I was enjoying the book when the author asked a question that has dwelled in my soul for the last thirty years: “Are you turning your theology into your biography?” Now, the proper way of asking the question more correctly is “Are you turning biblical theology into your biography?” I suppose everyone is turning whatever they happen to believe into their biography. We usually do that automatically. But as followers of Jesus the Christ, we are called to turn the theology of God’s Word into the way that we live. That is more difficult than merely living out whatever we choose to believe. It is far more convenient to conform to the gods we have made in our own image than to conform to the Son of God. I was born with a nature that seeks escape from the binding cords of God’s being and Word.
Why am I beginning an article encouraging church members to follow the leadership of the elected or appointed leaders of the church with a paragraph about God’s calling to turn biblical theology into biography? In my senior years (a younger friend told me last week that I am old), my advice as a minister is solicited more than ever by church members who are disgruntled with their church leadership. I have found that many times they are not living out the biblical theology they claim to love. They tend to look at these men and just focus on the disagreement and the personality of that particular leader. In their thinking they echo the words of James about Elijah: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours. ” They are right. Every elder, deacon, or minister is a man with a nature just like theirs. However, biblical theology tells us that just as the Christian life has a supernatural beginning, the service of a man as a minister, elder, or deacon has a supernatural beginning.
How did our Christian lives begin? We had hearts that were dedicated to living free from the restraints of God. Our ears were deaf and our eyes were blind to Him. We were quite literally spiritually dead. He supernaturally raised us from that deadness. He gave us ears to hear and eyes to see. Jesus called that transformation being born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is a supernatural act by the living God in our lives. In like manner, an individual does not make himself a minister, elder, or deacon. He is called and anointed to that position by the Holy Spirit. How did Paul describe the elders of the church at Ephesus? “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The Holy Spirit of the living God appoints and anoints the elders of His church. There are similar passages about deacons. “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” (6:3). Again, the emphasis is on men filled with the Holy Spirit. Most of us are in churches that elect ministers, elders, and deacons, but we are given very clear descriptions in Scripture as to what God-anointed men look like. In 1 Timothy 3, the Holy Spirit gave us models to help us identify the men He has anointed.
The emphasis is on men filled with the Holy Spirit.
We don’t seek to listen to officers of the church because they are popular in the church or good businessmen. We follow and seek their guidance because they are anointed and appointed by God to their position. That is what our theology teaches us.
There is another factor to be considered. The Bible teaches a plurality of elders. As a minister, I love this truth of Scripture. Sadly, some ministers want the church to be a dictatorship. Of course, we know who the dictator will be in such cases. God knew that there would be such temptations. So, we have a plurality of leaders anointed by God in each church. They meet and discuss all the issues of the church. They balance each other, because individually they have their own idiosyncrasies. It should be a joint wisdom that comes out of their counsel. They may have information that the general congregation does not have.
They have a heavy load to carry. They may make decisions that are not popular in the world around the church. They may be forced to take disciplinary actions toward individual members who are in danger because of personal sin. They are seeking only to protect a wandering sheep from destruction. They may be forced to confront a minister who is denying the cardinal doctrines of Scripture from the pulpit. None of these acts are easy. I saw an entire denomination become apostate because the elders of local churches were either ignorant of biblical theology or were not bold enough to stand and confront the false prophets that were in their pulpits. We want to blame the seminaries, and certainly they were at fault. But where were the godly elders in the local congregations? Where were the watchmen on the wall?
Thus far, I have been writing to members of local congregations. I must say just a few words to the ministers, elders, and deacons in those congregations. Usually, in your deliberations there will be unity. But occasionally, there will be close divisions. Caution is required in such cases. When elders disagree even though all of them are schooled in God’s Word and their love for the gospel cannot be questioned, then they must work that much harder at listening to each other. A godly governing body that is divided can be used of Satan to divide the church unless much wisdom is exercised.
There is so much more to be said. But I must bring this article to a close. I encourage you to pray for your ministers, elders, and deacons. Talk to them. Love them. Ask them to pray with you and seek their wise counsel. Why? Because you need to make biblical theology your biography.
Rev. John P. Sartelle Sr. is senior pastor at Christ Covenant Reformed Church in Memphis, Tenn. He is author of What Christian Parents Should Know about Infant Baptism.