Q&A: Can’t anyone be a preacher?

This entry is part 9 of 5 in the series Questions & Answers

One common American evangelical idea is (quite American): if a person wants to preach, shouldn’t he/she be able to do so? This is one of those areas in which the civil/cultural ideas of the day have trickled into the church, affecting her right down to the core. In other words, we all have the right to _____, so of course we all have the right to be a preacher in a church. However, the Christian way here is at odds with the American way. Darrin Patrick says it well.

“Many people wonder why it is necessary to have qualifications for a pastor. They might think, ‘If someone wants to be a pastor, should he not have that right, regardless of whether he meets a list of criteria? And who decides what the criteria are anyway?’”

“The truth…is that all of us see the need for criteria in other professions. No one would board a plane if they knew that the ‘pilot’ loved planes but didn’t have a pilot’s license. No one would want to be operated on by a ‘surgeon’ whose primary credential was that his father was a doctor. A young couple would not entrust the design of their dream home to an ‘architect’ whose portfolio was the back of a Lincoln Logs box. Qualifications are important in every job, and the more important the job, the more important the need for stringent qualifications.”

“The New Testament places a very strong emphasis on the importance of appointing qualified elders in the church. As Alexander Strauch notes, ‘The New Testament offers more instruction regarding elders than on other important church subjects such as the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Day, baptism, or spiritual gifts.’ Moreover, there is more teaching in the New Testament about the qualifications for eldership than about any other aspect of biblical leadership.”

“The reason for this strong emphasis is that elders are charged with the sacred task of caring for the eternal souls for whom Christ died. Since a pastor has the extremely important job of teaching and caring for eternal souls, it is important to make sure the wrong men are not appointed to this office. When an unqualified doctor performs surgery, or an unqualified pilot flies planes, or an unqualified architect builds a house, people get hurt and things fall apart. It is no different in the church: people usually end up getting hurt when they are under unqualified leaders, and everything from marriages to the church itself is likely to fall apart.”

Taken from pages 43-44 of Darrin Patrick, Church Planter (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).

Weekly Devotion 5/26/2013: The Meaning of Holiness

Weekly Devotion logo
This entry is part 8 of 6 in the series Weekly Devotions

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name’” (v. 9).

- Matthew 6:9-13

For the past few days, we have seen just how important God’s attribute of holiness is and what happens when sinners stand before Him in all His purity and glory (Lev. 10:1–3; 2 Sam. 6:5–7; Isa. 6:1–7). However, we still need to consider exactly what Scripture means by the terms holy andholiness. Given that it is such an important concept, we must understand exactly what it is to be holy.

Typically, most Christians think of righteousness and ethical purity when they hear the term holy. After all, God’s Word in many passages associates holiness with righteous living and being cleansed from sin (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Peter 1:14–16). Nevertheless, holiness in Scripture, while associated with moral uprightness, is not chiefly about doing the right things; rather, to be holy is, first and foremost, to be set apart from what is common. It is to be different or unique in comparison to this world. Consequently, holiness is not a quality that people alone can possess, but time and objects can also be holy. For example, Aaron was “set apart,” separated from the other Israelites, to offer sacrifices in behalf of God’s people and mediate between them and their Lord (1 Chron. 23:13). When our Creator met Moses in the burning bush, the ground on which the encounter took place became holy ground (Ex. 3:1–6). The room in which the ark of the covenant was located in the tabernacle was the “Holy Place” (Lev. 16:1–2), and old covenant feasts and festivals made time itself holy to the Lord (chap. 23).

Something or someone is made holy when the Almighty, who is Himself set apart from all creation, sets it apart for a special use or purpose. God is holy because He is more “set apart” from His creation than anything or anyone else. Basically, God’s holiness is a function of His transcendence. Because He is high and exalted, nothing in creation can match the Lord in His glory, power, and purity (Ex. 15:11; Isa. 33:5).

The Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer communicate God’s holiness in their treatment of His name. Fallen creatures instinctively forbid murder, but it takes special revelation to tell us that profaning God’s holy, set-apart name is illegal (Ex. 20:7). Jesus tells us that the very first thing we should ask for in prayer is for God’s name to be regarded as holy in this world (Matt. 6:9). The distinction between the Lord and His creation is so great that even His name must be respected as holy.

Coram Deo

In Christ we become friends of God (John 15:12–15; James 2:23), but this is no casual friendship like we have with other human beings. The Lord is to be treated reverently by His friends, and if we do not regard His dignity and majesty, then we are not truly His friends. God is our friend, but He is not our pal, and we must take care in how we approach Him. He is worthy of all honor and glory, so may we never forget that.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 24:16
Deuteronomy 5:11
Luke 12:8–10
1 Timothy 1:1–11

Courtesy of Ligonier Ministries

Seven common fallacies of biblical interpretation

1. Preunderstanding fallacy: Believing you can interpret with complete objectivity, not recognizing that you have preunderstandings that influence your interpretation.

