"It's the economy...stupid!" A now recognized
common phrase signifying what even the most astute politicians seem to
forget--the obvious. It is in that tone I chose the title of this article: "It's
the Church... Stupid!" In evangelical circles today the obvious has been
forgotten; that genuine ministry, the training of people for ministry, and
orthodoxy is all taught, affirmed, trained and tested in the local church. But
today the intellectual elite have made significant inroads into evangelical
camps spreading their gangrenous teachings that are infecting the body of Christ
profoundly. I truly hope this article will be a clarion call to recover biblical
ministry in our day and time once again.
Scholarly Evangelical Terrorism
The evangelical church today is being hijacked by the religious scholars,
intellectuals, and academics. These are the ones who live to make a name for
themselves by coming up with new twists and takes on orthodox biblical
Christianity for the sake of “getting published” and working the personal
appearance circuit. Though highly learned, these scholastics are educated way
beyond their intelligence. They have left the careful study of Scripture which
they now “wrest to their own destruction.” Peter goes on to warn, “You therefore
beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with
the error of lawless people and lose your own stability” (2 Peter 3:16b-17).
These are the erudite elite who pride themselves on their diminutive dexterity
to debate, dispute and deduce. They contemplate their navel and call it wisdom;
they wax eloquent philosophically and condescend to those who confine their
thoughts biblically; they rewrite and reinterpret Scripture and call it
editorial license or illuminating historical insight. The diagnosis is apparent:
what they are suffering from is a severe case of A.D.D. (Aberrant Doctrinal
While many of these academics consider themselves to be
brothers in Christ and also would be seen by most in evangelicalism as so, I say
this soberly and with great trembling, that it is necessary on this issue, to
treat them as nonbelievers. They have succumbed to the spirit of the post-modern
age by embracing that which they would have condemned less than a generation
ago. It should come as no surprise, that most of the latest overture concerning
theological error comes from these ministerial mavericks who operate in the
vacuum of their own perspicacity absent of the onion skin of proper local church
eldership to examine what they pen before they publicly disseminate.
Accountability and submission to the God-appointed biblical eldership of the
local church guards one against error and promotes Christlikeness through sound
doctrine. Those words of accountability and submission are anathema for
these self-regulating, self-governing academics. I would rather go to battle for
the gospel with five biblically trained elders through the local church then a
hundred professionals that have come through the halls of seminarian
scholasticism. It's the professionals that have brought evangelicalism to the
abyss of apostasy--not the faithful godly elders of local churches (Gal. 1:6-9).
(As I write this article, I am more grateful than ever for the elders of my
local church as they keep faithful watch over this ministry and my life.)
They're Wolves in Sheeps Clothing... (but they seemed so nice)
Needless you think I am being an alarmist, here is a sample of the sagacious
fruit blossoming from the intellectual evangelical shrubs of today:
Open Theism – represents not the God of the Bible, but a god who is a "risk
taker" with His creatures; not knowing their future and Who therefore, is not
sovereign over all things;
• The New Perspective of Paul – the teaching
that denies the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (both active and
passive) in justification and wants to rewrite and reapply first century
• The Resurgence of Modalism or Anti-Trinitarianism – the
teaching that denies the existance of the One Triune God, Father, Son and Holy
Spirit as three persons in the God-head, one in essence; co-equal; co-eternal;
co-existing; each worthy of glory and worship;
• The Ecumenism of
Co-belligerence - this is the marriage between Protestants and Romanists for
fighting cultural ills and bringing about moral social change representing a
blurred theological unity. To quote Tertullian, “what does Jerusalem have in
common with Rome?” Paraphrasing, “what does biblical Christianity have in
common with Roman Catholicism?” The answer is obvious... nothing.
