Where did our concept of a "pastor" being the "ruling authority within the local church" come from?
It comes directly from the catholic hierarchy of 500 years ago.
The concept of the "parish priest" goes back within the Catholic church well over 1,000 years. The hierarchy that the Roman church decided upon very early on it's history--the hierarchy of the government of the Roman empire. The Roman concept of a "priest" is of a man who is the direct ruler over the local church. He is in the hierarchy--the chain of command--which is actually a representation of the Roman empires' government--"a man set under authority". Now we know what Roman government was most certainly from documented history---but we also know this information from the Bible as well! The only person in the entire Bible who makes the statement that he is "set under authority" is the Roman centurion in the book of Luke.....
8 For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. (Luke 7:8, KJV).
(note: Jesus was "set under the authority" of God the Father--but that's where the hiearchy ended. Jesus released people freely to also be directly under God's authority. After His resurrection, Christ became the Head of the church--and was the direct leader of all the people. The concept of a "chain of command" was attempted to be written into the Bible--by giving titles to certain people. But it is a plain fact that Peter--nor Paul--nor anyone in particular, was given the title of "king" or "ruler"---and the move of God was carried out by many people. This was the concept of apostleship that Jesus had demonstrated---and the church of the Bible lived out.)
In the Roman empire the emperor was god--but his commands were carried out through a chain of command--a similar system which most military organizations utilize to this day. There were rankings of authority--one having authority--command--over another.
In the Roman church, the priest was in a sense the lowest in the chain of command--, yet he was very powerful in that he directly ruled the group of people within the community. He was the person who collected the tithe--this concept being based very much upon the old testament priests of Israel. He was the leader of the local church and the person responsible for teaching the word of God to the local people (most often he was one of the few people who could read in the village--and probably the only person who could read the latin vulgate Bible--a "cleric" or "clergyman" has the medieval defintion of "someon who can read--hence our conept of "clergy" and "lay people"). He was given authority over the people in his village and they were taught to strictly submit to his authority--but he was under the command of his superiors. The catholic church calls this "owning the pastorate"--and whether we realize it or not--most of our protestant churches follow the same concept of authority at the local level.
Now, when we study history we find that this system was how the church operated for almost 1,000 years. The Roman church--the "catholic" (universal) church was a vast system--a huge "empire" which was very political, had armies--fought wars and was inexorably involved with the kings and kingdoms of Europe, in a very worldly way. The government of the church of that day (500 years ago) was a kingdom, ruled by the pope, who was very much a king--and politically involved in all the nations of Europe. The priests were the local representative of this organization--in fact looked at as the "soldiers" of the church "army". Their job was to control the people--to subjugate the people to the rule of the hierarchy and the king.
About 500 years ago, the protestant reformation began. This was a great move of God--which began to bring the Bible to the people--which began to bring correct Biblical doctrine back into the church. The gift of salvation was being restored to the church--the gift of salvation by faith in the grace of god--by faith in Jesus--and not by the works which the church specified--which was what the church taught at that time. The Bible was beginning to be revealed to the world as it was translated and published in many common languages and made available to the majority of people. But at the same time, as these new reformed churches came into being, the kings and rulers of these new Christian nations associated themselves closely with the new churches--and in most cases made themselves the rulers over the church.
[For a quick overview of the history of church government--view this chart by clicking here]
The most interesting, and perhaps the most well-recorded of these kings was Henry VIII. When we read and study the events which took place in Britain at this time, we see and understand the politics which controlled the church. Perhaps we should say that the church was the vehicle for man's rule and government at the time. The organization of the church was traditionally used as a powerful way to control, influence, and monitor the common people--the Roman church had done this for 1,000 years--and the protestant churches fell immediately into the same pattern. The church of that day was the epitome of the incorrect form of church government--at least if we were to use the example of the Bible and the words of Jesus as our guide--
"And he said unto them, The kings of the
Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority
upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is
greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as
he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or
he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as
he that serveth. Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations.
And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me;"
(Luke 22:25-29, KJV).
So when we look at history we see this "transition" happening in the church. We see that the word of God is published--having the effect of removing a layer of control, in that common people could now read and study the Bible, and realize just what the word of God says--independent of what rulers and leaders said. However, at the same time, the tradition of incorrect church government persisted heavily in the new churches. The following few hundred years of time show Christian nation fighting bloody wars with Christian nation. The selfish and despotic rulers bleeding the common people--keeping most as poor peasants--and at the same time living in extravagance themselves. And all this done under the supposed "Biblical authority" of leadership and rule--all done under the supposed "God-given" right of one person to "have authority to rule" over others--and the affective "submission" of the common people to this incorrect form of rule and government. (This is why we have a king James Bible that uses this type of wording wherever possible. Words like "submit"--"rule"--"under"--"subject"--"obey"---were words written in to please the king--and varify his right to sovereign rule and authority over the nation. We still suffer from these words to this day within the church!)
When this reformation began in Europe, the kings of the time were very careful to maintain their ruler ship--and in fact took advantage of the situation to strengthen their control by becoming the rulers of the new church within their country. If we study the example of king Henry VIII we see that church land and property was confiscated and put under his control. So now, the king--and the new church-- owned all the church buildings and property--and took on themselves to decide how to operate the new church. There were many many catholic priests of course, who now were given the ultimatum of choosing to stay or leave the church organization. Some stood loyal to Rome--and some were beheaded or persecuted for their choice. But many of these catholic priests converted--in the case of the new "church of England" they became "Anglican"--and many of them maintained their positions in the new church--but renamed as "pastors".
The new churches which were started after the times of the reformation--although now having much more freedom in worship, and a more pure Biblical doctrine--unfortunately maintained the same government as the Roman church. For most, the Sunday sabbath was maintained, and the format that the Roman church had established (praise and worship--reading of the word--and homily) was altered very little if at all. And the position of "ruler" of the local church was no longer a priest--but rather a "pastor". The "pastor" still had nearly all the same function of the priest--and supposedly had all the same "God-given" right to rule over the people. He was the person who collected the tithe and decided for the most part how to operate the local church and it's possessions and people. The pastor was the man who was "in authority" over the people within the congregation--and it was taught that the people were to strictly "submit" to his authority.
The priest of the catholic church had simply changed their names to "pastors"--but basically all of the functions which the priest had performed--and all the "authority" which the priest had operated with and used was simply transferred to the new "pastors". The form and function of the church remained very similar to the Roman tradition. The kings and queens of the countries filled the shoes of the pope, and the priests simply became pastors.
We remind you that we are not saying that these things were purposefully and sinfully done. But ignorance can lead us if we are not educated. Do you study church history in your church? Probably not. The people of that day, were simply carrying on tradition, which they had been taught was "from God" and Biblical. We are simply here to encourage every Christian to close your eyes to tradition---what you have been handed as your defintion of what the "church" is---of your defintions of "authority" and "ministry"---and openly study the Bible in full context in these areas. We are only asking the church to study it's own history--openly and without prejudice.