Thursday, February 02, 2012


Among those who make a virtual living by hunting down any whiff of error, real or imagined, the appearance by T.D. Jakes at the “Elephant Room 2” conference was like manna from heaven. Preceded by a lot of controversy, the resignation of Gospel Coalition member James McDonald and the alleged threatened arrest of a blogger who had his credentials revoked, the Elephant Room lived up to its name by being a circus (not the content, which I haven’t seen, just the controversy surrounding it). The kerfuffle was driven by one of the speakers, T.D. Jakes, who is well known for his unorthodox modalism and his adherence to the “prosperity gospel”. A lot of people have taken umbrage at this and even when Jakes sort of declared that he was actually a more or less orthodox Trinitarian (using some ambiguous language to be sure), it still was not good enough. Lots of my fellow bloggers have joined the fray. Was it wrong to invite Jakes and engage him, however gently? Was his statement on the Trinity sincere? What about the prosperity gospel? Some bloggers on the other side have leveled charges of racism because the critics are all "middle aged white guys" and Jakes. The whole thing has taken on a fever pitch that only theological "tempests in a teapot" can generate.

One post from yesterday caught my eye. In appears at Credo Magazine, written by Tim Raymond of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana. Tim’s concern about Jakes, at least in his post How the Elephant Room is Redefining the Pastoral Office, is that it sets a bad precedent to lift someone like T.D. Jakes up as a model for others in the “pastoral office”. His statement is blunt:
By lifting up men with minimal theological commitments as examples to pastors, the Elephant Room is proclaiming, perhaps unwittingly, that a rigorous concern for sound doctrine is not essential to the pastoral office.
Is that true? I want to spend a little time on this so I am going to go into a fair amount of detail. This is not to beat up fellow Hoosier Tim Raymond. This understanding of the “office” of the pastor, the role that elders in the church ought to fulfill, is something that is very prevalent in the church and I think that what he wrote would be accepted virtually without question in most of the church, perhaps changing some of the names but the basic point would be the same. My issue has to do with the assumptions we make based on our traditions. See more after the jump....

First of all, we are not called to look up to pastors who are famous and write lots of books and speak at our favorite conferences. The men we are to follow are the servant leaders that we can observe and emulate and imitate, not because they are the most sober and rigorous exegetes but because they live lives that we are to imitate. I don’t look to men like John Piper or R.C. Sproul and certainly not Mark Driscoll as leaders to look up to because in the areas that matter I don’t know a thing about them. Nor do I know much about how John Calvin lived and treated his wife and kids or John Owen or Edwards or Bunyan. There are plenty of men I actually know that I can imitate, men who will likely never get published or be invited to speak at Together for the Gospel but who can teach me more by the manner of their lives than a million strangers speaking from a platform.

Second, the argument Tim lays out is based heavily in the Scripture sections that are often put forth as the rule book for pastors. I found many of the assertions to be based in tradition and unwarranted assumptions. One section in particular was problematic. This is the section that gets me. After stating “for the pastor, thinking that sound doctrine is insignificant is simply not an option”, Tim writes the following:

Even a cursory reading of the Pastoral Epistles makes this undeniable. One of the prerequisites to the pastoral office is that a man be able to teach sound doctrine (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:5-9). Part of the basic job description of the pastor is to proclaim sound doctrine and refute error (Titus 1:9). Pastors are charged to train up their entire congregation in sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:13-16; Titus 2:1). Pastors are to preach the Word in season and out since the time is coming when those who do not tolerate sound doctrine will infiltrate the church (2 Timothy 4:1-4 [parallelism indicates that preaching the Word is preaching sound doctrine]; cf. Acts 20:28ff.). And the Lord’s stamp of approval on a man’s ministry is partially measured by his commitment to sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6). Therefore, for any man to say, “I’m not very concerned about sound doctrine,” is simply another way of saying, “I’m not qualified to be a pastor,” let alone an example for pastors to emulate.

Did you catch that? Notice how the subtle way our traditional understanding of pastors bleeds into this. What did it mean when Paul wrote these words to Timothy and Titus in the first century? Who were the elders? Were they theologians of any sort? Did the men Timothy appointed as elders have a fully fleshed out understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity? What about their soteriology? What was their stance on the end-times and other eschatological positions? I think we tend to project our own understanding on events thousands of years ago. We are talking about elders and other leaders being recognized prior to the compilation of the Bible. Many of these men were probably functionally or actually illiterate and given the timeframes I don’t think that many of them had been Christians for decades and I am certain that none of them benefitted from professional training in being a cleric or possessed a seminary education. I am not casually brushing aside the importance of being doctrinally sound, just pointing out that what we mean when we talk about "sound doctrine" and what Paul meant are probably pretty far apart. So what does that tell us?

