Parts of this conversation with an SBC pastor has been used before in my blogs. It bears repeating because it is about the pastor’s authority over his church. Much has been said about who has authority, but we have not examined this passage in Hebrews that is sometimes used to reinforce this teaching.
First we deal with this pastors misuse of Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
As ususal, you will be hearing only one side of the conversation, but you will be able to follow it. This pastor had just arrived at his new pastorate and I often wondered if the congregation had any idea of what he believed before they hired him. We can’t think of everything when searching for a new pastor, but from now on, I would discuss these points with a potential pastor.
Whoa, boy! Pastor, tell me it is not so. You really believe that God has given you, a pastor, the leadership of His church to the extent that a member who submits to your leadership may be more important, have more influence, receive greater rewards in Heaven, etc. That is so arrogant, and unlike Christ that it takes my breath away.
In the months I have been responding to pastors, this idea of obeying the pastor took me by surprise. I did some research on it. This is what I found. The verse to support obeying the pastor is found in Hebrews 13:17. However, that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus.
Read what Paul Howey says authority.
- All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matt 28:18).
- Jesus alone is the Head of the church (John 5:26-27, Eph 1:22-23, Col 1:18).
- God does not permit Christians to have controlling authority over other Christians in the church (see Matt 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45, Luke 22:24-27, 1Pet 5:3, Matt 23:8-12, etc.).
- We do not have multiple special high priests over us. There is only One High Priest, Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 3:1, 4:14).
- We have One Master Christ and we are all brothers (see Matt 23: 8-12).
- You cannot obey two masters; you will love the one and hate the other (Matt 6:24, Luke 6:13). You simply cannot obey Jesus as master and a pastor (or elders) as master at the same time.
Read: Who has the Rule Over You? / Solving The Hebrews 13:17 Dilemma by Paul Howey
Heb 13:17, partially quoted and incorrectly translated, has been used by countless authoritarian pastors as a hammer to put their congregations into blind subjection to their personal vision for how they feel that the church should operate and behave. This is contrary to the clear teachings of the Scriptures.
The first part of Heb 13:17 is one of the most glaringly mistranslated verses in all of Scripture (in most Bible translations). Depending on which translation you have, it goes something like this: “Obey those that have the rule over you and submit to their authority.” The dilemma is the fact that many Christians refuse to accept the Bible’s teaching against authoritarianism in the church based on this and a few other similarly mistranslated verses.
The actual non-word-for-word understanding of this partial verse in context with what the rest of the Bible teaches on the same subject is as follows:
“Heed the warning of those who watch over you and when they tell you to obey the Scriptures, obey the Scriptures.” Some Christians might even quickly summarize the first part of Heb 13:17 as “Obey the Bible as properly taught”. Either view is correct.
The problem is this: the popular incorrect translation of the original Greek as “Obey those who have the rule over you” simply does not square with (reconcile or harmonize) with the rest of the Scriptures and seems to empower certain men to have authoritarian rule in the church. But we know that the Bible forbids the authoritarian rule of men in the Church. (you can read the rest of his explanation here).
(My disclaimer to Paul Howey’s opinions: I don’t agree with everything he says on his website, just as he would not agree with everything I have said. But I found what he said about Hebrews 13:17 worthy to use here. He also believes that women are worthy to teach and preach – Shirley)
I hate to admit it, but I actually asked Pastor how the authority over the souls in the congregation worked. Did the souls get passed off from one pastor to another? What if he taught his congregation that obedience to his leadership gave them greater rewards in Heaven, and the pastor who came before him and the one who will come after him, fails to mention that enormous benefit to the congregation? After all, if they believed that obedience to their pastor got them these benefits, wouldn’t they all want a chance at improving their Heavenly experience?
Ah, too many questions. Let’s just suffice it to take Jesus at His word, and leave all authority to Him, and not to some pastor.
Below is a comment from Lin, a reader of this blog. I highly recommend that you read her series on the translation of Hebrews 13:17
I did a whole series on the translation of Hebrew 13:17. It is a horrible translation and must be corrected or else it would mean I would have to obey “Jim Jones” if I happened to be in his church when he became a cult leader. (He was considered respectable for quite a while).
The translation used in most translations actually contradicts other scripture so we must educate ourselves and take a closer look at the word choices translators made from the Greek.
It is on the right side of my blog and called “Elders: Leaders or Servants. Lots of research went into this series because I got so sick of this passage being used incorrectly because of the horrible translation of those laboring under a state church/king.