March 2018

The Pastor and His Accountability

  To whom is the pastor accountable?

This is a question that gets raised in a variety of ways. It has been raised in our church as well and my position, as pastor, is that my responsibilities as a pastor are solely answerable to the Lord Himself. The reason is that He is the One who can, and will, properly evaluate my work. As a Christian brother, I am mutually submissive to one another (Ephesians 5:20) and the joy of that is immense. Those men and women whom the Lord has redeemed and who come to me and exhort, and encourage, and befriend me are without equal. However, the direction of my work in the Lord and the evaluation of that work as to its quality (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) can only be rightly evaluated by the Lord Himself in that day of evaluation (2 Corinthians 5:10). This is a fearful thing (2 Corinthians 5:11) and does, at least in my case, remind me of such high accountability as to guard me from knowingly sinning against anyone or, especially, practicing private sin.

 

The answer to this question really boils down to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 

2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. 

3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 

4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 

5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. 

 

Herein lies the reality of accountability. In the minds of many, “accountability” would mean that a man or woman is liable to give an account to another for the sake of scrutiny. The examination can take on many forms. In the church, for the elders of a church, examination is ultimately left only to One-Jesus Christ.

 

Let me explain. There are human courts in the world. These courts serve a purpose and are helpful for a myriad of civil issues where a verdict is needed. Further, there are even courts in the church wherein a verdict is needed, as in the case of the “legal” issues between brethren (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). Paul’s bases in that chapter is that the quality of a human court and the quality of the church court are two different things. They are, because one is based upon the Law of the Kingdom of God and the other is not, mutually exclusive. Further, the quality of the court and the law(s) that determine that quality, lead to protocol, and protocol leads to precedence, and precedence determines verdicts. Paul writes to the Corinthians that the differences between both kinds of courts is all the way down to the law upon which each court is built. In other words, the human court is not concerned with breaking the law of love from Christ (John 13:34), but the church court has that as its only standard. And, a human court is required wherein serious civil crimes might be committed by a professing Christian.

 

However, when it comes to those who serve as elders, pastors, teachers, there is an even higher court than these, and this court makes rigorous demand upon the preacher which, then, requires of him the highest level of adherence to the standards of that court (James 3:1). That is to say, to survive my “day in court” with Jesus Christ as my Examiner, my life among the world and especially the brethren must be entirely above reproach. The church is not always in the best spiritual condition to evaluate a preacher and his life. Although, when a man transgresses the Law of Christ, the church will see it. There are repercussions, like church discipline (1 Timothy 5:19-20). However, ultimately, the church is not the court. The future presence of God is (2 Timothy 4:1).

 

Although an elder may not know anything against himself, that does not mean that he will survive in that court. It means that, like Paul, whenever there is an accusation against a pastor’s reputation, we try to “conciliate” (1 Corinthians 4:13). And as often as failures arise, and they do, so also does the work of conciliation arise. When peace is restored between relationships, as much as possible (Romans 12:18), then that case is closed and unity is maintained. When peace is not restored, even after being sought after, it makes for a difficult hardship on the parties involved and there is no peace.

 

To address what so many Christians are concerned with, however, this does not mean that a pastor or elder is above the scrutiny of the people to whom he is ministering. It does not mean that a pastor can sin and be untouchable. It is sad that people are led to that conclusion. But, based upon the history of church leaders who have hidden behind such thinking, I can very much understand why. These hypocrites are very detrimental to the efforts of godly men who are working hard to be above reproach. A pastor who sins and transgresses against God is accountable to God. That accountability is felt and implemented, as determined by Scripture, usually by other godly men. They would have the spiritual maturity to interpret the facts properly so as to render a mature verdict and help the man to reconcile/repent. To minister to that pastor for his building up requires tremendous maturity and wisdom. That is why going to a man caught in a trespass, especially a pastor, is the duty of mature believers (Galatians 6:1). Ideally other godly, qualified, leaders. This behavior fulfills the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

 

It is true, and unfortunate, that men do disqualify themselves. Scandal of hidden lives of church leaders constantly emerge, it seems, and is wearisome to hear about. But, what is even more unfortunate, is the spiritual condition of many more churches who, themselves, are guilty of disobeying the Law of Christ in their daily behavior. It is true that an elder is under even more scrutiny for his work in the church. But it is just as true that the congregation has an obligation to obedience to Jesus Christ to the degree that pastors do. Once under the leadership of such a godly man/men, the church is obligated, for her benefit in time and eternity, to follow his example and faith and serve the Lord alongside him/them (Romans 16:1-24, for example). For many “Christians,” their rebellious self-styled behavior, which if publicly exposed shames the name of Christ, would disqualify them from Christianity.

 

Hebrews 13:17 

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

Romans 14-The Law of Love In Action

The Law of Love In The Local Congregation

 

As we move along in this present age of the world, particularly as I move along in my own age, I have observed increasing laxity as it regards what might be called “standards” in the life of local churches. It is no secret that the world is attacking everything moral, godly, righteous, and clean. In fact, the world does not even care what sex you identify with, regardless of the anatomy of your own birth. We would expect this from the world. We would expect this from those who couldn’t care less for Jesus Christ and His Words. But, should we tolerate it in the church which is supposed to carry on the truth about Jesus Christ and His Words?

In the local church I pastor, Berean Bible Church of Kalispell, MT., we had a discussion concerning differing doctrinal “views.” In essence, the discussion came as a perspective particularly in regards to eschatology, or the study of what the Bible says about end-times events. Inevitably, we ended up in Romans 14, a chapter championed by some to allow for just about any viewpoint or behavior in the church as long as you have “full conviction” about it.

It was, I hope, a precious time of learning and clarification. My desire was to represent this powerful chapter in Romans the way that Paul intended it to be taught and to mean exactly what he intended it to mean. From there we can go on to obeying it. Although the truths written in Romans 14 are not unique to that chapter, the chapter is without equal in condensing how a church can maintain unity, as commanded in Ephesians 4:3, and yet maintain doctrinal accuracy.

My goal is to summarize Paul’s writing in this essay and exhort the church to obedience to it so that true unity can be maintained and the church can mature.

Main Point: Accept one another

 This command bookends the section that Paul uses to address the issues related to relationships in the Roman church. A church filled with Jews and Gentiles, formerly avowed enemies, is bound to have schisms and factions, as evidenced in churches like the churches at Corinth and Galatia. In fact, the issue regarding Jews and Gentiles was so prominent, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem in order to conclude the matter by the appointed Jerusalem elders and Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15). Given that Paul addressed the Jews, who were already causing a tremendous stir in the Roman church, in chapters 2-5 respectively, we can see why he now revisits what he wrote back there.

Romans 2:1 

       1        Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.

 

The very first verse addresses the very thing that Paul addresses again in chapters 14 and 15-unrighteous condemnation of the Gentiles by the Jews in the church! The Jews of the church were passing condemning judgment upon the Gentiles for whatever reason. Most likely, it was conformity to the Law of Moses, or the lack of it, that they were being upset about. However, as Paul points out, the Jews themselves were also void of conformity to that very Law by which they were judging the Gentiles. He wrote:

Romans 2:17–24

       17      But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God,

       18      and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law,

       19      and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,

       20      a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth,

       21      you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?

       22      You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

       23      You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?

       24      For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written.

 

Notice, please, he is writing this to the church. He is speaking directly to the Jews who were attending the church in Rome. These are harsh words! However, the reason they were harsh is because they were true! The fact is, God’s riches in kindness, tolerance, and patience towards the weaknesses of His children should be a pattern for us to follow towards one another.

Romans 2:3–4

       3        But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?

       4        Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

 

The Jews were no more obedient to the Law than the uncircumcised were. Yet, Paul writes, the uncircumcised, even without the Law, did, in fact, keep the Law because of the Holy Spirit (2:26-29).

With this in mind, we can see why Paul addresses all that he does in this epistle. From here he writes that the whole world, Jews and Gentiles, are under wrath (Chapters 2-3). Then, he informs the Jews that even those who are Gentiles and yet of the faith of Abraham are heirs of the promise to Abraham, vis-a-vis, the world (chapters 4-5). Then, he exhorts the entire church to holiness and a refusal to submit to anything unrighteous because of that kingdom which is imminently coming (chapters 6-8). Then, he teaches concerning the future of the Jews’s repentance in spite of their very clear apostasy from the covenant they promised to keep (chapters 9-11). From there, he teaches the church as a whole their responsibilities to the body (chapter 12) and to the world (chapter 13). As we get to chapter 14 and a portion of chapter 15, we see Paul further addressing how the Jews and Gentiles are to conduct their relationships in the  body. With all of the past that is real and nearly impossible to surmount, Paul teaches, in these chapters, how to do that. This is crucial for us as well so that the unity of the Spirit, which was granted at the moment of regeneration regardless of Jew or Gentile (Galatians 3:28-29), can be maintained.

Again, the conclusion is: “accept one another”

What Does This Mean?

The verb “accept” is a verb that means, in most contexts, “receive” or “take.”[1] It is a command that is addressed primarily to the strong (v.1). He writes,

Romans 14:1

       1       Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

 

He is not writing this to the weak because the command is to accept the weak. He is writing this to the strong in order that he might “accept” the weak. Thus, this chapter is meant as a concession for the weak and not for the strong. He writes again in chapter 15 verse 1:

Romans 15:1

       1        Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.