Let’s break down what Tim wrote in this paragraph.

One of the prerequisites to the pastoral office is that a man be able to teach sound doctrine (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:5-9).

Is that true? Well sort of. What does 1 Tim 3:2 actually say? Well, I think it is inappropriate to just read one verse in the midst of a lengthy sentence, so here is the whole passage with emphasis on the key phrase…

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:2-7 ESV)

The qualities to be found in a man recognized as an elder are pretty lengthy. “Able to teach” is nestled in the midst of lots of other qualities that have more to do with character and godliness than oratorical prowess. Even “able to teach” doesn’t really tell us much. How was the teaching accomplished? Given the lack of evidence for monologue sermons week after week, can we make an assumption that sermons and formal training in Sunday school/Bible studies is what Paul has in mind? It seems that in several places, Paul “taught” by his behavior that others were to imitate more than “taught” meaning lectured. Titus 1: 5-9 is more in line with what we expect to find, mentioning giving “instruction” and also “rebuking”. Of course again we are “filling in the blanks” with what exactly “instructing” and “rebuking” looked like and coming up with our exact traditional understanding. Next…

Part of the basic job description of the pastor is to proclaim sound doctrine and refute error (Titus 1:9).

Right off the bat we need to stop here and point out that Titus 1:9 is not a “job description” because being an elder is not a job and it shouldn’t be treated like one, even when we dress it up in pretty religious language. Being an elder is not something to apply to become and sit for an interview to get hired. It is something we are recognized as by the church based on our lives. Anyway, we again leave unsaid: what exactly is meant by proclaiming and refuting? How does that happen? Once more, I am not saying that sermons and formal lecture teaching is not how it happened or can happen but are we on solid ground to assume that it was/is? I don't think we are. Moving on…

Pastors are charged to train up their entire congregation in sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:13-16; Titus 2:1).

These are the passages in question….

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:13-16)

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)

Timothy, as mentioned, is not identified as an elder. Titus is mentioned many times by Paul and by all appearances he travelled around like Paul as an itinerant worker. Tradition gives us a different view (from Wikipedia) “According to tradition, Paul ordained Titus bishop of Gortyn in Crete” but the Bible makes no mention of this. Are we perhaps guilty of assuming something about these men that the Bible doesn’t teach? I think it makes sense for elders to teach what accords with sound doctrine but is that something exclusive of concern to elders or should we all read those words and apply them to our own lives?

Pastors are to preach the Word in season and out since the time is coming when those who do not tolerate sound doctrine will infiltrate the church (2 Timothy 4:1-4 [parallelism indicates that preaching the Word is preaching sound doctrine]; cf. Acts 20:28ff.).

This only works for this argument if we assume that Paul’s admonition to Timothy (someone that is not identified in Scripture anywhere as an elder/pastor) should be read as an admonition to elders to likewise be ready to “preach” a sermon to the gathered congregation (plus any visitors) “in season and out”. That is hardly what Paul had in mind! Note what Tim says about people infiltrating “the church” who will not tolerate sound doctrine. Is that what Paul wrote? Let’s see…

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

What people is Paul talking about here? Is he talking about unbelievers sneaking into the assembled church? Well maybe but I don’t think that is all clear from what he wrote. Again, by and large “preaching” seems to be directed exclusively at unbelievers, not the gathered church (the one possible exception is a passing reference in Paul’s salutation at the beginning of his letter to the church in Rome where he speaks of being “eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” (Romans 1:15) ). That does not at all imply a sermon by the way. We see once more our cultural traditions creeping into translation. We have been taught that Paul’s letters to Timothy and his letter to Titus, the so-called “pastoral epistles” are letters from an apostle to his young charge who is serving as a pastor and that his admonitions to Timothy and Titus alike should be read as specific advice for those engaged in pastoral ministry.

Further, Tim argues that Acts 20:28 is a “parallelism” that supports his contention about the message of 2 Timothy 4:1-4m, namely that it is advice directed at a those in the “pastoral office” What does Acts 20:28 actually say?

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, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

OK. Where is the parallelism there that indicates that “preaching the Word” equals “preaching sound doctrine” where preaching in both cases is assumed to mean sermons? Paul calls on the elders to watch over and care for the church in Ephesus. He warns them about false teachers.He also follows this admonition about overseeing the flock with his statement about working for a living and not depending on others for a livelihood, a passage that gets far less attention from those who study pastoral ministry. His last point...

And the Lord’s stamp of approval on a man’s ministry is partially measured by his commitment to sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).