Lastly, The Politicization of the Church - fighting spiritual battles with the
carnal weaponry of legislation, boycotts, petitions, and constitutional
amendments. Though politically conservative in its roots, this militant battle
for Christian rights in society is actually liberal theology rearing its ugly
Think of it: the gospel itself; the character of God; the God-head
- the Trinity; partnering with those of another religion; and turning to
politics as the cure for society is all being propagated these days in
evangelicalism as acceptable Christianity. This is how great the need is in the
hour in which we live for a recovery of biblical ministry.
machinations were not born from the womb of local church ministry. These
Mongoloid beliefs were born in the vaginalistic halls of scholarship—and sadly,
are now being adopted in many evangelical seminaries as well. The church should
beware... When the process for preparing men for ministry began to embrace a
“university academic model” rather than a “local church biblical model” the end
was inevitable; and today, we are reaping derisory results. I agree with Dr.
MacArthur when he poignantly said, “you don’t go liberal by reading your
Bible!” My father wrote these powerful words in the opening leaf of my very
first Bible many years ago, "This Book will keep you from sin; or sin will
keep you from this Book." Words of wisdom, aren't they?
juncture a disclaimer is needed: there are many wonderful gifted and godly men
that teach at many seminaries around the country. By challenging the university
system or model is by no means an indictment against these men of God. Many of
them are contending for truth and orthodoxy at these institutions and for that
we all should be profoundly grateful and remember them in prayer. Secondly, I
only know of one seminary in the country that has gone to great lengths to close
the gap between seminary and the local church in an unapologetic and intimate
partnership of ministry and that is The Master's Seminary (TMS) under the
leadership of Dr. John MacArthur and the elders of Grace Community Church.
Again, none of my words are meant to impugn or cast judgment against that fine
school. If all seminaries had the tie to the local church with elder/pastoral
oversight that Master's had, we wouldn't be on the down-grade that we are in in
evangelicalism today. I thank the Lord for Dr. MacArthur and the entire staff at
The Classroom Doesn’t Make a Shepherd
sheer arrogance and intellectual naïveté of academia is beyond biblical
rational. Here is the foolishness of the university model for ministry: You
teach a group of men in a classroom for four years; give them training in the
art of "informational regurgitation"; give them needed and valuable tools in the
languages (Greek and Hebrew), systematic theology, church history, and general
Bible knowledge; and somehow magically at the end of that four years of
education, out pops a pastor… a shepherd of God’s people— This is asinine-and
that's the problem. A classroom a shepherd does not make. Is it any
wonder that evangelicalism is in the inebriated state we find it today? The
ministry, beloved, has been drugged, date-raped, and thrown back as no longer
virgin in her beliefs by these would be scholastic theological predators. Again,
genuine biblical ministry must be inextricably linked to and under the
accountability of the local church--or its not biblical ministry.
heart goes out to the many well meaning, spiritually motivated and called men
that have felt the leading to attend seminary to be trained for ministry. But
why isn't that happening in the local church too? It is like the scrapping of
nails on a blackboard to me. I have been taught by so many great men of God that
genuine ministry is to take place in the local church. I agree wholeheartedly.
But then are we to say that the training for that ministry happens outside the
local church or absent of the local church? How so? What is the biblical model
in the Word of God that gives credence for such duplicity? All biblical evidence
directs us to the local church and its leadership for the training, preparation
and confirmation to serve as undershepherds of Christ to His people (Acts 20; 1
Tim. 3; 2 Tim. 2; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5, etc.).
Here are a few concerns for
the continued adoption of the university model for the training of men to serve
as pastors. Firstly, a pragmatic reason is financial. It is reasonable to
assume that an average year of seminary training costs around $10,000 a year or
more for tuition. If you add in living expenses, books, etc. the numbers go up
dramatically. Most couples come out of seminary massively in debt, with immense
pressure on their backs, and little or no hope of paying off the obligation
quickly even with a good salary package from a local church. Think of what a
fraction of those funds could accomplish within the local church if applied to a
biblical model for ministry training? With all the internet tools available
online and whole libraries of classic theological works and commentaries on CD
Rom for pennies on the dollar; as well as very detailed Greek and Hebrew
language tools and parsing guides, etc. real pastoral training and ordination
can be done effectively, precisely and thoroughly within the local church
without it being financially burdening, or considered a "second-rate poor man's"
approach to pastoral training. In fact, it can be just as if not more effective.
