November 22, 2017

An imbalanced and woefully incomplete description of pastoral ministry

St George Pulpit

Sometimes the fruit just hangs so low. The target is so close and easy to hit. And Tim Challies provides such opportunities so regularly.

When it comes to pastoral ministry, many of the neo-puritan and neo-reformed types revere John MacArthur. There were periods during my pastoral ministry when I read things he wrote, but even then, even when I agreed with many of his positions, I thought of him as a rather out-of-touch biblicist. I saw him as one of those “nose-in-the-book” Pharisee-types who saw the text as the true reality and the world and people as secondary in importance and emphasis. That impression has been confirmed time and time again over the years.

And it is confirmed once more by an article at Challies, commending MacArthur’s imbalanced and woefully incomplete description of pastoral ministry.

In this article, Challies references some teaching MacArthur did on 1 Timothy 4, which has this in verse 6:

If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed.

John MacArthur then takes a leap. Now let me say that I understand this leap, for I have taken it many times in the past. MacArthur generalizes the passage and then goes on to teach it as timeless truth for all ministers.

He says that this text provides “a rich summary of all of the apostle’s inspired instruction for those who serve the church as ministers, as pastors. And it all begins with the statement, a noble minister, an excellent minister, a good servant of Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine).

Now this is patently not true. The “12 marks” of an excellent minister that John MacArthur finds in this passage nowhere begin to summarize all of Paul’s teaching about pastoral ministry. Not even close. What they do summarize are characteristics of ministry that Paul urged upon Timothy in the particular setting of Ephesus, where false teaching was invading and dividing the congregations. And because John MacArthur has defined pastoral ministry strictly in terms of teaching and guarding against false doctrine, he likes this list. It conforms to his expectations of what the Bible should say about a pastor’s responsibility. So he makes it a general statement, a defining text about what it means to be an excellent minister.

Here are the 12 marks of an excellent minister John MacArthur finds in 1Timothy 4:

  • An excellent minister warns people of error.
  • An excellent minister is a faithful student of Scripture.
  • An excellent minister avoids the influence of unholy teaching.
  • An excellent minister is disciplined in personal godliness.
  • An excellent minister is committed to hard work.
  • An excellent minister teaches with authority.
  • An excellent minister is a model of spiritual virtue.
  • An excellent minister maintains a thoroughly Biblical ministry.
  • An excellent minister uses his spiritual gift and employs it.
  • An excellent minister is passionate regarding his work.
  • An excellent minister is manifestly growing spiritually.
  • Finally, an excellent minister perseveres in ministry.

Fully half of John MacArthur’s list is about teaching. The other points, though not explicitly about study or teaching, imply working with the Bible or mention some aspect of that in his comments. Challies quotes him as saying:

You will spend your whole life mastering one book — one book, the only book that God has inspired which he has placed all of his truth. The Bible becomes the sole content of your ministry, the sole theme of your preaching and it must saturate your mind and your soul. You make a radical commitment to the Bible and to Bible study and to Jesus. That is being lost rapidly in ministry.

Now, I love the Bible as much as anyone, but this is a narrow and woefully inadequate description of Christian pastoral ministry. And yet MacArthur sees this as “a rich summary of all of the apostle’s inspired instruction for those who serve the church as ministers, as pastors.”

What about 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8? Shouldn’t this be included as well?

But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. (emphasis mine)

What about the countless NT examples of Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and other ministers visiting the sick, helping the poor, caring for orphans and widows, organizing projects to help those in need, spending time with people in the community, engaging in conversations and befriending the neighbor?

The other day I was talking with a man whose wife came on to our hospice service. It was my initial assessment, so I asked about his faith and his church. “Does your minister visit you?” I asked.

He looked at me incredulously and said, “What kind of a minister doesn’t visit the sick and shut-ins?”

A minister with John MacArthur’s “12 marks,” that’s who. His nose is too stuck in the book to take the time.

But what really gets me about this is that John MacArthur is held up as a model of expository preaching.

This message, my friends, is not expository preaching. Expository preaching explains what the text meant to its original recipients, discusses the context in which the words were given, and only then — cautiously — draws lessons that we might learn from it for our lives today.

John MacArthur doesn’t do that. His message, based on 1Timothy 4, asserts that this is THE description of a Christian minister for all times and in all places.

This is a topical sermon. It sets forth John MacArthur’s idea of what a pastor should be, and cites biblical material to support it.

So, not only do I disagree with his portrayal of a pastor, I find his method of proclaiming that deceptive and unethical. In essence, he is stating that his own view of what a pastor should be is “biblical” — it’s “what the Bible teaches.” And anyone who disagrees with him disagrees with the Bible.

The problem is, this is so common in evangelical preaching everywhere that I have little hope it will ever change. And people eat it up, thinking their pastor is preaching and teaching the Bible.

Believe me, I know whereof I speak. I’m no innocent here. I have file drawers full of these kinds of sermons — of which I now repent.

But I also have little patience for this kind of preaching and teaching anymore. Especially when the one doing it is so insistent that he is proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

Comments

  1. (he) generalizes the passage and then goes on to teach it as timeless truth for all ministers… he is stating that his own view of what a pastor should be is “biblical” — it’s “what the Bible teaches.” And anyone who disagrees with him disagrees with the Bible. The problem is, this is so common in evangelical preaching everywhere that I have little hope it will ever change.”

    This problem has been gone over many times here at IMonk and in other venues – *if* the Bible is a repository of timeless propositional theological truths, and all that is required is a little common-sense realism (with a dash of Reformed seminary training) to properly extract them, then it follows that what you as the pastor or layperson get at the end of the process *is* “what the Bible teaches”. If the problems of our own inherent biases (which never really seems to come up in Reformed circles, despite our constant appeal to “total depravity”) are ignored, then we will continue to be constantly blindsided by stuff like this.

    This system will, of course, attract the True Believers, those who long with nostalgia for a lost “Christian past”, and theological nerds like myself. :-/ But it’s still one big reason why the evangelical collapse is upon us.

    • The italics should end after “ever change.” Must get caffeine before commenting… must get caffeine before commenting…

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > all that is required is a little common-sense realism

      But, even if I give JM the benefit of the doubt … it just isn’t a helpful list. And there isn’t any REALISM in this kind of thinking – that is what most polishes my cue ball.

      • An excellent minister avoids the influence of unholy teaching.
      • An excellent minister is disciplined in personal godliness.
      • An excellent minister maintains a thoroughly Biblical ministry.
      • An excellent minister is committed to hard work.

      What do these statements mean? “unholy teaching”, “personal godliness”, “thoroughly Biblical”… we’ve fought wars over what those phrases mean. We’ve killed tens of thousands of people interpreting such statements. Not helpful, certainly not realistic.

      • An excellent minister is a model of spiritual virtue.

      Define “spiritual virtue”. Please. [and see “manifestly”, below]. I’ve been waiting decades for that explanation.

      • An excellent minister is manifestly growing spiritually.

      “Manifestly”?!?! Really? He wants to go there? This means there are Manifestations; which puts the pastor in the realm of Demonstrability. Dangerous territory, when people can demand evidence, because the pastor just told them they could.

      Terrible theology, IMO, and also an awful burden to drop on a young couple [isn’t it always?] just out of seminary and moved to a new town or city. They’ve got enough on their plates.

      IF this is true it certainly must mean a person who spends a great deal of time not in a book. That person will be out and about: Manifesting! And some people do that… but usually not before they reach their 50s, in my experience; we all need the time to get over being right about everything.

      • Finally, an excellent minister perseveres in ministry.

      An excellent X perseveres at X; this is a general truth. A doctor, engineer, or politician who just throws up their hands when something goes amiss isn’t good at their job. I don’t need Scripture to know this.

      • “Manifestly”?!?! Really? He wants to go there? This means there are Manifestations; which puts the pastor in the realm of Demonstrability.

        Of course he wants to go there. It helps to remember that MacArthur was right smack in the middle of the Lordship Salvation controversies of the 1990s. He was in the “If you *are* saved you *will* show it” camp…

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lordship_salvation_controversy

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          Fair point. 🙁

          My experience is that some people DO want to ‘go there’, but without going there, via a zillion caveats and addendums – most of which make their own failure “reasonable” is some way, and the failures of others at beyond that reasonableness.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          He was in the “If you *are* saved you *will* show it” camp…

          And you WILL show it by BEING EXACTLY LIKE MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

          Proof of being Really Truly Saved: Whatever *I* do that YOU don’t.
          The Unpardonable Sin: Whatever YOU do that *I* Don’t!

    • Danielle says:

      Yes. Even if the Bible were a book perfect propositions, we still have the problem of healing. What good is knowing a boatload of truths and injunctions when I can’t follow them. Where does more tough but narrowly dictrinal preaching land me: try harder to get it right? We didnt get it the first time, so let’s run over the diagram again?

      This leaves those we need God, not ideas, rather chilly, and it will repel those who learn to see in overly confident exposition the preacher’s inconsistencies and the flawed basis for his arguments.

      When religion stops offering sufficient community and care, theology alone … Esp when theology is cutting against community and care…is a poor substitute.

  2. Christiane says:

    “Shouldn’t this be included as well?

    “But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”

    I think it must be, Chaplain Mike.
    I love this advice on ministry from the early Church:

    “”“For he who endeavours to amend the faults of human weakness ought to bear this very weakness on his own shoulders, let it weigh upon himself, not cast it off.
    For we read that the Shepherd in the Gospel (Luke 15:5) carried the weary sheep, and did not cast it off.

    And Solomon says: “Be not overmuch righteous;” (Ecclesiastes 7:17) for restraint should temper righteousness
    For how shall he offer himself to you for healing whom you despise, who thinks that he will be an object of contempt, not of compassion, to his physician?

    Therefore had the Lord Jesus compassion upon us in order to call us to Himself, not frighten us away. He came in meekness, He came in humility, and so He said:
    “Come unto Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28)
    So, then, the Lord Jesus refreshes, and does not shut out nor cast off, and fitly chose such disciples as should be interpreters of the Lord’s will, as should gather together and not drive away the people of God.

    Whence it is clear that they are not to be counted among the disciples of Christ, who think that harsh and proud opinions should be followed rather than such as are gentle and meek;
    persons who, while they themselves seek God’s mercy, deny it to others . . .”

    St. Ambrose (340-379 A.D.),
    a Father and Doctor of the Church

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    He looked at me incredulously and said, “What kind of a minister doesn’t visit the sick and shut-ins?”

    A minister with John MacArthur’s “12 marks,” that’s who. His nose is too stuck in the book to take the time.

    http://i1.wp.com/www.nakedpastor.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/the-theologians.jpg

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “””He looked at me incredulously and said, “What kind of a minister doesn’t visit the sick and shut-ins?”””

      Most of the one’s I’ve known.

      • At best, in the larger churches I attended, there was a “teaching pastor” (the guy in the pulpit on Sundays) and a “pastoral care” pastor (who actually did hospital visits etc). And the teaching pastor was definitely the more prestigious of the two positions…

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > At best, in the larger churches I attended, there was a “teaching pastor”

          Embedded in this structure is the belief that this division will somehow not impact the nature of the teaching.

          Anyone who pays the least bit of serious attention to Humanity should know that this will never be true.

          > And the teaching pastor was definitely the more prestigious

          Again – Inevitably. He is the guy I *sit* in a pew and look *up* at while he *stands* on stage. It is a Prestige factory – unless it becomes a Contempt factory. Without careful consideration of what we are it cannot avoid being one or the other.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          This is, incidentally, a pretty good reason to favor smaller churches. A larger church with multiple pastors could, in theory, divide the work load by having the pastors all do a little bit of everything: teaching and visiting so on. But any good businessman would look at that and conclude that, while some cross-training is a good idea so as to maintain flexibility, it makes a lot more sense to have people specializing in narrower tasks. And of course it is assumed that good business practice equates to good church practice. I much prefer a smaller church with one person. As a rule of thumb, I would never consider any church where I would not be confident that the pastor knows my name.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            I believe a church can scale in size – which may be economically necessary going forward – using a regional/parish model. A larger church can maintain a similar level of connectivity by dividing pastoral roles geographically rather than by role. Preferably with the pastor residing in his/her region [really, that should be mandatory].

            Sadly, very few churches take such a approach.

            The role based model has so many essentially unchurch anti-community properties.

  4. Mike,

    I believe I can speak with some authority here. More pastors/elders of the churches I have attended have attended seminary at Masters than any other seminary, and one church I attended was a satellite campus of Masters College. I spent years surrounded by Hittites, Jebusites and MacArthurites. (Just kidding about the Hittites and Jebusites) I listened to his radio shows for years, and know many people who went to and/or sent their kids to Masters. That said…

    I agree with your assessment. But let me take it a step further. Multitudes of followers worship this guy. Most only know him from his radio program, commentaries and other teaching materials available to the public. If their own leaders follow what he teaches, then they are approved. It’s all propositional doctrine with little understanding of true shepherding. Shepherding, like, you know, leaving the 99 to go after the stray instead of building better fences to keep the remaining 99 inside.

    During the market crash, I lost my career and we lost our house, I was out of work for over two years, and had to go to vocational school to start an entirely new field. We had special needs kids with “behavioral” problems the church couldn’t deal with, difficult health problems in our family, deaths in the family. We lived in an elderly gentleman’s home (who was a childhood friend) with young children in an un-childproofed house, and I was a full-time student, full-time job seeker, and a full-time stay at home dad while my wife worked graveyard for ten bucks an hour, having to keep the kids from waking her while I did homework. We complained about lack of fellowship at the church we attended, and an ordained elder said to us, and I quote, “Well, you have so many problems, nobody is going to WANT to get to know you.” And we were told that my attending a community college to start a new career was unbiblical because I didn’t also have a part time job at Starbucks or some nonsense to fulfill my biblical duty to work during a severe economic recession. Didn’t attend that church much longer, or any other church like it from now on forever.

    • Danielle says:

      ” If their own leaders follow what he teaches, then they are approved.”

      My observation is that this happens a lot. It becomes so important to any sense of security and salvation to “rightly divide the word of truth” that its deeply reassuring to place a lot of trust in one (or a small set) of teachers. People don’t explain it to themselves as Biblical fidelity, which makes the commitment and its appeal hard to question.

      “Well, you have so many problems, nobody is going to WANT to get to know you.”

      Wow, I’m sure that was helpful. Congrats to you for surviving such a rough period, complete with people making comments of this kind.

      • Danielle says:

        *People DO explain it to themselves as Biblical fidelity….

      • “…complete with people making comments of this kind.”

        Well, there was tons more, but this one fit the context of Chaplain Mike’s point. Not sure iMonk has the bandwidth to fully explain. 🙂

    • JM is on my short list of people who if I find out is associated with a ministry or church, then I won’t be attending or participating. I don’t want his influence anywhere on my friends and associates.

      Also, it’s kind of personal. The man or one of his lackeys used ME as a personal example in a blog post once, totally misaligned me, put words in my mouth, and I’m still getting random emails “of correction and rebuke” now 5 years out from that event.

      I’m glad he’s so willing to throw people under the bus for disagreeing with his ex cathedra.

    • Hope things are more stable for you and yours now, Steve.

      • Well, Mike, I’ve been gainfully employed for five years, so we’ve been able to put food on the table. But the wacky life stuff, not so much. That’s a perpetually revolving door. We have, however, joined a small home church in the last six months where the love for the saints is like we’ve never seen before. It’s the first church we’ve ever attended that not only accepts our kids, but shows them the “more abundant honor” mentioned in 1 Cor 12-14. That people actually care about our family is pretty mind blowing.

  5. Danielle says:

    “You make a radical commitment to the Bible and to Bible study and to Jesus.”

    This is the money quote: The Bible, my study of the Bible, and [“… oh that’s right …I’ve got to say this too…”] Jesus.

    The issue isn’t necessarily that the three items are in conflict; it is that MacArthur places so much stress on the first two that he will assume that whatever attaches to the third item on his list will have been covered already by the first two.

    Jesus, therefore the Bible. Not the other way around.

  6. “Believe me, I know whereof I speak. I’m no innocent here. I have file drawers full of these kinds of sermons — of which I now repent.” Me too, Mike, me too.
    “But I also have little patience for this kind of preaching and teaching anymore. Especially when the one doing it is so insistent that he is proclaiming the whole counsel of God.” I just can’t take it anymore.
    He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6. Yes, the letter kills. We evangelicals think we are ministering life to the culture around us; but we are ministering death. And that’s why we are more and more frequently having our message rejected. It’s not persecution for Jesus’ sake. We like to think they aren’t rejecting us they are rejecting Jesus. Hah! They are rejecting US and our self-righteousness and hypocrisy. People were, and still are, drawn to Jesus. There is something about Him. And those who manifest His Spirit still draw people to them, because that Spirit ministers LIFE.
    This whole idea that Jesus is coming back soon; but this time as the conquering warrior who going to give it to those sinners who reject his (read: our) message. He’ll show them WE were right all along. GAAAAAAHHHH!! What if John in Revelation was really subverting the picture of the conquering warrior, sword in his hand, clothes steeped in the blood of his enemies. His clothes were stained with blood BEFORE the battle—- whose blood: his own. He is the Lamb who conquers. How does a lamb conquer? By being slain, by sacrificing himself. The sword he is wielding, it’s not in his hand, it comes out of his mouth. What sword comes out of the mouth — His Words. John 5:39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

    • Danielle says:

      Wise words.

      A lot of churches are handwringing about the culture rejecting them, and declaring doom (when not plotting how to take power back via the elections or various issue-related victories). But a lot of what is being rejected should be set aside.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      This whole idea that Jesus is coming back soon; but this time as the conquering warrior who going to give it to those sinners who reject his (read: our) message. He’ll show them WE were right all along.

      What Slacktivist calls “The Turbo Jesus of Left Behind”. The Gospel According to Jack Chick and Hal Lindsay, the Ultimate Revenge Fantasy. “HAVE FUN IN HELL! HAW! HAW! HAW!”

  7. Suzanne says:

    I have a close relative who is a Lutheran pastor. He regularly visits members in the hospital and says he gets thanked profusely a lot from people who previously attended other churches (Lutheran or not). Many many clergy, apparently, don’t bother with hospital or shut-in visits. He also mentioned once that he’s been surprised when he’s attended funerals at other churches and the pastor is the first one in the food line at the funeral dinner. He said he always counsels young seminarians or pastors to be served last. But, in all honesty, I’ve known way too many pastors or soon-to-be pastors who fit exactly what this post references. The pastor strives not to serve but to be served.

  8. FWIW: change in this area, if it comes at all and I hope it does, might happen at the grass roots level and work its way up: I was at a small group leaders meeting, and this thing came up in talking about small group priority and focus. In other words , how important is it to curriculum driven in small groups, what shape should curriculum take.

    I’m glad to be in an environment where the sacrament and the Word are esteemed, but so are particular people and their particular needs. Seeing myself as the dispenser of messages (though I’m not a pastor, exactly) would be a swing and a miss, even though that’s what I do a small % of the time: it’s more about the care of souls and meeting real needs. The Word is essential, but a servant to the care of souls.

    Forgive the rambling: no coffee yet.

  9. I remember my first year of seminary at SEBTS, being so bitterly disappointed hearing professors and other students talk about the work of the ministry being writing sermons. It came to the place where I wished that no pastors were trained as sermon writers, but as missionaries first.

    And then in preaching class, where I was already at a huge disadvantage just by being female, where I really just couldn’t get around the topical sermon being “preaching the Bible”. The professor kept saying that, and finally told me I just needed to accept it. One thing I do like about Calvary Chapel is their emphasis on verse-by-verse teaching. I heard so many preachers who are supposed to be the best of the best, and they barely mentioned the Bible or its context at all.

    I started going to church by myself at age 8. I don’t think I would have kept going if not for the gentle pastor at that church, who was truly a shepherd. He preached 10 to 15 minute sermons, but I still remember some of them vividly, especially an Easter sermon where he just sat on a chair and told a story about a rag man that took on all our sins. MacArthur would have hated it, I’m pretty sure. But it’s 30 years later and I still remember it, and I don’t remember many sermons just from the past 5 years. That pastor watched over me until I moved away in high school, and his office was always open if someone had a burden or a question. I’m sure he was just as diligent about visiting the sick. When I think of pastor, I think of him.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > I wished that no pastors were trained as sermon writers, but as missionaries first

      I agree what what your saying – and have a somewhat similar experience.

      But I worry about the term “missionaries” just as much.

      If you are a pastor – I am ***NOT*** your Mission. I am a member of your community.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        “If you are a pastor – I am ***NOT*** your Mission. I am a member of your community.”

        This. The word “missionary” jumped out at me.

      • My favorite missionaries are the Blues Brothers.

      • I didn’t say they would be missionaries, just that they should be trained like them. The perspective is much more holistic than just writing sermons, since it focuses on building relationships, building community, and making disciples. There’s also more focus on ministry wellness, family health, and spiritual disciplines.

        And may I ask, what makes being a mission so much different? Church planters, especially in mostly non-Christian countries, are not just evangelizing, they are growing Christians from seed to plant. The command to all of us is to make disciples, not just to share the gospel. There are missionaries that just evangelize, but the majority of them are there to grow a church. They are both evangelizer and pastor. I think it’s just as narrow to think of missionaries as evangelizers as it is to think of pastors as sermon machines.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > just that they should be trained like them

          Better yet that they be trained to be Pastors.

          > The perspective is much more holistic

          Maybe. Or a Missionary is one with a Mission – a Mission is a thing with A Goal to be achieved. One on a Mission is the chosen Hero sent out to bring The Word to those Ignorant Savages. Soldiers go on missions. The Church is not a military organization.

          > I think it’s just as narrow to think of missionaries as evangelizers

          That is not my conception of them. I am filled with a deep and conflicted ambivalence about Missionary work.

          After dealing with many missionaries, receiving many missions updates, funding requests, …. This is a term the church community needs to leave behind. Have a few non-church people read some of those letters, etc… A note of [at best] paternalism grows too easily when the world is described in this way. Words matter, language matters – and Theologian types know this better than anyone – so why do they fight so hard against the abandonment of damaged and misleading terms [Evangelical, Missionary, etc…]?

          Some really strange things a Mission Organizations. Including engineering companies which design and build bridges, but are somehow subversively Christian; like undercover-cops-for-Christ.

  10. Richard Hershberger says:

    “MacArthur generalizes the passage and then goes on to teach it as timeless truth for all ministers.”

    This seems a pretty common error. We take a snippet that we like and assume, often on no basis other than its conforming to our preferences, that it is intended generally. The “ladies, sit down and keep quiet” passage is a classic example. This in turn ties in with the habit–and this is not a new one–of preaching a sermon taking just such a snippet as the text. The great benefit of using the lectionary is that reading two or three or four extended passages makes it harder to fall into the trap of then preaching on a snippet of text.

    There are a few occasions in Scripture where the great truth is summarized in a snippet, but Scripture itself is pretty good about pointing out when it is doing this.

    • Matthew 22:36-40 comes to mind, and it claims to sum up the OT. It’s also a set of verses that I don’t hear people like MacArthur ever preach.

      “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and [a]foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

  11. David Cornwell says:

    If I attended a church with the “12 Marks” I’d be sleeping through the service.

    What does one do with the “marks” after hearing them? Sounds like a lot of worry and work to me. I have enough of that already without going to church to pick up more. I won’t be visiting anytime soon.

  12. The word “minister” as used here is telling. It simply means servant, but in context means ordained clergy, thus denying me status as a servant of God. A servant of the minister perhaps. Minister doesn’t seem to mean quite the same as priest or pastor or preacher. Mostly has an air, not to say odor, of Reformed tradition, whether wearing robes or business suit. Certainly not jeans. I associate the occupation of minister with a long face, a long nose, and a dour expression, but I could be biased.

    I recently got to experience the epitome of preaching, in this case with an old Episcopal priest named Pete. According to the bulletin, a homily is supposed to follow the reading of the Gospel. A homily is a brief commentary or devotion, ten minutes tops, my cup of tea. A sermon on the other hand can last up to twenty minutes. Anything over that is called an ordeal. Pete starts out his homily with “Any questions?”, this from in front of the pulpit. And there are always questions, which he answers succinctly and with knowledge. If there is time left, he delivers a short talk from in front of the pulpit with no notes, moving around and directing his remarks to the people as if he were talking with us, which he is. I have seen the questions go on long enough to where he says, “Let’s quit while we are ahead,” and skips the homily altogether. I’m guessing this might be the first time in two thousand years this has been done, and I picture a crowd of angels peering down saying, “Did you see that?”

    Something else he does that might be a first in the Episcopal Church, he doesn’t sit on the throne. I don’t think they call it that but that’s what it is. The bishop gets first dibs on it if he shows up, but otherwise the priest gets to sit there. Pete might have the same maverick idea I do, that the throne is for Jesus, and possibly also small children. In any case, he sits in a chair just as if he was an ordinary person. I’ve always thought that rather than the pulpit or the Bible or the Bread & Wine occupying center stage, that’s where Jesus’ throne should be. While I’m at it, I also picture an empty tomb as the backdrop. That’s probably why I’m not a minister.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Love your story of Fr. Pete. Don’t know how they do it up your way, but in my entire life as an Episcopalian I have never seen a priest sit on the Cathedra. Ours is pushed off to the side of the chancel behind the communion rail. It’s brought out once a year when our Bishop visits. She sits on it only during confirmation.

  13. I always enjoy when you touch on the subject of pastoral ministry, but I’m going to miss the point for a second.

    Probably the biggest impact that JM has had on my life is the way that he seems to interpret “teaching with authority” and it’s influence on my first pastor. The authority that he speaks of seems to equate to the amount of volume and arrogance that he can muster in the pulpit.

    As you stated above, this is not exegetical preaching, therefore the “authority” is at best due to his own worldly tools, and at worst takes a cue from Prometheus and steals his fire (authority) from God.

    • His influence was felt in the first church I served, many years after I was gone. The man who was pastor at that time became enamored of Reformed theology, and all of a sudden these wonderful Christian people who had kept this little church in the mountains going and served Christ faithfully and simply for decades became subjected to a constant stream of sermons calling them to question their salvation. It was pietistic Pharisaism on steroids, and when he left, it was a though the fog had lifted up from the mountain, revealing blue sky and the clean, crisp air of grace once more.

      • This probably comes off as more of a cheap shot than I intend, but there was a promotional image that he was using for quite some time (may still be) where he looks like he was done up by a mortician. It seemed fitting at the time because so much that comes forth from his ministries seems to have a stench of death to it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        His influence was felt in the first church I served, many years after I was gone. The man who was pastor at that time became enamored of Reformed theology…

        i.e. “There is no Christ, only CALVIN.”
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lg7MAacSPNM

  14. Rick Ro. says:

    “Here are the 12 marks of an excellent minister John MacArthur finds in 1Timothy 4:”

    An excellent minister warns blah blah blah.
    An excellent minister is a blah blah blah.
    An excellent minister avoids blah blah blah.
    An excellent minister….
    blah blah blah.

    If I was a minister, I’d think: screw being an excellent minister; I’ll just be an average one!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Here are the 12 marks of an excellent minister John MacArthur finds in 1Timothy 4:”

      And those 12 Marx distill down to ONE:

      “An Excellent Minister is Exactly Like John MacArthur.”

  15. Ronald Avra says:

    I think MacArthur’s take a on ministry is a manifestation of the apparent need for control exhibited by many Neo-Reformed Calvinists. They want a faith they can control, one they imagine they can willfully exhibit the fruit of. They want to write the script, choose their scars, and waltz the red carpet while the rejects look on. Any hint that things will go off script or the wheels are coming off the tour bus, sends them digging for their bottle of pills. (That last line is rather cold blooded and insensitive, but I’m in a mood this morning.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Another factor is PROVING to themselves that THEY are Truly Elect.

      In private correspondence some years ago, Martha of Ireland remarked that Calvinism teaches that God can give False Assurance of Election to a Reprobate, so there is literally NO way to know that you are Elect/Saved.

      So they focus on externals as signs of Election/Salvation. Once it was getting rich (blessed with riches), which spawned the Prosperity Gospel; now it’s Purity of Ideology/Perfectly-parsed Theology.

      • StuartB says:

        In private correspondence some years ago, Martha of Ireland remarked that Calvinism teaches that God can give False Assurance of Election to a Reprobate, so there is literally NO way to know that you are Elect/Saved.

        OOH, I heard that story growing up often! The seasoned old deacon nearing the end of his life, who spent his entire life serving others, reading “the Word”, praying, “doing good deeds”, serving and volunteering…who then died and went to hell because he hadn’t truly bend the knee and repented and asked Jesus into his life.

        Yup, I remember that story. heard it multiple times a year. It never failed to drive me to despair and walk the aisle and weep for hours. Every year. Every night for a week.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “Are you SURE you’re REALLY Saved?”
          “Are you CERTAIN you’re SURE?”
          “Are you SURE you’re CERTAIN you’re SURE?”
          “Are you CERTAIN you’re SURE you’re CERTAIN you’re SURE?”

          That way lies Madness.

          Martha’s remarks were for the specifically-Calvinist version.

          A non-Calvinist variant (starting “But How Do You KNOW You’re SAVED?”) in my college days was used as a high-pressure Witnessing tactic called “The Ressegue Regression” after the guy who was most associated with it. I ended up a notch on half a dozen Bibles that way.

          Again, That Way Lies Madness.

      • From MacArthur’s mouth to your ears: see next-to-last paragraph.

        http://www.gty.org/blog/B130121/membership-is-submission

        [Saved in my “church abuse” folder…]

        • Clay Crouch says:

          Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of Gehenna as yourselves.

          • Exactly. I’ve thought of that verse often myself in regard to this.

            As HUG said above, “That Way Lies Madness.”

  16. It is easy to take pot-shots at MacArthur, but I think there is a wider lesson to be learned from this for all of us.

    We tend to view ministry through the eyes of our gifting. Teachers tend to view their gift as foundational (read top of pecking order). I have often heard the line ‘Well what the church really needs is ________’
    That blank is teaching, encouragement, prayer, prophecy, reaching out, pastoral care (and on and on)

    And the truth is we probably need all of them. I think that is what Paul was trying to get at when he talked about the church being a body. We need teachers! And preachers, and evangelists. It is interesting that in our culture that so loves bigger than life extroverts that the verbal gifts get precedence and honour. We also need administrators, encouragers, spiritual directors, people who pray, practical gifts of help, those who visit sick, etc.

    Rather than just looking at MacArthur lets look at our own situations and see if we do the same. I look at what we are criticizing as a direct consequence of the culture as a whole, we love our celebrities that mouth off about everything.

    I am a teacher by gifting and I preach at my local church. I chose a mainline denomination because I don’t have to be a celebrity, I am not expected to be bigger than life and put on a persona. I have been deeply influenced by Eugene Peterson’s view of ministry. And absolutely I view my gift as just one. One of the guys I most admire in my church is a quiet retiree who just lays his life down in service and does not talk about it. His gift in many ways is more important than mine, but I know that we need teaching and expository preaching. We have a number of introverts in our congregation and I want to find ways for them to express their giftings.

    So my question for the conversation here is in what ways are we like MacArthur? Good and bad?

    • I agree with you to a point. Ministers have different personalities, gifts, strengths and weaknesses. But the word pastor means someone who cares for the flock. Period. It includes feeding them, but a whole lot more than that.

      I have been told all throughout my ministry that my gift was teaching. And there have been far too many times when I was such a biblicist that I couldn’t have told you whether it was sunny or cloudy outside. And I certainly knew nothing about my neighbor. I wasn’t a very good pastor in those times, no matter how good my teaching might have been.

      I think we would all agree that the Apostle Paul was a pretty good teacher. But if you examine what he did in ministry, you’ll see that it was about laying down his life to serve others, with teaching as one component of that.

      My position is that if someone takes up the title “Pastor,” he or she ought to be prepared to live among the sheep and serve them in a wholistic fashion, no matter what gifts he or she might possess.

      • So where does that leave those who have other gifts as outlined in Ephesians?
        And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV)

        Paul mentions here 5 different giftings, I assume shepherd is a pastor. So are you saying that someone who is not explicitly pastoral has no place? I agree with you, however my point is that people will see and act through the lens of their gifting, and from your response I can see that you are. Another person may say to you and I ‘but a pastor needs to be an evangelist!’, I would tend to see a teacher as foundational.

        Both of us having been biblicists may not have an awful lot of bearing on this. I needed a smack on the side of my head, and I went through my bruising in my 40’s and hopefully left my biblicism aside.

        I am at a point where I realise that having a team of people is important because a ‘pastor’ can’t do it all. We need the various gifts that Paul speaks of, and I don’t see that they all reside in one person.

        • I am at a point where I realise that having a team of people is important because a ‘pastor’ can’t do it all. We need the various gifts that Paul speaks of, and I don’t see that they all reside in one person.

          If not an outright homerun, the above is extra bases. And the humble person/leader (see Rick Ro, below) will see that and know that his or her gifting is not the straw that stirs the drink. Somehow we’ve (as the American evangelical tribe) fallen into the teacher-administrator-CEO gift set is the mountain top for leaders. This must be rethought, and reconfigured, IMO. Also: leadership as a team enterprise vs. the one big boy VISION CASTER…..

          Why would one person, and it’s almost always a man, WANT that much power and influence anyway ??

        • It is not at all clear how these “giftings” functioned in the context of church and mission. It is probably fairly certain that Paul did not have in mind a “pastor” in quite the same way as most of us do.

          All I would say is that, no matter what your gift, it is meant to help you fulfill the great commandments, which put love of God and neighbor above all and in all. And particularly if one has the word “pastor” associated with one’s name and calling, that means being involved in the direct care of people to that end.

          Now, it was MacArthur, I believe, who popularized the idea that this passage should be read, “pastor-teachers” (note how they are linked by an “and” and not separated by a comma even in the version you quoted). But, in my opinion he and others who emphasize this have led the way in having teaching swallow up pastoring. In my Bible college, where I first read MacArthur, it was all about teaching. Visitation and pastoral care was looked down upon as something that liberals who had no meat to offer did.

  17. Ben Carmack says:

    Dear Chaplain,

    You wrote, “When it comes to pastoral ministry, many of the neo-puritan and neo-reformed types revere John MacArthur. There were periods during my pastoral ministry when I read things he wrote, but even then, even when I agreed with many of his positions, I thought of him as a rather out-of-touch biblicist. I saw him as one of those “nose-in-the-book” Pharisee-types who saw the text as the true reality and the world and people as secondary in importance and emphasis. That impression has been confirmed time and time again over the years.”

    I’m no fan-boy of MacArthur, but you’ve badly misrepresented his position.

    1) If Jesus-centered spirituality is your thing, you should know that Scripture refers to Christ as the Word. The Christian faith, in contrast to the endless varieties of pagan religions, starts with the Word. God speaks, then things happen. We walk by faith in what God has told us, not by sight. We worship the one true God, not idols made with hands that we comprehend and see. This theme is endlessly repeated across the Bible. It’s impossible to miss.

    Therefore, treating the text as “the true reality” is completely appropriate. If the teachings of Scripture do not define reality for us, against what our sinful minds want to see instead, why be a Christian? Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Better to have fun than engage in pointless religious mumbo jumbo that isn’t true anyway.

    2) Starting with the Word does not necessarily negate the goodness of created things, nor of the sacraments, nor of personal relationships. If it did, perhaps you should let 2000 years of Christian theologians in on this secret. Rather, beginning with Scripture is the surest way we know of to protect personal relationships, the goodness of Creation and the sacraments. Without the Bible, we don’t know who Jesus is, nor who we are, nor what the sacraments are, nor what the world is, nor can we recognize orthodoxy or the Church. We have no reason to visit the sick or comfort the afflicted in the first place. If Scripture is not true the sick are just “feeders” who drain us of our precious tax dollars and dilute our gene pool.

    3) Giving something pride of place does not thereby automatically diminish the value of other things not given a pride of place. This is an elementary distinction. The president of the United States has pride of place in representing the United States abroad to foreign countries. This does not mean the president has more rights than you or I, is a better human being than you or I, nor that those who recognize this presidential privilege hold other American citizens with disdain. People and things can be equal in essence and value but not equal with respect to priority or office.

    • The Christian faith, in contrast to the endless varieties of pagan religions, starts with the Word. God speaks, then things happen.

      Well, no. Jesus did something. Told us to do the same. Others wrote it down. Then we do like Jesus.

      As always, Christianity does not start with the Bible. It starts entirely with Jesus.

      • We worship the one true God, not idols made with hands that we comprehend and see.

        The problem is, the Bible is an idol made by hands that we comprehend and see.

        This theme is endlessly repeated across the Bible. It’s impossible to miss.

        And yet. And yet.

      • Ben Carmack says:

        How do you know Jesus did anything? Are you 2000 years old? Were you there personally?

        “Then we do like Jesus.”

        Why do we need to do like Jesus? Which Jesus? Who says I need to live like Jesus? Suppose I’m fine not being like Jesus, thank you. Who or what tells me otherwise?

        “The Bible is an idol made by hands that we comprehend and see.”

        What is idolatry and how do you know it when you see it? Once you see it, by what authority do you claim it’s wrong? Who says idolizing the Bible is wrong and why should I believe likewise?

        All that aside, using the standard you’ve applied to the Bible, if approaching God through the use of means constitutes idolatry, then the sacraments are idolatry, pious sayings about Jesus are idolatry, preaching is idolatry and all religious worship is idolatry. Unless you were personally there and saw God act immediately, without means, you are an idolater.

        Is that your position?

        • StuartB says:

          Sure, I guess. You yelped, not sure what part I hit.

          All those things listed are idolatrous. Graven images. Dated rituals.

          Let’s try love. Love doesn’t seem to cease or be dated.

          When those things take the place of doing and being like Jesus, it’s idolatrous per Christian definition.

          • Stuart- who is this Jesus you speak of? Is he an object of your creation? Was he historical? Can we know anything other than ‘lets try love?’

            Sounds pretty elusive…

          • Ben Carmack says:

            “Let’s try love. Love doesn’t seem to cease or be dated.”

            You’re alluding to 1 Corinthians 13, which, last time I checked, was in the Bible.

            By your own standard, are you now a Bible idolater?

            My point is that your position is self refuting and irrational. You should give it up and live by faith instead, like Jesus would do.

          • StuartB says:

            My own standard? I haven’t established a standard. What’s a standard?

            You seem to be implying that there is no authority or hope or whatever in life without the Bible dictating it. Especially as alluded to by your comment above that there is no ‘reason’ to take care of the sick or poor if the Bible doesn’t command it.

            That’s…troublesome. No one should need a reason from a holy book to help and care for others. As mentioned before, millions of people do so every day…and that’s despite some “sin nature” or whatever. Funny how they choose good without a god.

            Fun link that’s related to this – http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2009/12/if-the-bible-is-not-inerrant-then-christianity-is-false-and-other-stupid-statements/

            The Jesus question is a good one. Liar lunatic lord legend…probably a lot of all of the above. At some point knowledge ceases and only faith can take over with who Jesus was. And is. Blindly declaring one of them to be true could very well become idolatrous…

          • StuartB says:

            I have to wonder about anyone who apparently is only good because they are commanded to. Like how evil are you without a god or bible telling you to do good?

            Might as well be ‘raping and pilloring and stealing and drugging and gambling’ if the Bible isn’t true or something…lol.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > If the teachings of Scripture do not define reality for us, against what our sinful minds want to see
      > instead, why be a Christian?

      The text is read and understood by those sinful minds.

      > 2) Starting with the Word does not necessarily negate the goodness of created things

      But you do not “start with the word”. Nobody does, they cannot, it is not possible. This is why Scripture must be dealt with carefully and gently; which is not a handling present in JM’s reasoning.

      > Without the Bible, we do…. We have no reason to visit the sick or comfort the afflicted
      > in the first place.

      Do you sincerely believe this? Evidence that people “without the Bible” do this, abundantly, is abundant. One must assume they do so due to a reason.

      > If Scripture is not true the sick are just “feeders”

      Who said Scripture was not True? I do not see that stated anywhere. This is a fallacy of the extremes.

      • Ben Carmack says:

        “The text is read and understood by those sinful minds.”

        That isn’t an argument against putting the Word first. If our sinful minds prevent us from ever understanding anything, we have no hope. This religion thing is pointless. This Bible thing is pointless.

        “Do you sincerely believe this? Evidence that people “without the Bible” do this, abundantly, is abundant. One must assume they do so due to a reason.”

        Ah, but I didn’t claim that non-Christians were incapable of doing those things. I said they have no “reason” to do them.

        Christians are called to obey God. God has instructed us in Scripture that we are to care for the sick. That’s our reason for doing it. Take away Scripture and you take away the reason.

        “Who said Scripture was not True? I do not see that stated anywhere. This is a fallacy of the extremes.”

        Maybe you should read the OP. The OP claims that because MacArthur gives the Word priority of place, he must necessarily disregard human relationships and human needs. If that isn’t a fallacy of extremes…

        • StuartB says:

          This religion thing is pointless. This Bible thing is pointless.

          Isn’t…isn’t that the point? That religion IS pointless? Isn’t that what Jesus and Paul and everyone basically said? And making a religion out of the Bible is equally as pointless?

          It’s all pointless! So. What do we do?

          Let’s start with loving God and loving others as we love ourselves.

          Love is the fulfillment of the law.

          Let’s start with love.

          • Ben Carmack says:

            Without belaboring the obvious, you only know “what Jesus and Paul and everyone basically said,” because Scripture is a thing that exists. Since you’re obviously referring to it, you must accept its truth claims at some level.

            You are sawing off the branch you’re sitting on. Your position is ridiculous, faithless and self refuting.

          • StuartB says:

            So I should venerate the Scriptures? Am I to focus on the branch or the tree?

      • StuartB says:

        Spot on, Adam.

    • Ben, all I know is that when I asked someone who has been very involved with MacArthur for years about whether he visits people in the hospital, he told me, “Believe me, you don’t want JM visiting you in the hospital.”

      I told him, then I don’t want him as my pastor. And I don’t think he is a pastor. He’s got his nose stuck in the book.

      • Ben Carmack says:

        Dear Chaplain,

        I don’t that MacArthur’s ministry is flawed in many respects. As I said, I’m no MacArthur partisan.

        Your argument against JM goes too far. If MacArthur gives the Word priority, that same Word admonishes him to know his flock, to warn each one day and night with tears, to apply Scripture personally, to preach to the conscience, to be more than a scholar with a Bible lecture. If MacArthur fails to do those things (which I’ll grant for the sake of argument), his error is that he is disobeying the Word. He is making too little of it, not too much.

        Really, are any of us innocent of the charge of making too little of God’s commands? We will all be judged for how we taught and cared for those under our care–friends, children, family members. Do you tremble for that day? I do, as a new father.

        Could we please be done with this self serving sniping at the Bible and encourage one another in the fear of God, John MacArthur included?

        • Ben, thanks for your pushback today. I value your participation, and your points do stimulate me to think. I think we have some fundamental differences when it comes to the Bible and how it works in our lives and in the church, and that’s okay. We can always talk about that. But I hope what I’m engaged in is not “self-serving sniping,” but rather honest critique of something that I truly believe is, in the end, harmful to the church and incompatible with the calling that I treasure.

      • Chaplain Mike it is easy to beat on MacArthur for his faults.

        But in what I see as the true spirit of Imonk, we should engage in the question in what ways are we ourselves like the things we don’t not like in this situation? The prophetic edge of the iMonastery should go in all directions.

        It is a bit tiring to see us beating up the Reformed types without engaging in self examination.

        How is MacArthur’s narrow definition of pastoral ministry any different than some of what we may believe? I raised the point earlier that he is probably viewing ministry through the lens of his gifting? Do we do the same?

        • StuartB says:

          Would encouraging MacArthur and the reformed, as well as us here at iMonk who read this site daily, to be more Jesus-shaped in our spirituality be “beating up” on them?

          • No, but exercising some self awareness is useful. Maybe we can try some introspection and ask the question ‘where are my blinders?’ Or do we no longer have them now that we have seeming shed our fundamentalist roots?

            It is easy to beat up on others, that’s what we all learned in our fundamentalist past. I don’t see an awful lot of encouragement here to do better. At times it seems like a room full of ex-smokers talking about a guy who lights up. We have found a new whipping boy, out with the secular fundamentalists and in with MacArthur or anyone else who we are not comfortable with.

            I am no fan of the new Reformed school. But Ben has a solid point.

        • I’m fine with that, Ken, but I’m not sure I’ve failed to engage in self-examination about all of this. I’ve plainly confessed to having been a Biblicist myself on many occasions, and there is a whole body of pastoral writing on this site that provides context.

          But I don’t want to merely defend myself. Suggest how we might proceed and I will happily join in the discussion.

          • Chaplain Mike it is not usually you, you just provide material to discuss.

            It is the way the conversation tends to unfold.

            I am at a stage of where I favour some of this becoming a learning tool and helping us to examine our own attitudes. It is really easy just to fall into an intellectual discussion and because we have sliced and diced our subject for the day walk away being satisfied.

            Maybe you could sometimes frame some questions that would cause us to examine ourselves and our attitudes. For example I raised the idea that perhaps we all view ministry through the lens of our gifting and I could add, experiences.

            The 12 points do have some merit, but my reaction was more how incomplete they were, and very skewed toward MacArthur’s gift set. If I were to ask you as a Chaplain what your 12 points of a good pastor are, what would they be?

