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In September 1999 I published an article entitled “Unquestioning Loyalty to Pastoral Leadership Is the Mark of a Cult.” Since then I have seen many other examples of this unscriptural attitude that has affected many independent Baptist churches.
One of the sources for this philosophy is the late Pastor Jack Hyles of First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana. He promoted this thinking widely through his annual Pastors’ Schools and through Hyles Anderson College. Hyles preached many times at Tennessee Temple during my student days there in the mid-1970s, but I felt then, even as a young Christian, that the man exalted himself more than he exalted Jesus Christ. I have not changed my opinion. I believe he did great harm to the cause of Christ among fundamental Baptist churches through his big-numbers, promotion-crazy, pray-this-prayer-and-get-a-ticket-to-heaven approach to evangelism.
He also was one of the champions of the pastoral lordship philosophy, and it appears that this trait became increasingly more cultic through the years of his ministry. At his Pastors’ Schools he taught church leaders to demand unquestioning and blind loyalty of their people. He demonstrated this in many foolish ways. For example, he would have one of his deacons come up to the platform and would then repeatedly make a demeaning type of demand before the crowd of astonished preachers, such as “sit down,” “stand up,” “sit down,” “stand up,” “sit down,” stand up,” “sit down,” etc. The deacon would obey instantly and joyfully to this silly demonstration, proving that he was loyal to “his preacher.” In one of his sermons that I have on tape, Hyles said, “If I told my deacons to bow down and kiss my feet, they would do it.” He also said that if he told his deacons to jump off of a bridge, they would do it. They probably would have, too, but it does not prove that they are men of God; it proves, rather, that they were willing to give honor to a mere sinful man that belongs solely to the spotless Son of God.
The blind obedience philosophy is evident in the following rules for students at Hyles Anderson. These were handed out every year in the work scholarship meetings for the Dean of Women. A copy was given to me in the year 2000 by a student who graduated from there in 1989 and today is the wife of a pastor who practices godly and biblical leadership rather than the cultic type promoted by Jack Hyles. The following rules were repeated and emphasized each school year at Hyles Anderson:
LOYALTY TO LEADERSHIP (HYLES ANDERSON COLLEGE)
1. ALWAYS THINK THE LEADER IS RIGHT. Never give your opinion when the leader feels strongly.
4. DON’T CORRECT THE LEADER ANYTIME! The people are better off hearing a wrong answer than to see the leader put down by a follower. I look at it as a putdown when a leader is corrected.
5. If the leader asks “Is that right?” answer hesitantly and almost unsure the correct answer. To say abruptly the correct answer after the leader has said one thing would be a putdown.
6. Always make the leader look good to others. Saying: “Oh, you know how wise he is,” or “If you need help go to him; he can help anyone.”
7. Jump to fill the leader’s needs.
8. ALWAYS DO ANYTHING THE LEADER ASKS WHETHER IT IS RIGHT OR NOT. Why? a. I trust him to not ask me to do something immoral or sinful! b. If I do something I think will hurt someone, it is him who is responsible to God for it.
15. Never say anything negative about the leader. Not even in a joke.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT PASTORAL AUTHORITY
These unbiblical rules represent the type of thinking that led to the formation of the Catholic Church and the setting up of an “infallible” Pope in the fourth century.
There are two problems that I frequently observe among independent Baptist churches pertaining to pastoral authority: One, there is rebellion against pastoral authority on the part of some church members; and two, there is misuse of pastoral authority on the part of some pastors.
Pastors definitely have God-given authority. God’s word 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” (Heb. 13:17). Church members do not have the same authority in the congregations. Pastors have ruling authority, and those who are not pastors are to submit themselves to this authority. It is a fact that here is widespread rebellion against pastoral authority today. Many people who leave GOOD fundamental Baptist churches do so because they do not understand or they refuse to submit to biblical pastoral authority. They think they have just as much right as the pastor to make decisions in the church, but that is not true. Some within the home school movement, for example, refuse to join a proper New Testament church and to submit to godly pastoral authority. They are content with a loose-knit home Bible study. We have dealt with this problem in articles such as “SEVEN KEYS TO FRUITFUL CHURCH MEMBERSHIP” and “QUESTIONS ABOUT THE HOME CHURCH MOVEMENT.” These can be found via the search engine at the Way of Life web site.
At the same time, the authority exercised by a pastor or elder is to be distinctly different from that exercised by leaders in the secular world, and there are pastors that are abusing their authority. The pastor’s authority is not unlimited or unquestionable. Those who demand blind obedience from their people are cult leaders, and those who give blind obedience are not being faithful to Jesus Christ, who alone can demand such obedience.
