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?”