The End (Revelation)

Here we are at the end of the Bible – the Book of Revelation.  Probably (at least I think so!) the most confusing piece of scripture there is; with the possible exception of Ecclesiastes.  (Again, my opinion, anyway…)

Revelation was written by John – possibly the same John who was an apostle of Jesus who was with Him at the Transfiguration and the Cross.  Possibly it’s another John – but quite likely him.  He’s the same person who wrote the three letters attributed to John the Elder – or at least closely associated with him.  Tradition tells us that John lived to be very old and died on Patmos, and we know that persecution in the Roman Empire didn’t heat up until towards the end of Nero’s reign in the mid-60s and then again in the 90s.  If John had lived to the 90s he would have been very old; certainly possible especially since we think that John was a very young disciple with Jesus.  And of course, anything is possible with God.

So I think it was John the Apostle who wrote Revelation.  I also think that it was written with an amanuensis just like Paul does – and I don’t think this particular amanuensis was terribly well educated.  The Greek of Revelation is difficult not because it is complicated or highly literary (like Luke or Paul or Hebrews) but rather because its not very good.  The grammar is bad – and therefore it’s difficult to translate into another language.

Also, it’s difficult to translate because it is just so confusing.  So many random numbers that aren’t random and so many repeats…so many of the 7 this and the 7 that and the first trumpet and the 6th bowl…and one third of the people dying, but then another third, and how many was that again?  The imagery is difficult to wrap our heads around too – dragons and beasts and “living creatures” and elders and thrones and seas of crystal…

The Greek word we translate “revelation” means something like “unveiling a mystery.”  It doesn’t mean the End Times or anything like it.  It is just a long letter to the Christian people during a difficult time when they were scared and wanting to know what was happening.  Several people have commented on the pastoral nature of Revelation, and I agree – it is a book that says ultimately “Everything seems horrible now, I know – and it’s probably going to get worse.  But then it’s going to get better – wonderful, in fact!”

I think that’s the best way to read the Book of Revelation.  I do think that there are codes encased within it; I do think that there is a great deal of symbolism that might have been of great meaning to the audience that it was written to.  I think that when it was first written it was circulated secretly and John purposefully wrote what he had seen in terms that the Christian audience would understand and that the Roman authorities probably wouldn’t.

I don’t think that Revelation is the key to prophesying the End Times and if we could just figure out exactly what John meant we would know when Jesus is coming back.  I’m less than sure (although, again, I could be wrong!) that it is a road map for the what is going to happen in the years before Christ’s return in any specific way that we could possibly understand and really interpret.  When God says through John that the Adversary is going to be locked up for a thousand years and then be released for a time….well, I’m not so sure what that means to us.  Does it mean that Satan is locked up now?  Does it mean that he’s not?  I’m not sure.

Honestly, I’m a bit hesitant about writing about Revelation at all; it’s so hard to interpret.  I do think that John wrote to a wide and scattered community of Christians who thought that they were going to die at the hands of a Roman Government and the Jewish synagogues who were angry at them and called them atheists and blamed all sorts of things on them.  I do think that the codes and secret messages were to those people – as always, the words are for all of us throughout time, but they were TO them and that’s how we need to try to interpret them.  I do think that John is writing about the Day of the Lord, but I think it is entirely possible that he wasn’t talking all the time about the End Times Day of the Lord, if that makes sense.  If we look to the Old Testament, many of the prophets seem to be talking about the Day of the Lord and be referring (even within the space of a couple of verses) to different times and epochs – like Joel appears to be referring to a specific invasion by the Assyrians or the Babylonians and then a couple of verses later seems to be referring to something entirely different.  I think that in all probability John does the same thing, where he refers to the destruction of Rome (which happened in 410AD) and possibly the Dark Ages in Europe (?) or some other disasters that have already happened to the east (remember, he’s in Patmos, an island in the Med and speaking to the eastern churches) but also refers to other End Times things in other verses.  So I think it’s VERY hard to figure out historically what he might be referring to – especially since he’s writing in a sort of code so the authorities won’t figure it out – for example when he refers to Babylon he almost certainly is really talking about Rome.  There is some agreement amongst scholars that the “number of the beast” refers to Nero the Roman Emperor.

The long and short of it is that I don’t think that I understand Revelation.  At least not the way I understand a great deal of the rest of the Bible – and maybe that’s as it should be.  The book is to all people – and the end of all things is coming and we certainly will never completely comprehend how that is really going to work.  Maybe the mystery of the Plan of God is meant to be confusing.  At the same time I think that main pastoral message of Revelation is exactly spot 0n – especially considering the times we live in, when Ebola is killing people, and ISIS is killing more, and the Western Church is paralyzed by our own disagreements with each other…the message of John needs to be proclaimed again.  “I know that everything seems horrible.  And it’s probably going to get worse.  But after that – someday – God is going to make it right.  Not just right – wonderful!”  Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Following His Commands (1, 2, and 3 John)

John the Elder to various and sundry people; his letter ooze with one word over and over:  love.  I remember in my first year Greek final we had to translate a passage from (I think) 1 John – and it must have used a form of the word “love” (agape) five or six times in one verse.  It was amazing.  To paraphrase one of my friends; “Did you get ‘loving loved love love to love?'”

But I’m struck, for all that John the Elder continues to talk about love, he says things like this: “We love because Christ first love us” and “what is love but doing His commands?”  Love is following Christ.  Following Christ is love.  That’s the way it is.  His commands – to love one another as He first loved us is paramount in the Christian life.

And so as we read John’s letter, we read of love all the time.  But he also continues, as his brothers have before, to urge Christians to obey and follow God’s calling and instructions.  One of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture (I think) is from 1 John 3:9-10  “No one who had God as his Father sins, because the seed planted by God remains in him.  That is, he cannot sin because he has God as his Father.  Here is how one can distinguish clearly between God’s children and those of the Adversary: everyone who does not do what is right is not from God.”

Wow.  Just…wow.  Some people avoid the power of this verse by translating “sin” as “continuing to sin” or “sinning constantly”…but I think that does violence to the idea.  John intends – because God is speaking through him – to say that if we belong to Christ and have God as our Father, we should be able to not sin.  In fact, very literally in verse 9b it reads “because he has God as his Father he is unable to sin.”  That is, if we are truly a new creation – then we won’t sin.  Of course, I believe that other places in the Bible suggest that we will not reach maturity or perfection in this idea until the End, but the strength of this passage really does suggest that there is something different about Christians that enables us to resist sin and temptation to sin.  That we are really able to follow His commands.

Of course, to most theologians this sounds a great deal like what is called Pelagianism, or maybe semi-Pelagianism – the idea that if God commanded us to do something we ought to be able to do it of our own accord under our own willpower.  However, that’s not my aim here.  There’s a bumper sticker idea out in the world that says something like “God never gives us anything that we can’t handle.”  I disagree with all of my heart.  God gives us things we can’t handle all the time – that’s the point!  He desires to come into our lives and turn things upside down and change us into what we were originally meant to be.  We can’t do it.  We can’t follow Him on our own.  We can’t stop sinning on our own.

But with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – we can.  Literally, when we truly belong to the Triune Lord, we will not be able to sin.  Of course, I say again that this is an aim that will certainly not be realized until the End of all things.  But it’s still something that has the glimmering of possibility here and now – that we really CAN grow in faith and love so that we can obey Him.  Really obey Him!

And that’s love.

Watch out! (2 Timothy, 2 Peter, Jude)

While these three letters seem to have little to do with one another – a letter from Paul to his son in the faith Timothy, Peter to the Christian Diaspora, and Jude (one of Jesus’ brothers) to Christians – they actually all have a similar theme.  Watch out because there are people who are going to – and, indeed, already are in the 1st century! – pervert the faith and ignore the meaning of Scripture.

