Sunday, July 04, 2004
I continue to be dismayed and disgusted at the low standards pastors are setting for themselves in the ministry nowadays. It is one thing for non-Pharisee pastors to have such abysmal standards of personal conduct because I never expected much from them, but now I am seeing even good Pharisee preachers succumbing to the siren song of slovenly standards. The last straw for me was when I saw a pastor coming out of a movie house dressed in jeans, tank top and shoes with no socks. I could not have been more shocked than if he had come out of a tattoo parlor carrying a beer!
Let me state first of all that God has always had high standards for those who lead his people. This was true of the Levites under Moses and the Judges after Joshua. You won't find any unseemly behavior from these folks without the wrath of God falling on them for the least infraction. And that was in the Old Testament. We are living now under the New Covenant, which has a much higher standard than anything that was allowed in the Old. David made a perfectly acceptable king with his adulterous, murdering behavior but no church in its right mind would ever let him be a member in good standing, let alone call him to be a pastor.
The trouble I see is that people place high standards where they ought to be low and low standards where they should be high. Let me start with some of the things that are NOT required of a good Pharisee pastor.
o A good education - The apostles never went to seminary or held theological degrees and the Bible doesn't hold any such requirement for us today. They were regarded as unlearned in their day (Acts 4:13) and even Paul says God uses foolish preachers to confound the wise. Good Pharisee pastors are self-educated in the Word of God, not educated in the God-dishonoring seminaries and institutions of "higher" learning of today.
o Impressive looks and demeanor - The apostle Paul was contemptible in appearance and good Pharisee pastors should seek to emulate him by looking poor and humble as well. We are to be clothed with godliness, righteousness and humility, not the finery of this world. The more humble I look, the more impressive I truly am.
o Wealth and connections - Good Pharisee pastors actually take pride in their poverty. Since money is the root of all evil as Paul warns Timothy, we should seek to avoid any appearance of evil by eschewing worldly wealth. We never see anyone of earthly means in the Bible blessed or highly regarded by God. So we should never seek even the appearance of being well off. Instead we are to be true to the ministry and righteously condemn those who gain a profit from the work of God as unworthy servants. We aren't in it for the money and we prove it by not having much. Anyone who makes a good living in the ministry is clearly in the wrong line of business since they are reaping man's blessings and not God's.
o Speaking ability - Good Pharisee pastors don't need to be articulate or eloquent. Our speech is not with wisdom as the world speaks but we should be plain and ordinary in our speech. In fact, the best Pharisee preachers are the ones who are the worst speakers because they are depending on God to get the message through, not themselves. Speakers such as you hear on radio and television that are polished, skilled and oratorical are to be mistrusted because they are likely depending on their own ability, not the Holy Spirit, to convey the message of God. I am justifiably proud of my poor public speaking ability because it is evidence of my humility before God. Anything that I manage to say is a reflection of His glory because if anybody gets anything out of my messages it must be God speaking through me since I have so little ability on my own.
o The expectations of the crowd - people who expect great natural talents, leadership ability and charisma should expect instead to be disappointed in a True Man of God. We are none of those things. The last thing I should seek to do as a Proclaimer of the Truth of God's Word is to seek to please the crowd. If I run into a pastor who has the admiration of the crowd and appeals to a wide audience, like Billy Graham, I know that he is a compromiser who is sacrificing the Truth of God's Word on the altar of popular appeal. We all know that men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. This means that God's Truth doesn't appeal to worldly people. So popular preachers, by definition, are not godly preachers since God's message of sin, condemnation and judgment is not a popular one.
So what are God's standards? Simple. He must be blameless according to I Timothy 3:1-5. It is clear from this passage that a Pharisee pastor must be married and he must have been married only once to one wife. No polygamists. He cannot be divorced and remarried. God may forgive him for his sin, but such forgiveness does not qualify him for ministry. To be honest, a Pharisee preacher can't be divorced at all since he clearly is not blameless, he is not ruling his own house well, he is not a good example to his flock and he can't preach against divorce with authority since he is guilty of this grievous sin himself. And those Pharisee preachers who are married need to make sure they are in a good relationship with their wives. Many a man has been disqualified from ministry in the eyes of God for not having his wife in due subjection.
He must also have his children under subjection too. A pastor with rebellious children is unfit for the ministry just as much as a divorced pastor. That is why, when my grown son went on a rebellious streak and started pastoring a non-Pharisee church, I disowned him as my son. If he wasn't going to yield to my authority as his father, then he wasn't going to be my son any longer. This is how I keep my family under control. Some consider this harsh, but I have to behave in a manner consistent with my convictions. Otherwise, how would I have any credibility when I call down younger Pharisee pastors who have children with a poor testimony in the community by wearing their hair in outlandish styles or listening to so-called Christian rock music? It is precisely this sort of low living that hurts the testimony of the ministry.
