About 5 years ago, I was enrolled in a small Bible college that was tucked away in the the North Carolinian mountains. The school focused on training would-be pastors. I believe the school slogan was “Where Preaching is Our Passion” or something like that. In retrospect, both the theology and methodology we were taught was horrible because these had no foundation in the Bible. Now, we all have the freedom in this country to teach anyway we want, but it doesn’t mean that you can change the foundational historic teaching of a religion and continue to call it the same thing. Sure, you can technically do that, but it’s logically stupid… er, I mean inconsistent. For instance, it makes no sense for me to label as Islamic theology those doctrines that teach Jesus as being God in the flesh, having died on a cross to satisfy God the Father’s wrath against His people, and being raised from the dead for their justification. Does it? No.
That being said, I want to briefly focus on one teaching in particular that is totally plaguing the church. Vision casting. In case you aren’t familiar with it, it is the view that pastors, upon starting a church, must first pray to God for a “vision” or direction for the church. Then, when God reveals this to them, “not audibly of course” (as many of them say so they don’t sound crazy), they “cast” that vision, or reveal that vision to the other leaders and congregants. That particular church’s mission is to then carry out that vision. Seems so holy doesn’t it? Seems so pious, right? Well, whatever it seems like, it sure ain’t biblical. No sir, you will search long and hard for that teaching, but won’t find it. Paul’s pastoral epistles are silent on this teaching. In fact, believing that God can speak to you in some way, outside of the Scriptures, is a denial of what has been historically called Sola Scriptura – the teaching that the Scripture ALONE is our authority. Sure, random verses might be quoted like, “Without vision people perish” (Proverbs 29:18), but such verses are quoted anachronistically. That’s just a fancy way of saying that the folks quoting verses like that are forcing the Scripture that was written thousands of years ago to fit an American idea of vision. The idea of casting vision has much more in common with the duty of a CEO of a company than it does with a pastor.
Quick scrutiny of verses quoted like that will reveal that they have nothing to do with vision casting. For instance, let’s go back to that verse in Proverbs. It is normally quoted (from the KJV) this way: “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Problem is, that’s only half of the verse. Let’s look at the whole thing (from the NASB): “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.” This verse isn’t talking about casting a vision as a pastor. It is speaking of a vision as in a “revelation” from God. The verse contrasts the unrestrained people without a vision, and the happy people who keep the law. It shines a light upon those who do not heed the word of God. The Scriptures are pretty clear about what a pastor should do. Consider what Paul told young pastor, Timothy:
1 Timothy 1:3-4
3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.
1 Timothy 2:1-2
I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
1 Timothy 4:1-9; 13-16
1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. 6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance.
14 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
2 Timothy 4:1-2
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
Looks like it’s already spelled out for the pastor. Why would he search for God’s voice on this subject, when God has already clearly spoken in His word? The job of the pastor is to teach the Word of God. It’s also to baptize (Matthew 28:19) and administer the Lord’s Supper in an orderly manner (1 Cor. 11:17-34). Perhaps the biggest issue with vision casting is the inherent desire humanity has to live forever. Humanity has made great strides to preserve youth as long as possible, but there is a constant reminder of human mortality. What I mean is that people desire to leave their footprint on this dirt ball before they die. They want to be remembered – ie not forgotten. When I began to preach, I remember how desperate I would get with the desire to make the sermon so interesting and innovative. Sure, there was a part of me that wanted it to make sense to people. But I also enjoyed the compliments, though I knew it was sinful. I would repeat the words of John Bunyan who was approached by someone after he preached. This person praised him for his great sermon, and he said,”I know, Satan told me the same thing afterward.” Well, the story went something like that. But I’d remember that story, all the while loving that I was some sort of authority on the Scriptures. It’s shameful to think about, but it’s true. Is that you, Mr. Vision Casting Pastor? Do you want to leave your mark? Examine yourself. And while you’re at it, get rid of that false theology. God isn’t speaking to you in burps, hiccups, signs, whatever. Open your Bible and teach His word.
That isn’t relevant. That isn’t hip. That isn’t edgy. It’s boring. Opening a book and teaching its plain meaning, praying for people, baptizing, and Lord’s Supper? That seems so boring doesn’t it? It seems like we aren’t really “doing work for the kingdom” doesn’t it? And yet, that is exactly what God said to do. Vision cast if you want, but don’t blame it on God.