Secondly, I know what happens at the end of seminary schooling...
the student emerges educated—-but not trained in biblical shepherding. I have
more than seen this first hand as I travel around the country to various
institutions. Some end up using their newly acquired congregations as ginny-pigs
to complete their education. Many split a church within the first two years of
service; or, simply move on to another unsuspecting body of believers after
their collection of "thirty sermons" have all been preached through twice. You
think I'm kidding--I'm not. This is tragic. Pulpits should not be playgrounds
for inexperienced aspirants to display their less than stellar communicative
skills and untested giftedness to simply gain some speaking time at the expense
of the spiritual health of a local body. Ministry is serious business and is not
for the pastorally adolescent.
Should Pastors have to be Requalified on
a Regular Basis?
Policemen have to be requalified in some cities every eight
weeks with their side-arm to show competency and accuracy of how they use their
weapon. Pilots for major airlines have to be requalified at least twice a year
on efficiency ratings and the handling of the aircraft... Once again to prove
competency and accuracy. The question is obvious... if the world requires this
of pilots and police, how much more should pastors who are dealing with peoples
lives for eternity, have to prove competency and accuracy in how they handle the
Word of God and shepherd His people? Where are they ever requalified proactively
for ministry to prove that they can still handle God's Word and minister
effectively to His people? One gentleman told me that he feels he has to be
qualified everyday. I understand the sentiment behind those words. So does the
pilot and the policeman. It's not enough to do the work everyday--but to prove
the calling is another thing altogether.
This is difficult isn't it? I
know of some pastors that will absolutely run from you if you ask them to
clarify a point in their sermons or challenge them as a faithful Berean is
supposed to according to the standard of Scripture (Acts 17:10-12). They get
their feathers ruffled and may not speak to you for a long while or even label
you as being caustic, divisive, or factious. And the only thing that someone has
done is be a faithful Berean to them. This is so unfortunate. We've gotten too
sloppy, sensitive, and sentimental with ministry, haven't we? Let me say, if you
are a pastor that has members in your church that are holding you accountable
for what you teach, they may appear to you as nothing more than a gadfly in your
life, but you better thank the Lord for them. They are His servants to you to
remind you to "watch your life and doctrine closely."
Why I Love
the Church... The Place of True Ministry
A true shepherd is not marked by
his love for knowledge, or even his love for preaching, but his unmistakable
love for the church--the people of God. This is the heart that drives authentic
ministry. Love for the Lord; love for His Word; love for His people; and a love
to just serve no matter how great or small the task may be.
be defined as service to God and His creatures as we employ our Spirit-given
giftedness, according to the instruction of Scripture as good stewards of the
manifold grace of God for the advancement of His kingdom; that in all things God
may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:10-12)
designed genuine ministry to be inseparable from the life and leadership of the
local church. Any ministry that does not strengthen one's commitment to the
local church is inconsistent with the purposes of Christ. (Acts 2:42-47; Hebrews
There are five reasons why we should love and serve and be
trained in ministry within the church: Firstly, Jesus Christ promised to build
the Church-therefore, my commitment should be to it (Matthew 16:18; Acts
2:39-47). Secondly, He purchased the Church with His own precious
blood-therefore, I love those for whom He died (1 Peter 1:19; 1 John 3:14-16).
Thirdly, the Church is the predominate agency through which God's will is
manifested on earth-therefore, it is the community with whom I labor (Ephesians
1:9-10; Colossians 1:28-29). Fourthly, the Church is the only earthly expression
of heaven-therefore, we must daily grow together in conformity to the fullness
of Christ (2 Peter 3:10-14; Revelation 4:4-11; Ephesians 4:12-13). And fifthly,
the gates of Hades will not prevail against the Church-therefore, in light of
the assured victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, our worship and toil is not
in vain (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58).
