Pastor or Pope? An Article on Pastoral Abuse

The subject at hand is extremely controversial, and the ramifications of such an article will no doubt cause me open contempt, disrespect, and possibly the label of ‘heretic.’ Despite this, I cannot stay silent. It is necessary, yea vital, to present readers with a biblical perspective on the role and authority of the Pastor, especially in light of an increase in what can only be described as pastoral  abuse.  

The Roman Catholic religion has long been known for its ability to manipulate its members through fear and threats, allowing those in leadership to effectively control the people and their commitment to the cause. The power associated with the pope is beyond belief. Masses submit to his every wish, convinced that to disobey or even disagree, is to fight against God Himself. A similar ploy has entered into some conservative churches of our land. In these settings, the pastor will exalt himself to a place of power and inerrancy, demanding the allegiance of his people instead of turning their hearts toward God and promoting His sovereignty and authority.

All Men are Sinners

It does not matter how ‘good’ your pastor or church leadership may appear; all have sinned. There are pastors today who act as if they have reached the state of sinless perfection, and therefore represent the perfect example of holiness and wisdom. This is simply not true.

The shepherd does not gain some special entrance into the presence of God; He comes before the same throne of grace as all believers, and through the same person – Jesus Christ. He may preach from an elevated platform on Sunday but that is not an indication of spiritual superiority in God’s hierarchy. Pastors who seek the praise and accolades of men are not fit to fulfil the shepherd’s role. Surely a man who is perpetually broken over his sin and who has an understanding of the holiness of God, is the only suitable candidate for leading and shepherding God’s people.

‘…there is none that doeth good, no, not one.’ Psalm 14:3

‘Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?’ Prov.20:9

‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ 1 John 1:8

The Church is Christ’s

‘…Christ is the head of the church: and is the Saviour of the body.’ Ephesians 5:23

 ‘And He [Christ] is before all things, and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church…’ Colossians 1:17-18

‘And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church.’ Ephesians 1:22

If Scriptures were not so clear on this subject, I might be confused about who has the ultimate ownership and rule of the church. The way some pastors enthrone themselves, establishing non-biblical standards, and assuming the role of ‘Pope for the people,’ is appalling, and is in total opposition to the clearly outlined role of the shepherd in the Bible. To assume a role of authority in  Christ’s church that has not been given by God, is theft. If I instruct my congregation to obey standards and practices that God has not commanded, I become the ‘master of God’s people,’ and in turn teach them to follow me instead of the Lord.

How many congregations in our land are ruled by a dictatorial, ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ pastor instead of Christ and His Word being the final authorities in their lives?

It is the Message, not the Man

‘Remember them that have the rule over you, who  have spoken unto you the Word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.’ Hebrews 13:7

Commenting on the above verse, John Gill writes: “Christ’s church is a kingdom, and He is King in it; pastors of churches are subordinate governors; who rule well when they rule not in an arbitrary way, according to their own wills, but according to the laws of Christ, with all faithfulness, prudence and diligence.”

 The pastor, like you and I, is a man saved by grace. He has not been imbued with some special ability (albeit there are gifts dispensed by the Holy Spirit which differ – Romans 12:6), nor does he have some supernatural power over men which is of his own energy.

The shepherd finds his authority solely in the Word of God. His counselling and preaching must be grounded in the Scriptures if he is to serve in the way that God has called him to. The pastor is a man who is to be given to prayer and the studying of the Word. I know pastors who busy themselves with all the tangible and temporal aspects of church life when they ought to be focusing on the spiritual and eternal matters at hand. The  first and most important job of the faithful shepherd is to preach the Word . He is to passionately pursue God, thereby leaving an example for his people. The following ought to form the pastor’s chief ambition and desire:

‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ John 3:30

‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ Philippians 1:21

The Pastor will fail you

Nobody is exempt from the effects of sin. One of the great dilemmas in church today is the expectation on the pastor to do everything right. If the congregation is not careful to remember that the shepherd is only a man, they will inevitably and subconsciously elevate him to a place of  ‘perfection.’ This will be the great downfall of that church and will result in heartache and discouragement when it is found out that the pastor cannot meet those impossible expectations. This does not give license to the pastor to live as he pleases, but it does remove from him the unattainable standard of perfection. A humble and honest leader will acknowledge his own inability to perform his God given role, and will openly admit that he is the chief of sinners,  and unworthy of such a responsibility.

