Wednesday, July 14th, 2010 | Author:

With the myriad of churches around the world divided by denominational and doctrinal lines, there’s one thing that almost all have in common.  You’d think (and hope) the commonality of Christianity would be Christ, but that’s not necessarily the case. There are many Christian churches today that deny the atonement of the cross, among other things.  No, the one thing churches have in common is “the pastor.”

Walk into most any church, and you will find rows of chairs or pews facing a pulpit (or a platform or a stage).  That’s probably the most conclusive method of determining that you are in a church.

While others may make an appearance, the position behind the pulpit belongs to “the pastor.”  This is where he/she stands to conduct a worship service.  It’s the place where “The Word” is delivered to the people each Sunday morning.

And when the pastor is not behind the pulpit, he’s doing all the other things that make a church a church.  He’s visiting the sick, mediating disputes, baptizing infants or adults, preparing sermons, consoling the bereaved, setting a vision for the church, teaching Bible studies, making decisions, and generally running him/herself ragged.

In most cases, without the pastor there is no church.  Given this emphasis on the position, I think we should see what the Bible has to say about it.  Ready?

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, (Ephesians 4:11)

That’s it.  The word pastor appears in the Bible just this once, translated from the Greek poimen, and even then it’s part of a list.

So why is a position that has so little biblical emphasis the one that most clearly defines the church?  I’m sure there are many reasons, but here are a few possibilities that occurred to me.

  • Following a flesh-and-blood person that you can see behind the pulpit each Sunday is a lot easier than following the Holy Spirit, whom you never see.
  • It’s far easier for pastors to adopt some form of the Old Testament priesthood than to follow the Holy Spirit, too.  A scripted worship service is much more predictable.
  • Before the printing press, when most people were illiterate, it may have made some sense for one person to read from the limited number of biblical scrolls that were available. That can only apply now to those in repressed countries where the Bible is forbidden, especially in light of the internet.
  • Like the hypocrites Jesus refers to in Matthew 6, some pastors like having a title and a position that brings honor to them from other men.
  • Some pastors, like some CEO’s, like the power of their position.  They like being in charge and making the decisions.
  • People often prefer having their ears tickled from the back of the church once a week than being accountable to one another, day in and day out.
  • Tradition.  For most of church history, there’s been a priest (or a pastor) behind a pulpit.  Why question something that is so well established?

Why?  Because I don’t think God ever intended that the church be arbitrarily divided into clergy and laity.  I don’t think He ever intended that worshipping Him be reduced to a Sunday morning formula.  I don’t think our mindless rituals bring Him honor or pleasure.

And I don’t think church as we know it draws people to Christ.  As this is our main purpose for being on this earth, I think we would be wise to give some prayer and thought to just what God did intend that His church look like.  I don’t have all the answers to this, but here are some scriptures that I think give us clues.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9)

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:4-21)

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.  (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:20-26)

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:19-26)

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.  (Revelation 12:10-11)

In light of these verses, I think the real question then becomes, “Why don’t we do these things?”

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4 Responses
  1. “Because I don’t think God ever intended that the church be arbitrarily divided into clergy and laity. I don’t think He ever intended that worshipping Him be reduced to a Sunday morning formula.” So true! Because God demands all of us; He will share His glory with no other! One day a week does not cut it for Him, because He is God of the living!

    But the “pastor’s” position is not to be God, not to define the standard for how the congregation should live, but to lead them IN THE WORD OF GOD!!! But how many times have we heard of that pastor who preaches on something like… holy living according to the >gasp< BIBLE, and gets kicked out!

    James says "let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we ALL stumble in many things." In the American church, there might be many, many "pastors" who are just going through the religious motions, the things that are filthy rags before God. But there are REAL pastors who are followers of the Holy Spirit! They are people whom no man wanted to listen to, but God called them! A lot of them literally gave up everything and lived on bare minimum, suffered a lot of persecution, all because they obeyed the voice of God and spoke the truth!

    People who say preachers are "in it for the money" have NO IDEA what they are talking about, do they? God-fearing pastors in many countries, America not excluded, have their hearts torn out of them on a regular basis. They really LIVE FOR GOD AND NOT FOR THEMSELVES. They are the people who translated the Bible into our native language and even wrote volumes and volumes of dictionaries so that we can read and understand the meanings through the original language of the text! We really take their work for granted so much. "How shall they hear without a preacher?" If we are not doing the extensive work for God that they are, how can we accuse them? Even if some are messed up somewhere… who isn't? We all stumble in many things, but we are here to build each other up UPON THE SOLID ROCK OF CHRIST, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved–not by the name of any man! But God spreads His word through man, especially through, yes, The Pastor.

