May 16, 2016

Who’s’ work has higher status, yours or the preachers?

Sherman and Hendricks well described the significance of every man’s work in their seminal book, “Your work Matters to God”; NavPress, 1987. In it they establish the biblical truth that all work matters. All work has both intrinsic and instrumental value (Part II). And they made a good case that ministry is both inside and outside the church (p217) and that Christ’s Commission gives authority to every believer for that work (p244).

Other Christian books have outlined the veracity of every believer being a minster of the Gospel, a witness for Jesus Christ (Layman look up, God has a plan for your life, Zondervan, 1983) exposing the false notion that ministry is for the educated, trained and paid professional, only!

And more recent books have declared what we’ve known for some time but were afraid to admit; that “Men hate going to church”. But why do we hate to be at church? Is it partly because there, we feel no place for greatness, as David Murrow explores in his book, with that title (Nelson, 2005, Chapter 12)? Is the local church a place where greatness is dependent on submission to a set of rules, people and leaders who we have little affinity with and who tend to disregard our place in God’s kingdom outside the walls of the place we worship, the place called “church”?

I want to explore these issues in a series of articles and essays so we can address what’s best for Christian business men, in the context of being commissioned as Ambassadors of Christ and messengers of the gospel. I want to explore what role men play, vocationally within the domain of the Kingdom of God. I want to broach some subjects that aren’t often talked about in our faith. I want to talk about your legitimate authority, from God, to exercise your faith, in all of your life, including your career.

Essay 1; Vocational Authority

Today I was confronted with a statement – meant to affirm me. It was innocent, innocuous but woefully inaccurate. It was stated like this… ‘Jim, X____ X_______, famed pastor, author, and radio preacher, said that “ministry is the only vocation that has God given authority”. His text was Matthew 10:1-15.

I said I disagreed, though I appreciated being thought so well of. But, the fact is, every vocation has God given authority. The reality of that is established well before the apostles were authorized to “cast out unclean spirits, heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness” before being sent out to “go preach…The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (v1, 5-8).

The fact is, the first person authorized by God to fulfill his vocation was Adam and eve (Genesis 1:27, 28). They were told specifically to Rule (Heb: radah – to rule with absolute dominance and authority) over various aspects of God’s creation and to manage their way, vocationally, to success. Note the passage…

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion (Rule or Dominion; radah) over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

I went on to explain that every vocation has God’s authority to function, to pursue their domain of work and to pursue success and to be a testimony to their faith in God and submission to His ultimate authority. That reality ought to motivate ones ambition and effort – their sense of accountability before God.

I noted that the above passage affirms the early vocations of fishermen, poultry farmers, livestock and that later, (in Genesis 2) the career of botany (v8, 9), and general agricultural pursuits (v10-15), including zoology (v19, 20); God authorized!

My encourager wasn’t impressed with my answer and wondered aloud if ‘Preachers didn’t have a higher calling due to their status of vocational preachers of the bible?’

My answer to that, is – to the degree that the bible addresses “faith” toward a solution to man’s problem of sin, Gods redemption as expressed in the Gospel, the redemption of Jesus – then it has a unique place of authority as it speaks to eternal life. All other vocations speak to temporal life. So preachers have a specialized authority, vocationally, in that sense.

But we all have the same authority to preach, to expect Spiritual power, leading and success, in the delivery of the gospel, as co-heirs of Christ, as those called to go preach as part of the general population of the Church (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 8:4; 2 Tim 2:2).

Is the preacher’s vocation better or higher than all other vocations? I am not convinced. I believe it’s just different. Preaching is different because it addresses eternity and it’s significant because it addresses the soul, not dinner, or your car or law suit, or cancer – important as those are! Auto mechanics , Attorney’s, Doctors, Ranchers and Farmers all have authority to execute their vocation, with a reasonable expectation of success and with the design to be a testimony to God, and to legitimize, by behavior their effective gospel witness for Jesus, as career people. But the preacher is no better a human just because his vocation is the elocution of the gospel.

In fact is to that very extrapolation that Jesus disagrees and addresses in His “sermon on woes”, contained in Matthew 23. Jesus wearied of the high minded self-proclaimed “authorities” of His day – the Scribes, Pharisees. These institutionalized religious leaders were arrogant, ineffective, self-congratulating, and self-righteous. They saw others as “little people” who they mock-pitied in pious self-dignity …

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!

But Jesus didn’t share their high view of themselves, professionally or practically. He looked at hearts, attitudes of humility. That is what makes a man great, significant. A man’s vocation is simply a place to practice his faith, while attending to the utility it requires; mechanics fix cars, doctors fix people, attorneys fix legal issues, Farmers fix soil and crops; etc, so that the “produce” is beneficial to the client and custodian of that profession – the God authorized mechanic, attorney, physician, or farmer.

Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

Funny, as you can see above, even tax collectors are authorized by God – note what Jesus says about taxes in Matthew 22:15-21 and what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 13: 1-6!

It seems that the Religious leaders were hung up on this authority issue back in Jesus day, just as they are today. The religious leaders had a vested interest in maintaining their grip over the people by creating an elevated status for themselves. They even challenged Jesus about His authority, because he wasn’t a formal member of their trained, educated, credentialed club – as if Jesus didn’t have authority, as a carpenter’s son, and God’s son, to operate as an unpaid, avocational preacher, an itinerant “rabbi”! Listen to this; Matthew 21:23-27…

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

My view is that God gave a variety of gifts to mankind and when we serve others with those gifts, we have His Genesis 1:28 vocational authority – the first Commission. God has also given His church a host of spiritual gifts (See Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Peter 4) and when we operate within those gifts, to serve others, we have His Matthew 2:18-20 discipleship authority – The second Commission.

