Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 31, 1952
NUMBER 38, PAGE 5-12a

Trends Toward "The Pastor"

Vaughn D. Shofner, Fort Worth, Texas

There are many educators, preachers, teachers and elders who refuse to sanction any charge against any practice of the church that is popularly acclaimed an advancement. There might be a million reasons given to justify this refusal, but a trend in the wrong direction is a step away from righteousness regardless of the silence of influential members, and in spite of the many excuses given to justify it.

It is thinkable that a person might remain silent concerning certain unscriptural practices, if these practices enhance his position, strengthen, and by society's standards, make more popular the church, practice, or institution of which he is a leader. Examples: elders might desire to be known as the overseers of the largest church in the world, or the leaders of a church that blazed the trail into "World-evangelism," and therefore become partially or totally blind to evil trends and innovations which advance their cause. Elders are human, you remember. Or a preacher could close his heart to the fact that unscriptural practices exist, and might even try to justify them, if the errors practiced in any way made him "outstanding" in the eyes of the brotherhood. Preachers too are human. Likewise, Christian educators, moved by ambition and industry, can lose sight of the scriptural signposts in an effort to enlarge the fields of their endeavors. To say these temptations do not exist is to declare men of these stations above the temptations of Jesus Christ when he dwelt among men.

There is a definite trend toward "the pastor" system, if indeed it has not developed beyond a trend. We can ignore the fact, excuse it, and argue for such a system's practices, or lazily state that such a system could swallow the churches, but there is no immediate danger and no reason for warnings now; but it still remains that we are being moved by this unscriptural trend.

This is brought about by the desire of man to have power beyond restraint, and to be able to bask in the bigness of it. Reports often imply that the accomplishments of the gospel of Christ are claimed, from the least to the greatest, by men who are led by this lust. These rush to report the most ordinary happening with unreasonable regularity, and it is not impossible to think they believe this adds to their popularity. Maybe it does.

Of what value could the following report be to the brotherhood? "Dr. Claude R. Hocott, Allen D. Howdeshell and Dr. Edwin D. Martin have recently been named elders at Central church of Christ..." We hasten to add that the titles used were parenthetically explained to be PhD's, but still it smacks of vanity. Is this an example, a criterion for all churches? Had they been humble ditch diggers would it have found place in the report? Not one time were the "doctors" referred to as brothers, but the unfortunate Mr. Howdeshell had to be referred to as plain "brother." Did "Dr." replace "brother"? If so, is it above "brother"? Elders are being "named" regularly throughout the church. To report such is good, but it is not beyond imagination to conclude that since the social status was included in the report, and since such was the acknowledgement of high accomplishment, it was motivated by the desire to let the brotherhood know how great is the church where I preach.

This is a report of the activities of the spiritual body of Christ, and could be confined to same. When such vanity enters it at once is seen as showing "respect to him that weareth the gay clothing," or it obviously makes a distinction, is therefore wrong, and it is not beyond the weakness of mortal man to use it as a means of announcing his greatness.

The local preacher is often "the pastoral power" in the meetings of the elders. The preacher, unless he is an elder, has no scriptural right to attend in order to help make decisions in such a meeting. His experience, his suggestions and his knowledge are worthy of consideration, but his influence in the decisions of a meeting of the elders, on equality with them, is as wrong as it would be for any other member who is not an elder to be given the same power. Elders are but figureheads of "the pastor system" when such procedures are followed.

A casual glance, coupled with any knowledge of personalities and social ties of the brotherhood, will reveal the fact that many "evangelists" for meetings are obtained solely by the preachers, and merely "ayed" by the elders. None are so foolish as to think the preacher's suggestions and advice are to be outlawed, but it is not foolish to resist the trend of "the pastor" becoming the deciding power for or against any move of the church. Superficially, it would seem that Christians would bar even the thought, but there are preachers whose unscriptural presbyterial power can cancel the plans of an eldership to secure a preacher for a meeting against whom "the pastor" holds a "peeve," or whom he decides has personally attacked him. Many such meetings are planned with those "the pastor" thinks will be beneficial to his prestige. And he stumbles over this devilish debris of his own front yard searching for the mote in the eye of a brother, or on his way to save the sinful world.

This growing tendency is the result of misplacing the emphasis in training the preacher and teacher. The value of formal, specialized training has come to far outweigh the abilities of an eldership that has not this pedigreed pedagogy. Policy and tactics in planning church work and preaching the gospel have been emphasized until they are of greater value in the minds of many than the gospel itself. We are emphasizing how to preach rather than what to preach. Hence, the young preacher of pedigree, having passed the examination at the bar of expediency, knows all the answers, so he sallies forth to set things right. He knows more than the elders, has credential proof of it, is a spiritual specialist by worldly standards, and by utilizing the previous training in tactics he accomplishes his purpose. He does not intend to be evil, but following the errors of misplaced emphasis, he unwittingly turns the congregation toward "the pastor system."

We are not condemning higher education (as charges of the past have stated), nor declaring it sinful for preachers to have formal and specialized training, if such is helpful to the cause of Christ, but we do point out the trends toward unscriptural practices. All but worldlings are agreed that the training has been in the wrong way when ideas are advanced to socialize the church. Christian principles and revelation stand guard to keep out of the church the denominational doctrines and sectarian slander that long ago made the gospel of Christ secondary to codes of expediency set up by dogmatic doctors. Righteousness and reason rise to subdue any foe of our Lord who decides the gospel within itself offers no healing balm. Still some assert that man must first anaesthetize the sinner's heart with the opiate of social and callisthenic contact before sword of the Spirit is applied, just as the physical body has need of an anesthetic before the surgeon's knife is used. (This justifies the church entering the entertainment business.)

Too often the presbyterial power of the preacher is augmented by what we choose to call "pastoral pacing" in the guise of personal work. We are aware of the need of personal work in convicting and converting sinners, but too often preachers visit until it becomes "busy bodying," and for a personal reason. We know a preacher who is a "go-getter" in visitation. He moves from one member to another with great speed and regularity, peddles his personal wares and soon effects church trouble. He has done the same thing over and over at different places. In like manner too many preachers use the same method of "getting close" to the members for the purpose of establishing "the pastor system" by way of the clique they form about themselves. Whether unwittingly in all cases we know not, but in some cases it is deliberately planned.

Any church built on the personality of a preacher is no stronger than the finite foundation upon which it stands. Yet many preachers are forever on the run, are in demand because of it, but their "build-up" is of social strength, and the church would be better spiritually were they to spend more time in study. So great is the use of personal attraction by some, and so unscriptural are their ideas of personal work, they have been known to take close friends from other congregations, because of their wealth and in order that the preachers might be helped personally.

You that sleep in Zion, awake to righteousness! Not every cry of wolf is false! The little trends so insignificant in your thinking today will be the wide rivers of division tomorrow. The spots of spiritual decadence allowed to remain in the church today will be the sludge and corruption of an apostatized church tomorrow. Bridle the tongue of opposition to those who dare challenge the champions of unscriptural trends; avoid the indifference of popularity; be a stalwart soldier of the cross; for hell is still a seething abyss, the devil is not on vacation, and even our Samsons are not too strong to fall!