Monday, July 21, 2008

Selecting Teachers in the Church

By Bruce Mills
This past Sunday, I finished teaching through the latter portion of Romans 2. In this section of Scripture, Paul is addressing the Jews who prided themselves on their having the Law, but he castigates them for their hypocrisy in disobeying it. One part of this passage which I found particularly interesting is found in verses 21 and 22.

In those verses Paul uses four rhetorical questions by which he takes the Jews to task for thinking they kept the Law when, in reality, not only did their understanding and teaching fall far short of God’s Law, but their obedience to it also fell far short. They were blatant hypocrites.

In theological terms, their preaching reflected orthodoxy (right doctrine), but their lives did not reflect orthopraxy (right practice). They are much like the cop or the judge who takes a bribe, in direct contradiction to the laws they have sworn to uphold and endorse. And because of their greater responsibility, they bring upon themselves greater punishment.

Paul’s first question in verse 21 particularly caught my attention. It is, “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” I like the way J. B. Phillips words this question in his paraphrase, because I think it helps us understand Paul’s meaning. He renders it, “But, prepared as you are to instruct others, do you ever teach yourself anything?”

The application of this question to us in the church today goes far beyond Paul’s immediate and primary purpose in addressing the hypocritical Jews of his day. We also need to understand the importance of practicing what we preach, particularly those of us who teach the Scriptures.

Scripture places a higher standard for righteous conduct upon those who teach the Word. Those who teach others are expected to live lives which reflect God’s true righteousness as revealed in the Word. God is very clear about this. James gives this very somber warning in James 3:1—“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

I am tremendously bothered by those churches who will have someone come along who makes a profession for Christ, starts studying his Bible and gains a little knowledge, is all excited about what he is learning and naturally wants to share it with others, so the church sticks him into a teaching position within a year or so of his profession of faith. He really hasn’t had enough time to be grounded in the faith, and to demonstrate through his life both the genuineness of his salvation or the on-going sanctification of the Spirit in changing him into the image of Christ. Yet they will put him into a teaching position simply because he is excited about the Bible and wants to teach others what he knows.

Sometimes the leaders of those churches will even try to justify doing such by saying, “Well, we are very careful. We don’t allow them to teach adults; we just have them teach the children. We use a Sunday School curriculum that they just have to read to them.” In other words, they are willing to entrust the eternal souls of their youngest, most eager learners to someone who barely knows more than those he is teaching with the hope that he will not teach heresy to those children.

But how often have you seen someone who seemed to have come to faith in Christ, but a year or so later, when the trials of life came, they turned and walked away and went back to their old way of life, and thereby demonstrated that they never were genuine believers in the first place?

All that does is create an environment where when you come along and try to witness to an unbeliever who has observed such things, they laugh and say, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen how effective your Jesus is; I knew a guy who claimed to receive Jesus, and he quit his drinking and his carousing, and he was teaching in the church, and a year later, he was back doing the same things again. So don’t tell me about how your Jesus is going to change my life forever. I don’t believe it.”

And even in those cases in which the individual is a true believer, it simply isn’t fair to him or to those he teaches because he really hasn’t had time to be sufficiently grounded in the Word and become knowledgeable of sound doctrine. Even the apostle Paul, after his conversion on the Damascus Road, went away to Arabia and Damascus to learn, meditate, and study the Old Testament for three years. He began to preach in Damascus and they ran him out of town, so then he returned to Jerusalem to spend a couple of weeks with Peter and James, both of whom were the leaders of the church there. So Paul’s formal ministry didn’t really get started well until three years after his conversion.

Now, I’m not saying that three years is a “magic number,” but what I am saying is that we shouldn’t grab new professing believers simply because they are excited about Christ and willing to tell others what they have learned, and throw them into a teaching position. I believe every Christian should be sharing with others what they have learned from Scripture, but not necessarily in a formal sense of being a teacher over a group of other people. Those who are going to set themselves up as teachers of God’s Word need to spend a sufficient amount of time before doing such to learn sound doctrine and demonstrate the reality of that doctrine in their lives, as they live in accordance with it.

This is particularly important when a church or denomination is going to ordain someone to the ministry. Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:22, “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others.” In other words, don’t ordain someone to the ministry too quickly, because when you do, you share responsibility for the sin they commit if it turns out they weren’t truly a faithful servant of God. You need to give plenty of time to make sure they are truly one of God’s chosen voices for Him, and the evidence will be in how they live their lives, not in what they say.

No comments: