Living Free in the Spirit of Christ

Free The Church


by Charles Parkhurst

Dr. Charles Parkhurst

As the church is the organized body of Christian believers, and the ministry the recognized representative of the church, it becomes a question of widely practical concern under what form of discipline the ministry can best become equipped for service. It is unnecessary to say that, as in all the professions, equipment is to be determined by function. Now the function of the ministry is prophecy, understanding by prophecy taking of the things of God and showing them to men. There is involved therefore the possession by the minister of a twofold knowledge, the knowledge of God for whom he speaks, and the understanding of men to whom he speaks. So far the matter with which I have now to deal is clear.

Agnostic tendencies evidently bar a man from the ministry. He is also barred whose only knowledge of God is borrowed knowledge, which, accurately speaking, cannot be designated as knowledge at all. Merely to proclaim some one’s else religious opinion is not the office of a prophet and will not accomplish prophetic results. Ahab feared Elijah because he felt that he had ground for believing that Elijah was in the Lord’s confidence. To stand in the pulpit and to be experimentally qualified to say “Thus saith the Lord” is one thing. To stand there and be able to go no further than to quote some one’s else prophetic announcement is a distinct thing, and between the two there is no vital

Peter was constituted a prophet by being able to say, “We were eye-witnesses of his majesty. His voice which came from heaven we heard when we were with him in the holy mount.” Judging from Scripture such words as suppose, conclude, suspect, imagine, infer, were not comprised in Apostolic vocabulary. The word “know” was there and it was there emphatically, and is thickly scattered through the entire New Testament narrative. The Bible is the record of Hebrew experience of God. Another Bible, or a second edition of the New Testament, might now be issued that should also contain a history of Gentile experience of God. And its issue would be attended with this advantage, that certain
questioning souls would be persuaded that Christianity as it is set forth in our present Bible is something more than a relic.

Unless we are prepared to sacrifice the profoundest significance of both the Old and New Testaments, we have to concede that while in all the history therein recorded there may have been only one scene of exactly the character of the one referred to in the previous paragraph, yet the instances run into the high figures of celestial disclosures where, in one form or another, men have consciously walked upon ground made bright by a heavenly illumination and have consciously experienced the impulse conveyed by the entrance into them of suggestions borne in from divine sources. And it is that that has constituted the definiteness of their purpose and the stability of their assurances. We walk by faith, but not by an unsupported faith. In no range of life’s experience do we take
anything absolutely on trust. Faith is a producing factor only according to the amount of knowledge that underlies it. We cannot reasonably believe except so far as we have grounds for our belief. Timothy wrote “I know whom I have believed.” And so Christ says,?”We speak that we do know and testify that we have seen.” And only by that token was he able to maintain a career in which there was no misgiving, no fluctuations of feeling or thought; or able so to impress himself upon those with whom he dealt as to lay the foundations of a Christian history.

With very special pertinency does this apply to a prophetic ministry. Moses could maintain himself in steadiness of demeanor and of action in the midst of all the antagonisms and embarrassments of his captaincy of the Hebrew people, and he could maintain himself there for forty years, because for forty days, “one day for each year,” he had tarried with God in the heights. Stability cannot be extemporized, but requires to have something beneath it to make it stable. Elisha in the troublous times of King Ahab, could address that vicious old monarch with a clarion note of prophetic denunciation because he could say to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand,” consciously charged with the secrets of the divine mind and purpose; consciously commissioned to an authoritative vicegerency.

So of John the Baptist. So of this same Peter, unstable by nature, but wrought into ruggedness by what had dropped into his soul from above, his eyes still bright with the light that years before had glorified the holy mount, and, as he tells us, with the divine voice still sounding in his ears, the voice that he had himself heard, and whose persuasion was with him irrefutable argument clear out to the day of his martyrdom. St. Paul also tells us that he had seen a great light while on his way to Damascus, and also that on another occasion he was caught up into the third heaven and listened to words that were possible to be heard but impossible for him to utter. Still more significant, and more pertinent to our
immediate interest is his statement that it was by personal revelation from God that was conveyed to him the truth which he was commissioned to publish to the Gentile world.

