The reverence they had for the role of the pastor in 16th century Geneva would sound alien to most churchgoers today. Calvin and his Venerable Company sought to protect the sacred role as a calling that was not to be taken lightly.
They also wielded an extraordinary authority over the people. The local magistrates were on board with the Reformed Christianization of Geneva. The pastors met and worked together in their oversight of the congregations. For parishioners, going to church really wasn’t very optional. The role of the pastor was central to their way of life and you heeded what the pastor said. Pastoral authority was not nominal.
Yet Calvin understood the danger that pastoral authority brings to every pastor. That danger comes when we make the church about us rather than the One to Whom the Church belongs.
The Church is Jesus’ bride and we dare not act like we’re the groom. Here’s how Calvin put it in his commentary on John 3:
Similarly, Christ does not call his ministers to the teaching office that they may subdue the church and dominate it but that he may make use of their faithful labors to unite it to himself. It is a great and splendid thing for men to be put in authority over the Church to represent the the person of the Son of God. They are like the friends attached to the bridegroom to celebrate the wedding with him, though they must observe the difference between themselves and what belongs to the bridegroom. It all comes to this, that whatever excellence teachers may have should not stand in the way of Christ alone having the dominion in his Church or ruling it alone by his Word….
Those who win the Church over to themselves rather than to Christ faithlessly violate the marriage which they ought to honor. And the greater the honor that Christ confers on us when he puts his bride in our charge, the more wicked is our faithlessness if we do not study to defend his rights.
(Scott Manetsch. Calvin’s Company of Pastors. 73)
Pastors hold authority in the Church but it is derived authority. The church I serve is not mine, it’s Christ’s. I’m a steward. When I make church about me I am violating Christ’s marriage. We must zealously protect her and nourish her but for Christ and not unto ourselves.When I make church about me I am violating Christ's marriage. Click To Tweet
Here are a few questions to ask ourselves:
- If my congregation were surveyed, would most of them report that I have a domineering personality?
- Are my sermons filled with accounts of how well I exemplify the Christian life?
- Are my sermons devoid of rebuke and correction when that’s what the church needs?
- Am I accustomed to getting my way in the church with little questioning?
- Do I support my decisions with Scripture handled properly?
- Do I take the time to demonstrate that the points in my sermons are coming from the text in a responsible way, or do I expect them to simply trust me because of my office?