We have an email from Loretta who lives in London. She asks, “Pastor John, do you think technology is threatening the submission of a congregation to their pastor in that people have so many choices of teachers online?”
Let me, first, affirm her concern. I really appreciate anyone who wants to highlight the biblical conviction that pastors are leaders by God’s appointment and should be biblically followed, Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
This is a beautiful portrayal of happy pastors doing their work with joy and the people happily supporting. That is right. She should be concerned about that or 1 Thessalonians 5:12 which says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” They are your leaders. They are over you. They have been put by God in the place of authority and spiritual leadership. You should respect and esteem them highly for their work for love’s sake. So, yes to the concern.
“Submission to a pastor does not mean the he is the ultimate authority. The Bible is the ultimate authority.”
Now that raises the question, What does submission mean and what does it not mean? Then we can ask how does the internet affect that? Submission to a pastor or a group of elders does not mean the pastor is infallible or that pastor is the ultimate authority. The Bible is the ultimate authority and is infallible, not the pastor, not the elders.
It doesn’t mean that you believe everything he says without examining it, but rather you go to the book of Acts and you see in Acts 17 that the Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica because they examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so when an apostle was speaking to them. It is not wrong for a people to love their pastor and submit to their pastor and still make sure that what he is saying is from the Bible and how he is leading squares up with Scripture.
I would say that submission to pastoral authority involves respecting them, having a high esteem for their office and calling, giving them the benefit of the doubt, not becoming cynical and skeptical about things that they say, supporting their plans and their vision for the Church, throwing yourself into the life of the Church in any way you can without sinning. In other words, your basic disposition toward the leadership is yes, let’s go. Let’s support them, just like a wife’s basic disposition towards her husband should be — I just love it when you lead. Any way I can support your leadership that is not sinful, I am going to be right there by your side supporting you. I hope that is the way we should feel about our pastors.
Now, the internet with all its teachers out there that people can listen to is one more step in people’s access to truth other than their preacher. And error, too, but it is truth I am thinking right now. When I say one more step, the first step was translating the Bible into a language they could read. That got some of them burned at the stake. The pastoral authority was so threatened. “If you read your English Bible, I am going to burn you at the stake. And they did. And the next would be books and magazines, the next would be radio, the next would be TV and now we have got internet. And all of those give access to more and more teaching that might or might not be different from what we are hearing.
“If the internet makes a person cynical to their pastor, then I think it is hurting them.”
Now the question is: Is that a bad thing to have exposure to knowledge that might reveal unhelpful things in your pastor? And my answer is that may be a bad thing or it may be a good thing. I would say if it makes the pastor acknowledge that he has to make a good case so that people can see in the Bible what he is really saying is really there. He has to show that his plans for the church are really biblical. I think it that it is a good thing for him to feel that pressure.
But if what is going on in the internet makes a person or a family disrespectful to their pastor, cynical to their pastor, or disengaged from their church, then I think it is hurting them and not helping them. If it leads the pastor to be more vigilant and leads the people into a careful consideration of what is really biblical, then I would think that would be all for the good. It might create some relational tensions between what they are hearing on the internet by some preacher and what they are hearing at the church, but I think avoiding those kind of tensions by hiding from truth is probably not going to honor God — the God of love and the God of truth.