With the recent visit of the Pope to America, conversations abound about the Roman Church. From inclusivism to the “Pope-mobile”, the topic of the month is the pontiff visit.
Many of these conversations have involved papal authority and as a Protestant that’s pretty understandable. We have a doctrinal aversion to the papacy and it’s at times like this that we tend to bristle up and defend our Protestant tradition.
A problem with this strong defense is the hypocrisy that undermines it. Our churches don’t like the idea of a supreme head of the Church, other than Christ, but ironically many of them merely substitute one pope for another.
I came from a tradition that is very independent. The autonomy of the local church is a doctrine of extreme importance. Not only have traditions like my former one taken on the Roman Church’s doctrine of apostolic succession, but they have also rejected any form of church government that includes a hierarchy outside of the local assembly.
The Presbyterian type church government is often maligned by these small churches like so much trash talk over congregational turf.
Now before you Baptists get your feathers ruffled, let me explain.
Although I am in favor of a Presbyterian type government that is representative in nature, I am not condemning Baptist theology. I was a Baptist most of my life and I believe Baptists are making a great effort to be Biblical. I still respect the reasons Baptists prefer their independence.
On the other hand, I do believe that there is a particular “congregational” type church government that is conducive to error and because people are often more than happy to be uninvolved they are therefore ready to give too much power to those who are willing to take it.
In the rural South there are small, independent churches everywhere. Many of those churches are great congregations with a passion for the Gospel and self-sacrificial leaders who love Jesus and are committed to feeding his sheep. These churches are probably the majority.
But, there are those churches that probably started well and contain remnants of what used to be thriving congregations but have slipped into lethargy while giving all authority to a single man. They have for all intents and purposes elected their own protestant pope.
It’s easy to do. Sometimes it’s even accidental. Good people with good intentions fall for a wolf, sneaking in over the fence, stealing and devouring the sheep. They trust him and why not? He’s the pastor.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, ESV)
The pastor is God’s authority in a church. He is called and sent. He is God’s man. He is the under-shepherd of Christ.
He is not infallible though, he is just a man.
If pastors are to have authority but they are fallible men, then where do they get their authority?
If we are to assume that they have been sent as God’s authority, then how much authority should they have?
Unfortunately, these questions are never asked (openly) and that has led to an unhealthy understanding of pastoral authority.
I’ve experienced this first hand. Maybe you have as well.
There is little that compares to the Godly leadership of a pastor who understands his job. But for the parishioner who sits under the iron fist of a pastor who sees himself as supreme ruler of “his” church, nothing is more upsetting.
“The man who is always describing himself in terms of his position or office leads with the statement ‘don’t you know who I am’. The man who is enjoying unction leads with the statement ‘don’t you see who He is’”. Allistair Begg
In small churches across America congregations sit in fear of their protestant pope. Elected by unsuspecting congregations, these men abuse power delegated to them by people in need, stolen from God for their own narcissistic glory.
The priority of these men is to protect their turf. Their interest is power and their love is of self. Anything new is competition and they and their cronies who are usually yes-men hand picked by his majesty, neutralize any threat to his pompous papacy.
All too often, this is the deathblow to apologetics ministries in small churches. But like the theological Reformation of Luther and Calvin, the direct result clarified the Gospel. Likewise, the indirect result of that Reformation was decentralization. The Pope remained in power but he was marginalized.
The same is true for the protestant pope. He may keep his church but he will slowly become irrelevant. He just can’t keep hiding behind a façade of fear when the Church has seen that the emperor has no clothes.
All of this was to say, do not be discouraged if you pour yourself into a ministry that eventually finds itself in the cross hairs of a protestant pope. If you are left with no other choice but to leave, shake the dust off your feet and move on.
“And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” (Matthew 10:14, ESV)