Question:

It appears that you have an extremely negative view on either the practice of mutual edification, the brethren who follow it, or both.  If this is the situation, I pray you give me the opportunity to stand on my own without making too many assumptions regarding my motivations or additional beliefs.  For example, I have no idea who Charles Holt or Cecil Hooks are.  I've never heard of these individuals.

When you say that a congregation was "won over by the mutual edification crowd" it seems that this was a bad thing in your eyes.  Regarding the practice of mutual edification itself, what are concerns, faults, or failures do you find in it which would make it a bad thing for a congregation to pursue?

Also, you made the statement below that "you are expressing the practice of every congregation that I am aware of."  Since I do not want to make ignorant assumptions regarding the congregation at La Vista, would you mind letting me get a little more insight?  For example, how many members does the congregation have?  Does the congregation have elders and/or deacons?  How many men are of the congregation?  How many men teach the classes - children, teen, and adult - on a regular basis?  How many men preach on a regular basis?  How often would you say a man other than yourself presents a sermon in month or year?

Finally, I understand that there are other issues which people see associated with mutual edification.  I also found that my brotherhood has done a very poor job of making its case in clear manner on either mutual edification or local preachers.  I don't mind discussing these side issues if that is where your concern lays.  I can explain those in a future message but to clarify something up front, your second side issue ("elders being only older people in a congregation") is something I've never heard before and which I agree with you is contrary to the scriptures.


Answer:

Interesting. The term "Mutual Edification" is not found in the Scriptures, but has been used by various men over the years to describe their set of beliefs. You know about and support one slice of those beliefs, but perhaps that is why you are running into quick rejection. The rest of us know the history behind mutual edification (it goes back to my grandfather's days) and understand the baggage that generally accompanies it. Historically the most vocal people in this movement have been Carl Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett, Charles Holt, and Cecil Hooks. If you are going to claim to follow mutual edification, it would do you well to read what others who claim the same title had claimed. I suspect, from what you are stating, that you would reject most of their ideas.

As an example: Since the basic premise is that all men have an equal voice in the teachings of a congregation, one soon runs into the problem of disagreement between brethren. The mutual edification crowd's response is to state that one brother's ideas are equal to another brother's ideas. Thus one brother, except in very limited areas, cannot say that another brother is wrong. The result has been that among mutual edification churches you generally won't find lessons being presented on why a particular denomination is wrong, such as Roman Catholicism or Southern Baptist. Instead lessons focus on general principles, such as love, justice, and mercy. Specific applications, such as teaching why modern dancing is wrong, modest apparel, or why drinking alcoholic beverages socially is wrong, are avoided as not all brethren agree on these topics.

I take it that you feel it wrong for a congregation to have a preacher located among them. To get deeper into the issue take a look at "Must a Preacher Move?" and tell me if there are points you feel are not biblically sound.

In answer to your question, a bit over half the men here are involved in the teaching of the Bible. They conduct classes and give short talks. A few are comfortable with presenting longer lessons and can be counted upon to fill in if I'm gone. If a man in the congregation desires to present a lesson and the elders feel that he is sound in his teachings, he is welcome to present a lesson anytime he desires. But the reality is that few have the time or drive to develop lessons and most of the time I end up presenting the lessons.

Yes, the congregation does have elders. There are two of whom I happen to be one. We are lacking men who are qualified to be deacons who also desire the office. We are still working toward having deacons.

I read your article on whether or not the preacher must move and overall I didn’t see anything unscriptural about the basic premise that an evangelist/preacher doesn’t have to move.  I’ve read some of the debates from the 1950’s and I personally feel that the brethren siding with mutual edification did the practice an injustice by arguing the necessity of the preacher moving.  In fact, as you have demonstrated, it is not scripturally supported.  I know of numerous evangelists who have resided in the same area and at the same congregation for several years.  Pay and stay are not issues with me.  Evangelists must be supported for their work and they can choose to “located” if needed.  However, what your article doesn’t address, and what I believe is the real issue, is how the evangelist is used in the assembly of the congregation while he stays with them.  It is a biblically unfounded assumption to say that because Paul remained in Ephesus for three years that he did the bulk of the preaching during the assemblies like yourself at La Vista.  All we know from his stay at Ephesus< is that he was there for three years.  What was his role during the assemblies?  We aren’t told.  Many brethren make the assumption that he did the majority of the preaching and teaching.  However this is a logical leap without basis.  In fact, we see from Antioch of Syria what did occur.  In Acts 15 when Paul and Barnabas remained there for a period of time they taught and preached “with many others also.”

Assuming that Paul and other New Testament evangelists / preachers did the majority of preaching during their extended stays at congregations also does not fit with the other writings of Paul.  The Roman brethren are commended for being able to “admonish one another” [ESV – “instruct one another”].  Romans 15:14.  In I Corinthians 14 Paul instructs that the edification of the prophets during the assembly be done by two or three.

Do I believe an evangelist or preacher can stay at a congregation?  Yes.  Do I believe while staying he can act as essentially the sole preacher during the assemblies for the congregation?  If there are other qualified teachers then no he can not.  In fact, I believe that the preacher needs to follow the instructions given to Timothy in II Tim. 2:2 where Timothy was instructed to teach others so they might teach.  The preacher needs to actively work to develop other men into qualified teachers and preachers.    Let me ask you this:  do you think a congregation would be stronger spiritually if you could efficiently share the preaching responsibilities with four other qualified men?

