Have you ever found yourself in a situation similar to King Solomon’s two-mothers-and-one-baby dilemma, wondering, Now what do I do? Inevitably, those Gordian knot circumstances will occur. They may be marriage or family issues, financial disputes, “he said, she said” dilemmas, or myriad other possibilities. Where does a person go to find answers?
In codifying the Old Testament law, the Lord placed a weighty responsibility on priests. God said to the people of Israel, “If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment” (Deuteronomy 17:8, 9). How would you like a job description that specifies, “When people face dilemmas they cannot figure out, they are to come to you for the solution”? A priest’s business card could have read, “Solver of the Unsolvable.”
The role of an Old Testament priest does not equal that of a pastor. Only one priest stands between God and man—Jesus Christ. Yet when it comes to providing solutions to people who are facing dilemmas, the pastor and the church have a responsibility similar to that of the Old Testament priest: They must dispense counsel and provide Biblical guidance through the baffling maze of life’s journey. At times they may need to render a courtroom-type judgment.
This is no easy assignment. To effectively fulfill this obligation, the Old Testament priests gave exhaustive study to the Torah so they could determine the ethical implications of the law. We do not appeal to the law today as our guide, nor do we live in the Old Testament theocracy. Yet the need remains to provide ethical guidance and, at times, judgments for people in our churches who face perplexing situations and have un-answered questions.
To understand the role of a judge, I asked my son-in-law, an attorney, to describe a judge’s responsibilities. He explained, “The judge’s responsibility is to know the law. Also he must know how to apply the law to real-life situations. Even more daunting, the judge must be able to apply the law to unique situations that have not previously been decided by a judge. No two cases are exactly alike. For example, people often go to court to settle disputes over money, but almost no two disputes over money are the same. They each involve different people, different dollar amounts, and different promises or understandings as to how the money was to be used. A judge must be able to apply the law to whatever factual scenario is presented. But the judge’s job doesn’t stop there. He must also be able to determine who is telling the truth and who isn’t. This requires the judge to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, taking into consideration their character, their biases, and their motives. To make matters infinitely more complicated, the judge is human, and must cast aside his own prejudices and be willing to listen to both sides.” It is a sobering responsibility.
The complicated work of rendering ethical judgments is one that neither a pastor nor a church can escape. Paul took the church in Corinth to task because the church was deferring to the civil court disputes among the church’s members rather than stepping up to the challenge of reaching a judgment. “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” (1 Corinthians 6:1). Paul decried the absence of an essential competency in the church when he said, “I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” (v. 5). Men of wisdom who had the ability to apply the principles of God’s Word in resolving a dispute were not doing so.
Like the Old Testament priest, pastors and church leaders must pore over the Scriptures to correctly understand the intent of the Divine Author. They must be ready to provide wisdom for situations that are too difficult for their people to deduce.
In my role as national representative, I receive inquiries such as a recent one requesting counsel regarding a church dispute. As I listened to the individual present the dilemma, my mind was racing, asking myself, Now what do I do? (I understand why Solomon requested wisdom from the Lord at the beginning of his kingship!) Pastors and churches must pore over the Scriptures to equip themselves with God’s wisdom. Men preparing for ministry must be trained in the skills of Biblical problem solving and counseling. The profession of the ministry demands excellence in execution. We must pray that God will give us His wisdom so that our churches can be known as places where people can find answers to perplexing situations.
John Greening is national representative for the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.