- The Pharisees then answered them, “You have not also been led astray, have you? No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.”—John 7:47-49
In the exchanges which Martin Luther had with the Roman Catholic upper echelon, Luther had made some dramatic changes to the practices and teachings of the church. He reduced the seven sacraments down to two (the Lord’s Supper and Baptism) because he said the other five were not instituted by Christ in the Bible. Oddly, one of the biggest issues the church had with Luther was that he allowed the laity to partake of the Communion cup. Luther had begun to dig into the Doctrine of the Priesthood of Believers (that you and I are priests, rather than priests being a special set apart class of religious leaders). This idea came from I. Peter 2:9:
- But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light
A point of contention Luther had with the Catholic church was that in their world only the Pope was given the ability and authority to interpret Scripture, and that no one could challenge, correct, or even rebuke the Pope. Luther stated:
- “Balaam’s ass was wiser than the prophet himself. If God then spoke by an ass against a prophet, why should he not be able even now to speak by a righteous man against the pope?”
What was recaptured under Luther (though for many reasons not as fully as what we experience today) is the privilege that you have to search Scriptures, to properly interpret them, to have direct access to the throne of grace, to be a part of the priesthood of believers. This is why many men died just to give you the Bible in English! Sadly, many copies of the Bible were also burned by the Catholic church back then as they did not want it in the hands of the people.
So, what does this mean? Unlike the exalted arrogance of the Pharisees, the Catholic church, and the various cults which kept the people in the dark with no other responsibility than to obey the religious leadership (and give their money to the church), you have the right and the privilege to search the Scriptures (like the Bereans did in Acts 17:11), to preach the Gospel without a license, to be filled and led by the Holy Spirit. This is the Empowered Leadership portion of our church’s focus that we keep repeating because you are biblically empowered to do those things. You do not need permission to obey God, nor should you ever surrender that right.
Your pastors are the spiritual leaders of the church as they are directly responsible to God. You are to follow them as your spiritual leaders knowing that they lead for your protection and spiritual growth/health:
- 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.
Briefly, this means you are not on equal authority in leading the church with those whom God has appointed. The priesthood of believers doesn’t give you the authority to fight their leadership, to contest their guidance, or to disrupt the church when you don’t like what they do or how they do it (I’ve previously relayed the sad and selfish story of my first pastor who was fired while on vacation because one member didn’t like that he wouldn’t let her son play a guitar special back in the early ‘70s when guitars were extremely rare in church. Because she didn’t respect his authority under God, and wanted her way, she got the church together when he was gone so they could vote him out).
You do, however, have the right and authority to challenge (properly and respectfully, of course) your pastors’ teaching, interpretation of Scripture, and so forth based on your careful, proper studying of Scripture. The priesthood of believers is not about you having power and authority, but about the full gamut of personal and spiritual responsibility you have in pointing all people to Christ. This means:
- Pastors are not special people. They have been given a God-appointed leadership position within the church to shepherd it, guard it from spiritual attacks and improper doctrine, and to continually teach the Word. But, they are human.
- You can challenge a teaching or doctrine, but it must be based on your research of Scripture. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like something taught (such as how many people find the blood of Christ to be too distasteful to teach in churches today), or if you’ve never heard a certain teaching before. You must vet it against Scripture using solid, logical, and God-honoring principles of interpretation. If not, then you don’t have a leg to stand on until you do.
- Ultimately, you and I both need to ensure that what we teach and promote is about teaching and promoting Christ and never about our own agendas, preferences, or the like.
Remember that when Paul taught, the Bereans (whom we just referenced) searched the Scriptures to make sure what Paul taught them was true. This was considered to be a noble trait. The church needs to trust its leadership, but it should never blindly accept a pastor’s teaching as if he has an inside track with God (this is part of why I provide cross-references when I teach so you can check out what I’m telling you). Cults are born that way. Many other evils are administered against churches by abusive pastoral authority when they hold the only interpretive authority (there is a church back in Virginia that required members to turn their paychecks over to the pastor each week to determine where the money went before he gave them back the difference! That is abusive, and I have no clue how one who knows his Bible could let that travesty occur. I’m guessing the congregation doesn’t know their Bibles, blindly trusts the pastor, and are spiritual simpletons).
There are some basic rules of Bible interpretation I would like to remind you of:
- Scripture interprets Scripture (look first within for other uses of certain words and phrases, or doctrines and concepts. Linda just asked me a question out of Ephesians last week and as I researched it, the word in question was used a few times within Ephesians and ultimately interpreted its own meaning. The same thing happens in Revelation where the bizarre imagery you read about is interpreted within other parts of that Book).
- Read in context (do not extrapolate verses on their own, but ensure they are interpreted in light of the whole passage and the audience it was written to).
- Look at the historical and grammatical backgrounds to assist you (customs and practices from 2,000+ years ago were dramatically different than what you’re used to now).
- Use wise counselors (Study Bible notes and commentaries from biblically conservative and orthodox theologians can help you understand passages better).
- Spend time in prayer seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The Bible has only one meaning and we need His help to understand it.
- Have you invested in a good study Bible? ______________________________________________________
- Some of the ones I recommend are:
- Scofield III
- Some of the ones I recommend are:
- King James Study Bible (from Thomas Nelson, originally published as the Liberty Annotated Bible)
- Try to avoid study Bibles emphasizing a limited topic (Women’s, Men’s, Apologetics, Leadership, American Patriotism, Addiction Recovery) as you want to be as balanced as possible (learning the whole counsel of God) rather than using the Bible just to study out a favorite theme. Besides, some of these Bibles are not even good in their application of Scripture.
- Have you invested in good commentaries? You can find some decent ones on blueletterbible.orgfor free. But, while the ancient wisdom of Matthew Henry is good, you also want more modern ones that emphasize recent archaeology, better manuscript discoveries, and so forth. You want to strike a balance between theologically sound and easy to understand. My suggestions are:
- MacArthur New Testament
- Vernon McGee’s Thru the Bible
- Andrews Expositional Commentaryseries
- Walvoord and Zuck’s Bible Knowledge Commentary
- James Montgomery Boice’s
- God’s Word for Youseries
- Do you feel insecure in studying the Bible on your own? _____________________________________________________
- If so, that’s actually a good place to be. You want to be humble, malleable, and filled by God’s Spirit when you dig deep into His infinite Word.
- Remember, prayer is key.
Two simple book resources on this topic to consider owning/reading are:
- How to Read the Bible for All Its Worthby Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart.
- Journey into God’s Wordby Scott Duvall and Daniel Hays
If you feel like getting slightly more advanced, Dr. Daniel Akin (president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), Bill Curtis, and Stephen Rummage have a more teaching/preaching-oriented book that is not too complicated called: Engaging Exposition.
Holy Bible, Book Divine Hymn by John Burton
1 Holy Bible, Book divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine:
Mine to tell me whence I came;
Mine to teach me what I am.
2 Mine to chide me when I rove,
Mine to show a Savior’s love;
Mine thou art to guide and guard;
Mine to punish or reward.
3 Mine to comfort in distress,
Suffering in this wilderness;
Mine to show by living faith,
We can triumph over death.
4 Mine to tell of joys to come,
And the rebel sinner’s doom:
O thou Holy Book divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine.