Thursday, May 24, 2012

How Should We Listen to Ministers?

Does God speak through Church of God ministers?

How should we listen to ministers? What should be our attitude towards what they say?

On the one hand, ministers are not infallible, and they can make mistakes in what they teach. On the other hand, we need to respect the office. Obviously there needs to be a balance.

But more than just respecting the office, we need to have an attitude of receptiveness and teachability towards what the ministers we attend with and listen to have to say, yet without being deceived if they make serious mistakes.

If we are attending with a fellowship that we have judged is overall faithful to the truth (and if we do not think they are mostly faithful, probably we should not be attending with them), we must be willing to be taught by those who speak, such as our pastor or the leader of that group.

God has ordained that His truth and way of life be taught by imperfect humans. That is the system he has set up.

We learn from Bible study and from imperfect ministers who speak and write, both. And through this process, if we are diligently seeking God and His way of life and are submitting to God and His word, God's Holy Spirit will guide us and help us understand the Bible and the ministers' speaking and writing.

If we can see from the fruits that God is working through the Church of God fellowship we attend with or support, we can and should seek to be taught by the ministry of that group. We should seek to learn from what they say in sermons and in counseling and from what they write in articles and books, just as we seek to learn from the Bible, but with only one difference: the Bible is infallible and ministers are not. But our attitude of wanting to be corrected and taught should be the same.

But will that attitude get us into trouble if a minister makes a mistake? If the minister is wrong about something he teaches, will we be deceived? Not if we are studying the Bible and obeying God's law. To the degree we are immersing ourselves in God's word, spending time with it, believing and obeying what God says, God will give us the discernment to see any errors in what a minister teaches, and we should not be deceived in any serious matter.

If what a minister says seems to "not line up" with something we read in the Bible, we can study the matter further in the Bible with an open mind, and if necessary counsel with the minister, and if the minister is wrong, we should believe the Bible and not the minister. But we should not let that be an excuse for not listening receptively to the other things the minister teaches us. He is our instructor, given to us by God for our good.

Sometimes, regardless of a man's faults, God can inspire a speaker to say something that helps a particular member with a problem, right at that moment.

Has this ever happened to you? You are struggling with a problem, maybe a question about doctrine, or maybe a question of God's law. Maybe you are wondering if something you have been doing, or something you may want to do in the future, is a violation of God's law or not. Maybe it seems like a gray area, and you are not sure, and you are seeking wisdom. Or, maybe you are trying to understand how to handle a tricky situation in your life.

You come to services and listen to the sermon (or sermonette), and in the middle of the message, as if out of the blue, the speaker says something that helps answer your question. It might not even have anything to do with the main point of the message, but it is as if God, at that moment, inspired the speaker to give you an answer to something that has been troubling you.

Or, maybe you haven't been troubled by something, but you SHOULD be troubled by it, and the speaker brings it to your attention as something you need to be concerned about.

One way or another, it seems as if God is speaking to you personally through the minister or speaker giving the message. And indeed, that is probably the case, for God has put men in teaching positions for that very purpose as well as for general teaching.

Has that ever happened to you? It has happened to me more than once.

We are all human and make mistakes, but we should strive to have an attitude of respect towards those who speak in God's true Church, and we should be willing to be corrected and reminded of the truths of the Bible by them. God can inspire them to help us, and we should be receptive (not gullible) towards what they say.

If a minister corrects us for our faults and sins, we should examine ourselves, using the Bible as the ultimate authority, on the points the minister brings to our attention. If the minister teaches a doctrinal issue, we should learn what we can from him, comparing what he says with the Bible, and particularly focusing on the scriptures the minister quotes. We should learn to accept what the minister teaches that is right and apply it to ourselves while not being deceived by any mistakes the minister might make. We make that distinction by the Bible.

Ministers can remind us of things the Bible says. God can remind us of things He has said in His word through the speaking and writing of the ministry.

Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would remind us of things that He said (John 14:26). Paul wrote that we would understand the things of God by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). God does that by working in our minds by His Spirit, but in the same manner God can also work in the minds of those who speak, write, teach, and counsel, to remind us of the words of the Bible, to correct us, to encourage us, and to help our understanding.

Some may prefer to learn from the Bible only, and not from ministers at all, but that is not the system God has put into place. It is God's will that we learn from the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-15).

Above all, we need to respect the office of minister (Jude 8-9), and we should not speak against the minister and what he teaches with other members of his congregation when we attend with him (1 Corinthians 1:10).