THE BAPTIST WITNESS
March 1997 Volume XLVI Number 3
by Lasserre Bradley, Jr.
SEVERAL MONTHS AGO A LADY called
me to express her disapproval of "Preachers' Meetings," because she
said she thought it was wrong for a group of preachers to meet and make
decisions for the churches when each church should handle all business in its
own conference. I told her that I agreed with her completely. I assured her that
the Preachers' Meetings which have been held here at Cincinnati Church were not
for the purpose of transacting business. We have not formed an organization, we
do not elect any officers, we pass no resolutions, and we do not try, in any
way, to control ministers or churches. She seemed to be relieved and satisfied.
Another person called and asked; "What do you do at a Preachers' Meeting" At the one we have here at Cincinnati Church, we sing, we pray, we teach and preach, we share experiences and enjoy a wonderful time of fellowship. The meeting is held under the auspices of Cincinnati Church, and as a part of the meeting, a preaching service is held at the time of our regular Wednesday night meeting. The church has enjoyed immensely the singing and preaching at this service and loves having the ministers assemble here.
The first of these meetings was held in March 1992 and there has been one each year following, although no commitment has been made to make it an annual event. Several ministers had requested at various times that I meet with them and share my experiences in biblical counseling, so that was the theme of the first meeting. Notices of each meeting have appeared in the BW along with an invitation to all ministers to attend. Those who came the first time said they would enjoy coming again and consequently other meetings have followed.
Through the years preachers' meetings have been held on both a local and regional basis; but since, by our announcement in this publication, we had ministers come from across the country, this meeting caused some to be concerned who had seen no problem with similar meetings elsewhere. It is certainly not my desire to promote something which will be divisive; but I learned long ago that if opposition was the only reason for backing away from anything, we would soon discontinue everything and consequently be doing nothing. During the late 50's and early 60's, I faced considerable opposition to radio preaching. In fact there were Associations which declared against radio preaching, radio preachers and all who had anything to do with radio preachers. I regretted their action but believed preaching on the radio violated no scriptural principle and so have continued to do so until this day. I somehow believe that the Apostle who preached at Mars' Hill would gladly have preached into a microphone and sent his message allover Athens had it been available to him.
While I have preached on the radio for many years, as have numerous other Primitive Baptists ministers. I have never felt that it was a ministry to be imposed on every preacher or every church. Each minister must labor according to the opportunities which the Lord makes available to him. I see evidence of the Lord's blessings upon this labor as people frequently share with me their experience of coming to the knowledge of salvation by grace through the radio preaching. If the time should come that the radio would no longer be an open door for gospel preaching, I have no doubt that other doors would still be available.
There are many good ministers who have a desire to circulate the gospel but who have no interest in radio preaching. I find no fault with them. There arc good brethren who have no desire to attend a preachers' meeting. I find no fault with them. There are some of us who feel that the Lord has blessed us with His presence at the Preachers' Meetings here at Cincinnati and we wish that those who do not care to attend would find no fault with us.
Some have expressed concern about the meetings because they are "structured." The fact is that most of the meetings among our churches are also structured. While there would be objection to an "Order of Service," an unwritten order is followed. The church has a specified time to meet. That is an obvious necessity if everyone is to know when to come. In most areas there is a thirty- minute song service. If the song leader forgets this unwritten rule, several brethren will generally jog his memory by conspicuously looking at their watches. Some churches then have a prayer and an "Opening Song," others have an "Opening Song" and then prayer. This is followed by a preaching hour which is then concluded with prayer and often a "hand-shake." In a "conference" or a meeting of an Association, the structure becomes even more restrictive with the order of business usually written down in advance.
Now structure can be a hindrance when there is such formality in worship that the true spirit of worship is lost. On the other hand it can be very beneficial. It is good that when several songs are called out at once that the leader selects only one and the congregation sings it rather than each person saying I feel led to sing my selection and disorder being the result. If you sing out of a hymn book there is structure because everyone is singing the same words and the same meter. If you sing from a hymn and tune book, there is structure because everyone, hopefully, is singing the same tune. Consideration must be given to key, pitch, time, measures, rests and repeats. All this is somewhat confining but just as a train runs best when it is on the track, singing is best when certain structures are recognized. It is felt that following these guides, the Lord's people are able to yet sing with grace in their hearts.
