The Very Low Standard Of Ministry Today
Dear Brother G.
I have spent nearly half a century among the assemblies of God on this continent. As I recall my earlier days, and the tone and standard of ministry given by the men of God who then moved in our midst, I can only deplore, in this regard, the sad degeneracy that is now evident.
Recently, I have listened to preaching that was shallow, schismatic, and boastful. Can nothing be done to restore the type of ministry that once characterized the so-called “Brethren Movement”? The expository work of early brethren was the greatest blessing of God upon the whole Church in the last century. “How are the mighty fallen!”
Yours in the Lord, J. G. L.
Your letter has touched upon a theme that is causing many of our older Christians in fellowship among the assemblies both concern and exercise.
A paraphrasing of Eph. 4:11-13 may reveal to us the true purpose of ministry: “And Christ gave to the Church gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints in order that they accomplish their ministry of edifying the body of Christ, till we arrive at the unity the faith teaches and intends, and at the full knowledge of the Son of God, and at the perfection of the one New Man (Eph. 2:15), the full measure of the stature of the Christ.”
The Recognition of the Gifts
There is much lack of discernment in the proper appraising of spiritual gifts, and their different functions in the Church.
Some may find it necessary to do what the Spirit of God sought to do when, through the Apostle Paul, He wrote to Timothy, “Stir up the gift of God which is in thee” (2 Tim.1:6), and to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it” (Col. 4:17). Frequently, the men who are really gifted by the Lord are reticent, while others are bold. An elderly brother in a rather boastful manner, said, “If I had received the many opportunities that some of the younger brethren now have, I would likely have developed some gift of my own.” His elderly wife who was sitting listening said, “But, Father, you did not really need any gift, for you have the gab.”
Gift means more than just the ability to talk, or even the desire to talk and preach. Consequently, when gift is stirred up and becomes apparent, it should be recognized. Moreover, this means that we distinguish the gifts and their functions.
The Employment of the Gifts
The wrong use of gifts may arise from the improper detection of their character. Sometimes the evangelist is used when the teacher might be more correctly employed. Frequently this mistake is seen at annual conferences. At conferences where the so-called open platform is practised, sometimes it is merely a matter of every man in the Lord’s work taking his turn, and, at times, this involves as many as 12 to 14 different speakers. Everyone speaks irrespective of either the type of gift or the measure of grace.
At conferences where a more cautious approach is used, and arrangements are made, a similar disrespect of gift is sometimes noticeable; evangelists are appointed to minister to the saints and teachers are arranged to preach the gospel. There is a definite need for heavenly wisdom in these matters. A man’s ability and limitations should be appraised in the presence of God.
The Commendation of Gifts
There are certain principles in the New Testament to govern the matter when a gift is to be commended to full-time service for the Lord.
It has been asserted that any system is only as strong as its weakest point. It is taught in the New Testament, and theoretically accepted by the assemblies, that the Lord imparts the gift and the Holy Spirit separates that gift to the work of the Lord (Acts 13:1-7). On these assumptions, we commend brethren to both the foreign field and the home field.
There is no question but this principle is both scriptural and idealistic; nevertheless, one wonders at times if the method by which this principle is carried out is scriptural. In the minds of many, a small assembly of 12 or 14 has as much authority to commend a brother as has an assembly of 300 or 400. If the example of Timothy is taken, it will be found that there were certain actions in which there were both deterrents and directives. (Acts 16:1-3). There are major factors associated with Timothy’s going out into the Lord’s work. First, “Him would Paul have to go forth with him.” An experienced servant of Christ saw the spiritual value of this young man. Second, “Which was well reported of the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.” Two churches likewise saw character and ability in Timothy, and concurred in the commendation.
From these observations, it seems clear that the quality of ministry among us would improve if gifts were properly recognized, properly employed, and when God directs that an assembly commendation be given, that this be done with caution.
There are also some practical suggestions that one might offer. For example, it would be well if some would eliminate the so-called concordance sermon from their preaching. Generally speaking the concordance sermon is the complete giveaway of a lazy thinker. Another type of preaching that has made our meetings distasteful to many, is the allegorical interpretation used by certain brethren. By this means the Scriptures can be made to mean anything. We all have heard from time to time some of the most ridiculous applications of the Word of God. Jacob’s offering of the bribes to Esau is used as a picture of the sinner offering his good works to the Lord. Esau by some stretch of imagination becomes a picture of the Lord. Only recently, we heard of a sermon based on Judges 19 in which the old man which welcomed the stranger and his concubine into his home was made a picture of the Lord Jesus welcoming the sinner into salvation. What nonsense! Think of the dishonour done to the Lord by using such a wicked old man as a picture of our Holy Lord Jesus! This old man eventually offered his daughter and the stranger’s concubine to the lustful men of his city.
The standard of ministry in the assemblies will not be raised until men who have 24 hours of the day at their disposal, apply themselves to a diligent searching of the Scriptures, and until they engage in real expository and doctrinal preaching.
Sincerely in Christ,