Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Should I Obey My Pastor?

I am very sorry for the length of time since the teaser was posted.  I videotaped a segment of random thoughts on the matter which was summarily vetoed by my wife.  She had some excellent points of contention which I now see as quite important to the discussion.  Also, my camera died in the middle of the edited version so I have resorted back to writing, which is good, because I forgot to shave last month and my radio face might scare off reasonable and needy individuals.

Now, let's get to it.

Let me start out by making a very controversial statement.  A pastor is unnecessary.  Not wrong, just unnecessary.  You will understand what I mean by this as you read further.

We have a direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  We need no mediator or guide for our spiritual walk between us and Christ.  Put another way, my relationship with God is mine alone.  That's it.  Pure and simple. 

You ask: "What about being led astray?" "What about teaching and exhorting and guiding, etc.?"

The short answer is.  That isn't your problem.  If that makes you bristle, you need to look carefully at what you believe about the way the Holy Spirit works in our lives.  If you think that God is so powerless to change a person's heart and guide that person's spiritual life, then you are putting God in a very small box.  A box that, when opened, will reveal to you that you are free to not worry about such things.  If I am "led astray," whatever that means, then God will bring me back - and here's the kicker - or not.

On teaching, exhorting and guiding, among other wonderful things that a follower of Christ can benefit from, I am perfectly able to allow those things into my own life for assistance.  Some people desire a deep understanding of theology.  To navigate that themselves, while possible, can be confusing, depending on their level of intelligence.  Bringing others who have gone ahead of them into their lives through whatever means, can be a great help.  On the other side of the spectrum, if that is what this is, is a person who loves God and desires nothing more than a relationship with Him.  They are no less than the great theologian. 

Again, the help is good, sometimes great, but unnecessary, and many times, a hindrance, clouding your mind with fluff.

Let's look at it another way.

There is no hierarchy with God.  No one is superior to me.  No one is inferior.  No matter where our walk is, we are all accepted as sufficient before God because of Jesus Christ.  This means that one person's word and direction has no greater weight than how I view my spiritual path.  After all, I have the Holy Spirit to commune with.  If another man, built up as an earthly pastor, tells me that I need to do something, and I disagree, it should not be done.  Point, blank, and period.  We can reason with each other about the fruits of the action, which is very healthy and encouraged in the Bible, but ultimately the decision is between me and God.

We're here to serve, translated in simple terms - love.  Not to command.  We have no authority over any other person, spiritually.  None.  Their walk is their own.  If they desire my input, so be it.  If not, again, so be it.  To put myself in charge of a person spiritually removes the individuality each one of us has with Christ, inserting me between that person and Jesus.

Let's explore the main Scripture verse that is used to "prove" that a pastor should be obeyed.

Hebrews 13:17 (NKJV): "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch over your souls, as those who must give an account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you."

A large problem with many of our traditions and sacred cows is that verses like these are lifted from their context and, in isolation, prove a point that the author was not trying to make.   So, whenever a single verse is quoted, jump into the Bible and read the entire chapter or the entire thought, which may be more than or less than the chapter.  Whatever you need to do, find the context.

Reading the whole chapter, we see that the author was listing many random thoughts about how we should live.  The chapter is in no way speaking about a leader of a church (not to mention, WE are the church, no church building defines us, another topic entirely), let alone obeying that leader. The assumption is being made that a pastor is included in the imaginary list of those who rule over you.

Remember, in those days, this was a very hierarchical society.  There were clear master/slave definitions.  All governments were monarchical or autocratic, which usually demanded unquestioning obedience to allay potentially deadly consequences.  Today, we have hierarchical systems that are much more open to input from those that are being "ruled".  Our reaction to these rulers are, of course, going to be different than if they wielded absolute power over us, as they did in the past.  Love is demanded of us rather than blind obedience.  Our testimony is based on THAT and that alone.  Yes, much easier to fulfill that command of Christ in this modern age.  To foist a medieval definition on current authority figures is to give us unnecessary and tiring work to accomplish.

But, whether or not, the above definition of modern authority figures is true, or even if you plan to insist that we need to redefine those same figures as more than they are, we still have no basis in this verse to prove that a pastor is included in "those that rule over you.."

One argument for this "obey your pastor" ideology is that a pastor is the shepherd of the flock.  We won't even get into the arguments of who a person is supposed to obey when they are between churches or have no church to worship God in because they live in the Amazon rain forest.  But, let's explore this shepherd thing.

