I did 1000 pushups last Saturday to kickoff summer. Yep, that’s not a typo! Will has done 200 a day for over a year without missing a single day and Ty won the national guard push-up pull-up challenge last year. Kade and Reid are also right there with us! Our family does thousands of push-ups and pull ups every summer. It connects us as a family (and others that join us in our spiritual family in this pursuit); and builds confidence, camaraderie, and “challenge” to our relationships. A few days after I did 1000 one of my best friends (Phil) and his boys that have joined us in this pursuit over the past years decided he was going to match my challenge. I joined Him in the challenge and by 5:00 we had hit our 1000. Then we decided we could do more and by 8:00 we found ourselves spurring each other on to finish 1500 together. This is the kind of challenger that the Bible encourages each of us to be to one another.
“It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi and will no longer call Me Baali.” Hosea 2:16 NASB
Ishi – “For Hosea, at the core of Baal worship is the primitive idea that God rules the world by force, as husbands rule families in societies where power determines the structure of relationships. Against this, Hosea paints a quite different possibility, of a relationship between marriage partners built on love and mutual loyalty. God is not Baal, He-who-rules-by-force, but Ish, He-who-relates-in-love, the very word Adam used when he first saw Eve. The God to whom we speak in prayer is not the ultimate power but the ultimate person, the Other in whom I find myself.”
God isn’t a cosmic moral policeman, that is an unbiblical pagan idea that is the opposite of what God does and who He is. Jesus continually set the record straight and he deliberately changed the perceived hierarchy of master-slave to teacher-friend in John 15:15. Hierarchy in the church and spiritual family is the world not God.
Hosea 2:16 is a rare occurrence where the Hebrew word isn’t translated in English, we just read the Hebrew and it is intentional as the Hebrew slang. Ish(i) is a Hebrew word of exclaimed joy in the presence of another. It is also the Hebrew word for husband. In this way it is a contronym. It can mean an extreme of something one way or the other. It’s asking God to take your worst curse and turn it into your greatest joy. In a similar way, it can also be used as a slang word in Hebrew for acting childish. Women would roll their eyes an say iiiiish. That’s were we get that expression. The word challenger is also a Biblical contronym. A challenger can be someone that brings out the best in a person or one that reduces them.
Family, specifically marriage under God, (but also within the church family narrative) shouldn’t be based on power. In our spiritual family, push-ups represent the opposite of what they do to the world. They don’t show strength or a challenge to beat someone in our family; they show a challenge to encourage and promote each other. To help each other rise to what others think is impossible. It’s a continual picture (mosaic) of what God wants to do in us. To take us farther in Christ, spurring each other on to be better for the kingdom. In Christ our spiritual family is unified to bring out the best on each other. It’s the opposite of what the world defines as a “challenge;” and in the same way that God challenges opposite of what the world thinks. God isn’t continually policing us, He is continually “challenging” us to be better in Him, and asking us to be like Him in our relationship with others in His kingdom.
The Biblical idea of marriage within covenant relationship and the church as the bride of Christ isn’t based on power. Ish(i) (my spouse) is based on the excitement of finding myself challenged and edified, and admonished by the other person.
I am who I am because of who she/we are in Christ. I have learned a lot from boys. Every person has the ability to bring anyone else to a better place regardless of “status.”
Paul says the same thing when he speaks of mutual submission in marriage (Ephesians 5:21). Domination is not love. God is love and teaches us the opposite… to challenge or lead by edification and servant hood. Lead like Jesus as a backwards picture of what the world says leadership looks like.
Be a challenger today by Jesus’ definition and not the worlds. Challenge others to be more like Him.
 Jonathan Sacks, Radical Then, Radical Now, p. 84.
-Contrasting the New Testament church and the Modern American Church
There are several reasons why the church today, particularly in American doesn’t resemble the New Testament church, but the main reason stems from the top. Let’s start with the idea of the hierarchical Pastor and I’ll briefly touch on a couple other reasons that are also connected.
THE PROBLEM OF HEIRARCHY AND THE OFFICE OF THE PASTOR
The great American church has built a hierarchy within the body of Christ that never existed in the New Testament church. We have senior or lead pastors, administrative pastors, Associate Pastors, youth Pastors, worship pastors, and several others often described as pastors. These are all steps to get to the top as within any American business. Start as the youth pastor and maybe someday you will be a lead pastor. We have almost entirely replaced the giving of gifts by the body of Christ by simply accepting gifts from those we have been placed in positions within the hierarchy of the church. In the Old Testament we have shepherds that were associated with leaders of Men in various ways, but in the New Testament Jesus is the great shepherd. He becomes the only shepherd we are looking for in the same way that our bodies replace the temple as the place His Spirit resides. We aren’t looking for a new shepherd or a new Temple and to do so would be contrary to what Jesus asks of us.
From the first pages of the Bible, humankind was created with the intention to be set apart as a royal priesthood. That meant their job was originally to rule and reign, keeping and cultivating the sacred ways of the Lord God almighty devoted to intimate relationship with the father. The role of the royal priesthood is to bring the people of the world to the Lord and represent the Lord to the world as His ambassadors. All of this would be lost in the fall but will eventually be regained. The Bible is the story of that love plan to regain what was lost. Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22 show the bookends, the plan humankind was made for. Everything else in the middle is the downward spiral of what is being claimed by the world in the Old Testament and then the beginning of the upward trajectory of the New Coevenant back to the Edenic like plan in the recreated heaven and earth near the end of Revelation.
