OK, I know that some of you don’t use the word pastor. You may have ministers, preachers or priests. It doesn’t matter what you call them. They are all specially trained men (or women) who are expected to officiate at the worship services, present a message from the pulpit, preside at weddings and funerals, be active in all sorts of church events and programs, visit the sick, and more or less be the professional Christian leader within the congregation. As one of the “ministers” I have known described it – “to be the hub of the wheel around which everything revolves.” Sort of like a king is to a secular group.
So, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that the way it should be? How could it be any other way? What would we do without a pastor to lead us?
I agree, it looks good. By having a seminary-trained pastor, the congregation is assured of (or so it seems) an educated person to bring thoughtful lessons from the pulpit. That is certainly edifying for everyone.
And there is someone to watch over the teaching in the church, to make sure that no one strays off the line. And certainly someone has to officiate at weddings and funerals. And church members are too busy to visit the sick and a pastor/preacher/minister/priest has the time to do that. All of those are good things. So what’s the problem?
The problem is this. All of these reasons are mankind’s good thinking, but they depart from God’s simple practices. To make it simpler – it’s not Biblical! No matter how hard you look in the New Testament, you cannot find, anywhere, anything like our modern pastors.
In the book of Acts, there are 29 places where groups of Christians are either mentioned or implied. In none of these is there anything equivalent to our modern pastors.
Yes, there were apostles who taught and evangelized. But these special people were imbued with special knowledge and authority that no pastor in our age would dare to claim. Today’s pastors cannot trace their lineage back to the apostles. And the involvement of an apostle in a local group of Christians was the exception, not the rule.
The predominant practice was that groups of disciples were left on their own, with no person having any kind of authority over the small group. The common practice of the apostles was to trust the new believers to the care and safekeeping of the Holy Spirit.
What about elders? Yes, when a group of Christians had grown sufficiently that some in their midst were conforming their character to that of Christ, those thus qualified were occasionally appointed as elders – a confirmation of the service they had already been providing the disciples.
Aren’t pastors elders of a sort? A few could develop into elders. But they’d have to meet the very clear qualifications spelled out in Titus and I Timothy. Clearly, these qualifications speak to the development of a person’s character, and have nothing to do with seminaries or education. A few of the differences – elders are always mentioned in the plural while a pastor is a singular figure; elders are raised up from among the people they serve, while pastors are imported from outside the congregation; elders are qualified by virtue of their character, pastors are ordained based on their education. The position of pastor in our modern churches and the Biblical roll of “elder” are light years apart.
Clearly, our modern pastors are not (with a few exceptions) Biblical elders. They are something else. Something we don’t see anywhere in the Bible.
But what about Ephesians 4 verses 11 – 13, you’re asking. This is the passage that reads:
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Doesn’t that passage establish the position of “pastor?” No. It’s a mistranslation. The original Greek word which is here translated as “pastor” is every other place in the New Testament translated as “shepherd,” and used to refer to Biblical elders or Jesus himself. In other words, the passage should read “shepherds and teachers” or “elders and teachers.” In no way does this passage authorize the creation of a new class of Christian leaders.
There is then, no Biblical basis for having seminary-trained professional Christian pastors in our churches.
But what about the practical side? Let’s set the Biblical case aside and consider the practical consequences. When one person is responsible for bringing the message at the worship service, that removes the responsibility from everyone else. The net result is that the mass of people moves further away from God, not closer to Him. Imagine how active and involved everyone would be if they had no one to pay to do it for them!
By removing the central figure, you move the responsibility out to the congregation. People become more active, live their Christianity more completely, and become closer to God. That is, of course, exactly the Apostles command to the church about how to meet together. You probably haven’t heard many sermons on this:
I Corinthians 14:26
26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
Note that Paul didn’t say “one of you.” He said “each of you.” There is a clear, direct unambiguous command about how to meet together, and that clear, direct unambiguous command is routinely ignored.
And then there is Jesus last recorded prayer, in John, chapter 17, versus 20 – 23:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
He passionately prays for unity among his people, acknowledging that unity among Christians is a sign to the world that we are of Christ. By implication, a lack of unity indicates the opposite. Yet, our man-made system of pastor/preacher/minister/priest fosters division. Christianity continues to splinter into smaller and smaller segments, called denominations. The man-made leaders find reasons to separate themselves from other groups, rallying their followers around some issue that is expounded by the educated leaders but generally of little initial concern of the people, and build institutions based on a man-made distinction. The result? Thousands of denominations and a skepticism (rightly so) on the part of the non-Christian world.
What does this have to do with you and your family?
It threatens your spiritual life and the spiritual well being of your family. The pastor/preacher/minister/priest system encourages spectator Christianity. In that system, you and your family are expected to be passive on-lookers in the worship entertainment offered by the established clergy. The more passive you and your family become, the more likely your spiritual life will atrophy.
It works like this: The more responsible the paid professional is, the less responsible you and your family are. The less responsible you and your family are, the less likely that you’ll be active and growing. The less likely you’ll be active and growing, the more likely that you’ll die, spiritually.
Didn’t you ever wonder why so many modern Christians are apathetic, superficial Christians? It’s in a great measure the result of the institutional system that encourages by its practices (not by its rhetoric) a passive, spectator Christianity.
And what about the continuing proliferation of denominations? What impact does that have on you and your family?
Each denomination must, by virtue of the fact that it is a worldly organization, have levels of authority. In place of Christ the head of the family and the local church, we have regional conferences, national headquarters, departments and committees. All of this creates a political environment that encourages further division, and siphons the power and focus of the church away from Christ’s charge, and directs it to internal maneuvering.
So, your family is left with a view of Christianity that seems more concerned with institutional maneuvering, programs and policies, then it does with the simple gospel.
This impression of Christianity again leads to skepticism and a jaundiced view of the Gospel. In this confusing world, where it’s difficult to know with which denomination to affiliate, it seems just as valid to not be involved at all.
The pastor/preacher/minister/priest system has created a world that threatens the spiritual life of you and your family.
It’s a clear case of mankind (in this case, institutional Christian leaders) substituting their view of what is “good” for God’s simple, yet far better, practices. Just like the clamor by the Israelites for a king eventually resulted in the splintering and loss of most of the Israelite nation, so too, our modern cultural demand for a pastor is directly responsible for the splintering of Christ’s church and the apathy and spiritual death of millions of modern Christians. Yet it is so deeply imbedded in our culture that few people have ever questioned it.
But that’s only one of the deep, unquestioned errors of the modern church. Next week we’ll consider another.
What about you? Where are you on this issue? Are you on one end of the spectrum – “How dare you question my pastor? There is something radically wrong with you.”
Or, maybe you are in the middle. “Hmmmm. You know, I have wondered about that from time to time.”
Or, are you on the other end of the spectrum. “Right on. I’ve seen a lot of damage the pastor system has caused, I just didn’t have the right concept to attribute the cause accurately.”