Just as with most things in life, following a disciplined format brings about the best results. I have found that where people haw worked at their singing they enjoy it most. Many of our churches through the years have held singing schools to teach both the young and old how to sing. To my knowledge this practice has never been considered a departure from any scriptural principle and has not been a test of fellowship.
Sometimes objections are raised about any custom that docs not have a direct command in Scripture. Without question the Scriptures are our only source of authority, but the view which I have generally heard set forth among us with regard to the practice of the church is that a plain command to do something one way eliminates all others ways, but if the Scriptures me silent on an issue it may be implemented if it is not in violation of some clear instruction or New Testament pattern. For example, if one should take the position that every detail of practice must be spelled out in the Scriptures, questions could be raised about the use of hymn books, the whole idea of a church owning property and maintaining a meeting house, the conducting of a church Conference, the appointment of a church clerk and on the list could go. Many churches in the Apostolic era met in private homes. Most churches would have serious problems with that today, not only in finding a home large enough to accommodate the whole congregation, but also in violating building codes. Churches are not commanded nor authorized to build meeting houses in the Scriptures, but surely there is no departure from sound principle in doing so. The Scriptures do not require preachers to meet with each other for admonition and encouragement but neither is any principle violated when they do so.
Baptists have always believed in a God-called ministry but have had some differences among them as to how that man is to proceed following the call. In 1722 the Philadelphia Association proposed "for the churches to make inquiry among themselves, if they have any young persons hopeful for the ministry, and inclinable for learning...to give notice of it to Mr. Abel Morgan ...that he might recommend such to the academy." While the minutes do not reveal any specifics about this academy, the brethren obviously- had a concern to see that young ministers received some help as they sought to apply themselves for the work before them.
Hassell quotes from the 1807 Minutes of the same Association and the Circular Letter written by William Staughton. "We acknowledge with gratitude and joy that every able minister of the New Testament is made such of God and not of men…The ablest preacher is but an earthen vessel, and the feeblest bears heavenly treasure. We are sensible that an ostentation of learning may be food for a weak or aspiring mind; nevertheless, as knowledge of almost every kind may be useful to a gospel minister; as in the Bible we have only a translation, behind the veil of which many a beauty is concealed: as we have no reason to expect that extraordinary assistance which the apostles enjoyed; and as education places a minister of the gospel on equal ground with a learned adversary, to seek an acquaintance with language, history, and other similar studies, where it can be accomplished, is praiseworthy."
In the same letter it is acknowledged that God "raised up Gideon from the threshing-floor, and David from the sheepfold. The wealthy and the learned were not called to be the apostles of our Lord, but fishermen, publicans, and tent-makers. Many among the most useful of the ministers of Christ in the present day, have received instruction only at the Master's feet" History reveals that Baptists have not as a people made a formal education a qualification for the ministry: but it is also clear that, fur the most part, they have not opposed education and have encouraged ministers to "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Timothy 2; 15).
While Primitive Baptists took a strong stand against Theological Schools in the division of 1832, it is my understanding that they have always believed that older ministers were to serve as a "father in the ministry" to those beginning to speak in the Lord's name. On January 4. 1940, a meeting was held at Thornton, Arkansas, commemorating fifty years of service in the ministry by Elder C. H. Cayce. A committee of elders and deacons were appointed to draw up resolutions of appreciation. One paragraph of that resolution which was approved by the local church and then appeared in The Primitive Baptist was as follows; " We appreciate him for his earnest, careful, and prayerful study of the word of God, especially in its application to his brethren in the ministry, his kindness to the aged, the middle-aged, and especially, his kind, fatherly manner of exhorting, instructing, correcting, and encouraging young ministers among us."