The problem is that we get so off course in the middle. Things get far from the ideal plan or picture that God wants and designed for us. But our part as the royal priesthood is to be devoted to God’s ideal plans and not get taken away by the things of the world. The plan of the world and fallen principalities is to take what is holy and decimate and defile it. The greatest thing the devil ever accomplished was to convince the church that the worlds ways could be integrated into the modern church. The devil loves to mimic what is holy with what is unholy. This problem has set the course of the entire church body astray from the plan they were created for. The American Church today resembles a secular business model far more than it resembles the New Testament model church and more importantly, what Jesus asks of us.
One example of this “getting off course” is the way the world and specifically, the American church has turned the humble role of a servant shepherd into a lording worldly king. God’s ways were to use shepherds (those who cultivate) to humbly represent his kingdom in the Old Testament. The picture of this rule is backwards to what man’s idea of ruling looks like. The “backwards [leading] role of a shepherd” will begin to shape the way we think of servant leadership preparing the way for the Messiah. Jesus came and completely gave of himself in humility to the cross and asks us to be the church in the same way. Today the church looks more like “lord” in charge of a castle, an Old Testament king that led Israel away from the Lord, or a modern CEO. You might say most churches and their leadership look nothing like the model given to us in the New Testament of the body of Christ as the church.
In Israel, man wanted their own way and their own people to rule as a king and kingdom. This was a slap in the face to God. If we learn anything at all from the Old Testament and the story of wayward Israel, it should be that the course they chose to take was nearly the exact opposite direction that God had desired for them. The way Israel rejected God would foreshadow the way the world would reject Jesus. When Jesus comes onto the scene, those He had the most difficult time with were the ones that should have loved Him the most, the organized religious systems of His day. Thats because they claimed to represent His father’s name but were actually as far from His father’s ideals as they possibly could be. It was them that inevitably put Jesus on the cross. Today the church isn’t doing much better. We claim the name of Jesus but live nearly entirely by worldly standards. We hire “kings” to “rule” the church using worldly tactics which paints a picture not much different from what Israel chose to do; to replace God with a man and history has proven that this leads away from God not towards Him.
The church didn’t have a singular leader until at least A.D. 120 when Rome decided they should. Unfortunately, the government wanted a say in religion. Up until the 3rd century, churches shared a family atmosphere with more shared responsibilities and no singular leadership. Both Justin (A.D. 155) and Tertullian (c. A.D. 200) refer to the leader of a Sunday meeting as “the president” which during this period was defined as “whoever happens to be presiding at the meeting.”
As churches grew in size, Rome decided they should be ruled by a bishop who would be called from the nearest large city and would serve as overseer of the whole area. Overseers with this kind of territory were called metropolitans. By the time of the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, the bishop of Alexandria ruled over all of Egypt and the Roman overseer over an undisclosed area. This marked the end of the first century Christ ordained New Testament model church. This also paved the way for the “modern” hierarchy of pastoral leadership.
PASTOR ISN’T A POSITION OF THE NT CHURCH
I am sure this will come as a surprise to many readers, but the word “pastor” doesn’t exist in the New Testament and arguably in the entire Bible. We get close once and that is in Ephesians 4:11-12. You might notice that when you carefully read this that it is in the plural, might seem like splitting hairs but technically it is a different word. The “S” is important.
And 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. (Eph 4:11-12)
When I read this verse (particularly in Greek), my eyebrow raises. Notice there is a pattern that hinges around τοὺς. It’s the article, the “the.” In Greek this better reads, “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastor, teacher.” The article is not present before the teacher. Instead, it’s καὶ, which is “and.” Pastor, teacher. Harold Hoehner says this pattern “is to mark out distinctly different gifted people without implying a contrast as it would have in earlier Greek” (Ephesians, 2002). Hoerner also argues that Paul is not listing offices, but gifts. The context of Ephesians 4 is the gifting of the church; the entire section is talking about the gifts of the church not the positions of the church. When you read it this way, pastor because an adjective that describes the gift of teaching. The word we think of as the role of pastor (shepherd) isn’t a position in the new Testament, the only shepherd needed is Jesus. Every believer is asked to take on the person of Jesus and the term shepherd is the adjective that describes what our lives look like when we best reflect him; we become images of the great shepherd.
When most people use the term pastor (that specifically isn’t anywhere in the Bible) they are referring to the Biblical word shepherd. The Greek word for shepherd (poimén) occurs less than 20 times in the Bible and takes on an Old Testament meaning. In the book of Luke the term referred to those literal Old Testamant “shepherds” who visit Jesus at birth, but in every other gospel as well as Hebrews and 1 Peter the term shepherd always means Jesus. Matthew 9 shows Christ as a compassionate shepherd, John 10 identifies Jesus laying down his life like a good shepherd. At the end of John we see Jesus challenging Peter three times to prove his Love. Many see this as Jesus commissioning Peter to lead the church but this is problematic. The text never suggests this. Jesus asks him to affirm three times that he will tend His sheep. Three is a number of completeness. Jesus regularly asks the disciples to be all in, that was His definition to the core of discipleship. Jesus is shrewdly asking Peter to be “all in” as He follows and models Jesus (after His betrayal showed otherwise). He became an intricate part of the first church but not as the main leader or pope or lead pastor. He was simply a disciple asked to model Jesus who along with the rest of the disciples followed through in the commissioning by Jesus.
