From Whence Cometh the Authority of a Pastor?

One of the central topics in my novel is the issue of church authority. When a pastor stands before a congregation claiming to be teaching the truth of God’s word, on what authority does he stand? Did God truly place him in that position or did he place himself in that position? Is the validity of his authority based on the consent of his followers or has it been bestowed upon him from On High? In other words, is his authority given by God or created by man? And how do we know?

I do not generally have a problem with authority. I am not a rebel. If I am asked by my boss to perform a task that I am not particularly fond of, I will do it so long as it is not illegal or immoral. I respect his authority because it was bestowed upon him by the president of our company. The president signs my paychecks and has the power to fire and hire at will. Likewise, I respect the authority of law enforcement in this country even thought I may not appreciate being pulled over and cited for speeding. The authority to enforce the law is given to police officers by the police chief who is usually appointed by the mayor. The mayor is elected by the people or by the city council. The chain of authority is clear.

But that chain of authority is often not so clear in the church world, especially amongst non-denominational evangelicals. If a man or woman steps up behind a pulpit and speaks to us authoritatively on matters of theology, why do we automatically accept this authority? Is it because we like what we hear? Or do we validate the authority because the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible jives with our own understanding? But who are we to even make that judgement? Why is our interpretation of the Bible any better than the person sitting next to us on the pew? And if we disagree with an aspect of the pastor’s views, do we have a right to question him? Or do we have to accept what he says because we have already consented to his authority?

Thus, I argue in my book that the question of authority is a slippery one in many churches; it cannot be pinned down or defined with any certainty. The claim of authority can be made and it can be accepted but this does not mean that it is valid.

In my upcoming book, Pastor Tom not only uses his authority to preach from the pulpit, but he also uses it to tell his followers how they should live their lives. Because his followers believe in his authority, they unquestionably obey him.

Your comments are welcome below. Let’s keep it civil!

9 thoughts on “From Whence Cometh the Authority of a Pastor?

  1. You must start with an absolute authority. In my case I accept the OT and NT scriptures (not the pseudapigripha). Jesus said if you love me you will keep My commandments. His commandments for the Church are primarily the NT scriptures. The scriptures say ‘study to show yourself approved unto God a workman who does not need to be ashamed’. We need to be Bereans and search the scriptures daily to see if these things be so!

    1. Hi R. Weller,

      Thank you for your comment. I agree with you about starting with the authority of the scriptures. The problem arises when people disagree on the interpretation of the scriptures. Then what? Who can say what the correct interpretation is?

  2. It is sobering to consider just how many mutually exclusive points of contention exist in Christian theology. I readily confess that I have changed my mind numerous times over the years concerning both essential and non-essential doctrines. The more I learn,…the more I realize I didn’t know.

    When centuries of highly regarded theologians fail to demonstrate unanimous agreement between them, it becomes obvious that at the end of the day; We are left with “the best guesses” of mere mortals, whom speak from behind pulpits, seminary lecterns and the pages of books.

    Having said that, I believe humility (willing acknowledgment by the “teacher”, that their viewpoint is really one person’s opinion, and it may be wrong) should be considered as a NEWLY prescribed, non-negotiable addition to traditional, essential doctrine.

    1. Hi David,

      Thank you for the comment. Humility is a key ingredient which is often missing in the church world. The flocks want to believe that their pastors are speaking for God and so they lift these men up too high. It is difficult to be humble when you are up on a pedestal, is it not?

      1. Asked for a private time to minister alone to the 4 mature, godly leaders of a prominent and extremely fruitful world-wide ministry, I asked them 4 questions.

        The first was, “What characteristic/trait of our Lord Jesus is most lacking/missing in today’s Christian leadership?” The 3 older ones guessed different things that were true, but not the one of which I was thinking. The youngest nailed it: “humility”.

        A long discussion followed that was deep and rich.

    2. Amen, David. Amen.

      After 50 years of ministry and studying scripture, I’ve learned much I used to believe was extra-biblical. I.e., not supported in scripture. Not major things – the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ never change – except we should never cease in an increasing depth of understanding of the depth of His finished work.

      I think this should be true of all who continue to seek to know the Lord more as they mature.

  3. Notably our Lord Jesus NEVER exerted His authority over man. Over sickness, demonic powers, weather, yes. Men – no. He never demanded that others submit to him, obey him – he only emphasized that men believe in Him.

    So it should be with any Christian leader. If a man insists on your acceptance of his authority – his authority is not from God. And his insistence proves that his authority is not from God.

    And only spiritual people see true spiritual authority. The carnal, the unspiritual cannot see it – they only see the authority of man. Spiritual people respond to spiritual authority joyfully. So to insist that unspiritual people submit to spiritual authority does not work, and is not God’s way.

    Suggested reading: “Finding Church” by my good friend, Wayne Jacobsen.

  4. David Floyd nailed it on the problem that I found. It is anyone’s guess as to what the true interpretation of scripture is. Add on to that the fact that we aren’t even sure what the starting point for the underlying Greek scripture should be when the Greek is different depending on who compiled it and what the source texts were and that put me at a crossroads that I had to do deep study in to the history of Christianity. This widespread problem of Authority only really cropped up in dramatic fashion after the reformation, everyone became an authority unto themselves as they were unmoored from Christian history, bother the messy and the good. At Nicea there was no question of who was the authority and from where that authority was derived. The bishops were the authority and it was handed to them by the previous generation of bishops leading back to the apostles and ultimately Jesus himself. Just because the bishop of Rome wound up abusing his authority doesn’t mean that the rest of the bishops that had excommunicated the Roman pontiff lost the authority that they had from the beginning. A careful study of the first 1000 years yields amazing insights.

  5. If my brothers and sisters share the gospel with the Lost and love one another then they are doing what Christ asked of them. If they like candles, niv translation over out, believe in tongues or not…etc…etc…pretrib/postrib…once saved always saved or don’t believe this…then all of that is up for discussion with love and humility but if it ever leads to separation then I have placed those things higher than the blood of Christ and made an idol of my intellect above forgiveness of Christ…Jesus loves all his children and so should we…

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