Bound by Conscience
We live in a generation that has forsaken the fountain of Living Water and has hewed out broken cisterns that hold no water at all (Jer. 2:13). We are commanded, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19), but we gladly exchange the simple, vibrant meeting of the New Testament church for our hierarchies, liturgies, formulae, rituals, time limits, and multiple man-made rules.
We criticize the Pope in Rome for usurping the Headship of Christ (who is God’s only true Vicar) then set up our own priests with distinctive garbs and special privileges, as if they alone could enter the Holy Place and approach the altar. This is the age of the Protestant Professional, and at the top of the pyramid is the Protestant Pope. Never mind that each Christian has an anointing from the Holy One and has no need that any man should teach him (1 John 2:27); or that every believer is a priest unto God (Rev. 1:6); or that every believer is gifted and free to participate in the service of the gathered saints (1 Cor. 14:26); or that the proper goal of pastor-teachers is to ensure that the saints are equipped to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12).
I know many people whose choice of a church is based solely upon the pastor of that church. These people belong to the cult that worships the pastor and his preaching. The church of the apostles made Christ’s headship evident by insuring that no individual man was recognized as head of a local church. Who was the pastor of the church at Corinth? The church at Philippi? The church at Ephesus? Read the letters to these churches and you will see that there was no human head organizing and running and administering in any of these local churches. In the New Testament we see a plurality of co-equal elders functioning humbly as under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd. Christ alone is the Pastor of the flock (1 Pet. 5:4)!
If calling a mere man Pope (“Father”) violates Jesus teachings (Matt. 23:8-10), how much more does the use of Senior Pastor deny the supreme headship of Christ and the priesthood of all believers? There is as much officialdom in New Testament Christianity as there is water in Death Valley. If we are to follow godly leaders (and we are), we are to follow them only to the degree that what they say and do comports with the Word of God (Heb. 13:7), recognizing the Bible alone as our sufficient and authoritative Constitution (2 Tim. 3:15-17).
When Luther was summoned before the Diet of Worms to face the wrath of the Roman Church-State because he had challenged its impudent claim to be the sole repository of revelation on earth, he uttered these famous words:
Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns or teeth. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason (I do not believe in the authority of either popes or councils by themselves, for it is plain that they have often erred and contradicted each other) in those Scriptures that I have presented, for my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
Luther set forth the biblical principle that the only reliable guide to truth is Scripture, and that it is the right of all men to read and interpret the Scriptures for themselves. When ministers nowadays call upon Christians and the church to close their Bibles (and their minds) for the sake of “unity” and “peace,” they forget that the early Christians bore scars precisely because their consciences were held captive to the Word of God.
History abundantly illustrates the abuse of priestly leaders holding a monopoly of religious knowledge and using that to exploit and oppress the people. In the ancient Middle East, priestly duties were closely guarded secrets that allowed the priests to maintain their power. The God of the Old Testament, however, delivered His message to all of the people, because informed lay people would be able to monitor the priests’ actions (see Lev. 1:1, 2; 4:1, 2; etc.). People familiar with God’s instructions would not be intimidated by threats of excommunication if they did not do as the priests said. They could check to make sure that the priests performed their duties according to God’s Word. The same accountability is seen in the New Testament (1 Tim. 5:20).
Those who today defend church hierarchy and tyrannical authority and heap scorn upon “schismatics” follow in the steps of Rome, not Luther and the Reformers. While team-mindedness is vitally important to the health of the church, and reasonable concessions are always to be made, sometimes we have to stand alone and differ with our neighbors in order to have a clear conscience toward them. Like Micaiah of old (1 Kings 22:13-14), we must be more interested in the truth than in making the vote of the prophets unanimous.
April 26, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.