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.