In response to these
truths and to insure a life of godliness and holiness and to guard against blind
spots in personal life issues, vocation and theology-submission to the plurality
of godly leaders within the church is essential. (1 Timothy 3:1-7) We are to
obey, honor and pray for the faithful pastors in the church who have been given
this sacred trust. They are those who are instructed by the Lord to keep watch
over our souls as ones that will give an account. Woe to the shepherds who do
not take their responsibility to shepherd the flock of God seriously. They
dishonor the Savior. They disobey the Scriptures. They diminish their office and
defame their calling. (Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:1-4) In the case of a
Christian being overtaken in sin, proper discipline must be exercised within the
church to bring about restoration and reconciliation (as prescribed in Matthew
18:15-20; Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). This is to confirm
repentance and to guard the purity of one's life personally as well as the
entire body of Christ corporately.
So What’s a Seminary to Do?
the current model continues to exist, here is a possible suggestion that could
bring some balance in the process: it should be required that upon completing
the classroom portion of Seminary training, and before being awarded a degree
and affirmed as a pastor fit and ready for local church ministry, that one must
first serve as an underling in a local church for no less than two years and
overseas in missions for at least one year. This would give them some time to be
mentored in discipleship, evangelism, ministering to the poor and those in
prison, serving and caring for the daily needs of others, visiting hospitals,
preaching the gospel in the open marketplace, and a chance to have their
learning tested and tried and found useful.
Upon completing these three
years of biblical shepherding in the crucible of the local church, then,
evaluation would be given in tandem by that sponsoring local church and seminary
together as to whether or not that man was fit for pastoral ministry. Then and
only then, should a degree be issued from that particular seminary affirming a
man qualified for pastoral ministry and service within the local church. Listen,
seminary alone no more prepares a man for the rigors, challenges, and biblical
responsibilities of pastoral ministry, than attending a few seasons of the
Boston Pops Orchestra prepares one to be an accomplished classical musician. The
ironic thing is seminary is supposed to equip men biblically for ministry; but
the very process and function of the university model itself is unbiblical.
Its the local church... stupid!
What is the Biblical Model for
The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus)
provide most everything we need to know about the biblical model for pastoral
ministry found solely in the local church (along with Acts, 1 Thessalonians and
1 Peter). First Timothy reveals how to conduct yourself in the household of
faith and what the qualifiers are for those desiring to be elders. Second
Timothy clearly marks out the call and function of the pastor/elder. And Titus
is the handbook on biblical evangelism.
Consider a portion of those
words of Paul to Timothy when he said, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the
grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which you have heard from me in
the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able
to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2). This is true apostolic succession and
biblical training for ministry. Notice that the foundation for effective
ministry is the "grace which is in Christ Jesus." No man may accomplish
anything for the Lord apart from Christ and His sanctifying grace. This is why
Spurgeon, Moody, Havner, etc. did much for the kingdom armed only with the Word
of God and never went through the seminary process. Jonathan Edwards trained a
handful of men at a time in his home for three years or so and then found them
churches to serve in. Paul modeled this in Ephesus; he personally trained
Timothy and Titus; Pricilla and Acquilla; etc. He planted churches and appointed
elders and trained men for ministry until his death. The Lord Himself had twelve
disciples that He invested in for over three years. Small groups of men all
thoroughly equipped by the Lord, Paul and faithful others and all in the context
of the church and not the halls of higher scholasticism.
"I Will Build
*It's in the local church where the Apostles teaching was
honored and adhered to; where fellowship occurred; prayers were given; and where
the ordinances of communion and baptism were practiced.
*It's in the
local church where charity was demonstrated and the practical needs of people
were met (Acts 2:40-42).
*It's in the local church where purity of life
is guarded and where is sin is confronted and disciplined if necessary (Matt.
18:15-20; Gal. 6:1-3).
*It's in the local church where men were selected
and trained, tested and and affirmed for the ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-9; Titus
1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
*It's the local church that is the pillar and
support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).
*It's in the local church where the
Word of God is cherished and its authority recognized and honored; where sound
doctrine is taught and those who contradict refuted (1 Tim. 4:12-16; 6:20).
