Friday, October 27, 2006

Don't call me Teacher: Discerning the Body

We divide ourselves along human lines

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-7)

A generation ago, divisions among Christians were predominantly drawn along denominational lines, but with the explosion of non-denominational and evangelical Christian churches, things have changed. Today many Christians distinguish themselves based on who their leaders are more than what denomination they belong to. This was certainly the case in the first century church at Corinth.

For many of the Christians at Corinth, leaders like Paul and Apollos had become more than brothers in Christ, they had become elevated in the minds of their followers, they had become leaders of become leaders of churches and leaders of movements and for those who gathered around their ministry and leadership, they became a distinction by which fellow believes divided themselves. This is not to say that Paul or Apollos elevated themselves, but it was the people who elevated them in their own estimation and used Paul and Apollos as symbols to divide the body of Christ.

Many churches today are leader, or pastor, focused. Many people’s affinity to their church is based on their pastor’s or leader’s ministry. Loyalty to the church is often equated to loyalty to the pastor or leader. When a believer’s identity to the body of Christ is found in their identity to their pastor or leader, then we become like those in the Corinthian church who say, “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos.” Paul tells us that when we make distinctions among believers based on who are leaders or pastors are, then we prove ourselves to be carnal and fleshly. Here are some questions we should ask ourselves.

  • Is the primary goal and purpose of our programs and efforts to increase our church’s attendances, finances, and commitment among its members or is it to expand the Kingdom of God?
  • Do we rejoice as much when God is blessing another church in town as we do when God is blessing our church?
  • Are we just as likely to partake of the ministry of another church or group as we are that of our own church?
  • Do any of our regular corporate expressions of our faith include the fellowship with believers from other churches or only with those from our own church?
  • Do we boast about the ministry of our church and that of our pastor and/or leader or do we boast about what God is doing in the earth?

The truth is that God has placed ministry, including pastors and leaders, in the body to benefit the whole Body of Christ. Paul concludes his rebuke to the Corinthian church saying, “So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23) God has given your pastor and the pastor at the church down the street for your benefit, and for the benefit of the entire body. They are not “your” pastor; they are the body’s pastor. They are not “your” leader; they are leaders within the Body of Christ. God has not given our pastors and leaders that we might divide the Body of Christ but rather that they might be a blessing to the whole body. Let us no longer divide ourselves around those whom we call “leader” for “all things belong to us.”

David Robison

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Don't call me Teacher: Accepting our responsibility

We transfer our responsibilities to others

In the evangelical and charismatic churches, we have become very “pastor” or “leader” oriented. If we have a problem, our solution is to find a “pastor”. If our children are not growing with God, then we must need a children’s or youth pastor. If marriages in our church are in trouble, then we need to find a marriage pastor. Some churches even have a facility pastor who cares for the physical church building. Why is it that so often our answer to needs in the church is to find someone else to meet those needs? While God has placed many gifted people in the church, their giftedness does not absolve us of our own personal responsibility to fulfill God’s word and work. For example, maybe the answer to the needs of our children and youth in the church is for us to mentor the youth rather than hiring a “professional” to do it all for us.

In Mathew 25, Jesus describes the end of the ages, when God will judge all mankind. Jesus describes this event as the judging of the sheep and the goats.

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’” (Matt 25: 31-36, 41-43)

In this picture of the end of the age, all we see are sheep and goats. There is no clergy or laity, there are not priests or pastors, there are no churches or ministries, just sheep and goats, and their judgment and their eternal destination is determined based solely on their individual participation in the work of God. In that day, it will not be enough to say, “But it was my pastor’s job to handled all the hospital and prison visitation,” or “But our church had a committee focused on how to feed the poor,” or “But we gave money to the missionaries.” In that day, it will not matter what your pastor did, what your church did, or what a ministry you supported did, all that will matter is what you did. We cannot abdicate our personal responsibility to the “professional” clergy; we all must individually participate in the work of God.

So what is the purpose of pastors, teachers, and other ministries in the Body of Christ? Paul wrote that “He 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 4:11-12) The purpose of these ministries in the Body of Christ is not to do all the work, rather they are to train and equip us to do the work of ministry. You pastor’s job is not to do all the work; it is to train you so you can do the work.

In saying this I am not sounding the call for believers to become more involved in their church, but rather to become more involved in the purposes of God. The sheep and the goats were not judged based on their church involvement but based on their involvement (or lack there of) in the purposes of God. We must realize that we all bear individual responsibility to work the work of God. We cannot delegate our responsibility to someone else, nor can we hire someone else to fulfill our responsibility, it is ours alone to do. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

David Robison

Monday, October 16, 2006

This week's on-line prayer meeting

I will not be available for this week's on-line prayer meeting. However, if others are interested in meeting together for prayer, the TeamSpeek server will be up and running. This prayer meeting is open to all Christian Bloggers who have a heart to pray for each other, our blogs, and our ministries. If you are interested in joinging us, drop me a line and I will set you up with a loging.

