The other day I encountered a pastor declaring that another pastor he admired was “the best Bible preacher in the world.” While I certainly understood that said pastor was trying to honor the so-declared Best Bible Preacher, his statement stood out to me as somewhat jarring. In fact, if I may be so bold, it seems that this kind of superlative is unbiblical and, maybe more troubling, the very antithesis of the gospel.
Why is that? As I read Scripture I never see this kind of superlative lavished on another member of the church. Certianly we are called to honor and respect one another. We are to give thanks to God for the leaders he has sent into our lives. I’m not troubled by the sentiment of a pastor trying to give thanks to God for another servant who has been effectively used for the glory of God. I am troubled however at how our words, our language is creating a culture that is the very opposite of a gospel-culture in our churches today. I am nerveous that a certain kind of language is creeping into our vocabulary as pastors. It is a language that turns justification, sanctification, the bearing of fruit, and ultimately glorification into another performance-based religous pyramid scheme.
Read again the pastor's statement about his hero. “The best Bible preacher in the world.” Do you see the superlative? “Best.” Stack the hundreds and thousands of men who have by stood faithfully behind the sacred desk and heralded the Word of God up against Best Bible Preacher and they do not compare. Best Bible Preacher had the most listeners. Best Bible Preacher had the best delivery. Best Bible Preacher gave the best illustrations. Best Bible Preacher had the most conversions. Best Bible Preacher… etc ad nauseum.
The issue for me is this; when we start labeling other Christians, especially pastors, with superlatives like “best”, “world-class”, “greatest”, and other such words we instantly create a caste-system culture in Christianity. There are some leaders that are “world-class” and we look to them to do the heavy lifting and be the celebrities. There are other leaders however that, well, they try. They pray hard, they study well, they love their people, they share the gospel and they’re lousy at ministry compared to Best Bible Preacher.
The culture we are creating in our churches as a result of this language dynamic is a competitive, dog-eat-dog, pastor-devour-pastor, high-output-is-better, performance based Christian caste system. We have the winners in ministry and the losers. The guys who can crank out 5 sermons a Sunday to over 5,000 people get the superlatives. The guys who aren’t known by more than a few hundred and preach once a week yet toil and dream and work for the same gospel aren’t as awesome. Of course we won’t mention the men who we know nothing about in remote countries and places who only share the gospel with a small tribe.
Paul tells us in Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” What was the measure of faith God gave to Best Bible Preacher? It was the very same measure of faith he gave to stammering, repetative, redundant, substitute preacher. And the stammering, repetative substitute was the tool God used to bring Best Bible Preacher to himself. Of course, Paul is telling us how we ought to regard ourselves, but I think there is a warning here for what language we use of others.
Let us drop the performance based-supurlatives for our heroes. Let’s honor the men that God has used to impact our lives with the gospel. But let us stop using words that rank those servants up against other servants of Christ. Yes, tell others about how men like Edwards, Calvin, Piper and others were used by God to open up the Scriptures and help us grow in Christ. But let us not say that one man stood above the rest in regard to anything external or related to gifting or ability.
Yes, Spurgeon might be one of the most effective preachers of all time. But if you asked him I bet he’d tell you the nameless man who filled the pulpit as a substitute one snowy day and redudantly stammered, “look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live” was the real Best Bible Preacher.