This is the second part of my address to the Presbyterians for Renewal breakfast at the General Assembly of the PCUSA. The first part included a preface and an overview of Ephesians 1-3, which revealed God’s plan for the cosmos and the role of the church in this plan. Now, on to Part 2 . . . .
Where Should We Begin?
So where should we begin in our effort to lead a life worthy of the calling to live for the praise of God’s glory?
The answer of Ephesians 4 begins in a most surprising way. It says we’re to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). The verb translated here as “making every effort” conveys a sense of urgency, of eagerness. We’re to desire unity and work to preserve it.
If you’re sitting in this room today, if you’re still working and praying for the renewal of the PCUSA even after so many years of fighting and frustration, may I suggest that you have indeed been “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Oh, I’m sure many of us haven’t done this with much eagerness. Exhaustion has a way of depleting our zeal. Perhaps we’ve sought unity more out of duty than passion. But, even so, I believe our efforts to keep the fractured PCUSA together are consistent with the call of Ephesians 4:3.
Now I realize that some would say we have no more unity to preserve, that our theological divisions run so deep as to destroy our denominational unity. This may be true today, though I don’t think so. And it may be true tomorrow, though I pray it won’t be so. Scripture makes it clear elsewhere, in 1 Corinthians 5 or 2 John, for example, that unity isn’t an absolute value. There are times when persistent sin or theological error can break our spiritual connectionalism and lead to necessary separation. But, even in such sad situations, may we still yearn for restoration, for genuine unity that reflects the Gospel.
Pastors as Teachers
My limited time this morning requires me to skip some marvelous material in verses 4-10 of Ephesians 4. I’ll jump down to verse 11, where it reads:
The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
Notice that, in this passage, gifts are not abilities for ministry, but the people who provide leadership in the church, including pastor-teachers. The Greek original links these two roles essentially, by the way. Here is a reminder for those of us who are pastors that teaching is essential to our leadership. We are not just community organizers, counselors, dialogue-starters, and program directors. We have been given the responsibility of teaching God’s truth to God’s people. Too often in our day, churches expect pastors to do a myriad of other things besides teaching, thus diluting pastoral effectiveness and, ultimately, impoverishing churches. Even preachers can sometimes minimize the importance of teaching.
Pastors, may we recommit ourselves today to shepherding our people by being faithful teachers of God’s truth.
Lay leaders, be sure your pastors are your “pastor-teachers.” Give them the time and support they need to fulfill this crucial biblical calling.
Equipping God’s People for Ministry
Notice the task Christ has given the pastor-teachers and other leaders. They are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (4:12). I expect you know that in the New Testament, the word “saint” doesn’t mean “extra special spiritual person,” but “ordinary person set apart by God for God’s purposes.” Every Christian is a saint. And according to Ephesians 4:12, every Christian is called to do the work of ministry. Scripture is abundantly clear, in this passage most of all, that every single Christian is a minister of Christ. Every one. Pastors are not the only ministers. Rather, they are given the special task of training ministers, the people of God, for their ministry.
I’m aware that this isn’t new information for most of us here today, though I can still remember the time I first learned I was a minister of Christ. It was in February of 1972, the first Sunday when Lloyd Ogilvie came as the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, my home church. During that worship service, Dr. Ogilvie began in his sonorous voice: “Today, I want introduce you to the ministers of this church.” Now as a critical fourteen-year-old, I thought this was a silly statement. After all, we knew the ministers of the church. They weren’t new. Only Dr. Ogilvie was new. The ministers were those men who sat up front in the black robes. But then Dr. Ogilvie continued, “So I want you to turn to the people sitting next to you and say to them, ‘You are a minister of Jesus Christ in this church.'” I couldn’t believe my ears. We were ministers of Jesus Christ! How was this possible? I did as Dr. Ogilvie said, even though it was pretty awkward to tell my dad that he was a minister of Jesus Christ. Fourteen-year-old boys don’t talk to their fathers that way. But I will never, ever forget the surprise of that moment, the first time I ever thought that I, a mere lay person, was a minister. (Photo: from the right, Howard E. Butt, Jr., the founder of Laity Lodge; me; Lloyd Ogilvie, who as speaking at Laity Lodge)
Years later, as a pastor, one of my greatest joys was watching people I had equipped do their ministry, whether in the church or the world. What a delight it was to hear of how a manager began to treat her employees differently because of Christ, or how a father started to teach the Bible to his children, rather than delegating their discipleship to the Sunday School. I loved it when people who were once caught in conspicuous consumption chose to invest dozens of hours helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house, or when government officials learned to seek God’s guidance for their decisions.
To be continued . . . .