By David McClister
Our highest respect should be reserved for God’s word. And if we respect it properly, we should then take it into our hands and hearts and read it and study it for ourselves.
I have had many conversations with people on religious topics in which the response to something I said was “well, my preacher (or pastor) says . . .” I have even heard some Christians say things similar to this. Please consider the problems with this statement.
First, let’s take the words “my preacher.” These words confess the religious pluralism of our society. There are literally hundreds of different churches in our society, each with its own peculiar set of doctrines or practices and many of them contradicting each other. With so many different churches teaching so many different things, it is possible to find a church that says and does just what you want. Of course, what suits one person may not suit others, and so people talk about “my church” and “your church.”
This talk about “my preacher” or “my pastor” is a part of the phenomenon religious pluralism, but it also confesses a basic reluctance (refusal?) to read the Bible and to treat the Bible as the final authority in religious matters. I have learned that many people would rather not read the Bible for themselves. This may be for any number of reasons. Perhaps they think they cannot understand it. Perhaps they just do not want to go to the “trouble” it takes to study. Whatever the reason, many people would prefer to ask “their preacher” rather than open their Bibles to find out what God says about something. In this way preachers have come to be seen as experts whose opinions are binding and final. For many people, if the preacher says it, they believe it. If the preacher says it, it must be what the Bible teaches.
The problem with this should be obvious. God’s word is infallible, but preachers are not. Preachers can be opinionated, ill-informed, mistaken, prejudiced, etc. just like anyone else. The world is full of “preachers” who do not know (or care) what the Bible says but who use their position to promote their opinions with an air of authority. There are also serious, well-intentioned, careful preachers who study their Bibles long and hard before they say anything, but who sometimes are mistaken in their views. The point is that no one should simply trust his preacher to tell him the truth. The truth is in God’s word and nowhere else. A preacher may help others to understand God’s word, but the preacher is not the source of the truth. Everything he says must be subjected to the scrutiny of God’s word.
The people in Berea were excellent examples of what we are talking about. When Paul came and preached the gospel to them, their reaction was to open their Bibles and compare what Paul said to the truth in God’s book. “They received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). When they found that Paul’s message coincided with God’s word, then they accepted it, but not before then.
If God’s truth is in his book, the Bible, then why do we need preachers? God, in his wisdom, knows that people will listen before they will read. So God has appointed that those who wish can work for him by speaking the message and truths of his word to others. But this does not make the preacher a substitute for the word. It does not make the preacher a substitute for reading your Bible yourself. A preacher is commanded by God to study and be an accurate Bible student (2 Tim 2:15), and those who teach things contrary to the written word will be account- able for it. Even so, a preacher is still a fallible human being, and the only word you may trust with your life is God’s, not the preacher’s. While the preacher’s message must come from the word of God and nowhere else, but what he says should still be judged by the word of God before it is accepted.
There is always the temptation to let the preacher study the Bible for us, to trust his opinions rather than look it up in the Bible for ourselves. I fear that this is the case among some of my own brethren. God forbid that the salvation of anyone’s soul is up to what some preacher says! God forbid that any one of us should be content simply to accept what a preacher tells us, that we should trust him completely to speak the truth 100% of the time on every subject! We must not put our trust in men, but in God who alone speaks absolute truth. A preacher speaks the truth only when his words coincide with God’s.
The purpose of this article is not to encourage disrespect for those who preach the word of God, nor even suspicion. Most gospel preachers I know are diligent, serious, sincere men who want nothing other than to speak only the truth every time they preach and teach. Instead I wish to encourage us not to think of the preacher more highly than we ought (1 Cor 4:6). A preacher’s words are not infallible, his opinions are not completely reliable. Our highest respect should be reserved for God’s word. And if we respect it properly, we should then take it into our.