Many years ago, I was discussing the gospel with a work colleague over lunch when I learned that he was a practicing Catholic. However, ironically, although he was a devout Catholic he rarely if ever read the Bible for himself. When I showed him from scripture that God’s grace is free and therefore can’t be earned in any way (the Gospel), he paused and responded with the most astounding statement. He genuinely said, “I don’t care what you show me from the Bible because I trust my priest over you.” It was as if to him, it mattered very little what the Bible said and only mattered what his priest said the Bible said.
This encounter reminded me of Martin Luther and the great lengths and tribulations that he faced in ultimately being God’s instrument to reform the church. One of the efforts that he led was to have the Bible translated out of Latin into German, the common tongue of his fellow countrymen. Before his efforts, fellow congregants had no choice but to blindly trust their priests. But, this was not the model that God intended. As a result of Luther bringing the Bible to the masses, the church and the world has never been the same. However, it is amazing today how many in the church would rather ignore such a privilege of direct relationship with the Holy Spirit and His word, in exchange for blind trust of their spiritual shepherds.
On this subject, there are two things that I have observed in every church of which I have been a part. Many churches are typically led by an appealing leader. And, churches almost always have too many members who blindly trust that leader. This can be healthy in certain situations, but spiritually dangerous in many others. A pastor is a shepherd of God’s flock. But, the flock is ultimately God’s. When a pastor loses sight of this by growing in pride, arrogance becomes his blind spot. I say this as a personal confession. As someone who led a teaching ministry in the church for years, I drifted towards pride and blinding arrogance. Ultimately, God decided to lead me away from that ministry in stark fashion, and lead me into other ministries where he retaught me deeper humility. It is my prayer to never drift toward pride like that again. How much harder it must be for those shepherding vibrant churches?
It is saddening watching pastor after pastor preach sermons riddled with personal opinions that ignore very clear scriptures that prove them wrong if at least audacious. What does it suggest when a pastor makes a statement that can be easily refuted by scripture that he ignored? What does it suggest when a pastor has to warn congregants not to stumble from his preaching? If you so reasonably believe your opinions might cause congregants to stumble, isn't it obviously an unwise opinion? Are unwise opinions worthy of declaration? What does it suggest when a sermon actually does cause many people to stumble, especially youth? What does it suggest when all of the above suggestions are completely ignored like scripture was similarly ignored?
This post is not directed primarily at pastors. Rather, it is primarily directed at congregants. It is so easy to hang on every word of a pastor who bears charisma while searching for a license to behave unwisely. But, this is not the posture of one who pursues God’s wisdom above all else. 1 John 4:1 implores us to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” We as congregants are not only implored to test every spirit, but we have little to no choice in doing so if we value our families. Our pastors are not perfect in life nor in speech. All of them are mid-journey either from humility or towards it. They, therefore, make mistakes every day, especially on Sundays. In fact, if you rarely find them to be in error it is probably a sign to you that you are lazily ignoring your spiritual homework.
For pastors, it is not an easy task to do what they do every week without spiritual error, nor is it supposed to be. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Therefore, we must not let our pastors think for us. We must only grant that right to the Holy Spirit (God). That means that we must test every spiritual declaration that our pastors make as if they have failed to test it themselves. This is our act of quality control over what our families consume spiritually. And, when we find our pastors to declare something in error, their errant declaration must be dismissed in your family in deference to the Holy Spirit.
This does not mean that we should be either disrespectful to our pastors or cause division in the church. Rather, in our homes, we as parents are the shepherds and ultimate “disciplers” of our families, not our pastors. Family discipleship is not something that we outsource to our pastors. And, when we find our pastors to preach in error, we must educate our families carefully and explicitly both in revealing the error as well as how to rightly process it. We must make sure that our families esteem our pastors, but more importantly, they must esteem the Holy Spirit and God’s word more highly than they.
1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” Finally, 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Honoring our pastors and avoiding division within God’s Bride is not optional.
More specifically to parents, Deuteronomy 11:19 says, “You shall teach [God's words] to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking in the way, and when you lie down and when you rise.” Isaiah 38:19 says, “…the father makes known to the children your faithfulness.” Deuteronomy 4:9 says of the things that God has revealed, “Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Psalm 78:5b-7 says, “Which he commanded our fathers to teach their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.” Parents, these are duties that can never be effectively delegated to others.
In closing, if you are a pastor, ask yourself weekly if your sermon is truly accountable to God and His word in entirety? Are there other spirit-led Elders critically and candidly reviewing what you preach with adequate rebuke on a regular basis? Pastors, you must stoop down and kneel at the foot of the cross anew with every sermon and every point therein. You must value Christ more than your ministry. You must forsake all except Christ. In a very real sense, you must forsake your idolatry of ministry for the sake of Christ. To my fellow Christian congregants, pray for your pastors like your life depends upon it. And, as you do, yield not God’s throne to their teaching. Test every sermon and every point of application against the wisest leanings of God’s radically wise word. Reject any declaration that is remotely unwise. Test every spirit to see if it draws men towards flesh or towards the Spirit and Wisdom of God. And, daily disciple your families to do the same.
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