Elder Cayce was commended for assisting young ministers, for instructing, correcting and encouraging them. When I came to the Old Baptists in 1958, I was told that while they opposed man-made institutions for the training of ministers that the older ministers instructed the young. That is what was being done when Elder Cayce was recognized for his efforts. While some seem to object to the whole idea of ministers instructing each other, an article written by Elder W. N. Tharp and published in the October, 1915 Zion's Advocate seems to confirm that it has been an ongoing concern of ministers to offer advice to young preachers. The article which was reprinted in the Advocate and Messenger, January 1997, received the endorsement of the editor, Elder Ralph Harris. Under the heading "Ten Don'ts." these introductory remarks were made; "The following 'Don'ts for Young Baptist Preachers," ...Based upon my observations this advice is not only needed by young preachers but by those of us who are not so young as well." The list of ten "don'ts" included such practical admonitions as "Don't introduce your discourse with apologies," and "Don't read a text and then neglect to tell the people what it means." Surely no one would think that either Elder Tharp who wrote the article or Elder Harris who published it were attempting to exalt themselves over other ministers and trying to tell them how to preach; they were simply demonstrating a spirit of concern about the ministry which has prevailed among our people through the years.
If such admonitions arc beneficial in print, should they not also be beneficial when delivered in person or on tape? Certainly a one-on-one labor can be extremely profitable as a father in the ministry works with a young preacher, but is any scriptural principle violated for a minister to speak to a group of preachers who assemble in the Lord's name and hear His word expounded?
Because I traveled extensively in my early years in the church. I had the unique opportunity to spend a significant amount of time with a number of able ministers. Among those were: Elders J. A. Monsees, C. E. Darity, C. I. Mills. R. B. Johnson, Ben Lord, Pat Byrd and H. P. Copeland. What a blessing it was to learn from these men and to receive such faithful encouragement from them. They always seemed ready to give of their time and enjoyed sharing the things they had learned.
Somewhere along the way this diligent effort by older ministers to teach the younger ministers has declined or has been abandoned entirely in some places. There has probably been a fault in both directions. Many of the older ministers just have not blocked out the time necessary for this work because of the rushed pace at which life generally moves in this day. And of course there have been men to start out in the ministry who did not want to be taught and corrected. Preachers need not only to preach but to hear preaching. I have observed several young ministers who did not arrange to attend any church meeting unless they expected to preach. They had no real desire to hear the preaching of others. Most of those men arc out of the ministry today.
The Saviour taught us to "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest" (Matthew 9:38). As that prayer is answered and men arc given a gift to preach, the mature ministers should be ready to spend time "instructing and encouraging them." Not only can this be accomplished by ministers but by others in the church as well. Such an example is found in Acts 18:26 with reference to Apollos. "And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue; whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." Not only should brethren and sisters in the church be ready to help instruct a young man, they need the spiritual discernment to reject unbiblical concepts about preaching and be willing to warn ministers of these errors. Some have incorrectly assumed that because the Apostle Paul had the truth of the gospel revealed directly to him that this pattern will be followed with preachers today. We must remember, however, that we do not have any Apostles today. The cannon of Scriptures is complete and men must study to prepare themselves as faithful ministers of the word, "Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine, Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all"(I Timothy 4:13-15).
Mysticism has had its influence among our people. It has been thought by some that a man need not study or even think in advance about what he is going to preach, but the folly of such thinking has been proven repeatedly. A man may begin his remarks by declaring, "I have nothing to say, so if I say anything it will have to come from the Lord." The Lord got blamed for what followed but what was said had, without question, not flowed from above, In fact the implication that anything which will now be said must come from the Lord is extremely dangerous, for in that case whether it is an improper exegesis of a text, a personal experience or a dream, the congregation is asked to believe it came from the Lord. Paul enjoined Timothy to "Preach the word" (II Timothy 4;2), In order for a man to do that effectively he must study the word, Certainly it must be recognized that the blessing of the Holy Spirit is needed both in the study and in the proclamation of the word, but the Spirit is not going to pour a message through an empty head and a cold heart.
I recently received the following letter: "There is much panic and confusion in the church today, concerning the decline in membership and zeal, when it is most obvious what the cause is. Some are not preaching all the counsel of God, 'All scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works' (II Timothy 3:16-17). We are suffering from gospel malnutrition. We get plenty of doctrine but no instruction in righteousness. We need a balanced diet of doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness."
