Communication

From a certain brother we received the following missive:

Dear Brother:

I read your article on “Hoopers” and found you in complete accord with other ministers writing on this very interesting topic.

All the ministers, you included, show no sympathy for the “looper.” All the ecclesiastics are opposed to him. But does this mean that his doing is groundless?

The “looper,” as compared with the minister, is but an ordinary layman, generally a pariah.

Now according to the teaching of Paul in I Cor. 3, all the ministers are Christ’s gifts to the laymen. Is this teaching not opposed to the view that, let us say, 500 laymen must be shepherded by one minister? Does it not follow from this teaching of the apostle that the 500 laymen are to regard themselves as the sheep of as many pastors as the denomination of churches possesses within a certain district or limit? If I am a member of a certain local church with one minister, does Paul say to me: “You must stay with that church. The other churches round about you with their respective ministers are dead to you. I, Paul, in the name of the Lord, forbid you to listen to the different gifts which God gave to His churches. These gifts are not for you to benefit from.” Does not the apostle seem to teach the very opposite? Does he not stress the fact that all the ministers with all their gifts belong to all the churches? Should the clergy frown upon the layman who rejoices in the various gifts God gave to the churches and thus to the individual member? Does the clergy do right when it declares such a one a sinner?

Beading the aforesaid chapter, I find that the laymen say, “I am of Paul”; and others, “I am of Apollos.” This means that the laymen were divided into groups and that each group had chosen its preacher. Just as we do today. And our ministers approve of this. But Paul says, “Not so.” They are all yours. How can this be true, if the ministers maintain that listening to more than one minister is sin?

Is it right for our ministers to declare these persons “loopers” just because they listen to all the gifts that God gave His churches? Could it not be that these “loopers” are, more than the others, interested in serious religious life? Why denounce them?

Dear brother Ophoff, will you kindly answer these different questions and publish your answers in the following issue of The Standard Bearer? I think that in the Netherlands they are also interested in these questions.

Your Brother, ________________

REPLY

The view to which the writer of the above communication is addicted, if I understand him correctly, is this: All the ministers of all the churches of a certain district (churches of the same denomination) belong to, and are thus the pastors of, the sum and total of members of all these churches. Therefore the member of local church A has the right to hear, and should hear, all the pastors of all the churches. Hence, this Sabbath he hears his own pastor; the next Sabbath he goes to listen to the pastor of church B. On the Sabbath following, the pastor of church C spies him in his audience. And so on. Now my (correspondent maintains that this practice and the view from which it springs is grounded upon the teaching of Paul in I Cor. 3. Let us see what the apostle actually teaches in this chapter. Wrote the apostle, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. . . . For are ye not carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul: and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?”

What the apostle here strikes at is the party spirit that was rife in this local church in the city of Corinth. The one party would have nothing or little of Paul. Its man was Apollos. Then there was a group in this church who felt nothing for Apollos and swore by Paul. I suppose that when Paul was in the pulpit, this group remained at home, or perhaps attended divine service very reluctantly. And the followers of Paul did likewise when Apollos preached.

Now this doing Paul denounces as springing from the flesh. What may be the sin which this evil practice of following a man involves one? This may be known from what we read at verse 22 of this chapter, “Therefore let no man glory in men.” Thus, persons who follow a man, it makes no difference who this man may be, glories in a man. Now to glory in a man (or in men) is a great sin. To glory in a man is to make a god of that man. To glory in man is sheer idolatry, atheism. This accounts for it that the apostle rebukes the party spirit in the church at Corinth with such vehemence. There were members in that church who deified him. Others were idolizing Apollos. Each group had its idol. So, the apostle, therefore, reasons with them as follows, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos,” ‘Are they your gods in whom you are to glory, or are they your servants’?” They are but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing (members in the church at Corinth made gods out of these planters, and this though they, these planters were nothing), neither is he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” Thus God is all. Paul and Apollos and Cephas are in themselves nothing. Therefore let no man glory in men. Glory in God, in the Lord. Pay Him your homage. And to Him only is your homage due. For He is God and none else. Let no man glory in men. For all things, thus also Paul and Apollos, are yours.

What now is the meaning of Paul’s statement, “All things, thus, Paul and Apollos, are yours”. The context makes it plain that the meaning of this statement is, “All things, Paul and Apollos, are yours, that is, they are your servants and thus not your gods in whom ye may glory. And so the apostle concludes, “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all things are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” Thus (such is the truth here (presented), ye are not Paul’s or Apollos,’ but ye are Christ’s. So far is Paul and Apollos from being gods to you, that they are your ministers by whom ye believed. Hence, glory in God, not in man.

