When Fools Become Kings
“There is an evil I have seen under the sun, As an error proceeding from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, while the rich sit in a lowly place. I have seen servants on horses, While princes walk on the ground like servants.” (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7).
“For three things the earth is perturbed…For a servant when he reigns…” (Proverbs 30:22).
“Luxury is not fitting for a fool, Much less for a servant to rule over princes.” (Proverbs 19:10).
The Lord’s vision was for Israel to be a theocracy with God at the head and the nation a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). The Lord had raised up a series of men to lead them – men like Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb. But even under Moses they rebelled against their leaders and the Lord. The Lord’s plan for Israel was a careful balance between personal responsibility and a personal relationship with God (a kingdom of priests) and the administration of divinely chosen leaders, both spiritual and civic.
On the threshold of the Promised Land, they rejected God’s order and experimented with democracy. The overwhelming majority voted not to enter the Promised Land and only two out of 600,000 voted to obey the Lord. This resulted in 40 years of hardship in the wilderness and death to all who participated in the referendum (Numbers 14).
During the time of the judges they again swung the pendulum of personal freedom to another extreme as “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). This statement was not a commendation of their actions, as I have heard some say, but rather a criticism of their lawlessness and self-centeredness and the rejection of those leaders that the Lord had instituted. Doing what was right in their own eyes included families appointing their own priests and devising their own form of religion, in opposition to the Tabernacle and Aaronic priesthood which had been instituted by the Lord. Not long after they went to the other extreme when they insisted that Samuel appoint a king and in the process they surrendered all personal rights and responsibilities (1Samuel 8:11-18).
For a while the church of the first century was able to maintain the balance between personal responsibility and submission to God-given men in various positions of leadership. But by the end of the first century a hierarchy had begun to evolve that would soon strip the individual of personal responsibility and place unlimited spiritual authority in the hands of church leaders. Eventually the common man was not even allowed to read the Scriptures for himself and his whole spiritual responsibility had become to simply follow the dictates of the “church”. In the Reformation, the Reformers spoke of rediscovering the priesthood of every believer but this was in theory only. In practice the power and authority of the clergy continued unabated, except for small groups of believers who continually sought to return to Biblical principles.
In the latter part of the 20th century the pendulum again begun to swing, this time back to “everyone doing what is right in his own eyes”. The concept of the priesthood of every believer was driven to the extreme so that many rejected all forms of spiritual leadership and accountability. With the advent of the internet, everyone has now also become their own theologian and is able to pick and mix from the many ideas available online, and create their own cut-and paste religion and theology. We are back to the book of Judges where preachers are for hire and each one does as he pleases (Judges 17).
Even worse; now any Tom Dick or Harry, can download a manual for starting a church, complete with pre-made sermons, marketing plans and ordination certificates. And if that is too much trouble, he can buy a church franchise from some other equally unscrupulous charlatan. Every city is over-crowded with churches started and run by people who are not called by God and ill-equipped to handle the sacred Text. Indeed, not only are servants ruling as princes but fools are reigning as kings over their self-made empires.
So what qualifies someone to be a teacher of the Word of God and a leader in a local church? Two things; – gifting and training. Neither on their own qualify a man to lead a church or teach doctrine – both are absolutely essential.
In many circles education, preferably of a religious kind, is sufficient to qualify for the ministry. But education, no matter how good, cannot make a preacher, teacher or shepherd. Sadly many pulpits are occupied by the ungifted and even more have set themselves up as theologians and authors just because they have a few degrees. Yet, it is God who gives gifts to some for the benefit of the church. (1Corinthians 12:18, 28-30; Ephesians 4:11.) Note that 1Corinthians 12:28 says that God appoints ministries. This does not only mean that the idea of ministers is God’s idea, but the context is clear that specific men are appointed for specific ministries. In plain English this means that not everyone can become a teacher, shepherd or preacher.
There is absolutely no way that one can learn to be a teacher, shepherd, or preacher. Yes, you can learn the techniques and you may even be a good actor, public speaker, or leader but without the divine gifting and equipping from on high, any ministry will simply be in the flesh and will not carry God’s blessing and any “results” will be purely human activity without any spiritual power to transform and save. Saul reigned over Israel for 38 years after the anointing had been taken from him and given to another. Yes, he went through the motions of being a king and did all the kingly stuff, but God was not with him and God was not backing him up. Even worse, he had plunged Israel into a civil war that lasted 30 years! This kind of ministry in human power is all too popular today as many are deceived into following charismatic actors parading as men of God. But the consequences are devastating as the people are abused, fed on drivel or led into error.
As much as the church scene is blighted by these “professional” imposters, almost every church is marred by armchair theologians who think they know more about everything than those whom God has called and gifted. These Monday morning quarterbacks feel it is their “ministry” to second-guess every sermon and every decision of God-ordained leaders. Instead of praying for, and supporting their leaders, they feel it is their God-given ministry to criticize. There may be music and art critics and there may be sports commentators but the Bible knows nothing of a ministry called “pastor critic” or “church faultfinder”. If you are not building, you are breaking down, and if you are breaking down you are opposing God – that’s all there is to it. Yes, I know about the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). But they were not anything like modern “Bereans”. True Bereans receive the Word with readiness while false Bereans don’t. True Bereans check against Scripture while false Bereans check against their own preconceived ideas or the internet. True Bereans recognize God-given ministries and support and submit to them while false Bereans only submit to themselves.
Just as God’s order for the church is leadership by those whom God has called and gifted, it is also the Lord of the church’s design that those who have been gifted be trained for the work. Just as there are too many who have learned to do the job without any gifting, there are also too many who are indeed gifted, but who have had no training for the ministry. Thus they blunder on making a mess of the work, totally unskilled in the Word or in the work of the ministry – workmen who need to be ashamed (2Timothy 2:15). Many times these men rely heavily on the internet for their theology and just like the armchair theologians, cobble their theology together out of scraps they glean from all sorts of questionable sources. They are just as dangerous as the imposters who have not been gifted, yet who have an education.
I am not necessarily referring to an academic, theological training, but training under a proven minster who himself has been called and trained. In fact, academic theological training without the hands-on input of a teacher who teaches application with theology is just as valueless as no training at all. Paul is very specific how this works: He had trained Timothy through many years of apprenticeship or discipleship. He then instructs Timothy to commit the doctrines to other faithful men who will teach others in turn (2Timothy 2:2). Yes, the Lord can teach someone directly with just a Bible and the Holy Spirit, but that would be the very rare exception, the pattern He has ordained is that there is a continuous line of pure doctrine and lifestyle that is handed down from one generation to the next. Let me be clear, God never ordained the internet as the place we are to be taught for one simple reason: “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,” (2Timothy 3:14). People and leaders too readily run to books and the internet to learn, not knowing who they are learning from and in the process are often learning from the devil’s agents!
Just as to Solomon it was a shameful thing to see servants in the place of kings, it is shameful to see ungifted and uncalled men in pulpits and just as Solomon decried that kings should be in the place of servants it is a shame that those who are gifted are so ill-equipped to fulfill their calling that they are walking instead of riding on horses.
God’s plan for the church is that local churches should be led by men whom He has specifically called and gifted and who have been trained and prepared for the work. Without the calling and the training, no man should ascend the pulpit. The second, but equal plan of God, is that every believer take responsibility for his own walk and family while submitting to, and supporting, those whom the Lord has set in the church. Anything else is as much an aberration as fools who become kings and will never carry the Lord’s blessing.