You seem to be looking for a battle that is not being offered. I pointed out that "mutual edification" is a term that others have used to describe a complex set of beliefs. Since the phrase is not found in the Scriptures, there is no settling the "proper" definition because it is one person's claim against another. 

You had asked if I had seen churches that believed in "mutual edification" but at the time you didn't define what you meant by the term. I suspected from what you had already written that you were not a follower of others who used the same phrase. Thus, if a discussion is needed, I'm just warning that you can't assume I know what you believe without you first telling me. "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?" (I Corinthians 2:11).

I selected the particular example in hopes of flushing some type of explanation of where you stand and why you think I might disagree with it out of you. I dislike holding extended conversation in vague generalities.

As I mentioned, the church here in La Vista does encourage the men to serve as they are able. I don't insist on doing most of the lessons. Other men have shared in the load of presenting lessons and will continue to do so, I suspect. In the eleven years that I have been here La Vista has had four men go on to become preachers in other areas of the country and four men who became elders of whom I know.

The only thing I would warn is that in your presentation you pointed out that during the worship service we don't know who presented most of the lessons. But from there you assume that it was evenly distributed. If we don't know, we don't know, and it must be left as such. It is an invalid argument that since we don't know, then it must be only done in the particular way that I believe.

Let me turn the example in I Corinthians 14 around. The situation described applied to Corinth because they had multiple prophets in their midst. What about a congregation that only had one? Would their service be unscriptural because that one prophet ended up doing most of the instruction in the word of God?

In the interest of providing more meat to this conversation, take a look at the article "Preachers" and let me know if there is something there that you find objectionable.

I guess I don’t follow the first statement you made: “You seem to be looking for a battle that is not being offered.”  I pray that this is not an indication of me coming across as combative.

Actually, I do believe the scriptures give us insight on how the teaching and preaching responsibilities were divided out.  The most direct is what is not authorized and that is a limitation of the all or the vast majority of the responsibilities to a single individual when other capable men are present.  We don’t find any example of this practice.  We do, however, find an example and command of a sharing of the responsibilities.  I Cor. 14 is one such passages as well as Romans 15:14 and probably Col. 3:16 (NIV – as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom).  I don’t necessarily believe that they were “evenly” distributed, but certainly more distributed than what I’ve seen in many congregations. 

Regarding your reversal of I Corinthians 14, exceptions don’t make the rule.  If there’s only one many who can teach, then there’s only one man.  However, if there are two, three, four, or twenty such individuals who have the desire and the talents, then they should be used in a manner that is not heavily slanted to a single individual.

I do have a few concerns regarding the article you mentioned.  First is with the following statement.  “Since the message does not originate with the preacher, it is the preacher's duty to ensure that the message is preserved accurately.”  This duty is not exclusive to the preacher.  It is also the duty of elders for elders are to “convince the gainsayer” which is a means of preserving the message.  The preacher isn’t the only one who’s sound teachings will conflict with false teachers.  All teachers, whether preachers, elders, or simple teachers, must expose false teachers.

Second,  “When a preacher finds a person not living in accordance with God's commandments, it is his duty to rebuke them.”  Again, this is the responsibility of all, not just the responsibility of the preacher.  The article gives the impression that this is somehow more applicable to a preacher.

My final point of disagreement is that of ordination.  I believe the scriptures give us clear indication that preachers/evangelists are ordained or “sent out” by congregations.  Paul and Barnabas were “sent out” by Antioch and Timothy was given a gift with the laying of hands by the eldership (I Tim. 4:14).  The laying on of hands, from what I can see, is a means of passing on authority.  We see this in the OT as well as in the NT when the elders and deacons were ordained.  Why would the eldership lay hands on Timothy if it were not for ordaining him to the work of an evangelist?

My first statement is illustrated in your reaction to the article on preachers. The article lists out the duties described in the Bible that preachers must fulfill. Nowhere did I state that those duties were exclusive to preachers, yet because I mention what a preacher is required to do you wrongly concluded that I believe no one else may also do those duties.

Most of the congregations that I know have, as does La Vista, multiple men involved in teaching, both individually and in classes. We have multiple men giving short lessons to the congregation on Wednesday, Sunday morning, and Sunday evenings. I have no qualms with other men bringing some of the more extended lessons if they want to and the elders feel they are qualified to do so. Preachers by the nature of their duties have a talent in presenting lessons and it is natural for a congregation to make use of that talent, just as a congregation makes use of the other talents available to them. "For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness" (Romans 12:4-8). It appears to me that you are searching for a issue of contention that does not exist.

Your statement, "I don’t necessarily believe that they were “evenly” distributed, but certainly more distributed than what I’ve seen in many congregations" states that you agree that congregations are making use of the multiple talents available to them. You only disagree with the degree in which they are making such use, believing you are better able to allocate their resourses. This then moves away from a scriptural issue to a personal opinion.

In regards to Paul and Barnabas, they were already counted among the prophets and teachers prior to being sent out (Acts 11:26; 13:1). The elders did not make them preachers or teachers when they were sent out.