The Preacher/Evangelist as Distinguished from the Elder/Pastor
An Important Distinction for the Growth and Maturity of God’s Quickened Elect
The unregenerate do not need to hear about adorning the doctrine of Christ because, until they hear and believe the Truth, after receiving both life and God-given ‘ears to hear’ to do so, they cannot adorn the doctrine of Christ (they lack the faith to do good in God’s sight and they do not have the Triune Godhead, through the Holy Spirit, working in them both to will and to do of His good pleasure). The unregenerate do not need to hear about mode of baptism; the nature of baptism; hymns vs. exclusive Psalmody; ecclesiastical order; the use of instruments amidst the congregation; head-coverings; tithing vs. cheerful giving; or any other secondary issue (i.e. issue secondary to the salvation of their souls). All they need to hear about is their sin and Christ crucified as the only hope of forgiveness for their sin. They need the preaching of the cross, and all that it entails, and nothing else. The faithful preacher and evangelist is chiefly, and faithfully, to focus on preaching the Gospel! because, again, the unconverted need to hear of their sin, understand the sins they commit, understand the eternal wrath due those sins, and they then need to be pointed to the True Christ (and not some Arian or freewill counterfeit) as their only true Refuge and Hope for peace, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation.
The godly elder/pastor/bishop IS NOT SO. Yes they need to do all of the above. Faithful elders/pastors/bishops are indeed preachers and evangelists and have as their primary duty the preaching of the Gospel to needy souls. However, unlike the one who holds no such office, but preaches and evangelizes only, the elder/pastor/bishop has an equally vital secondary responsibility and that is to build up the congregation via the entire counsel of God. It is neglectful for the elder/pastor/bishop to act simply as the Gospel preacher, and to simply provide the milk, never touching the meat himself or providing it to his hearers. It is dereliction of duty to only preach the cross to the exclusion of all that the Bible teaches *in light of the cross.* It is folly to declare “all I need to do is preach the Gospel” whilst ignoring all that God calls us to do in light of His Gospel. It is absurdity to think that, simply by preaching about election, predestination, justification, redemption, substitutionary propitiation, imputed righteousness, and ‘freedom from the law,’ that God’s people will be well-enough equipped to adorn the doctrine of Christ, to grow in grace and love, to go on to maturity, and to fight the good fight of faith as ably/aptly as they could when under the teaching of those who hold back nothing from scripture, setting forth the entirety of biblical truth IN LIGHT OF (and only in light of) the True Christ and His finished work of redemption and righteousness.
The preacher/evangelist sticks, primarily, to the Gospel of Christ — which is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; “for the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God;” seeing that the Gospel reveals Christ and “unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God, and the wisdom of God;” knowing “that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God;” even “by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.”
The elder/pastor/bishop however, goes on to exhort that we are, therefore, ‘not to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of his prisoners: but we are to be partakers of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.” The elder/pastor/bishop exhorts us unto godly suffering (for the LORD our Righteousness’ sake); the adorning of the Gospel of Christ; the running of the lawful/legitimate race; and the fighting of the good fight of faith — all in Christ, and all with the Gospel as their only basis and ground for doing so. It is not the promoting of those things that lead to maturity – alone… but the promoting of those things that lead to maturity in the very light of, and call to remembrance of, the Gospel truth!
Thus, the faithful pastor cannot glory in only providing milk, and they will not so glory, because they would cease to be faithful to their calling. They must be able to distinguish those in need of milk only; from those in need of small pieces of meat — perhaps even pre-chewed like a mother for her babe; from those ready for a moderate portion of that godly and blessed meat; and from those are able to aptly dine on a six course meal of it; they must be able to not only discern but to give to each as they need, and as they are able to handle. Only God can lead them into such wisdom. Nonetheless, the most faithful, mature pastor/elder bishop is the one who, as the norm of his work and ministry, preaches the word; is instant in season, out of season; reproves, rebukes, exhorts with all long-suffering and sound doctrine; watching (as God enables) in all things, enduring afflictions, doing the work of an evangelist, make full proof of their ministry, and encouraging others, regularly and via all of scripture (purposely avoiding/disdaining none), to do the same.
Likewise, the faithful pastor/elder/bishop, to the degree that God has ordained and enables, is to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; committing the truth to faithful men (men able to teach others as well); enduring hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ; not entangling himself with the affairs of this life; enduring all things for the elect’s sakes; regularly putting the congregation in remembrance to do all such things themselves; charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit; studying (themselves), and encouraging others to study, to show themselves approved unto God; rightly dividing the word of truth, all of it, and not just what they like (and not just the milk, all of the time, ever with contentment); shunning profane and vain babblings; fleeing also youthful lusts: following righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart; avoiding foolish and unlearned questions; ceasing from striving; walking in gentleness towards all men; being patient and apt to teach; in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; continuing in these things; instructing the people from all of scripture (to the degree that God enlightens and enables ) to do the same (seeing that all scripture is profitable…); and otherwise acting, teaching, instructing, exhorting; disciplining; and setting the example (in such things) for the congregation, that they may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works, adorning the Gospel of Christ, not causing their weaker brethren to stumble, not causing the outside world to blaspheme God due to our sins, and to otherwise walk according to their high calling, with an eye single on Christ, in knowledge, in sincerity, in truth, and in love — all, again, to the degree that God enables.
Finally, the faithful elder/bishop/pastor has the highest calling on this earth; they are the under shepherds of God, they are to be honoured and obeyed (with godly subjection in all righteousness), and they are to be encouraged regularly. They have the much higher responsibility amongst the regenerate, the higher risk and depth of chastisement, the higher risk of temptation (especially from without), and often the higher degree of resistance, scorn, slander, and enmity from both the regenerate and unregenerate alike. They have the more prominent targets on their backs; they are the ones who have the most to lose when they stumble or fall; they have the heaviest burdens (sharing familial needs with the needs of an entire congregation) and they often have the most felt sense of weakness and ability when it comes to faithfully proclaiming the Word of God and feeding His sheep. If we are cold, slothful, despairing, disheartened, it is often to our own felt hurt and to the hurt of our friends and household. The faithful pastor/elder/bishop, prone to all such things themselves, has the greater weight because their felt sin, need, and ills, can impact the entire congregation. When you think about how week after week, year after year, decade after decade, God has kept His faithful elders/pastors/bishops faithful to their calling, and diligent therein to their duties (despite their inward and familial woes), it blows my mind. It is beyond me how anyone can last in such a position for more than a few months — but God keeps, upholds, defends, and sustains His own. In light of this, they should be given the benefit of the doubt, to the utmost, as much as is humanly possible, and divinely/scripturally prudent; remembering that they, too, are but flesh (in and of themselves), and can do nothing without God working in them to accomplish His divine purpose in, and through them. Remember that as we are prone to error, pride, impatience, and the like, so are they, and they — with more of an understandable reason behind it (often having the great revelation and burden).
Thank God for His faithful pastors and preachers. May we repent of our own pride and foolishness against them (myself included and chiefly); may we pray more, and more, and more for them (especially if we have some concern regarding this doctrine or that, being far more apt to pray for them than to publicly admonish them); and may we seek to comfort and encourage them all the more — as God leads, gives grace, and enables. Am I a hypocrite in this, in light of my own past sins? Yes! Does God grant godly sorrow, repentance, and forgiveness concerning these things? Yes! Should we take our hard-learned lessons, and share them with others, so that they are hopefully less apt to follow in our (my) own stupidity? Yes! Then may we do so — To God be the glory, in Christ, in His creation, and in His people as well (especially his faithful preachers, evangelists, teachers, elders, and pastors) — even in ALL things. Amen