Parsley’s TV program, Breakthrough, is broadcast to 96 percent of the nation twice a day, six days a week. Before the summer of 2004, Parsley often attacked the evils of partial-birth abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning and genocide in Sudan from the familiar confines of his pulpit at World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio.
Then, in July, he founded The Center for Moral Clarity, cleared his fall schedule of previously booked speaking engagements and embarked on a tour of major U.S. cities—many in states that decided the 2000 election and were considered critical in 2004.
His goal? To awaken the American church to a crisis of moral values and to prod pew-warming believers to pray, vote and make their voices heard on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, poverty and racism. Although Parsley was careful to couch his “Silent No More” tour in nonpartisan terms, his message was clear: “Vote for the candidate who will defend biblical values.”
The 2004 presidential election was decided by 59,388 voters in Parsley’s home state of Ohio in a race that was close, but definitively in favor of incumbent George W. Bush. And exit polls revealed that this Midwestern pastor wasn’t the only one concerned about the moral climate of America. Political pundits on both sides of the ideological fence agree that it was religious leaders like Parsley who awakened voters to make a difference on Election Day.
Unsatisfied by what some may see as a political victory, Parsley recently wrote Silent No More, a book in which he researches and exposes the moral decay in every sector of society and challenges believers to invade secular culture with the transforming power of the gospel.
Ministries Today spoke with Parsley about his role in the election, whether pastors should be able to endorse political candidates, and why abortion and same-sex marriage aren’t the only issues the church must confront.
Ministries Today: You’ve been primarily known as a revivalist. What was the turning point that moved you to take a stand in the 2004 election?
Rod Parsley: Through Breakthrough we had done some petitioning campaigns on issues like partial-birth abortion, the Sudan Peace Act, embryonic stem-cell research and cloning. The response to those was overwhelming to us. So we knew there was a need here and something that people wanted us to speak to.
Then, I had the opportunity to be at the signing of the bill to ban partial-birth abortion. There were two dozen people in the room with the president during that signing, and I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about the representation of my generation in that room. Because everyone there was about 20 years my senior, I noticed that there was a gap in a national voice of my generation speaking out to moral issues.
So I founded the Center for Moral Clarity to address those critical moral issues that I felt were facing our nation. The center does that work through prayer, information and activism to shape our culture, grow healthy families and empower America’s moral base.
Ministries Today: Some people are hinting that the response to your Silent No More tour may have swung the election in Ohio—and, thus, the nation. Was the response bigger than you expected?
Parsley: I think we shined a light on—exposed something—that had been there all along. Even before the 2004 election I sensed that “values voters” were going to make a difference, and I could almost see a light of revelation in people’s eyes when I would address those issues in the pulpits.
These issues ne--eded to be spoken to regardless of who spoke out for them. A lot of mainstream America—who were not necessarily evan--gelical Christians, but people of many faiths or even people of no faith—have a strong moral basis. They more readily identify with our values than those of the liberal left. I think they realized there was a great cost of sitting on the sidelines while the political process went forward without them.
Ministries Today: Did you sense that you were changing people’s minds about who to vote for, or do you think you just stimulated values-voters, who may have stayed home November 2, to get to the polls?
Parsley: There’s a difference between changing people’s minds and encouraging them to act on what they already believe. I certainly never told anyone who to vote for because, unfortunately, that is illegal. But people of faith who know God’s Word and want to protect marriage and life will support amendments and candidates that define those issues for them.
Ministries Today: Have you had any contact with people at the White House responding to your tour?
Parsley: There were some encouraging responses beginning the very morning after the election with phone calls. I was honored to give the invocation for the president when he came to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, and I was invited to the Inauguration and prayed at the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast. I’m sure that our efforts were recognized, but we’re grateful to this president for his leadership.
Ministries Today: Do you anticipate that legislation will be introduced within the coming years to muzzle pastors’ speech on issues such as homosexuality?
Parsley: Unfortunately, it’s already happening. In California, state Senator Sheila Kuehl sponsored a bill, SB 1234, that was later signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger, which makes it illegal to speak out against homosexuality. Under that legislation, individuals could claim that someone expressing their biblical beliefs is intimidating and threatening to them. This is punishable by law now in the state of California, and the penalties include criminal prosecution and fines.
Here’s the staggering thing: fines up to $25,000 are awarded to the person who brings the accusation. All of this is modeled after Swedish and Canadian laws, and that’s why it’s so important for us to get HR 235 passed (see “Taking Off the Muzzle,” page 27). It will protect our preachers, clerics, bishops, priests and people of faith when they speak out on biblical truth about issues in their churches.
Ministries Today: How would you respond to people who say that pastors should not support specific candidates?
Parsley: Prior to 1954 those in houses of worship in America were free to speak out about any and every topic without any fear of government limitations or reprisals.
But when Lyndon Baines Johnson was running for re-election in the United States Senate, there were 501(c)(3) corporations who were opposing his bid for re-election, so he had this language introduced to an IRS bill. It was never voted on; it never came up in committee; it was never put before the American people or their elected officials in any way, but it became part of the IRS tax code.
I don’t think that Lyndon Johnson intended to target churches, because it wasn’t churches that were targeting him. However, since churches are 501(c)(3) organizations, we lost our First Amendment right of free speech.
What the First Amendment does clearly state is that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion and prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech or the press.” HR 235 simply aims to restore the First Amendment rights of religious leaders, so that’s why we’ve got to see it get passed.
Ministries Today: What’s the biggest misconception church leaders have about “separation of church and state”?
Parsley: The only constitution that “separation of church and state” ever appeared in was the constitution of the former Soviet Union. I don’t think that’s one we want to follow.
That whole misunderstanding regarding “separation of church and state” came about in 1947 when Supreme Court Associate Justice Hugo Black, in Everson vs. Board of Education, asserted that the First Amendment made a separation between the church and state that should remain impregnable and so forth.
The only problem is, it’s not in the Constitution, it’s not in the Bill of Rights, and we have to see to it that our spiritual leaders are able to fulfill their responsibility to speak out on issues that are central to the faith of our people.
Ministries Today: In your book Silent No More, you argue that the church should take a stand on issues such as poverty and racial discrimination. How important are these compared to abortion and gay marriage?
Parsley: One of the major reasons that I wrote this book was to take issues that traditionally belong to the left and commend them to the right, and to take issues that traditionally belong to the right and commend them to the left.
I’m passionate about advancing the biblical vision of the founding fathers, and I think it’s important to speak out on all the issues of righteousness and of justice. I think for too long we have polarized ourselves, and these divisions fall many times along denominational lines, along racial lines and certainly across political lines that separate God’s people.
If folks are going to read this book and think they’re just going to hear another rant about abortion or other typically right-wing issues, they don’t know me. Those issues will be spoken to, but I can’t be silent either as long as one out of six of our children is going to bed hungry every night. I can’t be silent when 78 cents on the dollar is all a woman earns compared to her male counterpart on the same job.
As we speak out on these issues, what will happen is exactly what we saw happen with the marriage issue: It was the greatest rallying cry for the body of Christ of my lifetime, because it tore down the walls of race, theology and political ideology, and we were able to come together in a point of real agreement.
Ministries Today: Have you been able to build bridges with liberals because of your stand on racial issues?
Parsley: Many in the African-American community have become tremendous friends--not that they weren’t before. But they appreciate hearing someone that may be traditionally viewed as a far right-wing conservative speaking out on issues that are central to them as believers as well. I think we’re seeing the groundswell that the devil and world both are going to have to deal with.
Ministries Today: You have a large African-American contingency in your own church. What happened with the sought-after “black vote” in the 2004 election?
Parsley: Ethnic believers moved from 7 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2004 nationally, voting for Bush. In Ohio, I believe it was even higher than that. It’s obvious that there were African Americans who said, “We can’t vote for a president who believes that marriage between two homosexuals or two lesbians should be the law of the land.”
Lights also began to go on in the area of abortion, partial-birth abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. The lines are just getting too broad, and the distinction is becoming too apparent between these two political ideologies. My hope is that there will be democratic leadership that will stand up and begin to speak out on the issues of morality again.
Historically they have done that. For many years they have focused more on social-justice issues, and I think they are understanding that the mainstream still has the solid moral base and foundation. I believe there are those among the democratic leadership who do have strong moral convictions.
There are also those in the Republican Party who don’t support bans on partial-birth abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. What I’m hoping is that individuals from both ends of the political spectrum will begin to take a stand for these moral issues.
Ministries Today: Have you received much criticism from black Christian leaders about your position?
Parsley: I haven’t had any negative input at all. In fact, more African-American leaders have reached out for me to help them take a stand on these moral issues. I think they have appreciated my leadership in that regard and even more so as they read Silent No More and understand that I’m speaking to both sides of the political spectrum.
Ministries Today: Is it possible to have people in government concerned with moral values and still have a morally bankrupt society?
We must have these three things to initiate national revival: First, we must have a priest. We have that in Jesus, a high priest in His office. Second, we’ve got to have a king or a political system that will do that which is right in the eyes of God. Third, we’ve got to have a prophetic voice that will declare “Thus saith the Lord” to this generation. When we have all those three things functioning together we have the best opportunity for national revival.
Ministries Today: Should the government make laws against the behavior of consenting adults (e.g. sodomy)?
Parsley: The government makes laws about behavior or morality all the time. All legislation reflects morality. I want Christians to be a part of the discussion about whose morality the legislation will reflect.
Should we allow murder and theft, or marriage between three or four consenting adults? Everybody knows that’s not good for society, so legislatures must make laws against such behavior.
Ministries Today: Detroit pastor Keith Butler is planning to run for U.S. Senate. Have you ever considered a political career?
Parsley: I’ve met many fine men and women of faith and consider their work in government as ministry. But here’s the thing: Men and women will spend eternity in heaven or hell based on the words of a gospel preacher, and I don’t believe there’s a higher calling than that. Right now that’s what the Lord has me doing and I’m very privileged to be doing it.
Ministries Today: Do you think that there may be a need for some men or women out there who right now are preaching to shift into a political calling?
