So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (NIV).
The Lord Jesus cares for his people, the church. The letter to the Ephesians displays the Lord’s love for us in numerous ways; one of these is the giving of gifted people in the church to help them serve. As all the people serve, the spiritual body of Christ, his gathering of people saved by his grace, is built up. Today, we want to focus on benefiting from teachers that Christ has given to us all, including teachers profiting from teachers.
The NIV translation follows the structure of the Greek text, which speaks of four types of gifted men, the last mentioned being “pastor-teachers”. It is too easy for us to want to read this fourth type through the grid of 2,000 years of church history and our denominational views that rigidly control our thinking. I also know that some want to divide the last mentioned into two kinds, pastors and teachers. Without getting hopelessly tied up in such disputes, I want us to recognize that the Lord Christ has given us teachers for our benefit.
During much of church history, Christ’s people could be helped by teachers in one of two ways, which are still available to us. They could listen to the teacher in person or they could read what the teacher had written or spoken. Hearing skilled and Biblically faithful teachers was limited by transportation issues. Even by the time of Whitefield (1730- 1760), people had to walk or slowly ride distances of five to ten miles to hear the famous preacher. That required a tremendous investment of time and energy for hardworking subsistence farmers and shopkeepers. By the mid-1800s, it was much easier for preachers like Spurgeon to travel around Great Britain for people to hear him personally. Before the printing press, access to the written word was limited because books were expensive to produce in time and money. The invention of the printing press dramatically increased the spread of Biblical teaching. God also used the skill of notetakers to record the spoken words of men like Luther and Calvin in those days, so that their sermons, lectures, and “table talk” were spread across Europe and eventually North America.
We ought not to underestimate how all this contributed to healthy, critical thinking about our faith. People could read many teachers that they never had an opportunity to hear personally. Coupled with the regular teaching by pastors through books of the Bible, a store of knowledge gradually accumulated on many books of the Bible. This was, and remains, uneven in accuracy and usefulness, but it still has aided the church’s overall knowledge of God’s Word.
Another help has been the study of the three Biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) since the time of the Reformation, coupled with the discovery of many more ancient manuscripts than were available for about 1,400 years. This has enabled teachers to better understand what God the Spirit actually says in his word. Historical and archaeological research have also aided teachers in learning the Biblical message. In addition, the rise of Biblical theology (knowing the storyline of God’s revelation of his glory in Christ) has helped the overall interpretation of the Biblical text.
In this digital age of information, we have enormous and fast access to Biblical teaching from the early church to the present day. This is a great help, if we are wise and discerning. We must know the faith once delivered to the faith to be able to process this information accurately. The question is, “How is the typical Christian able to profit from all this information?” To provide a starting point, we will provide some suggestions in the next post.
Grace and peace, David