Pastoral Authority

If you’ve ever heard your pastor use the word’s “touch not the Lord’s anointed” to refer to…himself, you probably have been a fundamentalist.

It is the great irony of fundamentalism that after having decried the centralized control of the Roman church, fundamentalist churches each hasten to set up their own local pope who speaks to them ex cathedra on matters of Scriptural interpretation and practice. Based on the passages most often used to justify this dominance, one can only assume that the local church pastor fills the roles of prophet, priest, and king with a generous helping of apostle thrown in for good measure. Not bad for a position where the only entrance requirement is an invisible “call” to preach.

Since the fundy pastor says he will be called to “give an account” for the minutest details of the lives of those under his care, it only stands to reason that nothing is outside of his purview. Some of the more extreme will even say that since the authority of the church stands above the family, the pastor is responsible for the decisions made in each home down to where each child goes to school and whom they marry. Resist this “man-of-god” at your own peril; the pastor may not have she bears to do his bidding but he does have a deacon board.

Of course, most fundamentalists will tell you that we are all merely sinner saved by grace and that the ground at the foot of the cross is all equal. Some parts are just a bit more equal than others; and evidently some also come with a direct line to God’s will for everyone else’s life.

30 thoughts on “Pastoral Authority”

  1. Full. Of. Win. It starts with the Preacher Boys’ class photo and only gets better from there. I’ve been saying the mini-Pope thing ever since I attended that particular fundy college, which is unusually stratified. And nice reference to the she-bears–as soon as I saw “pastoral authority” I immediately thought of that.

  2. LOL. . .lots of truth in this post. I have not entirely solidified where I stand on the issues of church governance. It doesn’t seem clearly spelled out in the text to me, although I would definitely fall more into the multiple elders/pastors camp (how this is exactly worked out may differ from place to place).

    I have known people whose pastors told them *where* to go to college, etc. That’s bizarre and ridiculous. Some pastors do it to a lessor extent (the pressure for all graduates to go off to Bible college,etc). As individual believers, we should not forget our responsibility to examine the Biblical texts for ourselves–perhaps we ought to all learn Biblical languages. And I’m being serious.

    1. You make some good points, RJW. I don’t think the Bible gives a one-size-fits-all rule for how many “elders” or “pastors” are to be in a given church, but I seriously doubt it’s a one-man reign.

      As far as Bible college is concerned, my former Fundy church only “approved” three schools in the entire USA. Sadly though all of the assistant “pastors” within the last twenty years have been from their favorite of the three (with the exception of the pastor’s son, of course).

  3. having now been part of a church that has a pastor/elder/deacon structure for about 5 years now I can tell you that it’s not perfect…as no man systems are…but it’s a sight better than the mini-pope structure I grew up under in the IFB world.

    You’re last two posts have been outstanding D.

  4. Thank you for pointing out the irony of raging against an authoritative Roman Catholic pope, while taking upon oneself the authority to “infallibly” teach scripture and control other’s lives!

    Spot on, Darrell.

  5. You know, I once heard a preacher going on from Acts 27:9-26. At one point Paul (tent-maker Paul, theology student Paul) advises career sailors on the intricacies of sailing, and (surprise!) no one listens to him. Of course there was a nor’easter, shipwreck, etc. It was only after they were in this predicament that Paul received word from heaven that no one would die, NOT BEFORE. The timing was lost on the preacher, though, because he said, “See, if they had listened to the man of God before they left, none of this would have happened!” Didn’t matter that Paul wasn’t a sailor. Scared passengers are all the time saying “I don’t think this is a good idea!” and captains never listen to them. But the mindset is that the man of God has some sort of special wisdom in all areas of life, and that you should consult your pastor before doing your taxes, going to the doctor’s office, and buying a pet.

    Incidentally, the guy who is telling you what deductions to claim on your tax return is the same guy who went through four years of Bible College, whose sum experience with finances was a business math course he took his freshman year taught by a career church business manager, and who just the Sunday before got done preaching against supernatural revelation in our day because “that which is perfect has come” and since we have the KJV we don’t need anything else.

  6. Also ironic is decrying those who believe in modern-day apostles while turning around and functionally doing the same thing. At least the former group is honest about it! Also, I loved the Animal Farm reference!

    “a business math course he took his freshman year taught by a career church business manager”

    Haha sounds just like my church finance course in Bible college, except I think mine was my senior year. In all fairness I did take some other business courses from professors who had legit business degrees, but all the same, I DID have that church finance course.

  7. Ah, memories. It always seemed to me the “touch not God’s anointed” was a thinly veiled threat used to insulate the pastor from insurrection.
    Anybody old enough to remember when pastors and deacons all had to wear three-piece suits? Some form of vestment for the anointed, perhaps?

  8. love it, put this post together with the post about pastor’s thrones and you have a winner.

    Is the pastor really “bringing to us the word of God”, or rather supposed to be explaining what God has already given in the scriptures? About half of the fundy preachers I have met, spend their sermons story telling about their own personal opinions & experiences. As a result I am very concerned about what the average Fundy believes the Word of God really is. I guess the answer is “whatever the Lord lays on the preachers heart”… and so who needs ministerial training with that kind of anointing. It’s ironic fundy’s spend so much time defending the KJV, yet their preachers sermons are scarcely from its text. One also wonders why they spend so much time denouncing the Charismatic teachers, the annointing of the fundy preacher appears to be the equivalent.

  9. This brings me back to memories of my days as a “preacher boy,” living in the “prophets chamber” of a pastor’s home and receiving his mentoring to become a king in the church or pastor, as has been wrongly and unscripturally defined. The pastor I lived with, used the “touch not the anointed” frequently. I remember one time, when we were voting on a copier to print tracts, how one of the men of the church voted no on the expensive copier, opposing the pastor’s vote. Needless to say, the man came down with an infirmity that involved pain in his reproductive system. The man had to miss church that sunday, as he writhed on his couch in agony. According to the pastor, this was what happens when you touch the anointed. He then told me that if I cross him I would be on the couch with the same infirmity (in a sarcastic laughing tone).

    I learned later that all Christians are anointed and we all have authority over each other, in the sense of giving warning over sin and watching over each others lives. We all have authority to rebuke and amonish people, but never lording over others as these Nicolaitaine pastors do. It just that New Testament elders have a more specific role of governing, watching over the brotherhood, and protecting the flock from wolves. It is a ministry to the local church; not a salaried position or a life of free money, new cars, yielding a lot of flattery in return from their congregants.

  10. Sad to say, I once held to that interp. I would hang in awe on stories of people who had “gone after God’s man” and the awful pains of death (brains bashed out in a car accident “for no good medical reason,” etc.).

    I believe it was my father who said that, when a pastor starts spouting that verse, it’s time to duck, as something is about to break.

  11. In my current church, the pastor, youth minister, assistant pastor, organ player, sunday school teachers, and sundry others get a salary. As a result, there is a definite chain of command. “I’d better not do (insert action here) or I’ll get fired.”

  12. The New Testament elder does not get a salary. He’s like a farmer. He plants the seed and hopes for a crop. If the crop yields any fruit, he gets to eat from it. In the same sense, if a New Testament elder sees people get saved and grow under his ministry, he should (like the farmer) eat from the fruit of his labors. That is biblical. That is why the Bible says that the elders who rule well (watch over the flock, not lord) are worthy of double honor (a double gift- honorarium). This is sowing in hope. Not having any expectation but what he happens to get from those he blesses. But to give him a lifetime supply of free money, free college for his 5+ kids, cruises to Alaska, a raise every time he has a child etc… That is totally unbiblical.

    1. Alan, you hit the nail on the head. I’ve never heard it explained quite like this. The Biblical structure pretty much prevents elders from becoming powerful as a result of being in ministry. The ministry of pastor/elder/bishop was never intended to be a source of physical wealth and prestige.

      If Fundies (in particular) were really as concerned with practicing literal hermeneutics as they claim, the king-like system would come crashing down.