So what does 1 Tim 4:6 say?

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. (1 Tim 4:6)
There are two issues here. One, is good doctrine a good thing? Sure it is! It is the second question that is more pertinent. The real question is, what does "sound doctrine" mean and how does one qualify as having “sound doctrine”? Is “sound doctrine” a series of propositional truths? Is holding to "sound doctrine" demonstrated more by "preaching" or by your life? If all someone knows is what Paul preached:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor 15:1-8)
..but live lives of simple and loving service to God and man, are they assumed to have "sound doctrine"? What about someone who has written lots of books and gets invited to the best conferences and teaches around the world but does little else? Are they living out "sound doctrine"?

We are very caught up in the academics of Christianity because as I have mentioned before we don't really have any external pressures that make us depend on one another rather than biting and devouring one another. We read words like "sound doctrine" and create an image in our minds of the pastor burning the midnight oil in his study, poring over weighty tombs of theology and top notch commentaries so that his 40 minute sermon will be exegetically sound. Let me say again, sound doctrine is vitally important to the church. Let me also say again that sound doctrine is more than a series of doctrinal positions that you can explain and work into a sermon. Sacrificial love and material sharing is sound doctrine. Washing feet is sound doctrine. Caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan is sound doctrine. Unity in the church of Christ is absolutely sound doctrine. Sound doctrine is not less than solid theology but it certainly is much, much more than that. I am afraid that we don't really understand what Paul was saying at all.

Finally, we are left with the question of leadership in the church. Here is what I find in the New Testament as it applies to leaders. A biblical leader is someone that other Christians can observe and imitate and you simply cannot imitate someone you don’t really know. I not only don’t know John Piper, I don’t know anyone that actually knows him and I don’t know anyone who knows anyone who actually knows him (as far as I know). Is he a profitable teacher, a great speaker and prolific author? Sure he is. That does not make him a leader in the broader church, nor John MacArthur or T.D. Jakes or Mark Driscoll. This is the comment I left on the post:

The bigger issue here is the notion that Jakes is the problem rather than trying to follow men you don’t know at all personally. The Scriptures are replete with exhortations to imitate the manner of life demonstrated by leaders, for example: 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; Hebrews 13:7; Phillipians 3:17. Ironically Paul even points this out to Timothy in the midst of a “pastoral epistle”:

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

How could Timothy or any other leader in the church set an example in conduct, in love, in faith, even in speech, based on a conference talk or a podcast or a recorded sermon? A believer in Ephesus could no more imitate Timothy based on his writings or conference talks than you or I can imitate a man we know only from his stage persona and books he has authored. Maybe you know John MacArthur better than I do but for the vast majority of men, the leaders they “emulate” are men they have at best shaken hands with and read their books.

Perhaps the problem is not Jakes, although he certainly is problematic, but rather our understanding of Biblical leadership.

We shouldn’t seek leaders the way the world does: the most eloquent speakers, the most engaging writers, the famous, the acclaimed. Our leaders are not identified by suits and framed degrees on the wall, they are identified by calloused knees from prayer and washing feet and dirty hands from serving others. Most Christians have leaders all around them and don't even realize it. Like the people in the Old Testament, they don't want a leader after God's heart, they want a king that looks like a leader. They want Saul, not David.

As for T.D. Jakes, I don’t really know if he has truly abandoned modalism and the “prosperity gospel”. I truly hope that he has and if he has I welcome him as a brother into the faith. I don’t know him and I likely never will his side of eternity. I don't need to look to him as a leader. I can find men to imitate right down the street from me. We desperately need to get back to the Biblical model of leadership and abandon the pursuit of famous men. Fame and fortune is its own reward, service and humility will find its reward in the life to come.


Anonymous said...

I was uncomfortable in my spirit with the whole "Elephant Room" idea from the beginning. For all good intentions the founders may have, to me, it seems pious and like a modern-day Sanhedrin trial.

Beyond all the news stories about MacDonald and Jakes, the revelation by Voddie Baucham of his "part" in it, and his Men's Conference cancellation is just as disturbing...

The whole thing is ugly. But I pray the "exposure" of all of these issues, brings forth awareness, change, and purity to the overall church body.

Thank you for your words on this Arthur. Blessings to you and your family.

in Jesus,

Arthur Sido said...

Thank you Todd. The whole thing was just sordid.

Aussie John said...


The only information I know about this "Elephant Room" is what you have mentioned. I have seen similar situations on this side of the world, and , think you describe it well, when you used the term "sordid".

What it does declare, loud and clear, is how far from Biblical truth, are many who proclaim their adherence to such truth.

Your article "after the jump", admirably says it all!