            In discussing those things, we at least forge a way forward

            • I’m not sure 12 points come to mind, but as a member of the flock, a student of the Bible, and a practitioner of pastoral care, I would say a good pastor takes care to:

              1. Do his/her best to trust and follow Jesus.

              2. Have a mind, heart, and imagination that is shaped by the biblical story.

              3. Spends time listening and conversing with people, attempting to discern what God is doing in their lives and asking how he/she might cooperate with God to encourage that work.

              Two of the best practitioners of pastoral ministry, Richard Halverson and Eugene Peterson talk about the pastor’s work on Sunday among the gathered people of God and the pastor’s work “between Sundays” among the scattered people of God. The two are organically related, and what I fail to see in most pastoral modeling is this organic connection. Indeed, what I often fail to see is the pastor’s intentional presence amid the scattered flock.

              You might want to search the archives and look back at our “Pastoral Care Week” that we had in April.

          • Chaplain Mike, I just reread my response and do not want to put all the onus on you to ask the questions.
            Maybe various ones of us could pose questions we can ask ourselves.

      • Charles Fines says:

        >> And I don’t think he is a pastor.

        CM, according to the original posting above, MacArthur doesn’t seem to be calling himself a pastor and I’m guessing he thinks of himself as a teacher more than a shepherd. It isn’t fair or accurate to use “pastor” and “minister” as synonyms even if they are in the same family and sometimes can be interchanged. They really represent different religious cultures. That being said, I would much rather have you visit me than MacArthur and I would rather listen to your sermons than his. But I won’t rag on those who prefer his style and outlook because it gives them a place to congregate. Live and let live.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          CM, according to the original posting above, MacArthur doesn’t seem to be calling himself a pastor and I’m guessing he thinks of himself as a teacher more than a shepherd.

          “Teacher” as in “Rabbi” like the ones who were always butting heads with this Rabbi from Nazareth?

  18. StuartB says:

    Perhaps one of the problems with MacArthur and similar types is that they don’t understand or know what to do with Jesus’ ministry. As was taught often in my fundamentalist churches growing up, Jesus’ ministry was viewed as just “establishing Godly authority”, mostly through parlour tricks and miracles, before his real goal of dying and resurrection.

    MacArthur and others seem to skip over Jesus’ ministry, nod to his death burial and resurrection, and then immediately latch on to “and the apostles taught them” and Paul’s sophistic arguments. That’s sort of a failure on the Bible to focus post-resurrection on the church doing good deeds, tho to be fair there’s four whole gospel of Jesus literally going around doing good deeds.

    That’s why, end of the day, Jesus doesn’t matter to these folks. The law/the Word matters. The argument matters. The knowledge matters. Because ultimately, it’s what mattered to Jesus, because he literally came, established his godly pedigree, died and rose again so as to establish the Apostles’ preaching and teaching ministry.

    From John the Baptist’s preaching to Jesus’ death to the Apostle’s preaching to Paul’s reasoning. That’s the tragectory of Scripture (sp).

  19. I’m a little tired and out of sorts today: hope this makes some small amount of sense.

    MacArthur is just one of a type, a well known spokesperson of something WAY bigger and more far ranging than John, his particular college and ministry, and even bigger than the neo-reformed movement. Not sure how to identify or label the largest category here… but I will mention that my former pastor, not from any part of the MacArthur tree, would have agreed with most of those points because they both agree on what a pastor is and does. For me, that was worth leaving the church to find something, someplace, more pastoral: where leaders did not see themselves as PRIMARILY teachers, even those whose gift and duties were primarily teaching.

    I think MacArthur and others have rode in , unawares to history, on a wave begun in the enlightenment, where our confidence in what our minds could do, and where they (our mental capacities) could take us was full of energy and promise. A religion of sacrament, practice, and THE WAY became a field of study. And here we are.

    This is no doubt too simple , too sparse an explanation, and there are no doubt many streams to this river, but I would repeat that this whole thing is SO much bigger that John MacArthur, per se, but he serves as an example of where imbalanced priorities take us.

    The same guy is very narrow and constrained on his view of the holy spirit, btw, and I have to wonder if somewhere these rivers (zeal for systematic/rigid theologies and outright distrust of any application of the H.S. that doesn’t meet his criteria) don’t merge somewhere.

    Whatever the outcome of MacArthur’s scope and work, I pray for a movement in my time, here in this country, of a new style (really an old style) of leader and pastor. One who works hard at preaching, but harder at being a friend and support to the lowest, the lost, the least.

    • Greg I have been looking at the Church Fathers a bit. One of the things I have heard patristic scholars say is that many of the church fathers were bishops, they were active in pastoral ministry as well as being writers.

      At some point in history the church decided to separate scholars from clergy
      And in our age we have the influence of Wagner’s church growth model and the pastor as CEO. Does not bode well.

      I agree with you, we need a movement

      • Well said about the pastor as CEO. And in my experience, it was BOTH the fact that the pastor (again, no MacArthur fan boy at all) felt compelled to sock away 30 hrsplus on the sermon weekly, AND the fact that his leadership model was straight from Sprint ( as far as I could tell) that had me packing my bags……eventually.

        I like your points about self-examination. We should all look to see where we are being tugged and pulled out of proportion, even by good and necessary things, even by essential things to an imbalance that we had never imagined or predicted.

        • StuartB says:

          felt compelled to sock away 30 hrsplus on the sermon weekly

          Which can lead to the fan fiction style of theology, where if all you have is the text, you gotta keep being creative with it. Imagine a sermon that came primarily out of the pastor’s care for his flock, and how that relates and is an example of what Jesus spoke about in the Scriptures, and an admonition to go out and live like Christ.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I’ve read some pretty wild fanfics in the past few years.
            And some pretty dumb ones.

        • Let me add that the 30hrs of prep would not have mattered had he seen an EQUAL or GREATER need to know the flock, to gather his material partially from his interaction with the sheeple. To me a case of someone who should have been a college professor, NOT a head pastor.

          • Stop sharing my brain, StuartB, you earwig, you…….(brain explodes…..)

          • StuartB says:

            Yeah but you run smack dab into those types who INSIST all preaching must only be from scripture, because SOLO scriptura or something.

            I haven’t even started with the ear wigs yet, lol. It’s just that all of this is incredibly tired old ground.

      • Dana Ames says:

        Good for you, Ken, that you are reading the Church Fathers. Don’t neglect the Eastern/Greek Fathers, and when you are reading them, both eastern and western, if possible, try to bracket your received theology in order to be better able to read them in their context, which was not Protestantism. Also remember that “salvation” in the Fathers carries the primary meaning of ultimate healing/union with God; it’s not about something received on the basis of a profession of faith (however one understands that).

        Dana

        • Dana Ames says:

          p.s.
          Bishop Basil of Caesarea, arguably the most brilliant and capable man of the 4th century – in the Church or not – oversaw the building of an entire city dedicated to the care of the sick (both physically and mentally ill), orphans, widows/widowers, and anyone else who had nobody to help them. He staffed it with monks and willing laypeople, and it even lasted a few dozen years after his death. Both he and John Chrysostom were noted for their call to the rich to scale down and given their excess money and time to caring for the needy. You can find many such people among those early bishops.

          D.

  20. To Stuart: excellent points about both 1)the person of Jesus and HIS ministry 2)the primacy of love

    my only quibble would be that there is no real conflict between these and bible study/scholarship , AS LONG AS the priorities are kept: We study the WORD and we do anything, an act of worship to our KING, for the express purpose the love more completely. If it seems that our love has not spiked one little bit, not one little flicker….. maybe we are just playing “please the teacher/rabbi/televangelist/teacher celebrity” Last I heard and read, the goal of our instruction is love (the care of living souls, the pastoring of real sheep)

  21. While I agree with much of what Ben writes, one does NOT have to lapse into any kind of relativistic approach to truth , one does not have to approach the Bible as an inferior source of authority to accept the premise that many of our modern models of leadership/pastoring are in need of a big overhaul. We need to rethink what it means, and what it meant TO JESUS, to be a shepherd, to be a leader.