  13. As to how much or even if the pastor should be paid, I would say that is up to the individual church. I mean did any church in the NT provide for or dare I say it “pay” Paul? Of course, but at the same time I realize it wasn’t a salary but more like a love offering. Plainly put, there isn’t a law for or against paying a pastor. How a church decides is, I believe up to that church. Maybe I am wrong, I don’t know.

    As much as some of you may wish to avoid a church that pays their pastor, I would be too scared to visit the church that refuses to pay their pastor.

  14. I believe Alan’s comments are right on target. I was always told the pastor reaped and lived of the gospel (to my utter shame, I practiced what was preached). Only within recent years, I thoroughly examined what Paul said and did instead of taking a blind statement from some self-proclaimed Protestant pope. I understand that Paul gave all of himself (finances included) to the assembly of believers he was trying to help. He wasn’t out to “feather his nest”. How many leaders in the church today would do what they do for nothing? No salary, benefits, pats on the back from their cronies, etc. I believe in the biblical leadership of having elders but not what is happening today and has been happening for some time now.

  15. @J Leslie

    Good point. There is no law concerning paying a pastor. In fact, the one instance the word pastor is used in the New Testament does not give any definition to what a pastor is. So, we are unclear of what the pastor means when it is mentioned in Ephesians. As far as I know, there is never a mention of the terms “my pastor, your pastor or the pastor” in the New Testament. Its kind of like when a dinosaur skeleton is discovered and scientist construing what color his skin was, what type of food he hate, his mating habits… the list goes on. Needless to say, many assumptions are made on a small bit of evidence. Even so, the ministries mentioned in the New Testament are reconstructed according to our 21st understanding, and we have built a whole church culture based on assumptions.

    John the Baptist is a good example of a “pastor.” We know that Peter and Andrew were his disciples before Christ came on the scene. When Christ did come on the scene, John set them loose to follow Christ. A true “pastor” will set people free when they enter the school of Christ. It makes me question, in our day, how the same pastor can have the same church members for 40 years and they never come to maturity in Christ. If I were entering the school of Karate tomorrow, and I never became a black belt in 40 years, would it not strange if the Karate teacher still wanted to make a living from my failure to learn? Why is it that some many pastors like depended on, so as to make a living off of their subjects?

  16. Anyone paid a salary in my church is referred to as “staff”, even the senior pastor/elder.
    Some pastors act out their “pastoral authority” based on “obedience to God”. Few have actual training in this area. Those that do cannot possibly keep up with the complexity, variation, and changes (e.g. political, cultural, technical) that impact the lives of “the flock”. As those that exercise their “pastoral authority” start and continue to make serious mistakes, they are faced with a dilemma. They must decide if the Bible is wrong (No), or is my interpretation wrong (No), or am I not giving the “counsel of God” (No), or is the counseled warped and being punished by God (Yes).

    This behavior also leads to “cookie cutter” Christians. Imagine if God dealt with everyone identically and told everyone the same thing. Adam, Noah, Moses, Joseph, Abraham, David, Samuel, John, Peter, Paul would all be building arks, naming creatures, hitting rocks, saving grain, etc. Today fundies are KJV, CCM is sin, TV is sin, Movies are sin, Pants on women sin, etc. Cookie cutter Christians not patterned by Christ, but instead, patterned by the pastor.

  17. Christian colleges, institutes, and other pastor schools need to spend far less time talking about “pastoral authority” and a lot more time reminding their preacher boys that they are no more important then anyone else in the church they happen to preach at. I realize that dealing with administrative things in the church requires someone (it can be one or more than one) to have a final say, and that many churches choose to have one person as the administrative head.

    But of course, fundy pastor training tends to encourage preacher boys to let that go to their heads. “I have the final say in what color scheme the sanctuary is, therefore I have the right to decide what the people in my church do, think, and wear at all times.” News flash to fundy pastors: When the Bible refers to us as “sheep”, it’s talking about you to. You are not some kind of higher being.

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