“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, ESV)
The Old Testament contains some examples of the anointing. When a servant of God was chosen or inaugurated into an office, oil was poured upon him. Among other things, this signified a separation for special service and an endowment of power to perform this service. Of course, there was no power in the oil, but it was a symbol of the Holy Spirit coming upon the person.
That said, when God anointed a person with his Spirit, the act of anointing with oil was not always performed. Or, the anointing with oil was not significant enough to be always recorded. Rather, God often directly endowed his servants with his Spirit and ushered them into service without any anointing with oil, or without any record of an anointing with oil, without any public ceremony, and without any human endorsement. This is also the case in the New Testament. There was a man who performed miracles by faith in the name of the Lord without any association with his company, and without any official recognition from him. The disciples tried to stop him, but Jesus told them to allow the man to continue, thus lending his approval to his work (Mark 9:38-39).
This is contrary to the traditions that to various degrees associate the legitimacy of a ministry with its human credentials. Such a view appears to preserve order in the church, but it also maintains a culture of hypocrisy and incompetence, as the Pharisees imagined that they had God’s approval, when their credentials came from only one another. Even in those traditions that boast of their doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, it is insisted that only those who have been duly ordained by human hands may preach, administer communion, and perform baptism. There is no biblical warrant for this position, and no excuse for this hypocrisy. If all believers are priests, then all believers may perform priestly functions, and all believers may rebuke religious officials who attempt to impose this man-made rule on the church. The adoption of a flexible and guiding principle for the sake of order is one thing, but when it assumes the power of divine law over men’s faith, the system is to be revised or overturned.
This point is essential to several aspects of Christian living and ministry. First, it upholds the true biblical pattern. Sometimes selected scriptural texts are used to prove a doctrine of ordination. However, the texts never prove as much as the theologians wish to make out of them, and certainly not the elaborate schemes that they assert. Also, the selective procedure at best shows that some ministers were ordained, or ordained in a particular way, but it fails to demonstrate that it was, and that it now must be, the universal practice, especially since it ignores all other biblical texts that do not conform. Rather, Scripture seems to indicate a variety in how men were brought to the work of the ministry. Second, since the traditional doctrine is contrary to the biblical pattern, it draws attention away from the true source of calling and power, which is God’s sovereign prerogative. God can do whatever he wants, in any way he wants to do it. He can and does directly choose and empower his servants without human approval, and very often against human opinion. His chosen messengers do not require the endorsement of existing church institutions, as he sometimes even sends them to oppose these institutions. Jesus himself operated apart from the religious establishment of his day, and he was challenged on account of it (Luke 20:1-8).
The true license for ministry has nothing to do with a human document or ceremony, even if these could contribute to church order, but it has to do with God’s commission that is manifested in doctrinal purity and divine power. It is because this truth has been obscured that the church is overrun with incompetent preachers and theologians, who have studied in seminary, but are not called, and who have been ordained by men, but have no power. Contemporary Christianity is so out of touch with the Spirit of God that preachers and theologians retreat to the symbol instead of the reality, to the natural instead of the supernatural. Meanwhile, many who have been truly called by God are persecuted because they do not conform to tradition. In the case of Jesus, although it was not the only reason, this lack of human association contributed to the Pharisees’ rejection of his ministry, so that they even assigned his power to the chief of demons, and thus blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
You say, “Does this mean that anybody can assume a divine mantle and speak for the cause?” Pay attention. “Anybody” has already been doing it. Sometimes it is legitimate, and sometimes it is not, but men have been judging by the wrong standard, and thus unable to distinguish between good and evil. The man who performed miracles in the name of Jesus without joining his company evidently possessed genuine faith and power, and experienced success. Still, Jesus found no need to tell the man to come under his own ministry. On the other hand, it was obvious that the Jews who used the same name to cast out demons had no commission from God, and no relation to the Lord (Acts 19:13-16). The traditional doctrine is unbiblical and defective, and it hurts those who are ordained by men as well as those who are not, because it removes the focus from the anointing, the true badge of authority and source of power.
Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, but baptism is not ordination, and John himself did not have the human endorsement from the establishment. Rather, like many of God’s servants, Jesus was directly anointed by God without any human approval or human instrument. Some might think that the situation is now different, claiming that we live in a different spiritual administration of the church. But Jesus recognized the existing authority, that at least formally speaking, it was not void: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matthew 23:2-3). If ordination or some form of human endorsement was always necessary, and if it was a divine principle, there was no reason why Jesus would have operated entirely apart from the existing institution.
As for the false doctrine of cessationism, it overlaps with this topic but remains a separate issue. It is said that the calling of ministers is now deferred to the church because special revelation has been completed. However, even if cessationism is accepted, appealing to it misses the point. Regardless of the times and circumstances, divine calling and endowment come from God whether or not they are accompanied by human recognition or ceremony. For example, the gift of teaching comes from God whether or not there is human ordination, and a person could receive it and stand up to teach even if all human institutions oppose him. So cessationism is a red herring. It has something to do with what kinds of powers are available, but the topic is the principle that all callings and endowments come from God and not men, and that he could grant them without the approval and involvement of men. Without human endorsement, some groups may not welcome an individual, but this is again a matter of church order and not of calling and power. And a minister ordained by one group is often not accepted by another anyway. All this is to say that, no matter what is done to enhance church order, a minister’s authority and power is the anointing of God. And Jesus had it.
Why did Jesus need to be anointed? Since he himself was God, why did he require divine approval and divine power? In his divine nature, and as the second person of the Trinity, he indeed had the Father’s approval and the very power of God. However, as Messiah he did not operate in his divine nature alone, but he functioned as the divine-human mediator. He was anointed to fill this office, to perform his work by the Spirit of God, and as the champion of his people.
His anointing set him apart from all others. First, it distinguished him from all the founders and teachers of non-Christian religions. All these are detestable in the sight of God. They not only refuse the truth, but they construct alternatives to it so as to lure men away from everlasting life, and to be tortured in hellfire forever along with them. They do not have God’s anointing, or the Spirit of God, but all non-Christian figures are driven by the demons of hell. On the other hand, God’s anointing marked Jesus Christ as the chosen one, the true savior, the one who would teach the truth and provide the only way to heaven for his own people. Second, his anointing exalts him above his brothers, and all the angels of heaven. The prophets and the apostles, and all of us who believe, share the same heavenly blessing of the Holy Spirit. There is no antagonism or competition. Yet Jesus Christ far exceeded us all in his ministry, in that he was anointed without measure (John 3:34). “But about the Son he says, ‘…God has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy'” (Hebrews 1:8-9). His anointing was unique; it was poured out upon him without limit or restriction.
If he had operated solely by the power inherent in the second person of the Trinity, then there would be no way for his people to imitate him. But he said, “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). This is the same Spirit that he called the Father’s promise, and which he poured out upon his people. As he said, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). We are a reflection of Christ. We are not him, but we can be like him. And we can be like him because the Father has chosen us, and has anointed us with his Spirit.
Jesus was anointed to preach. In their expositions of several legitimate doctrines, some theologians refer to the objection that Jesus did not mention them. Their answer is that Jesus was sent to make atonement for his people, and not to preach. This is very strange. Although Jesus indeed came to make atonement, it is explicitly said that a significant part of his mission was preaching. Our passage says it, and it was Isaiah’s prediction of what the Messiah would do. Preaching was not incidental to his work. A number of verses later, we read, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43).
The correct answer is twofold. First, Jesus indeed taught these doctrines. And these theologians would often refer to the verses where he did so in the same works where they say that he did not mention them because his main task was to make atonement. It seems to be a case of carelessness and of an unnecessary readiness to make concessions. Second, and more significantly, it is a false assumption that only those doctrines that were explicitly mentioned by Jesus in his earthly ministry were legitimate. And we know that the Gospels contain only a partial record of what Jesus said when he walked the earth. He told his disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth….He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (John 16:12-14). He would continue to teach them through his Spirit, and he would continue to transmit this revelation to the world through his disciples.
