In response to my recent email, “Counting the Cost”, one brother wrote, “I would be more impressed with your desire to appeal to truth if you had included in your letter what errors you had propagated in the past, and what processing of truth you had to resolve before you changed to a better understanding.”
Many of those errors of mine have already been chronicled on this web site and many more are still to be noted there! But let me describe here the first error which the Lord exposed in my own thinking which was by far the most costly one for me to remedy in obedience to His Word.
My great grandfather, Samuel Dodds, was a pastor. My grandfather, John Dodds, was a pastor. I myself became a pastor, and I cherish many friendships with others of you my dear brothers in the Lord who are pastors. I am deeply burdened that pastors and people in the body of Christ are under bondage in a system which keeps both “shepherds” and “sheep” from functioning as God intended! The assembly or church (as we have come to know it) is the only body or association of people which requires so much of so few and so little of so many! I have discussed this matter with many pastors/elders. Most are aware that something is horribly wrong with a system in which pastoral burnout has reached epidemic proportions while the majority of Christians “rust out” as idle spectators in the pew! But most don’t recognize the root of the problem.
As a doctor can restore a sick patient’s health by (1) diagnosing the cause of the patient’s ailment and (2) prescribing a remedy, so too the Great Physician has (1) diagnosed the assembly’s ailments and (2) prescribed the remedies in His Word. But just as a patient will only recover as they receive and apply the doctor’s prescribed remedy, so too, assemblies of God’s people will only recover and be restored to divine power and vitality, as we receive and apply God’s remedies prescribed in His Word!
As a young “Reverend” serving as a missionary pastor in the West Indies, I began studying scripture to discover biblical assembly practices. I was convinced that the mandate for and the modelling of every valid assembly practice and doctrine would be found in the words of scripture. So I expected that whatever God wanted His assemblies to do and teach would be found in two forms in scripture: (1) by way of exhortation or instruction and (2) by way of example. But I was astounded to discover that the modern day “pastorate”, which I had assumed was a fundamental scriptural institution, found neither mandate nor modelling, neither exhortation nor example in the Word of God! The modern pastorate is not an institution over which there are denominational differences! Almost every theological camp is in full agreement with it! Yet, as a young pastor, I was dumbfounded when I could find no scriptural mandates or modelling in favour of practices associated with my “calling”! I was deeply shaken to discover that scripture gave both mandates and modelling contrary to every one of those practices!!
Please consider the following…
– the “ailments” of the modern pastorate (numbers 1 to 15) which have no biblical model or mandate and – the scriptural remedies (letters A to O) demonstrated by biblical exhortations and examples. Please read every scripture reference to see what scripture exhorts and exemplifies regarding this vital subject…
(1)“Reverend” titles are given to ordained “clergymen”. I was ordained as such a clergyman and received an ordination certificate along with the title “Reverend”. But upon examining the scriptures I found I was being disobedient to God’s word… A. Exhortation: The use of flattering titles is clearly forbidden. Job 32:21,22; Matt.23:8-11 Example: “Reverend” is a title reserved in scripture for God alone! Ps.111:9
(2) Pastors are trained in Bible schools/seminaries. I was trained in such a manner as a pre-requisite to entering “the ministry.” And I was seeking to train others as prospective pastors in a Bible Institute. But I found in scripture that I was foolishly seeking to do the work of the Holy Spirit! B. Exhortation: Seminary training is not required. Rather elders/ pastors/ overseers are to be recognized by the qualifications listed in scripture, which deal with their character, their control and their commendation by others in the community. I Tim.3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9 Example: Elders were appointed by the Holy Spirit, recognized by scriptural qualifications and ordained in every church Ac. 20:28; 14:23 The assembly is the training ground for elders/pastors/overseers.
(3) Pastors are called from other places. I was a stranger to the believers prior to commencing my “pastoral” duties among them. I discovered that our practice of calling and importing pastors from other places was contrary to the scriptural pattern. All NT elders were “homegrown”! C. Exhortation: Such are to be appointed in every city, not called from another city or country! Titus.1:5 Example: Elders were appointed in every assembly, not called to come from elsewhere! Ac.14:23
(4) People pay their pastors. I was paid by the congregation I served. But I learned in scripture that shepherds of God’s little flocks are to serve freely for love of the Great Shepherd, for love of the sheep and NOT for filthy lucre! As the old adage says, “He who pays the piper calls the tune!” D. Exhortation: Elders not to work for filthy lucre. I Peter 5:2 They are to work with their own hands to be able to give to others. Acts 20:33-35 Example: Sheep never pay shepherds! The OWNER rewards His own shepherds. I Peter 5:4 They are to serve freely without charge. I Cor.9:18; Acts 20:33,34
(5) People hire and fire their pastors! I was hired and could have been fired by the congregation I served. I taught that this was a Biblical practice, but I discovered I was wrong! E. Exhortation: Elders must give account not to the sheep but to the One who purchased them with His own blood! Acts 20:28; Heb.13:17 Example: Sheep never hire shepherds! The Holy Spirit appoints shepherds in his own flocks. Acts 20:28
(6) One man ministry is the norm. In the assembly where I pastored, I was identified as “the minister”. But I was amazed to discover that one man ministry is foreign to the scriptures! F. Exhortation: The variety of gifts of all believers are to be utilized when the saints assemble together. I Cor. 12:1-31; 14:23-35; I Pet.4:10,11; Heb.10:24,25 Examples: Plural ministry marks all assembly meetings: Ac 2,11,13:1-3; 15 & I Cor.14:23-40 All believers are holy and royal priests (I Peter 2:5-10), are all gifted for ministry and responsible to minister one to another. (I Peter 4:10,11)
(7) A man presides over meetings. As “pastor” I presided over every assembly meeting and others were silent spectators. But I could find no man in any NT assembly who did what I did what I did. G. Exhortation: “Presiding” violates the clear commands of I Cor.14:23-35; I Pet.4.10,11; Heb. 10:24,25 Example: No man presided over any assembly meeting: Acts 2,11,13:1-3; 15
(8) Pastors must be skilled public speakers. As part of my training, I was taught “homiletics” which we were told was the art of monologue sermon preparation and delivery. I taught the same to others. But reading the scriptures, I discovered that I’d been deceived again! Homilies in scripture (Greek HOMILEO) are all conversations involving a number of people! H. Exhortation: Public speaking is NOT a qualification required of overseers. I Tm.3:1-7; Tit.1:6-9 Example: Elders are servants/examples to sheep. Matt.20:25-27; ICor.16:15,16; I Pet.5:3 Homilies in scripture are always conversations among a number of people! (Luke 24:14,15; Acts 20:11 and Acts 24:26)
(9) Pulpit ministry is the central focus. My major duty was preaching sermons in assembly meetings. Sermons have become the most important part of every “church service” in all of Christendom! Yet I was astounded to learn that such a practice was foreign to New covenant assemblies of God’s people! “Pulpit ministry” is found only once in all the Bible, when Israelites had come back out of captivity and did not have the scriptures in their own hands! (See Nehemiah 8:4) Once I learned this, I became extremely uncomfortable every Sunday morning standing in the pulpit, for I knew that my being there was a definite hindrance to what the Lord desired to accomplish through His people ministering one to another! I. Exhortation: Speaking limited to one man is clearly forbidden. I Cor.14:23-40; Heb.10:24,25 Example: All N.T. preaching to believers involves interactive participation! Paul’s preaching Ac.20:7 was a dialogue (DIALEGOMAI).All homilies (HOMILEO) are conversations! Lk.24:15; Ac.20:11; 24:6
(10) Baptism must be clergy administered. But I found there was no Bible basis for my “baptismal monopoly”! J. Exhortation: Matt.28:18-20 Disciples are to make disciples and baptize them and teach them to observe all that the Lord had commanded (including baptizing other disciples!) Examples: Every baptism in scripture contradicts this tradition of men!
