Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Text without a Context, Pt. 4 | Dr. Bob Payne

Although this study could go on ad infinitum, this will be my final installment to the "Text without a Context" series. The passages for this installment are found in the Old Testament:

"Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm." (Ps. 105:15; 1 Chon. 16:22)

Since I began in the ministry, I have been extremely concerned not only with the misuse of these passages, but the unbiblical teaching and attitude concerning the pastorate by those who misuse them. I believe that in many cases both interpretive and doctrinal error go hand-in-hand with the scriptures under our consideration.

"Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm" is usually erroneously applied in this way: "Since the pastor is God's anointed man and God's prophet, no one has any right to question a pastor as to his morals, ethics, or teachings. God plainly tells us in His Word to 'touch not mine anointed.' All discipline of 'God's man' should be left to God Himself." Roy Branson, Jr. reflects this unbiblical view in his book, Dear Preacher, Please Quit! (pp. 33-34):

We're saying that if a man of God is out of the will of God, leave him to God to take care of; and believe it, God will take care of him. One may say, "Well, what if he's tearing up our church?" Either live with it or go to another church, but don't ever try to get rid of the preacher. You may be right and the preacher may be wrong, but, if he's called of the Lord, that's God's man and we will tell you God will take care of him. When you try to do it, you put yourself in the position of Saul's Amalekite.

At the end of the chapter Dr. Branson gives an illustration of a young lady who approached him following a service. She said that she was having an affair with a well-known local pastor. Roy Branson ends his story (and chapter) with these disturbing words:

What did the author do? He prayed with the young woman and she sought and received God's forgiveness. He told no one, not even his wife, about the problem. Leave God's man to God to straighten out.

By the way, the above affair was ended because the young lady got right with God and refused to continue it. [Nothing is said of the pastor's repentance, OR his resignation!!!]

Finally, let us be sure we understand that God put no qualifications, no "unless" or "if" on the warning, "Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm."

As I stated before, I believe that the position articulated above abounds in both contextual and doctrinal error:

If we are to set these passages in their proper context, two questions need to be answered: 1) To whom does "mine anointed" and "my prophets" refer? and, 2) What does it mean to "touch" them or "harm" them? The contexts of our passages make the answers to these questions plain (both contexts are very similar). Notice whom God is addressing in Psalm 105:6-15:

6 O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen. 7 He is the LORD our God: his judgments are in all the earth. 8 He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. 9 Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; 10 And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant: 11 Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance: 12 When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it. 13 When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people; 14 He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; 15 Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

According to vv. 9-12 the "anointed" and "prophets" of v. 15 are a reference to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. It is also apparent from vv. 13-14 that "touching" them, or "harming" them refers to protection from physical danger. J. Barton Payne's comments on 1 Chronicles 15:18-22 shed light on why God referred to these men as He did:

The titles by which the patriarchs are described possess, at this early period, more generalized meanings than those they came to have later. They are called "anointed" . . . , in the sense of being set apart by God's Spirit--a phrase elsewhere used specifically for prophets (1 Kings 19:16), priests (Exod 29:7), and kings (1 Sam 2:35), with whom the presence of the Spirit was symbolized by a visible anointing with oil, and ultimately for Jesus (Christ = Messiah = "anointed"; 1 Sam 2:10; Ps 2:2; Acts 10:38).

The patriarchs are also called "prophets," in the sense of being recipients of God's special revelation--a title later used specifically for those who proclaimed God's revealed will . . . . Abraham was thus designated a "prophet," at the time of God's special protection against Abimelech, the Philistine king of Gerar (Gen 20:7); others of the patriarchs did, however, make specific predictions (e.g., Jacob, Gen 48:19; 49:1). (From the Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 391.)

To apply this passage to the modern pastor is wrong. The modern pastor is not equivalent to any of the patriarchs, nor is he the same as God's covenant people, Israel.1 Furthermore, it is incorrect to say that the pastor is equivalent to the king of Israel (another comparison often made as "God's anointed"). Perhaps a very broad application might be made for all believers2 that God "looks out for" and protects His own. To go any further than this application twists the context and violates a proper dispensational interpretation of the scriptures.

It is also interesting to note that the phrase "touch not mine anointed" has little to do with verbal attacks or accusations of wrong-doing. This would be Branson's primary interpretation, as well as the interpretation of many of the modern charismatic false teachers. As I stated earlier, the primary reference of "touch not" and "harm" is to protection from physical danger.

There are some erroneous doctrinal implications behind these "twisted texts." In my experience those who hold that Ps. 105:15, and 1 Chon. 16:22 may be applied to pastors of local churches also hold to the following unbiblical teachings:3

"The pastor is the sovereign monarch and dictator of the local church."
Is this true? What does the Bible have to say?

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. (1 Cor. 3:5 N.A.S.V.)

