We are in danger of falling into a quite unjustifiable complacency with our level of spiritual knowledge and intelligence. It might not be difficult to suggest causes for this unwarrantable frame of mind, but it will be more profitable to turn our attention to what may help to dispel it. A comparison with New Testament standards is all that is necessary.
For example, whilst it is extremely unlikely that the recent converts at Colosse enjoyed anything approaching the privileges and opportunities which we accept as a matter of course, the fact remains that immediately Paul learned of their conversion he was moved by the Spirit of God to pray unceasingly that they “might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” If the Holy Spirit, prompted this prayer, who will dare say that it was impossible of accomplishment? Does the Holy Spirit prompt prayers which cannot be answered? Certainly Epaphras, who was himself a Colossian, did not accept this view, for in hearty association with Paul’s desire he laboured fervently in prayer for them that they might “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
If two teachers like Barnabas and Paul felt justified in devoting a whole year to the instruction of believers at Antioch, we shall be foolish to suppose that a few special ministry-meetings at considerable intervals are likely to meet our needs. The pathetic thing is that, whilst the great worthies of old earnestly desired to know the things which have been revealed for our benefit, and although their earnestness in diligently seeking puts our poor zeal to shame, we too often lightly esteem the privileges they would have valued so highly but were not permitted to enjoy. Peter tells us that even the angels “desire to look into” these things, and it would seem that God is in fact allowing them to learn “the manifold wisdom of God.” Shall we not be ashamed if, later, we discover that those whose function it was to serve the heirs of salvation, had learned more than those they served? Heirs of God, and yet not sufficiently interested in our inheritance to “gird up the loins” of our minds to explore the riches and glories of those secrets which God kept locked in His mind and heart until they were revealed through His holy apostles and prophets!
We are without excuse because we have the Holy Scriptures and the indwelling Spirit of God to lead us into the truth. Moreover the Risen Lord saw fit to give teachers to the church and the spurious spirituality which affects independence of the help which God-given teachers can render, impugns the wisdom of the exalted Christ. There is, however, cause for thankfulness in the evidence there is of an awakening as to the need for more reverent and more exact study of the teachings of Holy Scripture, but we are rather disquieted at the tendency to look to professional theological seminaries for the meeting of the undoubted need. We should have thought that the history of denominationalism would have proved a sufficient warning in this respect. We are glad to know that there are many Bible Colleges which are sound in the faith, and we are not going to undervalue their efforts to give young men a grounding in theology, but it is our conviction that the Lord desires men to be trained in the fellowship of the local church, learning to know God in the experiences of every-day life, and acquiring a practical , knowledge of the Word and mind of God under the guidance of older men whom the Lord has given as teachers in the church. When a successor for Elijah was needed, he was found, not in any of the various schools of the prophets, but on the farm following the plough. With God-given discernment the old prophet saw the potentialities in the young man and took him under his wing and, under his tuition and the power of his example, what was potential in the young man became actual. But Elijahs are needed if we are going to have Elishas. (This particular point has recently been ably dealt with elsewhere, so we will not go further into it now - see article by Mr. Metcalfe Collier in Echoes’ Quarterly Review.)
To this some readers may object that, in their assembly, at least, there are no such teachers. If this is the fact it should not be difficult to secure the help of godly and competent teachers; where there is an eagerness to learn, suitable men can be invited to minister the Word. Barnabas took energetic steps to get the need at Antioch met, even though it meant a considerable journey to reach Paul and bring him back. But are you sure that there are no teachers in your midst? If this is so, it may be worth while to inquire whether the reason is, either that though you once had them the Lord removed them because they were not appreciated, or whether it is that there is not that earnest desire which would prompt the Lord to supply them. “He satisfieth the longing soul” and we may believe that a church gets the teachers it deserves. The likelihood is that there are potential teachers available, but unchanging human nature still has its eyes in the ends of the earth and is unable to believe that a brother who lives round the corner and whom we have known all our lives, can be a gift to the church.
