What is the role of the pastor, when it comes to the rule of the flock? This is something that every church member, and every undershepherd needs to know in order for a church to be a healthy congregation. Far too many people are abusive in their misunderstandings of this relationship.
One of the fundamental arguments that are coming against the Lord’s churches and pastors today is the misunderstanding of the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. There are many people out there that have the wrong idea that since we are all believer-priests, that in essence, there is no such thing as a “position of authority” anywhere within Christianity. Without realizing it, they have made this the Mount Everest of the New Testament to the exclusion of the rest of the scripture concerning, teachers, elders, preachers, and the roles they play, and the rule they have. It is abundantly clear that many do not comprehend correctly the Biblical relationship that is to exist between believers and elders.
The wonderful truth is, that when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, they are now “kings and priests” with full access to the throne room of God through the act of prayer. It is our position as a believer priest that gives us permission to enter the very presence of God without the need of any sinful man. Praise God! Because I am a believer-priest, I do not need another man anywhere in planet earth to open heaven’s door for me, Jesus Christ has done that, and I can now “boldly go before the throne of grace.” That is a soul shaking reality if it will ever set in on you.
But that doesn’t come within twenty time zones of nullifying the “authority” of the undershepherd/pastor/bishop/elder as it exists within a church.
Let’s set some things straight that hopefully will settle our hearts and minds when it comes to this issue.
First. – The Elder/Pastor/Bishop is a position within the local assembly, not within Christianity. The New Testament knows nothing of a Churchless Christianity. The ordination of an elder takes place within a specific congregation. Remember this. Any believer in Jesus Christ, who is not in fellowship with a local congregation is out of fellowship with the Lord. Such a concept that believers can be right with God and out of church is completely absent from the New Testament. According to Acts 2, God’s plan for every man is very simple, that they 1.) Receive His Word, 2.) Were Baptized, 3.) Added to the Gathered Assembly.
The quickest way to misunderstand the role of pastor is to misunderstand the term “church.” The word “ekklesia” means a “gathered assembly.” There is no such thing as an “ungathered assembly.” There is no such thing as an “ungathered congregation.” Where there is no “congregation,” where there is no “assembly,” there is no “church.” A believer only has a relationship with an elder/pastor/bishop in the course of their relationship to the “congregation” or “gathered assembly.” The role of the undershepherd is tied expressly to the order within the gathered flock. Paul made it plain when he said in Acts 20:28 to the Ephesian elders to “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
That being said, a Christian out of church has bigger issues than wondering about the role of Pastors/Bishops/Elders, within the church.
Second – Who are the members of the gathered assembly? – Priesthood Believers! When the writer of Hebrews wrote to “obey them that have the rule over you” he was speaking to priesthood believers. When the same writer of Hebrews wrote to a group of people that they did “had need that someone teach you again” he was speaking to priesthood believers! The idea that being a “priesthood believer” nullifies the organizationl instructions of the New Testament Assembly is categorically silly, because the organizational instructions for the New Testament church is for the priesthood believer. The priesthood believer is still subject to the instructions in the Word of God.
This is the same faulty reasoning that many use to insist that women can serve in the role of pastor. People often like to quote Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” and attempt to use that verse as dynamite to destroy the distinctions the rest of the scriptures make concerning gender roles. This idea falls flat on the same Biblical premise. When the Bible said that women were not to teach, nor to usurp authority over a man, who was it speaking to? Men and women who are already in Christ Jesus! The instructions of the New Testament are for people in Christ, and for the priesthood believer. Having our freedom in Christ, and our identity in Christ never nullifies the authoritative instructions for the New Testament assembly, when in fact it is people in this very condition that the New Testament is being written to.
Third – The undershepherd even within the congregation is not the ultimate authority, the congregation is. The local assembly is to be a self governing body, and not a dictatorship. The Pastor is subject to the will of the congregation when rightly understood. The rule that He has over the flock is the guardianship of biblical teaching and preaching. In the New Testament church, Jesus Christ is the Shepherd, the Holy Spirit is the guide, the Elder/Bishop/Pastor is the undershepherd charged with the protection of doctrine, the proclamation of truth, and the education of the scriptures. The examples given throughout the earliest actions of the churches demonstrates that they were democratic in action. The membered congregation is the earthly authority over itself, and not the pastor. In his work, “Baptist History” Dr. L. L. Clover gives clear and distinct Biblical evidence of the proper form of church government.
The undershepherd is over the flock, and rules in the flock in the sense of being responsible for an orderly teaching/preaching program and mediate the general welfare of the body. He is a leader of a body, not a king of a country. He is to be physically cared for by the congregation that he spiritually cares for. There is to be mutual love between the two, and too often somebody on either side wants to abuse, overuse, and overemphasize their role within the church congregation.
In this era of modern Christianity, and highfalootin technology, many believers are misusuing the precious Bible doctrine of the believers priesthood to go renegade from the assembly. Recognizing that the assembly is an assembly of believer priests, under the authority of New Testament instructions would be well advised change worth making.