Appealing to the testimony of Scripture alone: to the doctrine of the gospel of Christ, we can say that as the church became established in the apostles’ doctrine, there was no place found in it for a one man ministry.
That this statement is plain contrary to what has arisen in the professing church should not surprise those who seek the mind of the Lord on these matters; because, as I have begun to show in some of my recorded messages (link below), today’s church no longer resembles the church which Christ said he would build, it having gone astray in so many aspects from the original doctrine of the apostles, not least in this question of the ministry.
Read the apostles’ doctrine for yourself: read the epistles, and see if you can find a one man ministry established or exhorted in the church: see if you can find one man ministering to a ‘church’ alone, from anything resembling a pulpit, separate and above a mute congregation on a regular ‘service by service’ basis. See if you can find a ‘sent ministry’, an ‘anointed preacher’ or, for that matter, the equivalent of a Bible College/Seminary trained preacher: a Reverend, a Doctor, an Evangelist, a Pastor – all as understood to the modern mind. You won’t find one.
Therefore what exists today in the church as ‘the ministry’ has no foundation in scripture, is a corruption of the true, and cannot sustain and feed the spiritual children – the sheep – of Christ: something which they come to realise over a long and painful period of awakening.
Now, of course, many arguments will already have arisen in the minds of the readers as they balk against this; which is understandable, as the validity of the whole of their church system is being brought into question. And up until a few years ago I would have been one of them: arguing against what has been written thus far. There are many people – most everyone, I suppose – who attend church or chapel regularly, and who have done so all their lives, who might stand up and say that, yes, there are things wrong in the church; but if we can weed out the errors and seek to return to the teaching of scripture, then everything will be much better. I’ve been there. And in some places and denominations the question of the ministry has been addressed, and they have readjusted their services accordingly to try and make things fit more with what they perceived it was like at the beginning. But ultimately it is no good, because seeking to prune or train the branches of what is a corrupt tree is useless: the tree itself must be uprooted. What’s wrong with the modern church – in all its various manifestations – is not just this or that doctrine or practise, but the whole of it is corrupt and cannot be ‘made better’. This is why the Spirit-taught children of God are eventually called out of it to seek the Lord for a true gathering of his body.
The Principle of Preaching in the New Testament
It is my purpose in this article to discover the principles which underpin this aspect of the manifestation of the true church and then leave it to the readers to apply any scriptures they use to justify their system to that principle to see if they hold up. If you are an exercised soul then it will be a profitable, if costly, exercise; but truth received by revelation of the Lord himself must be our only desire: we can be taught much truth by ‘flesh and blood’ alone, and so be wrong at last: at least that is the teaching of the Lord Jesus relating directly to his church in Matthew 16:15-18.
What is preaching? Preaching is simply a declaration of the truth of the gospel by those who have been taught the message by the Lord himself. This is the preaching which feeds the sheep of Christ; is spiritual food for their souls; is the message of Christ upon which they live. There is ‘word only’ gospel preaching, see 1 Thessalonians 1:5, but that is dry and dead to the Spirit-born, cannot feed nor sustain them, and indeed tends to starve them and therefore repulse them. They cannot away with this soul destroying fare, and they quickly flee it.
Such preaching is produced by those who have only learnt their gospel out of books – even by study of the Book – from commentaries, traditions, natural application to the text of scripture: in short ‘of men’. But the Lord never reveals his truth by utilising the revelation of flesh and blood. Look at the apostles. Who taught them the truth of the gospel in their experience? Their fathers? The scribes, Pharisees or doctors of the law at synagogue or temple? Did Jesus even send them to scripture to learn his gospel before they could teach it? No. They were taught of the Lord himself.
‘And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, Mark 3:13,14. This is the order by which the Lord works with all who are to declare the truth, whether they be apostles at the beginning or any of the Lord’s people to this day. He first separates them unto himself and teaches them, before they bare witness to his gospel.
But of all his people without exception it is said: ‘And they shall be all taught of God’, John 6:45. But those who preach the gospel in word only: who do not feed the sheep or lambs, cannot be said to have been taught anything by God; for if there is one thing the teaching of the Lord does, it feeds his people. Notice what Paul writes to Timothy: ‘But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them’, 2 Tim. 3:14. Who is the ‘whom’ in this verse? Paul? The scriptures? Hardly the scriptures: they are a book not a ‘whom’. No, Timothy learned of the Father, of Christ by revelation; of God himself. Paul goes on to say that the scriptures themselves, which from a child Timothy had known, were able to make him, an already child of God, ‘wise unto salvation’, in that they were the record of the work and doctrine of God which He uses to establish his children in the truth; but it was God himself who taught Timothy, and that by revelation.
Paul himself had just written that he knew ‘whom he had believed’, 1:12, not just ‘what he believed’, as the doctrine in the head only. In fact Paul’s desire – as is the desire of all taught of God – was to know Christ himself, and to preach HIM, not just to know about him and preach doctrines pertaining to him, as though the message was somehow detached from the Person. ‘Word only’ gospel preaching is only about Christ and his salvation, whereas true preaching is to preach Christ himself, the Person, by revelation of him.
Which brings us to Galatians Chapter One. This is Paul’s clearest testimony to the difference between learning the gospel of Christ from men only: ‘in word only’ – the Lord’s ‘flesh and blood’ of Matthew 16 – and by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Read what he said: ‘I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but [except] by the revelation of Jesus Christ’, verses 11,12.
Look at Paul as Saul of Tarsus. He was learned in the scriptures; was a Pharisee, and sat at the feet of Gamaliel, no less: ‘a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people’. Saul was ‘taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers… zealous toward God… more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of his fathers’, in that when ‘this way’ came along which seemed so contrary to the religion of his God – the Lord God of Israel – he ‘persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.’ So much for the revelation of flesh and blood. So it is not surprising that when Christ called him and was revealed in him, he came to count all his natural learning – even of Jehovah’s religion – as ‘dung’ in comparison to knowing Christ and preaching him, Philippians 3.
And when Christ was revealed in him, and the Lord started teaching him the gospel by revelation, what did he then do? Go to man again to learn the gospel in all its fulness, so he could be fully equipped to preach it? No. Paul didn’t even go to those who already had the revelation of the truth from the Lord himself: ‘neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me’. No, notice what he said when Christ was revealed in him: ‘immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood’, Gal 1:15-17. Not from or with flesh and blood EVER, in regard to learning the truth of God, of the gospel, to preach it. How could he have? Neither flesh and blood, nor anything which emanates from flesh and blood, can inherit the kingdom of God.
But go to the Bible Colleges today, and go listen to the men who have been taught their gospel by that ‘flesh and blood’ system, and if you are one of Christ’s sheep you will starve under their dry, dead, word only preaching. No, Paul, the apostles, and all of God’s people are ‘taught of God’: they learn the truth of the gospel by revelation of Jesus Christ. They don’t start with revelation and then go to man, they learn of him all the way through: the teaching of the Lord – the manna – is all their meat; they receive it of him, they feed their brethren with it as they declare – preach – it to one another: they ‘give me meat’, says Christ, Matt. 25:35. No other food will do; no other meat is palatable to the sheep, but God-revealed truth. And do you think you have to go to a stone building on a supposedly sanctified day, to receive that from the brethren? Away with all carnality.
Anointed to Preach
Another aspect of preaching which is misunderstood, and wrongly claimed, is this question of being ‘anointed to preach’. Many people believe that if you stand in the pulpit then you have not only been called but anointed to preach. In the last denomination of which I was a member this was the belief. It ran something like this: He’s been ‘called to the ministry’; he’s received the command to ‘go’; he’s been anointed by the Lord to preach the gospel: and because he is now one of ‘the Lord’s servants’ then ‘touch not the Lord’s anointed, and do his prophets no harm.’ Did you get that? Instantly you have a man in the pulpit, put there by God himself, he preaches the gospel – obviously – and we can never question it. Furthermore: as we believe men can only be saved – called – under the sound of ‘the gospel’, by those sent to preach it – enter a misuse of Romans 10 – then we must attend to this ‘means of grace’ if we would be saved.
Other denominations and traditions might use different phraseology but this is in effect what many believe. But where is that in the doctrine of Christ? What! these men anointed to preach? And your soul’s salvation bound to their ministry? I used to answer ‘yes’ to that proposition, until the Lord showed me otherwise.
There is actually only one Person described in the New Testament who is anointed to preach, and that is the Lord Jesus himself. ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon ME, because he hath anointed ME to preach the gospel…’, Luke 4:18. And no-one else is described as such. Jesus never taught the apostles that they were anointed to preach; they never thought it, nor declared it themselves. None claimed ‘a sacred anointing’ to preach the gospel; no-one else in the early church admitted the apostles’ anointing; this teaching is just plain absent from the testimony of scripture.
The fact that John writes that all of God’s people are ‘anointed/have an unction from the Holy One’, 1 John 2:20,27, is irrelevant to the subject at hand, for the apostle nowhere relates it to the ministry. Every member of the body, from the little children – newly regenerated – up, have been baptised into Christ, have this anointing: they could not be members of his body otherwise. These were those who were being taught of God: ‘But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you [recognise that?]: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.’