Parsley: Certainly in this hour God is putting His hand on individuals that may have been involved in ministry in any of the fivefold office gifts to become more of an active part of the political process, and that may mean that they become involved in running for an office and in fulfilling that office.
Ministries Today: Have you received any threats because of your political involvement throughout the campaign?
Parsley: Of course, we’re always threatened by those who are motivated by the wrong spirit, and that’s been a part of ministry life for many years for me. We just go on about our work and know that he that dwells in the secret place of the most high abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
The word "calling" in the New Testament is used in several ways. But what I am referring to here is "career calling," God's plan for your life. Some of us discover much later, long after we have been converted, what God is going to do with our lives. Some also find that they are not happy with what God is planning in their lives, because it isn't happening like they thought it would happen.
To Peter and Andrew, Jesus said, " 'Come, follow me ... and I will make you fishers of men'" (Matt. 4:19, NIV). Peter had been a fisherman, and God called him to be a soul-winner. It was not something that Peter had wanted.
There is also a close connection between our natural gifts and God's calling for life, or career calling. We all have gifts, but they are not all used in the same way (see 1 Cor. 12:14-20).
Some people might want to be the head or the eye, but they are only the foot or the hand, figuratively speaking, and they get frustrated. They want to be in a high-profile position in the church. They say, "God, why can't I be up front where people will see me?"
God says: "Sorry, you are to be like the small intestines or the pancreas. You are like those organs in the body that aren't seen but are very necessary" (see 1 Cor. 12:22-24).
There are those who want to be behind the scenes, and if you gave them their choice, they would rather be the "liver" or the "kidneys" or the "lungs" where they are not seen. But God instead makes them be the eye, the ear or the head. It is an unwanted calling. It is when God's plans overrule yours. It is when you have been kept from doing what you wanted to do, and it's frustrating to you.
To be converted is one thing, but when you are subsequently called to do or be something that you hadn't wanted to do or be, that's quite another.
As for your education, it all seems to have gone down the drain. You went to the university to study a specialized field, and now look at what you do for a living!
When it comes to where God has placed you, you may feel overqualified and frustrated, or you may feel underqualified and frustrated. Maybe you work with people with whom you never would have chosen as co-workers. Maybe you are in a place you never would have chosen to work.
Could this be a thorn in the flesh? Yes! You have never been happy over the years with the work you have had to do, the workplace, or your co-workers. It's not even work that you were trained to do. It is not what you had planned to do, and over the years you have kept thinking this must be going to change: I'm not always going to be doing this!
But then the years go by, and you are still doing this work. I'm not always going to have to be with these people!, you say to yourself. Years go by, and you're still with them, and you keep thinking, It will end! But it hasn't yet. God has led you to where you are, but inwardly you think: Surely there must be something better in life for me than this. Is this it? Is this all there is?
Life is passing you by. You grew up looking forward to becoming maybe a doctor or a lawyer. Maybe you wanted to become a nurse or a computer programmer. It seems that nothing has gone according to your plan.
Could this have been Paul's thorn in the flesh? I believe that it could have been. After all, after he became a Christian he had to work with his hands and with a people whom he had been brought up to believe were second class: Gentiles. Had he managed to do what he wanted to do, he would have been able to work with his own people. Do you know, as long as he lived, he never got over that? (See Rom. 9:1-5.)
I wonder how many people are afraid of becoming Christians because they fear that the moment they become Christians God is going to send them to some far-flung place.
To us, it just doesn't add up. All of his life Paul was looking over his shoulder, trying to reach Jews at every opportunity. He said, "The gospel is to the Jew first" (Rom. 1:16), and I can tell you, every chance he had, he was talking to a Jew. I am quite convinced this is what eventually got him into real trouble.
There is little doubt in my mind that when those people came to him and said, "Don't go to Jerusalem," they were led of the Spirit (see Acts 21:411). Luke says, "By the Spirit they said, 'Don't go.'" Paul said, "I'm going!" He kept thinking that one day, somehow, he was going to convert the Jews. When he went to Jerusalem, it was a big disaster. It didn't happen.
Maybe that's you. You are still hoping somehow to do something else. You say, "I am not going to do this all my life!" You try to do what God won't let you do, and it just doesn't happen. Paul's lasting success was with the very people he had grown up to think very little of. It was an unwanted calling.
I met a Harvard man who became one of David Brainerd's biographers. Had Brainerd lived, he would have been Jonathan Edwards' son-in-law, but he died at the age of 29. Edwards went on to publish Brainerd's journal and that journal was once said to have inspired more people to be missionaries than any body of literature next to the Bible.
After the biographer relayed this story, he said something I was not prepared for: "David Brainerd did not really like the Indians that he had to witness to in New York state. He actually couldn't stand them!" Yet here was this godly man who became a legend because of his ministry to the American Indians.
Take an unwanted calling as to secular involvement. You took certain subjects at school and later concentrated on a certain field. Perhaps you studied law, French or medicine.
Then when it came to finding a job, no jobs were available in the area of your preparation or training. Perhaps you learned Chinese, and now you are working as a secretary.
You studied philosophy or theology, and you are working as a taxi driver. You went to a university and graduated, and now you are working as a salesperson in a department store.