  22. Suzanne says:

    Eight or nine years ago, I worked for a short time at a seminary library (Lutheran). It struck me as odd, for want of a better term, how few of the students I met told me their goal was to minister to people. I’d say the majority of them wanted to go on with their schooling and teach at the college level. Others expressed that they did not want to be at a large church (which they generallly considered 300 members or more) because they wanted to have vast amounts of time for study. There were days I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “Do you people realize that being a pastor involves interactions with actual PEOPLE?!?!? Messy, sinful PEOPLE??” Because, honestly, the majority of them truly did not seem to understand this. And many, many conversations centered around the God-given authority of the clergy while very few centered around the attitude of service that Jesus modeled.

    It was very eye opening to me.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “Do you people realize that being a pastor involves interactions with actual PEOPLE?!?!? Messy, sinful PEOPLE??”

      I’ve shared this before, but a friend once told me she overheard a lunch discussion between several pastors who basically commented to each other, “My church would be doing pretty well if it weren’t for the people.”

  23. Dana Ames says:

    My dog left this fight long ago. Naked bibliolatry is one of the reasons it did. What in the world did the first Christians do for the approx. 30 years before anyone started writing what would become the New Testament? How could they have possibly announced the good news without some “authoritative written standard?” But… they did.

    A close reading of the actual NT text in context reveals that the phrase “the Word of God” refers to JESUS 95% of the time. N.T. Wright says the Jews understood the phrase “the word of God” to essentially mean God’s action in the midst of human history – in which case JESUS is God’s Ultimate Act in the midst of human history. Scripture is a witness of that Act – wonderful, inspired and worthy of honor. Orthodox do actually kiss the Gospel Book at times, and also our own Bibles when we read them at home, because Scripture is a type of icon – it can make present that which it represents, but that is not dependent up on our thoughts about it. Scripture is not God, and the be-all and end-all of life is not having the right thoughts about God. If it were, people who are not mentally capable of having the right thoughts would be excluded from the life of God.

    No, we have to be able to encounter God with more than our intellect. Yes, we can encounter him through reading Scripture – but it has to be more than a mental meeting or psychological state. We encounter him through creation, through loving people in our lives, through the sacramental life of the Church. God meets us in all of reality, and reality is One Thing.

    Didn’t mean to let that dog out again; I just get tired of seeing people getting hurt because of this interpretation of what Scripture is for.

    And one more thing, then I’ll put away the soap box… I am 2 hours north of San Francisco. Just a few weeks ago, Orthodox remembered the 50th anniversary of the death of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, whose uncorrupted body lies in the Russian cathedral there. He was actually a Serb, but served in the Russian churches as a bishop. When the Revolution happened, he was among the many Russians who fled east and ended up in China for varying lengths of time. While he was in Shanghai, he founded an orphanage for mainly Chinese children. He ignored the curfews under the Japanese occupation in order to visit his parishioners and do charitable work. As the Chinese Communists were advancing, he fled China and made plans to bring the children to the US, but our lovely government would not let the Chinese orphans into the country. St John, who had no “spare money” and absolutely no influence, made a trip to Washington, and as a result he got permission to bring the children here.

    He brought them to a large house in SF, where he and other dedicated people cared for them, and other children he took in, into adulthood. (Those few among “St John’s children” who are still alive are quite elderly, and all have fond memories of him – no abuse on his watch. Many of them were pillars of their parishes throughout their lives.) I’ve been in that house, in its chapel and St John’s small office, which was also where he slept. I’ve sat in his old avocado green Naugahide recliner that along with his desk, books and icons were his only possessions. He visited lots of people in their homes. He would go to the hospitals to visit the sick of his parish, and many others who were not Orthodox. He made time to at least walk through the halls and pray for the people in the rooms. And God healed quite a number of those people because of his prayers – people who didn’t even know him or that he was praying for them.

    He did all this besides serving the Liturgy, doing the administrative work he had to do as a bishop, praying, studying, writing and teaching.

    Now *that’s* a pastor.

    Dana

  24. Rick Ro. says:

    As I’ve been reading the comments here, including some of the mild pushback, and mulling this over a bit more, I guess that what MacArthur says isn’t necessarily “wrong,” it’s just that it’s offered without an ounce of humility. I don’t follow him enough to know for sure, but my impression of him and his statements of truth are that they’re rarely delivered with a “You know, I fall short of this myself” comment. Even Paul himself showed some humility; the little I’ve seen and read of MacArthur come with none of it. (I’m thinking of some of his “Grace to You” sermons, which have little grace or humility.)

    So think about how this would come across if re-written with this kinda lead-in:

    “As I study 1 Timothy 4, here are some elements that make an excellent minister. This isn’t the whole list, and I fall far short of these myself, but …

    An excellent minister warns people of error.
    An excellent minister is a faithful student of Scripture.
    etc. etc…”

  25. As someone with a close family member deep in the MacArthur camp for many years now, I could write volumes in agreement with this post, but I won’t.

    After all I’ve seen, here’s my bottom-line diagnosis of the problem with JM and many of his followers: an absence of love.

    Did you see love anywhere in his 12 marks? No? Me neither. It should be the very first thing, the absolute priority. Without it, nothing else matters.

    Trust me, that omission is not an anomaly. It should speak volumes to you. It should literally take your breath away.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Excellent point. It got me thinking about the entomology of the word “minister.” Here’s from an online source…

      minister (v.)
      early 14c., “to perform religious rites, provide religious services;” mid-14c., “to serve (food or drink);” late 14c. “render service or aid,” from Old French menistrer “to serve, be of service, administer, attend, wait on,” and directly from Latin ministrare “to serve, attend, wait upon” (see minister (n.)).

      The focus seems to be on serving, helping and waiting on.

      Look at MacArthur’s list. Nine of the twelve are primarily INTERNALLY focused:

      An excellent minister is a faithful student of Scripture.
      An excellent minister avoids the influence of unholy teaching.
      An excellent minister is disciplined in personal godliness.
      An excellent minister is committed to hard work.
      An excellent minister teaches with authority.
      An excellent minister is a model of spiritual virtue.
      An excellent minister maintains a thoroughly Biblical ministry.
      An excellent minister is passionate regarding his work.
      An excellent minister is manifestly growing spiritually.

      So an excellent minister apparently makes it all about himself!!

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Good grief!

        “Etymology”…LOL

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        An excellent minister(TM) lives in an echo chamber lined with mirrors.
        Admiring his Excellent visage in every mirror, hanging on the echo of every word of his Excellent voice.

        • That struck me, too. I don’t remember anywhere in Scripture where we are called to excellence per se. Faithfulness, yes. Hope, yes. Courage, sometimes. Compassion, certainly. Love, always.

          No, the emphasis on excellence says more about JM’s cultural and historical strains than it does about Scripture. The apostles and most of the prophets themselves would never have met the 12 marks he outlines. Plenty of them were screw-ups, not so different from me perhaps. It is God’s grace and love that gives me hope for the journey, not some strident exhortation to excellence.

  26. I appreciate your assessment, Chaplain Mike. To be honest, I don’t really care about pasotrs or ministry or whatever any more; I see American churchianity as essentially democratic – MacAurthur wouldn’t have a platform if people weren’t willing to pay for it. But if I were to make any kind of comment on MacAurthur, it wouldn’t be about his lack of exposition skills or crummy speaching style. It would be about the fact that he not only doesn’t manifest any of the fruit of the spirit, but his “ministries” actively and aggressively promote the works of the flesh. Would anyone expect someone like that to be able to teach anything constructive about being a pastor?