Paul describing the gifts to be given to the church and in the same way describes a function not a position. This is a good time to mention that there are 22 gifts mentioned here (not just the famous 5 you might here regularly preached as the five fold ministry of the church.) This is also one of the meanings of expedition 44. There are 22 gifts and we pray for a double portion of blessing over them giving us a metaphorical 44. It is also worth noting that the gifts are gender neutral and come with no qualifications.
There is a calling to model Jesus to every believer to “shepherd” those entrusted to them as disciples. That is the Jesus model. To be a disciple and lead others by “shepherding” them to also live by the definition of discipleship according to Jesus. In this sense, shepherding is a description of how we disciple. In a similar way in Acts 20 Paul exhorts elders to watch over themselves and the flock as a shepherd would, but the reference goes back to Jesus. Jesus is the shepherd that is over the church, the elder is simply functioning as one who takes on the example of Jesus in their mentoring roles. I Peter 5 carries the same notion.
In the Ancient Near East shepherds led their sheep to pasture and water and away from harm. They carried the weak and wounded, the sought out the lost and hurting. And when needed, they made the sacrifices for the sake of the sheep. Most Old Testament shepherds WOULD NOT have given their life for a sheep. That kind of thinking was crazy in context. Why would a human give his life for a simple sheep? But this thought gave way to the backward kingdom that Jesus would take on. In this way Elders take on the physical function of what Jesus does as the great shepherd for his Sheep. Why would the almighty God give Himself for meer man, it is crazy backwards of what the world says makes sense. Jesus was setting the record straight. The original function of the humble shepherd was to be a complete instrument of God in physical form on earth. It wasn’t a function of God but rather what God does in and of Himself through humankind functioning as the body of Christ.
It is interesting that the prophet Ezekiel also referred to the political rulers of Israel as bad “shepherds,” and declared that God would take the flock away from them and tend the sheep himself in Ezekiel 34:1-16. Eventually this is Jesus.
The gifts are given to edify the body. Elders were raised up from the church and not imported as missionaries. There is also no reason to believe in the Bible that they were ever supported monetarily. Missionaries were supported minimally to start churches. The Old Testament used the term shepherd that people would have understood the function of as a shadow of the great shepherd Jesus within a counter cultural context of humility to the cross. To take on the term shepherd is actually a form of idolatry, it implies we are “the God.” It also should carry a bad Old Testament connotation; it was a term for the king of Israel that drew people away from God. No one would walk around and say they are “the king” because they are modeling the king (Jesus). That would sound insane! Yet that is what we do when we say we are the shepherd of the church. There is only one king and one shepherd of the New Covenant Church and that is Jesus. You can and should “shepherd” but to call yourself “a” or “the” shepherd is a slap in the face to Jesus. You’re not the king of any castle in the kingdom of Jesus and you’re not the shepherd. You are part of the royal kingdom, and the spiritual great shepherd, but to claim you are the shepherd or the king is idolatry and treason to the only king and shepherd.
Elder and shepherd are two different words in the Bible. They aren’t synonymous, if they were they would be the same word. This is simple hermeneutics. Elders had strict qualifications and were literally “older men.” To be clear an Elder shepherded in the same way as others functioned as shepherds, but likely shepherded the shepherds. They had the experience to model Christ better.
It isn’t simply ironic that the Greek word translated as Elder, presbyteros means exactly that in every extra Biblical and Biblical source of the first century! It literally means older person. We often try to make a position out of the text that would never have been considered that way in the first century church. Those that took responsibility over the house churches and met the Biblical qualifications of purity (and likely had invested the time to be discipled) were given the responsibility to shepherd/mentor those individual house churches. James 5:14 and I Tim 5:17 and every other passage I have ever studied reads this way.
There is an argument here for a “position” of Elder, but notice the text never actually tells us that it is a position. If that was the intention, wouldn’t the Bible be more clear about something so important as the leadership of the church? Personally I don’t think that is the best interpretation. But it’s worth noting. Jesus is the only king and shepherd but never makes claim to be the “ONLY” elder of the church. Some churches make the Biblical word Elder into an office and as it may not be the exact intention of the text, but it is permissible in my opinion. The problem is it continues to create hierarchy in the church that I see as not being the Biblical model. It is better to simply interpret elder to mean an older person who if meets the qualifications shepherds those who shepherd. In other words, not all older people will shepherd the shepherds, but those older people who meet the qualifications will and should. This is set apart (priestly) thinking, not hierarchical thinking. In the Old Testament the original plan was for everyone to be priests, but as a result of fall only some elders functioned this way. In the New Testament Jesus realigns our trajectory to get back to the original ideal that we will all be priests; but there are still effects of the fall being reclaimed. As time goes on we should be getting closer to the picture of the edenic ideals. Logically their should be more functioning set apart elders today that in the first century church.
MATURITY & HUMILITY
The Bible is in complete harmony. Thats a basic tenet within theology. The Bible agrees and if there are instances where it doesn’t seem to then we have to figure out the interpretation that matches the rest of the Bible. Some will argue the above that there seems to be situations of hierarchy in the Bible.
Disciples are commissioned. Commissioned is defined as the authority granted to a person or organization to act as an agent for another. A military definition of commissioned is an appointment to the rank of officer in the armed forces, or a document conferring such a rank. Paul uses this term in 2 Corinthians 2:17 to describe his work on behalf of Christ. “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (ESV). When Jesus commissions the 12 it is to be disciples and make disciples.
Paul Planted churches and planned to return later to establish Elders for those that displayed the qualities.
