(PART 3) YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN. NOW WHAT?
(PART 3) YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN. NOW WHAT?
What else should you, as a newly converted saint, look for when trying to determine which church assembly will assist you in understanding how God can become more operative in your life on a day-to-day basis? The next section, simply put, indicates that if the leadership offices of the church are misunderstood, then in all likelihood the teachings that are disseminated will express confusion in regards to the believers’ walk with God.
C. The offices of leadership
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; (Ephesians 4:11)
The names of the offices of the leadership should be clearly delineated as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. Some churches believe that the offices of apostle and prophet are no more. In these churches, there is usually one pastor who is considered as the head pastor. On another note, there are a number of churches that believe in a plurality of elders. This means that there is no distinct head pastor.
And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:6)
Furthermore, some churches call their leader a priest. It is true that Jesus Christ has made those who believe in him kings (a kingdom - the body of the redeemed collectively) and priests (those who have direct and constant access to God). However, the designation of calling someone in leadership a priest is taken from the name given to the sons of the high priest as mentioned in the Old Testament. They assisted him in the work of the tabernacle when the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years and eventually entered into the Promised Land of Canaan. Some of their duties were in offering animal sacrifices, burning incense, and lighting the lamps. (Leviticus 1:5) The high priest office was initially given to Aaron, brother of Moses, by instructions from the Lord. If Aaron had sons, then at some point one of them would become the next high priest, and so on. (Hebrews 9:6-7)
There was a third group who attended the work of the tabernacle. They were named Levites, some of whose duties were to set up and tear down the tabernacle (the tent-like structure) and make the shewbread on the Sabbath. (Numbers 1:51; 1 Chronicles 9:32)
There is no leadership title or office called priest that should be used when addressing someone in the leadership positions of the New Testament church.
What about calling someone in leadership, Father? This was mentioned in the book of Corinthians. In this instance, Paul was addressing one of many issues which were going on in the church of Corinth. This one had to do with their perception of those in leadership along with their inclination to listen to the teaching of many instructors instead of following the example set by the apostle himself.
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:6-7)
Some of them were evaluating ministers by their own personal preferences and prejudices (which could be in reference to talents, gifts, knowledge, etc.) instead of the mindset based on the word of God which states that if a minister differs from another in these things, then it must come from God. Therefore, whatever it is that has been received from God shouldn’t be the basis for a minister or those who follow him to boast.
For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:15)
Paul added a few more thoughts concerning the subject of leadership later in this chapter. He told them that though they had ten thousand instructors in Christ they did not have many fathers. What does it mean to be a father
Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. (1 Corinthians 4:16)
A father is a believer who has preached the gospel to unbelievers who consequently responded to it and were converted (spiritual generation). However, I don’t think this is the sole definition of the word. Paul goes on to say that someone who is a father should be followed. Followed in what way? “Followers” means to be an imitator of another person. How? The only way to answer this would be to look at what was Paul’s desire or hope for those who had become born again.
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.(Ephesians 4:22-24)
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; (Ephesians 5:18)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)
His hope would be that they would be conformed to the image of God’s Son. His hope was that they would put off the old man and put on the new man. His hope was that they would be filled with the Spirit.
His hope was that they would evidence the fruit of the Spirit.
His hope was that they would appear as new persons with new thoughts and new habits that were based on the word of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that some of the many instructors of the Corinthians were either not born again or if they were born again their teachings were based on human wisdom. It appears that very few who are called to the office of apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor-teacher are spiritual fathers. A spiritual father is not an office gift, but a believer who is born again and whose life has been transformed.
This begs the question again, should someone in leadership be called Father? Regarding an office (leadership) gift, the answer is no, but if we are talking about their conversion and walk with God, it would be yes. Another term when addressing someone in leadership, who has been called to an office gift, would be something like, “Hello, Apostle John,” or “Hello, Pastor Bill.” In many cases, churches that call their leader a priest or Father will bring about in their messages an admixture of teaching which promotes adherence to the tenets of the Mosaic Law, or of some other religious system involving ritual and ceremonial observances.
This brings us to the next consideration to which the new believer should be aware.