As Peter mentioned that the ancient prophets also spoke by the “Spirit of Christ” (1 Peter 1:11), in this sense, all the words of Scripture are the preaching of Jesus. Certainly, all the words are the words of God. Christians must be waned from the foolish red-letter Bible mentality, which assigns special prominence to what Jesus said with his body as instrument when he was on the earth over what the same Jesus said by his Spirit with his servants as instruments. This unbiblical mentality institutes a Scripture within Scripture, and wrecks havoc on the inspiration, authority, and unity of the Bible. It allegedly honors Christ, but in reality, it denies, or at least obscures, the fact that he is just as much the author of the words in the rest of the Bible.
Jesus’ ministry of preaching must be given due prominence, and along with that, preaching itself. This is the ministry that announces and explains the doctrines of God. And this is how he advances his kingdom, awakens his people to faith, incites holiness and good works, and also hardens the reprobates. By the preaching of the word, Jesus Christ builds his church and defeats his enemies through his people, and the Holy Spirit works in great power to accomplish God’s purposes.
Here we encounter another problem. It is a common Christian superstition, shared by preachers and theologians of various traditions, that there is some special power in the act of preaching itself, whose effect is almost impossible to reproduce through other methods of communication, such as the written word. This is a rather depressing claim, judging from how little power that is in the preaching of most men, except the uncanny power to induce sleep. It is a double insult to the Bible, which is written word, to suppose that it has inferior power as a matter of principle, and then the principle is supposedly demonstrated by such an embarrassing display of impotence.
The Bible does not teach that the power of God’s word is especially unleashed by preaching. Of course God’s word was often delivered in preaching at a time when the literacy rate was lower, when written documents were expensive, and when no electronic recording devices were available. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that a book or an audio recording could not deliver the word of God with power and great effect. Indeed, the Bible itself is a book that men can read, and by this to be converted and sanctified in Christ, and to be taught by God for the work of ministry. The power is in God, who will back up what he says no matter what form it takes, as long as it fully represents the contents of his revelation. Thus speaking, writing, sign language, and even Morse code, can be used to communicate God’s words, and the Spirit will see to it that the divine purpose is accomplished. On the other hand, pictures and melodies are disqualified, since they cannot communicate and explain the words that God has revealed. It is true, as they say, that a picture is worth more than a thousand words, because what a thousand words can make plain, a picture requires more than that to explain.
There is indeed a power that is associated with proximity, as people were healed even when they came close to Peter (Acts 5:15). I would accept this explanation, and integrate it into a theology of preaching. But most of those who regard preaching with their superstitious reverence do not believe in this power, and they certainly do not have even a little of it. So they are left with a mystical something that has no biblical foundation, and that they do not in fact have or demonstrate in their preaching.
You say, “Is it not still true, though, that there are some unique advantages to preaching?” Yes, but there are also some in writing. Let us exalt the word of God, whether it is expounded in preaching or in writing. And let preachers and theologians stop making up magic where there is none, that is, at least not in their preaching. Instead of inventing some advantages that hearing their preaching hold over reading a book with far superior content, if they are so desperate for church attendance, why not just say so? Christians are often compassionate, and will feel sorry for them and oblige. There is no need to lie or to make threats.
Jesus Christ preached a message of liberty. This does not mean that there was no fire and brimstone in his preaching – he talked about hell more than anyone – but it means that when he referred to God’s wrath, he meant to teach his chosen ones to escape it, while the reprobates become more blinded and hardened. Non-Christians are oppressed and enslaved. Their hearts are bound by sin, and their conscience crushed by guilt, until they become callused. Their intellects are shackled by the superstitions of science, of philosophy, and of false religions. Even Christians are often burdened with unbiblical doctrines and traditions.
But Jesus Christ brought a message of truth, of simplicity, and of faith. This is the gospel. It is the same message that Paul preached, that John preached, and that Peter preached. The message does not change, and it is the same one that we preach today. The message is that, if you will renounce all else, including yourself, but look to Jesus Christ, and rely on him, then you are set free from these things. He is your Lord, your Teacher, your Righteousness. Men’s rules and traditions have no authority over your conscience. Men’s science and philosophy cannot disturb your mind. He becomes your one focus. He releases you from the controlling power of sin, but still you fix your eyes on his righteousness as that which allows you to stand before God. This is the essence of faith, and the message of salvation for all nations.