By Brannon S. Howse
To understand how far the corrupting of the role of pastor has gone, it is important to grasp the biblical definition of the role. In Scripture, different words describe the same biblical office—elder, pastor, shepherd, bishop, overseer—all of which refer to the same essential function in the Church. The primary distinction lies in whether a person is a lay elder or a staff elder.
A lay elder maintains a full-time job outside the church but serves on the church board. Staff elders, on the other hand, work full-time in the church. These are the individuals we commonly refer to as pastors or associate pastors. So how has this role been redefined?
C. Peter Wagner is one contemporary Christian leader who has helped immensely in redefining “pastor.” In his book The Church in the Workplace: How God’s People Can Transform Society, he lays the groundwork:
[quote] The prevailing eschatology of evangelicals was pre-millennialism. We expected the kingdom of God to come after Jesus returned to Earth.
Therefore, we were not called to attempt to usher in God’s kingdom. God would do that in His own time. Whole denominations have elevated pre-millennialism to an absolute doctrinal principle alongside doctrines such as the deity of Christ and justification by faith. This explains why some would reject dominion theology and kingdom now theology. A paradigm shift towards social transformation would force them to leave their eschatological comfort zone. [end quote] (emphasis mine)
Moving biblical Christians out of their comfort zone with regard to pre-millenialism is the key to Wagner’s approach. This allows a paradigm shift in favor of the concept of social transformation to build the kingdom of God. The calling of the Church becomes a cultural mandate for creating a “moral society.” Even though this flies in the face of the biblical teaching of Daniel 2, which says God will bring His kingdom to crush Satan’s kingdom. Meanwhile, we build in the spiritual realm, and God ultimately brings it into the physical realm. This Wagnerian shift in thinking fuels a completely different concept of the Church and its leaders—i.e., pastors. To achieve this social change, they become a type of church-based community organizer and their church becomes their community organization.
Other leaders are right in line with Wagner. David Platt, Francis Chan, Russell Moore, Rick Warren, Steve Childers, and Tim Keller, to name some of the most prominent, push the idea that we must change the culture, and their influence is spreading in some surprising ways. This is really nothing more than social justice or the social gospel.
Steve Childers, head of Global Church Advancement which is endorsed by the more well-known Tim Keller, shared his message as a keynote speaker at the February 2015 “Desiring God” conference held at the church of John Piper. Childers also preached one Sunday at Piper’s Church before Piper retired from his role as lead pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. In his “sermon,” Childers seemed to proclaim that transformation of the world begins at the city level. I had always thought it was at the gospel level, the Great Commission Level, the Church evangelism level. Here’s how he put it:
[quote] [I] work with a lot of church planters and have for many years. And if I know one well enough, and we’ve built a relationship where I can have this kind of trust and discourse, I like to say to them, “Tell me your vision for ministry.”
I often get a response, “Well, wait till I e-mail you this. Here’s my proposal, my vision, my mission, my goals, my strength. Whoa, look at this. Hey, pretty impressive, huh?”
If I built the relationship, I say, “No, I didn’t ask you about your vision for a great church. I asked you, what’s your vision for a great city?” [end quote] (emphasis mine)
While it would be wonderful if so many people got saved that it transformed a city, that’s not what Childers is talking about here. He wants the cultural change first. The truth is, our culture can go completely apostate, immoral, and decayed around us, and yet the Gospel can go forth and transform lives. Not even the Bible sets us up to expect transformation of an entire culture. Scripture says, “Narrow is the way and few who find it; wide is the path of destruction” (Matthew 7:14). Few find the way. That doesn’t sound like a culture-wide transformation.
