The Arrogant Ignorance of Trying to Control Christ’s Church
A number of years ago, we visited a congregation to mutually explore my becoming the pastor. It was clear the match made in heaven was not to be. It made me ponder why Christians do not see eye to eye. My conclusion is that Bible interpretation sits as the crux of the problem. When I surveyed this church’s key documents, it dawned on me as I read that neither Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, etc. could qualify to be their pastor. Thus, I communicated my intent to excuse myself from further consideration on the day after my interview, and they did not even ask why.
There is a lust in the heart of men to control Christ’s church. This is why, over the years, I have become an advocate of small, simple church. First, when there is less of an empire to tempt the controllers, you reduce the prize of their ambition. This, of course, does not eliminate the problem. Some will attempt to control even the smallest of local churches.
Second, the way of control varies. In the case of our visitation, there was a litany of doctrinal and practical positions the pastor must adhere to in order to be the pastor. This is why all of those pastoral giants could not qualify to lead this rural congregation of fifty people. If documents do not control the pastor, then there is probably someone there ready to do the job.
There is a paradox in most congregations. If unbelievers control the local gathering, they will have an objective to keep the pastor tethered to the designs for “their church.” Their attitude is, “When this pastor is long gone, I will still be here.” As long as the pastor complies with whatever he is told, then he is permitted to stay.
Spineless men of God do exist. These pastors love Christ. They love His church, and they also love the ministry. In order to keep peace and unity, and their job, they will succumb to whatever the controllers conjure. Despite the controllers’ claim to be Bible believers and practitioners, their documents often reveal their debatable positions. This is so normative that no one questions it. People who recognize this inconsistency will simply move on down the road to another congregation.
As Christians work out their salvation with fear and trembling, we must do Bible interpretation, together, in all humility. We have much to learn from one another, and we will be all the better for listening to the brethren, even if we do not fully agree with them. Pastors are not pawns in someone else’s empire scheme. The problem is that every scheme is designed to force pastors into the preferred model. The church who thinks it has cornered the market on Christianity is in prideful error.
If the Spirit of truth controls a local church, then the pastor will be free to work through exegesis, a survey of interpretations, and then present his case for a particular position. The congregation must then go home and do their own theology, in the manner taught them by their pastor. Every point of doctrine is under everyone’s microscope. Group think should be avoided, let alone displayed in written documents. The Bible has one intended message, but we live in a fallen world of varied Bible interpretations. Obviously, God has ordained it to be this way, unless, of course, that is not your interpretation!
Christians will gravitate toward local churches who can give a reason for the hope that is within them, and that reason will be a product of their doing theology together, even when they do not all hold to the exact same positions on each point. In this environment, believers will grow in grace (they will have to, in order to work together) and in knowledge (they are actually doing theology) of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Shepherds will not lord over the peoples’ minds, nor the peoples’ current status of belief, but they will express their current interpretations with humility, without forsaking discernment. Pastors and local churches must believe something, but rigidity, to the exclusion of the giants of our historical faith, is arrogant ignorance.
Spokane Valley, Washington
August 21, 2021