(11) Communion has to be clergy administered. On learning that this too was contrary to scripture, I asked other brothers to give thanks for the bread and the cup and to serve it to the believers. This was not to be tolerated by the denomination and I knew “my days were numbered” there! K. Exhortation: Scripture says nothing about “clergy” “administering”, rather saints/disciples are commanded, “This do in remembrance of me…” Luke 22:19; I Cor.11:25,26 Example: Communion is never distinct from common meals! For saints, the common is made holy! Acts 2:46; 20:7; 27:21-36; I Cor.11:20-34
(12) Men compose creeds or doctrinal statements to which the “clergy” and “church members” must subscribe. But I learned that even men’s composition of such doctrinal standards was contrary to scripture. L. Exhortation: “The Word of God is pure…add thou not unto His words lest He reprove thee and thou be found a liar.” Pr.30:5,6 Example: The Lord Jesus answered Satan with scripture alone, not with a creed. Matt.4:1-11 Paul wrote, “Which things we speak not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches but in words which the Holy Ghost teaches comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” I Cor.2:13
(13) Collections are generally received for staff salaries and buildings and it was no different where I was a pastor! But as I read my Bible, I could find no collections for such purposes! M. Exhortation: N.T. collections are for saints. (I Cor.16:1,2) They’re not for salaries and steeple houses! Example: Saints collected for the needy. Acts 4:32-35; II Cor.8 & 9
(14) Two classes, “Clergy” and “Laity” are distinguished. The clergy is distinguished from the laity by training, credentials, titles, responsibilities and manner of support. But in scripture I learned that the clergy (God’s inheritance or heritage) are the laity (God’s people)!N. Exhortation: Elders are forbidden to “lord it over God’s heritage. I Pet.5:3 “heritage” is KLEROS (clergy). All believers are commanded to minister according to their various gifts. I Pet.4:10,11 Examples: All N.T. saints are priests I Pet.2:5,9; ministers I Pet.4:10,11; God’s clergy I Pet.5:3; ordained by God Jn.15:16 and servants of God Rom.6:22; Eph.6:6; I Pet.2:16 Even under the Old Covenant, the nation of Israel was both God’s clergy (heritage or inheritance) and His laity (people). Both words are often used of them in the same verse. These are just a few examples: (Deut.4:20; I Kings 8:51,53; Ps.28:9; Is.47:6; Joel 2:17)
(15) Most pastors/elders serve within a denomination/circle of fellowship and must conform to its beliefs and practices. I served as a pastor/elder in 2 different denominations and had to conform to their stated beliefs and practices, many of which (I began to learn) were contrary to scripture. (A denomination is a group which (1) distinguishes itself from others in the body of Christ by a name not given them by God, (2)embraces doctrines which can only be stated in words which man’s wisdom teaches, (3)excludes from its fellowship many whom Christ has received, and (4) includes within its fellowship some whom Christ has not received.) In denominations which I served, I proudly taught our “denominational distinctives”. But I learned that we are to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace by embracing all that we have in common which includes all scripturally stated doctrines but excludes every wind of doctrine which comes by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive! Ephesians 4:3-16 (I am still in the process of rejecting such doctrines as I come to recognize them for what they are!) O. Exhortations: Denominationalism introduces distinctives and deceptive doctrines which divide between brothers and sisters in the body of Christ! I Cor.1:10-13; Eph.4:1-16 Examples: The Bible calls God’s people “believers”, “brethren/sisters”, “Christians”, “disciples”, “saints”, “sons of God” etc. All of these terms unite true believers in Christ.
My ministry was characterized by all 15 practices above which have no Biblical model or mandate. Applying the scriptural remedies required radical changes in my practices, associations and doctrines which I embraced. My wife and I resigned from the mission board we served, left our field of service in the West Indies, left the denomination which had ordained me, destroyed my “ordination certificate” and returned home to Canada to find other employment as well as fellowship with other saints. While the initial changes were very costly to us financially and in the loss of many friends, I can testify that every such change has brought greater liberty, blessing and opportunity for ministry in the body of Christ! The blessings have far out-weighed the costs! We know many former pastors and other saints who have taken the same course with no regrets! We have all experienced the blessing of the wise counsel of Proverbs 23:23, “Buy the truth and sell it not.”
My appeal to all believers (shepherds and sheep) is this: Would you purpose to obey the Word of God so that you, with other saints in your community, may function in the liberty which God has designed for all His people?