One of my favorite authors on the subject of Biblical Prophecy, B.W. Newton, has suggested that as much as two-thirds of our Bible is misinterpreted and misunderstood because the reader sees “poetic language” instead of an accurate depiction of a future, Last Days event!
It may, I believe, be safely said that the thoughts that have prevailed respecting the “poetry” of Scripture, have nullified the practical use, or rather I might say, falsified the testimony, of two thirds of the word of God. (B.W. Newton, Aids To Prophetic Enquiry)
Moreover, he argues that there is “no poetic exaggeration in the language of Scripture” but that those texts are depicting a yet future display of Almighty God’s sovereign power and judgment during the Second Coming events and the establishment of the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ on this earth!
The consequences of believing that the exaggerations of Poetry are to be found in Scripture, have been most disastrous. Indeed, it is difficult to see how the great truth of verbal inspiration can consistently be maintained in connection with such a notion: for it seems like mockery to say that each word is carefully inspired by the Holy Ghost in order that the meaning may be conveyed with rigorous precision, and at the same time to speak of poetic embellishment or exaggeration.
And the error is the worse, because it necessarily affects those parts of Scripture most, which we ought chiefly to receive with reverent caution and exactness — I mean those parts which speak of the yet future periods of Divine interference in the Earth.” (B.W. Newton, Aids To Prophetic Enquiry)
I have to agree with him as I see how often the End Times drama and subsequent Millennial Reign of Christ is passed over in the reading of OT scriptures. One readily apparent example are the multiple depictions of the Millennium in Isaiah which are regularly disregarded (Isa. 2,4,11,18,24,35,60-62,65-66). Our 21st Century minds and eyes are locked in with a past fulfillment or a First Coming fulfillment. The fact is, there are more prophecies regarding the Millennium in Isaiah than in any other Old Testament book. “Can you find them?”
To “Beat our swords into plowshares” or “Not to beat…”
A few years ago I heard a much respected Bible teacher in the body of Christ make jokes about the apparent contradictions in the Old Testament: where we are told to both “Beat our swords into plowshares”(Isa 2:4) and “Beat your plowshares into swords” (Joel 3:10).
Well, if you rightly divide up the Scriptures, you will see that Isaiah is writing about the Millennium and that Joel is writing to the gathered Gentile nations at the battle of Armageddon! The truth of the matter is that when the Final Battle is over we will enter into the time when swords will be used for farming.
Psalm 68 – an example of a End Times Psalm
Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered,
And let those who hate Him flee before Him.
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
As wax melts before the fire,
So let the wicked perish before God.
But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God;
Yes, let them rejoice with gladness.
Sing to God, sing praises to His name;
Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts,
Whose name is the Lord, and exult before Him.
As wax melts before the fire, So let the wicked perish before God.
This scene is also portrayed in Zechariah 14:12 where we are told that “their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongue will rot in their mouth”. This is a description of the Final Battle at Jerusalem, the Lord of Hosts and His armies battling with the combined forces of the Antichrist! This is not “poetic exaggeration”. It will actually happen as the Lord has described it.
For further examples of Prophetic Psalms that are NOT “poetic exaggeration” please read: Ps. 2, 18, 47, 50, 68, 83, 97, 110.
Psalm 18:7-9 All Future!
Then the earth shook and quaked;
And the foundations of the mountains were trembling
And were shaken, because He was angry.
Smoke went up out of His nostrils,
And fire from His mouth devoured;
Coals were kindled by it.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.
ONLY ONE TIME!!
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. (Eph 4:11-12)
That is very interesting to me as I survey the typical church in the Western world with its plethora of “Pastors”:
High School/College Pastor
Student Ministries Pastor
Small Groups Pastor
“Parking Lot” Pastor
You get the idea!
Getting Back to our New Testament Roots.
The word “pastor” is usually translated throughout the NT as “shepherd” as in — He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd [pastor]; and He began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34)
Or this: The shepherds [pastors] went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:20)
“Shepherd” was the key understanding for the word we now use over and over “Pastor”. The complete use in the NT is as follows: shepherd 15 times, [Jesus as] Shepherd 2 times, and pastor 1 time.
Inexplicably, in the verse mentioned above (Eph. 4:11), the word “pastors” is used instead of “shepherds”. The context is Paul describing the “gifts” that Christ gave to the body of believers as He ascended on high back to heaven, similar to a conquering hero as he returns to his city from the battle field!
These gifts are gender neutral and seem to come with no apparent qualifications. Please note that! They were for
“the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” Eph 4:12
Gifts edify and build up the body!
Conversely, what we will find in the NT is that Paul, after he had planted a church in a certain area, would have elders appointed as soon as possible. These men were raised up “from the field” and were never “imported in” as is so common today.
