While on a trip to Brazil in 2011, I happened to get a glimpse of a Christian TV program over breakfast one morning. It was a Sunday service in a very large church attended by a huge crowd of believers. I was told that the pastor was a simple man of God who spent much time in prayer and oversaw about 300 churches. He was evidently very successful in ministry.
At the front of the sanctuary I saw several tables with socks piled high atop them. These socks would bring blessing and deliverance to the people if they put them on. To obtain the socks the people were asked to give a generous offering. Later in the program the TV camera scanned the crowd, and I could see many people wearing the socks.
The people evidently faced great struggles and needs in their lives. Understandably, they needed an “anointed” pastor to lead them and go out before them and fight their battles. They were just sheep and not strong enough to fight their own battles. Besides it was the job of the pastor to do it for them. God had “anointed” him to lead them, and therefore they would follow him and do whatever he asked of them. They were not to “touch the Lord’s anointed” by questioning him in any way.
It’s human nature
Every nation under heaven has a human leader, whatever may be its form of government. Through some process consistent with that form of government, a leader (or leaders) arises from among the people. That leader is given authority, and the people must submit to him. His job is to ensure the well-being of the people and to defend them from their enemies. He is to fight their battles for them.
Humanly speaking, God’s people are no different from such gentile nations. They need a pastor to lead and to fight their battles for them. Only the pastor understands the Bible well, and they need him to teach them and explain its meaning. Unfortunately, however, this is not what Scripture teaches.
Jeremiah 31:33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD.”
1John 2:20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. …27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.
We ought not to misinterpret this to mean that pastors and teachers are not important. They, as are all the five-fold offices, are very important to the body of Christ. But ministers by and large are not fulfilling the job which Scripture assigns to them.
The pastor’s job description
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. (Ephesians 4:11-14)
Pastors (and ministers in general) are to equip God’s people for works of service. Their job description is to build us up to maturity so that we all attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then as Jeremiah prophesied we will no longer teach our neighbor, and as John wrote we will not need anyone to teach us. Only then will God’s people no longer be tossed back and forth and blown here and there by every wind of teaching from ministers who see them as poor (and dumb) sheep to be led and eventually fleeced, whether intentionally or not. The pastor can become wealthy, and this it is taught in some circles glorifies God before unbelievers. (“Pastors who do not own a home have been cursed by God.”) It is all for the sake of the gospel. Never mind the Scripture which teaches that godliness is not a means of financial gain. If our motivation is “pure” and for the extension of the gospel, it is acceptable.
God’s will is for His people not to depend on another fallible human being to lead them and to fight their battles for them. No, God’s will is for His people to depend directly on Him through their personal and intimate knowledge of Him. God’s will is for them to fight their own battles by the leading and power of the Holy Spirit who lives in them.
The sin of God’s people asking for a “king”
1 Samuel 8:5 They said to him (Samuel), “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.
1 Samuel 12:16 “Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes! 17 Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call on the LORD to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the LORD when you asked for a king.” …19 The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”
Unfortunately, the nature of human beings is such that they would rather have a specially “anointed” leader to take them by the hand and lead them. In the eyes of the Lord, we actually reject God by doing this. Church history tells us how the Roman Catholic Church put into practice the teaching of the Nicolaitans by establishing a professional priesthood which exercised spiritual (and then some) authority over the laity or common people. It took Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation to attempt to correct this heresy. Unfortunately the Reformation has fallen short of one of its primary goals—the priesthood of all believers.
Job security for the clergy
Within Protestant and evangelical churches there is still a class of professional clergy whose livelihood is perpetually teaching and leading the laity. If they are actually effective in their job of maturing God’s people unto the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, according to human thinking they could lose their jobs and livelihoods. And so, whether unconsciously or not, they keep the sheep in perpetual infancy or at most adolescence and ensure job security for themselves. Like any other institutional professionals—doctors and lawyers, for example—they are set apart from the laity as they fulfill various requirements which entitle them to the title of “Reverend”. They go to seminary or Bible college to acquire theological degrees and then must be ordained before they can be set apart from ordinary believers for full-time ministry. Such is the present institutionalization of the Church which has followed the ways of the world.
There can be benefits to taking advantage of the theological education presently available. For example, it is necessary that we learn how to interpret the Scriptures—to rightly divide the Word of God. Otherwise there will be the danger of false doctrines. It is also helpful to have some knowledge of Greek and Hebrew—the original languages of the Bible. Paul instructed Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
On the one extreme, therefore, there is the danger of false teaching and heresy through theological negligence. On the other there is the danger of institutionalization and the resulting spiritual death of the Church—having a form of godliness but denying and lacking its power. But there can be a healthy balance in the middle.
We are of course not at all saying that training for ministry is not necessary. But we do note that none of the apostles save Paul was theologically trained in a formal sense. They were trained by Jesus himself. Similarly, it is not absolutely necessary for serious followers of Christ to receive formal training and degrees at seminaries and the like. These, run by fallible human beings, can fail us. How often do we hear pastors say that what they learned in Bible School they did not use in ministry. Rather, “the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you.” Jesus himself teaches us through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
We have gone the way of the world
But the Church has gone the way of the world by creating a separate and special class of professional clergy bearing lofty ecclesiastical titles who are paid a salary. (We are not suggesting that pastors should not be honored by those whom they serve. But the system has become institutionalized.) In this way we satisfy our human desire to have a “king” over us who will lead us and fight our battles for us. After all, that’s the job he is paid to do.
Certainly not all pastors will go along with this Nicolaitan structure. There are godly ones who know and obey the truth. But too many unscrupulous ministers have taken advantage of it. They set up little earthly kingdoms for themselves, establishing a name for themselves within Christianity. Of course it’s for the glory of God. And some can become very wealthy doing so and live lifestyles befitting Hollywood celebrities.
In the country having the fourth-largest population in the world, one major charismatic denomination rules that each of its pastors is entitled to one tenth of all the offerings received from the congregation. Moreover the one in charge of the offerings is the pastor himself. Perhaps it is no wonder that there are so many churches in this denomination. Often their churches can be the largest churches in any particular city. And the pastors of these megachurches take a tenth of everything.
There is some truth in the saying, “Just follow the money.” Is it possible that the teaching on tithing to the local church taken from Malachi 3 has been misapplied?
Click here for an examination of the Scriptures for the validity, if any, of the specially “anointed” leader or pastor who can minister to God’s people with power—whether it be in healing, deliverance, or any other supernatural manner.