An associate pastor recently wrote in asking for help with a challenge that he received from someone who claimed that the Apostle Paul was an authoritarian. The person who brought the challenge asserted that this is justification for church leaders to therefore also be authoritarians because they are simply following by example.
The associate pastor had previously announced to the senior pastor and church staff that he was leaving because the senior pastor was dictatorial, heavy handed and had no real accountability. From what I could gather it seemed that the person who brought the challenge was trying to correct the associate pastor, likely to get him to submit and come back under the political chain of power in the church. I sent the answer he needed and I have included it here below edited and expanded in more of an article format:
Plain and simple, no, the Apostle Paul was not an authoritarian, not at all. Paul simply upheld and conveyed the authority and commands of Christ. He did not establish any personal policies, rules or regulations nor did he further any personal visions or agendas. He had no selfish ambitions and he did not create lists of legalistic dos and don’ts for Christians to follow. The Apostle Paul simply upheld Christ’s vision for the church and furthered God’s agenda. (If you think that you might have some examples from Scripture to refute any of this, please read this whole article first).
Further, everything that we know for sure (Biblically) that Paul said and did has become Scripture and no one today can make that claim. This is a very important point to silence those who think that Paul gave personal commands. Some may argue, “But what about when Paul spoke in first person and used the word “I” when expressing commands?” Well, regardless of how the wording may appear, even with Paul sometimes speaking in the first person (“I”), seeming perhaps as if he was acting independently, we know this is not the case. Why? Because every command and admonition that Paul gave was recorded in the Bible as being valid and so those commands and admonitions are obviously the will of God as conveyed through Paul. Otherwise those things would not have been included in and validated by the Holy Scriptures. This means that Paul was simply conveying God’s commands to us even if it appears that he did so in some kind of personal way.
All this said, an even more insurmountable hurdle for those who claim that church leaders can be authoritarian dictators today is the fact that this view does not square at all with the Bible’s express commands and admonitions to the church that pastors/elders (and anyone else in the church for that matter) should not lord over (control) the flock of God. Why? As I stated in other articles:
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.). 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). 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 as master at the same time. I have expounded on this subject in depth in a number of articles on the website.
A Misunderstood Genius of the Faith
The Apostle Paul is often very misunderstood due to the common practice of his words being taken out of context or due to poorly translated renderings of some of the things that he wrote under the inspiration of God. Paul was not a women-silencing head-covering legalist or tyrannical dictator as some people think. He taught the exact opposite just as the related Scriptures and the underlying Greek proves out.
Sadly, it is due to this same kind of misunderstanding that some people today are heretically throwing out Paul’s writings, calling him a woman-hating bigot and even wanting to rip his books out of every Bible under the false claim that there is no way on earth that those writings could possibly be inspired of God. Well, what they are misinterpreting out of context is not what Paul wrote at all and so I can understand why they have such a misguided and dangerous passion.
But the truth is Paul was not remotely a women-hating bigot. True renderings of his words in proper context demonstrate the exact opposite. He expressed (actually God expressed through him) equal love and respect towards both genders, recognizing the inherent strengths and weaknesses that both genders have.
Paul’s writings are very much inspired of God and so are just as valid as any other Scriptures. And, if someone throws out the writings of Paul, then that would include the book of Romans, Ephesians, etc., which means that the majority of the doctrines of salvation, the Roman’s road and the path to eternal life would be, for the most part, entirely eliminated from the Bible. That would be pure heresy.
What About Moses, Peter and Others? Weren’t They Authoritarians?
I have heard similar arguments regarding Moses, Peter and other inspired Bible writers. To avoid repeating myself, let me suffice it to say that essence of everything I wrote about the Apostle Paul concerning his personal authority also applies to Moses, Peter and others.
It is actually the authority of Scripture that some people confuse as being the authority of various inspired Bible writers (God being the author of course and writing through these men) and hence some people try to emulate an incorrect view of Paul, Peter, Moses, etc. and wield power like they think they did. But these men did not wield any power. They only upheld the power of God, the Word of God. This view is totally in keeping with the Bible’s express commands to not lord over (control) God’s people. The contrary view totally conflicts with these commands. Good men and women of God admonish, plead, suggest, warn and guide, but they do not lord and control.
At times in the Scriptures it may seem like Paul and others personally dispensed disciplinary action against heretics or those who committed other grievous sin. But even in these cases Paul and the others were not ruling. They simply conveyed what God had already ruled. They only asserted what God’s had already ordained as being proper disciplinary action.
The main difference between Moses, Paul, Peter and Christians today is God inspired and empowered those men to write much of the Scriptures. God is not inspiring us to write any Scriptures today. This is irrefutable because the canon of Scripture is closed and the number of books in the Bible is complete. This puts Moses, Paul and other Bible writers in a completely different category or league compared to us. This is not elitism. It is a fact. This is just an inescapable reality and those who will not embrace this fact likely lack the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. These men were far more in tune and heard from God more directly and far clearer than Christians can hear from God (directly) today. Comparatively, today we receive our instructions (in a sense indirectly) from God through the Bible and we are led by the Holy Spirit into all truth as that truth is clearly expressed in the Bible. It can be said we are still hearing directly from God, but through the Scriptures. But we still have the Bible as our go-between whereas the Bible writers heard directly from God with no go-between. In some cases it seems clear that they also heard from God through existing Scriptures such as when certain inspired New Testament writers would quote Old Testament passages.
Some argue that Paul and others inspired Bible writers set the tone and standard for what we read in the Bible. The reality is those men did not set the tone or standard for anything let alone for the church. They conveyed God’s tone and standard, again as proven by the fact that Scriptures were being written through these men and the fact that these are Bible characters whose lives are also recorded for our instruction.
The bottom line is ungodly power mongers attempt to sit in the seat of Moses and/or Paul, Peter, etc. and claim to have the same authority. But these men did not have any authority in and of themselves nor did they act of themselves. Again, they simply conveyed God’s messages just as God spoke those messages to them. And again, no one today can make that claim. True prophets simple convey God’s Word. False prophets speak the thing the Lord has not spoken and yet claim that God spoke it. Those today who claim to have authority in and of themselves are speaking the thing the Lord has not spoken.
Lastly and sadly, men who would be kings grasp at whatever straws they can get hold of to try to gain power or remain in power. But thankfully there are two necessary component parts to the problem. If one part of the problem is missing, an explosion of abuse cannot occur. Men who would be kings need a people who would have a king. When the people refuse to allow these men to become kings, then these men remain powerless and abuse remains at bay. If people who want a king cannot find someone willing to become a king over them, but instead end up with a good teacher who teaches them the truth on these matters, that people remains safe despite their ungodly aspirations for a king which are hopefully short lived.
May God give us more good men in the church who refuse to be made kings and may God give us more discerning Christians who refuse to follow such kings.