Such liberty is allowed amongst us, that we may get into the way of accepting ministry in a very casual manner. It is high time that Christians realized that it is a solemn responsibility to minister God’s Word and, realizing this, were more ready to support in prayer those whose responsibility it is. It is quite likely that if your local brother, whose help you undervalue, were made conscious of your prayerful interest and appreciation, he would be much freer in spirit and his ministry would be correspondingly more effective. May it not be that the attitude we have been deploring helps to explain the dearth of real teachers? A contributory factor may be that in rightly rejecting the principle of a one-man ministry we have wrongly swung to the other extreme until we tolerate any man’s attempt at ministry. Every man has his proper sphere and if he fills that sphere with grace and devotion he can be an immense benefit to the church, but it is a complete mistake to suppose that every man is called upon to minister the Word of God. How often an unsuitable man is given the platform under the seemingly disarming plea that he will be hurt if he is not given the opportunity. If he is a godly man, sincerely desirous of pleasing the Lord and not himself, he will not seek a position to which he has not been called, and for which he is therefore not fitted, and he would certainly not be offended because it was not thrust upon him. If a man takes offence because he is not asked to speak, he is simply confirming the judgment of his brethren in not entrusting ministry to him. Is it more important that one self-seeking man should not be offended than that scores of saints be offended by being obliged to endure unprofitable ministry? Is this at least one reason why interest in the regular ministry-meeting often leaves much to be desired?
If this attitude were corrected it is probable not only that the Lord would raise up more men, but that those men would be encouraged to addict themselves to their ministry. It might not be out of place here to offer some suggestions to young men who may feel called upon to equip themselves as teachers. The Scriptures indicate, what is often forgotten, that among the gifts given to the church are exhorters and comforters, and we cannot be too thankful for men who can stir us up when we are in danger of getting apathetic or encourage us when we are downhearted. But teachers have a different task - their’s is to instruct the saints in the deeper things of God, into those broad principles of truth which, once grasped, enable those so taught to make progress for themselves. Hence the solemnity of the work, because, whilst an exhorter or a comforter aims at meeting a temporary need, the teacher is laying a foundation on which the future is to rest, and woe betide him if his foundation is faulty. Consequently this is not a task to be entered upon lightly - indeed James might almost be thought to discourage too great a readiness to assume this responsibility, by reason of the severer standards by which such service will be judged in a day to come.
If resort to theological seminaries has been questioned it is not because training is regarded as unnecessary. If the State is right in demanding that those who educate the mind in secular things should undergo proper training and prove their ability, how should it be thought that the souls of God’s people can be entrusted to unqualified men? But the training and qualifications are different. It calls for an experimental knowledge of God so that spiritual growth keeps pace with increasing apprehension of truth, and a submission of heart and mind to the moulding influence of the Spirit of God, who ever strives to produce Christ-likeness of character. Teachers need to be men of character who “do and teach.” The ability to impart truth clearly and logically to the minds of others is valuable, but it is by no means enough. Paul emphasizes that his speech and preaching were not with enticing words of man’s wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; the result was that he spoke the wisdom of God in the words which the Holy Ghost taught, imparting spiritual things by spiritual power.
The teacher must have a clear conception of the aim of true teaching.’ It is not the impartation of mere knowledge, which will tend to puff up both speaker and hearers; the gifts enumerated in Eph. 4 are for the maturing of the saints with a view to each discovering his appointed sphere in the church, where he can make his individual contribution to the edifying of the body of Christ so that spiritual progress toward the ideal is achieved.
Since there never will be any substitute for such growth, every generation will need to develop by the same processes. No man or body of men can provide ministry for future generations except by the true apostolic succession enjoined on Timothy. “The things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.” Here surely is an indication that true elders need to be on the look out for young men of spiritual promise, who by their godliness and earnestness, coupled with the ability to absorb and impart, seem to be marked out by the Lord as teachers for the coming generation. True elders will put these young men in the way of acquiring an accurate and all-round knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and they in turn will need to be ready for the sacrifices involved in meditating upon these things and giving themselves wholly to them. Half-hearted men will never make teachers.
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