Has not this writer touched a sensitive nerve? Have not many of us ministers at times when pressed with numerous responsibilities, not the least of which may include providing for our family, failed to commit enough time for study? When panic sets in on Saturday night or Sunday morning it is easy to rely on the oft quoted passages and utilize the familiar jargon that will maintain the status quo but fail to teach or challenge the congregation. We as a people have long since taken a stand against the modern Sunday School with the claim that we believe parents should teach their children in the home. But as it is the responsibility of the pastor- teacher to equip the saints, how many of our people have been adequately equipped to do the teaching they ought to do at home? Since parents feel poorly prepared to do the teaching, it is not done. Is it any wonder then that many young people are lost to the world or to false doctrine? Is it not time to spend our energy not just pointing out the wrong way of doing things but to diligently do it the right way, to the glory and praise of our Saviour Jesus Christ?
We recall that in the early church, deacons were appointed because, "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables" (Acts 6:2b) The apostles requested that seven men full of the Holy Ghost be selected to look after the needs of the widows so, "we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." The Scriptures clearly teach that the most important work of the minister is to be a student of the word and to teach and preach it faithfully. (Ephesians 4:11- 16, II Timothy 4:1- 5). When they had prayed and laid their hands on the brethren chosen to serve as deacons so that the ministers could devote themselves more effectively to the study and preaching of the word there were some very positive results. "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7). They were not playing a numbers game, but the Holy Spirit did inspire Luke to record the fact that the number of the disciples multiplied greatly.
Could not ministers be more effective in our day if deacons were always functioning effectively in their role to relieve the minister of certain burdens so that more time could be spent in the word? And could not that effectiveness be further enhanced if churches were supporting their pastors so that they were free of the distraction of a secular job? "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:14). It is recognized that the full support of the pastor-may not be immediately possible in every situation; but if the biblical principle is being taught and the church is praying, it can at the very least be moving in that direction.
Elder Sonny Pyles has probably done as much as any man among us in recent times to challenge ministers to be better students of the word, With his unique ability to get a point across in such a way that it is not forgotten, he has often shown the folly of man "running when he is not sent" and attempting to preach when he has nothing to say. The evidence of his own diligent study has proven to be an inspiration and an example to numerous ministers across the country.
A minister must remain a student all his life-he never graduates. Even as the Apostle Paul was growing old he wrote, "The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments" (II Timothy 4: 13). The parchments may have been some of the Old Testament Scriptures or even some of his own inspired epistles. There is no way to know what books Paul was asking for, but it is evident that he not only had admonished Timothy to "give attendance to reading," he was setting the example himself. Paul was not only acquainted with the Scriptures, he obviously read other things as well. At Mars' Hill he quoted from one of the Greek poets and in the epistle to Titus he made reference to one of the prophets of the Cretians. A man Can be sidetracked and spend so much time studying the errors of false teachers, the conspiracies of the one-world government advocates, or the latest therapies being utilized in the field of psychology that he would neglect the study of the word. However, an awareness of what is taking place in the world around us can be helpful in applying biblical truths to the lives of God's people living in a rapidly changing world.
Ministers can also receive great benefits through the writings of other ministers. Just as they need to hear preaching, there is profit in reading a sermon or the writings of a man who is faithfully expounding biblical truth. Without question the only book that can be given complete, unreserved endorsement is the Bible. It is our only standard of authority. But for a man to assume that the Lord is going to lead him directly into all truth apart from the advantage of learning from other men seems to be rather presumptuous. I personally have been greatly blessed by the writings of our own Primitive Baptist elders, The works of Daily. Oliphant, Cash and others have all been beneficial. I well remember the tears flowing the first time I read the Autobiography of Elder Wilson Thompson. I have found the writings of other men to be useful-Gill, Brooks, Philpot and Spurgeon to name a few. Now, there is some sifting to do in the writings they left behind. Since all these men have long ago gone to their heavenly home, I dare say that as they now see things in a clearer light that given the opportunity they would probably make a few corrections in their own writings. Through the years the Lord has given a variety of gifts to His servants, some with special insight into one truth and some into another. Some are equipped to explore in depth the beautiful details of doctrinal truths, some to bring home to the believer the practical instruction in such a way that its application is clear. Should we not be thankful for the writings of these men and others of our present time from whom we can learn so much?
