Fowler Baptist Church


Chapter 3

When does “is” means “is and when does “is” not mean “is”?

And

By whose authority does the church change the rules in the middle of the game?

 

Greek is a very specific language! Its verb forms and additional grammatical requirements make it a language that leaves little to the imagination as to what an author is meaning in his writings.

In 1 Tim. 3: 1, the emphasis of the verbs is on the Present Tense. In other words, we could legitimately translate verse 1 as: “This is a true saying. If a man is presently desiring the office of a bishop, he is desiring a good work.”

Verse 2: “A bishop then must be being blameless, (be being) the husband of one wife, (be being) vigilant etc…..”

In other words there is a definite suggestion in the Greek that the emphasis on the qualifications for a pastor or deacon is on the “here and now” or at least "recent time”, rather than the distant past.

But now we come to one of the most controversial aspects of this debate and the question we must all answer is: Why do we take the phrase. “the husband of one wife”, place such stringent demands upon it for any candidate, and yet negate the same stringency on all the other qualifications?

This is key to a Godly understanding of what Paul is saying.

 If we set a certain standard for one particular phrase, is it not logical to demand that we maintain the same standard for all other phrases?

Shall we then go back into a man’s life and search out whether or not he has ever been drunk?

I am not a drinker and never have been. I have tasted several different types of alcohol, but I have never been known as someone who “has a drink.”

Yet I have to admit to having been drunk one time. Here are the circumstances:

Many years ago, while living in Australia, I contracted an illness known as pleurisy. This is an infection of the lungs and from bitter memory it is not only debilitating but also unbelievably painful in the lungs and across the shoulders.

After some time I became bedridden, unable to walk or sit or stand, even for short periods of time. The medications from the doctors didn’t seem to be doing much good, so after about nine days, several of the ladies from my church came to visit. The discussion quickly went to old “home-style” remedies and one of them went to the  local off-license bar and bought a mid-sized bottle of whiskey.

Their passing comment on leaving was something along the lines of: “Remember, boiling water, two sugar and the whiskey.”

This was a rather unfortunate message to leave with my wife who had never had any contact with alcohol at all and in making up the “hot toddy” as it was called, instead of adding just a capfull of the alcohol,she proceeded to add the whole bottle of whiskey, in a large mug, with boiling water to “top it up” and the two sugars.

I do remember it tasted vile, but being a sick, obedient invalid, I finally managed to drink it all down.

They tell me I slept for over 18 hours and when I awoke the pain in my lungs and shoulders was gone. I actually felt good, but when I tried to stand up ----- that’s when the “chicken came home to roost.”

My head was spinning; the back of my eyes burned unmercifully and the slightest noise was like the proverbial herd of elephants trumpeting through my brain.

Apparently, I was feeling the effects of a hangover and although it made me feel miserable, it also made me question: “why would any sane person do this to themselves willingly?”

Now, to the purpose of my story:

“Not given to wine ( alcohol)” ( 1 Tim. 3:3).

If in investigating a candidate we demand the right to go back through his whole life in regards to his marriage state(s), then we must also make the same requirements for the “not given to wine” phrase.

“Well pastor”, you might say, “you’re case of being drunk was a one time only and it happened a long time ago and occurred under difficult circumstances.”

Well friends, perhaps so did the candidate’s divorce.  If we apply one set of rules to the “husband of one wife” phrase, then in all honesty and theological integrity, we must do likewise for all other qualifications.

If we choose to be stricter on the “husband of one wife” phrase, and diminish the other requirements, then we cannot be considered anything but hypocrites and Pharisees.

Some may think these are harsh words, but am I wrong in applying them to this situation? I do not believe so. As a matter of fact, my pastoral experience has been that when it comes to the selection of a pastoral or deacon candidate, many churches will concern themselves almost solely with the “husband of one wife” phrase while almost totally ignoring the other requirement with the same, stringent thoroughness.

Read any church’s constitution and bye laws and I can almost guarantee you that when it comes to decreeing the qualifications of a pastor or deacon, the “husband of one wife” will be almost certainly front and center, while only a minimal mention will be made of the other verses, if at all.

In the Biblical words of James 3:

9Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.

 10Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

 11Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?”

How can we as leaders of a church claim to be doing God’s will, when we use our own ideologies and preferences to make scripture teach what we want it to teach?

Then in addition to the need for being aware of our own prejudices and preconceived beliefs, we immediately come to another problem and that is the cultural biases of different generations and countries.

My wife and I grew up in conservative Ireland in the 50’s and 60’s.  In our culture, “dating” was not really begun by young people until they had entered university or even later. It was in fact a rarity for High Schoolers to be dating even casually.

On the other hand, in America, “dating” even in Junior High, was quite common, and it was not unusual for a young couple in High School and early College to be strongly involved in an on-going emotional relationship.

Many times, such relationships went far beyond the realm of “hand-holding” and for the sake of decency, we will leave the subject there. Suffice to say, that 20 years later, I do not believe it would be an exaggeration to say that there are pastors who on the surface meet the “husband of one wife” qualification, yet if we were to investigate their past experiences more deeply, we would find otherwise.

“But”, you might claim, “they never married in that earlier relationship, so that doesn’t count”.

My reply to that is simply another question.

When and how does a Biblical marriage take place? When the priest or the rabbi asks the couple to say “I do”?  When the young man takes his bride back to the room he has built at his father’s home? And should that be the format for all “Christian” marriages?

