Replacing Jesus with your Pastor
That’s a little bit of a click-bait title but it is a solemn thought nonetheless. In the last four months I have done fairly extensive studies on the topics of Spiritual Abuse, Toxic Faith, Legalism, Cults (and what a cult is NOT), and Spiritual Authority – and the inverse of those, such as Abundant Faith, Submission in Liberty, Spiritual Family and Pastoral Guidance. What I have found is both concerning and promising!
Certainly, where humanity is involved, there is a propensity for error, trouble, conflict, strife, envy, pride, etc., yet God chose this vessel of humanity to both communes with and use as a tool for spreading that potential relationship to all peoples. In so doing, he used positions of servitude (Some Apostles, some prophets, some pastors, some teachers, and preachers – Eph 4:11) to organize, protect and pursue that goal. As in times of old, those positions have been misused, misunderstood, misappropriated or simply demeaned. How? Let’s find out.
It should be said at the very outset, that as a Christian, we are to follow Christ alone. Christ is the head of the Church (Col 1:18), the High Priest (Heb 5:10), the Chief Cornerstone (Eph 2:20), the Chief Shepard (I Pet 5:4) and ultimately, he (Christ) is God (Tit 2:13). Yet as Paul was a major example to the New Testament saint and certainly a great tool for creating what we call the Church, he asked people to follow him, as he followed Christ. (I Cor 11:1) Thus, we can follow our spiritual mentors, such as our Pastor – and in so doing, likewise, follow Christ – if they are teaching the pure and undefiled religion of the Word of God.
However, we are never to replace Jesus with our Pastor, or deacons, or church board, or any other supposed authority that claims spiritual power. I read an article on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and a line said, In an unhealthy church, the pastor actually begins to take the place of Jesus in people’s lives. Commonly, people are told they cannot leave the church with God’s blessing unless the pastor approves of the decision. The implication for some, and the direct quote for others (my past social circle) is that not only will you not have God’s blessing, you’ll be cursed in some way by God. Often, the book of Ruth is used for this illustration – that Naomi was widowed and her two sons died as a result of leaving the ‘church’ without the man of God’s blessing.
Paul never commanded, Do as I say – and if I’m wrong, do it anyway and let God decide later if it is right or not – your obedience will make it all work out. A thought came to me a while back, early in my departure from legalism and an unhealthy church environment and it was this; Am I really a Christian if all that I do is just a repetition of what the Pastor tells me I can and cannot do? Are legislated Christians….Christians?
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:14, 15, KJV
It is of interest that Paul here said, ‘ye have not received the spirit of bondage again…‘. Christ came to set at liberty the captive (both to sin and to the law) not to bind the hands of His children. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. (Matt 11:30). So how then is it that we can come to a place where we no longer take on Christ’s yoke but we allow other men to bridle and saddle us as beasts of burden and place their yoke upon our necks?
By my experience, a pastor that continuously preaches unquestioned and unconditional loyalty to Him (supposedly this is translated to loyalty to Christ by proxy) and as he uses Biblical illustrations like David and Jonathan, or Elisha and Elija, begins to gain seemingly biblical grounds to control the personal areas of each congregant lives. Then that controlling leader must instill a sense of obligation by repeating things like ‘I’m not teaching this for my own benefit, but for yours!’, or reminding the congregation how much he has sacrificed for them.
In the end, as I have quoted to others, the pastor becomes partly deified. Like the Catholic faith, as they believe the Words of the Pope are infallible and as authoritative as Christ’, his (pastor) word and will determine who you date or marry, rather than prayer and feeling after the Spirit of God. The Pastor determines many times where you can work, live, how you can dress, your hairstyle, your speech patterns, and behavior. Rather than being a guide, he becomes the Chief Shepard.
The pastor now is the cornerstone where everything is fit and framed together. Now he (man) becomes the head of the Church. At this stage in an unhealthy church, our (the saints) purpose is to please that man – to make sure that individual thinks highly of us – our measuring stick for spirituality is based on his (the pastor’s) approval.
In an unhealthy church, it is considered rebellion to question any decision made or statements said from the pulpit. It is counted as a threat to God-ordained authority rather than attempting to ratify human positions with the Word of God. Certainly, in an unhealthy church, it is more import to obey leaders than to question what is being done.
When did our connection with the Holy Spirit get abducted?
One of the most profound changes between the Old Testament and the New Testament is that now every saint has direct access to God’s will and purpose! James 1:5 says “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not;”. That word upbraideth means God will not criticize your questioning, or ridicule your lack of wisdom – rather He will support you abundantly. Furthermore, it doesn’t say ‘If you lack wisdom, don’t ask God, go talk to the Pastor’.
No longer did we need a single High Priest to enter the Holiest of Holies – the temple veil was rent in twain upon the shedding of Christ’ blood and his death upon the Cross. That single act gave each of us a direct conduit to God – through prayer, His Word and through the infilling of His Spirit. (Rom 8:10, Col 1:27, Eph 3:17-19)
Being individually led by the Spirit of Christ is such a major part of being a Christian! Jesus said in John 14:16-20:
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” – John 14:16-20, KJV
Christ promised us the Spirit of Truth, that the Comforter (which is the Holy Ghost, v26) will reside in each of us and that will be our guide. How then have we come to a place where we can replace that most magnificent relationship with Christ so easily for a more frail substitute?
Replace not your faith in Christ with the will of frail man – do not let your obedience to Christ be converted to the commandments of man! (Mark 7:7) We need preachers, and teachers, some prophets, and some Apostles, faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom 10:17) and without preaching, you can’t hear that Word. Yet, Paul never commanded his followers to abdicate their faith and become his clones or robots – to merely believe he ever word without trying the spirit of his message, to see whether it be of God! (I John 4:1)
The door is open to Christ – seek him!
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” – Matthew 7:7-11