For many who live in high alpine terrain, mountain sports like skiing are a way of life. As with any such sport, carnage comes with the territory. On one particular occasion, I watched a friend missile himself off a 60 foot cliff on a day which skiers would label the snow conditions as “boiler-plate” (referring to the penetrability of the snow). When he finally landed, the boiler-plate-like snow gave 4 inches (though he stopped, his skis continued airborne without him for another quarter of a mile). By the numbers, he was going about 40mph, landed, came to a complete stop in a fraction of a second, with only 4 inches of snow-cushion. That’s probably less forgiveness than landing on hot asphalt. Needless to say, he compacted a few vertebrae and was laid up for a month. And once it was clear he was still alive, the stunt provided for a powerfully learning experience as one might imagine: among other things, don’t imitate Eddy the Eagle on boiler-plate snow conditions.
The falls and mishaps of others are never occasion for juicy gloating though they must be for humbly learning. At our local resort, you’re the mountain chump if you chuckle at a big fall. But you’re also the mountain fool if you fail to learn from them.
As normal for any era between Genesis 3 and Revelation 20, these past few months have seen a far share of ministry falls, scandals, apology-kind-of-things, disqualifications, and hard-to-name-types-of-things. As the church, this provides opportune learning occaions for us to understand the times and know what to do.
This is by no means exhaustive, but here are 7 suggestions in light of recent events:
1. No one is beyond falling.
If you’re not Jesus or in heaven, then you’re not beyond a moral fall, scandal, or the like. It’s that simple. Falls happen because unglorified humans exist. So, let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). I don’t know everything my Eddy-the-Eagle-Impersonator friend was thinking that day, but he was thinking, “I’m going to land this.” He didn’t and it provided a helpful lesson for budding skiers. What happened to him could’ve happened to us.
2. The sufficiency of Scripture must remain central in life and ministry.
Whether evaluating a movement or leaders or anything for that matter, it needs to be seriously and carefully weighed up against Scripture. Both our creed and our church practice need to demonstrate the sufficiency of the word. A lackadaisical approach here is like the wheels of the train beginning to peel off.
At the recent Shepherd’s Conference, Paul Washer said something along the lines of, “That’s great if you believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. But do you believe in its sufficiency?” In other words, affirming the God-breathed source and without-error state of Scripture is certainly essential. However, are we practicing it? The necessary implication of inerrancy is its sufficiency in all our ministry practice.
A common culprit in ministry tragedies is a soft view on the sufficiency of Scripture. How? Among other things, failing to follow clear guidelines in matters of biblical leadership and the qualification and calling thereof.
There are inevitable leadership dangers subsequent to the neglect of the sufficiency of Scripture. Leadership criteria becomes governed by, “What is so-and-so doing, is it working, and does it seem that people are being impacted?” instead of, “Are they practicing the sufficiency of Scripture so that Christ actually exercises headship in their faith and practice?” And is Christ, not only by creed, but by function, the head of that practice/church/movement?
In doing so we ensure proper buttressing and pillaring of the truth so that leadership practice is more exegetically than pragmatically based. Otherwise, though our movements may claim to be sound in creed, they are more magisterial in practice. And the latter is functional abandonment of the sufficiency of Scripture. The inevitable result is that regardless of how much we say “Jesus” and think we know and feel and sense and are impacted by “Jesus,” we’ve been impacted more by the man and his mini-magesterium.
So when it comes to ministry, preaching, discerning the calling and qualification of church leadership, ordination, church-planting, we will always set our compass right with practicing the sufficiency of Scripture. If we want to ensure faithfulness in any of the aforementioned, we need not put the cart before the horse by dialing in all our methods and how-to’s and manuals for them. We can begin and continue and end anchored in the sufficiency of Scripture. The rest will follow.
3. It would be best for the church to no longer affirm continuationist theology.
Besides the Reformers, Puritans, and others, the continuationist position has been sufficiently demonstrated as exegetically invalid. It’s an unhistorical, and more importantly, a biblically unfounded position, and so best to be laid to rest.
Furthermore, it’s been detrimental to the church in our generation in many ways, one being the attack on the sufficiency of Scripture. Few continuationists would deny the sufficiency of Scripture, but the position necessarily does so. Affirming the continuation of apostolic and church-foundation-laying gifts, while simultaneously affirming the sufficiency of Scripture, is somewhat of a logical contradiction. It’s akin to saying,”We’re done building but we need to keep building,” or, “Though the foundation, framing, and roofing is done, let’s put a foundation on the roof,” or, “Let’s make the whole house foundation.”