So the Lord Jesus is the only person described as anointed to preach the gospel, and he is still the only one. He said, ‘My sheep hear MY voice’. Never a man speaks like this man. Hear ye him. Today, if ye will hear his voice. Learn of me. They shall be all taught of God. And you don’t need a preacher in a pulpit to channel that voice. Which preacher was Saul listening to on the road to Damascus? To ‘anointed’ Peter, or John, or James? If you are a child of God and have heard the Lord’s voice calling you, convicting you, condemning you, revealing truth to you, pardoning you, comforting you, commanding you, revealing his will to you, promising you something, you will know that it has more often than not come directly from him, without the means of ‘sent ministers’, chapel attendance, or Bible reading.
This is not to say that the Lord does not speak or minister to his people when they are gathered, for there is something very special about the Lord being in the midst of his gathered saints. The Thessalonians heard ‘the word of God’ ‘of us’, said Paul, which effectively worked in them that believed, 1 Thes. 2:13. God ministered to their hearts, as Paul, Silvanus and Timotheus preached the truth. But that doesn’t mean that every time they heard these men declare the truth they heard the word of God. The Lord is not, and will not be bound to ‘means’ to communicate to his people.
Just read the Gospels for yourselves. Look to see if the Lord waited till the sabbath day, or until he and his disciples were in the formal gathering of synagogue, before he would teach his disciples the truth of his words. Rarely happened like that. Go through Acts the same. The Lord and his disciples preached and taught the people anywhere and everywhere. The New Testament is nothing but a great proof that ‘this mountain’ and ‘Jerusalem’ have become irrelevant to all those who would learn of God, John 4:21. Believe it and embrace it, and be liberated from the dead, stifling traditions of men.
‘When Ye Come Together…’
Having just mentioned the Lord being in the midst of his gathered saints let us turn to 1 Corinthians 14:26ff where this situation is described. Here is the church, the ecclesia: the body of out-called in one place. This has nothing to do with buildings, days, times, services, Sunday best. Neither is it a gathering of saved and unsaved: there are no unsaved here. These are the saints. Some may be yet carnal, some babes still – see the earlier chapters of Corinthians – nevertheless this is the body of Christ separated from the world, turning aside from the labours and cares of the day, gathered to worship God and be edified (a frequently used word in this passage) one of another, the Lord being in the midst. Wonderful! And how could it not be in his presence; he is the one who has called them, they make up his body, it is HIS church! ‘My church’.
There is nothing dry, staid, or formal in this gathering. It is orderly, yes, but not dead.
Now, keeping strictly to our subject, this passage reveals no one man ministry. First of all Paul says, ‘How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath…’ Every one of you has something to contribute to the gathering: unto edifying; amongst which is ‘a doctrine’ and ‘a revelation’. A little later Paul says: ‘Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If anything be revealed to another [prophet] that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye [prophets] may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted’, verses 29-31.
Here is the ministering of the gospel in the gathered assembly, and it is by ‘two or three’. These prophets ‘speak forth’, declare the doctrine of Christ before the people and the present Lord comforts and edifies the whole assembly in the truth. This is preaching! This is the ministry in the church. The Lord is there, anointed to preach the gospel to his people: and as he does, he heals the spiritually broken-hearted, delivers those held captive in unbelief, doubt, fear, temptation, oppression; he recovers the sight of them that are blind: that cannot see; and liberates them that are bruised, battered and world-weary. That’s the purpose of the preaching in the assembly. Look, here it is again in Ephesians 4: ‘And he gave some, apostles, and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ’, verses 11,12.
The gathering of the body is for the benefit of the body as a whole: not just for ME to get my own personal blessing. And look how it is wrought in the assembly by the Lord. There are two or three ‘prophets’, likely elders, mature brethren, perhaps fathers, whom the Lord has testified to the local body that these are those whom he has entrusted to teach the truth of the gospel among them; to preach the doctrine of Christ – which they’ve been taught themselves by him through long experience. This is that doctrine, ‘my doctrine’, which establishes the people in the truth, and which warms their hearts; causing them to glorify their Saviour; humbling them each before him who has been so gracious as to save and call such an unworthy body of people to show forth his praise. Truly they know and experience the fact that He preaches the gospel to the poor!
So as one prophet begins to speak and open the truth as led of the Lord – not ‘take a text’ and ‘preach a sermon’ from it with one eye on the clock till end of meeting – the others judge: they listen and feed; and then if another has something to add he will signal to the first who will hold his peace – perhaps he’s said all he has to say for now – and the second will speak. Then a third might say something or add a new element to what is being spoken: all ‘unto edification, exhortation and comfort.’ Yes, this is the ministry, and this is preaching in the church. The Lord is doing it: he is ministering to his people in their hearts. Some perhaps are being rebuked, others comforted, others are receiving new and further revelation of the truth; some a promise, others an answer to their cries; some are being stirred up to cry, others are being chastised for their unbelief and cold-heartedness; some are having their feet washed, others melted in the love of God. You see, the Lord is ministering to his people in the assembly in a way which is unique to that gathering. Yes he communicates these things to his people sometimes when they’re on their own, but there is a particular ministry which the Lord administers when his people are gathered together.