2 Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. ( 1 Peter 5:2-4 N.A.S.V.)

Notice that Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:5 calls those who minister "servants." This is far from the attitude of a man who considers himself to be the sovereign of the local church. The Bible knows nothing of the unbiblical, man-made distinction between "clergy" and "laity" which places the pastor on a higher, more exalted level than his people. Our Lord taught us that ministry is not something executed from a lofty position above others, but it is something performed from the "low" position of Christ-like humility (Matt. 20:26-28) as the Lord's servant.

The 1 Peter passage is also instructive. Notice that Peter does not tell us that the pastor is a monarch, a king, or a dictator. He indicates in 1 Peter 5:2 that he is a "shepherd." Peter goes on to tell us in v. 3 that a shepherd should not be a man who "lords it over" his sheep, but instead, he should be an example to the flock. The Friberg Greek-English Lexicon defines the Greek word translated "lording it over" (katakurieuo): "of exercising dominion for one's own advantage lord it over, rule over, domineer over (MK 10.42)." Clearly, the scriptures indicate to us that the pastor is not to be a dictator, but one who leads by example.

Having said all of this, it is important not to over-emphasize the "leading by example" aspect of the pastorate. By so doing, some have weakened the office of the pastor, and have relegated the shepherd to a hired hand of the flock who does as he is told. This too is a distorted view of the pastorate. Once again, the Word of God is clear in this area as well:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer [episkope], it is a fine work he desires to do. (1 Timothy 3:1 N.A.S.V.) Let the elders that rule [administrate or preside over the affairs of the local church] well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17) Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

According to the previous scriptures the pastor rules and presides over the entire ministry of the local church (both the "spiritual" and "material"). His position demands respect, submission and obedience. In spite of this he is still not the dictator and king of the local church. My plea is for BALANCE. Dr. Clay Nuttall brings some clarity to this issue:

A real danger also exists in not seeing his [the pastor's] administration in balance. . . . It has been soundly preached that a bishop's administration and rule are by example and precept. That is true. Woe to the pastor who does not preach the Word. It alone is the final Authority and Guidebook. Shame on the pastor who lords it over God's heritage. Let us all deride dictatorial self-centeredness . . . .

Let not man say, however, that the pastor's leadership is limited to his influence and example, or to the simple leadership of teaching as verbalization and integration into his own actions and the actions of others. To take from him responsibility and authority, to enforce, by rule, Bible commands in the local church is not an attack on him but on Christ.

The Lord Himself imposed that oversight (1 Pet. 5:1-4) and the pastor will answer directly to the Chief Shepherd for exercise of it. The bishop is to be obeyed (Heb. 13:7, 17) and that implies much more than being an example. He is to rule (1 Tim. 5:17) and anything less than that is a failure. Some have played grammatical games and contextual shuffling to deny the Lord's instruction to undershepherds. Those actions are beneath the dignity of the office. (The Weeping Church, pp. 103-104).

"The pastor is to be untouched by accusation or discipline, even if the accusations are true."
Once again, we must ask ourselves: "Is this a biblical teaching." No, it isn't! Based on this teaching a pastor could never be put out of the pulpit, even in cases of doctrinal heresy or immorality. This is contrary to the Word of God. Pastors must be held accountable for their actions as well as their soundness of doctrine. We need to go no further than 1 Timothy 5:19 to demonstrate this: "Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses." Dr. Robert Gromacki was correct in his comments about this verse: "As members of a church, elders are not immune to the procedure of discipline. The same standards apply to them as well as to the layman4 ."

Notice in v. 19 that Paul tells Timothy to "receive not an accusation." Literally the thrust of the Greek here is "stop receiving an accusation." Evidentially, Paul is trying to stop a practice that was already in process, where an individual would bring an accusation to Timothy against a pastor. Timothy was not to entertain an accusation or begin the discipline process unless the sin could be substantiated by two or three witnesses.5 If then a serious sin were substantiated, the pastor should be disciplined. Unlike what some are teaching in our day, the Bible clearly instructs us that the pastor should be disciplined for things such as doctrinal and moral perversion. In this way, the pastor is "touchable."

The scriptures should never be twisted and doctrine manufactured for one's own benefit. It is my fear that many men who hold to the "touch not mine anointed" view of the pastorate have done just that. The old nature, full of pride and arrogance desperately wants to justify a dictatorial leadership style. The carnal man finds comfort in the statement: "God says never to question anything that I ever do or say." May God help us to find a biblical balance in our view of the pastor's leadership in the local church.

1. Confusing the church with Israel can lead to further doctrinal error, particularly eschatological error.
2. 1 John 2:20 (N.A.S.V.) tells us that all believers are anointed: " But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know."
3. Although this may not be true in every case.
4. Excuse the term ("layman"), but we understand what he means.
5. A principle very familiar to students of the Old Testament. Notice Deut. 19:15: "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established."