Posted by: the watchmen | December 7, 2007

Ministers and politics.—Martin McGeown

The following article by our Brother, is certainly worthy of deep consideration. Especially by those who are striving  for a closer walk with The Lord.

Leaving the Word of God to Serve Parliamentary Tables

Martyn McGeown

A minister of the Word and sacraments is to give himself “wholly” or “entirely” to the prayerful study and faithful preaching of the Holy Scriptures (I Tim. 4:15; Acts 6:4). Thus he is to serve Christ as a pastor or shepherd for the edification of his congregation. Therefore, unless a church is unable to support a preacher financially, he may not have a second job. This includes working in politics. Yet Rev. Ian Paisley and Rev. William McCrea have been working as preachers and politicians for decades.

The apostles refused to do the work of deacons alongside the teaching labours of their office. They declared, “It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God, and serve [dining] tables” (Acts 6:2). But these Free Presbyterian ministers are leaving the Word of God to serve parliamentary tables.

This has been allowed to go on in the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster for many years, but now that some of its members object to the DUP’s power-sharing with Sinn Fein in the N. Ireland Assembly, many are (rightly) questioning the lawfulness of having Christian ministers in political office at all. Rev. Paisley ought not merely stand down as Free Presbyterian moderator, after over half a century in that position. A Christian pastor ought not also be a politician in the first place, never mind First Minister of N. Ireland!

In his last inspired epistle, the apostle (and soon to be martyr) Paul, writing to Timothy the evangelist (II Tim. 4:1-5) on the work of his spiritual office, draws lessons for Christian ministers from three callings: soldiers, athletes and farmers (II Tim. 2:3-6). The first of these—the soldier analogy—is especially relevant in this connection because it requires ministers that they focus on their duties as preachers of the Word and pastors of Christ’s flock without entanglement in temporal affairs: “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (v. 4). Yet for decades Rev. Paisley has been leader of his own political party and a member of two or three parliaments (the N. Ireland Assembly in Stormont, Belfast; the United Kingdom Parliament in Westminster, London; and the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France), alongside his duties as a minister of a congregation and moderator of a denomination. In 2004, he withdrew from the European Parliament but now he is First Minister of Northern Ireland. These political offices involve electioneering, helping constituents, sitting and debating in parliament, etc., besides his work of preaching, writing, counselling, etc., in the church. Whereas one can only admire such a phenomenal work-rate sustained for so long, it is clear that Ian Paisley’s career in several political offices while a minister in a Christian congregation is totally contrary to the Word of God and displeasing and dishonouring to the Lord Jesus: “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (v. 4). What soldier, whether in first century Rome or elsewhere, would be allowed to remain as a soldier while also working as a politician in two or three parliaments (with all that this entails) and even being First Minister in one of them! No special circumstances may be lawfully made against breaking this command of Christ. Indeed, the apostle concludes his three instructive analogies for Christian ministers (vv. 3-6) with this exhortation: “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things” (v. 7). Evidently, neither Rev. Paisley nor the denomination which has allowed him to get away with this disobedience for decades has considered or understood what the Holy Spirit here is saying to ministers. Contrary to apostolic teaching, Revs. Paisley and McCrea are leaving the Word of God to serve parliamentary tables.

Now it would appear that this sin against the first mark of a true church (faithful preaching of the gospel by ministers of the Word) is leading to sin against the third mark of a true church (faithful church discipline). Magherafelt Free Presbyterian elder, Raymond Linton has been “suspended” from his church office and is no longer able to receive the Lord’s Supper for opposing Rev. Paisley’s political activities (Newsletter, 18 July, 2007). This is basically excommunication, the final stage of church discipline (Matt 18:15-17; I Cor. 5), which may only be used in cases where members walk wilfully and impenitently in sin, for example, adultery, sodomy, drunkenness or the like (I Cor. 6:9-11). Disagreeing with the denomination’s moderator is not an excommunicable offence.

Sadly, many churches in N. Ireland are woefully lacking in any discipline (allowing members to maintain heresies or lead wicked lives), but now the Free Presbyterian Church appears to be using discipline tyrannically. What structure exists in the Free Presbyterian Church for appeal if the local session and the presbytery are the only governing bodies? This is very serious because along with pure preaching and the proper administration of the sacraments, faithful church discipline is one of the three marks of a true church.

Thus the Belgic Confession (1561), a Reformation creed states,

… The marks, by which the true church is known, are these: [1] if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; [2] if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; [3] if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin: in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the church. Hereby the true church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself. With respect to those, who are members of the church, they may be known by the marks of Christians: namely, by faith; and when they have received Jesus Christ the only Saviour, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbour, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof. But this is not to be understood, as if there did not remain in them great infirmities; but they fight against them through the Spirit, all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘in whom they have remission of sins, through faith in him.’ As for the false church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in his Word, but adds to and takes from them, as she thinks proper; she relieth more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those, who live holily according to the Word of God, and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry. These two churches are

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