With the first commission, our vocational authority, we all serve others with temporal help. With the second commission, our discipleship authority, we primarily serve others with help that relates to eternity, though we may use a temporally related service to open a door for that discipleship effort.

Therefore, to make more of a preaching vocation that any other vocation seems to me to set up a 2 tier caste system among believers; those who preach for a living and those who don’t. It begets a ministry class and a worker class; those who preach vocationally and those who serve a vocation to support the preacher class. This is not biblical to me.

Paul was rather clear in his Galatians epistle that Jesus and the Gospel put all mankind, who have received His free gift of eternal life, into one unified class. We are all, now, co-heirs with Christ, adopted into God’s family and have no longer, any manmade class distinctions. Read the Apostle’s words and see if you don’t agree…

for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:26-29

Now, as to church structure and organization…

I am running out of time and room in this essay, so let me move to a wrap up. Suffice to say this -; Yes some men and women have a separated leadership function within the body of Christ (Acts 6:1-6). This is necessary for quality in functionality of a mass group of people. Leadership hierarchy helps the whole better achieve their mission. Again the Apostle Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 14, especially verse 40.

There is a recognized system of hierarchy to the organized church and it carries a potent word “submission”. This concept is the same idea as that in a marriage, family, military or government. The word submission is the word, the New Testament uses when describing the subordination of one person to God’s sanctioned “head”; whether it’s in marriage, family, military or church! The word the Bible uses for “submission” –the Greek word ὑποτάσσω – English, hupotasso – it means “to rank under”; “as a ranking officer under a higher ranking one”. What it doesn’t mean is that a lower rank has lost his/her authority to fulfill his role. For example, a lieutenant doesn’t lose his authority to those he leads, though he submits to the authority of a higher authority, nor does a wife hers or a church elder or deacon theirs.

When it comes to the hierarchy of officers in a church, these are earned offices for those who desire them and strive for the characteristics required by them (1 Timothy 3). Those that attain and are conferred (ordained by hierarchy, by recognized elder predecessors), are to be respected and applauded for their faith, love and hope and character; as they serve other members of Christ’s body. But they are not of a higher “class” than other Christians, just a more pronounced expression of character and sacrificial service. They will be rewarded greatly when Christ comes, to claim His own!

Finally, the apostles, themselves, the ones Jesus called in Matthew 10, which was misrepresented by the radio preacher above, the very ones, like Paul, and Peter, authors of the scriptures, that I have been quoting. I am convinced that they were given a special anointing for service and a unique authority to lead the Church in its infancy. I yield to their authority on matters of faith, as described in Scripture, as I rank under them, as a believer.

Yes, even though I am a trained, ordained, elder/preacher; vocationally, I do not see myself as more important or with more authority than men and women who do not have my background, education, training, experience or anointing. I have authority to work and to preach the gospel. They have authority to work and to preach, too.

Are there any more “Apostles” today, who do have a higher class status of authority over the church today? NO, I believe Martin Luther had it right; the Pope was and is a man made “vicar of Christ”. I believe the Lord’s selected Apostles were a “one and done”. They received a special status to start, organize, train and launch the newly created Church of Jesus Christ. When they ceased, their role, function and authority ceased with them. Now we have recognized elders to lead the church, not apostles. Now we have the Bible to inform us of matters of faith and practice. Now we have the Holy Spirit to guide, correct, inspire, illuminate and reveal God’s direction for us (John 16:12-15). We no longer need nor have Apostles, in the same category of the chosen 12 – Paul being the 12th. As a result, those 12 will have a special place in eternity, judging The 12 tribes of Israel (MT 19:28), according to Jesus.

What now?

How does a man apply the above thinking to his life; what’s the” therefore”? Let me suggest 4.

  1. Men, explore and exercise your authority. Work under His authority within the realm of your God given authority.
  2. Glorify God, in your business pursuits; meaning do business in obedience to Him, according to His tenets and the precepts in the bible, in line with His character and reputation.
  3. Testify to Jesus in all your pursuits. Though preaching may not be your “day job”, it’s still your gratitude job, as you give evidence and support the claim that Jesus is Savior and Lord by your lifestyle, by the contents of your speech and as you reference the truth as stated in the Bible.
  4. Finally, if you have questions about your authority as a worker, head of your dominion, I suggest the following reading.
    • “Short cuts”, Washbasin Publications, Jim Cote’, 2006
    • “Your work matters to God”, referenced above, by Doug Sherman and Bill Hendricks
    • “Run to win”, Washbasin Publications, Jim Cote’, 2009

In Conclusion:

We can now state, biblically, that all legitimate work has God’s stamp of authority, bequeathing to you specific work authority in your occupation. This authority extends to the entirety of the domain God has granted you – one you are to explore, exploit and fulfill (Genesis 1:27-28). This should give you impetus and incentive to do all you can, the best you can. It also necessitates your best effort to defend your right to do it against all aggressors and adversaries to your work efforts.

Finally, no matter your primary occupation and its dictates and necessities, you also share, with the rest of Christianity, a gospel sharing, disciple making, authority as you take your faith and stand for Jesus Christ, wherever you work or life takes you. You are a minister of the gospel too and not a second class citizen to the professional preachers.