In the first part of this series, we looked at how Bill Gothard taught that “the voice of Papa is the voice of God”—that God communicated His will to those under authority via their authorities. In the first article, we focused on how this impacted the father-child relationship.
After teaching me about those things, God showed me a new angle on the subject that I hadn’t fully realized at first. About ten years ago, He showed our family that His method of feeding His sheep was a “pasture-based” method, where the people feed themselves, instead of the “feedlot” style method used by many churches, where the pastor feeds the people. (You can read more about this in Totally Rethinking Church, Part 2: Sheep – A Key to Understanding God’s Design for the Church.)
One of the key differences between these two methods is that in the feedlot church, the pastor becomes the voice of God. Whether or not he actually tries to become the “voice of God”, he will very likely end up becoming the voice of God to his congregation, because the very nature of the church’s organization will promote such an ideology.
The Typical Church Service
Think about the typical church service for a moment. It starts with some singing, which in many churches is carried out by a well-practiced praise and worship team, with little or no participation from the audience. After that, it might be Sunday School, followed by more singing, again with the praise and worship team being front and center. At this point, there may be some announcements and time for prayer requests, although in a large church, this step has to be skipped, due to the size of the group.
Then comes the message. The pastor preaches on a topic that he has studied out and carefully prepared for his congregation. As he preaches, his points may be beamed onto a screen, along with the Bible verses that he quotes, so nobody has to even open their Bibles. In one megachurch service that I participated in, the church even had a mobile app that its members could download to their smartphones so they could fill in the blanks in the pastor’s message outline as he preached!
When the pastor is finished, so is the church service. The people make their way home, perhaps spending some time chatting with friends before they leave. Then it’s all over until the next service. No one asks the people if God taught them anything that week that they would like to share with the rest of the congregation. No one asks if anyone has questions that need to be answered, or if they see something wrong with what the pastor has shared. Nobody asks if anyone in the congregation has any further insights about the message.
What is really happening here? The pastor has become the voice of God. He is the one doling out the spiritual nourishment with his carefully scripted sermon. The other Christians in the service are not asked to contribute, judge the message, or even study the subject some more and report back the following Sunday!
When we examine the sermon content, we may find even more evidence that the pastor is taking the place of God. Instead of teaching the truth of God’s Word, he may be teaching his own doctrine, along with some Bible verses to make it look spiritual. (Note: this was also typical of Bill Gothard’s teaching.) In the megachurch service that I mentioned, the pastor gave a sermon describing, step-by-step, how to pray for “pressing needs”. (Note: God has not laid out a step-by-step plan for praying for needs.) He even told the congregation that there were four different ways that God might answer their prayers—“Yes”, “No”, “Later” and “Never”—and had them repeat this list with him several times for emphasis. But that list is not found in Scripture. The pastor was becoming a god to his congregation.
A Church Service in Scripture
Contrast this with the church service described in 1 Corinthians 14:
How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (1 Corinthians 14:26-33)
In this service described by God, every man in the congregation is welcome to share what God has placed on his heart. It is not carefully scripted. It is guided by the Holy Spirit for the edification of the church. It requires the participation of the congregation.
Note, too, the checks and balances that God has put in place:
- All things must be done to edify the church.
- Speaking in an unknown tongue must be interpreted, or else the speaker must remain silent.
- The prophets are to be judged as they are speaking, to verify that they are actually speaking God’s message.
- If God reveals something to another man during someone’s prophecy, the first man is to hold his peace and let the second person speak. This prevents someone from hogging the floor.
- The prophets are to speak one by one, to prevent confusion.
- The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. They are not to get unruly or disorderly in the name of “speaking God’s message”.
- The service must be conducted in a peaceful, orderly manner, without confusion.
You know what? I would like to be part of such a church! It would be great to be part of a congregation where everybody there was led by the Holy Spirit and was free to speak what God laid on his heart. One thing is for certain: it will not happen in a megachurch (too big), or in a church where God’s Spirit is not moving in the hearts of the people!
It is not wrong for a pastor to preach at a service, as Paul did in Acts 20:7 (before leaving a city, he preached all through the night until the break of day). In fact, God has ordained that there should be leaders in the church, and that the rest of the church should follow their leadership. The point is that one man is not to have the service to himself and be the voice of God to the congregation.
Don’t Turn Your Pastor into God
In some cases, your pastor becomes “the voice of God” because you treat him as though he were God. Some people seem to believe that the pastor, like the priests in the Old Testament, has a closer connection to God than they do. If the pastor says that sin is okay, they believe that sin is okay. If the pastor says that a certain action is sin (or at least “wrong” or “unwise”), they accept his statement, even if God has not called that action a sin.
Or, instead of a pastor, you might seek God’s voice from your best friend, a relative, or even someone you’ve never met who wrote a book or runs a website that you admire. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has emailed us and asked us what they ought to do or what God’s teaching was on a particular subject, as though their email would be answered by God Himself! If you truly want to follow God with all your heart, you must discern God’s will yourself.
God tells us that, through Jesus, we have access directly to Him, without going through a priest or other authority/mediator:
For through him [Jesus] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Ephesians 2:18)
In whom [Jesus] we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. (Ephesians 3:12)
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar [special] people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: (1 Peter 2:9)
So What Now?
As we move away from following parents, pastors, authors, teachers, and website owners, it’s important that we understand the authority structure that God has set up. In Part 3, we’ll look at the truth about submission.