They that were Scattered Abroad went Everywhere, Preaching the Word Acts 8:4.
Paul prayed ‘that the word of the Lord may have free course’(2 Thess 3:1). All true Christians should pray for that too. But alas, preaching is beset by human perverseness, especially in establishments of any sect or denomination where only appointed or ordained individuals are permitted to preach. Scripture does not support ordination or authorisation – whichever word is used. In a world under condemnation, there are sinners ready to perish. Ordination and the distinction between laity and clergy (which includes so-called lay preachers) was not known in the early church – nor is it scriptural.
No human qualification should be needed in order to declare to them God’s remedy in love: that Jesus died for sinners. Man has set up restrictions: the gospel which was ‘to be preached to every creature under heaven’(Col 1:23) has been bound and shackled. Multitudes have been shut out from the springs of life for want of hearing a clear invitation which should have been upon the lips of all who have drunk of the living waters. The Spirit of God has been grieved.
The questions are –
- Do those in appointed office have the Spirit of God?
- Can any member of the church of God with love for souls preach if the Lord gives them the ability and opportunity?
- Is any human sanction needful for their doing so?
- Are those who are not ordained, or otherwise appointed, disqualified from preaching?
As to Christians speaking in the church, the only restriction is, ‘Let your women keep silence in the churches’ (1 Cor 13:34). Women have other blessed services. Many godly women have spiritual gifts, and we read elsewhere the directions for their exercise (in the home, with their heads covered – see 1 Cor 11:5). They were not to use them in the church, because that would be out of order.
The apostle says, ‘every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation’(v. 26). So, if God has given some men the ability to speak, they were to speak in an orderly way in the power of the Holy Spirit: not all at once or every day, but as God led them. Because of the presence of the indwelling Spirit is in the church, it is built up, and God is worshipped ‘in spirit and in truth’(John 4:24).
It is most mischievous to say that times have changed. The Spirit of God does not break His own order by systematic rules. Christ initially gave in his church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers; ‘for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, . . . speaking the truth in love, [that we] may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love’ (Eph 4:11-16) . Some quote to justify ordination, ‘the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). But the thing committed here was the doctrine: it does not appear that they were ordained for the purpose.
Human prescription regulates everything in matters of religion, as in politics, commerce, education and most other aspects of life. The result of this is that much has been lost in the public profession: the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge, for example. If that is true, then the effectiveness of the word is further weakened by asserting that the Spirit of God is has left the Church. This then raises the question: ‘What are we, and where are we – are we the church of God without the Spirit?’ If the Spirit is not there, all union between Christ and His members will have been cut off, and the promise, ‘I am with you always, even unto the end of the world’ (Matt 28:20) made of no effect. It would no longer be the church.
But present-day disciples of Jesus know that He is with them in spite of public failure; and that He said, ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matt 18:20). His Spirit is with them for instruction and blessing.
The question becomes more critical when we consider speaking outside of the church. We read, ‘They that were scattered abroad, went everywhere preaching the word’ (Acts 8:4). – that was all except the apostles. ’The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord’ (Acts 11:21). The idea of ordination had never occurred to them. Paul preached without any other mission than the Lord’s glory and His word. He preached everywhere including synagogues and encouraged others to do the same. He said simply, ‘I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak’(2 Cor 4:13) . Apollos too preached very effectively, and it is said that, when Paul would have sent him from Ephesus to Corinth, he would not go. He was not ordained, and earlier knew only the baptism of John. Aquila and Priscilla had‘expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly’ (Acts 18:26). [Note that we have here a woman performing a very vital and authoritative service in the right way. She was as competent as any].
In the previous dispensation, much of the order was according to birth. Nevertheless, there was a clear distinction according to position – priests, Levites, princes, Nethinim etc. However, even in Jewish worship, far greater liberty was permitted than in the restricted systems of the present day. ‘Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on’ (Acts 13:15). When Eldad and Medad prophesied by the Spirit in the camp, without coming to the door of the tabernacle, Moses said, ‘Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!’ (Num 11:29).
There is therefore ample evidence from Scripture to an impartial mind. Appropriately gifted Christian men have the liberty and right to speak, in or out of the church, without needing any human authority. This is the dispensation of the outpouring of the Spirit qualifying for speaking of Jesus all who can do so. The assumption of priesthood by any person is wrong (save as all believers are priests). Priesthood and kingship belong to Christ alone.
At Pentecost, 120 were assembled together and spoke as the Spirit gave them utterance (See Acts 2:4). And Peter, standing up, explains to the Jews that they were not drunk, but it was what was spoken of by Joel, ‘I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy’ (Joel 2:29). The Spirit was poured on people without distinction – men and women, young and old, rich and poor, even slaves. Subsequent history has been to create classes according to social, academic, racial, financial and ecclesiastical status. This has been a cause of the loss of power in Christendom. And the consequence – unrestrained irregularities in the church.
There are, of course, other services such as pastoral care. A good shepherd will go after the scattered sheep in order to present God’s glad tidings to them, and to help them further in their souls. One significant advantage of God’s order is that all men and women are able to fulfil their part according to the gifts that God has given them. Those who should be teachers, shepherds or evangelists should not be hindered due to the lack of official academic and theological qualifications. This ought to be obvious: God appoints the field of their operations, in order do the Lord’s work. Persons should not be prevented by the spirit of Diotrephes in the system. God’s manifold grace and the gifts that He has given to the church blend together in true harmony and love in the body of Christ.
Nothing demonstrates the preference of man’s authority to the Lord’s more than the way in which the free and unrestrained proclamation of the gospel of God’s grace is discredited. Those who should be preaching are obliged to modify their message and restrict their work, for fear they should be in breach of the authority which has placed them in their appointed position. For example, an area of the country is destitute of the gospel, despite a lot of religious activity. One in whose heart God has put the desire and whose mouth He has opened to speak of His love, goes and preaches there, and many souls previously in darkness are blessed. The district is already full of men and women holding office in the various churches, but who are not shepherds and do not preach a sound gospel – replacing it with the fleshly excitement and emotional happiness of popular charismatics, or teaching doctrines which deny the deity of Christ, or telling souls that God’s love is such that they can attain salvation by their own works – or are just as the word to Sardis – dead. What is the labourer to do in these circumstances? – Is leave souls at the mercy of these unsound church leaders, or is he to abandon them altogether? There is no godly righteousness in either. Faithfulness to Christ demands that he should preach to those who in need. However, he is restricted in his activities by the systems (of whatever denomination) which have also sanctioned those appointees who harm poor souls. The church hierarchy, even if formed of devout Christians, must recognise their officially sanctioned ministers and pastors and reject faithful men of God, working in the power and guidance of the Spirit of God, but who do not hold the appropriate office and qualifications[*].
So why does one take an ecclesiastical office – vicar in the Church of England, pastor or minister in the Baptists or Methodists etc.? Because it is the only way to serve within the confines of the system. One who habitually waits on the Lord is obligated to work in an organisation which is not regulated by the Lord’s headship. The Master’s service can be undertaken in complete, unhindered dependence on the Spirit of God. If service does not fulfil the Lord’s own time, place, and purpose, servants are what Paul calls busybodies (see2 Thess 3:11), whatever may be the apparent (defective) results of their labours.
One further observation: we ‘should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude v.3). Look at the multitude of conflicting interests in the church – ‘wars and fightings’(James 4:1) amongst brethren. So much spiritual and natural energy is spent on defending one human system against another. Ask calmly: ‘For what are we contending?’ If the contention is for our own views or interests, or to support the system to which we owe allegiance, God cannot support us. It is not for the things of Christ; it is not of His Spirit.
All this shows that these traditional opinions are worthless and deeply injurious to the glory of God unless based upon His word. Let it be observed that the liberty of the believer is not the spirit of insubordination, but of entire subjection to the Spirit: not the spirit of enthusiasm, but of a sound mind – of a mind at one with God, which alone gives righteous judgment. And let the people of God wait on Him for His guidance. It is a time in which God is separating reality from mere outward form. May God work abundantly fill His labourers with His spirit! ‘The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest’(Matt 9:37-38).
Based on J N Darby: ‘Christian Liberty of Preaching and Teaching the Lord Jesus Christ’ – JND’s Collected Writings Vol 1 Ecclesiastical 1 page 68
[*]In modern times, there may be more lay preachers due to limitations of resources. Packaged lectures, even with PowerPoint presentations, may be used to spread a word. Such sermons, cannot be energised by st Spirit of God, meeting the needs of those who attend these preachings. [Sosthenes]