David Robison

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Don't call me Teacher: Eliminating the middle man

When we use labels like “priest”, “pastor”, “teach” and “father” to refer to leaders and ministers in the Body of Christ, our speech often serves to perpetuate the clergy/laity system of religion. Here are three specific issues that arise when we demote ourselves to laity and elevate others to the level of clergy.

We place others between us and God

As we have said before, under the Old Covenant, the Jewish priests served as intermediaries between God and man. “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.” (Hebrews 5:1-3) Under God’s new covenant with mankind, we can dispense with the intermediary and approach God directly. Because of the work of Jesus on the cross, we now have direct access to God. Paul writes of this access and encourages to take full advantage of it and to come boldly before God. “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)

Unfortunately, many Christians still live as if under the Old Covenant; seeking others to intermediate their relationship with God. We claim to know and love God but we are more comfortable approaching God through another rather than on our own. For example, ask yourselves the following questions.

  • When I have a difficult decision and am in need of counsel, do first set up an appointment with my pastor to discuss the situation or do I first go to God in prayer?
  • When I am sick, do I find myself in a prayer line asking for healing before I have asked God directly for my healing?
  • Is my main source of scriptural teaching that which I glean from my pastor or another teacher that I admire or is it from my own personal study of the scriptures?
  • Am I so satisfied and comforted by the love and fellowship of the brethren that I often neglect spending time with God; loving Him and being loved by Him?
  • When I sin, do I confess my sins to a priest or someone else close to me, yet forget to first confess my sins to God and ask Him for His forgiveness?

This is not to say that those who function as pastors, teachers, counselors, and ministers are not important or that they do not have a place in the Body of Christ. Rather, it is to say that we should never allow them to become a substitute for God in our lives. The gifts, anointings, and callings that God has give to individuals in His body can never replace our need for a personal and intimate relationship with God Himself. Far too often, the people of God have misused and abused the giftings and anointings God has place in the Body because they sought them as a substitute for their relationship with God. The truth is that the one you call “pastor” is not your “pastor”, God is, and until we come to know our heavenly Father as “wonderful counselor” (Isaiah 9:6) we will not know how to relate to those whom He has called to be His under shepherds. Those who lead your church are not your “elders”, Jesus is, and until we are willing to yield to the authority of our “elder brother” (Romans 8:29) we will not know how to respond to those whom He has chosen to delegate some of His authority. Those who teach you are not your “teachers”, the Holy Spirit is (1 John 2:27), and until we train our ear and learn from Him, we will not be able to discern the spirit of truth from the spirit of error in all that we hear.

The message in all of this is that Jesus wants us to come to Him directly, without feeling the need for someone to intermediate our relationship with Him. Jesus told His disciples, “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.” (John 16:23, 26-27) When we have a need, we don’t need to find a friend, make an appointment with the pastor, or seek out the man of God, we can go to the Father directly for everything we need. When we pray, we don’t need to pray to a saint, to Jesus’ mother, or even to Jesus, the Father has invited us to pray directly to Him for all our needs. What a wonderful blessing we have received under this New Covenant, that we can have our own personal relationship with God. Let us not despise this privilege by seeking others to serve as our intermediaries.

David Robison

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Don't call me Teacher: Part 1

“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)

I believe that the Christian church at large has mostly ignored this verse. Growing up, the only time I heard this verse quoted was when someone was questioning why the Catholic Church uses the title of “father” for their priests. While it is true that the Catholic Church has some explaining to do in regards to their use of the term “father”, the protestant church is not completely innocent with regards to this verse either. While we may not use the term “father” we have our own set of terms that, if Jesus were here, He would have included them in this verse. We use such terms as “Pastor”, “Teacher”, “Leader”, and “Elder” when referring to others within the church. In reality, there is little difference between the titles we use when referring to our “leaders” as when the Catholic Church calls their priests “father”. Whether protestant or Catholic, we all have to deal with this scripture and what it has to say about how we refer to others within the Body of Christ.

I believe that in this verse, Jesus was declaring the end to the Clergy/Laity religious system. Under the old covenant, there was a clear distinction between priest and layman. The priests were those who were anointed by God to approach God and to intercede before God on behalf of the people. The laypeople were not permitted to approach God on their own; the priests were their intermediaries in their worship of God. Even in the offering of their sacrifices, they had to first present them to the priests who would then present them to God on their behalf.