The responsibility of “eldering” is another ball game, however. Any man could “aspire” to be an elder (overseer); that was considered a “fine work he desires to do”. (I Tim 3:1) Yet it was another matter entirely if he qualified!
I know that many of you will say:“Hey Jeff, we call them pastors today but they are fulfilling the role of a Biblical elder. Certainly you can admit to that?”
Well, here is where the rubber meets the road!
What is the Biblical role of an elder?
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men [elders] will dream dreams.” Act 2:17
1. Elders are old men.
The NT basically uses the word elder to mean old men. (Old men = elders Strong’s G4245 – presbyteros). The truth of the matter is, the NT uses the word “elder” often like we would use the words “seniors” or “elder statesmen” in today’s language.
Among the NT Christians of the apostle Paul’s day, the term was used to describe those who had influence and responsibility over the individual house churches.
One can only imagine that these elders were older men!
“Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14)
“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” (1Tim 5:17)
To me it is clear that elders are old men. Pastors, or better said, “shepherds” are gifts to the body that are gender neutral and are called to care for the flock of God, just like prophets are called to edify the body and teachers instruct the body.
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (I Cor 14:26)
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation. (Rom. 12:6-7)
2. The NT uses the term elders and overseers interchangeably.
Here is where, I believe, the Bible gives us air tight discernment on the meaning of elder (and overseer) and shows us that the word “pastor” is not used interchangeably, which has fed the argument for so long!
Here it is in black and white:
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered… (Titus 1:5-7 NASB)
From Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time… Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Act 20:17-18, 28 NASB)
An elder is an overseer but here, in two clear passages, elders are never called “pastors” and are not to be considered synonymous. There is no Biblical precedent for simply saying that the pastor is an elder!
The apostle Peter even told the elders to shepherd (or pastor) the people:
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you… [to] shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God. (I Pet. 5:1,2)
“To pastor” was “to shepherd” the flock of God and could be done by those with this gift “at anytime and as the occasion warranted”. I see the same thing in the gift of evangelist. He or she would use their gift at anytime and as the occasion warranted it. These gifts are for the “body at large” and are and mobile expressions of the Holy Spirit, not limited to a local setting only!
You may have a “local elder” but there really is no such thing as a “local pastor”, strange as that may sound.
3. The role and qualifications of elders.
As the apostle Paul was heading back to Jerusalem in time to celebrate the Passover, he hurriedly called “elders of the church” to meet him on the shores of the Mediterranean by Miletus. HE DID NOT CALL THE PASTORS!
He exhorted the elders and gave them (seemingly their final) instructions for their unique ministry, among which came up the subject of money:
“I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You [elders] yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Act 20:33-35)
To both Timothy and Titus — his junior colleagues — who were to follow after Paul and appoint elders in each city, Paul left very specific instructions for the qualifications of elders. I have not found in the Bible any similar qualifications for pastors!?! Have you?
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Tim 3:2-7)
Regrettably, the KJV Bible and many other translations use the more formal word “bishop” instead of the more precise “overseer”. “Bishop” was preferred by the actual King James I of England to keep the official power in the hands of the church! I reject this position. Sadly we have inherited this from the 1600’s and it still lays a heavy burden on the church in its attempt to function as a New Testament body.
New wine needs fresh wineskins.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’” Luke 5: 37-39
Dear friends, we desperately need new wineskins for the church. Our inherited model from the 1600s is not making it. More churches close down every day than are opening. Most churches, statistically, have plateaued and are in survival or maintenance mode!
Therefore I offer my humble advice to all pastors.
1. Quit. Stop and get out. In a real sense you have to “fire yourselves” because no one else will! See if indeed you qualify as a Biblical elder. Re-enter the working world and follow Paul’s advice to the Ephesian elders: “[my] hands ministered to my own needs…”
2. Keep on ministering as shepherds to the body of Christ!
A shepherd in the Near East was responsible for watching out for enemies trying to attack the sheep, defending the sheep from attackers, healing the wounded and sick sheep, finding and saving lost or trapped sheep, loving them, and sharing their lives and to earn their trust. (Blue Letter Bible)
3. Join with others who are calling for a Second Reformation of the church!
The First Reformation was about faith — “justification by faith alone”– but was unable to reform church structure, although many had it in their hearts (Martin Luther for one). Some did address it, like the Swiss Brethren, but were literally killed off by the “official church” before its impact could be felt.
The time has come for a Second Reformation which address the wineskin, that vessel into which we pour the Spirit of God and keep it alive and growing! The book “The Shaping of Things to Come” (Frost/Hirsch) addresses these issues and is highly recommended.
