The room is quiet, twenty people holding a collective breath. Leaning forward on folding chairs, watching the drama unfold on the stage in front of us, we wait for the answer to this question. To the left, Greg sits relaxed as if he’s simply engaging a conversation over coffee. To the right sits a panel of six pastors, poised with papers, microphones, and questions. One after another they sling questions at him.
He fields their questions quickly and confidently, often so succinctly that the board sits blinking at him for a moment before realizing the question has been answered.
I have never sat in on anything like this, and here I am, wife of the applicant, front row, eyes focused now on Greg, now on the board. A lifetime of biblical churches and personal study makes many of the questions familiar; I myself could answer them well and confidently:
“How do you maintain your walk with God through ‘dry spells’?”
“What ordinances do the church practice, and why?”
“Comment on the penalty for sin in this life and in eternity.”
Some of the questions are cut-and-dried, basic doctrines whose difficulties lie not in the truth of the answers, but in expressing those truths clearly, with biblical reference. I know the right answers, but it would take me fifteen minutes and a decent concordance:
“Who is Jesus?”
“What is the role of the Holy Spirit?”
“Define the Trinity, giving examples from the Old and New Testaments.”
Still others are questions I’ve dabbled in, gray areas that have solid Christians holding different beliefs. I admit I tend to be lazy about these doctrines, wrestling briefly with them when the situation arises, but walking away quickly. I shrink from the risk and effort of actually diving into the Bible and forming--or changing--my opinion:
“What do you believe about the Second Coming of Christ?”
“What is your opinion on speaking in tongues?”
This last question is one of the very few that catches Greg, and I knew that it would. This is a difficult one to untangle from the Book of Acts, and Greg has yet to find a position he feels very comfortable with. The board grills him for more clarity, demands biblical reference, and finally challenges him to spend more time studying this subject.
For nearly all of the questions, though, Greg’s answers are extraordinarily clear, very simply conveying very difficult truth. It takes years of hard study and experiences to own this stuff so well.
Before us now, as we sit with baited breath, this conundrum:
Greg doesn’t even blink. “It means to unnaturally have the benefit of the nourishing sap that comes from the trunk.”
“Wow...” I hear from the row behind me as the observers let out their breath in awe. I share their wonder, knowing it would take me ten times the words to have half the clarity of that simple, beautiful sentence.
Another difficult, multi-faceted question:
“How do justice, mercy, and grace relate to the attributes of God and to all of humanity?”
Greg’s calm, clear voice enunciates the gospel: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). That’s the justice of God, that sin is paid for by the sinner. Christ died on the cross, and because he had no sin, he had no penalty or wage to pay himself, so that when he died, he was able to take on the penalty of our sin. So he died our death for us. That is the mercy of God: when we accept that, when we ask for that forgiveness. And the grace of God,” Greg’s voice warms with joy toward this wonder, “His grace is just his goodness toward us, when we ask for his forgiveness.”
Basic doctrine, and crucial. We build our lives on these truths, and as missionaries we’re teaching others to do the same. We need to get this stuff right.
Our ordained pastors have a difficult task, the task Greg is now charged with: Can you express and defend Christian doctrines clearly? And can you come to an honest position on difficult topics, studying and praying hard to form a good, solid, defensible stance, yet humble enough to be open to change and correction? Commissioned and ordained to hold out the Word of Life; to admonish and rebuke with love; to shepherd Jesus’ flock and work to purify His precious Bride; to lead as servants; to teach with accuracy: our pastors have a high and weighty calling.
Thank your pastor today. And when you see Greg, congratulate him.
He passed with flying colors.