It has always been God’s heart to have a one-on-one relationship with all His people. However, because of sin, our spirits are dead to God and our natural response to God’s presence is fear. This was evident when God appeared to the people of Israel to establish His covenant with them. “All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. [Then they said to Moses] ‘Go near and hear all that the Lord our God says; then speak to us all that the Lord our God speaks to you, and we will hear and do it.’” (Exodus 20:18, Deuteronomy 5:27) The people were afraid to hear from God so they asked Moses to be their intermediary. With the giving of the law and the establishing of the tribe of Levi as priests, the system of clergy and laity was born, yet its days were numbered. Just as the glory that shown from Moses’ face was fading, so the system of religion established under the Old Covenant was also temporary and passing away from the start. It was set in place until a time of reformation, a time when Jesus would come to establish a new covenant, a covenant where everyone could approach God on their own, and a covenant where everyone was a priest and where everyone was anointed to minister.

Consider what Peter had to say about us as children of God. “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:5, 9) It is not only some who are a royal priesthood; we are all part of that priesthood. It is not only some who offer up spiritual scarifies; we are all free to offer up our own sacrifices to God. It is not only some who are holy while the others are common; we are all holy to God. We are all priests, we are all saints, we are all holy to God.

In the coming posts we will look at why we should not call others “father”, “teacher’, and “leader” as well as the problems that arise when we let others call us by these names.

David Robison

Friday, October 06, 2006

Service: An Elder's Function (Part 4)

Provide Counsel to Those Over Them

“King Rehoboam consulted with the elders who had served his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, ‘How do you counsel me to answer this people?’ Then they spoke to him, saying, ‘If you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.’ But he forsook the counsel of the elders which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him.” (1 Kings 12:6)

The book of Acts describes the authority structure in the church as, “the apostles, the elders, and the brethren.” (Acts 15:23 NKJV) While the subject of apostles is beyond the scope of this article, it is important to note that the main ministry of apostles is to “devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4) More than apostles, elders tend to be more directly involved in the lives of those entrusted to them. Because of their association with the people of God, they tend to have greater insight to the condition of the flock and the needs of the people. This insight can prove to be a valuable asset to the principle ministries leading or overseeing a church. They are uniquely qualified to provide counsel as to the needs of the people and how people are being affected by the ministries within the church.

At the reunion of Jacob and Esau, Esau offered to let his men lead and escort Jacob's sons, wives, and livestock back home. Jacob turned down the offer, saying, “But he said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are frail and that the flocks and herds which are nursing are a care to me. And if they are driven hard one day, all the flocks will die.’” (Genesis 33:13) Jacob reminded Esau of the needs of his flock. He was concerned for their health and well being. In the same way, elders should look out for the needs of the people. Their voice should be the voice of the people. They should be the eyes and ears of the apostolic ministry among the people. Together, elders and apostles can prove to be a dynamic team to shepherd and care for the people of God.

David Robison

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Service: An Elder's Function (Part 3)

Bearing the Sins of the People

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)

Elders do not live in a vacuum, but in their hearts bear before God the sins and weakness of the people of God. Paul's complaint with the Corinthian elders was that they had grown callous to the sins of the people. Their abhorrence of sin and their zeal for righteousness had degenerated to an arrogance rooted in their own self-righteousness. They were no longer touched by the weaknesses and stumblings of their brethren. In striking contrast, Paul showed us he was deeply touched by the weaknesses of others. “Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” (2 Corinthians 11:29)

Aaron was instructed to wear two stones, one on each shoulder, when he appeared before God. On each stone were written the names of six of the tribes of Israel. In wearing these stones he was to, “Bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for a memorial.” (Exodus 28:12). In the same way, elders are called to draw near to God with the names of the people of God on their shoulders, to remember them before God and to pray that their weaknesses be strengthened and their stumbling be pardoned by the blood of the lamb.

Judgment and Discipline

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother... [they] shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-19, 22:18 NKJV)

Paul says that we have become, “fellow citizens... and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19 NKJV) Peter says that we are, “A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people.” (1 Peter 2:9 NKJV) The church is to be a family and community of believers. In every family and community, there come times when discipline and judgment are necessary. No family or community can exist without order, and when God's people begin to stray outside of God’s law, it is the responsibility of the elders to bring order and correction. Bringing discipline and judgment is never fun, yet the actions of an individual member can never be allowed to jeopardize the health and well being of the whole body. Joshua and the nation of Israel learned this when, through the sins of one man, defeat fell upon the whole nation (Joshua 7:1ff).

When the elders in Corinth neglected to execute discipline on one of their members, Paul stepped in. “For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:3-5) Elders should never shrink back in fear from their duty to bring judgment and discipline when needed.

