The most common phrase spoken in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church (and many Evangelical churches), next to Jesus Saves and Every Head Bowed and Every Eye Closed,is the phrase “pastoral authority.”
What is meant when the phrase “pastoral authority” is used?
Before we look at what is meant by the phrase “pastoral authority” we must first look at the Biblical foundation for this belief.
Why do churches have pastors?
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive Ephesians 4:11-14
Here is a shocker. The word pastor is only used one time in the New Testament.
According to Ephesians 4:11-14, the purpose of a pastor is:
- To perfect the saints
- To do the work of the ministry
- To edify the body of Christ
The words elder,bishop, and overseer, which Baptists believe are synonymous with the word pastor are used numerous times in the writings of Paul. Paul writes and tells the Christian church what kind of man is qualified to be a pastor and how the church membership to to respond to the pastor when he exercises the gift God has given him.
What are the qualifications for being an elder/bishop?
This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. I Timothy 3:1-7
Can anyone be a pastor? No.
According to I Timothy 3:1-7 (a similar list is found in Titus 1) they must be:
- A man
- Husband of one wife
- Of good behavior
- Given to hospitality
- Apt to teach
- Not given to wine
- Not a striker
- Not greedy of filthy lucre
- Not a brawler
- Not covetous
- One who rules his own house well, having his children in subjection
- Not a novice
- One who has a good report from those outside the church
I do not know one pastor who every met the qualifications for being a pastor. NOT ONE! Some will suggest that this list of qualifications is the ideal but notice what Paul says, a bishop then MUST BE! Not hope to be but MUST BE.
IFB churches are routinely pastored by men who don’t meet half the qualifications for being a pastor.
The key to understanding the notion of “pastoral authority” is found in I Timothy 3 (quoted above) when Paul says the pastor must rule his own house well. If a candidate for pastor can’t rule his own house how will he ever be able to take care of the house of God? (the church)
In Hebrews 13:17, the Bible says:
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
Pastors, called by God, are to rule the church. They care for the the souls of those God has placed in their charge. Church members are to:
- Obey them (pastor, pastors) that rule over them
- Submit themselves to those who have the rule over them
In Acts 20:28, pastors are called overseers:
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.
Pastors are to oversee and feed the flock (church) God has given them.
According to the Bible, Pastors who labor in word and doctrine are worthy of double honor (double the money). The Bible says in 1 Timothy 5:17-18:
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, the labourer is worthy of his reward.
Now let me tie all this together.
IFB pastors generally see themselves as a New Testament version of an Old Testament prophet. Called by God, given an inspired, inerrant Bible, the pastor proclaims the Words of God. He is God’s mouthpiece. He has been given the responsibility to rule the church. He has been called by God to labor in word and doctrine. He is responsible for the care of the church. (deacons are given the responsibility of caring for the temporal needs of the church, Acts 6)
Next to God, the pastor is head of the church. As a man called by God and as a man who God uniquely speaks to through the work of the Holy Sprit, the pastor is God’s authority in the church. (not much different than the Pope in the Catholic church)
It should come as no surprise then, that IFB churches tend to have autocratic, authoritarian pastors. Most IFB churches are pastored by one man. Some IFB churches, in an attempt to dilute the power a single pastor has, have multiple pastors. (a plurality of elders) However, even when a church has a plurality of elders, there is one elder that is above the rest of them. (often called the teaching elder) Everyone knows who the head honcho is.
What follows are some excerpts from an IFB church’s by-laws and constitution. I am not giving the church’s name because I don’t want the focus of this post to be this particular church. Their by-laws and constitution are representative of what can be found in countless IFB churches. (the church is one I have intimate knowledge of)
For this church, everything begins with the Bible:
The Holy Scriptures. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the verbally and plenarily inspired Word of God. The Scriptures are inerrant, infallible and God-breathed, and therefore are the final authority for faith and life. The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament are the complete and divine revelation of God to man. The Scriptures shall be interpreted according to their normal grammatical-historical meaning, and all issues of interpretation and meaning shall be determined by the Pastor. The King James Version of the Bible shall be the official and only translation used by the church (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter
Note who decides all issues of interpretation and meaning? The pastor.
Under the Duties of Members section we find:
On becoming a member of this church, in addition to the Statement of Faith, each one further covenants to love, honor, and esteem the pastor; to pray for him; to recognize his authority in spiritual affairs of the church; to cherish a brotherly love for all members of the church; to support the church in prayer, tithes, offerings, and with other financial support as the Lord enables; and in accordance with Biblical Commands, to support through a lifestyle walk the beliefs and practices of the church.
