Do pastors have the rule over you?

The writer attends the Twin Cities Church of God, an independent fellowship in Hopkins, Minn. He lives with his wife, Julie, and two daughters in Eagan. Mr. Przeslawski is a 1985 graduate of the University of Minnesota. He has been in contact with the Churches of God since 1974.

By Luke Przeslawski

EAGAN, Minn.--All one has to do is turn to Hebrews 13:7, 17 in any of the King James­based Bibles to find that pastors have the "rule over" a congregation, right? Then simply turn to Romans 13 and read verses 1-5, about "every soul" being "subject to governing authorities," and all authority being "from God." It appears to be a closed case, a complete argument. Right?

But is it?

Proverbs 18:13 notes that he who answers a matter before he hears it is foolish. In other words, don't draw your conclusion until you have heard the rest of the story and gleaned all the facts. When it comes to the Bible, it is important to consider the relevant scriptures on a topic first, then draw your conclusion.

Furthermore, Proverbs 18:17 teaches that the first person to present his case seems to be in the right, but "then his brother comes and cross examines him."

The rest of the story

Big-government centralists would have you believe that my first paragraph--about pastors having the "rule over" you--was the whole story. It is not. In 1 Peter 5 Peter addresses pastors and elders. Notice verses 2-3:

"Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion, but willingly, not for greedy gain, nor as being overlords over those entrusted to you, but being good examples to the flock."

Let us ask questions. Whose flock does it say it is? Does overseer mean ruler? Are pastors to lead by example? Should pastors look to live well at the flock's expense? Does "to shepherd" mean to boss around?

The Bible repeatedly says the sheep belong to God. In Ezekiel 34:10 we read a warning: "Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand, and I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more. For I will deliver My flock from their mouths that they may no longer be food for them." (See also Jeremiah 23:1-6.)

Notice further in Ezekiel 34:22-25. God will make King David a powerful shepherd in the resurrection. David was known for saving the sheep from the mouths of wild beasts. Hear what David said as recorded in 1 Samuel 17:34-35:

"And David said to Saul, 'Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off the sheep from the flock I went after it, struck it, and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, I struck it and killed it.' "

David did not sit idly by when beasts attacked his father's sheep. David aggressively pursued the beasts.

Overseer simply means one who oversees. An overseer is not a ruler. There is no mention of rulership by Peter.

As we have already read, the sheep belong to God. Peter says in 1 Peter 5 that shepherds are to lead by good example. There is a big difference between leading by example and ruling by decree.

Reading further, in 1 Peter 5:5-6 Peter instructs: "Yes, all of you be submissive one to another, and be clothed in humility ... Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time."

Notice that a shepherd's time of exaltation is the future, not now.

I have heard leaders and follower members say (again, it's usually the big-government centrists) that form of government does not matter. Then they expound the virtues of a top-down hierarchical government.

Does form of government within the church matter? What did Jesus say? What did Paul say?

Don't lord it over

Christ taught against the pyramid form of government within the church. Matthew 20:25-28 states: "But Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over the people, and those who are considered great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you. But whoever desires to become great, let him become a servant.' "

According to Jesus, form of government matters much. He forbade the top-down hierarchical form of government within the church. Does your pastor teach differently?

In 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul taught: "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ . . . and the head of Christ is God."

Again the head of every man is Christ. Pastors are not and should not presume to stand between you and Christ. Is that what your pastor teaches?

Notice 1 Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man who is Christ Jesus." Paul again clearly says that pastors are not between you and Christ. If your pastor teaches differently, he is going against the teachings of Jesus, Paul and Peter.

The prescribed form of government for the church is simple. It works like this. God the Father is above all. Jesus, the Son of God, is below God. The rest of us are below Jesus.

Peter teaches (1 Peter 2:9) that we are all a "chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy people." Notice we are all now a part of the royal priesthood, not just pastors and elders.

Paul warned with tears, in Acts 20:28-35, that wolves would come into the church, setting themselves up over the sheep and taking advantage of them spiritually and financially. Also see Ezekiel 34:1-3: "Son of man prophesy against the shepherds of Israel . . . 'Thus says the Lord God to these shepherds; woe to the shepherds who feed themselves. Should not the shepherds be feeding the flocks? Yet you eat their fat and clothe yourselves with their wool; you've slaughtered the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.'"

Sadly, some pastors do become wolves. Sadly, there are too many such wolves, those who serve themselves rather than the sheep of God. They take financial and spiritual advantage of the sheep, then claim they are serving them.

Many misguided sheep continue to put up with these wolves. In 2 Corinthians 11:19-20 Paul laments: "For you gladly put up with fools . . . For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one steals from you, if one exalts himself over you, and if one strikes you on the face."

These emboldened wolves then drive out or throw out those who would question them. In 3 John 9-10 the apostle John warns: "I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence over them, does not allow us to visit . . . And not content with that, he himself does not receive the [knowledgeable] brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church."

In other words, Diotrephes selfishly wanted a congregation of ignorant sheep who would blindly follow him. Does your pastor behave like Diotrephes? Or, like Paul, does he encourage independent study? (Acts 17:10-11).

Laws of the land

Now let's go back to my first paragraph. Does the Bible contradict itself? Did Paul preach out of both sides of his mouth? Did the author of Hebrews contradict Jesus? Let's go back.

What does Paul refer to in Romans 13 as "governing authorities"?

Misguided and unscrupulous pastors teach that this chapter refers to the church. This is not true. Paul speaks here about civil government.

Pastors usually stop at verse 5. Let us read verses 6-7: "For because of this you also pay taxes, for they [the civil leaders] are God's ministers. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, fear to whom fear, honor to honor."

Paul is simply saying that we ought to obey the laws of the land, as long as they don't cause us to disobey God (Acts 5:27-29).

KJV mistranslation

Now back to Hebrews 13. Bibles with margins should include notations by the words obey and rule.

Next to obey should read "heed" or "listen to." Next to rule should be "lead" or "teach." The original text, before King James, read, "Heed those who teach and lead you." That is a far cry from the King James mistranslation, "Obey those who rule over you."

Pastors are instructed to lead by good example and not take advantage of God's sheep. Jesus is the only mediator for all of God's people.

But, you may ask, do pastors have any authority? Yes, they do. They have the authority to preach the Scriptures without constraint. That is to say, they should be able to preach from any part of the Bible at any time without restriction. Any other "authority" has been added out of selfishness.

What does your church leadership teach?

You may also wonder if a pastor has a right to get paid? Yes, if the congregation agrees to pay him and then pays him locally. Payroll out of a central authority is unscriptural and leads to a consolidation of power and loyalty away from the local congregation and towards the central power base. Jesus preached against this. So did His apostles.

We need to be like the Bereans. We need to evaluate our pastors in light of the Word of God. If, by the grace of God, you come to see that your particular pastor is a wolf in sheep's clothing, I have one word of advice: Leave. It is not wise for sheep to entertain wolves for dinner. Invariably the sheep will be the dinner.

I hope you will save your wool for the truly poor and needy.

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