Can you see it? Have you ever experienced it? You won’t in the corruption of the ‘man-in-the-pulpit’ system. I can honestly say that since the Lord has called me out of that wretched system he has caused me to experience this ministry of the Lord when gathered with my brother, and I couldn’t have written the above paragraphs before I left it all, because I hadn’t experienced it then.
Two and Two
But let us just consolidate our fundamental point regarding the absence of the one man ministry from the New Testament. Right from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he called and ordained disciples, apostles. Never was there one man with his own ministry. In fact even the Lord Jesus himself did not constitute a one man ministry. When he was speaking with Nicodemus in John 3, he said, ‘We speak that we do know…’ – and Jesus wasn’t just employing ‘the royal we’ here. So who was the ‘we’? In the context of the opening chapters of this Gospel the ‘we’ was John the Baptist and Jesus. John came preaching in the wilderness, gained some disciples, but pointed them straight to the Lord Jesus when he appeared: ‘And the two disciples [of John] heard him speak, and they followed Jesus’, John 1:29-37.
The truth is that you cannot attend unto the ministry of the Lord Jesus – ‘My sheep hear my voice’ – until you have heard the voice of the one that crieth in the wilderness. Jesus’ ministry always comes in the context of John’s preparation ministry: always. You have to be taught what your life is in this world, as grass, vanity; being brought into that spiritual wilderness in your soul – which could take years to experience – before you hear this voice which points you to the Lamb of God. As that is the gospel order of the experience of every child of God who is brought to Christ, then what is this modern gospel, sounded out by these modern salvation salesmen, which tells you that, God loves you, Jesus died for you, if you want to go to heaven when you die then just accept him. The Bible tells you you’re a sinner, and if you will trust in him he will save you…, etc. Yes, the Bible might say that ‘all have sinned’ – whoever the ‘all’ are in that verse – but until you are taught in your own hard experience what a sinner is: involving coming to realise your inability to believe yourself, pray yourself, cry yourself into salvation has been fully proved and you find yourself in a barren spiritual wilderness; then the Lord Jesus will remain out of reach, out of sight, unknown, unheard. You can’t ‘just’ come to him. There are many things that you must experience before ‘the coming of the Lord’.
And again. Mental assent to the doctrine of the gospel and a deliberate determination to believe it and ‘embrace Christianity’ is no more saving than the previous deception. The wilderness must be entered. The voice that cries in the wilderness must be heard; and eventually the Saviour must be revealed; the SAVIOUR must be revealed! What do you think salvation is? Something you partake in, as though you are called upon to do something? No. It is the RESCUE of a lost, barren, desperate soul, who cannot save himself. People talk so loosely about ‘salvation’ – ‘Oh, the Lord saved me when I…’ – when they have never experienced an actual rescue out of a wilderness.
Well, you need to have been under John’s ministry before you will come to hear the Lord’s ministry: ‘We speak.’ So no, even John the Baptist, even the Lord Jesus, didn’t exercise a one man ministry.
So Jesus sent disciples: two and two, Mark 6:7, Luke 10:1. On Pentecost it wasn’t just Peter who spoke ‘the wonderful works of God’, Acts 2. Paul was never sent out alone: ‘Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them’, Acts 13:2. And when Barnabas left, Silas went with Paul, Acts 15:36-41. Nearly all his epistles are addressed from himself and at least one other – see the salutations of each. As the church was established it was, ‘Ordain elders in every city’, Titus 1:5, or ‘in every church’, Acts 14:23. The verses in Ephesians 4 already quoted pertaining to the gifts of the ascended Lord to the church, are all in the plural: ‘Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers’, verse 11, never ‘a pastor’, or anything like it: not in the settled life of the local assemblies.
Of course from time to time we do read of individuals being sent at specific times and for certain purposes to ‘preach’, like Philip in Acts 8; or others being called to testify of their faith, as Stephen in the previous chapter, but these are exceptions to the rule, and cannot be used to dismiss the whole argument here, so that people can sustain their own long-held tradition.
Well, there is more which could be said relating to this subject; but my hope is that what has been written will encourage the reader to look further into these things; that the Lord will set his people free from the religion of men, and gather his own out-called together so that they might be enabled to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.
(Preaching messages mentioned can be found linked from the Home Page of www.separating-gospel-truths.co.uk. Search for Audio or Video Messages.)