I was talking with a pastor who, before his sermon, showed an icon that was a depiction of the Trinity in three human forms conversing. And when I pointed out that to do so was sin, he was confused. I further directed him to the second commandment:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Exodus 20:4-6 (emphasis added)
This only caused further confusion. For the life of him, he could not see how an image of God the Father was was a problem, much less one depicting the Holy Spirit in human form.* And when I pointed out this was standard historic Protestant teaching he was baffled.
I do not tell this tale to throw this otherwise fine pastor under a bus, rather to illustrate a problem that we have worked ourselves into. For a couple of generations now we have assumed a seminary education is all knowledge and it packs in all the study that will be needed to make a preacher. The result being that if there are gaps in the education they will remain permanent gaps, with one notable exception, that of being “pastoral” which has to be learned by experience. However, this focus on what it is believed to be the real job of a pastor only serves to exacerbate the real problem. The real problem is that many modern pastors are theological sand and they are building a church on that foundation.
How many claim to be reformed but when pushed do not agree with all, much less delight in, the doctrines of Grace? I suspect they say they are Reformed because they at one time were, but assumed they knew all there was to know (or needed to know) or have waned in their adherence. They do not know why we the Reformed think the way we think, they do not know our robust history, and they are not interested in doing so. Again they assume they covered all that back in seminary.
Pastors should follow the example of the Apostles in Acts 6:
“And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:2-4
Deacons and Elders should be doing the work among the congregation. It is not a bad thing for a pastor to be primarily devoted to study and not meetings. He should not just be studying for the coming Sunday sermon,** but broadly in theology, and theology from our history. The latest new Crossway title may be popular but it most likely will soon be dated and moved into the pile of, “books I used to love.” And if we are honest a Zondervan book begins to stink faster than day old whitefish. Instead Pastors should not stray too far from Calvin, Luther, Ryle, Spurgeon, The Puritans. Perhaps if more pastors had been deep into the mind of Edwards they would not have been stymied by Beth Moore when she tweeted drivel about the greatest sermon in American history.
Or if I may quote my master teacher:
“We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” – lies where we have never suspected it… None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.” – C.S. Lewis, Introduction to On the Incarnation
I think I could reasonably trace much of this problem back to Bernard of Clairvaux and his appalling idea of Bridal Mysticism, elevating feminine sensibilities in the church. Pastors away in their studies with their books, delegating responsibilities, captaining a pulpit like Nelson at Trafalgar; is manful. A vicar who comes to tea is pleasing. Hence the shift in what is now considered pastoral priorities by a congregation. Spurgeon in another context quipped to pastoral students about men who tried so hard to be “pastoral” that he had met morticians who were less grave. The current way of being pastoral is to be so gentle that I have eaten stronger marshmallows.
Perhaps, and not to sound like a broken record here, we should return to what Scripture prescribes in Acts 6. Or you will notice that Paul does not encourage Timothy to visit or counsel the congregants but instead he was to “Preach the Word.” But in order for him to effectively preach it is imperative that he constantly study.
*Granted I take all icons to be idols period. They violate both the first and second commandment, and I can even argue the third. They have no place in homes or churches, their only use for christians is as kindling.
**I also wonder how much Logos has effected short thinking, by immediately delivering the relevant sections it short circuits the contextual reading of commentaries and theology books. Those chance discoveries or rediscoveries that happen when turning pages in search are aborted. Logos is a tool, possibly a good one, but I take it to be a poor substitute to actual reading and pouring over books. THere is something immensely satisfying in having done the work of research oneself.