Even before the first generation of followers of Christ died, there were already people who were using this new belief and new culture to gain fame and fortune.  There are greedy people who would use anything to make a buck.  Others don’t lust after money but other things and used the teaching of the apostles to justify their actions (most often sex or other illicit things like drugs…).  All three authors say the same thing!  Watch out for these people! While we’re waiting for the End Times (whenever that may be!), true Christians need to be watchful for perversions of the Good News.  Things that tell us that it doesn’t matter how we live, as long as we’re “tolerant” of each other.  People that preach that the Law (I prefer the translation Teaching) doesn’t matter at all – we can do whatever we want.  People that teach us that we need to pay money in order to be saved, or that we are saved by our good intentions, or even that Christ didn’t really rise from the dead; He was just fondly remembered by His followers and that’s why they went to be martyred with  hymns on their tongues rather than recant their faith.

While not all of these ideas are in the three letters, the basic idea is there: that false teachers and prophets were already coming in the first century.  What makes us think that we in the 21st are any different?  If Peter himself is telling people to watch out for the people that ignore the Scripture, if Paul tells us that all of Scripture (and he meant the Old Testament mostly as we know it – the New Testament hadn’t been “canonized” yet) is inspired by God and is useful and that we shouldn’t just turn away from it, if Jude tells us that there are people who learned the Truth and then turned away from it and are enticing others to join them, shouldn’t we prepare ourselves for the fact?

So much of a wide swath of Christianity these days is convinced that there is some march to progressive understanding of the faith and of God – that all of our science and our tolerance and our high-mindedness is somehow more important that what God says…I have heard people say that the miracles in the Bible weren’t really miracles, but that they were illusions or day-dreams or visions held by people who desperately WANTED to believe something amazing happened.  That when Paul gives a series of things that separate us from God he didn’t really mean it.  Or when Jesus Himself says (in Mark, for example) that forbidden sexual practices are still forbidden that He didn’t actually say anything of the kind.  [a la the Jesus Seminar etc]

On the other hand, we do need to examine the texts that we have carefully and with historic sensitivity.  For example – there’s a place in Luke where Jesus says that we as His followers need to have a “bright eye.”  If we looked at that literally, we may be very confused – but in fact it is a Hebrew idiom translated into Greek which means roughly to be generous.  We need to look at the context of the Scripture and figure out what the authors intended as well as we can from what we know about the language and the culture of the day in order to figure out what they said and what they meant.  Then we can interpret what it means for us today.  As a scholar I respect said (and I’m paraphrasing) “the Bible may be written for all of us throughout time, but it was written TO a particular culture and people.”  The context, for example, of the situation in Corinth matters to the interpretation of what Paul says to the Corinthians in his letters.  They are God-breathed to those people at that time and place and in that language and in that culture…but they are also are for us.

With all of that said, interpreting the Bible is hard work.  It is complicated, and difficult – and perhaps even more difficult to take that interpretation and make it make sense to everyone.  But the warning of Jude and Peter and Paul rings very true today – we need to watch out for people who take the Bible and God’s Word and make it spin and say something that it really doesn’t.  And to do that we need to pay attention.  We need to study ourselves and test the sayings, to paraphrase Paul – we need to figure out, with help, what to believe and what not to believe.  Any time we are met with someone who says “God didn’t really mean that…” we need to be careful.  Any time we are met with someone who says “Clearly, the Bible says *this* and everyone else is obviously wrong!” we need to be careful, because very little about a letter written almost 2000 years ago in a dead language is clear all the time.  If we are met with someone who says “The God I believe in would never….” we need to be careful – there are lot of things in the Bible that we might be offended by and disturbed by (read Judges!) but that is not to say the Lord didn’t do them!

