Stewardship of the Gospel in View of Acts 18:24-28
We Lutherans like to be right. Being right is a good thing—unless fear of being wrong paralyzes us into inaction.
Sadly, paralytic inaction from the fear of being wrong is a common phenomenon, and this malady seems particularly acute amongst well-meaning Lutherans. It is exhibited when we bite our tongue when a co-worker opens an opportunity to share our faith; when we awkwardly mumble “I’m sorry to hear about your mother” and walk away not wanting to say the wrong thing; when we sit quietly when given the opportunity to pray with others…and in countless other situations and circumstances.
This paralysis from fear of being wrong may be part of our sinful human condition, but it is also at least in part learned from—and actively taught by—our de-facto understanding of the clergy. We tend to view ordained clergy as a special elevated class, separated from laity not by their calling to serve in the office of pastor in a particular time and place, but by virtue of their training and ordination.
This view of the clergy is not what we are taught by scripture, by the confessions, or even by even respected Lutheran theologians such as C. F. W. Walther or Francis Pieper. These all agree that while the office of pastor is indeed special, conferring particular responsibilities and authority to the holder of the office, these responsibilities are conferred to the man called to the office through the call for him to serve in that office—and not as a result of the qualifications, training, experience, wisdom, or ordination of the man.
Should the man we call to the office of pastor be qualified, trained, experienced and wise? Certainly we desire all of these attributes in our pastor. But must a man be qualified by a particular agency, trained in a particular institution, and experienced in serving in a particular role in a particular church body in order to serve as pastor? Scripture, the confessions, and noted Lutheran theologians would answer no to all of these questions.
Unfortunately the damage caused by this wrong view of the clergy is not confined to merely excluding many men from a call to the office of pastor who might be well-suited for such a call. The damage goes far beyond this, forcing to the sidelines of active ministry many who could and should be serving effectively in areas not peculiar to the office of pastor.
Acts 18:24-28 introduces us to Apollos. He is a famous person in the New Testament. Although many of us know his name, many of us may not recall much about him. Apollos was an educated Jew who was Greek by birth. Interestingly, he knew the scriptures, and he knew of John the Baptist’s ministry. But that’s about it: he didn’t know Jesus or the apostles personally. He doesn’t seem to have even heard much about Jesus: perhaps not even of his death and resurrection, his teachings, or his miracles: he was “acquainted only with the baptism of John”.
I have no doubt that Apollos had a better mastery of the Old Testament scriptures than I could ever hope to have. But at this point in his life, his knowledge of Jesus’ ministry and his atoning sacrifice were sorely lacking.
So what did Apollos do? He was so compelled by what he did know that he began speaking about Jesus in the synagogue. “and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue”.
Wow. Here is a guy who had a rather incomplete understanding of Jesus, based mostly on the Old Testament and John the Baptist, and he jumps into public proclamation of this Jesus. Apollos took bold action based on what little he did know of his faith.
“But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Clearly, before he was approached by Priscilla and Aquila he was already preaching accurately…but accurately only insofar as he had knowledge.
Priscilla and Aquila did not tell Apollos to stop teaching, that he was all wrong, that he was not qualified, that he was a heretic. No, they recognized that Apollos was faithfully teaching accurately based on what he knew, but that he needed a more complete education about Jesus.
Rather than report him to a committee or a council of presidents, Priscilla and Aquila took him aside (i.e. not in public) and “explained to him the way of God more accurately”.
What a wonderful model for effective proclamation of the gospel, and for mutual edification and working together amongst the parts of body: Apollos was eloquent, bold and educated—likely a skilled orator. The thing he lacked was knowledge about the way of God, about Christ’s work. When they discovered his deficiency, Priscilla and Aquila did not seek to discredit or disqualify him, but rather to educate him so that he would be better equipped to more completely and more accurately continue teaching.
On his part, Apollos is a wonderful model as well. First, he did not sit on the sidelines, fearing that he might say something wrong: he dove in and did the best he could, with boldness, given the knowledge he had. Second, when approached by Priscilla and Aquila he did not arrogantly ignore them, defiantly defend his incomplete knowledge, or shrink away from his teaching in embarrassment. Instead, Apollos humbly listened and learned.
And through this exchange Apollos learned and grew to be even more effective and more important to the church: “and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”
At the risk of causing even more trouble, I must point out that Priscilla (the wife of Aquila) was directly involved in teaching Apollos. Priscilla, Acquila and Apollos were all co-workers with Paul, and later knew (and likely shared) Paul’s view in 1 Timothy 2:12 where he says “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”
Priscilla was not publicly teaching in the synagogue. She was not holding authority over Apollos. She was submissive to Acquila. Yet, she played an important role in identifying deficiencies in Apollos’ understanding, and in explaining “the way of God” to Apollos to fill in these deficiencies.
Was Apollos disqualified from public teaching because of incomplete understanding of the way of God? No: he was presumably encouraged to continue teaching after Priscilla and Acquila explained the way of God to him.
Was Apollos’ public teaching prior to being instructed by Priscilla and Acquila bad or harmeful? Not as far as we can tell: God seems to have worked through him despite his incomplete knowledge.
Was Priscilla disqualified from instructing Apollos because she was a woman? Far from it: Priscilla and Acquila taking Apollos aside and instructing him seems to be a very God-pleasing work, and one which resulted in great benefit to the church.
Is faith primarily intellectual in nature? Apollos clearly had faith, but his intellectual understanding of the way of God was lacking. The Christians Apollos visited in Achaia clearly had faith: they “had believed through grace”. But until Apollos arrived they seemed to be unable to refute the Jews and demonstrate by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. Their intellectual understanding of their faith seems lacking.
Is my personal confession of Christ primarily intellectual? Should I hold back on my confession, or my teaching or my instruction of others because I don’t know everything about the faith? Because I haven’t graduated from a particular school? Because I might leave out something important or say something wrong? Should I at least be timid or tentative in my proclamation?
In view of our introduction to Apollos in Acts 18 it would seem that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “no”. From Apollos we learn to take what we know of our Savior—however limited and incomplete it may be—and boldly share this faith and teach others wherever the opportunity presents itself.
Also from Apollos we learn that when approached by someone who has a more complete understanding of the way of God (even if that person is a woman!) we should listen and learn, and thereby grow all the more effective in our proclamation.
Is there prescriptive instruction to the Lutheran Church that we can glean from this introduction? I’m pretty sure that there is… but I’ll leave that for another day.
Lord, “We give The but Thine own, Whate’re the gift may be; All that we have is Thine alone, A trust , O Lord, from Thee.” Whether our understanding and knowledge of you be great our small, let us boldly proclaim you to the world around us. Amen