David Robison

A call for other Christian bloggers

It has been on my heart to meet with other Christian bloggers to pray for each other, for our blogs, for our readers, and for our ministries. To this end, I have started an online prayer meeting using a TeamSpeek server where we can all pray and hear each other. If you are a fellow Christian blogger and interested in meeting online for pray, let me know and I will set you up with access to the server. The next meeting is this Thursday, October 5th at 9:30 PM EDT. Thanks and God Bless

David Robison

Monday, October 02, 2006

Service: An Elder's Function (Part 2)

Examples to the Flock

“Nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3)

Jesus Himself referred to His people as sheep. One of the qualities of sheep is their need to be led. Sheep, left to themselves, will never find the right way, rather, each will turn to his own way. One of the mistakes commonly made by those who are called to watch over the flock of God is their belief that somehow the people of God will naturally find their own way into the things of God. We preach holiness and assume the people will become holy. We preach obedience and expect the people to become obedient. We preach the will of God and expect that the people will find their way into the will of God.

While most people know what they should do or be, they don't know how to do or be. We have become very good at telling people that they should be holy, obedient, and in the will of God, but we fail to show them how to be holy, obedient, and find the will of God. Elders are called to be leaders, to take the lead, to go before or ahead of the flock. An elder's primary function is not to merely tell the people that they should be holy, but to demonstrate with their own lives the way of holiness. An elder should not merely talk about obedience, but rather should demonstrate it. They should show God's people what holiness and righteousness look like; to be an example that the rest may follow.

Moses was given explicit instructions about how he was to anoint Aaron and his sons as ministers of God and of His tabernacle. “Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water. You shall take the garments, and put on Aaron the tunic and the robe of the ephod and the ephod and the breastpiece, and gird him with the skillfully woven band of the ephod; and you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown on the turban. Then you shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him.” (Exodus 29:4-7) All of this was to be done in the sight of the people. It was important to God that the people witness the process of cleansing and anointing. It is not always comfortable to be stripped and washed in the sight of all the people, to have God working in our lives while people are watching, but God deemed it necessary. Elders are not only to be examples of the finished product, but also of the process of being conformed into the final product. We need to learn to be transparent to the point where others can see what God desires in their life and the pathway to obtaining that goal.

Laying on of Hands

“Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.” (1 Timothy 4:14)

Too often when we look at the church, all we see are people; people full of problems, quirks, and needs. When Jesus looks at the church, He sees a “glorious church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” (Ephesians 5:27 NKJV). We tend to look with the natural eye while Jesus looks with the spiritual eye. When we limit our sight to what we see with our natural eye, we fail to see the deposit of God in our lives and the lives of those around us. Part of the ministry of elders is to help people identify that which can only be seen by the spiritual eye. Most people do not need to be reminded of who they are in the flesh; we have an enemy who’s very good at that. Rather, people need to be reminded of who they are in God. They need to see themselves as God sees them. People need to see the richness of who they are in God rather than the depravity of who they are in the flesh.

When elders look out over the people, they should not only look with the natural eye, but should also with the prophetic eye. They should look with prophetic insight to identify the giftings and callings latent in the people and to call these gifts and callings into being. Through the laying on of hands they should seek to impart, identify, and confirm the deposit of God in people. For many of the people of God, this impartation and confirmation can be the difference between victory and defeat. It can embolden the people of God to fight the “good fight of faith.”

“This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight.” (1 Timothy 1:18)

David Robison

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Service: An Elder's Function (Part 1)

There are a number of practical ways which elders extend care to the people of God. I will list just of few of them found in the scriptures.


“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17)

“An overseer, then, must be … able to teach.” (1 Timothy 3:2)

Jesus spoke of a faithful servant who was put in charge of his master's household to, “Give them their food at the proper time” (Matthew 24:45). An elder's teaching ministry is very much like the ministry of that servant. Elders are called to feed the people of God with the Word of God. Their teaching ministry should not only give the saints an appreciation for God's Word, but also help them to see themselves in the Word and to learn how to apply the Word of God to their lives. Their ministry is very much like the ministry of the elders in the day of Ezra.

“And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up... also... the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:5-8)

The teaching ministry of elders is not the laying down of doctrine; this is the role of the apostles and prophets. Their role is to take the word as it is preached and to “translate” it to the people. To help them understand how it applies to their lives and to help them to grasp the word and to graft it into their lives.

Praying for the Sick

“Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” (James 5:14-15)

An elder's care for the flock of God should not be limited to the spiritual needs of the people, but rather their care should extend to the whole person; body, soul, and spirit. Elders should not allow themselves to become isolated or insulated from the people. Elders are called to both celebrate with those experiencing the triumphs of life, and to help and comfort those experiencing the disappointments and the losses of life. Jesus shared life with those whom He was with. He was found both at the wedding in Cana and at the widow’s son’s funeral. He healed the sick and blessed the children. Jesus did not hide himself away in a monastery, seeking life-long solitude with God, rather he was found with the people, seeking to help them in this journey called life. Elders, likewise, are called to be involved in the lives of people, to be open, approachable, and personable. One of the ways that elders minister to the physical needs of the saints is though their prayers for them when they are sick. Praying for the sick in one of the ways that the genuine care they have for the people of God is expressly felt by those under their care.

David Robison