On the critical role of the teacher in the Church

“ Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. .
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (Epistle of James, ESV translation) 

Recently my good friend John at ACT3, blogged about the neglected role of Jesus as “The teacher sent from God”. I really appreciated him speaking to this critical function, not only in the life of Christ, but of perennial importance in the Churches of Christ.

I want to speak to a different emphasis on the same theme: the very thing that James speaks to in the third chapter of his little epistle. I think I was among the majority of Bible readers who, when they would read this chapter and what James said about the “tongue”, just assumed I knew that he was literally speaking about that member in the human anatomy that causes so much trouble. Right?


(Elder D.J.Ward- see the Saints Gallery )

But then one day I read one of those essays that opened a whole new light on what he was saying about the function of the teacher within the community of faith. The essay by John Yoder called attention to the fact that the word “tongue” as used in the New Testament always had a broader and richer meaning which included language (as in the account on the Day of Pentecost and the miracle of “tongues”-see Acts 2), and the whole concept of transmitting either by word-of-mouth or by letter the teachings of Christ and His Church. For anyone who has seriously sought to be involved in this teaching activity, they have undoubtedly discovered for themselves the basic reality James is dealing with and just how incredibly significant the choice of words becomes (“if anyone does not stumble in what he says”) as well as all the personal factors of the one doing the transmitting. This goes for whether it is in person or by the printed word or now what is placed on the internet.

In crucial matters of a faith tradition such as my own, this function has everything to do with the maturing not only of every disciple of Christ, but the entire Church herself. That is why there is so much spoken about this function in the New Testament (for starters, start with the Life of Christ himself and what he transmitted to his disciples and then told them to perpetuate-see Matthew 28:18-20 or the Apostle Paul’s exhortation in 2 Timothy).

I close with two observations. First, we must always recognize that the function of teacher in the Church is, like the Apostle, one that is called and gifted by Christ himself. It is not for anyone to assume or take on of his or her own initiative. James is very clear in regard to his warning to wannabe teachers- “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

Secondly then, those that are appointed by Christ to this function whether in a local congregation or to the Church-at-large, must realize the discipline required of them in being able to control what they say and how they say it. My own observation, after spending my entire adult life in the Church and her teaching ministries, is that all of us are all too lax in this regard and not careful with our own “filler” that we carelessly add to the message.

May God grant His Churches in these challenging days, the wisdom that comes from above for all His chosen teachers.

(Read Yoder’s essay on The Use of The Bible in theology)