Monday, August 10, 2020

Anonymous Asks (105)

“What are the differences between a pastor, a priest and a preacher?”

If I were to discuss all the different ways some of these words have been used throughout history and all the ways they each are misused throughout Christendom, this might turn into a five-parter. So let’s keep it simple and just try to highlight what the Bible teaches about each as they exist in the church today.

The Biblical Pastor

The word “pastor” simply means a shepherd. In the Bible, “shepherd” or “pastor” is a job description, not a religious title. In Acts 20, Paul calls together the elders of the church at Ephesus. (You will note there was more than one of them. If they had been salaried, nobody in the first century could have afforded this crew unless Ephesus was a megachurch.) The apostle refers to these men as “overseers” and then uses an agrarian metaphor to encourage them to care for the church: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God.” The words “to care for” in this verse are literally “to feed” or “tend”. Jesus said something similar to Peter when he asked him three times whether Peter loved him. When Peter insisted he did, the Lord’s reply to him was, “Feed my sheep.” Peter would later address elders, telling them, “Feed the flock that is among you.”

How do you “feed” a church? Well, you give it the word of God. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The job of the pastor is to care for the spiritual welfare of God’s people through the word of God and prayer.

As noted, pastoring is not necessarily a paid gig, nor are all those who do it formally recognized by their churches. A man may be engaged for years in shepherding God’s people without being called an elder. Pastoring is something that a shepherd does from the bottom of his heart, because he simply cannot be any other way. When he sees a spiritual need, he feels compelled to try to address it. Jesus contrasted the true shepherd with the “hired hand”, who sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep to fend for themselves. The true pastor has a heart for the flock, while the hired hand “cares nothing for the sheep”. Peter says, “Shepherd the flock ... not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” With enthusiasm.

So then, “pastoring” is modeling the Christian life and teaching others how to live it from the word of God. A church can hire a man and give him a title; they cannot make him into a pastor. Only God can do that.

The Biblical Priest

In contrast to the way the word is used in some churches, the Bible teaches that every Christian is a member of the priesthood. Among other things, Peter calls Christians a “holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood”.

To find out what that means, we have to look back to the Old Testament, where the word “priest” occurs 750 times, and being a member of the priesthood was a full-time job. You could not simply choose to be a priest; you had to be born into the priestly line. In our case, it was the new birth that brought all believers into the priesthood. John says that in freeing us from our sins by his blood, Jesus has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father”.

The priesthood in Israel performed several functions, all of which have some application to the Christian life:
  1. The priesthood offered sacrifices. Through Jesus, Christians “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name”. Our testimony to the world is a priestly work.
  2. The priesthood taught the Law. Christians who let the word of Christ dwell in them richly are able to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. Not all of us teach publicly or from the pulpit, but all of us have something of Christ to share with others as part of our priestly function.
  3. The priesthood judged between clean and unclean. The Christian too must be able to distinguish clean from unclean in order to “touch no unclean thing”. In this case, it is part of our priestly role to steer clear of earthly ties and partnerships.
The book of Hebrews teaches that by his death, Christ opened up the way into the “holy places” for all believers, and encourages us to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance”. Because of this, we no longer need other men to act as mediators between man and God.

To put it more bluntly, a biblical view of priesthood demands we no longer acknowledge a “priest” as someone with special religious status and responsibilities. In Christ, all alike are members of the priesthood.

The Biblical Preacher

A preacher is a herald or messenger. He is vested with the authority to proclaim an official message. Noah and Jonah are both called preachers, though their messages were judgment rather than good news. Where a pastor is concerned with the sheep, the preacher is concerned that the world hears the truth. Both have messages, but they are to different crowds. Paul calls himself a “preacher” in his role of being the first to take the message of Christ to a Gentile world. Likewise, a study of the word kÄ“rygma (“preaching”) shows the modern preacher is mainly concerned with taking the gospel message to those who need it. That is not to say that one cannot preach in a church building, or even that only a declaration of the most simple gospel message constitutes “preaching”. That said, if the only preaching a preacher does is from the pulpit, he will not likely reach the audience God intended him to.

The Great Commission (“proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”) made the disciples, and by extension every new convert to Christ since, “preachers” of the gospel. Some of us do it formally, some do it less formally, but all Christians should have a testimony in the world, not just inside the safety of church buildings.

Differences and Similarities

When we compare pastors, priests and preachers, we find a few similarities beyond the letter ‘p’, except that all are: (a) religious terms; (b) frequently misunderstood; (c) potential sources of inappropriate pride; and (d) really functions or roles rather than titles.

Some thoughts about differences:
  • Pastoring is primarily a church function, though of course one need not be gathered in a church building to minister to a member of the flock. Sometimes you have to chase sheep all over the place to feed them. Priesthood functions in both the church and the world, while the place of preaching is primarily in the world rather than the church.
  • All Christians were made part of the priesthood by the death of Christ. This remains true regardless of whether we choose to behave like priests. However, one cannot be either a pastor or a preacher without actually pastoring or preaching. If you do not do the job, we cannot rightly use the word to describe you. A titled “pastor” who is paid to fill the pulpit but does not care for the people of God, pray for them or teach them his word properly is simply not pastoring, no matter what we may call him. A Christian with no testimony to the world is not a preacher.
  • Every Christian at every stage of maturity is already a priest and should be a preacher, though not necessarily from a lectern on a Sunday. A pastor is a mature Christian man engaged in caring for God’s people. A woman may certainly show shepherd care for the people of God, but I cannot find a New Testament precedent to justify referring to her as a pastor.

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