As no man’s preaching ever did so much for the world as Paul’s preaching and as the material of his preaching was direct quotation from the mind of God, there is something in these two facts taken in conjunction that ought to lie heavily upon the minds of those everywhere that are occupied in preparing men for the ministry; that is to say in furnishing the church with prophets that shall take of the things of God and show them to men.

There is no suggestion of hearsay in what Paul says. He never has to quote. If he touches upon the realities of the world invisible we feel, in reading him, that at the very moment when he was writing, his eye was wide open to the realities of that world, and sensitively filled with them. It never occurs to us that he was doing into words of his own some report of unseen realities that another had loaned to him or otherwise made over to him. His own impassioned thought touches the object it describes, the truths it relates. There is no suggestion of inference in what he declares. He does not say “This is true major premise, and that is true-minor premise, therefore something else is true.” There are with him no there fores. Realities stand out to his eye in their own light in the light of God.
Paul tells the Galatians that the Gospel that he preaches to them is not something that he learned at school, and went onto the platform with it or into the pulpit with it.

Now whether there is all in this that the facts as stated by Paul would seem to indicate, others can judge as well as I. But Paul was a tremendous preacher. The effect of what he spoke or wrote has lasted to this day. And what he spoke or wrote he says he obtained first-hand from God, and also that he kept away from the pillars of the church. If he labored under an hallucination as to the source of his doctrines, that hallucination so far forth compromises his doctrines. If there was no hallucination then the divine mind is definitely and openly accessible; and in a purely practical point of view the one from
whom Paul acquired his knowledge of truth, and by whom Moses and Peter and the rest were made able to take of the things of God and show them to man, is still the predominant means of successfully equipping for the exercises of the prophetic function.

It would seem that Seminary professors believe that God is not as willing to disclose his mind to intending prophets now as in the old days; that the only way in which they can be produced now is by replacing divine inspiration by advanced scholarship, and that intense human thinking, if sufficiently intense, will take the place of God’s revelation, it being understood however that the classroom process is conducted in a spiritualized atmosphere.

As already stated, the prophet in order to the exercise of his office, must be possessed of a twofold knowledge, knowledge of God whom he speaks for and understanding of men whom he speaks to. I question if advanced scholarship contributes to either of those two results. I am sure that protracted study tends to alienate the student from people and to discourage sympathy with them, rather than to draw him into close and effective relations with them. And I also believe that protracted study pursued
with a view to the accumulation of knowledge along the line of whatever science, secular or religious, does not induce that relation on the part of the student to either God or man that fosters a love for ministerial service. Some years ago, I was set ruminating upon this matter by what was told me by an officer,”not a professor,” of one of our representative theological seminaries. He went with me over the list of seminary graduates to whom by virtue of their exceptional scholarly attainments, had been accorded the privilege of two years of gratuitous study abroad. Although they had entered the seminary with the intention of becoming preachers, only a very limited percentage of them entered upon
ministerial service upon their return.

Now I perfectly understand from my own experience the psychology of the fact thus stated. I know that President Seelye of Amherst, as related on another page, simply thrust me into the ministry for the purpose of undoing the drying and unsocializing effects of study that was being prolonged with a view to aggrandizing my intellectual possessions. The passion for knowledge grows with the accumulation of knowledge, just as the money passion grows with the accumulation of money; and one passion equally with the other, can separate a man from God and from one’s own fellows with both of whom one needs to stand in the very closest sympathetic relation in order to be a prophet. I write this although knowing that many seminaries are giving extended courses with a view to
granting the Ph.D., but I also know that a great many of our brightest University and Seminary graduates are not in our pulpits. We know that Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel, but that was prior to his call to the ministry.

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