9. Displacement theology’s elements
For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
---II Corinthians 10:12
This is a brief survey of errors connected with displacement theology, or clericalism. While these may sound like doctrines for eggheads, they aren’t. They are very practical. In fact they translate directly into church practices. There is nothing more practical than that.
The errors--scholasticism, gnosticism, and sacerdotalism—are not taught but simply practiced, and with good reason since the theology underlying them is corrupt. First, the idea that a pastor must “go to school” is never examined but simply assumed. Second, the idea that a pastor must have a wide range of knowledge in addition to the Word is never examined, it is simply assumed. Third, the idea that a pastor must lead in the ordinances of the church is likewise assumed.
While it may seem to the reader than I am describing three errors in addition to clericalism, that is not the case. Rather, it is one big error with three elements. Clericalism is the general and overriding error in that it describes an unbiblical division of the church into clergy and laity. Displacement theology describes the effect of clericalism on the regular Christian ministry, i.e., its effect on “the work of the ministry,” Eph. 4:12. The other three errors are rationalizations for the big error.
First, scholasticism is the tradition that one must “go to school” in order to teach in the churches. Here is the crux of the problem: the teachers in the churches are almost uniformly recognized as pastors. Indeed, teaching and pastoring are erroneously held to be inextricably bound together in the professional pastorate. But teachers are not necessarily pastors, because pastors are by definition elders. If teachers are necessarily pastors, then, this limits the teaching to older men in the churches. However the New Testament does not inextricably link pastoring and teaching in this way. Young men may indeed teach; but they cannot do the work of an elder until later in life. (The New Testament nowhere stipulates a minimum age for elders. All we know is: they are presbuteros, or older men. The Greek word is an adjective and so we are evidently to understand the word as compara-tive and not absolute, concerning the age of the man. This suggests he is older than many or most of the men in his church. We probably cannot go further than this, but we must at least go this far.)
The seminaries in effect serve as “pastor certification schools” when at best they can certify nothing, though they may certainly train teachers, preachers, and evangelists. (The distinctions between these men are crucial to understanding a sound NT church polity, and these are addressed in Part III.)
Let me be very clear that when I refer to scholasticism it is not in reference to training teachers, preachers, or evangelists. It is in reference to training pastors, and especially a professional pastorate. This alone is the true heresy of scholasticism. While I do not find anything in the New Testament prescribing training of any of these men outside the church and in schools, some believe warrant is found in II Timothy 2:2, “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” So while it is at least plausible that faithful men can be trained in schools, the schooling Paul had in mind was likely “a school” connected to the local church, that is, simply a separate training course or class or classes for the faithful men. In the same way “Sunday school” is an adjunct of the local churches. And, note, the training Paul had in view was to the end of producing teachers, not pastors.
Seminaries are no doubt used of the Lord for producing Greek and Hebrew Bible scholars (these are highly beneficial to the church), church historians, Bible translators, Bible editors and commentators (these are all forms of Ephesians 4:11 teachers, I believe), in addition to the (other) teachers, preachers, and evangelists already noted. One of my favorite teachers is C.I. Scofield, whose legacy is primarily found in the Scofield Bible. Another is W.E. Vine, whose teaching is found in his New Testament dictionary. The seminaries are adept at training scholars.
Under the tenets of scholasticism, responsibility for sound doctrine is removed from the churches and appropriated to the schools. Many of these are said to be “church schools” and subject to the rule of Christian boards of directors. But this is an invention of man, for Paul called the church “the pillar and ground of the truth.” “Church schools” are a part of the church only by the use of semantics. (They are certainly part of “the kingdom of heaven,” which includes “Christian institutions” in addition to the church, as many understand the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13. This, however, does not make them “church schools.”) In the New Testament there is the church and there is the world. The type of schools that Paul may have suggested in II Timothy 2:2 would likely operate in conjunction with the local churches and not separate from them. But “church schools” operate outside, apart from, and independent of the churches.
Sectarianism complicates the issue, for a denomination is a collection of churches said to be a part of “the XYZ church.” Thus a local church is said to be part of the Methodist of Presbyterian or Lutheran “church.” Their schools are said to be schools of the Methodist or Presbyterian or Lutheran “church.” But again this is semantics. The school is not part of “the XYZ” church, nor is it part of any one of the XYZ local churches. It is separate from all of them. The same is true for the independent schools. These are not only independent of the denominations, they are independent of the local churches. Pastors are being produced out of the churches, in schools, for the churches.
Paul said of those who went to school out of the church, “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” II Cor. 10:12. The New Testament teaching is that the pastors are already in the churches. Thus, “The elders which are among you I exhort…,” I Pet. 5:1. Is it not reasonable that men grow up to become pastors while in the churches?
Scholasticism is “pastor certification” for the church, but it is not based on a real testing because it does not involve the right testing ground. All the heretics teaching in various churches in Christendom, most of them ignorant even of the true gospel, are “certified” by their schools. “Schooling” has not been shown to be an antidote to heresy in any way superior to independent Bible-believing churches, with their elders, standing against the waves of false doctrine. Broadbent astutely noted that the heresies in the churches of the second century and later resulted in the rise of learned men who permanently altered church polity. Did this halt the spread of heresy? By no means. It expedited the spread of heresy.
Second, gnosticism, closely related to scholasticism, concerns “those who really know.” The inference, then, is that the church is separated into “those who know” and “those who really know.” Or it is divided into “those who know in part” and “those who know.” Secret knowledge is the province of the gnostics, and this correlates with the idea that study of things in addition to the Scriptures (i.e., “classical studies,” or the wisdom of this world) is necessary for those who would teach in the churches. While scholasticism divides those who have been to school from those who haven’t, gnosticism divides “those who study the Bible” from “those who study the Bible and other things.” The “other things” form the seminary curriculum. The seminary curriculum’s chief distinction is not study of the Bible, for one can do that anywhere and anytime. No, the distinction of the seminary curriculum is the study of things in addition to the Bible.