Only Christ can truly commission us. Paul claimed that his ultimate authority did not come from humans but directly from Christ’s revelation to him: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ,” (Gal. 1:11-12).
However, Paul also mentions a second trip to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1-2 that infers submission to the local church body and likely those functioning as elders:
“Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.”
In this second visit, Paul mentions that he explicitly brought his gospel before the Jerusalem apostles (Peter, James, and John). He indicates that he had a fear “that I might be running, or had run, in vain.”
Interestingly, the apostles respond:
“And recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised,” (Gal. 2:9).
There are a few things to note. Peter, James, and John were the original apostles. We don’t have those anymore! Do we interpret their authority as elders in a local church or as original apostles? Perhaps the original apostles had some kind of hierarchy within the church as they were directly commissioned by Jesus, but even then, the model was to follow that of Jesus who was the greatest display of humility the world has ever known.
Paul was mentored for 14 years. Elders should lead humbly and in balance with other elders. Elders should display the fruit they have bore in Christ.
The Bible seems to indicate that the qualifications of an Elder be apparent over an extended course of time in one’s life. It is interesting to dig into the church in Jerusalem and find out that they didn’t have elders for at least 14 years after the church started. It naturally took that long before they had men and women that would rise into these qualified functioning members of the body. There is also a pattern to be learned here. 14 is the number 7 doubled (double portion thinking again and ironically also is a number that with 3, symbolizes a whole or completeness). When we study the life of Paul and most of the New Testament teachers this seems to be a number that comes to head often in terms of years in training. There is a Biblical example for those that lead as elders to be trained for what seems to be at least 14 years.
Everything we read about the qualifications of elders would point to someone who models Jesus and since Jesus’ perhaps primary attribute was humility, that seems to play a primary role in the choosing of Elders. Shepherds that shepherd the shepherds should abound in fruit displayed in their lives, and more than anyone lead out of humility. The problem we run into today isn’t really elders leading out of hierarchy, but usually stems from a lack of elders leading from humble life experience through complete devotion to the Lord.
Today as I lead the Biblical Studies Department at Covenant Theological Seminary (CTS), we have identified that the Biblical pattern for those functioning as set apart elders within the local church comes with many years of training as a dedicated disciples devoted to the Word and calling. It also isn’t ironic that in the Ancient Near East 14 was usually the age that the flock would be entrusted to a young shepherd. At CTS we have identified 14 years as the number that it likely takes someone who is “all in” in their ministry and to complete a doctoral degree. As I have suggested elsewhere repeatedly, a doctoral seminary degree is the closest thing we have today to signify the commitment level of the first century rabbi or elder.
TERMINOLOGY OF A SHEPHERD ELDER
Shepherd is a borrowed ancient Old Testament term that referred to a lowly position. Many churches want to apply the metaphorical spiritual role of the Old Testament shepherd to the New Testament Pastor. The problem (as I have explained) is the only time we read the term “pastors” in the New Testament it is a verb not a noun. It is the “pastoring” of communal body not a position.
In secular classical Greek (Homer, Plato, Socrates etc…) the term shepherd/pastor meant leaders, rulers, and military commanders. In the Ugaritic text of the Babylonians we find the term shepherd/pastor meant a divinity that ruled in most cases. The Old Testament also uses this term the same way when talking about the idolatry and corruption of the rulers of the day referring to them as shepherd/pastors in Jeremiah 25:34-38.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation. (Rom. 12:6-7)
The church has attempted to use the word pastor, shepherd, elder and overseer interchangeably and as a position and it has caused a lot of issues in the modern church that simply aren’t in the Biblical model of the verb that describes how Jesus uses a believer to guide another believer into closer relationship to Him.
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered… (Titus 1:5-7 NASB)
From Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time… Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Act 20:17-18, 28 NASB)
Notice Elders aren’t called shepherds or pastors interchangeably in these texts, so why would we use the terms like that today? This is really important. If you’re going to use the term pastor today, it should be used as a verb. “To pastor” was “to shepherd” the people of God and could be done by those with this gift “at any time and as the occasion warranted” it never represented a position of hierarchy of rulers in the church that acted like kings, lords, or CEO’s. In 1 Tim 3 we have qualifications for local elders but not for pastors or shepherds because it wasn’t intended to be a position but rather a function of the church. Elders were entrusted to shepherd, but it wasn’t limited to simply Elders, the Elders simply shepherded the body of Christ who were also shepherding others at various stages. They were those identified as living a set apart life as demonstrated by their qualifications and entrusted to shepherd the shepherds.
Every disciple should have their group of disciples that they are shepherding.
The great command is to make disciples, and many people within the body and within different stages of their faith relationship with Christ can fulfill the great commission. This isn’t just for the Elders of the church but is intended for every functioning person in the body of the church. A disciple by Jesus’ definition was one that checked everything of the world at the door (actually the beach) and completely followed the way of their Lord. They fulfilled the function of shepherds and a royal priesthood each and every day. A shepherd in the Near East was responsible for watching out for enemies trying to attack the sheep, defending the sheep from attackers, healing the wounded and sick sheep, finding and saving lost or trapped sheep, loving them, and sharing their lives and to earn their trust. (Blue Letter Bible) This is the context of the shepherded within the Old Testament Narrative and when it is applied in the New Testament it needs to be interpreted the same way. We have no grounds Biblically to interpret it any other way or imply a different title, role, or office to the function or gifting of the original term.
