10/25/2007: In our ongoing discussion over Church authority in the life of the believer, Michael Lawrence of Boundless has written an essay that addresses the premise of whether we should obey our pastors.
Much of the article addresses the concerns–raised by myself and others in the Christian single community in the blogosphere–over the prospect of churches micromanaging the lives of singles, even to the point of deciding whom they will marry. In addition, it provides a treatment of the larger issue of where pastors are obligated to assert authority, and the extent to which the believer should–and in some cases must–obey.
The word obey is a four-letter word that usually provokes knee-jerk responses that often include other four-letter words. Like Anyabwile, Lawrence deals with perhaps the mother of all hot-button issues.
Anyone who thinks this is just about singles and dating and marriage has not been following the great issues of our day. One need only look at the disasters in the Presbyterrorist Church (USA), and the Episcopalian Church USA.
That said, I think Lawrence struck the perfect balance, and chose his words very carefully. He rightfully differentiates matters of advice versus matters of command.
He rightfully concludes that the bottom line is what Scripture says. If the pastor is speaking definitively on a matter of Scripture that is clearly black-and-white, then the believer has no wiggle room.
On matters where Scripture allows latitude, the pastor is advisory at best.
For example: if a pastor admonishes a believer who is considering marrying a non-believer, the believer must obey. This is not about a pastor’s opinion; this is about what Scripture says. Disobedience in this case is VERY costly for reasons I have mentioned on these pages.
I have no small number of Christian female friends–divorced–who wished they had an Amir Larijani to kick their proverbial [John Piper expletive deleted] when they were courting non-believers in their teens.
On the other hand, if a pastor says, “Amir, you need to quit your job (as an application developer), because the Internet is a scheme of Satan”, I would propose fitting the pastor for a straight jacket!
In all seriousness, there are issues that get thorny, and we ought to trust our pastors–and other members of the Body who have discernment–to provide Godly counsel.
If I am considering marrying someone, I would be a fool not to let others evaluate my decision. They may see red flags that I may not see if I’m head-over-heels. They might help me keep one foot on the ground.
If there is a shaky Biblical basis for what I am doing, then I want to get the hard fastball–up and inside–now. If I cannot handle the heat now, then how will I handle it over the course of a 30-year marriage?
On the other hand, Lawrence is correct in pointing out that the pastor only has declarative authority with respect to what Scripture says. He has no right to impose commands on the believer that Scripture does not impose.
For example, if a pastor told me that I could not watch R-rated movies, I would kindly tell him to go fly a kite. Does that include The Passion of the Christ, or Braveheart? Both are R-rated for their violence, in spite of the noble themes they communicate.
On the other hand, if he told me that I probably should not see certain types of movies or television shows, then I might take it under advisement. In such a case, it’s a matter between permissible versus profitable. I have discretion, but I ought to exercise it wisely. With liberty comes responsibility.
Even further, let’s assume that I had some porn flicks among my video collection–which isn’t the case, unless you consider my Reagan speech collection, or Navy SEAL workout videos pornography–and the pastor tells me that I must get those out of my house and repent.
In that case, I would be bound to obey. And the pastor would be well-within his authority–I would submit obligated–to have me removed from fellowship if I refused.
Much of Lawrence’s essay might seem like common-sense. On the other hand, I have seen many believers who lack in that department. At any rate, it’s not bad to review the subject, and Lawrence even brings up some good historical cases that illustrate the extremes.