"... as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2Pet.3:16 NASB." As we will see, being untaught and/or unstable is what sets the stage for one to distort the Word of God. Granted, these distortions are more times than not unintentional and are passed along with the best of intentions by sincere persons. The problem is that sincere promoters can be sincerely wrong. A bullet fired in ignorance by people who think that they are doing right can be just as lethal as the one that is fired with malicious intent. Before his conversion, Saul (later named Paul) sincerely believed that his divine mission in life was to destroy the developing church of Jesus Christ. Jesus warned His followers (then and now) that there would be those who would sincerely believe that they would be doing a service to God by killing them (John 16: 2). “Church” is only one of many locations where a person can be presented with the Gospel Message and the accompanying opportunity to be saved. This of course is providing that it is the unadulterated Gospel Message that is being presented in the “Church” of one’s choice. Note that one can be presented with the Gospel Message anywhere that God the Holy Spirit selects. Never-the-less, connecting with the type of local assembly/ministry that God commissioned (Matt. 28: 19, 20) is a significant part of the post (after) salvation spiritual life of discipleship. To their own hurt (2Pet. 3: 16), there are many born again believers within the Christian Community that for various reasons choose not to gather together (Hebrews 10: 25) on a regular basis. In some cases there are no local assemblies in their geographical area of the type that is capable of satisfying their increasing appetite for the accurate teaching of the Word of God. This is a sad, but true state of affairs in many local assemblies WITHIN the Christian Community at the present time. This was precisely what 1Timothy 4: 1 and 2Tim. 4: 3, 4 said would happen. In such cases, the believers who desire to obey 2Pet. 3:18 are forced to seek their spiritual edification by ways and means outside of what would otherwise have been their chosen local assembly. These ways and means can consist of, but not limited to, television, radio, Internet, DVDs, CDs, tracks, books, and other written materials. Some are fearful to do so, as they soon become well aware of all the different teachings that are offered within and outside of the Christian Community. Q. When there are conflicting answers, how is one to know which one has gotten it right? A. The Biblically (Acts 17: 11) prescribed means to verify the truthfulness and accuracy of these ways and means is the same means for determining the truthfulness and accuracy of what comes from the traditional pulpit. “Now these (believers) were more noble-minded that those (believers) in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things (being taught) were so (Acts 17: 11 NASB italics mine).” When the Acts 17: 11 incident took place, much of what would later become New Testament Scripture had not even been written yet. Many Church Age believers in our time have the advantage (and accountability-Luke 12: 48) of having access to the completed Canon of Scripture. For those who have access, being and/or remaining among the untaught ones of 2Pet. 3: 16 is a choice that they make. Having a Bible and a Biblically-qualified pastor teacher is what God’s plan for Church that He designed is all about. Unlike in the case of the Old Testament dispensation, the physical building (if any) and/or location is not of primary concern. Especially in times of apostasy, if one has the Bible/pastor combination, thank God for it! Many risked or gave up life and limb for you to have this advantage. Obviously, such things as television, radio, internet, and written materials were not available when Heb. 10:25 (commanding physical attendance) was written. Scripture must be interpreted in light of the time and age in which the various passages were inspired. There are benefits such as fellowship, support, and opportunities to provide or to receive services that one can secure by gathering together on a regular basis in the environment of the traditional local assembly. There are many who primarily go to a local assembly to experience or to receive such benefits. But like going to a high class restaurant with all the amenities, it won’t satisfy one’s nutritional needs if the “menu” is lacking. It’s been said that it is the chef that “makes” the restaurant. I say that it is the quality of the pastor teacher that “makes” the local assembly. Not all pastor teachers are Biblically qualified, and not all they are so-qualified function as Scripture demands. Deficiency in the pulpit will lead to "lukewarm" members of the congregation. Lukewarm (Rev. 3: 15-17) “Church-goers” are destined to become or to remain among the untaught and/or unstable ones of 2Pet. 3: 16. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot not cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are (spiritually) miserable and poor and blind and naked… (Rev. 3: 15-17 NASB).” This “spitting out of My mouth” refers to rejection as disciples, NOT the loss of salvation. No one is in a position to pass judgment on the quality of a fellow believer’s post salvation spiritual life (Romans 14: 4), but this does not mean that we are not to try to mutually edify each other (Ezekiel 33: 6/Romans 14: 19). There are some ‘non-church going” believers that exhibit a more accurate understanding and application (James 1: 22) of Scripture than do many that attend local assemblies on a regular basis. In times of apostasy (1Tim. 4: 1), Biblically qualified and functioning pastor teachers can be a hard find. Compromises in doctrine are made to obtain or to retain church attendance and the financial support that they bring to the local assembly. Pastors water down their teaching in the interests of "job security." Q. How important is accurate doctrine? A. Jesus taught that just a little leaven (false teaching) impacts the whole loaf (Matt. 16: 6, 11, 12/1Cor. 5:6/Gal. 5:9). "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge (accurate doctrine), I also will reject you from being My priest (spokesman). Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hosea 4: 6 NASB italics mine)." During periods of apostasy many local assemblies become dysfunctional. A dysfunctional pulpit is one that fails to supply its listeners with the doctrine and guidance that they need in order for them to continue to grow in the 2Pet. 3:18 knowledge and the James 1:22 application of the Word of God. Many dysfunctional local assemblies provide socialization, entertainment, and/or opportunities to engage in humanitarian and environmental projects. There is a time and a place for such things, but the primary internal work that God commissioned (Matt. 28: 19, 20) His Church to do was to make disciples out of those who have been born again. A disciple is one who is taught (2Pet. 3:18) and applies (James 1: 22) the Word of God. One cannot apply what one has not been taught. It is the pastor's job to teach, and it is the job of the individual members of the congregation to apply the Word of God. Merely walking through the doors of a gym on a regular basis does not (in of itself) get one in shape. Merely walking through the doors of a Church does not get one saved, nor does it advance one in the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship. It takes ongoing participation in the right program. As in the case of developing and maintaining the level of one’s physical condition, it takes adequate nutrition, exercise, and rest to develop and maintain one's level of spiritual maturity, as well. Spiritual nutrition comes from feeding on the Word of God. There is a lot of “junk food” out there being promoted in the name (authority) of religion that is no more than traditions of men (Matt. 15: 9) that have evolved within the Christian Community at large. Spiritual exercise comes from the application of the word of God. Spiritual rest comes from setting aside and spending quiet time with God. Not all gyms (local assemblies) offer the same programs. Not all trainers (pastor teachers) are equally qualified (2Tim. 2: 24). Religious seminaries produce religious graduates that, in turn, serve the interests of the religious organization that trained and ordained them for this very purpose. Determining what is religious (from men) and what is spiritual (from God) is the first step along the road of Biblical discipleship. When an edified believer is asked if he/she is a “religious” person, his/her response should be that he/she certainly hopes not! This may open the door of opportunity to explain the critical difference between religion and spirituality. The lake of fire (Rev. 20: 15) is going to be filled with religious souls that were never born again (John 3: 5, 7). * * * If the existing pulpit is doing its job, there should not be any need for a search committee to go outside of a local assembly to secure and to ordain Biblically-qualified pastoral candidates. It is a part of the present pastor’s job to identify, encourage, and train pastoral candidates within the congregation (2Tim. 2: 2) that he serves. The only difference between a pastoral candidate and any other spiritually mature member of the congregation is that the candidate has been called and gifted by God to serve as a pastor teacher, and that he meets and maintains the additional requirements for the position as documented in Scripture. Once Biblically qualified and ordained, God may call him to be an assistant pastor in his present local assembly, or to replace the existing pastor who is leaving the pulpit for one reason or another. God may also call the newly ordained pastor to begin a new ministry elsewhere. In my own situation, after being ordained, God called me to establish my pulpit on the Internet. (See Why an Internet pulpit? presentation for more details). Note that although the functions of pastors, evangelists, and missionaries often overlap, the target group of missionaries and evangelists are people who have not yet been born again, whereas the target group of a pastor teacher is a congregation (or reading/listening audience) that has already been born again and desires to advance in the post salvation spiritual life of discipleship. Only to the extent that what clergy do that is consistent with the Word of God do they serve God and their congregations. Apostate clergy are unwittingly powerful tools in the hands of the devil. Having been deceived themselves, they become the (Matt. 5: 14) blind leading the blind heading for the pit. Like the Pharisees of (Matt. 15: 12), many apostate clergy are among the highly educated and very religious groups, but never-the-less are among the untaught being spoken of in 2Pet. 3: 16. Like a runner in a torch-relay race, no pastor, no parent, no family member, no friends can pass down or along to others anything that he/she does not first possess for him/herself. Keeping the torch (accurate doctrine) out of the hands of the runners is clearly a part of the devil’s strategy, here in the Church Age.
End of Part One