Another detriment is the under-valuing of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. Since continuationism veers from the sufficiency of Scripture, it is not an over-valuing, but under-valuing of the Holy Spirit. It’s not a proper emphasis, but poor emphasis on the Holy Spirit. As John Calvin has said:
…the office of the Spirit promised to us, is not to form new and unheard-of revelations, or to coin a new form of doctrine, by which we may be led away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but to seal on our minds the very doctrine which the gospel recommends. Hence it is easy to understand that we must give diligent heed both to the reading and hearing of Scripture, if we would obtain any benefit from the Spirit of God…and, on the contrary, that any spirit which passes by the wisdom of God’s Word, and suggests any other doctrine, is deservedly suspected of vanity and falsehood…what authority can the Spirit have with us if he be not ascertained by an infallible mark? (Institutes 1.9.1)
So then, to detour from the sufficiency of Scripture (whether intentional or not) is to detour from the potency of the Spirit. And any teaching which under-values and poorly emphasizes Christ’s Agent of building the church is detrimental to the church.
And arguing for continuationism from sentiment and experience will not do. To do so also departs from the sufficiency of Scripture. Insofar as “I saw…,” “I felt…,” “I heard of someone once…,” and “I was really moved…,” form our functional epistemology, we veer from the sufficiency of Scripture. This, in large part, forms continuationist conviction. For that reason, in part, it’s best to no longer affirm the position.
4. The necessity of biblically qualified leadership.
Though its not strictly a continuationist issue, one possible related outfall is a misguided discerning of one’s calling and qualification for ministry. For example, “God spoke to me, therefore I’m called,” can become replacement for the slow, careful oversight of existing called and qualified elders discipling, overseeing, and ordaining the man. But Paul did not prescribe an audible, but biblical means for discerning the calling and qualification of church leadership (1 Tim 4:12-16, 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6, 2:2, 3:14-15; Titus 1:5). Timothy and Titus were not instructed to look for voices but verses to recognize qualified leadership (1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9).
And, “Well, he ended up working out,” or, “It looks like he’s having an impact,” is an un-invitable guest. Regardless of apparent results, it’s a shift from the sufficiency of Scripture. Especially in matters of discerning leaders, we need not disobey to obey, or presume to supplant a verse with a voice.
If one still insists along the lines of, “Well, God told me, to become a pastor, therefore, I should be,” another thing is worth considering. Besides the fact that this is not in the elder qualifications (1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9), we wouldn’t dare operate other areas of the church this way. What if someone showed up in your church one day and said, “God told me I am a member of this church,” would you declare them so at that moment? Or, “God told me that I am a nursery worker here,” would we let them? Or, “God told me I’m an elder here,” or, “I am now the deacon who handles the offering because God told me so,” would that be adequate qualification?
And neither would we operate our businesses that way. How well would it fly if someone came to us as a business owner and said, “God spoke to me and told me that I am to be your CFO, or Executive Assistant, or manager”? Or would you submit yourself to a surgeon whose qualifications were, “God told me,” rather than, “The State Board licensed me?”
If we’re unwilling to do such a thing with our bodies or businesses, then how much more in the church? And if we wouldn’t do so for offering-handlers and nursery workers, how much more the pastor?
To be fair, this would not characterize the approach of all embracing continuationist theology. It’s merely one example of fallout. But it illustrates the greater issue, and expected consequence, of the deviation from Scripture and the sufficiency thereof in matters of ministry qualification.
All that to say, in these last days, God has not spoke to us audibly, but biblically. The leadership implications are that the Apostle Paul would say to pastors, then and now: “Christ spoke to me and now I am passing it to you in this letter. You will not be spoken to as I was because you are not an Apostle and foundation-layer for the Master’s Church. But you can rest on this letter’s sufficiency because it’s God-breathed. So, just guard what I’ve given you, retain what I’ve written you, and prescribe what I’ve put down for you. Train up men, lay hands on those clearly demonstrating these criteria, but don’t do it too soon lest you share in their sins.”
So, in order to ensure biblically called and qualified leaders (1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9), we must reaffirm the centrality of ordination. Richard Mayhue has said, “Ordination recognizes God’s appointment of a man to ministry and is the leadership’s way of commending him to the congregation.” It’s the way the church does its part to promote God’s best for his people by affirming the shepherds whom the Holy Spirit has made to be shepherds.
And so far from restricting the Spirit’s power in calling a man, ordination recognizes it. So far from extinguishing the man and his qualification, ordination establishes it by the Spirit. If a man has not, or cannot, get ordained by existing called and qualified leadership, he should not presume upon the Spirit that he is such.
What about the argument, “But I have benefited from so-and-so leader, therefore, he’s qualified”? Praise God for benefit which is actual benefit. But benefit is not grounds for the abdication of ordination. Perceived impact mustn’t renounce the necessity of biblically called and qualified leadership criteria. To do so supplants the Spirit with subjectivism. Incurring benefit is important. But the criteria for biblically qualified leaders includes far more than, “People have benefited from,” and, “God has used ___ in my life.”
If a guy is not yet ready to have a baton handed to him, then he should not have a baton handed to him. And if we are using sentiment or a story instead of Scripture to legitimize a man’s calling and qualification, we’re offbase. We’ve deviated from Christ’s functional headship in matters of his church’s leadership.
5. The need for movements to use caution with how and whom they platform.
Things like numbers and hip appeal should not give us reason for liberal affirmation. Caution is needed. Among other things, before we applaud and aggrandize an individual, we must ask, “By what process was it discerned that he is biblically called and qualified for leadership? Who ordained him and how?”
Further, as much as we platform and applaud a man, we are correspondingly obligated to care and confront him when he deviates. Regardless of the numbers produced, we need to love Christ, the man, and the church enough to resist trigger-happy promotion. As an old Puritan prayer goes, “May I never make the multitude my model.”
This again boils down, in part, to the sufficiency of Scripture. Let’s honestly ask, “Is Scripture or numbers or something else the criteria by which we have applauded and aggrandized the man?”
If a movement or coalition or denomination was partly responsible for platforming and elevating me, then they need to love me enough to make a definitive statement about where I am when its clear that I was not biblically called and qualified in the first place. Its unloving to the man and the church to leave things dangling in ambiguity. If they were involved in my promotion, so must they be in my correction. As public was the former, so must be the latter.
Consider the football team who presumptuously starts a quarterback fresh out of his sophomore year in NCAA football. He puts up some numbers, wins a few games, boosts team paraphanelia sales. But soon he complains of pain, breaks a few bones, does permanent damage to himself, and wrecks the team’s name through immature interviews. Any coach who insisted on his continuing would be unloving. He wasn’t ready for that position in which it appeared he would incur results. He hadn’t completed sufficient training for that which he was presumptuously platformed. It would be best for him to be loved by removal and further care. It’s the loving thing to do.
6. It’s best to err on the side of inviting reproof from older, tested men.
No matter how huge our congregation, movement, campuses, book deals, conference invites, and Twitter followers get, we must never neglect the sacred practice of inviting and receiving personal input from older, seasoned pastors. In fact, the bigger those things get, the greater our need for reproof. The higher we are on the ladder, the more we need men to point out spiritual tears in our pants.
On this topic, I recently heard a wise, seasoned leader say, “Superficial success feeds the monster of [one’s] own authority.” And whether church planting, pastoring, preaching, or writing, the criteria for success is biblical fidelity. Inviting personal input from weathered, successful men is an absolute must.
Proverbs 15:31-33 He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself.
Proverbs 29:1 A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.
7. It’s ok to grow and raise up church leaders slowly and cautiously.
We must pour into men as hard as possible. But patience is a must here. On the topic, the late Dr. S. Lewis Johnson once said: “Be an oak, not a mushroom.” Oaks grow slow, steady, and, therefore, strong. Unlike a mushroom, though, it won’t wow a crowd with seemingly instant sprouting. It actually would be boring to watch an oak develop. But that oak will stand and keep standing.
It’s like how Alex Montoya, an oak-of-a-pastor, once exhorted us young seminarians: “Men, grow old quick.” In other words, “Flee the casual, cute, cleverness intrinsic to youth.” It’s the youth in us which sometimes hazardously suggest ministerial Eddy-the-Eagle impersonations. But Paul saw youth as potentially detrimental to ministry (1 Tim 4:12, 2 Tim 2:22).
At times in child-raising we parents can get antsy if our 4 year olds haven’t memorized Romans, the multiplication table, and still dump their Cheerios on their heads. But it’s ok. They’re kids. It takes time to raise, train, and love a child into adulthood. So it is in raising and recognizing church leaders. It’s ok to grow and raise up church leaders slowly and cautiously. And it’s wise (1 Tim 5:22). We can trust God to grow that which he’s birthed (Phil 1:6).
So, let’s be wise amidst those boiler-plate conditions out there. And let’s go to school when others are not, knowing we’re not above a slip ourselves. It’s a God-given opportunity to understand the times and know what the church should do.