Perhaps you felt called to be a foreign missionary, and you are still living and working in your own country. Or, maybe you have to do a kind of Christian work as plan B--waiting for that more fulfilling opportunity.
One must take into consideration the providence of an unwanted calling. Perhaps God has given you a mission you didn't ask for. "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going" (Heb. 11:8).
How's that for trying to impress your friends?
"What are you up to, Abraham?"
"What do you mean, 'not sure'? What's happening in your life?"
"Well, I am obeying God!"
"Where are you going?"
That was it. In fact, "the Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you'" (Gen. 12:1). What kind of a mission is that? Yet Abraham became one of the greatest men in all history. He is known as the father of the faithful. He had no idea what it would lead to.
Jesus said, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10).
Do you feel that life is passing you by although you have kept your eyes on the Lord? He has led you from one place to the next, and you recognize His leading, but you think to yourself, This is not what I had in mind! But it is not over yet! There was a lot for Abraham to discover.
What if, like Jonah, you are given a mandate you didn't ask for? The same Jonah who prayed he wouldn't have to go to Nineveh now prayed, "O God, please let me go!" It is amazing how God can get our attention. The very thing you said no to is the very thing you end up praying for!
He was given a message he hadn't wanted to deliver. God may give you a word you have to preach. It is not what you wanted to preach, but you do it because He tells you to.
There is great potential in an unwanted calling. It refers to what you are capable of becoming. God sees what you are capable of becoming and saying. If you could always do only what you wanted to do, you would never know your full potential in other areas.
Your potential is what God sees, but you can't. God can see a potential in you that you can't see, so He leads you in a way, which, at first, doesn't seem to make sense.
Consider Daniel, whose captivity allowed him to be used in giftings that otherwise would never have been discovered.
The way we have been led we cannot understand at the time, but time shows there is purpose and meaning in it all. So it is with you. God knows your potential, and it may seem wasted at first, but one day you will see a reason for all that you have learned and the explanation for all your training.
What if you even sacrifice that career?
What is the purpose of an unwanted calling? It is the reason for the thorn in the flesh in the first place. God directed you differently from what you wanted in order to give you the usefulness and intimacy with Him you would not have otherwise experienced. If you are like me, then you would have been too proud had you gotten what you wanted.
God's purpose is twofold. First, everything that He does in our lives is geared for one purpose: to know the Lord (see Phil. 3:10). I find it very interesting that Philippians was written after Paul had that disaster by going to Jerusalem (see Acts 2126).
Nothing happened as he had hoped, and he alludes to it in Philippians 1:12: "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel."
The Philippians were worried about him, but he says, "As for what happened to me, it doesn't matter; it hasn't hurt the gospel." It is as though he says, "I may not be in good shape in some ways, but it advanced the gospel."
That is what it is all for. God doesn't care whether I am seen as a great success. He cares about one thing, and that is that I get to know His Son. He says, "R.T., I am sorry about having to disappoint you in some things, but there is only one way that you are going to get to know My Son, and that is to put you through all this."
Everything that has happened to us--whether it be an unwanted calling, living in unhappy conditions, working with people we don't want to, studying in a specialized field only to have a career doing the opposite--is because God wants us to know His Son.
The potential that you have for intimacy with God would never be discovered if you got to do what you wanted to do. If you had the success you wanted, you wouldn't be teachable. God knows where to keep us. So when we get to the place where we say, "I just want to know Him," God says, "Good."
But there is another purpose, and it is this: that we might have a reward at the judgment seat of Christ (see 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).
In other words, the thorn of an unwanted calling is the best thing that could have happened to any of us. We all need a thorn to save us from ourselves, and Paul could say at the end of the day, "It is worth it all!" *
As a church grows and broadens its ministry, the pastor must begin to view his role not only as a shepherd but also as a rancher. As a church expands its reach to meet the needs of different groups of people, the senior pastor must be willing to allow others to shepherd those distinct groups. As a rancher, he helps set the direction for all these shepherds so the entire flock can embrace a like vision and operate in unity.
In order for a church to reach its community today, one must be willing to explore innovative ways to communicate to people who are receiving information, inspiration and motivation differently than they did just a few years ago.
Each year, when thousands of pastors and leaders gather at our Pastors' School, we emphasize that the method is not sacred--the message is. As long as we maintain the integrity of the good news of Christ, we can be--and we must be--innovative in the way we present the message so that it is relevant to people's lives.
Ultimately, there are two priorities set before the pastor as his holy charge. They are eternal and must be at the forefront of what he does: the Word of God and people. Everything else will pass away, but the Word of God will remain. And an emphasis on people and their everlasting souls will help keep the pastor focused, and limit distractions such as buildings and programs, which--albeit important--must not become the main focus in ministry.
If the pastor, or a rancher, if you will, has these priorities in mind and heart, it will be easier for him to reach the community with new methods, but with the same message of the love of God.
Numerous studies have shown that one of the primary barriers to churches reaching unchurched people in their communities is that many people feel churches are not relevant to their lives.
I have always felt that the church should be on the cutting
edge in the ways that it reaches out to people. Fifty years ago, using props and dramatic presentations while presenting illustrated sermons was considered practically heretical. Realizing that our society is becoming more and more visually oriented and less literary, we have to bring the message of Christ to people in a manner that makes sense to them.
Similarily, when we removed the hymnals from the pews at Phoenix First and replaced them with two large projection screens, many thought that a sacred element of worship had been replaced by some sterile technology. Instead, the worship experience has been enhanced with the use of technology that makes the message relevant to people.
A pastor must examine the church and its ministries, its facilities and, ultimately, himself to see that the love of God is being effectively communicated to people in a way that makes sense in the postmodern context.
A pastor should be willing to risk utilizing cultural innovations in order to spread the gospel. For example, we often capitalize on the marketing efforts that are capturing the attention of millions of people in order for those same people to hear our message.
We recently advertised an illustrated sermon titled "American Idols," complete with a vocal contest, and unchurched people from all over the community came. When the message was presented that idolatry and the pursuit of fame leaves people with a hollow emptiness that only Jesus Christ can fill, more than 1,000 people came to the altars to give their hearts to the Lord.
We've built new high-tech buildings for youth and children, a "Youth Walk" hangout for teens and a cafe in order to create an environment where we can reach the next generation. Young people who might not otherwise come to church are affected by the message to such an extent that many of them don't want services to end as they continue to seek the Lord.
If the pastor is a CEO as some church leadership experts claim, then perhaps some reinventing--as the corporate world would call it--is in order. When companies reinvent, they strengthen their identities and visions while increasing the scope of their outreach.
Without compromising the enduring values of salvation, healing, the Holy Spirit and the second coming, we must create innovative means of communicating these truths to a generation that is biblically illiterate.
One of the ways that we as pastors can examine our churches' relevance in our communities is to see if our churches represent the people that we are trying to reach in our weekly attendance. If not, we must be willing to take the risk of reinventing ourselves in order to reach a lost and dying world for Christ. *
They remind me of fat sheep that keep eating more and more and need to be poked to let air out before they die of eating too much. To quote my predecessor at Westminster Chapel, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, they are "perfectly orthodox and perfectly useless."
But if you look to charismatic and Pentecostal churches--those who fancy themselves "Spirit-filled"--you will find the opposite. Teaching is not primary. Worship, signs and wonders, and an obsession with the benefits of giving and receiving are the cornerstones of what passes for solid teaching.
Instead of an emphasis upon the real reason Jesus died--the cross, the resurrection, knowing Christ--teaching has become largely concerned with answering the question, "What will this do for me?" This is the very reason "revival tarries," to use the late Leonard Ravenhill's phrase.
Is the place of teaching in our churches given the same profile as in the New Testament?
Not in the least. The writings of the apostle Paul comprise two-thirds of the New Testament--almost entirely teaching. Consider the four Gospels, which are composed of the parables and the sermons of Jesus. They are all teaching. Look at the book of Acts: the key issues were the reason Jesus died and rose from the dead, the relationship of circumcision to salvation, the offense of the cross--all interlaced with persecution in the early church over teaching.
One of the forgotten observations of Luke is the way he initially described the early church immediately after recording the event of Pentecost: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching ... " (Acts 2:42, NIV). Teaching came first in the New Testament, and it should come first today.
Instead, it would seem that much that passes for preaching and teaching nowadays is done with meticulous care so that the deep-pocket givers will not be offended. Teachers are more concerned with filtering the content through the minds of hearers rather than confronting the lost who are going to hell.
By the way, when is the last time you actually heard an authentic, heartfelt sermon devoted entirely to the teaching of eternal punishment?
Is there a hint of the appetite of the church today if one judges this by the preaching on Christian television these days?
While some Christians might crave healthier fare, you'd never know it to watch the average "teaching" program. Instead of solid, sound teaching that reflects the God of the Bible, we hear of the preacher's desire to make people write in (with a generous contribution) at the end of the program.
But when contributions are needed to keep these preachers on the air, one wonders if they end up "playing to the gallery" and "ringing certain bells" to keep the money flowing in.
If I am asked what some of the false teachings are that have invaded the church today, I would answer:
The dilution of the New Testament teaching on eternal punishment.
An absence of emphasis on the Holy Spirit's role in convicting of sin, righteousness and judgment before people can be saved.
Ignorance of the primary reason Jesus died and rose from the dead--for our salvation, not for our healing and prosperity.
An overemphasis on what appeals to one's personal comfort to motivate to obedience rather than being motivated by the glory of God alone.
These and other issues should be addressed by the teachers God has given the church. But it would appear that the gift of teaching has fallen on hard times in the body of Christ today.
ISN'T THE HOLY SPIRIT ENOUGH?
The office of the teacher is the last on the list of those offices, or special anointings, given in Ephesians 4:11. It is the least controversial, but possibly the most neglected and needed of the five.
The Greek word for "teacher" (didaskalos) is found in the New Testament 58 times. It was a common way the 12 addressed Jesus--"Master" in the King James Version--which appears in the four Gospels alone at least 45 times. The Greek word didasko ("to teach") is found 95 times in the New Testament and didakee ("teaching") appears 30 times in the New Testament.
In the ancient Hellenistic world these words taken together referred to instruction and were used to denote the insight of the one to be instructed and the knowledge presupposed in the teacher. The example, not merely the instruction, of the teacher formed a bridge to the knowledge and the ability of the pupil. Teaching referred to the inspiration of practical and theoretical knowledge.
There was a deep connection between the content of instruction and the example of the teacher, since the teacher would often be imitated by the pupil. One thus recalls Paul's final word to Timothy, "You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance" (2 Tim. 3:10). Doctrine and manner of life were intimately related.
Is it true that if people are soundly converted they will progress in their walks with Christ simply because they have the Holy Spirit to guide and teach them? Most of Paul's letters--two-thirds of the New Testament--plus, Hebrews, all underline the premise that the Holy Spirit is not enough! If the Holy Spirit were enough, then one would just learn from Him and drink at the fountain of His peace--and never need to open the Bible.
But God gave us the Bible--the Holy Spirit's greatest product--that we might know the Spirit's mind. We need to be filled with the Spirit again and again and again. What happened at Pentecost in Acts 2 was virtually repeated in Acts 4:31 and following, and this must happen to us.
It is then that we will grasp the teaching of the New Testament at a level rarely experienced. Never forget: the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible and if we are to understand it we must be on good terms with Him.
In fact, the role of the Holy Spirit is to bring to our minds what has been previously taught. If sound teaching is not in our minds in the first place, there is nothing for the Holy Spirit to remind us of (see John 14:26).
TEACHING AND THE FIVEFOLD MINISTRIES
The fivefold ministries depicted in Ephesians 4:11 show not only the "givenness" and diversity of leadership in the earliest church but also the order in which the ministry functioned and generally unfolded:
First came the apostles who had authority to lay both doctrinal foundations and validate that authority partly through signs and wonders.
The prophetic ministry gave immediate direction and guidance for Christians, especially at a time when there was no New Testament to consult. This does not negate the need for the prophetic today, but one cannot help but wonder if people are more interested in the prophetic word than the written or preached word--even though we have the Bible at our fingertips.
Evangelists, the bearers of good news, could describe the role of virtually every Christian in ancient times although there emerged a special gifting in this area. All Christians have the gift of spreading the gospel within them, and this is a gold mine that is largely unexplored in the church at the present time.
The role of the pastor quickly surfaced, since all God's sheep need leadership, loving care and sometimes discipline.
The teacher can possibly be said to describe the apostle and pastor but refers mainly to the ongoing upholding of apostolic doctrine so that all the body of Christ could be aptly instructed and well-informed as to what they should believe.
Some pastors are not strong teachers or preachers, and some teachers and preachers are not good pastors. But sound teaching is needed in the body of Christ. This way a believer's faith will be strong and their discernment sharp when it is necessary to detect false teaching.
There is a distinction between the teacher and the preacher. Preaching refers to the message as well as method but largely embraces exhortation and evangelism. In a sense, preaching can be done by any believer, whereas the teacher is gifted with knowledge and the ability to impart knowledge.
Paul, John and Jude, in particular, had to deal with false teaching that crept into the church toward the end of the first century--largely Gnosticism and the teaching of the Judaizers (Jews who made professions of faith but who probably were never truly converted by the Holy Spirit).
CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH
The little epistle of Jude indicates that the writer had hoped to write a soteriological treatise but, due to the onslaught of false doctrine which came from counterfeit ministers, he warned that we must earnestly contend for the faith "once for all" entrusted to the saints (see Jude 3).
The "once for all" refers to a body of doctrine that needed to be understood and upheld. This shows that we are not to teach just anything we like; we are duty-bound to uphold Holy Scripture and that faith "once for all" delivered to the church. This is one of the reasons we still need the office of the teacher.
I believe that every Christian is called to be a theologian. Most believers today could not tell you what they believe or why. How many do you know can explain the doctrine of justification by faith--which turned the world upside down in the 16th century? But Paul said that Jesus was raised for our justification (see Rom. 4:25).
Worse still, how many Christians could be prepared in 10 seconds to lead a lost person to a saving knowledge of Christ? It takes not only a good experience but also--sooner or later--good theology to do this. The role of the teacher is therefore not merely an option; it is urgently needed--now more than ever.
She stepped into the pulpit at a time when women's callings were typically confined to the nursery, and she taught on the importance of a crucified life when self-promotion and prosperity were the hallmarks of many prominent ministries.
Who knew that one day this unassuming woman would impact some of the church's most influential leaders, including Myles Munroe, Judson Cornwall and others.
On January 30, 2004, at the age of 85, Pickett died peacefully in her Tennessee home and went to be with her beloved Jesus. But her life and her teachings will not soon be forgotten.
Pickett was born to God-fearing parents in Axton, Virginia, and faithfully attended a Methodist church during her early years. She married at 16, after graduating from high school.
Soon after, Pickett began observing the vibrant faith of a Presbyterian girl with whom she worked. Convicted, Pickett would often lie awake at night questioning whether she would go to heaven.
After attending an evangelistic rally, Pickett fell to her knees in her bedroom and cried out to God. That night, Pickett walked from darkness into light. Soon after, God began speaking to her.
Lying in bed one night, she heard a distinct voice calling her name, and she sensed that the room was filled with the presence of God. "I want you to preach and teach My Word," the voice said. "I knew I had heard the voice of God," Pickett told Ministries Today in her final interview.
God opened the door for her to attend John Wesley College, in Greensboro, North Carolina, and, later, Martinsville Bible College, Aldergate University and the University of North Carolina.
THE TEACHER MOVES IN
For the next 17 years, Pickett traveled throughout the country, preaching and teaching--although it was rare at the time for a woman to do so.
Her father dying of Hodgkin's disease, Pickett began to notice in her own body symptoms of a debilitating bone disease. "I felt instinctively that my days of ministry would soon be over," she said. Pickett tried to hide her condition from her family until the symptoms became unavoidable, and she found herself in a hospital bed, supported with braces and packed in sandbags to sustain her body.
She had written her own funeral, selected pallbearers and purchased a tombstone when a friend offered to take her to a meeting at a Pentecostal church. During the service, Pickett heard the Holy Spirit tell her to go forward for prayer. Her weakened body in braces, she dragged herself to the front and spoke to the preacher: "I don't know why I'm here. But I have a feeling that God would like these people to pray for me."
After a simple prayer and a smear of anointing oil, Pickett began limping back to her seat. It was when she reached the seventh pew that she saw her first vision. A voice said to her, "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land" (see Is. 1:19). The voice continued, "Are you willing to be identified with these people--to be one of them?"
"Yes, Lord," she replied and began to lower herself into her seat.
At that moment, Pickett recalled that the power of God struck the base of her neck and coursed through her body. Minutes later, she was dancing and shouting, her unneeded braces clattering to the floor.
An hour later, having exhausted her vocabulary for praising God, Pickett found herself speaking in a language she had never learned or heard before. "Not only was I healed from the top of my head to the tip of my toes," Pickett said. "But I was filled with the Holy Ghost."
"My Teacher moved in," she said. "For the first time in my life I began to understand, through revelation, the same Scriptures I had studied and taught faithfully for many years. They came alive to me, not as information, but as power that was working in me and transforming my life."
DREAMS AND VISIONS
Soon after, God began to reveal Himself to Pickett in dramatic ways. "You run your classes based on 60- or 90-minute sessions," she recalled the Holy Spirit telling her. "I don't. I live here in your spirit. I have moved in to be your Teacher, and My classroom is never closed. I wrote the Book."
Pickett added: "As the Holy Spirit would quicken truth to me, whole books of the Bible would open and relate to each other in my mind. I saw how Leviticus related to Hebrews, Joshua to Ephesians, and I walked the floor, shaking my head and staggering in my ability to grasp it all."
Local Pentecostal pastors caught wind that a Methodist minister had received the Holy Spirit, and soon, Pickett was invited to speak at Pentecostal camp meetings and revival services. As she explained, a Spirit-filled Methodist was a novelty at the time, and her story was welcomed with applause and amazement.
But she was called to do more than just testify. Daily, God was revealing truths to her about Himself and His Word. Soon, her Pentecostal friend Ralph Byrd began to notice. "You remind me of a Guernsey cow," he told her one day. "You are so full of the milk of the Word that you are bursting with it and looking for every calf around you that you can feed."
A TEACHER AND A MOTHER
From that point on, Pickett traveled extensively, preaching at conferences, writing and teaching at Fountaingate Ministries and Bible College, which she founded in Dallas. Over the years, Pickett became respected as both a teacher and a spiritual mother in the charismatic movement. Her teaching was a unique marriage of prophetic revelation and verse-by-verse exposition.
Pickett applied theological principles from her formal training, but she never held them too tightly when she felt the Spirit move her in a new direction. "I don't despise what I have studied," Pickett said. "That knowledge of the Word brought me to the point that I could receive true revelation of it."
Unafraid to confront traditional understandings of difficult passages, she often embraced an unconventional allegorical interpretation of Scripture. Pickett described this as the living Word giving her insight into the meaning of the written Word.
For instance, in a vision, Pickett was transported to the court of Esther, where the Spirit explained to her the meaning of the book and its characters: Esther represents the church, Haman the flesh and Mordecai the Holy Spirit.
While some would argue that books such as Esther and Ruth are historical narratives to be taken in a strictly literal sense, Pickett taught that they are both historical and allegorical--or revelatory. "As Paul said, all these things were examples," she explained. "The Holy Spirit wrote the facts, but He also gave us deeper allegorical truths all the way through."
The core of her teaching, however, was the deeper life, death to self and the Spirit's empowerment for godly living. "It is obedience to the revelation we receive that enables the Holy Spirit to keep giving us new revelation," she said. "The test of true revelation is the power it has to transform our thinking and our lives to the image of Christ."
Was she afraid of making mistakes? "Not mistakes, but incomplete truths," she said. "No one person has it all because the truth is broken into bits." Never one to hold too tightly to her interpretations, Pickett encouraged her hearers to examine her teachings through the lens of the written Word.
But doctrine was not as much a concern for Pickett as was the disunity and spiritual apathy she saw in the church. Four years after being filled with the Spirit, she received the most dramatic vision of her life, and, like the prophetess Anna, she longed for its fulfillment.
While she was spending the night in a church in Klamath Falls, Oregon, Pickett saw a hydroelectric power plant being built by crews of laborers. It was surrounded by gates and connected to dammed-up rivers, representing streams of church tradition.
Pickett said that there will be a last-days awakening, in which God's river of truth will again plow through the mechanisms of the derelict power plant, releasing revival in the nation and around the world.
It's been nearly 40 years since Pickett saw the vision, but she held to its reality. "We are coming to the last session," she said. "God is digging out the reservoirs, filling them with His Word, connecting people who are hungry."
THE STATE OF TEACHING
As she looked at the current church culture, Pickett was both encouraged and concerned. "There seems to be a hunger for what God said rather than what so-and-so said," she said. "This hunger will bring in the presence of God. But if you're not hungry, you won't eat."
In order for true renewal to come, Pickett contended that the church has to be cleansed of denominationalism, culture and prejudice. "We're fighting over a lot of doctrinal nonessentials--man's opinions, like how to have church," she said. "Denominational lines can come down, and we can focus on what we agree on for the sake of relationship."
Pickett cautioned against minimalizing the importance of the Teacher--the Holy Spirit, that is. "He is the unveiler of the teaching," she said. "If we walk with Him, He'll talk to us and lead us beyond just what we're hearing or reading. The Holy Spirit is the Teacher, but the gift of God given to the church is the teaching."
In her last days, Pickett was still exploring challenging books of the Bible--but not the ones most consider difficult. "Ephesians," she says. "It's one of the books of hunger. In other words, it gives insight and provokes hunger, a book to the mature."
She also hinted that she would soon leave this world. In fall 2003, she told a congregation in Lavergne, Tennessee, that she "wouldn't be coming back."
Sue Curran, who pastors Shekinah Church, the Blountville, Tennessee, congregation attended by Pickett since 1988, visited the teacher shortly before her death. "During my last conversation with her, she was desirous to live as long as the Lord wanted her to," Curran says. "Our church prayed to that end."
As she grew older, Pickett had lost the physical strength of her younger years but none of the passion and good humor. An interviewer once asked her how old she was. "Age is a number, Honey," she replied with a smile. "Mine is unlisted."
Although failing health prevented her from maintaining her rigorous speaking schedule, Pickett continued to address the Scriptures with this childlike faith and a sense of mystery, sharing her wisdom with Christian leaders who came to her for insight.
It was always hard to get Pickett to talk about herself, but you never had to look very hard to find someone who was willing to sing her praises. One of her closest earthly friends was charismatic Bible teacher Judson Cornwall, who had known her since 1961 when she came to his church in Eugene, Oregon.
"Her insight into the Scriptures was phenomenal," says Cornwall, 79. "The life that was in her seemed to be available to all who would listen with spiritual ears."
Cornwall attributed Pickett's gifting to an intimate relationship with God. "You had the sense that she heard from the Holy Spirit in her prayer closet, and I happen to know that she had," he says.
Still, Pickett always realized who really deserved the praise. "It's all about knowing who I am in contrast to who He is. It takes your pride down a number of notches," she said. "The praise that I receive doesn't belong to me. I just pass it on to Him--thank Him for it. I'm only the keeper and steward of knowledge--a trusted servant to handle the truth."Soul Food
Fuchsia Pickett's books enjoy revived interest
Fuchsia Pickett's writings and teachings continue to enjoy a broad audience, as people seek to gain insight and encouragement from books such as Receiving Divine Revelation, Stones of Remembrance and The Next Move of God.
Shortly before her death, a new series of books was released, a compilation of her hallmark writings on spirituality. Repackaged in hard-bound collector's editions, the six volumes are a tribute to Pickett's life and teachings. Here are some highlights:
Five Laws of the Dying Seed: Discover the Secret to a Fruitful Life
"Resurrection life comes out of losing our lives. Jesus wanted us to understand that out of death comes life and that without death there is no life. His message focused on the antithesis of death--resurrection life that would glorify God alone. Yet, it underscored the necessity of death, a spiritual law that we must embrace if we are to become fruitful in the kingdom of God."
God's Purpose for You: Answer Life's Five Key Questions
"Many charismatic teachers deny the need for suffering. They have taught us to rebuke everything the cross brought, to confess that we don't have to endure anything that hurts or cuts away at our 'self' lives. They don't want to talk about the fourth baptism. We speak eagerly of the baptism into the body of Christ, water baptism and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The fourth baptism, baptism of suffering, however, is not as readily taught. We don't want to suffer."
Possess Your Promised Land: Learn to Defeat Your Hidden Enemies.
"Even God's miracles, like the manna He fed His people daily in the wilderness, have the larger purpose of humbling us to teach us the reality of our dependency on our relationship with God. He tests us to see if we will obey His commandments, knowing that only if we do can we inherit our promised land.
To purchase these and the other three books in this series (Understanding the Personality of the Holy Spirit, Walking in the Anointing of the Holy Spirit and Cultivating the Gifts & Fruit of the Holy Spirit), visit www.charismahouse.com, or call 1-800-599-5750.