There is no such thing as a “white-coat” interpreter. In other words, there is no one who comes to the text as a scientist who objectively interprets the data. We all are influenced by many things including our upbringing, culture, personality, and others preunderstandings. Once we recognize this, we are better equipped to interpret the text honesty. Otherwise, our preunderstanding will always rule over our interpretation.

2. Incidental fallacy: Reading incidental historical texts as prescriptive rather than descriptive.

While the Bible teaches us truths, not every incidental detail is meant to teach these truths. Much of the Bible is made up of information that is important to the overall story, but is not important in isolation to the rest. We must understand the difference between ”prescriptive” and “descriptive” material.  Prescriptive: information that provides the reader with principles that they are to apply to their lives. Descriptive: incidental material that describes the way something was done but is not necessarily meant to encourage the reader in the same action. A good example of this is the Apostles casting lots to elect a new Apostle to replace Judas in Acts 1. This is not meant to teach us how to elect church leaders, it is just the way it was done at that time.

3. Obscurity fallacy: Building theology from obscure material.

Much of the Bible is very clear and understandable. Some of it is very difficult to understand. Do not build theology and doctrine from passages of Scripture that are not clear. For example, it is very difficult to understand what Christ was talking about in John 3:5 where He mentions being “born of water.” “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” Because of its obscurity, one should not build a theology that places too much weight on what being “born of water” means. The Bible speaks clearly on many issues concerning salvation in other places. It is best to take the obscure passages and interpret them in light of the clear passages. In doing so, the interpreter can create an interpretive framework upon what these obscure passages cannot mean, even if discovery cannot be made with certainty about what they, in fact, do mean.

Obscure passages can be the most dangerous teachings in Scripture. Sadly, it is often the case that many people and traditions take obscure passages and pack their theology into them since there is no definitive way to say that they are wrong in their interpretation. This is a common fallacy committed among “Christian” cults. In other words, there simply is no more fertile ground for cults and false teaching than obscure passages of the Bible.

4. Etymological root fallacy: Looking to the root etymology of a word to discover its meaning.

The problem with this is that etymology can often be deceiving, such as in the English word “butterfly” taken from “butter” and “fly.” An etymological study of this word only confuses the current usage. The same can be said of the word “good-bye,” which is taken from the Anglo-Saxon, “God be with you.” When someone says “good-bye,” it does not necessarily (if ever) mean that they are calling a blessing of God’s presence to be with you.

From D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies:

“One of the most enduring fallacies, the root fallacy presupposes that every word actually has a meaning bound up with its shape or its components. In this view, meaning is determined by etymology; that is by the roots of a word.  How many times have we been told that because the verbal cognate of apostolos (apostle) is apostello (I send), the root meaning of “apostle” is “one who is sent.”?  In the preface of the New King James Bible, we are told that the literal meaning of monogenes is “only begotten.”  Is that true?  How often do preachers refer to the verb agapao(to love), contrast it with phileo (to love) and deduce that the text is saying something about a special kind of loving, for no other reason than that agapao is used?

All of this is linguistic nonsense.  We might have guessed as much if we were more acquainted with the etymology of English words. Anthony C. Thistleton offers by way of example our word ‘nice’, which comes from the Latin nescius, meaning “ignorant.”  Our “good-by” is a contraction for Anglo-Saxon “God be with you.” It is certainly easy to imagine how “God be with you” came to be “good-by.”  But I know of no one today who in saying that such and such a person is “nice”  believes that he or she has in some measure labeled that person ignorant because the “root meaning” or “hidden meaning” or “literal meaning” of “nice” is ‘ignorant’.”

5. Illegitimate totality transfer: Bringing the full meaning of a word with all its nuances to the present usage.

Take the Greek verb phileo. The UBS dictionary of the Greek New Testament lists these possible meanings: have deep feeling for; love; like (to do or be something); kiss. Some interpreters would commit an ITT by using all of the nuances that the word phileo has when, in fact, it usually only carries one meaning that is determined by the context.

6. Selective use of meaning: Selecting the meaning you like best.

This is like the illegitimate totality transfer in reverse. Instead of the word carrying all the possible nuances, the interpreter will select which nuance he or she likes best. We must remember that the context determines the nuance, not the interpreter.

