Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Pastor - Bearer of Knowledge

"For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts." Malachi 2:7

You believe most of what you believe on the basis of authority. How do you know the history you know? You were not there, but others were and you take them at their word. How do you know the earth revolves around the sun? You can observe a phenomena, but for centuries humans observed the same rising and setting and came to the wrong conclusion. Now, however, you have it on good authority from people who can do the math that you cannot. How do you know the antibiotic you were prescribed by your M.D. will do you any good? She said so.

Ours is an age of experts who acquire knowledge about several crucial specialties, and we place them in high esteem if they have done their job well. We come to them for knowledge we do not have to cure diseases and repair trucks. The average person on the street (including the average church-goer?) does not see pastors as this kind of professional, but according to what God says about his spiritual leaders they are specialists who do the work necessary to acquire and dispense a special kind of knowledge that others do not always have the time to learn themselves. And then it is entirely appropriate for people to come to God's spiritual leaders for that knowledge.

"Knowledge" is not a general, throw-away term, even in Scripture. It refers to a specific kind of reasoned and tested belief that is far more than mere opinion. Everyone has opinions about God, not many have genuine knowledge of him. Knowledge, when someone attains it, puts a person into contact with the way things really are. Opinions are certain kinds of guesses or desires about reality, but knowledge is connection to reality - a relationship between what you believe to be true and what is actually true.

God says his priests - what we might today call pastors - "guard knowledge" with their lips. In other words, they are doing the hard work of gaining true and accurate insight into who God is, and then teaching the same. Ideally, and you might say "strictly speaking," pastors do not dispense opinion, unless they have not done their job well. But if they have, people can listen to them talk about God and his dealings with humanity and gain knowledge about him. This truth about God's spokespeople puts the role of pastor into an interesting and significant light.

Pastors gain and dispense knowledge in ways similar to the traditional and well-known professions of experts. Pastors are not paid opinionators, but are tasked with getting to know God, his Word, the Gospel, and telling people what they know.

Pastors are not at the back of the cultural bus. Culture sure things so, but they are not. Knowledge about how the good life is to be lived is not in the realm of lawyers, politicians, media, and celebrities who do not know God. They all hand out opinions about how it is to be lived, but unless it coheres with God's vision of the good life, it is all balderdash.  

Pastors ought to do the kind of work necessary to make themselves trustworthy bearers of the knowledge of God. The text I quoted from Malachi is in the context of God getting frustrated with priests who did not actually do this. This was their charter, and instead they settled for corruption and they "caused many to stumble by [their] instruction" (Malachi 2:8).

This vision of pastors and spiritual knowledge puts the church right back in the thick of things. Our current culture has dismissed the church as insignificant by defining her out of significance. The church - and the religion she teaches - is private, psychologically helpful pabulum. But nothing could be further from the truth if the pastor and the church do their jobs, gain actual knowledge about God, and hand it out to the world around them.

(You can track my series of posts on The Pastor by following the tag.)

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