In order to say more about elders and pastors, it’s necessary to step back just a bit and review what they are doing when working together.
Jesus referred to spiritual birth in John 3. But this wasn’t new; He honestly expected Nicodemas to have this spiritual birth under the Covenant of Moses. As with all things arising from the Ancient Near Eastern culture, it was assumed the reader of the Old Testament would understand common elements of scholarly culture. We noted in my post yesterday that the average Israeli would not necessarily have undergone spiritual birth, but it was surely expected that the leadership had. It was a common assumption in scholarly writing that one would read between the lines and see the mystical truth behind the writing.
Granted, the path to spiritual birth was that one would take seriously the Covenant and commit to it with their hearts. It was assumed that, after some interval of pursuing God’s favor in this way, He would honor such a commitment with spiritual birth. It meant wading through the rituals and provisions of social law to begin grasping the divine moral nature of God. It meant you understood Him as well as humans could, and that you were committed to pursuing His interests. You would love Him with all your mind, your heart, and with all your human ability (“might”).
One of the things Jesus did was displace the ritual portion of the Covenant, by becoming the one valid sacrifice for sin. The other thing He did was shorten the path to spiritual birth. It still required a heart-led commitment, and you still had to study the Covenant provisions to get to know God’s character, but you could freely call upon Him without first going through all the rituals and commandments. You could go back and get all that with a much better clarity of understanding later; it was possible that the Covenant would make much better sense to you once you had encountered God in the Spirit. This is all outlined in Romans 8.
Hurrah! What a marvelous miraculous gift. But slow down; Paul also warns in that same chapter and the following that this whole thing is totally in God’s hands. That is, people in their fleshly nature cannot even desire this gift of spiritual birth; the fleshly nature is hostile to the intrusion of the Spirit. Without the miracle of God Himself choosing to breath His Spirit in our dead spirits, there can be no rebirth. This is not a human choice; nothing we can do will provoke this thing. We can give it meaning once this thing is done, but God alone is the one who decides. That’s flatly stated in Romans 8-9, so it doesn’t matter what makes sense to your logic and learning.
So our mission as believers is not to “get people saved” but to help folks who are already saved discover what comes with that package. Thus, Radix Fidem as a covenant emphasizes teaching Biblical Law, the divine heritage of the Saints of God. Again, it’s not “law” as something binding, but it is divine revelation of how God designed things so we can conform to His divine moral character, so we can discover our true natures as God made us. Biblical Law is freedom, freedom to explore the sheer joy of tasting the power of His Spirit in this fallen world. We get to experience Creation as God actually made it, not as fallen flesh blindly refuses to understand.
The church leadership are to teach this Biblical Law. It’s not legalism as the scribes and Pharisees did it; it’s not a New Talmud. It’s a New Covenant of adoption as children of the Creator. It is necessarily mystical, often portrayed in parables. It assumes a spiritual birth and heart-led consciousness that can see through the Law.
But we have already discussed how the majority of those who seek to join our covenant community of faith are likely not heart-led, or perhaps not spiritually born, and probably neither. We can do things in such a way as to help folks shift to a heart-led awareness, but their spiritual birth is a miracle of God on His initiative alone. There are approximate symptoms of spiritual birth, but no one can know for sure from outside. So we just presume it’s so unless the person in question gives strong evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile, we focus our efforts at teaching and guidance in a heart-led commitment to Biblical Law (which is another label for the character of Jesus Christ).
We include the Law of Moses and of Noah in our teaching, but we handle those as Jesus taught them. It’s not at all the same as the Talmudists taught it, for sure; nor is it quite like the way Moses taught it. Jesus openly claimed to correct Moses and proposed a better understanding of what God intended all along. Thus, the New Testament teaching is essentially the New Law, AKA New Covenant, AKA Biblical Law.
In ancient Israel, the Law of Moses (ritual and social codes) was a mystical thing to those who were spiritually born. For the rest, typically the majority, it brought them as close to the blessings of spiritual birth as they could get. Granted, it all took place within a culture that assumed folks would at least understand being heart-led, so that issue is seldom addressed, and even then not in depth. It’s no different with the New Testament church, except that we now no longer have a cultural orientation toward the heart-led consciousness. In fact, we have quite a monumental battle overcoming blatant resistance to it. We have to teach it in depth and constantly. But it’s still part of teaching Biblical Law.
This is why all the mainstream Western emphasis on “getting folks saved” and “more spiritual” is a flop. It rejects the heart-led way, and it teaches the lie that you can decide to be spiritually born. Even where the doctrine includes predestination, the net result is a cultural gospel, not Biblical Law. Yet worse, they all assume culturally that the pastor is also the chief administrator. How many ways can they get things wrong?
In some ways, this error is understandable, in that the New Testament says very little about elders, and a lot about pastors. There’s a reason for that: The New Testament churches arose in a society where elders were simply there, and everyone’s expectations were to live under the guidance of one or more of them. We now have to go back and pick up that whole body of understanding, as well, and teach that.