*It's in the local church that genuine worship occurs; where Christ is
corporately exalted and praised (1 Cor. 14; Col. 1:15-20).
*It's in the
local church that spiritual gifts are fostered and evidenced; employed as a
service for the one anothers in the body of Christ building itself up in love (1
Peter 4:10-12; Eph. 4:16).
*It's in the local church that the saints are
equipped to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-15).
*It's in the
local church that evangelism is taking place as the gospel of grace is heralded;
the Lord adds to the number daily (Acts 2:36-42).
*It's in the local
church that the offerings of God’s people are given to sustain the work of the
ministry (2 Cor. 8-9).
*It's in the local church where heresy is not
condoned and factious people spreading false teaching are confronted and
contained (Titus 3:9-12).
*It's in the local church that the widows and
orphans receive special care (1 Tim. 5)
*It's in the local church that
the Lord is honored as head of His body so that in all things He receives the
preeminence (Col. 1:18-20).
Is there any doubt that the church is the
place where all genuine ministry occurs and where the people of God are trained
for the ministry? Paul's charge to Timothy for the ministry is profound. Listen
to these words seldom mentioned in the halls of academia. "In the presence of
God and Christ Jesus and of the elect angels, I charge you to keep these rules
without prejudging, doing nothing from selfish ambition; I charge you in the
presence of God and Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and
by His appearing an His kingdom: preach the Word..." (1 Tim. 5:21; 2 Tim.
4:1-2a). These are the marching orders and standard for any true servant of
Ministry... A Gift of Multiplication
Paul then uses a
Greek word, hikanos, for the phrase who will be able to which means: "to
bring someone to an effective level of responsibility and excellence; to meet a
standard of competency." The faithful men can only be determined in the close
scrutiny of the local church. Paul is not calling a man to education or mere
academics—he was not about such trivial things. He was calling a man in
character in doctrine to be fit for the Master's use. What Paul has in mind here
Notice that there are four generations of disciples
here. Paul -1; Timothy -2; faithful men -3; who will teach "others also" -4.
That is the process. Are you a Paul to a young Timothy? Are you a young Timothy
being mentored by a Paul? Are you a Timothy investing with other faithful folk,
and are they being discipled so effectively that they are investing in others
lives? This is biblical ministry at its core.
Biblically, the context
for ministerial training is not a classroom or school, but the church. Thus, is
it any wonder that the latest trends of heresy and aberrant doctrine are coming
from that university model where the biblical model has been given a back seat?
Seminary, Sheminary… Just Buy Me MacArthur’s Latest Tape
things in balance, there are some seminaries, as mentioned above, that are doing
a fine job and producing godly men in service to the Lord. Sadly, there are also
quite a few others that don't have the results that we would all have hoped and
prayed for. The godly fruit in producing well-equipped men from the university
model today is less than promising. Several graduates come away from four years
of education not gifted as biblical expositors, not insightful in practical
theology, and not that equipped to serve as under-shepherds of Christ. They are
average communicators, possessing a paltry use of language, are not
soul-stirring preachers of the gospel, and if we're being truthful, must rely on
getting their Sunday morning messages in their first years of ministry by
listening to a cassette tape or reading a commentary from their favorite Bible
teachers. They will even preach those well-known expositors' outlines and
represent it as if they wrote it themselves. (If this assessment is even close
to being accurate, then we are in dire need of genuine reformation and revival
in the seminaries across our great land.)
To illustrate this point, I
had a chance a few years ago to minister in song at a very fine church in the
Northwest. The pastor was a man who had recently graduated from a prominent
west-coast seminary. As he began to introduce his message something sounded
cacophonously familiar; I had that exact same message glued on the inside back
two pages of my Bible. A dear friend of mine, Dr. John MacArthur, preached it a
few years earlier and it impacted me greatly; so I copied its outline to my
This young pastor said to his congregation in his introduction
(my paraphrase), “as I was pouring myself laboriously over the text in my
study this past week, asking the Lord to grant me the wisdom and clarity to
preach the Word of God to you; He gave me some tremendous insights as to what
genuine saving faith looks like and what it doesn’t look like that I want to
share with you this morning. Turn with me to…” You know the routine. I then
showed my tour manager the detailed typed notes in the back of my Bible. As that
man continued to preach with my tour manager looking on to my carefully typed
notes—he had an interesting and humorous experience. He said it was what Yogi
Bear reffered to as, “Deja-vu all over again.”
