In the book “The Necessity of Reforming the Church”, which is an explanation of the actions of the protestants to Emperor Charles V, one of the evils that Calvin emphasized in the medieval church that was in urgent need of reforming was in the area of the ordination of bishops and priests. The practice of buying bishoprics has become common and was seen as a political and business opportunity. Being a bishop in a particular place provides political power and control over the financial contributions to the church for that place. It was not uncommon, therefore that bishoprics are sold to the highest bidder, and there were some instances “that one person, sometimes even a boy, occupies three bishoprics that are separated by great distances, so that he can barely travel around to them within a year, even if he does nothing else.”
These absentee bishops would then install priests or vicars in their bishoprics who, like them, are unlearned and uneducated in scriptures and in matters of faith. Knowledge of the scriptures were such at a low point that even those who are responsible for teaching are ignorant of the scriptures themselves, which led to much belief in unbiblical superstitions. To counter these, the reformers not only strived to translate the bible to the language of the masses but made sure that those who are ordained as pastors among their churches are educated in the scriptures.
You would think that after these reforms the issue of a clergy ignorant and uneducated in the scriptures would have been solved. Fast forward to today, we will find that the problems in the Roman Catholic Church that the reformers worked against have also infested many protestant churches. There are many pastors today who have been ordained without any deep knowledge or study of the scripture. Worse, like the worldly bishops in medieval times who used the church for personal financial gain, many of these ignorant pastors today are also using the church as their means of attaining a luxurious lifestyle.
In his magnificent work on Pastoral Theology, Albert Martin laments that there are pastors and pastoral candidates who cannot even recite the books of the bible from memory. In volume 1 of his work, one of the many requirements he puts forward for those who are called to pastoral ministry are the qualifications of mental gifts which include:
1. A mind which is reverently and lovingly submissive to the absolute authority of the scriptures as the inerrant Word of God.
A pastor must love the word of God. In Titus 1, Paul is guiding Titus about choosing elders to install in the churches in Crete. Paul describes the candidate this way: “he must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). In the same way Paul told Timothy: “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). The truth should be entrusted to men who will be faithful to what they have read and heard. If a pastor has no love for the scriptures or is ignorant of the scriptures, how will he be faithful in teaching them to others?
2. A mind furnished with a grasp upon the basic contents of Scripture.
The requirement for every pastor/elder is firm. He must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2), “able to give instruction in sound doctrine,” and able “to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). Pastors should already have read the entire bible and have a structured reading program for continually reading the bible. Pastors should keep on reading the bible over and over until the end of their life. In order to do this, Albert Martin has the following suggestions:
· 1 chapter/day in NT will get you through the NT in one year
· 2 chapters/day in OT will get you through the OT in two years
· 1 chapter of Psalms a day will get you through the Psalms in six months
Also read a good commentary together with your bible reading. Here are suggestions:
· IVP, The Bible Speaks Today
· Banner of Truth, Let’s Study the Bible
· Tyndale Commentaries
· P&R, Reformed Expository Commentaries
· JC Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the NT
· Matthew Henry
· Banner of Truth, Geneva Series
· Calvin’s Commentary
Please note that these are just suggestions. Follow the bible reading structure that best suits you. For the commentaries, there are many more that are available. The important thing is to zealously guard the time intended for regular bible reading so that it can be done regularly and continually.
3. A mind furnished with a basic understanding of and love for the true meaning, interrelatedness, and self-consistency of Scripture.
What Martin means here is that the man aspiring to the pastoral office must have some understanding of biblical theology, systematic theology and historical theology. This could be formally under seminary or informally sitting under the teaching/preaching ministry which have these qualities. The reason is that even those who are familiar with God’s word can twist them, whereas we, as ministers of the New Covenant, are commanded to “follow the pattern of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13). These theological studies will not replace our study of the bible. They are meant to help us understand and handle the word faithfully.
In conclusion, those of us who have been entrusted with the preaching and teaching of God’s word should do our utmost best in order to avoid, and not repeat, the mistakes of the medieval church that the reformers strived against. We need to love the Word, know the Word, and study the Word. Let us cultivate the ambition so that it could justly be said of us what was said of Apollos, that he was “an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures” (Acts 18:24 KJV).
Or of John Bunyan as described by Spurgeon:
“Oh, that, you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord; not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and what is better still, your spirit is flavoured with the words of the Lord. I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. He had studied our Authorized Version, which will never be bettered, as I judge, till Christ shall come; he had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress—that sweetest of all prose poems—without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere; his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.. I commend his example to you, beloved, and, still more, the example of our Lord Jesus. If the Spirit of God be in you, he will make you love the Word of God; and, if any of you imagine that the Spirit of God will lead you to dispense with the Bible, you are under the influence of another spirit which is not the Spirit of God at all. I trust that the Holy Spirit will endear to you every page of this Divine Record, so that you will feed upon it yourselves, and afterwards speak it out to others. I think it is well worthy of your constant remembrance that, even in death, our blessed Master showed the ruling passion of his spirit, so that his last words were a quotation from Scripture.“ - C.H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit vol 25
Let us make it our life’s ambition to be a living bible, mighty in the scriptures, filled with Bibline blood. Soli deo gloria.