7. Maverick fallacy: Believing that you don’t need anyone but the Holy Spirit to interpret the text.

This is a common fallacy among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who believe that the Holy Spirit works in isolation from the community of God, both living and dead. Here, people believe that the Holy Spirit reveals the meaning of text to the individual as he or she attempts to discern the voice of God coming through the Scriptures, regardless of what the historic body of Christ has said. The basic problem with this fallacy is that God has always worked in community as the Body of Christ functions together. God most certainly expects the interpreter to draw from other people’s giftedness since we don’t possess all the gifts ourselves. Ultimately, this is a fallacy of arrogance. Use outside resources and you will be discovering the power of the Holy Spirit in the community of God. Work alone and you are probably working in your own power.

(HT Parchment and Pen)

Federal judge strikes down Prop 8

Federal Judge Vaughn R. Walker wrote in his decision on the California proposition defining marriage as one man and one woman:

Plaintiffs challenge Proposition 8 under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the judge wrote. “Each challenge is independently meritorious, as Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.

Regarding the second challenge, it’s important to note that Prop 8 makes no classification on the basis of sexual orientation. The definition is one man and one woman. No homosexual person is banned from marrying within this definition of marriage shared by everybody, and there is no test for sexual orientation.

Instead, Prop 8 makes a very rational classification on the basis of a relevant characteristic—that is, the gender of the participants. Men and women are different, and there’s no getting around this. This fact has biological, emotional, psychological, and more ramifications when it comes to families and the creation and rearing of children. The fact is that both male and female are essential to marriage.

Second, I find the first challenge to be disingenuous. Defining marriage as one man and one woman does not “unconstitutionally burden the fundamental right to marry” any more than defining it as only two people “burdens” it, or defining out close relations burdens it, or an age requirement burdens it, or any of our other laws limiting who can marry whom burden it.

In other words, even after the judge’s decision, we still have a limiting definition of marriage. Therefore, it’s disingenuous to strike Prop 8 down based on the idea that it’s burdening the right to marry if the judge is going to retain the other limitations.

The only consistent options for the judge would be to either strike down all of the qualifications for marriage or let the people debate the issue and establish the definition, as they did with Prop 8, and apply the definition equally to everyone. The question is not one of equal rights (since the judge did not rule every definition unconstitutional), but of whether or not the particular defining characteristic we’re talking about is relevant to the institution of marriage (race is not relevant to marriage since skin color has nothing to do with any aspect of what marriage entails, but gender is relevant). Because defining marriage is not an issue of equal rights, it’s not the place of the judge to decide by fiat, but for the people to debate.

Instead, the judge merely arbitrarily drew the lines of definition for the people without offering any justification for why he drew the lines there and not somewhere else. The reason he offered (that it’s unconstitutional to limit marriage) is simply false. And he must know this, or he would have struck down every part of our current, limiting definition.

(HT Stand to Reason)

(See Greg’s “Same-Sex Marriage Challenges and Responses” for more on this subject.)

A Calvinist’s understanding of “free will”

There are many words and concepts in theology that suffer from misunderstanding, mis-characterization, and misinformation. “Predestination,” “Calvinism,” “Total Depravity,” “Inerrancy,” and “Complementarianism”, just to name a few that I personally have to deal with. Proponents are more often than not on the defensive, having to explain again and again why it is they don’t mean what people think they mean.

The concept of “free will” suffers no less with regard to this misunderstanding. Does a person have free will? Well, what do you mean by “free will”? This must always be asked.

Do you mean:

  • That a person is not forced from the outside to make a choice?
  • That a person is responsible for his or her choices?
  • That a person is the active agent in a choice made?
  • That a person is free to do whatever they desire?
  • That a person has the ability to choose contrary to their nature (who they are)?

Calvinists, such as myself, do believe in free will and we don’t believe in free will. It just depends on what you mean.

When it comes to the first three options, most Calvinist would agree that a person is not forced to make a choice, is responsible for their choices, and is the active agent behind those choices. They would reject the fourth believing that a person is not free to do whatever they desire (for example, no matter how much one desires, he or she cannot read the thoughts of another person, fly without wings, or transport from one location to another just by thinking about the desired location).

It is important to note at this point, there is no conflict. No matter what theological persuasion you adhere to, most of historic Christianity has agreed that the first three are true, while the fourth is false.

It is with the fifth option there is disagreement.

Does a person have the ability to choose against their nature?

This question gets to the heart of the issue. Here we introduce a new and more defined term (hang with me here): “Libertarian Free-will” or “Libertarian Freedom.” Libertarian freedom can be defined briefly thus:

Libertarian Freedom: “The power of contrary choice.”

If you ask whether a person can choose against their nature (i.e. libertarian freedom) the answer, I believe, must be “no.” A person’s nature makes up who they are. Who they are determines their choice. If their choice is determined, then the freedom is self-limited. Therefore, there is no “power” of contrary choice for we cannot identify what or who this “power” might be. I know, I know . . . slow down. Let me explain.

