Marriage (2): a warning from John MacArthur

Marriage (2): a warning from John MacArthur

A year or so ago, when asked in a Q&A what authority a pastor has, John MacArthur answered “no authority.” Pastors have “no authority.” Explaining, he continued:

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.

Catch that word “mediate.” Jesus does not mediate His rule and authority through the pastor. The Word of God is what Jesus uses to lead the flock and sheep. He doesn’t mediate His authority through the shepherd, but through the Bible.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, denying the pastor’s authority is to contradict the very Word of God Pastor MacArthur Is zealous to guard.

It is no humiliation of the Word for a pastor to mediate Christ’s rule over the Church by commanding a family not to remove food and water from their elderly father who has had a stroke and is not dying. It is no humiliation of the Word of God for the elders to discipline that man’s son if he refuses to heed his pastor and murders his father by withholding food from him. It was no humiliation of the Word when the Westminster Divines in their Larger Catechism applied the Sixth Commandment to the life of the Church declaring “neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life” to be murder.

When John MacArthur repeatedly states that pastors have no authority, we do well to remember the Westminster Divines anticipate his shirking of his duty when they declare superiors “lessening their authority” a sin against the Fifth Commandment.

Pastor MacArthur is in violation of the Fifth Commandment by his words lessening his own pastoral authority as well as the pastoral authority of others. By implication, he is also lessening the authority of elders, thereby discouraging all the faithful elders who fulfill their duty to mediate the authority of God’s Word to their flock and sheep.

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)

But what I’m interested in here is to show how Pastor MacArthur’s words endanger husbands. Scripture commands the people of the church to submit to and obey their pastors and elders just as it commands wives to submit to and obey their husbands. If the pastor has no authority over the church, by necessary implication the husband has no authority over his wife. Take Pastor MacArthur’s words and apply them to a wife asking how much authority her husband has? These are Pastor MacArthur’s words changed to apply to the sphere of marriage; emphases mine:

Um noneNo authority. Your husband has no authority in your life, personally. His experience doesn’t give him any authority. His knowledge doesn’t give him any authority. His education doesn’t give him any authority. Um, he has no authority.

His position doesn’t give him any authority. His title doesn’t give him any authority. Only the Word of God has authority. Christ is the Head of the home, and He mediates His rule in the home through His Word.

Husbands have no authority. Husbands don’t have authority beyond the Scripture. Husbands can never exceed what is written—First Corinthians 4:6 2. To do that is to become, Paul says, arrogant, and to regard himself as superior. Husbands 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 husband. We need to be reminded as husbands even though the Lord has lifted us up and has given us this kind of responsibility, we possess no personal authority.

Uh, if your husband is telling you what God has said in His Word, that has authority, right? But a husband cannot exceed what is written. Your husband can’t tell you about your life. He he can give you wisdom if you ask, but he may have no more wisdom than somebody else. Uh, you as a wife would get more wisdom on many many issues out of your beloved mother on things than you would get out of your husband. But your mother is not your husband. Still your mother has spiritual insight and spiritual wisdom. And if you ask for advice or wisdom, in many cases your mother’s would exceed your husband’s.

So the husband 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?

This is the sin the Westminster Larger Catechism warns against in its exposition of the Fifth Commandment. It is the superior “lessening his authority.” Husbands must not lessen their authority.

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About The Author

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Tim Bayly has been senior pastor of Clearnote Church, Bloomington since 1996. Married to Mary Lee, the Baylys have five children and twenty-something grandchildren. Tim's book on fatherhood is titled "Daddy Tried" and he is co-author of a book on homosexuality titled "The Grace of Shame.’

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