Even folks who call themselves good Pharisee pastors have dropped their standards and are failing to maintain that distinct separation between themselves and the general populace. I have seen the spirit of compromise creep into modern ministerial thought under a number of guises but all of them come down to the fallacy that preachers are fallible human beings just like everyone else. There is no sense of the high and holy calling that permeates True Ministry and elevates the Pharisee pastor to a spiritual level to which lesser Christians may only aspire, not obtain. Why, if the modern ministers of "grace" (as they call themselves) had their way, the ministry would turn into nothing more than common ordinary men leading other common ordinary folk into spiritual ruin. Today's column is an attempt to inspire today's pastors to maintain the moral and social distinctions that separate the spiritual clergy from the carnal laity.
I Timothy 3:2-3 tells us that a pastor is to be blameless in his personal life. This means that there can be absolutely no evidence of moral failure evident in his life. I would no sooner follow a pastor who attends movies or has a tattoo than I would follow a pastor who is a drunkard or a liar. Pastors who show moral lassitude by entering the pulpit without a tie on or using modern per-versions of the Bible are no more fit to be in the ministry than the self-help gurus of our day. There are so many areas where pastors must remain blameless that I cannot list all of them but I will hit some of the highlights based on Paul's writings to young Timothy.
o "Not given to wine," means that pastors today should not only be total abstainers from alcoholic beverages in all forms but they should never frequent establishments where alcohol is served. I realize that this eliminates most eateries but it is a price I am willing to pay so as not to damage my testimony. Some would say I am hypocritical for not eating at restaurants that serve alcohol while shopping at a grocery store where alcohol is dispensed. However, since I can find no grocery where alcohol is not sold, then I am forced to go there to shop. This does not damage my testimony because people know that I don't drink alcohol. If I went to restaurants that served alcohol, they might get the notion that I've "fallen off the wagon."
o "No striker" means that we Pharisees are a peaceful bunch and would never retaliate against those who wrong us unjustly. Some would call my justifiable reaction to the poor driving habits of others to be a violation of this but I am sure Paul did not have road rage in mind when he wrote to young Timothy. He was speaking of engaging in fistfights of which I have not been guilty for several years.
o "Not a brawler" confirms this and shows that the good Pharisee pastor is not an argumentative type of person. I am for the most part a gentle, meek and peaceable person except in the defense of the faith. Jude tells us to earnestly contend for the faith and matters of godliness, spirituality and Biblical Truth are worth brawling over. Combating the forces of spiritual wickedness is not what Paul had in mind.
o "Not self-willed" is a characteristic listed in Titus 1:7. The good Pharisee pastor does not rule the flock of God by his own will but by God's will. The church does not belong to the pastor but to God. However, as God's designated representative, my words proclaim the will of God to people and they are compelled to follow it as the voice of God Himself. People need to realize that when I speak and proclaim the commands of God, I am doing this for their own good. These are not my opinions, thoughts and feelings but the very opinions, thoughts and feelings of God that I address.
o "Not soon angry" covers my self-control in all things not related to the Truth of God. Being angry on God's behalf is no sin. And the sooner we get angry about the right things, the better off the world will be.
In addition to these, the good Pharisee pastor needs to be able to teach against and deal with false doctrine. Too many pastors today don't even know the difference between falsehood and error. They trade God's truth for personal opinion and preference. I have even heard some wishy-washy pastors go so far as to try and convince me that God is "uninterested in musical styles so long as the message is honoring to Him." What unmitigated garbage! Of course God is interested in musical styles. We never see people worshipping God with drums, cymbals, guitars and such in the Bible. The only acceptable musical instruments are pianos and organs - and not the electric ones with all the fancy doo-dads like rhythm and instrumental tracks. Good Pharisees stand against the spirit of compromise with the world that invites their instruments into our holy churches today and thereby pollutes them with worldly ways.
Finally, a good Pharisee pastor is known by his sobriety. He must be in control of his mind, his house, his church and his life. A pastor who is not in control is unfit for the ministry. Pastors today lose control of their minds to influences of all sorts like unwholesome radio and television programs that glorify the wickedness of the world. They should only watch athletic events and news programs that promote only the higher and nobler elements of human endeavor and are untainted by the secularizing influences of the world. They should avoid magazines that promote sensuality in its basest forms. Everyone knows that gossip magazines like People are unfit for consumption but there are more subtle publications that twist the Christian mind toward secularism, tolerance of error, and even explicit nudity like National Geographic. The good Pharisee pastor would put no unclean thing before his eyes.
In conclusion I can only say that the best Pharisee pastors live a life far superior to any in their congregation and are intolerant of error in all its forms. Too many pastors are more concerned with popularity and building a big church than they are with purity and maintaining a small but godly flock of sheep. It is our job to make sure the Bride of Christ remains pure and sinless so we can present it to him a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. The blood of Christ is a good start in that direction but the application of the water of the Word and the hyssop of good preaching will keep her pure and precious before Him.
"By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
John 13:35 (NIV)
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