Only a wicked doctor would set out to kill his patient. Only a wicked pastor would preach his members to hell. No man would want to kill deliberately. But while the doctors can unwittingly kill the body, the pastors can unwittingly kill the spirit.
In many instances, pastors don’t set out to dish out wrong doctrines. They don’t set out to destroy the eternal destiny of people. But they could sincerely preach preach people to hell. Their liturgy could be wrong, and their understanding of the church could be faulty. Yet, they carry on as if nothing is lost.
The sad truth is that there is always a dilemma about what is good and what is bad, what is to be taught and what is not to be taught. The pastor of the church is buried between his personal experience and the doctrine of the Bible. Sometimes he is intertwined between what works and what is proper.
Pastors love the sheep in their care but at the same time, they are faced with societal pressure and the need to meet expectations from fathers of faith who oversee their work. It is even more worrisome that some people place an undue burden on themselves and assume the role of the savior rather than just an instrument through which God reaches out to the people.
This has been the reason why some preachers of the Word have had to change their messages again and again. Ordinarily, a pastor who is humble enough to accept that he had erred in his doctrine and now decides to preach what he perceives as the right doctrine should be applauded and encouraged.
But the question is: What happens to the flock that has been misled? While we ponder on this, what is important for us as preachers of the word of God is to study to show ourselves approved, a workman who need not be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth.
The Apollos example
There is a clear example in the Bible. Apollos was an eloquent preacher. But he was preaching the gospel of John. And he was doing it with great zeal and enthusiasm. He had a great following. To show that Apollos was a well-respected disciple. Paul in 1 Cor 3v5-8 says, “After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News.
“Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.”
But in Chapter 18 of Acts, we have a different view of Apollos. The Bible says he was preaching the gospel of John. That was the pre-resurrection gospel. That was the gospel that had no light so to say because it did not emphasize the magnitude of the sacrifice of Jesus. But Apollos preached the gospel with great enthusiasm until Priscilla and Aquila came to the scene.
Acts 18:24-28 New International Version (NIV)
The scriptures read “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor[a] and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.
“He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.”
Apollos was an evangelist, apologist, church leader, and friend of the apostle Paul. Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, described as “eloquent,” “mighty in the Scriptures,” “fervent in the spirit” and “instructed in the way of the Lord” (Acts 18:24).
Historical records had it that “In A.D. 54, Apollos traveled to Ephesus, where he taught boldly in the synagogue. However, at that time, Apollos’ understanding of the gospel was incomplete since he was “acquainted only with the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). This probably means that Apollos preached repentance and faith in the Messiah—he maybe even believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah—but he did not know the full magnitude of Jesus’ death and resurrection.”
But Aquila and Priscilla, friends of Paul, took time to take him through the gospel of Jesus (Acts 18:26). It is instructive to note that by the time Apollos had been fully taught, he became more effective in the preaching of the gospel, now with a better understanding.
Apollos: He was a sincere preacher
Looking at the case of Apollos, we see that he was sincere. He was committed. He was eloquent and he preached with conviction though with limited understanding. What that tells us is that as preachers of the gospel, we will always learn and unlearn. And we must be humble enough to discard our old values and convictions when a greater light comes. There is no shame in repentance. And repentance or change, to put it mildly, may come anytime.
The challenge however is the ability to situate our convictions properly. When a pastor jumps at every wind of doctrine, he puts himself up for possible future ridicule. There are certainly strange doctrines flying around. There is the doctrine of extreme grace message while there are many preachers who have not been able to situate a proper balance between the Old and the New Testament.
The point must be made that the Bible is one. The Old Testament is in the New Testament and the new in the old. There is law in both the old and the new testament. There is grace in both testaments. Amid the law, the Bible records that some people found grace before God. So, in the actual sense, grace is not a New Testament phenomenon in the strict sense of the word. It had been there right from the Old Testament. But it is called a New Testament thing because that is what the death of Jesus is all about.
The New Covenant
We must also appreciate that there were no New Testament scriptures when the apostles spread the gospel to the entire world. They depended largely on the Old Testament to preach the gospel. But one thing that is fundamental to the gospel of the apostles is that their interpretation of the Old Testament was done in the light of the new covenant of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The scripture cannot be broken. The Old Testament is a shadow of what was to come. Now that the new had come, the old had to give way not in the sense of discarding the old but with the spirit of understanding what the Old Testament is saying in the light of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Thus, a preacher can completely preach from the Old Testament and yet he will be preaching about the new covenant. The beauty of the Bible is that every story, every experience, every action, and inaction point to Jesus.
Is it not amazing that the genealogy that was given copious mention in the Old Testament was the genealogy that was directly linked to Jesus? So, from the fall of man in the garden in Genesis to Malachi we are confronted with the story of Jesus in coded form.
God killed a ram to cloth, Adam and Eve, this is symbolic of the death of Jesus for our salvation. The deliverance of the Israelis from Egypt is a prototype of our salvation experience. The tabernacle aptly typifies the trinity of man and that of God. The outer court stands for the body. The holy place stands for the soul, while the holy of holies represents man’s spirit.
Living for Christ
While it is clear that the demands of the New Testament are more, it is also evident that the New Testament believer enjoys more grace than those under the old covenant. So, the death and resurrection of Jesus provide for the believer under the new covenant to live for God without carrying a burden. Jesus says, his burden is light, and his yoke is easy. The implication is that rather than circumcise the flesh in the New Testament we circumcise our hearts.
The long and short of this is that every issue discussed in the Old Testament remains in the New Testament but takes a new meaning and character.
For instance, when the Bible talks about not muzzling the ox that threads the mill in the Old Testament the meaning in the New Testament is different. It has to do with ensuring that the labourer gets his wages. But in the old, it is literal. In the Old Testament first fruit has to do with physical fruit from the harvest from the ground.
But in the New Testament, the first fruit means the first souls won. Paul in many instances talked about those who were first fruits as the first set of converts. But even at that in 1 Cor 15v20-23, we are made to understand that Christ in his resurrection is the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep.
A Bible commentary noted that “Jesus gave his life as our Passover lamb on the 14th day of the first Hebrew month, Nisan. We believe that He rose from the dead on the 16th of Nisan, the Feast of First Fruits. Since Jewish reckoning views part of a day as a full day, the 14th through the 16th was considered three days. I Corinthians may even have been written shortly after Passover, to judge by references such as I Corinthians 5:7-8 and 16:8. Christ rose as the first to be resurrected, but all who trust in Him will also rise from the dead in the final “harvest.”
We can go on and on. But the onus now lies on the pastor to rightly divide the word. He must realise that the eternal destiny of people is in his hands. His messages must not be dictated by his love for mammon and selfish desires. He must not be moved by the times and seasons.
It is not about being politically correct but about being Biblically correct. My conclusion is that whenever our interpretation of the gospel tilts towards promoting a personal agenda or a personal spiritual experience we run the risk of preaching self, not Christ.
By Gbenga Osinaike