Recently, I wrote about how Christians can set Salvation up as an idol – meaning valuing it ahead of God Himself. You can read that HERE.
This topic got me thinking about other “idols” that sometimes can sneak ahead of Jesus in our hearts. Particularly “stealth” idols, in the sense that they are not “bad” things by themselves. Just like Salvation, they are beautiful, and necessary and a part of the fabric of Christianity. But instead of being just that, a part, they can become the fabric itself in our hearts and in practice.
Can Pastors/Preachers, church and (gasp!) the Bible become idols? I think they can.
This article will focus on Pastors and Preachers, and I’ll be writing about others in my next few posts.
I defined the context in which I am referring to “Idols” in the post on Salvation as “Anything, (ANYTHING) that is placed above the Lord Jesus Christ.” For further build out of this idea, you may want to go re-read that part of the post.
When we value something or someone or some idea more than God Himself, we have made an idol out of that thing or person or idea.
If you value your Pastor/Preacher more than Jesus Christ, you have made an idol out of your Pastor/Preacher.
No doubt most everyone will immediately brush this possibility aside. But ask yourself, how often do you hear (or have you said) a refrain such as this?:
“Oh, we LOVE our Pastor! He is so good!”
“Pastor (so and so) is incredible! You really should come see him.”
“Come to our church and hear our preacher!”
“We are looking for a new church. We want a dynamic, anointed preacher.”
“His sermons are awesome.”
“Our Pastor has grown our church so much since he’s been here!”
While there is nothing wrong with these statements on their own, there is something very wrong when, as so often is the case in my experience, they define a conversation about “church” or one’s walk with their Lord. Why? Because the Lord Himself is decidedly missing!
In the New Testament, a “pastor” is found only in Ephesians 4:11:
And Christ Himself gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.
The original Greek (poimenas – literally “shepherds”) and the context of this word defines a function of multiple brothers and sisters within the Church – not an office held by a single person. Paul was describing a First-century shepherd who looked nothing like the specialized and professional “pastor” we know in today’s churches.
These “pastors” fulfilled one of many functions within the Body, namely shepherding the sheep of God to Life in Christ, by the Spirit. They were servant leaders, and “pastors” in name only because of a role they were already fulfilling.
Notice Who gave the “pastors?” Christ Himself.
…for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:12-13
Pastors were given to the Body of Christ, by Jesus Himself, to work alongside others in the building up of the Family of God into the full measure of Christ. The only proper Biblical function of a “pastor” should be shepherding, pointing fellow saints to Christ. Consequently, instead of lauding “pastors” we should be magnifying Jesus.
Unfortunately, in today’s churches, so much starts and stops (leadership, vision, work, the Sunday performance, conversation about the church) with the Pastor or Preacher himself, instead of all things being under the headship of, and to the glorification of the Lord Jesus. That friends, is idolatry.
Pastors themselves are not (always) at fault for this, although some are more than happy to receive the acclaim. The root of this issue can be traced all the way back to the Fall of man – as humanity has consistently created a special caste of religious leaders that is separate and apart and “more holy” than the “normal Christians.”
In the book of Acts, however, we see that when Jesus sent his Apostles into the world to make disciples, the Apostles gathered new believers together in a community to function all together, one to another, under the headship of the Holy Spirit of Christ, alone. After a period of time, naturally some would function in the church out of gifts the Spirit gave them – and the Apostles would confirm the Spirit’s gifting of more apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. None of these however, functioned as a single individual performing the majority of planning, leading, preaching or teaching. None were the head. Jesus Christ was, and He never relinquished that headship to man.
It wasn’t until Ignatius of Antioch in 35-107 A.D. that we saw a single leader in the churches. Once the original Apostles had passed away, Ignatius elevated one of the elders in each church above all the other believers, and called them “bishops.” In a series of letters he wrote in AD 107, Ignatius states,
Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself… All of you follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father… Wherever the bishop shall appear, there will the people be; even as where Jesus may be… It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love feast; but whatever he shall approve, this is well-pleasing to God… It is good to recognize God and the bishop. He that honors the bishop is honored of God… Do nothing without the bishop… Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father… You should look on your bishop as a type of the Father.”
“You should look on your bishop as a type of the Father.” Sounds like idolatry to me.
Bishops became Priests became Preachers became Pastors and Ministers – and from the 3rd century until today, the Priesthood of all believers has been rendered a passive “laity” who sits idle before a performing “clergy.”
John Calvin once said,
The pastoral office is necessary to preserve the church on earth in a greater way than the sun, food, and drink are necessary to nourish and sustain the present life.”
Thank you Mr. Calvin, for all of your many contributions to the expansion of the Kingdom of God, but a “pastor” was never an “office,” and I’ll trust in Jesus to preserve His Church and to be my nourishment for Life (John 6:55), thank you.
Luther did his part to contribute with the following:
God speaks through the preacher… A Christian preacher is a minister of God who is set apart, yea, he is an angel of God, a very bishop sent by God, a savior of many people, a king and a prince in the Kingdom of Christ… There is nothing more precious or nobler in the earth and in this life than a true, faithful parson or preacher… The mouth of the pastor is the mouth of Christ, therefore you ought to listen to the pastor not as a man, but as God.“
So, in other words, never mind that part of Scripture that says that you all, Sons and Daughters of God, are a Priest in the Kingdom, with access to the Spirit, mind, mouth and Life of Jesus indwelling you… Sit quietly in your pew once a week or so, let the “clergy” be your “savior” over and over again, and listen to “GOD” talk at you!!??
Jesus Christ made this entire concept obsolete. He is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23), our Most High Priest (Hebrews 3,4,6), through Whom we all have intimate fellowship with the entirety of the Godhead (John 14-15, 17) as functioning priests (1 Peter 2:5,9).
My intent is not to pile on men such as Ignatius, Calvin, Luther, or your favorite Preacher or Pastor. I believe that these historic men, and most of the preachers and pastors you’ve ever known sincerely love God and desire to serve Him faithfully. It should be clear, however, that for about 2 thousand years now, the “office” of the pastorate that man, not Christ, has erected, has grown far too tall into the sky – eclipsing the absolute supremacy and headship of the Lord Jesus.
What would your “church,” or your relationship with the Lord, or the world for that matter look like if the refrain you and I so often have said and heard becomes less about our Pastors and Preachers, and exclusively about Jesus?
“Oh, we LOVE our Pastor! He is so good!” becomes “Oh, how I love Jesus. And oh, how He loves me!”
“Pastor (so and so) is incredible! You really should come see him.” becomes “Jesus Christ is infinitely magnificent in His riches. I see Him everywhere in everything. Come, and see for yourself!”
“Come to our church and hear our preacher!” becomes “Come see and hear and feel and touch and taste Jesus Christ! He is WITH us!”
“We are looking for a new church. We want a dynamic, anointed preacher.” becomes “I have found Church because I have found Jesus Christ and His Body on earth!”
“His sermons are awesome.” becomes “I hear the words of Jesus and see His Life in all my Brothers and Sisters.”
“Our Pastor has grown our church so much since he’s been here!” becomes “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, here on earth, as it is in Heaven.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is not found exclusively in your Pastor or Preacher or Minister. If a person, any person, is the entirety of your experience of seeing and knowing and growing in the Life of Christ – then dear brother or sister – Jesus beckons you to lower your eyes from the tower of the pastoral office and fix those eyes on Him.
Heaven is found There, and There alone.