One of the problems we have in today’s modern church is that we have very few people that meet Jesus’ definition of a disciple let alone that of a Biblical elder. We have churches full of fans and followers but not disciples and elders. In John 6 Jesus explains to the thousands of fans and followers what He defines a disciple as. This was counter cultural to the world’s definition of a disciple. The thousands exclaimed that this was a hard teaching and then walked away. When Jesus went to the cross, the Bible indicates that from the thousands who “followed” him only about 70 would be counted as disciples. Those disciples would eventually become the first “elders” of the New Testament church, but they weren’t the only disciples or one’s “shepherding” within the church. The only singular lead shepherd is Jesus, but we are all instruments that can be used to shepherd as Christ is in us and working through us.
ELDER RUN CHURCH
Should elders lead or run the church? Something tells me if you’re asking the question this way, you’re asking the wrong question. The body should function as one accord, and that symphony is Jesus. If you’re not looking to Jesus, you’re looking to the wrong place. Id this possible in American church? It is sad that today we think we need someone to lead us other than Jesus. Shouldn’t Jesus be enough?
A few other problems that come with the hierarchy pastor problem
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll come back to where I started. The king or ruler (which is often translated as a job or office of the shepherd/pastor) was man’s way not God’s. God established a theocracy, but man’s way was a king and earthly kingdom. 1 Samuel 8:7-22 makes this really clear. Kings led the people away from God, which was the exact opposite of what the original plan for the royal priesthood of believers was to do. It was those that were supposed to represent God who were leading the people even further away from God. Today I regrettably say that the American church is likely guilty of the same thing. Jesus wanted complete commitment to Him and His kingdom, there isn’t room for another “leader” (king – shepherd) other than Jesus.
The American church seems to enable people to continue to be in the world and encourages them to prosper by worldly standards to bring the money back to pay the pastors salaries and large debt on church buildings and structures needed to fund the unbiblical American business of “church.” We never see this model or anything close to it in the New Testament church. There aren’t salaries to fund the hierarchy of “pastors”, there aren’t elaborate buildings, and the messages are never directed towards anything other than Jesus’ message of becoming a disciple and bringing others to that place, which usually meant getting rid of your possessions of the world and just focusing on things of Jesus’ kingdom.
There are other issues besides the Pastor Leader in the modern church. Here are a few other issues:
A SPECTATOR EVENT
What we have in the great American Modern-Day church is man’s visions over Gods. Our pastors preach “at people” rather than teach face to face interactions as walking together communally as Jesus encouraged. We don’t ask the body to bring their gifts to be used, we ask the singular pastor to bring his gift to an event for show and tell. If we are lucky, we get to experience a few peoples “giftings” to set up the promotion of the main event. That sounds more like what the Roman Catholic church designed than what God asked of the New Testament body of Christ. It was never about singular events; it was about the community of those who were like minded in their complete pursuit of Jesus as the only definition to life. Worship, teaching, and accountability were simply natural proponents of regular life in Jesus.
The story of Israel showed us that when kings replaced God, they became corrupt and led the people away from God. That seems to be a great picture of the American church today. We use the name of Jesus to take people farther from what Jesus taught rather than closer. We convince people that coming to the modern temple building is what satisfies Jesus. Even just saying it this way sounds so messed up.
We are the temple of the Lord. Creating any other “temples” for God to be worshipped in is contrary to what He asks of us. Perhaps we need a roof over our heads, or enclosed walls so that we can experience God in more worshipful ways, (I can’t imagine meeting in Wisconsin in the brutal cold winters for hours on end.) In the New Testament we get the picture that they met in larger homes. I think there is a Biblical argument for believers to meet in this way but perhaps that means in smaller groups and homes. I don’t see the multimillion-dollar arguments to build New Testaments temples. When Jesus preached to large crowds it was open air and usually on a mountain podium.
To put this in perspective, God’s plan for his original creation in Eden was to “shepherd” the people to God and introduce God to the people. The fall happened and started the downward spiral. Israel is the archetype of this failure. They were supposed to reclaim what was lost but instead, basically became the example of those who rejected God and did the exact opposite of what God asked of them. Instead of leading the people to God they lead their own nation far from God and put many gods before him. Jesus came as the final shepherd to set the record straight and begin the trajectory back towards his ideals.
Many modern Christian practices, particularly regarding institutional authority, are not reflected anywhere in Jesus’ teachings. Among those practices are tithing; ordaining ministers, pastors; and other customs that enforce separation and hierarchy. In addition, Jesus criticized religious institutions as seats of hypocrisy, stating: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” (Matthew 23:8)
CHRISTIANS AS FAMILY
The first century church regarded each other as family within a community of one accord. Jesus and Paul invited a context for the sons and daughters in Christ to extend far beyond your nuclear family and included people of every race and social strata who placed their allegiance in Him. We get the idea that they were so close that they regularly at meals together daily.
Acts 2:46-47 says,
“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
The modern-day salaries, mortgages, and cost of “ministry” don’t look anything like the New Testament church. Most churches are lucky if 5% of their budget goes to benevolence or to help the poor. There isn’t one mention in the New Testament about using what people give to build a building. Tithing is taught at nearly every church, and you would be hard pressed to find any New Testament teaching or instruction that affirms the continuation of tithing into the New Testament. When the New Testament talks about giving, it refers to redistributing money to the poor (Romans 15:22-29; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9). When Paul declares “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) for instance, it was in the context of Gentile churches giving money to poor Jewish believers living in Jerusalem. Paul devotes more of his time instructing giving to poor people than he did on the doctrine of justification by faith. Jesus also promoted giving to the poor (Luke 12:33, 14:33, Matt 19:16-30) and the primary means by which the wicked will be split from righteous on Judgment day (Matt 25:31-46).
