In the last post I discussed the primary pastoral duty and how it related to authority in the church. I then spoke of these criteria which we could visualize that would help us discern whether one who claims authority actually has it. These I describe as duties…
So what are they? What are the duties a pastor who holds legitimate authority must perform? They are summed up in one duty. John Owen calls it the primary pastoral duty. The primary pastoral duty is to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:1). It is what a pastor does. There may be more that he does, but there is certainly never less.
I once had a friend of mine tell me that he thought that he should get a bye for not preaching. After a long time in ministry, he thought he deserved it. Well, I haven’t seen anything in Scripture about how many times a week a pastor should preach the Word, but I would say that Scripture doesn’t give any reason to give a bye either. If a pastor is expected to preach, then it is his duty to do so. He may not do it perfectly. He may make mistakes or need a vacation. What he may never do though is to be expected to preach the Word and fail to do it.
I am a UPS driver. My primary duty is to deliver packages. The truck driving part of my job is merely a means to accomplish my primary duty. If there were no truck, it would be difficult, but I must continue to deliver packages. I may make a misdelivery or I may deliver late, but I must deliver the packages. I may even have a fender bender. My employer may excuse all of these things, but the one thing that will not be tolerated is a failure to fulfill my primary duty. The first day that I tell my boss that I am not going to deliver packages will be the last day of my employment there.
It’s pretty clear that if one doesn’t fulfill this primary pastoral duty, then they carry no real authority. But there remains some ambiguity as to exactly what the primary pastoral duty includes. To say, “preach the Word” is one thing. To define “preaching the Word” is quite another. As I said earlier though, whatever “preaching the Word” is, the pastor’s duty is never less than that. He must “preach the Word” at whatever times that his church has appointed or he is not in reality, a pastor.
In the final statement I have indicated a sufficient reason for a person to question not only the authority of a person who may claim to be called and remain totally qualified as far as the Biblical standards of preacher/elder are concerned, but I have also given sufficient reason to hold this person accountable. For this consideration though, one must be more specific about what “preaching the Word” includes. To understand in general what the job of a pastor entails is one thing. To examine it under a microscope for the purpose of understanding if a particular person who claims to be a pastor is fulfilling that primary duty, is another. This is an area that a person should tread lightly in and their thoughts should be preceded by much grace. A pastor who is truly called, meeting the requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and is fulfilling his duty is a person who is anointed by God as his mouthpiece; this person carries real authority and yields much power. Proceed only with fear and trembling, prayer, self-inspection, and confession. Let me guarantee that if you do that introspection first, you will find a great deal of ill will and bad motives. Deal with those before you deal with your church leadership (Mat 7:1-5).
Pastor, if you come under someone’s inspection, you are called to serve the flock, shepherd them. Do not be angry. Do not be haughty. Humble yourself as Christ did for these sheep. They have been given to you to watch over, not to rule over (1 Pet 5:1-5), the lion comes to destroy them. Don’t allow yourself to be his tool.
Martin Lloyd-jones spells out this primary duty given to us by Owen, in great detail in the book Preaching and Preachers. It was not something new to either of them. Both Lloyd-jones and Owen developed this understanding from Calvin. They, as well as several others, developed it from Paul. But lets look specifically at what Owens’ spelled out point by point. (Note: I took this as well as several other points from a sermon by Allistair Begg. He gave this sermon at a Gospel Coalition Conference just a couple of years ago.)
- Spiritual wisdom in understanding the mysteries of the gospel. A real pastor with real authority will exhibit this quality each time he is behind the pulpit. His sermons should translate certain wisdom about how the gospel works, what it does for people, and how it is received. The listener should easily discern this wisdom. To understand a thing well is to be able to communicate it well. If a persons preaching muddies the gospel, then that may indicate the communicators misunderstanding of it. This does not mean that a pastor must present the gospel in each of his sermons as if he is to meet some quota or give an invitation at the end of each sermon as if it is a Biblical requirement. Also, this wisdom does not include an introduction of some new truth about the gospel each time it is presented. The gospel is pretty well established and an introduction of something new is usually a dangerous sign that your pastor either misunderstands its simplicity or its sufficiency. Beware of any new additions to the gospel. It should be said that everyone to whom your pastor preaches might not understand the gospel. There remains in each church those who are unregenerate and are blind and deaf to the call of Christ.
Man with all his shrewdness is as stupid about understanding by himself the mysteries of God, as an ass is incapable of understanding musical harmony – Calvin
- Experiencing the power of truth that we preach to others
Your pastor should exhibit a great deal of conviction of his own as he preaches. In preparation of his sermons, the study he has dedicated to the great truths he is to convey should preach to him first. He is a sinner, no different than those who sit under him. His sins are just as bad and various as anyone’s, although he should show great maturity in his own sanctification. The Spirit of God uses the conviction he places on the heart of the preacher to affect his holy unction on the man who preaches. This may not always be obvious in the preacher’s delivery, but it should be obvious in how he cares for the sheep. As Begg says, a preacher should be begging for mercy on the way to the pulpit, begging for help while in the pulpit, and begging for forgiveness on his way down from the pulpit. You may not see this plainly each time he preaches, but you should see it.
- Skill in rightly dividing the Word of God correctly (sticking to the text)
Your pastor should exhibit much skill in his exegesis (determining the truth of what Scripture says) and how he communicates it to the people. Application should never be exaggeration. If a text has application, it should probably make some sense and be plainly evident to you after he preaches. Also, the preacher should stick to the text and not constantly be going off on tangents. Sermons that constantly redirect to preachers pet peeves or his own experiences are pretty good indications that he is picking and choosing topics and not preaching expository. The Bible is not about his ‘golden calves’. It is God’s Word and the whole council of God should be preached. There are a lot of preachers who think this means that they shouldn’t be scared to preach against sin in general. That is definitely included but not limited to that. What it means is that the preacher should not be afraid to preach passages that challenge his own theological presuppositions. If your pastor avoids large, important passages of the New Testament, then he may not be preaching the whole council of God. If he preaches different passages all of the time but always ends up on the same topic, he is not practicing proper exegesis. Both of these indicate a lack of wisdom in rightly dividing the Word of God.
- Spiritual discernment in the condition of our congregation (learning to preach to congregation that we have, not the one we wish we had)
Many times a pastor has in mind the future of his church. He wants growth and that does not only mean in number. Pastors are too smart to limit themselves to numerical growth. Unfortunately, that doesn’t exempt them from other pride issues, and constant disappointment in the perceived lack of spiritual growth, especially that kind that leads to depression, is really just a pride issue. It is not the job of the pastor to create the growth of the flock or to convict them of sin. He is to preach the Word and let God sort them out.
- Zeal for the glory of God and compassion for the souls of men
A pastor should always have these two things as his sole motivations. All we do should be done for the glory of God.
Quest. 1. What is the chief end of man?
Answ. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.b (1 Cor 10:31).
But pastors in particular should be driven by their love for the image of God and their desire for people to be saved by the grace of God. If a pastor understands his purpose as glorifying God each time he fulfills his primary duty, he will err very little in these six ways of doing that. If he is then driven by his compassion for the souls of men, then his motivations should be held in check by love, humility, service, longsuffering, etc. (Titus 1:7-9). A man who is constantly in the bully pulpit, beating people with insults and using his so-called authority as a way to impose his own opinions on the flock of Christ is assuming a role that God has not placed him. He is an imposter if he has no compassion for the souls of men or the glory of God.
- A sense of divine authority
Now, you will be hard pressed to find a pastor who doesn’t think he has divine authority. If asked, it is unlikely that any would deny it.
“There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence.” – Calvin
The problem is of course, that their sense of divide authority is often misplaced and self-assumed. That is what this particular post is about. What I hope to have conveyed here is a way to discern whether his sense of divine authority is real. That being said, a pastor should have this sense. A real man of God is a man of God. He should be faithful that the God who has called him will empower him to do his job and in the final analysis, we should willfully and purposefully submit to his teaching and spiritual leadership.
I don’t want to detract from that last sentence in any way. Our primary duty as expository listeners (Christ’s flock) is to submit to Christ’s under-shepherds. It is extremely important for the Church to enjoy unity and strong leadership. This comes sovereignly, but God’s will is implemented through means. The means of authority are given to those who God would have it and the ability to submit to that authority is given to his flock. The means God uses and calls us to are never to be ignorant or mindless. God commands us not to submit to false teachers or false doctrine. He commands us to love him not only with our heart and soul, but also our minds. Be careful that you submit to the real authority of the man who is called by the living God, but make sure you only submit to a real man of God. Authority is given to the man of God by God. Any other authority comes from the ruler of this world.
 Westminster Assembly. (1851). The Westminster Confession of Faith: Edinburgh Edition (p. 387). Philadelphia: William S. Young.