(BNC) by Jerry Hill — Editor’s Note: The following article is excerpted from chapter 13 of Jerry’s book, Guatemala: Joy and Crown, published in 2011. We thank Ken Hargesheimer for sharing the book with us. The book is apparently not available in print or in any virtual format.

The word church is a New Testament word. Planning for the church began in eternity and pointed to it through the Old Testament (1 Peter 1:18-20). The church was bought by the shedding of Christ Jesus’ blood in his death on the cross (Acts 20:28). He built it on the day of Pentecost following his ascension. In it God and sinner are reconciled! The gates of hades did not and have not prevailed against it (Matthew 16:18). Those that are being saved are added to it daily (Acts 2:47). Since the Holy Scriptures are both informative and authoritative, it is reasonable to use them as our guide in the continuation of that church. God expects us to.

God issues his call for reconciliation with sinners through the gospel message (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Inherent in heeding the call is the duty of extending the call to others (2 Corinthians 5:19). Preach is a New Testament word and is one of more than thirty verbs that show how the church communicated the gospel in Acts. Some of them are speak, say, proclaim, reason. (See Appendix C for the full list.)

In Acts, it is said that a disciple preached to one person (8:35). The gospel was preached to house visitors (28:20-21), to villages (8:25), cities (8:12; 14:21) and regions (8:1, 4). These references give a wider meaning to preach than is customarily understood today. It is Biblical, then, to say we preach to an individual and to small groups, as well as to large gatherings. If we take a New Testament word and use it with a modern, restricted meaning, there will be misunderstanding. That leads to our Lord’s will being unfulfilled.

In the same way, if we take a New Testament word and apply it to a church office that is not reflected in the Scriptures, we’re creating more confusion. The one called the preacher today stands apart from the ones called the rest of the members. We traditionally understand today that, when it comes to preaching, the preacher will do it. The rest of the disciples do not preach, it is thought. We coin a name for those zealous few who will not be suppressed: personal workers. I know few American personal workers who say they preach. In reality, according to Acts, they are preaching.

Cover of Jerry Hill’s book. Photo: Ken Hargesheimer

Christ’s disciples are called Christians. Christians are preachers. Disciples tell the good news of salvation. Members of Christ’s body open their mouths and speak the gospel to sinners. “Unless they hear they cannot live,” sang Brother J. M. McCaleb. If we tamper with the New Testament pattern, create an office in which only one preaches, we are severely limiting the number of gospel messages being proclaimed. Only the adversary can be happy with that.

Christ’s disciples are also called servants (Matthew 23:11). Slaves (Romans 6:16) and bond-servants are also applicable to His followers. We are all ministers (2 Corinthians 5:18). When we follow the custom started by someone since the New Testament and call the preacher the minister, do we not further isolate the modern preacher from the ordinary members? The responsibility to preach, the motivation to proclaim, the sense of urgency to become active now, the voice with which to call the sinner, the need to know the Scriptures, the wisdom of preparing a concise gospel presentation have been taken from the great majority of Christians. As a result, the assembled family of God and a few visitors receive regularly a message from God’s word. Compare that scene with the preaching in Acts, in which individuals, families, groups, villages, cities, regions and, soon, the world heard the gospel. The target was the unreconciled; their reconciliation was the objective; the means was the gospel message; the conveyors of the message were the disciples, all of them.

I am so grateful for 1st Century preachers; also, for 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st Century preachers. (I’m not that well acquainted with others.) I don’t know how I’d be a Christian now if it were not for them. But if the things that Bible study, discussion and circumstances in Guatemala have brought to my mind are correct, there is no New Testament counterpart for our modern preacher.

We who are dedicated to following the New Testament guide in church-related matters should be interested in restoring gospel preaching to each and every saint and getting it out to the sinners every day of the week, 24/365 per new creature! As free Nicaraguan newspapers said in bold-faced, framed, statements throughout their articles just before the Sandinistas shut them down, “In a free country, we can criticize.” As a proverb says, “Reprove a wise man and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8). If what I’m saying is true, and we respond properly, we should rejoice that the gospel will be preached to all mankind in this generation! The manpower is available if we utilize all the church in the preaching (proclaiming, speaking, teaching, telling) of the gospel to the lost. The Divine power is willing and waiting.

