Summary: Bible truths about pastoral authority.



There are two things that we desire to cover here. First, we want to reinforce the scriptural authority of the pastorate and warn about the abuse of pastoral authority. Secondly, we want to remind church members of their responsibility to pastors.


Following are some Bible truths about pastoral authority:

(1) THERE ARE CERTAIN MEN IN CHURCHES CALLED RULERS AND OVERSEERS (Acts 20:28; 1 Th. 5:12; Ph. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1; Tit. 1:7). These verses teach that God-called pastors (the same office is called elder and bishop) have authority over the assemblies. Other Christians are to submit to this authority. The pastors are over me in the Lord. When I honor and submit to them, I am not submitting merely to a man; I am submitting to the Lord and Chief Shepherd of the church. Many women could share with us horror stories of how their husbands abused their authority, but the fact remains that God has given husbands authority in the home. When the wife submits to a husband, she is not submitting merely to a man, with his many sins and frailties; she is submitting to her Lord God (Eph. 5:22). Abuses of pastoral authority do not negate the fact that the Bible tells us that God has given authority to pastors and that the Bible demands that we submit to God-called pastors. Even in cases in which a Christian has been under the influence of an abusive or unscriptural pastoral situation, he or she must maintain a proper spirit and attitude in regard to pastoral authority. He should leave such a church, if necessary, and find a spiritually healthy church which is led by God-called men and join it and submit to their God-given authority. A Christian must carefully guard his spirit so that he does not become bitter. He must examine himself before the Lord to be sure that he is not rebellious toward genuine God-given authority. Sometimes we think the problem is with those who have the rule over us when in reality it is with our own stubborn hearts.

(2) CHURCH LEADERS ARE CALLED BY THREE DIFFERENT TERMS (pastor, elder, bishop), but the terms refer to different aspects of the same office; thus the hierarchical form of church government which places bishops over elders is not biblical.

(3) EACH CHURCH IS TO HAVE ITS OWN LEADERS AND GOVERNMENT (Tit. 1:5; Acts 14:23). Since this is clearly the New Testament pattern, any outside form of control over the churches is unbiblical and dangerous.

(4) EVERY PASTOR IS TO BE GOD-CALLED, SCRIPTURALLY QUALIFIED, and ORDAINED (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1). New Testament churches are not to be led by unordained men or by men who cannot do the whole work of a pastor. Every pastor is to be both a teacher and a ruler (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:9-11; 1 Pet. 5:1-2).

(5) DEACONS ARE NEVER REFERRED TO IN THE CAPACITY OF RULING OR OVERSEEING CHURCHES. The deacon is a servant, not a ruler. Church rule by a deacon board is unscriptural and has caused great harm in many assemblies.


If responsibility implies a corresponding authority, which it does, we can get a clear idea of the areas and extent of a pastor's authority by considering his God-given responsibilities in the church. There are three major areas of pastoral responsibility, with corresponding authority:

(1) A PASTOR HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY AND AUTHORITY TO TEACH AND SHEPHERD THE CHURCH (Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Th. 5:12; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Pastors, therefore, have the authority to oversee all aspects of such ministry. They must have the final decision concerning what is taught and by whom, and must judge all things that are taught to make certain it is correct (1 Cor. 14:29).

(2) A PASTOR HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY AND AUTHORITY TO PROTECT THE CHURCH FROM FALSE TEACHING (Acts 20:28-31; 1 Co. 14:29; 1 Tim. 4:1-6; Tit. 1:9-13). Pastors have the God-given responsibility and authority to determine what is taught and by whom, as well as to forbid the Christians from getting involved with false things, such as Bible studies conducted by the wrong kind of teachers, meetings in which unbiblical doctrines or practices are promoted, etc. This includes oversight of the music ministry of the church, because music is a form of teaching (Eph. 5:19).

(3) A PASTOR HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY AND AUTHORITY TO OVERSEE THE ENTIRE WORK OF THE CHURCH (Acts 20:28; 1 Th. 5:12; 1 Pet. 5:1-2). The pastor's position of overseeing the church is similar to that of a supervisor or manager. The pastors are not to do all of the work of the ministry--every Christian must be busy in the work of Christ--but the pastors are to supervise the work of the ministry. There is widespread rebellion against and resistance to pastoral authority today. Such is the product of the fallen human nature. The "old man" hates authority; he will not have anyone rule over him. But pastoral authority is God-given, and the one who resists a God-called pastor in his work of leading the church according to the Word of God will answer to Jesus Christ for his stubbornness. Hear the Bible: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that much give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Heb. 13:17).

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