Note the following verses that refute the idea that church leaders are to be given unquestioning loyalty:
“PROVE ALL THINGS; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
The Bible says all things are to be proven by God’s Word. Church leaders are not above this Scriptural obligation.
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
The Bereans were commended and called noble because they tested everything, including Paul’s teaching, by the Scriptures.
“The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going” (Proverbs 14:15).
This Proverbs teaches us that a wise man is careful about everything he hears, whereas it is the simple or the gullible or foolish person who gullibly “believeth every word” and refuses to test everything by the Scriptures. Those who blindly follow a church leader are the simple of Proverbs 14:15.
“Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. THEM THAT SIN REBUKE BEFORE ALL, that others also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:19-20).
This passage describes how discipline is to be brought against church leaders. It is to be exercised with caution and wisdom, but it is obvious that church leaders are not above discipline and correction.
“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I WITHSTOOD HIM TO THE FACE, BECAUSE HE WAS TO BE BLAMED. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I SAID UNTO PETER BEFORE THEM ALL, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:11-15).
Here we find Paul rebuking Peter publicly for his hypocrisy and dissimulation.
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; NEITHER AS BEING LORDS OVER GOD'S HERITAGE, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3).
The Word of God plainly forbids pastors to acts as lords over God’s heritage. This passage refutes the philosophy that pastors are to demand and be given unquestioning obedience. Peter reminds pastors that the church is not their property; it is God’s. They are not the head of the church; Jesus Christ is. They are to gently care for and lead Christ’s flock as humble undershepherds, mindful that they will give account to the Great Shepherd for any abuse of the flock.
“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. BUT IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-27).
The Lord Jesus Christ warned the apostles that they were not to act like worldly leaders who pompously “exercise authority over” their subjects. This is exactly what many pastors are doing today, and they will answer to God for it.
“Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God” (3 John 11).
This verse warns us NOT to follow evil. In order to obey this command, a Christian must carefully evaluate every situation and reject that which is evil, regardless of its source. This explodes the Hyles Anderson philosophy that it is not the Christian’s business to analyze whether his church leaders are doing right or wrong, because God will take care of them. It is every Christian’s responsibility to “follow not that which is evil, but that which is good.”
LIMITATIONS TO THE PASTOR’S AUTHORITY
A pastor only has such authority as is delegated to him by God. Christians are never told to submit blindly to a church leader, but to submit to God-called, biblically-qualified men who are leading according to the Word of God. As the Apostle Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul could demand that others follow him because he was following Christ and was faithfully preaching the message given to him by Christ. Apart from that, even Paul had no authority. He warned the churches of Galatia that if he were to preach any other gospel, they were to reject him (Gal. 1:8). Even in matters pertaining to his own associates, Paul’s authority was not absolute and unquestionable. When Paul “greatly desired” for Apollos to minister at Corinth, Apollos refused to obey (1 Cor. 16:12).
A pastor’s authority is limited in the following ways:
(1) A PASTOR’S AUTHORITY IS LIMITED BY THE BIBLE. Hebrews 13:7 instructs Christians to submit to those who have spoken the Word of God. A pastor does not have authority in himself; his authority is in God’s Word. If a pastor or teacher strays from the Bible, his listeners have no responsibility to follow him; he has exceeded his authority. The Bereans are praised because they carefully examined Paul’s preaching instead of blindly following a man (Acts 17:11). God’s people are instructed to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21). Every sermon is to be judged by those who hear it (1 Cor. 14:29). A pastor does not have authority to lord it over every detail of the people’s lives. They are the Lord’s people, not the pastor’s. He is merely a humble undershepherd who is temporarily caring for the Lord’s flock. The people have the indwelling Spirit of God and He is their teacher. “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him” (1 John 2:27).
(2) A PASTOR’S AUTHORITY IS BASED ON HIS CALL FROM GOD AND HIS GODLY QUALIFICATIONS (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1:5). The elders of the church at Ephesus were appointed by the Holy Spirit. This is a foundational basis for spiritual authority. Christians are only to submit to men who give plain evidence that they are called of God. The pastor’s qualifications are clearly stated in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Many men are unfit to exercise pastoral authority because their wives are unspiritual or because their children are unruly or because they have a poor testimony in the community or because of their covetousness or their adultery or their temper or for other reasons clearly spelled out in the Bible.
Brethren, we must submit ourselves to godly, qualified pastors who are leading the churches according to the Word of God. Many good and humble pastors are discouraged today and need their hands held up through the faithfulness and prayers of their people. We should always give the pastor the benefit of the doubt unless he is clearly leading contrary to the Word of God. Not to do so is rebellion and confusion. But we must beware of men who exercise unscriptural cultic pastoral authority, regardless of what denominational label they wear. It is this Diotrephes mentality that led to the formation of the Roman Catholic Church, with its archbishops and cardinals and popes.
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