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A Mighty Dear Hyphen to Me!

 Many years ago I was quite entertained by the story of a certain young man who had unknowingly become quite fond of a particular comma in one English translation of the Bible. Apparently, that comma had juxtaposed certain promises in a most congenial way, until he was told that the punctuation distinction was not sustained by the underlying Greek text. I remembered this incident, but laughed less and pondered more when I came to realize how attached I had become to a special hyphen.

    You see, when as a seminary student I was first led through the exegesis of Ephesians 4:11, I was told that the most precise way to translate it was: “And He Himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastor-teachers.” This last category of gifted officials, given for the spiritual upbuilding of the Church, consisted of individuals who were both pastors and teachers. The notable hyphen, in preference to an “and,” was necessary to avoid the misunderstanding that two offices were in view. Grammatically, and therefore functionally, these two were unmistakably coupled. So struck was I by this that my own sense of vocation became deeply bound up with trying to flesh out the significance of this hyphen.

   Certainly Jesus said that He was the Good Shepherd of His flock (John 10) and the Rabbi (teacher) of His disciples (John 13). It is those elders engaged in the dual activities of preaching and teaching that should be singled out for double honor (1 Timothy 5). The elder Peter (“able to teach” from 1 Timothy 3) refers to himself as a fellow shepherd (1 Peter 5). May we not then justifiably conclude, “What God has joined together, let no man separate”? Even from a practical perspective, if leadership is singular, teaching the truth of God must be accompanied by shepherding people in the way of that truth.

   The Church is by commission (Matthew 28) and by gifting (Ephesians 4) strongly committed to education. Moreover, pastoring has been the single most sustaining ruling function of the Church. Is every pastor, then, a teacher? And is every teacher of the Word of God a pastor? If so, let us cultivate these functions in a unifying and excellent way. If not, what possible reasons could there be for the separation of these twins? Here are some of the reasons I have been able to discern for the dichotomization we so commonly use:

1. Pastoring and teaching require a different complex of gifts that overlap partly. Very few people are very good at both precisely because their operational methodologies and goals are different, if not antithetical. The teacher's focus is on the analysis, formulation, definition and communication of revealed truth; theological error and ignorance are his enemies; informing and persuading the mind are his goals. The pastor's focus is on whether his people are walking in and receiving the blessings of God's truth; he presents stylized (sermonic), digestible chunks of truth adapted to the understanding of every person, replete with illustrations, applications and exhortations to obedience; his enemies are unbelief, hypocrisy and apathy; convincing the heart and bowing the will are his goals.

2. The practice of the Church historically has been to appoint and elect individuals to their ministry so as to effect a right match between the pastor and the congregation. With few notable exceptions (e.g., Timothy, Ambrose and Augustine), it has not been the expectation of the church that their pastor should continue to receive and to hone new and even supernatural endowments to sufficiently and completely equip him for the breadth of duties pertaining to his office.

3. The practice of dividing responsibilities in the Church along the lines of individual expertise and gifting propelled the increase of specialized teachers more apt to teach Christianity's claims within the local church.

4. The increasing demand to teach Christianity's truth claims within the larger context of all truth, such as might be salvaged from philosophy, history, literature, law, etc., gave rise to well-organized Christian schools that served churches regionally. In the Middle Ages that was further centralized into the university system. Here the Christian teacher was further specialized and also further removed from the immediate concerns of the local pastor. At the same time, the pastor became more dependent upon professors to effectively execute the Church's teaching office.

   I have now pastored for ten years and taught at a Christian college for nineteen. And I suppose that my continuing fascination for the significance of the hyphen in pas- tor-teacher may strike some as a mere idiosyncrasy. To me it has vocational and existential significance. The Church should think more about it. For years, when asked my occupation, I have answered, “I am a pastor-teacher of the Church on loan to Nyack College.” You see, it remains a mighty dear hyphen to me.


Editorial: A Mighty Dear Hyphen to Me!

A.B. Simpson as and the Modern Faith Movement, Paul L. King

Saving Faith in the Gospel of John, David K. Huttar

Opposition to Radical Reformation: Martin Luther Against Anabaptist and Radicals, Harold P. Shelly

Putting God to the Test: An Examination of Biblical Data, John V. Dahms

The Contribution of Cultural Anthropology to Missiology, Norman E. Allison

Separation Anxiety Disorder in a Missionary Child: Theoretical Considerations and Intervention Strategies, Mark D. Bullock

Patterns of Spiritual Direction, James A. Davies

An Effective Deliverance Methodology: Then and Now, Gerald E. McGraw

Dangers in the Deliverance Ministry, K. Neill Foster

Elio Cuccaro, Ph. D., Editor

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©2006 by K. Neill Foster