Members are expected to:
- Love the pastor
- Honor the pastor
- Esteem the pastor
- Pray for the pastor
- Recognize his authority in the church
Under the Privileges of Membership section we find:
This congregation functions not as a pure democracy, but as a body under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ and the direction of the pastor as the undershepherd with the counsel of the board of deacons. Determinations of the internal affairs of this church are ecclesiastical matters and shall be determined exclusively by the church’s own rules and procedures. The pastor shall oversee and/or conduct all aspects of this church. The board of deacons shall give counsel and assistance to the pastor
The church is under the direction of the pastor and the pastor oversees and/or conducts all aspects of the church.
Under this same section, we find that the pastor has the right to determine who may or may not be inside the church building:
Membership in this church does not afford the members with any property, contractual, or civil rights based on principles of democratic government. Although the general public is invited to all of the church’s worship services, the church property remains private property. The pastor (or in his absence, an individual designated by the board of deacons) has the authority to suspend or revoke the right of any person, including a member, to enter or remain on church property. If, after being notified of such a suspension or revocation, the person enters or remains on church property, the person may, in the discretion of the pastor (or in his absence, an individual designated by the board of deacons), be treated as a trespasser.
The pastor, if circumstances warrant, has the power to immediately terminate a person’s membership in the church:
The membership of any individual member shall be automatically terminated without notice if the member in question has not attended a regular worship service of the church in the preceding six months. Upon good cause being shown to the pastor, this provision for termination may be waived in the case of any individual member at the discretion of the pastor.
Under the Church Officers section we find:
As an accommodation to legal relationships outside the church the pastor shall serve as president of the corporation.
He not only is the pastor but he is also the President of the corporation. Often people do not realize that most churches are actually corporations governed by the federal and state corporate laws. Churches incorporate to insulate the pastor and individuals from legal liability. Legally, corporate law supersedes the Bible. (which many churches find out when problems occur)
In staffing matters, the pastor is the Human Resources Department and the CEO. The Pastoral Oversight section states:
(A) When hiring church staff, the church body will vote on the position, whereby giving the pastor liberty to hire a person for that position.(B) The pastor may hire associates and assistants of like-mindedness to assist the pastor in carrying out his God-given responsibilities. (C) All church staff, whether paid or volunteer, shall be under the supervision of the pastor, who has the sole authority to hire, appoint, or dismiss the same. The church shall not hire, appoint, or retain any employee or volunteer who fails to adhere to or expresses disagreement with the Statement of Faith.
Lest anyone doubt who is in charge of the church, under the Duties and Powers of Officers we find:
(A) The pastor shall preach the Gospel regularly and shall be at liberty to preach the whole counsel of the Word of God as the Lord leads him. He shall administer the ordinances of the church, act as moderator at all church meetings for the transaction of church matters, supervise the teaching ministries of the church, and tenderly watch over the spiritual interest of the membership.The Pastor shall serve as the president of the corporation. He shall publicly inform all newly appointed deacons of the particular function and the responsibilities of their respective offices and perform such other duties as generally appertain to such a position. The pastor shall be free to choose the means and methods by which he exercises the ministry that God has given him.(B) All appointments for public worship and Bible study and the arrangements thereof, including time and place and the use of the property belonging to the church for purposes other than the stated appointments, shall be under the control of the pastor.
Under the Ministry of Education section we find:
(A) The pastor shall be the final authority on all matters relating to the ministry of education. The pastor shall have the authority to approve or disapprove any decision or recommendation of the board of deacons on all matters relating to the ministry of education.
What if the church wants to get rid of the pastor?
The relationship between the pastor and the church shall be permanent unless dissolved at the option of either party by the giving of a month’s notice, or less by mutual consent.The calling of a pastor or severance of the relationship between the pastor and the church may be considered at any regular church administration meeting, provided notice to that effect shall have been given from the pulpit to the church two Sundays prior to the said church administration meeting. A three-fourths majority of the eligible members present and voting shall be required to call a pastor or to sever the relationship between the pastor and the church. Disciplinary removal of the pastor from office automatically terminates his membership.
Want to can the pastor? 75% of the membership in attendance at the business meeting must vote in the affirmative to remove the pastor. This setup allows the pastor to keep his hold on the church even when seven out of ten members want him gone.
The abovementioned church bylaws and constitution come from a well respected church in the IFB movement. The pastor has been there for over forty years. The church is populated by middle class, upper middle class, college educated people, They willingly, believing God commands them to do so, submit to what is called “pastoral authority.”
The scandals that rock the IFB movement begin with the teaching of “pastoral authority.” Charges of cultism find their foundation in the notion that one man is called by God to rule over a group of people. His word and actions are final.
Millions of people submit themselves to “pastoral authority”, believing that they are obeying God when they do so.
It is, after all, in the B-i-b-l-e.
Note: I am well aware of the exegetical issues with this viewpoint. This post is an attempt to shine a light on “how” IFB churches and pastors think.