Followers of the Way – Christians – need to be on guard and to find people they can trust to speak truth as well as they can.  Not for their own selfish gain, but for the Truth.  If Christ really is the Way and the Truth and the Life – that’s what we need to be seeking.  Not what we – or someone else – might THINK is the way or the truth for them…but the Truth.  And that takes care and it takes persistence, and it takes some knowledge (especially now that we’re so far removed from the ancient world culture!).  But it is possible to follow Him.

And I honestly believe that if we seek Him, because we are already given His Grace, even if we’re wrong about a few things we will still be found true.  As I am fond of saying, when I get “up” there one of the first questions I’m going to ask Him is this:  “How did the Lord’s Supper work?  Is it transubstantiation, consubstantiation, real presence, memorialism, what?”  And I have no doubt the Lord Jesus is going to put His arm around my shoulders, chuckle and say something like “Nope.  You were all wrong.  But you’re here with me now.  Don’t worry about it.”  \

We must seek the Truth and be on guard against false teaching and false prophets – but that doesn’t mean we always get it right either.  But seek His Truth.  Always.

Discipline (Hebrews 8-13)

So, not only is Jesus our Great High Priest, but He is also the One who entered into the Holy of Holies of Heaven – the one that was not made by human hands – and made a sacrifice that created and inaugurated the new covenant that is better than the old.  The author of Hebrews continues his thought about Jesus being the High Priest and talks about how He entered into the heavenly temple, which is very standard Hebrew thought:  Heaven is a temple, and all of creation is a temple that reflects this heavenly temple, and moreover, the temple in Jerusalem is a reflection as well.  So when Jesus provided the sacrifice, He entered into the Holy of Holies of heaven.

He also, by His own sacrifice on the cross, provided for the new covenant.  The author uses the word “covenant” in at least two ways in quick succession – the idea of an adoption into a family (which is the basic idea of covenant in Hebraic thought) and also as a “will” like a last will and testament.  Jesus, by His sacrifice, paved the way for us to come back to God, and adopted us into His family, and also gave us the foretaste of the inheritance that is due to us.  Through Christ’s death, we are now children of God, whether or not we are of Judaic descent.  And the way to show this is to have faith.

The author talks about how we all need to have faith – because some of the hearers of the Letter were drifting away and not coming into communion with the other believers.  He talks about encouragement (which in Greek can also be translated as “sermon” interestingly enough) and gathering together; which some weren’t.  He reminds them that when they first believed they were persecuted; some in jail and some lost money and land.  And in order to continue on after that, they need faith to not give up.

In chapter 11, the author goes through a great list of “witnesses” that had faith; who trusted God even in the face of difficult times or unbelievable circumstances.  Then he goes on into chapter 12 – and tells us that we need to have this same faith even though things might be hard now.  We can’t give up, because we are running a race and all these people and many more besides are witnesses cheering us on.  We are to follow the “author and perfector of our faith”  Jesus and put aside our sin and our doubts and just keep running.  Somehow, the people that have gone before us won’t enter into their rest until we, too, have finished the race.

And that takes discipline – the difficult nature of living in a world that makes fun of Christianity needs us to look on all this things as discipline.  And that God is sending His discipline upon us so that we can learn and grow and keep running.  The author compares God’s discipline to a father’s discipline in the Greek gymnasium where children were taught and educated on how to be Greek.  Kids don’t like that – even back then! – but afterwards they thanked their parents.  How much more so should we thank our God by teaching what it means to be Christian – in the discipline of faith?  We need to keep going!  Because we haven’t approached the darkness and thunder of Mt Sinai, but rather the love and hope of Mt Zion!  We are entering into God’s heavenly Temple, not one made of human hands or legalistic like the old covenant.

On the contrary – we are entering into the rest that Jesus as High Priest has provided.  And that takes discipline, because God’s way – while light, is not always easy.

A Great High Priest (Hebrews 1-7 – or so)

I think I’m going to have a difficult time writing a blog post or two on Hebrews.  Partly because I’ve been reading and working in Hebrews for almost two years now, reading and re-reading and translating and reading commentaries and books about it, and then doing more of that.  And partly because, as has often been said, Hebrews is the longest continuous argument in the Bible – and it’s complicated.

However, in the spirit of hope and the way we’ve been doing things here on this blog as we read through the Bible, I’m going to give it a shot.  First, an intro:  Hebrews is at the same time one of the most complicated books in the New Testament, by far the hardest Greek in the New Testament, and a letter (or sermon) that is the most “alien” on the New Testament – only Revelation could be more difficult and that’s because it’s in a genre that we’re just not used to.  No one knows who wrote Hebrews, or to whom it was written.  At least, no one alive – they didn’t know who wrote it in 200AD, either.  However, it was quoted verbatim by Clement I, in about 100AD, so we know it was written before then.  Unfortunately, Clement didn’t say who wrote it, either.

Guesses have been made for the author ranging from a woman (which is highly unlikely but possible), to Paul, to Apollos, to Luke, to all sorts of other people.  “Tradition” says it was written by Paul, although even tradition has a hard time actually saying this.  Some of the earliest comments on Hebrews are questions as to its author – Tertullian says that most people think it was written by Paul and translated from Hebrew into Greek by Luke, but he’s not so sure.  Recent scholarship doesn’t help much either, although after reading a couple of books by David L. Allen, I’m close to being convinced it was written by Luke.

In the same way, we don’t know who it was written to.  The language and many of the references in the Letter suggest that it was written to a group of people who were very familiar with the Old Testament, the Temple worship services, and also Hellenistic culture.   Allen thinks that Luke wrote to a group of former Jewish priests in or around Jerusalem.  That is certainly possible – but just like we don’t REALLY know who wrote it we don’t know to whom it was written or when.

However, we can be relatively certain of why.  It appears that, whoever these people were, they were seriously considering returning to the faith they had left when they came to believe in Christ as the Messiah and Son of God.  They had been instructed and should have been able to teach the doctrines of the faith, but were turning aside.  In at least some way, they were confused about the Truth of Christ – some were thinking that Jesus had been an angel of some sort (or perhaps that angel worship was suggested by something Jesus had said or done).

So the author begins to argue rhetorically (and by that I mean according to the rules of rhetoric in the first century) for the supremacy of Jesus the Christ.  First he talks about how Jesus was and is greater than any angel – that He was the Son of God and at the same time human (for a short time He was lower than the angels, but not now!).  The angels follow Him and through Him all things were created.  Then the author begins to talk about Jesus as the great high priest, which takes some time.

He uses strings of Old Testament references to prove his point, and says that human high priests need to continue to give the sacrifice in the Temple every year, but Jesus didn’t.  That a normal high priest has to give atonement not only for the sins of the people but also for his own – whereas our High Priest did not because even though He was like us in all things – human completely – He did not sin even though He was tempted.  So His sacrifice in His own body and blood did what the Old Testament sacrificial system could never do – provide complete atonement for all sin.  Jesus paid the debt that was held for us.

Moreover, because He is eternal, there never will be a need for another human high priest.  Jesus has done that function and it never needs to be done again – He is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, the “king of righteousness” without “pedigree or descendants with no record of birth or death.”  (Melchizedek was a king and a priest of the Most High God that Abraham tithed to in Genesis 14.  He appears with no warning and disappears just as quickly – and was a priest before there was a priesthood.  He is referenced in the Psalms and the author sees that as a reference to Christ as well (Psalm 110).

But all of this is not what the author is really aimed at, because he spends some time discussing the readers’ lack of Christian maturity.  They should be teachers, but they seem to have forgotten the basic doctrines of the faith.  The author will not be reminding them about these basics, which he terms these: “repenting from works that lead to death, faith in God, instructions about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.”  He tells them that if God allows it, some day he will re-instruct them about this, but for now lets get on with the high priesthood.  He says that God isn’t going to abandon them and that they need to return to Him.  There is a couple of verses in chapter 6 that are difficult to hear – they suggest that if we turn away from God in too strong a manner we may lose our salvation (Reformed theology does not like this idea…but it’s there).  Like I said above, Hebrews is difficult Greek and is a window into an incredibly intelligent learned mind of the 1st century AD.  It is inspired – it’s Scripture!  – but it’s hard.  The s0-called “simple” reading of it suggests that if someone purposefully falls away after tasting of the “good word of God and the powers of the life to come” it is not possible to come back to God again after leaving Him.  But the author goes on to say that he doesn’t believe this is the case with the readers/hearers of the Letter.  The author thinks that they are still believers and can “show the same diligence right up to the end” that they had shown early on their faith.

And it is because of this faith he has in their trust that he writes – because he thinks they’re wrong and dangerously so – he wants to call them back from the edge of eternal destruction.  So he continues their instruction about Jesus as high priest.  [This, by the way, is why several scholars think that the original audience of the Letter were priests themselves.]  The author continues speaking about Jesus the High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek.  Just at the beginning of chapter 8 he sort of wraps it us, saying ” here is the point of what we have been saying:  we do have JUST such a high priest….and he really does sit at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in the heavens.”  And there He serves as High Priest forever in the True Temple made not with human hands.

More on that next post.  The point of all of this is that the author is trying to rationally argue the audience into a new understanding of Christ – because they ARE in danger of falling away.  They ARE in trouble – they’re (we find out more later) not attending “church” and they’re not paying attention to what they learned; they are returning to the faith that is around them.  And that is exactly why I love this book so much and I have worked on reading and understanding it so hard!  Because they are in the same place as so many churches in America are!  The people of God – in the church – are not attending services and don’t care about Truth; rather we American Christians are more like the secular people around us than we are like the Church around the world.  We have, as a body, turned away from the basic doctrines of the faith that we have been taught, and are in danger of really falling away.  I have met far too many people in the Body of Christ – including ministers – who think (or act!) that the Resurrection was some sort of spiritual trick and Jesus really didn’t rise from the dead.  Or that the miracles of God in and through Christ were just tricks that people played on themselves.  [Like the Feeding of the 5,000 was really just people pulling out food they had hidden away in response to being made to feel guilty for not sharing...]

Hebrews, for all that it is difficult and hard to read and understand, for all that it has things that are difficult to hear – like “it is impossible for someone to come back after falling away” – I honestly believe that the Letter to the Hebrews has a great deal to say to the modern American church if only we would listen.

Don’t fear what they fear… (1 Peter)

At some point in the 50s (probably), Peter moved from Antioch to Rome.  We’re not sure when, but we are pretty sure that it happened.  After he was acting as the Bishop of Rome (whatever exactly that meant in the mid-1st century), he wrote a pair of letters using what was called an anamanuensis – a scribe.  Peter said what he wanted to say, and the amanuensis wrote it in much better Greek than Peter probably could have mustered.

Whatever else was happening in the Empire in the mid 50s, Christians were as a rule not accepted.  There was no widespread organized state sponsored persecution, but it was not uncommon for Christians to be made fun of for their beliefs, to lose business or finances and jobs, or sometimes to be robbed and beaten.  Sometimes they would be killed – but not as often as later during the state persecutions in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  However, when Peter wrote his first letter, he was answering a common problem throughout the Empire (he calls it the Diaspora).

And his answer is, in a nutshell, to rejoice and accept suffering.  He suggests in chapter 3 and 4 that inasmuch as we Christians suffer for our beliefs then we suffer “with Christ” and are heirs and a part of His people.  He doesn’t tell us to go out and seek it, but if it happens then we need to accept it and move on.  When he talks about wives with unbelieving husbands the idea is that the wife might bring the husband to Christ through her gentle nature – and I think that the implication throughout is that it might happen between friends and acquaintances as well.  Not in the same way, obviously, but that people will come to see what Christians have and want it.

And this is where the post’s title comes from – at one point in chapter 3, Peter says literally “do not fear what they fear.”  You see, we have no need to be afraid of physical or financial pain.  God will take care of us, and at the end of all things we will still be with Him; even if our lives here are not the most enjoyable physically.  We aren’t afraid of omens and demons and terrible things that go bump in the night – we can walk on with courage, knowing that Christ is walking with us.  Even if someone were to beat us, we should not be afraid of being hurt because Christ is with us.  Suffering, especially for our faith, should be something that we are proud of, not something we shirk from.

I agree with Peter – we shouldn’t go seek it (the 2nd and 3rd century leaders say the same thing), but if it is to happen, welcome it.  Pain can not do anything that God can’t control.  Even if it’s the pain of being made fun of- which seems to be what most modern American Christians are afraid of more than anything else.  It’s also what Peter is mainly talking about (4:4).  But it is by our witness of joy and righteousness that we are called to change the world.

So don’t be afraid of what everyone else is afraid of – be strong and courageous in whatever suffering you have.  He is with you.

Being a Pastor (1 Timothy, Titus)

Mostly, when I talk to people about being a pastor – that is, when I ask people what they expect from their pastors, I get a long (sometimes VERY long) list of duties.  Preaching, visiting, being nice, talking with visitors, going out into the community and finding new people to come to the church, giving interviews to the local paper, praying at every potluck a church has, going to the hospital, calling on people who can’t come to church, marrying, burying, singing, playing guitar and/or piano, leading the committees of the church, going to larger denominational things, reading the Bible  and LOTS of other books, keeping up with what’s on TV and movies, etc.

Interestingly, very little of that seems to be what was on Paul’s mind when he wrote to Timothy and Titus his letters of encouragement and instruction.  Mostly what Paul talks about in these two letters is leading the local church and making sure that the doctrine is Biblical.  Now, maybe that’s something that people think about, but when I ask them what does a pastor DO, it’s almost never been on the list.  Maybe that’s because it’s so obvious that nobody thinks about it, but I don’t think so.  I think that the modern idea of “personal religion” has so infected the church that there is very little idea that the local pastor is supposed to preach Biblically based and theologically accurate sermons as well as teaching and leading in the same way.  [Side note -not once does the word "relevant" EVER show up in the Bible.]

Timothy and Titus were young associates of Paul – who by the time he wrote these was probably in his 50s.  Paul had taught them the Faith.  And there was only one.  He talks in other letters about unity (Philippians, for example!), but here in these two letters he appears to be concerned with people deciding that they knew more about the faith than the pastor.

In an attempt to sound…not bitter or defensive about my own pastoral experience, I get that a lot.  It’s not really worth it to go through my schooling and skills at the job, but I will say that I read Greek and Hebrew, the original languages of the Bible.  I find it almost offensive when people seem to think that they know more about theology and what the Bible means than I do.  Now – I am far from the world’s foremost expert on Biblical theology or New Testamental history or even Old Testament uses of the idea of atonement and sin.  BUT.  Pastors are taught and trained – we go to school.  In my denomination they are required to pass tests that show their theological accuracy and ability to exegete a passage. [I'll also say that as I have studied more and read more and prayed more, I find myself in disagreement with my very liberal denomination; so take that for what it's worth...]  But most of us know what we’re talking about.

And more importantly, this is our job.  This is what we’re supposed to do!  If Paul is to be believed, visitation, while nice, is not the primary purpose of pastors.  Our primary purpose is to teach our people what God is saying – both in the Bible and what is happening now.  God has not stopped talking to us!  Eugene Peterson, in his book “the Pastor” suggests that this is our primary purpose – to point to what God is doing, in history and now.  I find a lot of truth in that.  Not all of us are gifted preachers, and I really think that a great deal of modern theologians are far too quick to follow society rather than what God actually says in the Bible in context.  But that’s what pastors are supposed to be doing.  Learning and teaching and continuing the doctrine of faith that has been  handed down to us – in Scripture.

Praying at a potluck is great – but doctrine is more important.