What we would like to see is that preaching should not only occur in the pulpit but in living rooms, work places and everywhere Christ’s disciples open their mouths and speak. We would like to see the one called the preacher joyfully relinquish the definite article the and share the activity of conveying the good news to the lost. We would like to see every Christian convinced that the most important item on his agenda every day is preaching (declaring, reasoning, relating) the good news urgently. This has nothing to do with getting women into the pulpit; it was decided about 2000 years ago that women shouldn’t speak in the congregation, nor teach and exercise authority over men (1 Corinthians 14:33-34; 1 Timothy 2:11-12). This has everything to do with activating all baptized believers in the communication of the gospel to the world in this generation.

What should we do about the present custom of having a full-time preacher in each congregation? That’s up to the congregation. If an assembly at a certain address wants to hire one or more to preach to the saints and visiting sinners on Sundays and Wednesdays, bury, marry, do personal work and visit the sick, I would say that’s within its right. God doesn’t require it, though.

If a congregation prefers not to have a full-time, traditional preacher, it is certainly scriptural. Furthermore, the different men who preach from the pulpit are recognized Biblically as preachers. They study to prepare messages they perceive the assembly needs, by which activity they themselves grow. Those disciples who do not prefer to preach from the pulpit to an assembly continue to preach in homes, schools, the work places. All recognize they are an absolutely essential component in God’s plan to speak the good news to the world now.

If what I’m saying is true, and a man is hired to do the traditional work of a full-time, local preacher, it seems that he should no longer be called the preacher, the minister, the one in charge of the church, and so on. The whole church must be made aware of God’s expectations of each Christian with regard to world evangelism. They all should be prepared by the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for their terribly important (and interesting, and fulfilling) service (Ephesians 4:11-13).

If a church does not hire a full-time preacher, it’s not failing God. He hasn’t required it. Think of the spiritual growth the local brothers would attain if they divided and shared the labors of love and faith among themselves. All my adult life I’ve heard older teachers tell younger ones that the effort of preparing and presenting the lesson will benefit the teacher more than the class. I have found it to be so. Why should we not utilize this valuable training method in our pulpits as well?

What should we do about schools that train preachers? As long as there are Christians in touch with sinners, there will be a need for training. In view of the concepts I’m presenting that the disciple is the preacher, “get out the old wrench” for re-tooling preacher training. Racing death and the second coming of Christ for the souls of mankind must be understood to be “the present distress” (1 Corinthians 7:26). Perfectly meshing with this universal-scale vision, local churches should be continually and quickly trained, beginning with each new convert.

If the training is to be done in a traditional, resident school, it seems to me that emphasis should be made on all Christians being active in proclaiming the good news to the lost. Reaching the lost while they are still alive is the major subject matter; preaching to the saved two times a week is minor. We have been majoring in minors and the world has not heard that its ransom has been paid nor where to go to pick up its certificate, so to speak. Good is being done, but century after century, going on two millennia, we’ve fallen ’way short of world evangelism. The enemy must love that. If training schools are to be utilized, their priorities should be restudied.

This is the picture I see in Acts. Preaching the gospel to every creature in all the world was the need. The disciples preached to those around them. They persistently spoke the good news to unbelievers, but they didn’t neglect the indoctrination of the converts. Groups of baptized believers met in houses and a temple porch. They preached from house to house. All Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and Galilee heard the good news in a short time. Some quickly swept through Phoenecia, and into Cyprus and Syria, Cilicia and Galatia. They rushed to Pamphilia, through the Pisidian region to Macedonia, Greece and Illyricum. By this time, they were already in Rome, bearing fruit. Shortly, they are found in the Italian cities of Puteoli, the Market of Appius and Three Inns. The “battle front” was pushed ever farther. In the amazingly short time of two years, all of the Jews and Gentiles in the province of Asia heard God’s call. Crete and Malta were soon to hear. Shortly, it could be said, “We have no other place to preach around here. I’m going to Spain.” Considering the urgency, it was not prudent to build on the foundations of other preachers. Soldiers of Christ, arising, rushing, invading, some falling, all blessed by the Almighty God of Armies, pressed the battle for men’s souls ever farther into darkness until it could be written of the gospel, it has “come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing” (Colossians 1:5-6).

Shouldn’t Acts, with its perennial, urgent, sense of need be the basis for any changes we make, regarding preachers and preaching? The apostasy that germinated in the First Century and blossomed in the Second, made abundant seed, and the cause of Christ was severely hindered by the restriction of preaching to a “class” of Christians. We’ve called it “the clergy/laity” system. Even though we’ve always said it should be avoided, we’ve prepared “preachers” for “the ministry,” setting standards for them that sorely debilitate world-wide gospel preaching.