The fermenting of new wine builds up pressure in its container which can burst old skins. We cannot function in “old wine skins” that divert the flow of God’s power through a professional class of pastors. We must have a return to the New Testament responsibility and function of elders in our churches.
P.S. Some years ago I was led down a similar path that I am suggesting for pastors. I was a missionary for over 20 years on three continents until I realized that the word missionary is not even in the Bible! Of course there are apostles and prophets that lay and build the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20) but I could find little to no concept of today’s modern missionary in Scriptures. For more on this please consult the writings of Roland Allen. See my Top Ten Reading List on this blog.
In that day the LORD will start His threshing from the flowing stream of the Euphrates to the brook of Egypt, and you will be gathered up one by one, O sons of Israel. (Isa 27:12)
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out demons? and in your name done many wonderful works? Mtt 7:21-22
Both Old and New testaments use the expression “in that day” to describe the coming day of the Lord. It is a special phrase in the book of Zechariah and Isaiah.
In Zechariah’s 14 chapters it is used 20 times. In the first 31 chapters of the book of Isaiah we have the little phrase “In that day” used 39 times, each which is to be taken as the prophetic Day of the Lord.
There cannot be any doubt about the meaning of “in that Day” in the above-mentioned passages. It is the day of revelation, when persecutors are judged, Christians gain relief from persecution, and marvel at the Lord when they see Him as He is; it is the day of rewards and resurrection; the day of the Glorious Appearing, which the saints love, because it is their blessed hope (Titus 2:13). Alexander Reese
In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah; “We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for the walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in. For thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.” (Isa 26:1-4)
In what day? In the day that the things are transpiring that he wrote about in chapter 25. And what are the things that he was writing about in chapter 25? What are the days that he was writing about? Verse 8,
“He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, ‘Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:8-9).
So it is the day that Jesus establishes His kingdom upon the earth. That day for which we’ve been praying when we pray, “Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). So in that day when His kingdom is established.
(Blue Letter Bible Commentaries – Chuck Smith)
“A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.” Deut. 22:5
“The pig, because it divides the hoof but does not chew the cud, it is unclean for you. You shall not eat any of their flesh nor touch their carcasses.” Deut. 14:8.
It seems that Christians today make their decisions to follow certain Old Testament laws based on whether a law seems to be relevant or not. Dare I say convenient?
> Take tithing for example.
“A tithe [tenth] of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.” (Lev 27:30)
In the Old Testament it is clear that 10% belongs to the Lord of everything from the land. In the New Testament it’s not so clear. Jesus seems to have demanded a much higher percentage, rooted in the command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves! Do we love ourselves only 10%?
And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” (Luke 21:3-4)
Jesus was the end of the law.
“The Law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, but after faith is come we are no longer under the schoolmaster.” (People’s New Testament)
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. (Mtt 5:17)
According to the Law, in the OT the people of God went up into the temple, singing songs of praise.
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.” Ps 100:4
As the priest ascended the 15 steps to the temple the people sang one of the accompanying 15 Psalms of Ascent (see Pss. 120-134). On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest alone officiated. Throughout the day, he would wash his whole body five times, and his hands and feet ten times and then put on his usual priestly garments – the golden garments.
Sadly we use these Old Testament passages and recreate their situation in the New Testament community of believers.
Our High Priest (the pastor) calls forth the people to come into the temple (church) and then sit and watch him perform his high priestly duties, such as burning the incense, lighting the lamps, and offering the sacrifice (preaching, praying, prophesying, etc.).
In complete opposition to this, the New Testament community of believers was called to meet together in the context of a home, “break bread” as one body and share a meal together. They were also called to edify one another by “each one” using his or her spiritual gifts with the gathered community of believers.
In a real sense we were to be priests to one another!
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)
In a real sense we believers are now “God’s temple”!
“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24)
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Cor 6: 19)
In a real sense we were to sing to, teach and edify each other!
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (I Cor 14: 26)
The Spirit’s gifts are the common property of the Christian community, each Christian being but a steward for the edifying of the whole, not receiving the gift merely for his own use. (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)
Why don’t we act as the New Testament community of believers?? Is it because that it is easier to follow the Law than the Holy Spirit? We who’ll judge angels and the world live at the low level of taking our believing brothers to courts of law over trivial matters. (I Cor 6) It drove Paul mad and is still driving the Spirit of God mad during this present hour!
“Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” (I Cor 6:7) Paul argued with the First Century Corinthians who were taking each other to local courts! Would he not also argue with us today as we settle for an Old Testament worship experience centered on the temple and the priest rather than press through layers and layers of human tradition and live at a higher level in a true New Testament expression of a gathered community?
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. Rom 7:6
By calling this covenant “New,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. Heb 8:13
Yours for the Coming One,