specific qualifications, expectations, and requirements. He has Called select men to fill that Office (Acts 20:28). If you are facing a medical epidemic, make sure that you find a physician who knows the right treatment for your temporal body. If you are facing a spiritual epidemic, how much more cautious must you be to find one who can rightly preach and teach the eternal Word of God!