‘It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.’ Psalm 118:8

‘Thus saith the Lord; cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.’ Jeremiah 17:5

 ‘…the Lord thy God…..He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Deuteronomy 31:6


Scripture teaches that God desires a pastor to lead by example, nurturing and caring for his people. When the time comes for him to discipline, confront and challenge, his only authority is  the Word of God, and only when as it is applied correctly. 
May God give us pastors who love Christ supremely, act with honesty, humility and integrity, lead by example, and find the basis of all preaching, teaching and counselling  in the pages of Scripture.

The Truth about Fellowship: Unity in Diversity

Reading: Philippians 4:1-9 | Preaching Text: Philippians 4:1-3


We enter the final chapter of Philippians today, and it is filled with spiritual treasures.

True fellowship is exclusively available to those who are believers. It is made possible only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

When real fellowship is experienced it is a foretaste of heaven. Believers living in harmony, mutual edification, deep worship, loving exhortation, humble reconciliation, and spurring one another on to greater sanctification is more precious than anything this world affords.

A church that is unified in love and doctrine can set the world on fire. Similarly, a church that is marked by conflict and division will impact the world negatively and severely hinder attempts to reach people with the gospel.

Acts 2-5 traces the origin of the early church. In these chapters we find believers meeting together daily, devoting themselves to Scripture, fellowship, the Lord’s Table, and even selling houses and lands for the benefit of the entire Body of Christ. However, Acts 6 begins with a complaint from the Greek speaking Jews who felt they were being unfairly treated.

In this example we observe how quickly issues can arise, and how important it is that the church as a whole exercise their commitment to true fellowship, dealing with differences, offences and conflict.

It is an utter inconsistency for those who are “in the Lord” to be at variance with one another. Christ does not permit it; the apostles would not allow it; and we must not legitimise it either.

In this sermon we are introduced to the kind of fellowship that Paul expressed, an important instruction he gave to the Philippian church, and his plea for unity in the midst of a broken relationship.

Join me as I preach a message entitled: The Truth about Fellowship: Unity in Diversity.

Fellowship Expressed

“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” Philippians 4:1

Consider the change that grace wrought in Paul’s life. In Acts 9:1 Saul was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord! Now consider his attitude toward Christians!

When the grace of God enters the soul of man, that individual will never again be the same. The sinner becomes a saint. The haughty become humble. The persecutor becomes the peace-maker. The murderer becomes a minister. The hater becomes a healer. The fiendish becomes the friendly. This alone is a work of God in the soul of man. Such is unmistakably seen in the life of Paul the Apostle.

Take note of the endearing terms used in this first verse: “brothers, love, long for, joy, crown, beloved.”

I’ve organised this verse into five small compartments which should help us to appreciate how fellowship is expressed.

  1. Spiritual Connection
    1. “Brothers” (not males, but brethren).
    2. The church is not a club. It is the household of faith. A living organism.
    3. Our “connection” is not based upon personalities, hobbies, ethnicity. Our fellowship rests entirely upon Christ and the salvation He has brought to us.
  2. Tender Affection
    1. “Whom I love” – A derivative of “Agape” which speaks of divine love. Not based upon appearance, commonality, loveliness, but dependent on the Spirit of God who pours out heavenly love into our hearts.
    2. “And long for” – Literally “yearned for”. This is the only time this word (in this form) is used in the Bible. Paul earnestly desires to be reunited with these believers.
    3. “My beloved” – Same as “whom I love” but repeated to emphasise his deep affection.
    4. Paul uses this word for “beloved” 27 times throughout his writings to describe the church! How he loved, cherished, and tenderly cared for the church.
  3. Present Joy
    1. “My joy” – Paul’s fellow-believers were a great source of joy. Knowing the reality of their faith and commitment to the gospel provided present comfort and peace.
    2. In writing to Thessalonica:For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? (1 Thess.2:19)
    3. Again Paul writes:For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God” (1 Thess.3:9)
  4. Future Reward
    1. “Crown” – There are a number of different Greek words for crown. This particular word (“stephanos”) is the victor’s crown for winning the race. It stands in contrast to the “diadema” which is the king’s crown.
    2. The Philippians were Paul’s trophy. His future reward, and the fruit of his ministry.
  5. Exhortation
    1. “Stand firm thus in the Lord” – This is not a suggestion, it is an imperative – a command.
    2. Paul does not operate as some dictator who barks out orders, he lovingly issues a command with the authority of heaven.

True fellowship involves each of these components: a real connection through Christ; tender affection made possible through the Spirit; present joy through unified faith and service; evangelism and discipleship which produces eternal fruit; and loving exhortation and instruction which finds its source in divine truth.

Steadfastness Instructed

“Stand firm thus in the Lord.” Philippians 4:1

To “stand firm” is to “keep one’s footing, persevere, to be unmoved.”

It is precisely the same word used in Philippians 1:27 – “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

The Christian is NEVER to stand still in relation to growth and service, but ever to stand fast as to faith, hope, love and the gospel!

What should the believer stand firm in?

They were to moor their spiritual lives to the unchanging truths of the gospel. Though there were many “enemies of the cross” (3:18) who would seek their destruction, they were to remember their “citizenship in heaven”, their glorious future, and the reality of the resurrection (3:20-21).

Paul’s command was simple: DO NOT DEFECT; do not turn to the left or the right; stay the course; Run the race; Persevere in the fight of faith.

The Bible is replete with commands to remain steadfast, and there are many promises made to those who endure.

James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Hebrews 10:36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

2 Timothy 2:12 If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;

Revelation 3:11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

Since a glorious future awaits the believer (3:20-21), let us press on and remain steadfast until He returns.

Unity in Diversity

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Philippians 4:2-3

Let me begin this third point with a shocking statement. Are you ready for this….?

The church is not inoculated from disagreements, disunity and dissent! All Christians are humans and like families, have tussles. Believers are still living in the flesh, and where people are involved, there will be problems.

James wrote:What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (James 4:1).

One thing that we can all be assured of is that pride will always be at the centre of disunity.

King Solomon wrote:By insolence [pride] comes nothing but strife…” (Proverbs 13:10).

Even the blessed church of Philippi had problems with disunity.

Paul introduces us to two individuals in that local church: “Euodia (not Euodias) and Syntyche”.

All that we know of these individuals is found in these two verses.

Let’s get the facts straight first:

  1. Pronunciation: “You-o-dear” and “Sin-ti-chee” – It is a little humorous that at the centre of this conflict is “sin” and “o dear”!
  2. These were two women at variance with each other in the church at Philippi – Some believed that they were husband and wife, but the Scripture plainly says: “help these women”.
  3. The issue(s) that existed between these women was public enough for Paul to be made aware of it in a Roman prison, and the impact was serious enough for him to include it in this epistle.
  4. The word “entreat” is used twice indicating Paul’s STRONG desire for reconciliation to take place.
  5. Paul does not join sides in this issue, but simply pleads for their unity.
  6. Paul enlists the help of an unnamed individual to assist as a mediator between these women in the Philippian church (“true companion” v.3).
  7. Both of these women have worked alongside the apostle in gospel ministry in the past.
  8. Paul calls upon these women to “agree in the Lord” not necessarily agree in every sense!
  9. Both of these women are believers and named among others who are written in the Book of Life.

That gives us the facts. Now let me throw in some possibilities and implications:

  1. Euodia and Syntyche had some significance in the Philippian church and were likely deaconesses.
  2. The issues that exist were probably not doctrinal because Paul gives no specific instruction as he does on many other occasions. It is also hard to believe Paul would beg for unity when serious doctrinal issues exist. Although I cannot be sure, it is my contention that this was a “personality issue” which resulted in serious, ongoing conflict in the church.
  3. The issue between these women is probably not as big as the impact that their broken relationship has had on the church.

It is an
utter inconsistency for those who are “in the Lord” to be at variance. Although this occurs, it must not be sustained.

The desire for unity in the church is not only a Pauline notion.

Jesus prayed for unity in His church:

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11)

Peter encouraged unity in the church:

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8)

Paul appealed for unity in the church:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Cor.1:10)

David knew the Value of Unity:

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

Biblical Illustrations of Reconciliation or an Attitude of Forgiveness:

1. Jacob and Esau – Jacob had deceived his father into giving him the blessing which was rightfully Esaus. He also operated as an opportunist and convinced his brother to sell his birthright.

Esau had every reason to hate his brother and even exact vengeance on him in the form of death. However, instead of operating with this attitude, Genesis 33:4 says, “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”

2. Joseph and his brethrenThey sold him into slavery. He was left in a prison for years. When God allowed their paths to cross, Joseph did not exact revenge on them. Genesis 45:15 says, “And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them”.

3. Jesus at the crucifixion – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

4. Stephen at his death – “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).


Disagreements, conflicts, hurts and offences are part of life and as a church we have and will continue to experience them. To help us work through these matters, I have produced a few questions and comments for us to consider.

Question 1

Is there a brother or sister in the Lord from whom you are estranged? I’m not asking whose at fault! I am asking whether an issue exists.

Remember, it is NEVER ok for disunity to exists between brethren.

Question 2

Am I willing to initiate reconciliation despite where the fault lies and regardless of how I think the other party will respond?

In other words, will I humble myself and be obedient to the command of Christ to be unified with the brethren?

Question 3

Can I absorb this issue in love and relegate it to the category of trivial without it having any impact on the relationship?

This requires honesty and a searching of the heart. Lots of people say “I’ll just cover this issue in love, but never do!

Question 4

If I say nothing, will this issue have ongoing repercussions to our fellowship? Grudges, bitterness, critical spirit, etc.

Question 5

Is this a biblical issue or a personality conflict? E.G. a man with long hair vs. clothes that don’t match. E.G. foul language vs. jokes that aren’t funny.

Question 6

Is this issue an offence which needs confrontation according to Matthew 18? Is this sin in the life of a brother or sister as defined by the Scripture?

Question 7

Is this “feelings-based” or fact-based? E.G. “I feel like you don’t like me” etc.

Question 8

Is this issue petty? Does it really matter?

Question 9

Have I prayed and searched my own heart for pride and bitterness? What is my motivation for confronting this person? To help them see how wrong they are?

Question 10

Am I willing to forgive the faults, flaws and offences motivated by Christ’s forgiveness of me (Ephesians 4:32)?

Question 11

Am I willing to suffer injustice and false accusation for the greater cause of unity and the furtherance of the gospel?

Question 12

Post-Reconciliation: Can I worship the Lord alongside the brother or sister with whom I have been reconciled? In other words, have all offences, sins, differences of opinion etc. been absorbed in the love of God?

Dealing with Issues in Practical Terms:

I don’t want to be too prescriptive. Here is a general “cheat-sheet” for restoration and reconciliation and they are all based upon Scripture principles and precepts.

  • Recognise the fragmentation – something is wrong.
    • Maybe a snide comment, an angry glare, or something else.
  • Seek the wisdom of God in prayer and in the Scripture.
    • Do not spring into action, fall on your knees!
  • Consider your ways and determine the state of your soul (inner man).
    • Take inventory of your own spiritual life (check for logs and specks).
  • Begin to identify any relationship breakdowns – find the roots (not the tree).
    • Don’t let your “feelings” govern this aspect!
  • Humbly and lovingly approach the individual.
  • Be swift to hear and slow to anger.
  • Speak the truth in love.
  • Enlist the help of a godly, unbiased mediator.
  • Sincerely seek forgiveness and restoration.
  • Worship together.

Let us be always ready to reconcile. Always ready to work through issues in love and humility. Always concerned with the testimony of Christ in His church. Keeping short accounts with Christ and one another.