Pastor Jeffrey Khoo
Recently, a member raised the following questions: “(1) Is the pastor the head of the church? (2) Is the pastor the final authority and has the final say in church matters whether he is in the right or in the wrong? (3) If members disagree with the pastor’s stand or practice, even if the pastor is wrong, should such members leave the church? (4) Is the pastor “the anointed one” and hence untouchable even if he is in the wrong? (5) Are pastors or ordained ministers the only ones who can interpret and teach the Scriptures correctly?” I humbly wish to discuss the biblical response to such matters.
Who Is the Head of the Church?
The pastor is not the Head of the Church, Christ is (Eph 5:23, Col 1:18). The Lord Jesus Christ is the Good and Great Shepherd of the sheep (John 10:11, Heb 13:20). The Lord is the one who appoints pastors as His under-shepherds to assist in the building up of His Church, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11–12). For this purpose, Constitution Article 13.5 reads, “The Pastor shall have the general oversight of the spiritual life, regular service, ministration of the Sacraments of the Church and the ordination of Elders.”
Who Is the Final Authority?
The pastor is not the final authority on church matters. The sole, supreme, final authority of our faith and practice is the Holy Scriptures. The Westminster Confession of Faith I.8 states, “The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them.” In line with this, Constitution Article 184.108.40.206 states, “We believe in the divine, Verbal Plenary Inspiration (Autographs) and Verbal Plenary Preservation of the Scriptures (Apographs) in the original languages, their consequent inerrancy and infallibility, and as the perfect Word of God, the Supreme and final authority in faith and life (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Pet 1:20–21, Ps 12:6–7, Matt 5:18, 24:35).
True Life BPC came out of Life BPC. In the Life BPC Statement of Faith, there is only the doctrine of Verbal Plenary Inspiration (VPI), but we have added Verbal Plenary Preservation (VPP) to make the doctrine of the Bible complete. What is the point of believing in an inspired Bible that is not preserved and we do not have it today in all its fullness to the jot and tittle (Matt 5:18), and cannot say the Bible is 100% perfect without any mistake, that the perfect Bible is somewhere out there, but we don’t know where? The Rev Dr Timothy Tow—the founding pastor of Life BPC—believed not only in VPI but also VPP. He said to believe in VPI without VPP is illogical. Not only is it illogical, it is against the Scriptures for Jesus said three times, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matt 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33). But the Assistant Pastors, Elders and Deacons who opposed him called it a “new doctrine” and a “heresy”. There was no consensus. Sadly, the founding pastor, after 53 years of faithful service, had to resign and leave the church, for he could not take their lambasting any more. Pastor Tow then founded True Life BPC in 2003, and that is why we are here today and still here by the grace of God.
A “new” doctrine or practice is not new if it is founded on the good old Book and in sound orthodox theology.
What if Members Disagree with the Pastor?
If a member disagrees with the Pastor, the member could approach the Pastor personally to seek answers to his queries, in the remembrance that church members should do their best to maintain the peace and unity of the church. All members, when admitted to membership, sign an undertaking:
I, [name], do hereby solemnly declare as follows:
(1) I fully espouse the Statement of Faith and the system of doctrine as expressed in the TLBPC Constitution, and promise never to undermine these by any action whatsoever on my part.
(2) I submit whole-heartedly to the spiritual authority & discipline of TLBPC as exercised by her BoE (and pastor, in particular), and undertake never to undermine the same by any willful action whatsoever on my part.
(3) I promise never to disrupt the unity and peace of TLBPC by any action whatsoever on my part.
(4) I promise to support the Lord’s work in and through TLBPC by my tithing and freewill gifts.
(5) I undertake so to live my life hereafter as to honour and glorify my only Saviour and Lord—Jesus Christ, God the Son.
The above was drafted and decided by the Session in the early years. In #3, a member promises “never to disrupt the unity and peace of TLBPC by any action whatsoever on my part.” And this is in keeping with what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus, “that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1–3). Members should not be sowing seeds of discord to cause division in the church, “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” (Prov 6:16–19).
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps 133:1). When there is peace and unity in the Church, the Church can accomplish much for the Lord.
Is the Pastor “Anointed” of the Lord?
The pastor is “anointed” in the sense that he has been called of God to full-time ministry of the Word (Eph 3:7–8) and has gone through intensive theological training and preparation (2 Tim 2:15), and when recognised by his fellow ministers to have the gift necessary for the ministry after due observation and examination, is ordained as a Minister of the Gospel by the laying on of hands (1 Tim 4:14) and elected as Pastor by the church to feed the flock with the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:20).
Psalm 105:15 says, “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” In Israel, those who were anointed of the Lord were the prophets (Ps 105:15, 1 Kgs 19:16), the priests (Exod 40:13, Lev 4:3,5,16), and the kings (1 Sam 10:1, 15:1, 16:13). God appointed them to lead the nation of Israel under His sovereign rule. David who was pursued by King Saul was mindful of this and did not kill Saul when he had the chance, even though his men encouraged him to do so. “And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.” (1 Sam 24:6).
Can this be applied to the pastors and teachers of God’s Word today? 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” Hebrews 13:17, “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.” However, God’s Word also warns us that pastors should expect to be despised and rejected, for as the biblical saying goes, “a prophet hath no honour in his own country” (John 4:44 cf Matt 13:57, Mark 6:4, Luke 4:24). Our Lord Himself was despised by His own townsfolk, and had to leave His hometown to serve elsewhere.
Is a pastor “untouchable”? The pastor is not untouchable. If he has erred morally or doctrinally, he is subject to church discipline. 1 Timothy 5:19–20 says, “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” Constitution Article 13.4 states, “The Pastor, Associate Pastor, Assistant Pastor, Supervisory Pastor and Advisory Pastor shall be subject to the discipline of the Board of Elders in accordance with the procedures in the Bible-Presbyterian Book of Discipline.”
Are Pastors to Interpret the Bible Correctly?
Pastors, by virtue of their calling from God, their many years of study and training in God’s Word and theology, their spiritual gifting by the Holy Spirit, their examination and ordination by fellow ministers are vested with the authority to preach the Gospel and teach the Word of God truthfully and faithfully, freely and fully, without fear or favour of men.
A pastor who preaches “correctly” to please men is no pastor at all, “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” (Ga1 1:10). The Apostles said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29).
2 Timothy 4:1–3 is often used as a charge to newly ordained ministers, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
Pastors are required to keep on studying God’s Word for God’s Word is inexhaustible, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15). A studious and devout pastor should be able to preach and teach the Scriptures correctly and accurately.
What about the Members of the Church?
Members young and old are required to understand and interpret the Bible correctly too. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet 2:2). Members who are young in faith should seek to grow in spiritual knowledge and maturity and be able eventually to partake of the meat of God’s Word, “For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Heb 5:13–14).
When both pastors and members are spiritually minded and mature in the Word, having the same mind and heart and full of the Spirit, the church will be united and harmonious and can do much for God’s kingdom and His glory.
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