About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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Instruments Of Instruction
Romans 15:14

After listening to some messages by a local pastor on "submission and authority" and "spiritual fathers", I write the following.  I write as one who has experienced these things and have spent much time in the Scriptures studying these things.   

 

In the 1970's and 1980's I was involved in "submission and authority".  In that era we were taught to submit to the authority of our shepherd.  In the 1990's I was in a church that adopted the teaching on "submission and authority" as well, but in this instance we were taught to submit to an apostle.  Now, in the 2000's I hear the words "submission and authority" again, but in this latest instance, people are taught to search out and submit to a "spiritual father".  I wonder what will come next.  I could write a whole book on these issues, but I won't, at least not for now. 

 

At the risk of being branded a rebel, I'd like to point out a couple of things.  One tendency of the church throughout history has been to doctrinalize and formalize things that were never meant to be doctrinalized and formalized.  I believe "spiritual fathering" is an example of this tendency.  Another tendency in the church throughout history has been to structuralize the church to death.  When it comes to "spiritual fathering", I think it's a departure from New Testament thinking to formalize it into a doctrine of church structure.          

 

The apostle Paul did call himself a father in the Lord to certain people. (1 Corinthians 4:15)  You might say that he "birthed" these people into their new lives in Jesus.  So, in that sense of the word, he was a spiritual father to some believers.  That being said, no where did Paul make this special relationship that he had with certain people into a formal doctrine of the church.  No where did Paul teach Christians to seek out and submit to a  "spiritual father".  Like so many things in the church, we've taken Paul's personal experience, turned it into a formal doctrine, and then incorporated it into the structure of the church.        

 

In my early years as a Christian I had a spiritual father, although he was not formally designated as such.  Eventually we should all grow up in the Lord.  Once a son matures, he leaves his father and mother and builds a life for himself.  Yes, he will always be a son, but the father child/relationship turns into a relationship based on mutual respect.  This has been true with my biological sons.  They are now older and live away from home, experiencing things I've never experienced, and never will experience.  They're now teaching me things.  What once was a vertical relationship father instructs sons, has become a horizontal relationship father and sons instruct each other based  on mutual respect.      

 

Romans 15:14 reads, "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge, and competent to instruct one another." (NIV)   Note the words "competent to instruct one another".  Christians should grow up and become "instruments of instruction", but that's not always the case.  We leave such instruction to the pastor, and in the process ignore our brothers in the Lord. 

 

The KJV uses the word "admonish" instead of the word "instruct" in Romans 15:14.  According to the Greek word "noutheteo" that is translated as "instruct" in the NIV and "admonish" in the KJV, the sense is more than simply teaching facts.  It is helping someone to be steered in the right direction based on certain facts, and in this case Biblical facts.               

 

In Romans 15:14 Paul teaches us to be "instruments of instruction".  This was both the practice and the doctrine of the early church.  In the process of structuralizing the life out of the church, we've forsaken this practice and doctrine.  For the most part, instruction now flows from the pulpit to the pew, negating what Paul tells us.  If someone in the pew does have the opportunity to instruct, the teaching is passed down to him from the pulpit, with strict instructions to teach exactly what has been passed down.      

 

Romans 15:14 clearly shows the importance of horizontal relationships in the Body of Christ.  We should place great value on these relationships.  I'm not against the pulpit ministry, even though I do believe we've emphasized it way out of proportion.  I'm just promoting our Biblical mandate to function in the Body of Christ, part of which is to be "instruments of instruction" to each other.

 

Many pastors purposely keep their people ignorant of Biblical issues in the hope of maintaining an unhealthy control over their congregation.  Concerning what I call "secondary Biblical issues", these pastors refuse any opposing viewpoint to be taught in the church.  This encourages the congregation not to grow up and think for themselves.  This hinders the individual from becoming an "instrument of instruction".  They're just a dispenser of one brand of thinking.  Paul spoke well of the Bereans in Acts 17:11 because they studied the Scriptures for themselves.  He also told Timothy to consider what he said and the Lord would give him the understanding he needed. (2 Timothy 2:7)  That suggests Timothy was to learn to think for himself.            

 

In the 1970's my pastor friend told people he wanted to  work his way out of a job.  His point was well taken.  Paul held nothing back from those he taught so people could grow up in the Lord to become "instruments of instruction".  Note what Paul says in Acts 20:20.  "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you". (KJV)   Note also Acts 20:27.  "I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God."  (KJV)  If a pastor can successfully follow Paul's example, he does well, but might work his way out of a job in the process.       

 

I'm not discounting church leaders.  They have their  place in the church.  I'm emphasizing the responsibility of each and every individual in the Body of Christ to be "instruments of instruction".  Let's take personal responsibility to function in the Body of Christ as we were meant to function.

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