After the service,
we all went out to lunch at a restaurant nearby and the pastor asked me,
“Steve, you hadn’t said anything yet, but uh… what did you think of my
sermon?” I told him, "I even loved it when MacArthur preached it." His face
turned bright red as it sunk into his very sympathetic Cobb salad. He was
rightly embarrassed and a few of his staff had some interesting comments for him
when leaving the eatery.
A Challenge… Train Men God’s Way--Get Back to
the Local Church
You see when men are trained by a download of more
information as is the case in a university model for ministry, then your whole
existance is tied up on delievering that information in one or two 45 minute
sermons each week. That becomes the sum and substance by then which men are
measured for their effectiveness in ministry: did he preach good and did it
impact the listeners. That's it. But anyone knows that is only a small part of
pastoral ministry. Prayer, shepherding, discipleship, church discipline;
training elders and deacons, visiting the sick, etc. is all valuable work, but
is seldom taught or even approached in the university model. Biblical training
for the same task in a local church model brings a balance and depth on the
totality of biblical ministry that the classroom does not afford.
man I described above would have done much better if he just played Dr.
MacArthur’s tape with John preaching his own sermon. This would have been a good
choice for two reasons: 1.) It would have been a much more powerful sermon, more
biblical, and more beneficial to the hearer; and, 2.) he would have avoided
sinning in being deceitful and prideful in his pulpit plagiarism.
Havner put it this way, “Back in the Lord’s day the early church had men with
heat and no degrees; today we have men with degrees and no heat.” Well said
Vance... He was right. That preacher above had all the right information, but no
heat--no passion--no gift. He didn't own the text; and the text surely didn't
own him. His reliance was on another man--as good as that man is--but not on the
Lord. Paul described himself as a man not much to look at; wasn't a great
communicator; not gifted with words; considered himself the chief of sinners and
the least of all the apostles; saw himself as the scum of the earth and the
dregs of this world. But oh how the Lord equipped him by His Spirit and grace to
do great things for the Lord in the ministry. A man like Paul would be shunned
in most university model seminaries today, but I know that he would have found
favor in the local church model.
Oh to have men of God trained in the
local church to preach His Word, shepherd God’s people, pray for all those he is
over as an under-shepherd of Christ, and proclaim the gospel to the lost; doing
all things for the glory of the Lord and for the sake of the elect.
want to challenge the pastors that might be reading this. Can you imagine if you
trained future pastors for your church, out of your church rather than farming
them out to the seminaries? It would revolutionize pastoral ministry as we know
it and give strength to the leadership of your church like few things would.
Seminaries for the most part are failed institutions— just look at the product
they're turning out. You have nothing to be intimated about. Biblical eldership
is the way to insure that you have men of God that can carry on the work of the
ministry faithfully. In addition, you will guard your congregation from the
foreign elements of heresy and aberrant theology by keeping watch over the flock
of God. I know this sounds simple and yet radical in this day and age—but it
shouldn’t be. I have spoken to many evangelical leaders, even seminary
professors, who are just as burdened for the current state of seminary education
and the constant erroding landscape of evangelicalism to aberrant strains of
skewed theology. They are very concerned at the less than effective “product”
being produced by most of these institutions today. The solution is not simple
nor easy, but it can begin by going back to very model that the Lord Himself
instituted--the local church.
Men should be trained for ministry as Paul
did: in the church, by approved eldership; according to the Word of God; by
faithful men, to faithful men, who will teach others to do the same also.
Remember, its not the seminary, or halls of scholarship; it’s the church...
Yours for the Master’s use,