Don Harris’ Parable Paradox

I was alerted to a video by a friend of our fellowship who lives in another province. After seeing it, I thought he made important points that were worth sharing with the rest of our fellowship. Together we watched the first half of his presentation, then opened the floor for anyone who wished to comment.

His main point is that the Parable of the Sower contains information that is not accessible without understanding biblical definitions of certain words or expressions that we take for granted, such as “the word of God” or “grace.” After showing problems with the common church definitions of seven words, he goes on to focus on the common understanding of “the word of God.” Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is the word of God. Harris argues that this definition misleads people about the meaning of many Bible passages, such as Heb. 4:12.

He points out that the Bible is always called “scripture” within its own pages, and never “the word of God.” In fact, the expression “word of God” first refers most often in the scriptures to the communication between God and His people. To be more specific, His verbal communication with His people, such as at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20.

Harris notes that the written word only enters the picture as “plan B” after the people refuse to hear God’s voice directly (Ex. 20:18-23; 24:3-4 and 24:12). He goes on to describe the devolution of communication from God through intermediaries such as pastors, prophets and preachers until we have gotten to the sorry state that most people do not know God, nor do they know what the Bible even says, let alone what it means.

The second biblical meaning of “word of God” is that it is a title of our Lord Jesus Christ. The beginning of the book of John categorically states this, as do several references in the book of Revelation.

If we substitute “the Bible” for “the word” in the Parable of the Sower, we end up sowing a book instead of literal communication directly from God through Jesus Christ’s Holy Spirit.

According to Harris, once we are able to hear God’s voice directly, we should have no need of direction by human leaders or pastors. A pastor’s job should be “to lead people directly to the feet of Jesus Christ and leave them there.”

All who commented were impressed with his sincerity and with his desire to have people hear the voice of God for themselves. They also agreed that his definitions of the seven words or expressions made more sense than the commonly used definitions in the examples he showed.

Most of the comments expressing disagreement were about his extreme stand against the pastoral role. His comments seem to imply that pastors should essentially be evangelists who bring people to Jesus, then get the heck out of their way. Who needs pastors, seminaries and Bible colleges to teach us when we have the very Spirit of the Living God living in us?

Most who commented thought this position was a bit extreme rather than being entirely wrong. It seems to oversimplify the evangelistic process to the point of eliminating the teaching and nurturing of new believers. (I suspect that he oversimplified for impact and time reasons rather than a desire to eliminate pastors as such.)

There is certainly a great need for believers to personally hear the guidance of God’s voice. It is true that we need to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through His personal guidance. It is true that we need to get to the point that we can explain our faith in a way that allows others to see the power of God in our lives, rather than leaving all evangelism to appointed leaders. We cannot allow leaders to squelch the Holy Spirit’s movement in our lives and the lives of others.

It is certainly true that pastors have traditionally had far too much power over the lives of people in the congregation and frequently used it to squelch movements of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, Paul describes numerous spiritual gifts that need to be exercised in the presence of other believers. One of those is pastoral/teaching and another is leadership. Paul warns that these gifts can be abused, so other gifts that balance them are also provided by the Holy Spirit as He wills. Prophetic and discernment (“discerning of spirits”) balance leadership and pastoral gifts (and vice versa).

In other words, there was agreement that personal faith and discernment (hearing God’s voice personally) is necessary to Christian growth. There is also a role for the exercise of all of the spiritual gifts within the body of believers, including pastoral and leadership gifts.

Those pastoral and leadership gifts, however, do not require absolute obedience to a pastor’s or leader’s will. Nor do they require a dependent attitude on the part of non-pastoral members of the congregation on the teaching or leadership of the pastor or leader.

He also leaves the impression that pastoral/seminary education is completely unnecessary. Many of us beg to differ, and not only those who have gone to Bible college or seminary. While it is certainly true that education can puff a person up in his own estimation, it can also help a reader of the Bible avoid egregious misunderstandings of the Scriptures.

As an example of the benefit, I first heard Harris’ definition of the job of a pastor (one who leads people to the feet of Jesus and leaves them there) from the mouth of my Seminary’s Pastoral Theology professor, who also advocated teaching believers to listen to the voice of God. I heard God’s voice speaking to me through this and many other classes.

Meditating on and discerning between many points of view presented in the classroom led to many of the unique features that characterize Wascana Fellowship meetings, such as the substitution of a discussion with teaching for a sermon. Jesus usually taught His disciples with discussions, not sermons. He usually reserved sermons for non-believers who needed to be evangelized. Comparing how Jesus taught with how we modern people teach was something I would not have thought of without the seminary experience.

The Apostle Paul was one of the most educated men of his time, and so were many of the writers of books of the Bible. The writers of the books of Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes would probably be disappointed with us if we truly believed that ignorance is better than education.

Note: The URL of the video is

About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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1 Response to Don Harris’ Parable Paradox

  1. Pat Downing says:

    Had a thought while reading your post concerning whether we need a pastor after we have been led to Jesus’ feet. How about Heb. 5:11-13, “11.We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” New International Version.
    Pat Downing

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