    My personal opinion here: just because the Bible only uses the word we use for "pastor" once doesn't really mean anything, because when the Bible was written, they used different terms to refer to all these people in our modern church. "Congregation" is mentioned in the New Testament only once, and it doesn't even refer to the Christian church! And, uh… who was Timothy, who has two books of the Bible named after him? Wasn't he the leader of a church? Like, what we might nowadays call a pastor? We can't associate "the pastor" with the religious Sunday morning formula. Whether or not Sunday morning is a formula is between every INDIVIDUAL and God! It is not the pastor's fault if somebody is not worshiping in spirit and in truth! Just sayin'…

  2. Jim Wetzel says:

    I’ve been thinking about this one, and I’ve held off on commenting until the “thinking” might bring forth something resembling a conclusion. It hasn’t yet, but, you know, I suffer from a big mouth, so I have to say something, whether it’s conclusive or not — and it’s not. I don’t know that the New Testament says anything explicit about the paid pastorate, simply because (as you point out) the New Testament is nearly silent on the pastorate, unless we’re willing to equate the pastorate with other offices of the church about which the New Testament does speak. One can, for example, go to 1 Corinthians 9 and see that Paul clearly teaches that the apostolate is entitled to pay, although he apparently won’t take it from the Corinthians. But a pastor is not an apostle, and I wouldn’t even begin to assume that they are equivalent for purposes of being entitled to get paid.

    I think the problem (and this goes to one of your points, I think) is that the modern church isn’t structurally parallel to what the scriptures show us of the first-century church. Which says a lot, all by itself … most of it not good, I’m afraid.

  3. akaGaGa says:

    @Alice I by no means meant to condemn all pastors, and you are right to defend them. In fact, the way most people “do church” places an inordinate burden on one person – the pastor – when the burdens of a particular church in a particular location should be carried by all who are called to the royal priesthood.

    But the “pastor’s” position is not to be God, not to define the standard for how the congregation should live, but to lead them IN THE WORD OF GOD!!! Now here I have to part company with you. In Titus 1, we are told that all elders are to hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” 1 Peter 5 says that “the elders among you” should “shepherd the flock of God among you.” James 5:14 tells us that “the elders” should be carrying the burden for praying for the sick. In each of these cases, the burdens of the church are placed on multiple elders – including teaching – not just on one pastor. Nowhere does the Bible say that the pastor or anyone else should be the “head” elder. Does the church need pastors? Absolutely. Should the pastor teach? Of course. But he should be one elder among many who teaches, giving people multiple viewpoints instead of just one: Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory. (Proverbs 11:14)

    People who say preachers are “in it for the money” have NO IDEA what they are talking about, do they? As you rightly point out, there are preachers who have a noble purpose. But to say that none of them are in it for the money or the power would be to discount many of the big “ministries” in America.

    Whether or not Sunday morning is a formula is between every INDIVIDUAL and God! It is not the pastor’s fault if somebody is not worshiping in spirit and in truth! True enough. In the end, we each stand or fall before our Lord alone. But if the pastor’s formula for “church” limits or eliminates the contributions of all to a gathering of the saints (1 Cor 14:20-26 above), he is quenching the Holy Spirit, which makes it difficult – if not impossible – for the church as a whole to worship in that same Spirit. I would not want to be a pastor in that position.

    [Note: My response to your other comment (and to Jim's comment) will be forthcoming when I have another block of time! :) ]

  4. akaGaGa says:

    @Jim I think the problem (and this goes to one of your points, I think) is that the modern church isn’t structurally parallel to what the scriptures show us of the first-century church. Which says a lot, all by itself … most of it not good, I’m afraid.

    At least in my view, structure is a way bigger problem than whether or not the pastor gets paid. Even more so, because we usually just accept the structure we inherit without ever questioning why or how it got the way it is, and what the results of that structure are – not to mention questioning how biblical it is.

    I don’t think just changing the structure of most churches would make much difference, though, unless the people truly desired a Holy-Spirit-led meeting – and most don’t. Some, I think, fear Paul’s warning in I Cor 14 (above) that the secrets of their hearts would be revealed. Others are simply fearful of meeting with God, so prefer to hide behind Moses’ veil. And others just want to put in their hour Sunday morning and be done with God for the week. It’s summed up quite nicely in Jer 5:31: The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?

    I got into a little more detail in my comment above, so I’ll stop here before I start repeating myself.