Certainly there is good training available in the best seminaries. I believe the teaching of the Bible books, Greek, Hebrew, church history, and the best Christian writings is laudable. While these cannot certify a pastor, they no doubt make a man a better teacher. But I object to courses in hermeneu-tics, exegesis, and systematic theology, among others, as undermining rather than enhancing the Spirit’s teaching ministry in believers. Too frequently, if not invariably, they lead to the spiritual pride of one putting faith in his own understanding rather than trusting in the Lord.
At any rate, it is study of things in addition to the Bible, as a basis for qualifying teachers to the churches, that characterizes gnosticism. This appeals to worldly Christians, too, who want a “learned” pastor both for themselves and for appearance’s sake.
The book of Colossians answers the heresy of gnosticism. “And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.” Col. 2:10. The word translated “knowledge” in the KJV is epignosis, meaning “full-knowledge,” cf. Col. 1:9,10; 3:10. God’s answer to gnosis is epignosis. Full-knowledge is revealed in the Scriptures. The Bible is in and of itself sufficient for growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, for teacher and student alike. It is not that we know everything but that we have access to everything we need to know. Peter wrote, “His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” II Pet. 1:3. Some teachers may be more well read than others, to the benefit of the churches. Too frequently the well-read succumb to the winds of false doctrine, but it is not necessarily so. But the one thing needful for a teacher is knowledge of the Scriptures.
Gnosticism, in short, concerns “an extra-biblical curriculum” for raising up teachers in the churches. I caution the reader to not be dissuaded by those who say gnosticism was merely a “historical problem” in the first churches and consisted of “teachers who did not ascribe full Deity and humanity to Christ.” It would be very convenient for seminarians to explain away gnosticism in this way, for it protects them from the more general and wide-ranging charge of putting their faith in human wisdom in addition to the Word of God. It isn’t wrong to read the Greek classics or to read widely. But gnosticism makes these mandatory for “pastor preparation.” If that is not putting faith in human wisdom, what is it?
Third, sacerdotalism is a division of the church into those who may administer “sacraments” and those who must be ministered these things. It is the Old Covenant division of priests and non-priests. However there are no sacraments in the church, for a “sacrament” is a conveyor of God’s grace, and the New Testament teaches that grace is conveyed solely through faith, and this faith is in God and not in “sacraments.” Many in the Bible-believing churches have long rejected the teaching concerning sacraments. The problem is that they have replaced the sacraments with the ordinances, principally the Lord’s supper and water baptism, and these they hold must be ministered by the pastor. This is simply a watered-down version of sacerdotalism, for sacerdotalism has as much to do with a division of “the minister” and “the ministered” as it does with whether or not grace is conveyed through a church rite. Sacerdotalism concerns “who the priests are.” “Watered-down” sacerdotalism is still sacerdotalism.
Now, it is what these heresies share in common that is far more important than their distinctions. All without exception divide the brethren in two— “leaders,” and “followers;” or “those who know,” and “those who don’t fully know;” or “those who may minister,” and “those who are ministered to;” or “those who are qualified” from “those unqualified.” Or “clergy” and “laity.” It is always the same division. Does this reflect the teaching in I Corinthians 12:4:7? “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” There is no division of the brethren here but simply distinctions, or differences, or diversities. There is no division of the brethren in Romans 12, and there is none here. But Romans 12 does say that no man should think more highly of himself than he ought.
It is not important for the reader to remember the distinctions in these errors, though the essence of the error is plainly revealed in the very name of the error. Rather, the one thing important to remember is that all three result in the same division of the church into “clergy” and “laity.” These errors are by no means obscure or difficult to discern. In fact the real problem is not a difficulty of discerning them but that the church, corporate, is entirely comfortable with them. The church as a whole is happy with these errors.
Now, what do these heresies militate against? Why, against simple and straightforward New Testament teachings that affect church polity. These doctrines are so plain and straightforward as to be incorruptible except through the substitution of traditions that “have an appearance of wisdom,” Col. 2:23. The traditions nullified the doctrines, i.e., they made the doctrines “of none effect.” The meaning of the priesthood of believers, of the body of Christ, and of the spiritual gifts does not require teaching so much as practicing. But the heresies noted above are simply traditions that ignore these things as theoretical and not at all practical. We hear “priest-hood of believers” and don’t even blink. We don’t connect it at all to the reality in the churches. Thus, the priesthood of believers in the churches remains only a theory. The Headship of Christ, a theory. The analogy of the church as the body of Christ, while it remains true regardless of what the churches may do, finds no expression in church order and polity.
It is important to say here that clericalism in its various facets is as much a demand of “the laity” as it is justified by the clergy. This is no conspiracy “against the people.” The people in unbelief clamored for this system even as Israel pleaded for a king. The difference is that the church spiritually dethrones Christ, and Israel dethroned the Father. Oh, the Father and the Son are longsuffering!
The church’s theologians would greatly complicate these heresies, thereby making them into doctrines for eggheads and removing them from the arena of popular appraisal. For proof of this, read a theological encyclo-pedia. But the Word says you, Christian, are perfectly capable of judging these things. Jesus said, “Judge righteous judgment.” And Paul, “Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Heb. 5:14. If you have been in a church for years and still cannot judge these things, why, that is a reason for leaving a church rather than clinging to it.
Jesus said, “All ye are brethren.” I wish to emphasize again that these heresies, despite their distinctive features, are really all of a piece and serve the same cause, which is to divide the brethren in two. Clericalism is simply a summary heading for these things, while displacement theology describes its effects.