First, it is important to get this out of the way. To associate this denial of libertarian freedom exclusively with Calvinism would be misleading. St. Augustine was the first to deal with this issue in a comprehensive manner. Until the fourth century, it was simply assumed that people were free and responsible, but they had yet to flesh out what this meant. Augustine further elaborated on the Christian understanding of freedom. He argued that people choose according to who they are. If they are good, they make good choices. If they are bad, they make bad choices. These choices are free, they just lack liberty. In other words, a person does not become a sinner because they sin, they sin because they are a sinner. It is an issue of nature first. If people are identified with the fallen nature of Adam, then they will make choices similar to that of Adam because it is who they are. Yes, they are making a free choice, but this choice does not include the liberty or freedom of contrary choice.

What you have to ask is this: If “free will” means that we can choose against our nature (i.e. the power of contrary choice), if “free will” means that we can choose against who we are, what does this mean? What does this look like? How does a free person make a choice that is contrary to who they are? Who is actually making the choice? What is “free will” in this paradigm?

If one can choose according to who they are not, then they are not making the choice and this is not really freedom at all, no? Therefore, there is, at the very least, a self-determinism at work here. This is a limit on free will and, therefore, a necessary denial of true libertarian freedom.

Think about all that goes into making “who you are.” We are born in the fallen line of Adam. Spiritually speaking we have an inbred inclination toward sin. All of our being is infected with sin. This is called “total depravity.” Every aspect of our being is infected with sin, even if we don’t act it out to a maximal degree.

But even if this were not the case,—even if total depravity were a false doctrine—libertarian freedom would still be untenable. Not only are you who you are because of your identification with a fallen human race, but notice all these factors that you did not choose that go into the set up for any given “free will” decision made:

  • You did not choose when you were to be born.
  • You did not choose where you were to be born.
  • You did not choose your parents.
  • You did not choose your influences early in your life.
  • You did not choose whether you were to be male or female.
  • You did not choose your genetics.
  • You did not choose your temperament.
  • You did not choose your looks.
  • You did not choose your body type.
  • You did not choose your physical abilities.

All of these factors play an influencing role in who you are at the time of any given decision. Yes, your choice is free, but it has you behind them. Therefore, you are free to choose according to you from whom you are not able to free yourself!

Now, I must reveal something here once again that might surprise many of you. This view is held by both Calvinists and Arminians alike. Neither position believes that a person can choose against their nature. Arminians, however, differ from Calvinists in that they believe in the doctrine of prevenient grace, which essentially neutralizes the will so that the inclination toward sin—the antagonism toward God—is relieved so that the person can make a true “free will” decision.

However, we still have some massive difficulties. Here are a couple:

A neutralized will amounts to your absence from the choice itself.

Changing the nature of a person so that their predispositions are neutral does not really help. We are back to the question What does a neutralized will look like? Does it erase all of the you behind the choice? If you are neutralized and liberated from you, then who is making the choice? How can you be held responsible for a choice that you did not really make, whether good or bad?

A neutralized will amounts to perpetual indecision. Think about this, if a person had true libertarian freedom, where there were no coercive forces, personal or divine, that influenced the decision, would a choice ever be made? If you have no reason to choose A or B, then neither would ever be chosen. Ronald Nash illustrates this by presenting a dog who has true libertarian freedom trying to decide between two bowls of dog food. He says that the dog would end up dying of starvation. Why? Because he would never have any reason to choose one over the other. It is like a balanced scale, it will never tilt to the right or the left unless the weights (influences) on one side is greater than the other. Then, no matter how little weight (influence) is added to a balanced scale, it will always choose accordingly.

It must also be noted that there is no such thing as a “neutral” will towards God. Our wills are either good (i.e., in line with God's will) or bad (i.e., not in line with God's will). There is no middle ground.

A neutralized will amounts to arbitrary decisions, which one cannot be held responsible for.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that libertarian choice could be made. Let’s say that the dog did choose one food bowl over the other. In a truly libertarian sense, this decision cannot have influences of any kind. Any decision without influences is arbitrary. It would be like flipping a coin. I chose A rather than B, not because of who I am, but for no reason at all. It just turned out that way. But this option is clearly outside a biblical worldview of responsibility and judgment. Therefore, in my opinion, the outcome for the fight for true libertarian free-will comes at the expense of true responsibility!

In conclusion: while I believe in free will, I don’t believe in libertarian free will. We make the choices we make because of who we are. We are responsible for these choices. God will judge each person accordingly with a righteous judgment.

Is there tension? Absolutely. We hold in tension our belief in God’s sovereignty, determining who we are, when we live, where we will live, who our parents will be, our DNA, etc. and human responsibility. While this might seem uncomfortable, I believe that it is not only the best biblical option, but the only philosophical option outside of fatalism, and we don’t want to go there.

Thoughts? Do you believe in free will?

(HT Parchment and Pen)