D. The content of the teachings
If you have found in the church you are attending that the Gospel is being preached, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are being evidenced, and the names of the office gifts are confirmed, then God is truly in that place. The next thing to consider is what is being taught to the assembly from those in leadership. In my early years in the ministry, I was involved with a church that preached the Gospel and evidenced the gifts of the Spirit, even though there were some teachings which indicated that the gifts of the Spirit were no more. The idea that was being conveyed was that God could work through whosoever by manifesting an expression of the gifts of the Spirit according to his sovereignty. However, the receiving of at least one gift by each member was considered to have ceased.
This church had a worldwide ministry. Affiliate branch ministries would co-labor with one another. Unbelievers were being saved. Classes were made available for those who wanted to obtain a degree in Christian education, leadership, or pastoral studies. There was a radio ministry, a softball league, musical concerts, week-long retreats, etc.
However, there was one issue that seemed to continually create problems in the lives of those Christians who were involved with this ministry, and that had to do with the doctrinal teachings of the church. Some of the messages that were presented suggested the selling of one’s property (e.g. lands and houses) for the furtherance of the Kingdom. Old Testament verses were used to provide a distinct perspective on various New Testament doctrinal teachings.
Certain sins that were committed by those in leadership were presented as being only accountable to God and God alone. They were considered acceptable as long as in the end they promoted God’s kingdom. This is not to say that all of the messages were like this. Believers were encouraged to think about themselves from a divine perspective. Solid teachings on eternal security, redemption, sanctification, the blood, justification, predestination, election, the rapture of the church, the seven year tribulation period, etc. were delivered. However, a little teaching-leaven leavens the whole lump. Not surprisingly, a court case involving a large sum of money came to the forefront. The church lost the case and subsequently filed bankruptcy, losing ownership of the entire complex. Many of those in leadership who had been with the ministry almost from its inception had resigned.
As for myself, at this same time, I was co-laboring in an affiliate branch ministry that was located in a different state. I had graduated from the affiliated Bible college a few years earlier, magna cum laude. Around this time, the head pastor of this branch ministry resigned. The person who took over eventually decided that the branch ministry would operate on its own and be unaffiliated with the main church headquarters. Besides all of this, the facility that the branch ministry owned was placed on the real estate market for sale due to unfulfilled financial obligations.
On my end, I had already made up my mind to leave the branch ministry for personal reasons. Soon, the housing which the branch ministry provided for my family would be unavailable due to the eventual sale of the facility. The church headquarters, where I had gone to Bible school, was in the process of liquidating all of its assets and starting over in a different state. I called some of the head pastors that I had become acquainted with over the years to see if there was employment available along with housing provision. Nothing was available which met both criteria. I started to apply for jobs in my area of certification (Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics) that were listed in the local newspaper, along with sending out resumes to just about every public high school in the state. Eventually, I secured a job in a public high school teaching mathematics.
I cried when we packed up and left the church facility. None of it made sense. I thought I would never leave, and here I was leaving. No church is perfect. Wherever you decide to attend ask yourself, “Does God the Holy Spirit show up? Is sin being condoned under certain circumstances?”
You are not always going to agree with every message that you hear from the pulpit. Sometimes a couple of the protocols that the Jews followed when they were under the Mosaic Law will be the same protocols that you are asked to observe. There might be teachings on certain doctrinal topics where you will find much contention in Christian circles such as (e.g. Can believers lose their salvation? Is tithing for today? Should the seventh day Sabbath still be observed? Are there apostles in the church today? Is a believer obligated to obey the Ten Commandments? Are the offices of the New Testament church gender specific? Are we commanded to abstain from drinking alcohol?).
If I were in your shoes, I would be asking the following questions regarding the content of the teachings.
Do the teachings by those in leadership help me to recognize and address areas of weakness in my walk with God so that the spiritual qualities (e.g. love, joy, peace) of the Holy Spirit can be realized in my life and be evidenced to others?
Do the teachings by the leadership of the church condone sin (e.g. adultery, fornication, slander, lesbianism, homosexuality, lying, cheating, stealing, drug addiction, drunkenness, etc.)?
Are the egregious sins committed by persons in leadership or by those in the assembly being addressed by the ones in the assembly in charge of dealing with such matters?
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