MILITARISM AND POLITICAL TIES
Today Christianity wants to be Militant. They want to stand proudly. They want America to be treated as God’s country and justify the need for war through these glasses. Many misunderstand Expedition44’s tie to Psalm 144:1. To David this was a contronym. He avoided war with Saul who was His enemy. War and battle for David were given to the Lord. Early Christians clung to the cross where evil is conquered not by swords and spears but by suffering and love. Today Christians cry out for justice not Grace. There might be a time when we need to literally fight for Jesus, but there also might not be a time. Did Jesus ever prescribe violence as a last resort to defend the innocent?
The early church didn’t think this way, their allegiance to God’s Kingdom demoted their allegiance to Rome’s kingdom. They knew you couldn’t serve two leaders, and Rome wasn’t an option. In the same way, neither was a king that led in the same way as a worldly emperor. Jesus can be the only king of that kingdom.
WE HAVE LOST THE INTIMACY TO KNOW THE COVENANT WORD
Today Christians have more “Bible” at their fingertips than any other time in History. Be that as it may, Christians today exhibit an unprecedented Biblical illiteracy despite owning dozens of Bibles. According to one statistic, 60 percent of confessing born-again Christians can’t name five of the 10 commandments, 81 percent don’t believe (or aren’t aware of) the basic tenets of the Christian faith, and 12 percent think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. The early church knew God’s word. Most children by the age of 14 had most of the Torah memorized. The book of Revelation doesn’t contain a single direct quotation from the Old Testament yet has more than 500 allusions to words or phrases from the Old Testament. These allusions could only be picked up on by readers who were intimately familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. Many scholars consider these short Hebrew word plays or idioms to contain complete understood messages in a single phrase. When Jesus told His disciples to teach others “all that I command you,” He meant it (Matthew 28:20).
I have to admit that today, 2000 years after Jesus sets the record straight, things look about the same as when Jesus came. The religious culture of the day seems as corrupt now as it was then and appears to be failing about as bad if not worse than Israel did. Is the American church the second Israel? I am praying that we get on the trajectory back towards the calling of discipleship to Jesus within my lifetime. I am praying that you and I are the agents to bring discipleship by the terms of Jesus back to the people of this world and begin to live out the royal priesthood we were called to be.
Jesus became the only shepherd we should be looking for. Any other pastor shepherds are counter to what he taught in John 10:11-16.
Notice that Jesus states that there is only one flock, and only one shepherd. This is almost identical to the prophecy of Ezekiel written above “I will place over them one shepherd.” (Ezekiel 34:23) We are not dealing with a plurality of shepherds in these texts. Jesus is making claim to being the owner of the flock, and the one shepherd. Throughout the New Testament (specifically in Hebrews 13:20-21 and 1 Peter 2:24-25), the only person referred to by name with the title “Shepherd” or “Pastor” is Jesus Christ.
In other words, if you want to call yourself pastor you might actually be committing adultery with the bride of Christ. Jesus warns against using titles like this in Matthew 23:8-12.
Pastor is never attached to anyone’s name outside of Christ, leading one to believe that the use in Ephesians 4:11 was a function, and not a title (as I mention earlier.) Consider John 21 where we find once again that the sheep are Jesus’s as the great shepherd, they don’t belong to the Sr. Pastor. There is only one flock, and only one shepherd/pastor.
Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”(John 21:16)
It is also eye opening when you start reading the Bible in this context and read in John chapter 10 when Jesus refers to the others who tend the sheep as either thieves and robbers, or “hired hands.”
I am afraid that the American church hierarchy of the pastor as king, lord, and CEO is exactly what Jesus was teaching against. The “lead” pastor of a church is claiming to be what only Christ can be to his church.
If your attendance goes down when the Sr pastor isn’t preaching it would make me ask, who is your church really worshipping?
Perhaps we can have a humble senior pastor that leads like Christ, but why? Seems like this has been a major problem in the church. Why would we do that? Why wouldn’t we just stick to what Jesus and the New Testament teaches.
Let’s get back to the model Jesus asked us to follow.
In my 2022 book, “This is the Way”, in Chapter 10 talking about hell and framing the theory of eternal conscious torment I mentioned an ancient god or type of sacrifice named Molech (technically, it is unclear according to the texts if Molech is the act of sacrificing babies or the god himself, but I think translating Molech as a “god” is the most accurate interpretation instead of the “act”). It seems that many of my readers are/were unfamiliar with this god or term in the Bible and recently with the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Leak I have gotten several emails asking if I would expound on the correlations between “Molech” in the Bible and the ramifications it may play on modern day abortion.
History is filled with barbaric cultures. One of the worst, though, has to be the ancient Canaanites, but I am actually not convinced that modern America will be viewed much differently in history books hundreds or thousands of years from now, as a nation we have slaughtered Indians, funded terrorists, stole what we wanted, and killed millions of babies in the womb. That sounds pretty bad to me. In Canaan it was customary for parents to offer their newborn children as sacrifices to their god Molech, I wonder if hundreds of thousands of deaths by abortion each year will go down in history the same way, as an utterly evil barbaric culture.
