“11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love,” (Ephesians 4:11-16; NASB).
In our family, there was a short time in which we went without medical coverage. To us at the time, it was no big deal. To our extended family, you would think we were abusing our children. Eventually, we wound up getting enrolled in a Christian medical co-op, and we have been in one ever since. We remain in the medical co-op now because we agree that it is the responsible thing to do for our family. Since then, my wife and I have also taken out life insurance policies out of a sense of duty to one another and to our kids. These policies and associations provide for our families a certain security for the future. What about our churches, though? What will carry them safely into the future when the man behind the pulpit is gone?
Often, when I speak with men about the churches they attend, and specifically the doctrine taught at that church, the conversation turns from a conversation about the church itself to a conversation about the man behind the pulpit. “John is a real good pastor. He teaches verse-by-verse through the Bible. He’s a good husband and father. He truly loves people.” When I hear all of this praise for a man, my heart is always screaming, “…and what happens when he tomorrow he dies, resigns, apostatizes, etc.?” What doctrinal security does the church have that relies on the doctrinal fidelity of one man?
Truly, God has given the church some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). These men may have dynamic personalities and excellent leadership skills on top of a great knowledge of the word of God. At the end of the day, if the doctrinal health and security of the entire church hinges on this one man, there ought to be much reason for concern for the future of the church.
Churches that bank on the doctrinal fidelity of their pastor(s) are only ever one generation away from apostasy. Why? Because they have decided to root themselves in the contemporary work of the Spirit in the lives and teachings of their own pastors to the exclusion of the work of the Spirit in the life of the church throughout the ages. Over the centuries, the Holy Spirit has guided the church through pastors and teachers to keep her firmly rooted in sound doctrine. It is vital for the church today to be deeply rooted in the these men’s teachings and not merely to rely on the man behind the pulpit to have studied them.
“What are you saying?” you might ask. “Do you expect every member of a local church to go and get an MDiv in order to understand the doctrine that godly men throughout church history have taught?” Not in the least. These great men of old, our fathers in the faith, have not only left us a wealth of sermons, commentaries, and other theological books. They have also left us succinct and yet thorough doctrinal statements penned by men from dozens of churches. These doctrinal statements (creeds, confessions, and catechisms) are at once robust and accessible to the average layman, and churches for centuries have fully subscribed to them as the true teachings of Scripture on matters of first importance to the church.When pastors lead their congregations to adopt creeds and confessions and to teach through the catechisms, they are not merely being sectarian. On the contrary, they are affirming documents that were—in their day and ever since—used as a means of providing churches with doctrinal security. Again, we must ask, “What will happen when your pastor dies, resigns, or apostatizes?” Where will the church be then? What insurance has been put up for the church’s doctrinal future. The responsible pastor will seek to answer these questions for his flock, because he is not guaranteed his next breath.