Church reform(4): avoid clean pastors
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” He willed the entire life of the Church to be one of reformation. -Luther’s 96th Thesis
Yesterday we posted a Warhorn piece warning believers committed to the reform of the Church not to place their future ecclesiastical hopes on pastors who are clean. We wrote this piece with particular reference to a Reformed denomination called the Presbyterian Church in America. We warned aspiring reformers that pastors with a track record of avoiding the battles of reform within their denomination are incapable of guarding the good deposit. They are also incapable of raising up trustworthy men who will continue guarding the good deposit in coming generations.
This failure is in no way unique to the PCA. The failure is characteristic of any organization of churches going through a doctrinal and moral downgrade among its pastors.
The goal of clean pastors everywhere is never the reform of their own congregation or presbytery, let alone their denomination. What they excel at is avoiding conflict and staying clean. Quietly they assure their elders of their conservative disposition. Yes, they are “concerned” about this or that, but God has not called them to make a name for themselves as a reformer. They say they are called to be self-effacing and faithful where He has placed them. They are not called to expose the wolves and guard God’s flock. They prefer to think of themselves as tending their own garden.
Such men excel at putting the best face on their refusal to reform themselves, their marriage, their children, their elders, their deacons, their congregation, their presbytery, and their denomination.
Yet this is not the end of such a pastor’s work. Beyond his ability to sell sloth and cowardice as meekness and humility, he must also have the ability to recognize the tipping point when keeping clean professionally will be easier if he reverses direction and begins to call his sheep to leave their presbytery and denomination.
During all these years of patiently explaining to the sheep that God has called him to a missional—not a reformational—ministry, he must remain vigilant keeping an eye on the gap so the second it’s breached, he’s able to run back to that gap, acting as if he’d been present and fighting all along.
The reader of course understands at his late date the gap is no longer dangerous because the city is lost.
In other words, conservative pastors determined to avoid the blood and guts at the gap in the wall must stay close enough to see when the barbarians are taking the city and out for blood and lust. After all, they know their sheep’s fears and weaknesses.
God’s sheep are quite tolerant and easily bamboozled, but when they start smelling blood and lust, they grow suspicious of their shepherd whose job it is to keep that stuff out of the sheepfold.
When the sheep begin to smell blood and lust, this clean pastor’s reputation will suffer more if he doesn’t blow his horn than if he does. Sure, most of his fellow presbyters will resent him for it, but you have to tend your own garden, don’t you?
Too, maybe some of his fellow presbyters will appreciate it if he runs to the gap and makes a show of himself there? Maybe a few will join him? It would be very nice if he could have several others trying out their bugles alongside him, covering up the weakness and uncertainty of his own notes with their own weakness and uncertainty.
Right now in a number of Reformed ecclesiastical fellowships, various women and hirelings are making a show of blowing bugles, but their notes are a cacophony leaving the sheep milling about with no idea where to run for safety. In such times, the first thing the sheep must notice is which of their shepherds stood in the gap and fought, and which didn’t. Which shepherds have proven themselves as the Apostle Paul proved himself, and which haven’t. When the city has been taken, choose your uniform and officers carefully. You want an Apostle Paul. Run for your life from those men who hate him.
When he was slandered by the tall steeple pastors of his time, this was the Apostle Paul’s defense:
Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (2Corinthians 11:23-29)
Weary from having to expose false shepherds recognizable (as Paul points out) by their constant efforts to get more followers for themselves, the Apostle Paul brings his letter to the Galatians to an end:
From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6:17)
There’s a certain pastor we here at Trinity Reformed Church and Warhorn Media love and are privileged to work alongside. He’s not one of us, but we consider him one of us and think he almost considers us the same. This pastor has almost as many faults as we ourselves do. He has taken blows for us when we were right, but also when we were wrong. We’ve done the same for him. He’s loved us by telling us his criticisms of our doctrine and practice. We’ve done the same for him.
Who is he?
Only my pedicurist knows.
But two final things about him. First, when people bring his name up, it’s typical for them to preface their comment with, “I don’t agree with (John Doe) about everything.” Which, I must tell you, if I hear someone say this one more time, I think I’ll belch out loud. I find it so very pathetic. So weak-kneed. So effeminate. So fearful, made only more so by this man’s manliness in contrast—and typically in the very thing this weak and timid man is about to quote.
Second, one time when we were taking our usual hits publicly because of our unashamed identification with this man, Pastor Currel explained it this way:
He’s a bloody man and we love and trust bloody men.
You, dear brother or sister, should be the same. Find a bloody pastor and then love and trust him. Speaking again to those still in the PCA, find a pastor who has lost battles in his session or (more importantly) in his presbytery, trying to expose his fellow elders’ doctrinal and moral failures. If he can’t tell you of any such losses, be on guard.
NOTE: This is fourth in a series of posts on practical matters related to the reform of your church and denomination. Other posts in the series may be found here. The series will have reference to the book Church Reformed and it would be helpful to get a copy and read it as you go through these posts.