Pastor John MacArthur’s two most serious errors
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
There are two related errors that Pastor John MacArthur promotes. Given his very high profile among Protestant believers in the English-speaking world, both need to be manhandled and dispatched so both shepherds and sheep will not be led astray, but will take warning.
One of these errors is on full display in this 2017 video of a Q&A session posted today over at Sanityville in which Pastor MacArthur is asked:
How much authority does a pastor have in the lives of his congregants?
This is his full answer (emphases mine):
Um none. No authority. I have no authority in this church, personally. My experience doesn’t give me any authority. My knowledge doesn’t give me any authority. My education doesn’t give me any authority. Um, I have no authority.
My position doesn’t give me any authority. My title doesn’t give me any authority. That’s why I don’t like titles. Only the Word of God has authority. Christ is the Head of the Church, and He mediates His rule in the Church through His Word.
I have no authority. I don’t have authority beyond the Scripture. I can never exceed what is written—First Corinthians 4:6. To do that is to become, Paul says, arrogant, and to regard yourself as superior. I have nothing to say to you that puts any demand on you if it isn’t from the Word of God.
And and I, you’re you’re probably talking out of some experience where you felt that some undue authority was exercised over you or somebody you know by a pastor. We need to be reminded as pastors even though the Lord has lifted us up and has given us this kind of responsibility, we possess no personal authority.
Uh, if I am telling you what God has said in His Word, that has authority, right? But I cannot exceed what is written. I can’t tell you about your life. I I can give you wisdom if you ask, but I may have no more wisdom than somebody else. Uh, you you would get more wisdom on many many issues out of my beloved Patricia on things than you would get out of me. But she’s not in the pulpit. But she has spiritual insight and spiritual wisdom. And if you ask for advice or wisdom, hers in many cases would exceed mine.
So the pastor in himself has no authority. Listen to what Paul says, who is Paul, who is Apollos, who is Cephas? We’re nothing. It’s all of Christ. It’s all of the Holy Spirit. It’s all of the Scripture. Okay?
As I listened to this answer, it was apparent how deeply related this and the second error are. This second error is Pastor MacArthur’s consistent condemnation of preaching to the conscience by applying his text from the Word of God to His flock. I don’t present his words on this because this position of his is so well known. In fact, if you’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to his sermons as I have, you know this yourself, directly.
Pastor MacArthur never applies Scripture. He says this is the Holy Spirit’s work—not the pastors—and so many, many pastors have been confronted by his acolytes faulting them for preaching to the conscience as I have, and those pastors have Pastor MacArthur to thank for the smug declaration of our unteachable parishioners who justify their condemnation of our preaching by declaring, “It’s not your job to apply the text to us—that’s the Holy Spirit’s job!”
So now, look at the pair:
- The pastor has no authority; only Scripture has authority.
- The pastor is not to apply Scripture to the flock; that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.
There are so many things wrong with these related errors it would take a book to deal with them. Right now, we’re working on a book on the eldership and the first chapter begins with an exhortation to elders to recognize their authority and use it for the protection and sanctification of the sheep God has placed under their care.
Scripture passages could be piled upon Scripture passages proving Pastor MacArthur is wrong—badly wrong—but let’s just list three here in this brief post.
First, the Great Commission given by our Lord to His shepherds is all about authority, both His and theirs:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Note the word “therefore.” Our Master has been given all authority, and He says “therefore” indicating He is delegating His authority to us and we are to exercise His authority ourselves by going and making disciples, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything He has commanded. He has all authority and He has delegated His authority to us. This is the context for Him telling His shepherds, His pastors and elders, that He has given us the keys to the Kingdom of God and whatever we bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven (Matthew 16:9).
This is not just making disciples, then baptizing and commanding them to obey Him, but it also requires pastors and elders to discipline them, say “no” to them, admonish them, exhort them, censure and suspend them from the Lord’s table, and excommunicate them. Every single one of these duties placed on pastors and elders by God is the exercise of delegated authority.
Sadly, Pastor MacArthur could have explained all the authority he has as a pastor, then explained that it is only a delegated authority and his exercise of that authority will be judged by God at the Last Judgment. He could have explained we pastors are accountable for our abuse of authority, and that to deny we have any authority is one abuse pastors will answer for at the Last Judgment. He could have gone on at great length explaining and warning against all the abuses of authority permeating the church today, most especially conniving at the rebellion of our people by presenting ourselves as “servant leaders” who have no “personal authority” when what we really mean, but avoid saying, is that our authority is limited by Scripture.
There are a host of things Pastor MacArthur could have said which would have comforted a woman who herself, or her friend, had experienced a pastor exercising “some undue authority.” Instead, Pastor MacArthur said:
- Um none. No authority.
- I have no authority in this church, personally.
- My experience doesn’t give me any authority.
- My knowledge doesn’t give me any authority.
- My education doesn’t give me any authority.
- Um, I have no authority.
- My position doesn’t give me any authority.
- My title doesn’t give me any authority.
- Only the Word of God has authority. Christ is the Head of the Church, and He mediates His rule in the Church through His Word.
- I have no authority.
Pastor MacArthur was pitch-perfect in his response to our rebellious generation. No wonder California defies the federal government. No wonder the federal government defies God. No wonder the Supreme Court declares our Constitution contains the right to sodomite marriage.
Pastors have no authority. Only the Bible has authority, so pastors are not to preach to the conscience or apply Scripture to their flock—that’s work reserved to the Holy Spirit Only.
It’s one thing to carefully delimit the authority of pastors and elders Biblically; to hedge it about with cautions and fences and parameters declared by God in His Word. But this is not what Pastor MacArthur did and any person who claims that’s what he communicated is delusional.
One final passage of Scripture coming near the end of the New Testament:
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. (Hebrews 13:17)
As every pastor notes, this is commanding obedience to church—not familial or civil—officers. God commands us to obey and submit to our pastors and elders. On this verse, John Calvin comments:
We cannot be troublesome or disobedient to our pastors without hazarding our own salvation.
As hardly one in ten considers this, it is hence evident how great generally is the neglect of salvation; nor is it a wonder how few at this day are found who strenuously watch over the Church of God. For besides, there are very few who are like Paul, who have their mouth open when the people’s ears are closed, and who enlarge their own heart when the heart of the people is straitened. The Lord also punishes the ingratitude which everywhere prevails. Let us then remember that we are suffering the punishment of our own perverseness, whenever the pastors grow cold in their duty, or are less diligent than they ought to be.
God’s people, His sheep, should not stand for lazy pastors who refuse to exercise authority from the pulpit and in person for fear their people will not stand for it. This is a threat to their souls, says Calvin, and if it is our present state, we have ourselves to blame.
Have you been ungrateful, troublesome, or disobedient to your pastor leading him to repudiate his authority and forsake pastoral counsel and preaching to your conscience?
If so, repent. Tell him of it so he may be strengthened to once again pick up His work delegated him by the Shepherd in Chief.