Most people will reject Christ, and we don’t base our success or failure over who wins elections, which movies show in theaters, or what the crime rate is doing. We certainly would like to see those things honor God, but the reality is that we live in a sinful, fallen world, where God allows sinful people to live in accord with His laws or not. Steve Childers even misuses Scripture to make his point about the cultural mandate of the Church. In his sermon at Piper’s church Childers revealed his interpretation of Jesus’ proclamation in Luke 4:
[quote] There’s a desperate need today for God’s people to recapture His kingdom mission, King Jesus, who said these words, who began His ministry with these words, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recover of the sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” We can no longer skirt the issue as that being merely spiritual poverty. It's an abuse of the text. [end quote]
An abuse of the text? Not hardly. Childers is the abuser here as he tries to convince us that Jesus meant He came to remedy economic poverty. His mishandling involves taking the scripture out of context and misusing the original meaning of the Greek. Here’s Luke 4:16-20, the scripture to which Childers is referring:
[quote] And He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him. [end quote]
According to John MacArthur’s study Bible:
"The passage Christ read was Isaiah 61:1-2. He stopped in the middle of v. 2. The rest of the verse prophesies judgment in the day of God’s vengeance. Since that part of the verse pertains to the second advent, He did not read it. [end quote]
Jesus read the first verse and part of the second. He stopped in the middle of verse 2, because if He had read any more, He would have been reading what was yet to come. Up to that point, He was reading about what was happening right there in the midst of the people living in Nazareth. He specifically chose not to read on about what would happen later even though that would have been a perfect opportunity for Him to do so. Instead, He demonstrates the different time periods of that scripture. If He had kept reading, He would have been reading about a time when the Church would actually be gone.
This also kept the focus on the spiritual poverty of His listeners that day. The word poor here is translated from the Greek ptóchos. In John MacArthur’s commentary on Luke, MacArthur explains that the Greek word derives from a verb that means “to cringe,” “to shrink back,” or “to cower”:
[quote] Ptóchos (poor) derives from a verb that means, “to cringe, to shrink back, or to cower.” It conveys that idea of a beggar cringing in the shadows, cowering in shame. In contrast to another Greek word, penes, which describes the working poor. [end quote]
Jesus means to show that we are, like that beggar, spiritually bankrupt, and we must acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy, or poverty. There’s nothing we can do to redeem ourselves, to pay the spiritual debt that we owe. That is what Jesus means here by “poor.” It’s the same concept Jesus addresses later in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Childers, though, takes issue with Jesus. He claims that we can no longer say Jesus is talking about just spiritual lack. It also is physical—a great set-up for the social change message.
Jesus also says, “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives.” What does that mean? MacArthur’s commentary again explains the significance of the Greek word used here. Aphesis means forgiveness. So MacArthur explains that “Messiah will set the prisoners free by paying the penalty for their violation of God’s law.”
If Steve Childers is correct about releasing prisoners physically from some sort of oppression, we've got to find people we can let loose from captivity. Does that mean we should open all of our jail cells?
Jesus pronounces “recovery of sight to the blind” (Luke 4:18) in His list of ongoing work. Because the Bible speaks again and again about those who are spiritually blind, it’s clear in context that Jesus is talking about spiritual realities throughout this passage. I’ve seen this at work in many people after conversion. One man I know told me:
"I would read the Bible as an unbeliever, and it made no sense to me. When I became a believer, repented of my sins, and placed my faith and trust in Christ, and then I began to read the Scriptures, it made sense to me, because now the Holy Spirit helped me to understand it. I had the spiritual eyes to understand it."
His spiritual blindness was healed and his sight restored.
Steve Childers has to interpret Luke 4 the way he does in order to support his false teaching that we must build God’s kingdom—an end-time doctrine he shares with others in the “redefining movement.” His website recommends books by people such as Tim Keller, C. Peter Wagner, and the late John Wimber, who worked with Wagner to set up the New Apostolic Reformation.
You can tell a lot about people by the books they recommend, and Childers doesn’t stop with the likes of Wagner and Wimber. He also suggests books by mystics Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and Brian McLaren. Together, these leaders represent a powerful force in redefining pastors as community organizers and their “churches” as community organizations. And if the role of Church leaders is changed, so will the mission of the Church itself.
Copyright 2015 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative.