This is the second article in a series dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy and Laity, as do most religious organizations. Nor, as we learned in our previous study, does the N.T. authorize a pastor-system in which one man exercises “rule” over the local church. Instead, the Bible teaches the local church is to be served by a plurality of men (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17; Jas. 5:14) who meet the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 & Tit. 1:5-9 and are selected by the congregation they serve (Acts 6:3). These men, when scripturally qualified and selected, are “gifts” given by the Lord to local churches (cf. Eph. 4:7-16). This means that among churches of Christ faithful to the N.T. there can never be any organizational structure larger than the local church. This means that all the organizational and ecclesiastical structures in use in Christendom today are unscriptural and, as such, do not honor or glorify the Lord they claim to serve. Furthermore, the one-man pastor-system that pervades Christendom today dishonors the Lord and that glorious body for which he shed His precious blood.
Rightly rejecting, as they do, the ecclesiastical hierarchies and one-man pastoral systems that exist in most denominations today, local churches of Christ, when they have qualified men, always appoint a plurality of men to serve as elders/bishops/pastors, as the Scriptures dictate.
However, when qualified men are not available to serve the local church, there has all too often been the tendency to look for an evangelist/preacher/minister who can provide that leadership and direction. This is a gross misunderstanding of the role and function of the preacher/evangelist/minister.
Paul was a preacher (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). In Romans 10:14, he wrote, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” The word is translated from a Greek word that means “a herald” (Vine). It describes one having a message to proclaim. The preacher is to herald or proclaim the word of God, the gospel of God’s plan for saving mankind.
Both Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Tim. 4:5) are called evangelists. In the Greek, the word means “a messenger of good” (Vine), and describes one who brings the “good news” of the gospel. This work is identified as a gift of God for the benefit of the church in Eph. 4:11-12. Contrary to what some think, this word does not connote a traveling preacher. What is emphasized by the word is the message.
We find the term in Eph. 3:7, Col. 1:23,25; 1 Tim. 4:6. Of course, the Bible knows nothing of “the Minister” who is set apart and superior to other saints. However, the word, which in the Greek means “a servant,” emphasizes the relationship the preacher or evangelist has to those he teaches. Paul emphasized this concept when he called preachers “ministers through whom you believed” (1 Cor. 3:5).
1 Peter 4:11 says: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” All ministers may not be preachers, but every faithful preacher of the gospel is a minister of the Lord and to those who hear him.
But nowhere in God’s word is the preacher/evangelist/minister given the “oversight” or “rule” in the local church. Therefore, the idea of Evangelistic Oversight did not originate from the N.T.
The charge Paul gave to Timothy was to “Preach the word!” (2 Tim. 4:2). In doing so, he was to: “Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” His charge to Titus was to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Thus, we have the work of an evangelist, or as might be considered, his duty, responsibility or office, which Paul made absolutely clear must be done if the evangelist is to fulfill his ministry (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5). The evangelist’s authority does not extend beyond that of an elder, nor can it be rightly assumed that he is free from the oversight of the elders, but should labor under them when a member of a church that is Scripturally organized. But what about a situation where the church is without elders? Should not an evangelist take charge in such a situation? Did not Paul command Titus to take charge of the churches in Crete (cf. Titus 1:5)? Was this not the same point Paul made to Timothy when he mentioned to him the qualifications of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13?
No, Titus was not put “in charge” in Crete. Paul left him there to “set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5), but there is nothing in the immediate context, or instructions found elsewhere in the N.T., that indicate any such thing. Therefore, such was not an exercise in “evangelistic oversight.” On the contrary, appointing elders would entail the preacher encouraging the congregation, through his preaching and teaching, to “seek out” from among themselves men meeting the Holy Spirit’s criteria. This would involve teaching the members their responsibilities, as well as conveying the actual qualifications set forth in Titus 1:5-9. Doing so did not put Titus in charge of anything but doing his work as an evangelist and fulfilling his ministry (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5).
Well, if the preacher/evangelist/ minister is not to “take charge” and “pastor” the flock, as we see being done in the denominational world, then what is the work of a preacher?
The Preacher’s Work As Revealed In The Scriptures
The preacher's work is gleaned from a study of Paul’s various instructions to Timothy and Titus.
First, because the preacher is not directly inspired today, he must devote himself to the study of the Scriptures so that in his lessons he may be “rightly dividing the word of truth” (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:15). Christians need to understand that the preacher in his study is just as much “on the job” as the preacher who is out “pounding the pavement.” Study is hard work. In fact, in some instances it can be as exhausting as physical labor, in that “much study,” the ancient preacher told us, “is wearisome to the flesh” (Eccl. 12:12). Some preachers, more inclined to be gregarious than others, spend their time visiting around the community and seeking opportunities to teach. This is well and good. However, they may find it difficult to buckle down for the hard, exhausting work of studying. The lack of study will show in their preaching and the brethren will start to complain. Surely, a faithful minister of the gospel will not become so entangled in the affairs of life that he cannot find the time to study. Unfortunately, some preachers receive “full time” support while devoting much of their time to fishing, golfing, selling, et cetera. But the Scriptures say that “no one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim 2:4). So, although it is frequently overlooked, a preacher must spend a great deal of his time in studying God’s word, contemplating its application, and praying for its adoption.
Second, the work of a preacher is to “preach the word,” which includes convincing, rebuking and exhorting with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2). There is an unwholesome trend among some brethren today to minimize the importance of pulpit preaching, and to over-emphasize other forms of evangelism. These want to measure a preacher’s effectiveness by how many cold calls he makes in “personal work.” Such an attitude is unfair in that it magnifies one kind of evangelism over against another. In truth, neither of these forms of evangelism should be ignored, for both pulpit and individual teaching are important. But to judge a preacher’s effectiveness by one or the other is a serious mistake. Paul said that he “kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Further, the evangelist is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2), which simply means when it is well received and when it’s not.
Third, the preacher is to “set in order the things that are lacking” (Titus 1:5). This includes, as the immediate context indicates, the appointing of elders. As we’ve already pointed out, this would involve teaching the members their responsibilities, as well as conveying the actual qualifications set forth in Titus 1:5-9. Further, the preacher must hold fast the pattern of sound words, charging some that they “teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3; Titus 1:10-14; 2 Tim. 1:13-14). He must warn the church against apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1-7; Acts 20:29-31). Even elders, when convicted of sin, must be publicly rebuked (1 Tim. 5:19-22; Titus 3:10-11).
Fourth, the preacher’s work involves training others so they can be effective servants of Christ: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). This would entail teaching the younger men with the view that they will develop into elders, deacons and preachers. When a preacher has done his duty to train others, the work continues to move forward even when he is absent preaching and teaching elsewhere, or when he moves on to another work. A congregation that has talented men who have been taught well are able to function effectively without a “full time” evangelist.
Fifth, the preacher is called upon by God to be “an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12; 5:22). The man doing these things will be an asset to the local church and will, no doubt, be highly esteemed in love for his work’s sake (1 Thess. 5:13). Being fully supported to preach the gospel on a regular basis is a privilege and trust that must never be abused by those who desire to live faithfully before the Lord.
In next month's article, we plan to delve a bit further into our investigation of this church without laity.
(Allan Turner is a preacher, writer, editor who lives in Corinth, MS. He has his own web site located at http://allanturner.com and is the editor of this on-line magazine. You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)