 

 The whole section places the responsibility of “accepting” upon the strong in relation to the weak. Now, imagine what this would have sounded like as it was read by the elder in Rome. People would have looked around and wondered who was weak and who was strong. The proud Jews may have seen themselves as strong or the proud Greek may have seen themselves as strong. However, Paul gives an example in order to evaluate who is strong and who is weak.

Romans 14:2

       2        One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.

 

Here, Paul identifies the “weak” as the one who “eats vegetables only.” This is a statement that indicates who the weak believer is. He is the one who is simply not convinced that the teachings of Jesus Christ allow for participation in eating meat, meat offered to idols in idol temples (as most meat was processed in that day). “The faith” refers to the content of the faith that is encapsulized in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Not understanding something like Mark 7 wherein Jesus declared all foods clean (acceptable to God) means that that person, not understanding this and consequently being convinced, is not established in his faith and he cannot eat meat but sticks to his vegetables.

This person is considered “weak.” He is not one who in wanton, purposeful, sin. He is not one who has redefined righteousness (Romans 14:17). He is one whose conscience, bound by his weak understanding of the Word of Christ, does not allow him to eat meat in Rome. He is weak.[2]

Paul writes that eating meat is okay on the basis of Christ’s teaching (Romans 14:14, 20). All foods are indeed clean. Jesus said so (Mark 7:14-19). Paul, a stronger brother, says that he is convinced that all foods are clean. But, for the sake of the weaker brother, which is seen as a hardship on the church and not a virtue (see 2 Corinthians 11:29), he says to not criticize that brother towards condemnation, but to get closer to him; pull him closer to yourself.

If that weaker brother, who has not matured to the point of fully embodying the teaching of Jesus Christ, is serving Jesus Christ, don’t stand in his way (Romans 14:13-21). If you both serve Christ in this manner, the manner of keeping stumbling blocks out of the way of a brother ( e.g. see Leviticus 19:14), his service to Jesus Christ is acceptable and pleasing to the Lord.

Summary

 So, as he continues to write in chapter 15, the Law of Love (Romans 14:15) instructs the strong to put up with, in love, the habits, strictures, and concerns of the weak. This is a way to promote godliness in the church and further the ministry of the church.

Conclusion

However, this needs to be said as well. This discussion does not indicate, at all, that false teaching is tolerated. That is, if a Jew came into the church in Rome and said that a Gentile must follow the Law in order to be reconciled to God, that cannot be tolerated (see Acts 15:1-2).[3] Paul always confronted those who, even slightly, redefined what God has established in the true reonciling gospel. Paul is not indicating that doctrine is relative or fluid. He said that he knows and is convinced that the Lord declared all foods clean. We cannot take this passage and redefine it by saying any view of doctrine is viable as long as you are serving Christ. Even in prison, Paul recognized that some preached Christ from selfish motives (Philippians 1:16; 2:21). However, when they were preaching Christ, he was pleased and patient. But, those who distort the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus Christ are condemned and are to be rejected by the church (Philippians 3:2).

[1] προσλαμβάνω   προσλαμβάνω    2aor. προσέλαβον, mid. προσελαβόμην; (1) take aside, take hold of and lead aside (MT 16.22); (2) take along with oneself (AC 17.5); (3) receive hospitably, accept, welcome (PM 17); (4) take, partake of food (AC 27.33) Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 335.

 Here is a good summary: “In the NT the word is found only in the mid. (as in the LXX): “to take to oneself” (men, Ac. 17:5; 18:26; nourishment, Ac. 27:33, 36 [v. 36 part. gen.]) or “with oneself” (Mk. 8:32 and par.), “to receive hospitably” (Phlm. 17; Ac. 28:2). R. 14:1, 3; 15:7: As God (or Christ) has taken every member of the Church into fellowship with Himself, so incorporate each other into your Christian circle with no inner reservations (such as might spring from differences in religious custom).” Ὑπολαμβάνω,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 15.

[2] First Corinthians 8 also deals with this very thing.

[3] I believe, too, that even other doctrines which are not accurate require intolerance in the church body as well (1 Timothy 6:3-5; Romans 16:17-18). For example, 2 Timothy 2:17-18 indicates one such teaching that the Second-Coming resurrection had already happened. That teaching had begun to infiltrate the church in Ephesus and create panic. Paul’s response was to remove those men from leadership and to put them out of the church. He wrote that they were “..men who have gone stray from the truth…” So, know that there is only one truth and the church is supposed to be the support and pillar of truth (2 Timothy 3:15).

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