First of all, I don't mind being called a part of a flock.  That's what Jesus referred to us as to Peter after the resurrection.  But I DO mind being told I need another man or woman to shepherd me in my relationship with Christ and ultimately God.  Now, I'm not saying well learned individuals, mentors, or people who may disciple me, are unnecessary for my walk.  I've already made that point.  While these people are all well and good, they are still unnecessary for electrifying our minds and hearts to follow correct paths of truth.

What I AM saying bears repeating - that we do not need an earthly shepherd.  Someone to stand between us and Jesus Christ, guiding our spiritual lives and many times, requiring instant and unquestioning obedience, feigning the allowance of dissent and practical thinking.

Let's move down the chapter of random thoughts.  Hey!  Verse 20.

"Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, (there's that shepherd word, but let's keep going!) through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."

Yep.  I slipped verse 21 in there because it really was quite important.  See, Jesus is the shepherd and HE is the one that will guide us and work all His good works through us.  This means that every tome written, every video shot, every blog typed (even mine), every historical record of every "great" Christian, is no match for my individual relationship with Jesus Christ.

Now, to the dark part.

Hebrews 13:17, taken out of context, allows guilt and manipulation at the hands of a "pastor" to creep in.  "After all, if I'm to rule over you and your soul is in my hands, then you'd better do as I say.  Your spiritual condition rests with me.  Go out from my authority and the wiles of the devil are going to get you.  Capiche?"

Yes.  Ripe for the picking.  And it is done from ultra-conservative churches to the swinging from the chandeliers, frothing at the mouth joints.

Let us keep in mind that we are following the true shepherd - Jesus Christ and Him alone.

If a "pastor" tells you to do something or requires something of you that flies in the face of loving one another or gets in the way of your relationship with God, ignore it, deflect it, tell him why, by all means.  We are to reason.  His response will be telling.  And yes, you are allowed to reason (gasp!) with God alone!  With yourself, your wife, your kids, your postman, your dog, and definitely the guy from China who reads your blog.

This is freedom in Christ.  True religion.  The diverse color world.  Enjoy it.


  1. What is taught in some circles was that the Holy Spirit in me cannot disagree with the Holy Spirit in you so if you disagree, you're not listening to the Holy Spirit. When one time a church vote was held and the vote was 80% one way and 20% another way, I asked the pastor who taught this idea, "Hey, what about that 20%? Aren't they in sin?" He said, "No, they just disagree." And I said, "Well, if we all have the same Holy Spirit, the vote should be 100% No one should disagree. That 20% better repent." He said, "Oh, this is different."
    I had to stop myself from laughing out loud!

  2. Interested to hear your thoughts on the positive role of a pastor...

    He can't command, but can God work through him to instruct and advise you?

    You're not actually throwing out a pastor's role in your life correct? Just throwing out his role as your authoritative commander, one who tells you what to do and you must obey becuase he is "backed by God."

    Do you believe the role of a pastor as shepherd of the flock is biblically sanctioned?

  3. "Interested to hear your thoughts on the positive role of a pastor..."

    I wrote: "On teaching, exhorting and guiding, among other wonderful things that a follower of Christ can benefit from, I am perfectly able to allow those things into my own life for assistance. Some people desire a deep understanding of theology. To navigate that themselves, while possible, can be confusing, depending on their level of intelligence. Bringing others who have gone ahead of them into their lives through whatever means, can be a great help."

    I might add that a deeper understanding of theology may not be the only reason for an earthly pastor to be in your life. There may be other reasons that are more personal to your walk.

    "He can't command, but can God work through him to instruct and advise you?"

    My answer: If you desire him or her to, sure. But necessary? Absolutely not! And I would even argue that it would hold you back from true growth and learning.

    That question was worded to set me up. After all, if God is working through the pastor, we would be loathe to turn away and do something else - even disobey! I am convinced my answer is sufficient. While another's learned walk may be helpful to us, no man holds us in their bonds due to their perceived spiritual position. We are individuals in Christ. Jesus says that he has begun a new work in me and HE will finish it.

    "You're not actually throwing out a pastor's role in your life correct?"

    Of course! A pastor has no "role" in anyone's life unless solicited or forced upon them. Am I saying a pastor is unnecessary? Again, I answered this in the post.