Such then is here the teaching. Now it is for me hard to see how my correspondent can justly base his view on this teaching. The sole point to Paul’s reasoning is that the minister of the gospel, no matter how talented he may be, is no god to be worshipped as such, but a mere man, by himself absolutely nothing, a mere servant of his sheep, whose calling is to preach to them the Word, that by that Word his sheep may believe. How now can this teaching do service as a ground for the view that all the pastors of all the churches of a certain district are the pastors of the sum and total of members of all these churches.

But does not the apostle say to the church at Corinth “Paul and Apollos and Cephas are yours”? Let us see. The apostle in this final verse of this chapter reasons from the general to the particular thus: All things are yours, absolutely all things. Life and death, Satan and the wicked, things present and things future, whatever you may want to name, all is yours. Hence, whether Paul, he is yours. Whether Apollos, he is yours. Whether Cephas, he is yours. For all things are yours. But does it now follow from this that if Paul and Apollos and Cephas each had in the city of Corinth his own congregation, the members of the church shepherded by Paul might regularly pass by their own church, if they so chose, to hear Cephas or Apollos and that the members of the other two congregations might do likewise? Can it be this what the apostle meant to tell us. It cannot be. Such a practice would result in chaos. God certainly is not a God of chaos but of order.

Let us concentrate on the individual. Let us name him brother A. Now in a sense it is true that all things are his, all the pastors in the world are his, both Christian and modern, both dead and living. But it certainly does not follow from this that brother A is in duty bound to hear all these pastors preach. No, says our correspondent, not all, of course, but some, namely the good pastors, who truly preach the Word, and then of these true servants of God, the few that live within his reach. But according to our correspondent, the necessity under which the apostle brings us is that, whereas, all things are ours, we must hear all things, that is, hear them preach. So rightly considered, his view that only the few shall be heard, is in conflict with what he considers to be the teaching of this statement of Paul. So our correspondent must do one of two: either maintain that all must be heard (which, of course, is impossible) or concede that the statement ‘all is yours’ cannot possibly serve as a ground for his view. And truly it cannot. For when the apostle says “all is yours,” he certainly cannot mean that every minister of the gospel is “yours,” in the sense that you must hear them all preach.

But the particular practice which I called wrong in my writings consists in a member regularly passing by his own church to hear another certain minister. To do this is to show a party spirit. And it is this spirit that the apostle condemns. The reasoning of the apostle is not against my contention but in favor of it.

In fine, the members should make it a practice to attend divine service in their own church, should listen to the pastor that God gave to the church ‘where they belong. This is the pastor that they also chose. Further, the pastor and his flock, certainly, belong together. The pastor is responsible for his flock also on the Sabbath. His duty is to feed his own. And the duty of the sheep is to be fed by their pastor. How then could the Scriptures anywhere be teaching that they may pass by and are even under the necessity of passing by the shepherd that God gave them to attend divine services elsewhere. It is not true that the pastor of congregation A is also the pastor of congregation B and C. It is not true that the ministers of three such congregations have all three congregations as their flocks. The fact of the matter is this: The minister is the pastor of that flock alone which called him and whose call he accepted. And the members are the sheep of that pastor alone whom they called and to whom they were joined as flock. The view that the minister is pastor of churches other than the one that called him is rooted in a principle of church polity that is not to be found in Scripture.

Now, let me face point-blank the correspondent’s questions. He asks, “If I am a member of a certain church with one minister, does Paul say to me, You must stay with that church?” Yes, this is what Paul said. He said it through his ordaining pastors in various churches. The correspondent asks, “Did Paul say to me, The other churches round about you with their respective pastors are dead to you.” No, Paul did not say this. These other churches and their pastors are not dead to me and to my congregation. Upon the meetings of Classis and Synod our churches seek one another, serve one another with advice and work together for the coming of the kingdom. So does each church with its pastor place its gifts in the service of all the churches. It is plain that there are other ways in which the member of a certain church may benefit from the gifts of the other pastors than by regularly hearing them on the Sabbath when he should be attending services in his own church. This, I am convinced, is not the Lord’s way but the way of sinful flesh.

My correspondent writes, “Reading the aforesaid chapter, I find that the laymen say, I am of Paul,’ and others, I am of Apollos’. This means that the laymen were divided into groups and that each group had chosen its preacher. Just as we do today.”

Here my correspondent places the action of a church consisting in its calling a pastor on a level with the sinful action of the various parties in the church in Corinth consisting in each glorying in and thus deifying a man. Now this should not be done. To do so is to maintain that when a church calls a pastor, it commits a big sin and that a flock is living in sin through its having a pastor of its own. Now if this were true then all the apostolic churches lived in sin; for each had its own pastor. If this were true then the apostle Paul committed a big sin through his ordaining pastors in the various churches.