By Pastor Bud Talbert
The discussion was not heated. But the gentleman was clearly resisting my admonition. He accused me and the rest of the church leadership of trying to control him and others in the church because we were expressing our opposition to their attendance at a local Pentecostal church in addition to their attendance at our church. Some of them were actually members of our church, but he was not.
His accusation gave me pause. Is that in fact what we were really trying to do? In God’s providence, at the same time this meeting took place, I was listening to an unauthorized biography of actor Tom Cruise (I am an Audible aficionado). Cruise early in his career attached himself to Scientology, and the author extensively documents the meticulous control the cult exercised over the willing actor. Clearly, I was not doing that, but were we doing something like that?
I quickly realized that the man’s accusation was patently false, and that for two reasons. First, pastors are not business owners. We are spiritual doctors, trainers, teachers. Hebrews 13:7 is an exhortation to every church attender: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” The author is telling them: Pray for your elders, the ones who have preached and taught God’s Word to you. And do that considering their faithfulness to God, which is going to give them rejoicing in heaven. And as you think about their eternal reward, imitate their faithfulness so you can secure a similar reward.
In verse 17, the author adds to that: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Here, church attenders are commanded (both present imperatives) to regard their leaders as their spiritual authorities – obey and submit to them. I regard what they say very seriously. God commands me to. Why? Because their job is to “keep watch over your souls.” To what end? Because we have to give account! To whom? To God! When? When I arrive in heaven! Remember verse 7? And what do I have to give an account to God for? Not how our church people respond to our teaching. The pastor’s job is not to force compliance, but to urge it.
Have I warned the people about false teaching, and urged them to avoid it? I will not take the time to expand on the idea of how we are to urge submission to God. This is what doctors do when they prescribe certain actions to their unwell patients, what trainers do when they urge – even yelling! – their clients to push harder in their exercise, and what teachers do when they want their students to learn. None is trying control their charges but help them. The charge of forced control was false.
But there is a second reason that his accusation was false. Pastors are mouthpieces for God. We cannot be anything less than this. This job requires that I do my best to represent God’s doctrine accurately. Unfortunately, outside the pale of what we call “fundamental” doctrines (i.e. those essential to the gospel), there is a plethora of opinions which can cause disputations over doubtful things (Romans 14:1). I am a Baptist. But I come into conflict with my Presbyterian church, or Bible church brothers over certain doctrines.
What about Pentecostals? Not only do we hold different positions on some “non-essential” doctrines, we also disagree over some very important doctrines (no eternal security, continuationism, egalitarianism). Many Pentecostal churches clearly preach the gospel, so I would not label them as false teachers. But some of these doctrinal differences can be inimical to spiritual maturity. So, what do I do? I warn them not to attend. Why not? Because doctrine is important. How important?
I find the term “doctrine” (also translated teaching, instruction) 21 times in the NT, and guess where 15 of them occur? In the Pastoral Epistles! No surprise here. It is what pastors do. Paul admonished Titus that every elder “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction (i.e. to exhort) in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Sound doctrine is teaching that leads to robust spiritual health. And every pastor must hold firm to it, Why? Not only so that I can teach the congregation that doctrine, but also so that I can rebuke those who contradict that sound doctrine. I am to “devote” myself to doctrine (1 Tim 4:13), “keep a close watch” on it (4:16), and “exhaust myself” in it (5:17). You get the impression doctrine is extremely important, not just to a church family, but also to God! The Lord Jesus certainly was not casual about His doctrine (1 Tim 6:3).
My job as a pastor, then, is to feed sound doctrine to
the people God has sent my way so that they will grow up into Christlikeness
(Eph 4:14). But what if they attend the services in a Pentecostal church in
addition to our own services? That goal is immediately endangered. That
obligates a pastor to warn his charges. It is not control. It is concern.
 See also 1 Tim 1:10, 4:6, 2 Tim 4:3, Titus 1:9, 2:1.