by Mike Ratliff
I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. (1 Corinthians 4:14-17 ESV)
We often lament the vast number of church leaders, pastors, Christian writers, et cetera who have compromised their ministries with the ways and means of the world from various motivations. Instead of doing all for the glory of God, these have some other focus most often fixed upon selfish ambition in one form or another. What about the genuine, God-called Shepherd of the Sheep who obediently takes care of those entrusted to him by our Lord? What is his modus operandi?
In John Bunyan’s classic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, is instructed by Evangelist to leave his country, The City of Destruction, in order to Fly from the Wrath to Come. He tells him to leave town and knock at the little Wicket Gate at the end of the field before him. Christian eventually makes it to the gate and knocks. The keeper of the gate, Good Will, pulls him through the gate then instructs him to proceed down the straight and narrow path. The first place he comes to is the house of the Interpreter. There he will learn great and mighty things that will help him along the way to the Celestial City. Christian comes to the house and is brought to the Interpreter.
Inter. Then said the Interpreter, Come in; I will shew thee that which will be profitable to thee. So he commanded his man to light a Candle, and bid Christian follow him: So he had him into a private room, and bid his man open a door; the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture of a very grave Person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it, It had eyes lifted up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, the Law of Truth was written upon his lips, the World was behind his back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a Crown of God did hang over its head.
Chr. Then said Christian, What means this?
Inter. The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand; he can beget children, travel in birth with children, and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with eyes lift up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, and the Law of Truth writ on his lips; it is to shew thee, that his work is to know and unfold dark things to Sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men; and whereas thou seest the World as cast behind him, and that a Crown hangs over his head; that is to shew thee, that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he hath to His Master’s service, he is sure in the World that comes next, to have Glory for his reward. Now said the Interpreter, I have shewed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going, hath authorized to be thy Guide in all difficult places thou may’st meet with in the Way; Wherefore take good heed to what I have shewed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen; lest in thy Journey thou meet some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death.
In our time, the vast majority of professing Christians have not been discipled as they should have. It is very easy to be a member of a local church because no one is going to put anyone else under any scrutiny to determine their testimony lest they offend them and drive them away. The leadership in these churches are nothing like this example of a Pastor given to us by John Bunyan. In his day there was only one authorized church in England, the Anglican Church. All others, such as the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists were considered dissenters. Bunyan was a Pastor and Evangelist. He was the real deal, but he was also a Baptist so he was constantly in trouble with the civil authorities in his part of England because he would not conform to a form of Christianity that he considered unbiblical. He was in and out of prison for over 12 years because of that. He was offered his freedom many times if he would agree not to preach anymore, but he refused.
He wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress during his last imprisonment. He was finally released from prison because King Charles II finally gave in to pressure from men such as John Owen to grant tolerance to the dissenter churches. Owen helped Bunyan publish his book to our edification. Bunyan knew all about the differences between genuine Christianity and the man-made kind. He also knew the difference between genuine Christian leaders and those who were not. In this excerpt we just looked at above, we see that the genuine Pastor of God’s people will not be worldly-minded. He will be grounded in God’s Word and will preach all of His truth no matter whom it offends.
The Pilgrim’s Progress is replete with contrasts between the genuine Christian and those who are only false professors. One very telling difference that Bunyan gives us repeatedly is how God’s people are continually being driven away from love of and devotion to the world and the things in it. This includes popularity with the world. When I see the pressure coming to bear in our time to silence the genuine Christian message because it is offensive I know that this will accomplish two things. The first is that it will clarify the genuine Christian from the false. The difference will be made plain as the genuine believer will obey God and not obey any authority that demands that they shift their obedience to it from God. The second is that obedience to God in the face of these things will be costly, but it will result in the spiritual strengthening of those who refuse to compromise.
In any case, if you are a Pastor or other Christian leader I encourage you to examine yourself and your ministry. Are you too much in the world? Are you trying to make the world pleased with you and your ministry? Are you compromising the Gospel message in order to please the world? Or are you valiantly fighting the good fight by preaching all of God’s truth no matter whom it offends? Are you shepherding your sheep or are you only herding goats? The former are those Bunyan describes above while the latter are those who will be ashamed when our Lord returns in judgment. Religiosity is not what our Lord wants from us. Only those who walk by faith in all parts of their lives and ministries are pleasing to the Lord for all we can manage in our own abilities and strength is as filthy rags in God’s sight. In other words, what we do in our ministries that are of the world and ourselves is worthless from God’s perspective. What we do by faith is as refined gold, precious treasure, and, even though the world may despise it and us, it is the basis for our eternal reward.
Soli Deo Gloria!