Of Popularity and Plurality (or Mark Driscoll on the UK)

Mark Driscoll seems to have a knack for stirring up controversy in his own country, but that's normally rather an irrelevance to us on this side of the ocean. This week, however, he's managed to stir things up here in the UK with an interview published in Christianity magazine and broadcast on Premier Radio, part of which went as follows:

Driscoll: I go too far sometimes. Almost every other pastor I know doesn’t go far enough and that’s okay ’cause the church tends to be led by people who are timid and fearful of going too far. I mean, let’s just say this. … Right now, name for me the one young good Bible teacher that’s known across Great Britain. 
Brierley: Hmm … 
Driscoll: You don’t have one. That is a problem. There’s a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth. 
Brierley: So you think that the Bible teaches … 
Driscoll: You don’t have one. You don’t have one young guy who can preach the Bible that anybody’s listening to on the whole earth.

So, it seems that the Church in the UK must, according to Driscoll's logic, be at a low ebb, because its pastors aren't famous enough! Now, it could be said that he's missing the cultural gap between the UK and the USA in many ways with such a comment; but the more important cultural gap might be the one between the New Testament church and 21st Century evangelical assumptions. Notice when Driscoll cuts Brierley off - just as he says 'so you think the Bible teaches.' The one comment about what the Bible teaches just gets ignored. Driscoll goes on to close this section by saying that what we're doing in the UK isn't working. That seems to be his rationale for thinking we need famous young preachers - it's all about pragmatism.

But, is it a case of pragmatism (and perhaps misplaced pragmatism, for what works in the US doesn't necessarily work in the UK) trumping Scripture? For, while Driscoll brushes off Brierley's question about what the Bible teaches, that isn't to say that the Bible doesn't teach anything on the issue.

Titus 1:5 teaches us that elders (plural) are to be appointed in every city. Acts 14:23 makes it clear that there are to be elders (plural) in every church. And one of the main qualifications of elders (in fact, the qualification which really sets elders apart from deacons) is that they be 'able to teach' (1 Tim. 3:2). In the Antioch assembly we're told that there were 'prophets and teachers' (both plural). So in each local church, the Biblical model is that there should be more than one person who can teach. There will be several elders (all of whom should be able to teach) and perhaps even a few teachers like in Antioch. That means there shouldn't be a personality cult around the preacher - it's not a task reserved for one special man. It's not the preacher that has an elevated status, but the Word which is preached.

When important decisions about doctrine and mission had to be made, the apostles and elders gathered together (Acts 15). It wasn't the best known preacher who decided. But rather, together they sought the mind of Christ. And the one who spoke on behalf of the Council wasn't the most widely travelled or critically acclaimed preacher; it wasn't Peter who boldly cut off Malchus' ear, nor was it Paul, who would go on to oppose Peter to his face, but James, an apostle who never left Jerusalem and was best know for his prayerfulness and piety (according to the few historical sources that remain).

When the apostle Paul visited Troas, by our 21st century logic we would assume that it would be a big deal as the world's most famous preacher had come to town. Yet the Christians gathered that Lord's Day, not to hear a celebrity, but 'to break bread' (Acts 20:7). It was Christ (who is proclaimed in Word and Sacrament) who takes centre stage, not His preacher.

The Bible doesn't make a big deal about famous preachers. The Bible does make a big deal about the Christ who is preached.

The New Testament Church didn't rely on a few world-famous preachers, instead it cultivated plurality and collegiality among its leaders.

Remember, what might look like a good idea pragmatically isn't necessarily biblical.

P.S. Carl Trueman manages to sum the whole thing up in one sentence: 'The Great Man, youth and fame: not high on the list of Paul's priorities; and three basic elements of celebrity culture.'