Here is the excerpt from my book:
Many people when talking about the problem of evil ask “why does God allow all this evil to happen in the world?” and “Why does he not put a stop to it?” I hear people asking that question all the time as if they think that they are qualified to somehow question the morality and doings of God. But what is interesting about the story of Israel and the Canaanites is that we have a situation where God was patient for 400 years and then decides it’s judgment day. It is one of the times in history that God actually does choose to NOT allow the evil that pervades in the world and utterly decimate it.
The Canaanites were particularly Evil. Sometimes we get stories in the Bible of Extreme cases. Abraham as we have mentioned, is our extreme faith person; the most faithful archetype of all Humanity. In the same way the Canaanites are our archetype of the most extreme evil. Just to give you an example, one of the things the Canaanites would regularly do was offer their babies as sacrifices to Molech. It is unclear whether Molech is actually the name of the god or the description of the style of sacrificing babies to any foreign God; but either way we see it as the extreme archetype of evil.
It has been recorded by the Greek writer Plutarch that when they offered the babies as living sacrifices burned to death the drummers would have to pound their drum so loud that you couldn’t hear the screaming of the babies. The statues resembled an incinerator with arms out-stretched and the babies would be placed on the arms exhibiting a slow horrendous death. What I want you to note is that God obviously had a major problem with this. It is presented as the Archetype of EXTREME EVIL within the entire context of the Bible.
Why would God allow such evil? Well, in this case he doesn’t. He says it needs to be completely Annihilated. As you can see there is a conundrum. Many ask, “why does God allow such evil atrocities to continue on earth?” But then, if God destroys such evil, as He does in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah and Canaan, people say, “Why is God so violent?”
In the case of Molech in the Bible, God decided enough was enough and obliterated or annihilated Sodom and Gomorrah. Sort of, you see the region that was stomped out by God in Genesis 19 would be rebuilt, actually several times but throughout history will prove to always be a place of evil. Within a few hundred years it will emerge again as the land of Canaan. Eventually it would be destroyed again, and some Biblical scholars believe it would even be an act of God to eventually cover it with water under the dead sea to ensure it would not rise again, but that is merely a theory. In (Deuteronomy 9:4–5) God did not decide to command the Israelites to destroy all the inhabitants of Canaan simply because He promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit that land that had now been overrun; He commanded them to do it because the Canaanites were utterly wicked and evil people. Canaan is the arechetype of Evil in the Bible. (An archetype is a word used to describe the most extreme example of something.) If there were a more evil place on earth, that is what the story of Israel would be about, decimating the evil in the name of the Lord, reclaiming what was defiled and bringing it back to the holiness of God.
In other words, God was getting two birds with one stone here. He was using Israel to do His will by attempting to blot out the most evil thing in all of the world, the example of utter evil. But He was also doing what God does and what is the main story of the Bible. He was taking what is ugly, destroyed, or decimated by the world and attempting to purify (sometimes through fire) and renew it for good. This is ashes to beauty. That God wants to take something that is the major example of the most ugly, heinous, horrific thing on earth and turn it to beauty for his kingdom. There is a lot more that I could write here and I have gotten into more of the evil of Cannan in other videos, but I think you get the point.
The problem is Israel failed. They didn’t complete the task and today many people think that is the reason why the world is such a mess. Through Jesus and the New Covenant we as Christians are now called to a similar calling to be the agents or ambassadors to bring the earth and all in it back to purification in the Lord. We are God’s tools to reclaim what has been utterly lost and decimated. How are we doing? If you look at American Christianity I might argue we are failing as much if not more than Israel did at the same task. Will we be handed over to an exilic judgment in the same way Israel was?
If you’re connecting the dots… the ugliest most horrific thing in Genesis is the nation of Canaan. Why are they horrific? Because they sacrifice babies. Because of this, God sought to wipe them out. Israel was meant to purify and bring peace to the nations yet failed, we as Christians of the New Covenant are now called to the same commission. Have American Christians utterly failed?
A God of Genocide? Total annihilation?
Maybe. We actually don’t know the answer to this question. I would point you back to my book for a more thorough answer to this question. The Bible uses a lot of figurative language and so do we. For instance, I say my 11 year old Reid’s soccer team annihilated their opponent 10-0. Did they really? Did Reid bring a sword to the game and cut off the heads of all the defeated 11 year old’s and march through town parading the severed heads of the young corpses? Of course not, that sounds completely twisted and barbaric (I am having a hard time even writing that) as it is totally not within the character of my sweet young boy. Well, the same answer falls with God. We don’t know the whole story but we have to trust in the character of God and what we know of that character for sure. God is Grace love and mercy and even though we don’t have all the answers of an event that took place 4-5000 years ago we can trust the nature of God to be complete and holy and acting for the good of humanity, His treasured possessions. Often times things aren’t likely what they might seem to us in our humanity when we fail to see through the eyes of God. Much of the narrative of the story is that we enter into intimate relationship with God and learn to walk in this trust and obedience for our lives. This is beauty from ashes and holy transformation.
The Bible mentions Molech about ten times. Here are a couple of them.
“Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molech is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him.” — Leviticus 20:2
“They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded — nor did it enter my mind — that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.” — Jeremiah 32:35
This sounds absolutely hideous. We read the story and think what culture would do that? How could they? But maybe at the time it didn’t seem so bad. Throughout history many females were killed upon Birth. It was almost the norm for several thousand years and is still common in China according to Mungello-1. They also lived in a culture where they believed the gods controlled things about life and that the people would benefit or be cursed by the actions of the gods towards them. As wrong as it sounds, many people and cultures still operate this way today.