    "Do you believe the role of a pastor as shepherd of the flock is biblically sanctioned?"

    The short answer is no. I do not. Jesus Christ is my shepherd.

  4. Interesting piece. Totally agree that the position of "pastor" is something that's been inflated into something God never intended it to be. I've always felt that a pastor going about his or her duties as they should will be just about the LAST person one will notice if a stranger to a particular gathering of Christians.

    Too many have made the pastor their mediator, and too many pastors set themselves up as mediators. A true pastor should always be under, not over.

    To answer Benjamin's question from my own perspective..."Do you believe the role of a pastor as shepherd of the flock is biblically sanctioned?"...

    If by shepherd you mean "caretaker", seeing to the needs of the people, assisting (not commanding or lording) spiritually, emotionally, materially, (even defending them and their faith when necessary), then yes, because the sheep aren't the pastor's personal possessions, but rather Christ's. If by shepherd you mean "leader", then no. I follow Christ.

  5. "Do you believe the role of a pastor as shepherd of the flock is biblically sanctioned?"

    That is a tough question and requires a lot of attention to different details in the life of apostolic times until now.

    First, I believe the church we know today, and the church for the most part, is very right hand dominant. When the Lord leads, I would like to write on the differences between being left handed dominant and being right handed dominant. The Bible has much to say about the right hand and its symbol for authority in the Bible. The right hand is powerful, decisive, analytical and predictable.

    The left hand however is very creative and judges things according to perspective. Much like the Holy Spirit, the left hand or (right side of the brain) inspires us to do opposite of what our authoritative side tells us to do at times. I have not read books on this; I just know to be true from the heart and what God has shown me.

    Again, after the passing of the age of the apostles or the age of the Holy Spirit (in my own view), men later began to bring the Holy Spirit into control through creeds, dogmas, confessions etc. Now, as we developed a right hand dominant church, that knows control all too well, we changed the meaning of pastor. In the time of the New Testament a pastor had a special meaning.

    A pastor in the New Testament was a service and not a salaried position.

    I have held house church meetings in homes with pastor types, and guess what? None that I have ever known ever let the Holy Spirit flow the way He would like to. The modern day pastor loves to hang onto a pulpit, clutch onto a microphone, and will not allow those who have the gift rise to their place. Romans says that those who have the gift should minister it according to the anointing of the Spirit. Have you ever been to a church where the pastor is not the moderator of this? I might have been to one. Also, a church with a strict liturgy is not open for the move of the Holy Spirit. This is how you know if you are involved in a right hand dominant church.

    This is not how the the New Testament pastor operates. It's a homonym like tare and tear. Same word but different purpose.

  6. I don't see how anyone with intellectual honesty can extrapolate the modern American church/business model CEO from the word pastor based on the one time the gift of "pastor" is mentioned as being given to the church(Ephesian 4:11).

    In keeping with the rest of the times that word is used in scripture (OT), it truly would mean a compassionate person who is a friend to the God-loved, wanting to help them follow God the Great Shepherd, warning them from dangers they may not be aware of, making sure they find rest for their souls, probably wrestling for them in prayer like dear Epaphrus did. (Col 4:12)

    This modern invention of a paid position who writes sermons (often these days unable/unwilling to personally know most of the people who attend his church) and budgets and approves song lists and Sunday school curriculum, that is a modern invention with the label "pastor" slapped on to make is "biblical".

    We are so far removed from a cultural understanding of what it is a pastor/shepherd does for his flock that we as a culture have felt free to define it as we choose. And defined it is, as "the man who gets a salary to run the church business and deliver sermons at appointed times." Caring for people is not a requirement. A degree from a seminary often is.

  7. An interesting (sickening) read is a little book called "The Baptist Deacon" - which in reality is about the elevated role of the Pastor, with the Deacon in the background saying yes.

    It's not so narrow as to only be an obvious commentary on the IFB (or southern baptist) churches. It would seem familiar to anyone who has been part of the hyper-spiritual-fundamental deal.

    It caused us to bolt from our church :) After our pastor placed it in the hands of my husband, who was a deacon at the time, and said the words "read this so you can understand my heart."

    Oh boy.

  8. Hey all... Hebrews 13:7, a predecessor to verse 17...

    "Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct."

    Then, Hebrews 13:17.