I recently watched an interesting program on television in which the narrator described marriage ceremonies around the world. In one such case, the bride and groom stood facing each other with a broomstick laying at their feet. At a given signal, the bride and groom stepped across the broomstick to the opposite side and at that moment, in that culture, they were “married”.

So once again the question needs to be asked: What makes a Biblical marriage?

The answer is simple. A marriage takes place when a man and a woman “come together” as one. That is why it is called the “marriage act.” Standing in front of the priest or preacher or rabbi or iman or even a county court judge, does not make a marriage --- that just makes it legal.

John and Susie meet, fall in love and “get married”, but the marriage in truth either already has taken place or will take place when John and Susie “come together” as man and wife.

This takes us back to our quandary. Here is a candidate. He has been married to the same woman for 17 years. He has never been through a marriage ceremony other than with this current wife. In the eyes of the (Christian) society he has not been divorced. Yet, when he was much younger, he met a young lady at college and to cut costs and because they became emotionally attached, they “moved in” together.  Again, no marriage ceremony took place. Sadly, within a year or so, they both decided to go their separate ways and they haven’t seen or heard from each other since.

Our make- believe candidate has only been “married” once according to law and has never been divorced ------- or has he? If marriage is solidified in the eyes of God (as I believe it is) when a man and a woman come together as one, and if we believe that a divorced man cannot be in leadership in the church, then there are an awful lot of pastors and deacons throughout America who should resign forthwith!

What has been the point of all of this discourse so far?

Simply this --- that it is not good Biblical hermeneutics to simply grasp a phrase or even a verse and build a doctrine upon it WITHOUT completing a very thorough investigation into the Who, What, Why, Where, When and How of the subject.

In addition, many who disagree with the contents of this book will try to settle the debate simply by stating:  “It’s there, in the Bible, in black and white, that’s good enough for me”.

OK. Let’s go with that method of interpretation for a moment.

It is also “in the Bible, in black and white” where Paul says:

“I would that you all spake with tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5).

Therefore, according to our interpretative methodology, this means that we Baptists should stop being so anti-Charismatic and anti-the sign gifts but rather we should welcome them into our midst. And if that is not enough for you, listen to this:

“Wherefore brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues” ( 1 Cor. 14:39).

There it is! In the Bible! In black and white! That just seems to cement the whole thing in place.  We Baptists ought to be speaking in tongues and that’s the end of it. Or is it?

If you are a sound, traditional, conservative Baptist, you know instinctively that everything I have just said is wrong!

How do we know that? Simply because when we conclude a full and detailed investigation of the gift of tongues and the other “sign gifts”, we conclude that they were temporary for that time and that they are no longer necessary or suitable for the modern church’s needs.

Notice therefore, “it’s in the Bible; it’s there in black and white” is not good hermeneutics. Hence, we cannot use this method of interpretation on this one phrase no matter how comfortably it makes the passage fit our personal ideologies.

Therefore to summarize:

1.     If we want to discover the full meaning of any Biblical principle or doctrine, we must first be willing to lay aside all of our preconceived notions and humbly seek the Lord’s guidance through the Holy Spirit into all truth.

 2.     One rule for one sentence and a different rule for another sentence is not good hermeneutics. We either set the rules of interpretation at the beginning and follow through with those rules right to end, (no matter how much our findings agree or disagree with our personal preferences), or we fall into the trap of being deceived by Satan.

 3.     “It’s in the KJV and that’s good enough for me”, is not good scholarship.  I am a strong KJV pastor, but that sort of reaction is not only childish, but leaves the question being asked open to even more deception by Satan and the powers of darkness.

 4.     We must always be careful when interpreting scripture, NOT to place our western mentality and culture on to word and phrase meanings.  Paul writes to us in 2 Timothy:

 2 Tim.3:3
Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good….

 Some years ago, in a church of which I was pastor, I had a gentleman as a member who firmly was convinced that this meant that at the end times, bowel cancer would be rampant because Paul says men will be “incontinent”.

Now we may well smile at this, but his unwillingness to accept better scholarship is no more unacceptable and childish than is the resistance given by many when it comes to the qualifications for church leadership.

 5.     The whole passage must be treated with the same rules and regulations without undue harshness being placed on just one.

 In verse one we need to recognize that word “must”, which again in the Greek is a specific word almost of command.

 This means that all the qualifications for leadership hold the same force equally, and if “X” amount of force is going to be applied to one of the requirements, then “X” amount of force must be applied to all the requirements.

We all must be honest and agree that in too many churches, constitutions and bye laws, the “husband of one wife” is emphasized to a harsher standard than everything else. I have known pastors and deacons who were clearly qualified when it came to the “husband” test, but sadly the bratiness of their children left a lot of questions to be answered. I know pastors who move from churches every 2 to 3 years, simply for a bigger salary and more prestigious congregation, but no-one ever questions their “greed” qualification.

 Show me any pastor or deacon in America and allow me to use the same stringent rules on his reputation from the past as is regularly used on the “husband” phrase and I guarantee that not one will be left standing.

One of the most difficult tasks for any Christian, is to approach the Scriptures with a humbleness of mind and heart and be willing to change if that is what is needed or, to be prepared to stand even stronger if right is proven to be right.

So then, what is the solution to our problem? Are we to lower the standards and be less strict about who can be a pastor or deacon?

The answer of course is a resounding “NO”!

 

 

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