Do you think America isn’t as bad? The majority of states leave the abortion law up to the doctor’s discretion described as to restrict abortion by gestational age. In New York and 4 other states a woman can literally kill her baby at nearly any time based on the same doctor’s discretion. In the same states if she kills her baby possibly less than twenty-four hours later when it’s made it outside her womb, she’ll go to prison. Who gets to decide where the lawn is drawn?
Babies screaming to Molech sounds terrible right? More studies than I can count demonstrate that babies at a very early stage can feel pain, not to mention taste food, hiccup, smile, dream, kick, and bond with their mother.
In Exodus 21:22-25 If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely, but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is a serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
The Bible interprets a baby as a baby
Luke 1:41-44 tells us that When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb. When I read the story in Greek (the language it was written in) something jumps out. The unborn child in Elizabeth’s womb is called a baby (Greek, brephos). It’s the same Greek word used to describe children outside the womb (Lk. 18:15). And we see that this same baby was already able to recognize Jesus’ presence. It is also worth noting that Elizabeth, recognizes that Mary is the “mother of my Lord.” That is, she recognized Mary’s status as a mother despite the fact that Jesus was still in the womb.
Is there another side to this?
Well, if you know me at all, you know I try to be a completely unbiased seeker of truth. So, let’s ask the question is there another side to consider? The answer is yes. Let’s consider it. Within traditional Judaism most have affirmed that there are 40 days of gestation, Yevamot 69b even asserts that prior to 40 days the fetus is “mere water.” Most ancient rabbis since the time of Christ regarded a fetus as part of its mother throughout the pregnancy, dependent fully on her for its life. But that seems to be a “worldy” notion of first century religious hypocrisy as earlier Rabbinical source would point to Genesis 9:6 prohibiting the shedding the “blood of man within man.” This is a bit grey though. In Hebrew man is better interpreted “humankind” by the Hebrew “adam” being used not “ish” which would mean man or husband, meaning that in Gen 9:6 it is naturally masculine but could mean man or woman; it is commonly regarded as gender neutral similar to how we would use the term “he” generically in English. Furthermore, it is used continually for centuries as a phrase understood by nearly every Rabbinical source to refer to a fetus.
But it still isn’t that simple, both Judaism and Christianity teach that the body is ultimately the property of God and is merely on loan to human beings. There are multiple Old Testament Laws with prohibitions on suicide, wounding oneself, and many other things that collectively serve to reject the idea that individuals enjoy an unfettered right to make choices regarding their own bodies. Your body isn’t your own, it is the Lord’s and a temple unto Him. In that scriptural sense, the baby inside of you isn’t truly yours either. God and God alone retains the right to give and take human life. In an effort to be unbiased I don’t see a valid Biblical argument that we ever have the right to decide to take the life of a fetus, that is left to the authority of the Lord only. When humankind attempts to take on this role they are actually attempting to operate in the place of the authority that is granted to only the Lord in scripture.
What about Contraception?
This is really another post (that I am not planning on writing) so let me briefly touch on it. Contraception of some sort has been around since the early pages of the Bible. Are we attempting to play God here as well if we interfere with Life? Are we trying to be the arbiters of giving life and if we are ok with that than why not control the taking of life as well? What about elderly genocide? That doesn’t sound so terrible, at very old ages most would choose that option as a humane one. Does the Bible or God pass on or give us any right to such choice of contraception? Thats a harder topic that may influence your thoughts on the above perspectives. There is an idea that God doesn’t take joy in the act of a person deciding on whether to tamper with the creation of natural life as established order by God, but it also doesn’t seem to sin. Some theologians would consider it more of bringing order to (natural) chaos which is what God calls us to do in partnership with Him as a royal priesthood. The Bible doesn’t address this subject straightforward and as some has used Genesis 38:9 to try to say that God didn’t approve, that statement hermeneutically would be out of context. The text wasn’t teaching on contraception. The Judaic approach suggests that any interference with pregnancy constitutes a violation of the commandment in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. However, the text doesn’t go there; so that is a lot to read into it. Throughout ancient Jewish history there are various circumstances signifying the need to limit family size once a man has fathered at least one child of both genders. The Bible seems to leave this one open to natural occurrence. This becomes a conversation in human control and trusting God as well as what is natural and unnatural before the Lord.
Where do we go from here? Well first, everyone I know is a sinner, but some worse than others! (That’s another post on the problems of thew Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity though). We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s grace. We need the continued transformation to be more like Jesus each and every day. Luckily, the Lord’s arms are always open and outstretched to return to Him for healing. So, if you have made poor decisions, then you should seek to reconcile them before the Lord. Your already forgiven for them but sometimes there is some continued work to be done that comes with real healing.
Unfortunately, many Christians forget what the Love of Jesus looks like. They represent hate, hostility, and animosity more than they represent the love of Jesus. Jesus makes it clear that judgment and life in the kingdom are antithetical to one another. Every judgment we have toward others undermines the thing that we as the people of God are to offer them. Jesus came to free us from judgment and to restore our capacity to love the way God loves.
You can change the culture. You can be the advocate that brings the Lord. You can be the ambassador that brings life. You can be agent of healing. You can lead Jesus to the world and the world to Jesus. And you’re not alone. Together as a royal nation, a kingdom set apart we are called in Jesus in one accord to first bring life to ourselves and our families and then to the world. The Refining fire of the unity of believers modeling the love grace and mercy of Jesus.