(Extracted from Dave Black Online, March 17, 2015. Used by permission.)
While I’m at the computer, let me add a brief word about my views on the professional pastorate, since I will also be dealing with this topic in my new book. It is not eldership but clericalism that is the danger. Obversely — and this is of vital importance — we can make anti-clericalism into an idol, a god at whose clay feet we worship with as much zeal and passion as those who bow the knee to the clerical system. (This anti-clerical attitude is apparent in several recent posts in various blogs.) I have no doubt that a stipendiary clergy pauperizes our people and places tradition above Scripture. But this is more than a question of who does what. If we are to maintain a voluntary system we must do so not only in obedience to the mind of Christ but also in obedience to the mind of the Spirit of Christ. I am well aware that a great many good and thoughtful professional pastors hold positions with which I disagree. I am also aware that for every local church that loses its professional pastor for reasons of the latter’s conscience, a replacement will be found from within the ranks of those who feel themselves called to the professional ministry. I believe most professional pastors do what they believe is the correct course of action, and they do so conscientiously. Some of them (many of whom I know personally) are motivated by a belief that they can do more good by striving for reform from within their churches than by planting new churches. They plead for understanding and support from former paid pastors. Should they resign for reasons of conscience, they would do so only with the deepest regret, and future criticism they might make of the stipendiary clergy would be offered in a spirit of deepest empathy and the most cordial love. They know they are not better or wiser than those who continue in their paid pastorates. They pray and labor for a clergy that comprises every single follower of Jesus Christ, and they expect God to answer their prayers. They realize that the Great Commission will never be accomplished by trained and paid workers simply because we can never train and pay enough workers to get the job done. However, a danger exists that the appeal for voluntary leadership will lead to a new kind of Galatianism that claims the superiority of their “non-circumcised” status over against those who have submitted to the legalism of circumcision. Paul’s response should put an end to pride on either side: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision amounts for anything, but only faith working in love” (Gal. 5:6). True faith is always a gracious faith; it works itself out by love for God and love to our brethren. It is not merely an intellectual faith, for “we all have knowledge; knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). It is a faith that is always expressed in kindness and affection and in a readiness to bear with the weaknesses of others. I censure myself as much as any other blogger out there when I say this: Love is utterly opposed to telling others in a condescending spirit what they “ought” to do, for truth is perfected only in love. So to my fellow reformers I say: Let others see our love and feel our heart of compassion even as they listen to our words of exhortation and correction. Let us not pride ourselves on having found the “only right way,” for Christianity is much more than correct doctrine, even correct ecclesiology. The one essential of the Christian life is love, and one expression of Christian love is a tolerance of diversity — a tolerance that does not spring from indifference but rather from an awareness that church practices are subordinate to what is essential.
To give you an example from my own congregation: When our elders decided to use a single loaf of bread during the observance of the Lord’s Supper (in keeping with their interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:16-17), several members of our congregation expressed to them the uncomfortable feeling they had when touching a single loaf of bread with their fingers, and so alongside the one loaf was placed a platter on which had been laid bread that had been sliced into bite-sized pieces. I venture to insist that, far from being a compromise on the part of our elders, this was an exquisite demonstration of their love for the brethren. In other words, these leaders refused to turn forms into essentials. Whatever strengthens faith is valuable as a help but is worthless as a legalism. It is possible to support professional missionaries without becoming one yourself. (I do.) It is also possible to work with stipendiary pastors to propagate the truth that is revealed in Christ. (I do.) On the face of it, this would appear to be an act of compromise. But we must always separate our personal convictions from our willingness to cooperate with others in the cause of the Gospel. We who are non-professional missionaries must be careful not to judge professional missionaries any more than Paul condemned those who lived by the Gospel. Whether or not we are paid to be a missionary is a technicality. Spiritually, all obedient followers of Christ are missionaries to the non-Christian world. The same Spirit is given to all of us, and where the Spirit is, there is liberty of the most amazing kind (2 Cor. 3:17). If we focus too narrowly on matters of church organization, we face the very grave danger of missing the revelation of the Spirit as the Spirit who labors for the salvation of the world. Every form of Christian mission can and must be undertaken in, with, and by that one and the same Spirit, with each individual finding her or her own proper work under the one Spirit’s guidance. So beware! The road back to Galatianism is all too easy to take.