In the Preachers' Meetings here at Cincinnati Church, we have provided opportunity for ministers to share with each other the things they have been blessed to learn through their own study. It has served to help and encourage some young ministers who have no "father in the ministry" currently helping them. But many of the older ministers have spoken of the blessing they received through messages by younger ministers. One older minister wrote, "The fellowship of the ministers and the prayer sessions were evidences to me the Spirit of the Lord was there, and also those who rendered messages on various topics brought many challenging thoughts to my mind," A young minister wrote, "It was as if God was confronting me on areas of my ministry that were terribly lacking. I received information on how to shore up these areas and how to teach them to the membership. The meeting condemned me in a good way and will hopefully make me a better Christian and minister."
Tapes and printed materials from each of these meetings have been made available for those wanting to study the material further. I would not necessarily endorse the interpretation of every text found on these tapes. In fact, in some of the exchange sessions at the meeting it is evident that all brethren do not see every point exactly alike. This in itself, though, is a learning experience. A man who will only fellowship those who see eye to eye with him on every subject will soon find he is all by himself. We in no way want to compromise on essential doctrine but brethren can love each other and labor together in spite of minor differences.
Whether or not a meeting for preachers continues to be held each year, I hope that those already held have been useful in creating a greater awareness of the need for ministers to diligently study the word and to "declare the whole counsel" When there is failure in this area the sheep will wander, When they need answers they often go to the wrong source. When they face a crisis they "go down to Egypt for help." The only way the Lord's people can grow and remain in good spiritual health is through the healthful diet of Christ- centered, biblical teaching. Paul instructed Timothy to, "Hold fast the form of sound words" (II Timothy I: 13). The only way God's children and the churches to which they belong can keep from being influenced by the man-centered, humanistic thinking prevalent in our society today is through the faithful study and proclamation of the word of God.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that the Preachers' Meeting as conducted here in Cincinnati is not unscriptural. I would like to point out to the reader that the misconceptions which have been passed along from time to time have been by those who have not been in attendance in this meeting. To my knowledge, no minister who has ever attended this meeting has had anything negative to report. This meeting is not a "preachers' school" though we teach and preach to each other. "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" (Proverbs 27: 17) The purpose of this meeting is not to set policy or standards for your church or any other church; but we are here to challenge the ministry to feed the sheep biblically and in matters that are relative to the spiritual needs of the day. This meeting is organized. We know when it is going to start, when it is going to stop, who will be speaking at each session and what time the meals are to be served. We are admonished in I Corinthians 14:40. "Let all things be done decently and in order." God Himself is organized; His creation is organized and He is not the author of confusion or chaos.
The speakers know generally what they want to present to their fellow laborers, although any minister has license to change his subject should he feel so impressed. These ministers have spent many hours studying their subject matter and you can believe 'there have been many hours of prayer in preparation. After all, what more discerning congregation will they ever have to speak to except, perhaps, a congregation of preachers' wives? (I dare say your pastor knows generally what he is going to preach about before he gets in the pulpit on Sunday. If he has been studying and applying himself during the week, he usually will have something specific on his mind.) This meeting is not a secret meeting-an invitation has been in the BW each year and any minister who has expressed an interest will receive the information through the mail. Tapes and outlines of the presentations have always been made available to anyone who is interested. Other regional preachers' meetings are conducted but many never know who has attended or what has been discussed or even that such a meeting has taken place. That is not to infer there is anything wrong with those meetings. I appreciate when someone has a question or a comment to make about this preachers' meeting that they contact me personally, since I have been the coordinator and host of the meeting so far. I feel I can answer those questions better than someone who has never attended one.
If the preachers' meetings here at Cincinnati Church can be used to encourage God's servants in a day when the challenges being faced are of great magnitude, if the presentation of biblical truth can be used to strengthen ministers to remain bold in contending for the faith, if through this time of fellowship men can be moved to a more dedicated service in the kingdom of God-then we will feel God's blessings have been upon the meetings. As their voices have been lifted in songs of praise, as the precious truths of God's words have been set forth, as many tears have been shed during the seasons of prayer, those present have concluded the Lord has been present. The Apostle Paul asked the church at Thessalonica to pray for him (I Thessalonians 5:25). I am certain it is the desire of all gospel ministers that the Lord's people pray for them. Pray that the Lord will bring laborers into the vineyard. Pray that the Lord will bless His servants in the study of the word and the faithful preaching of it. Pray that older ministers will be blessed to reach out to their "sons in the ministry." Pray that ministers will pray for each other.