The Divine Rights of Kings and Pastors
By: Deji Yesufu
On the 30th of January 1649, King Charles 1, king of England, was beheaded. His death was the culmination of a religious conflict that had enveloped England and had seen the country undergo a civil war between members of the Parliament and people loyal to the king. King Charles 1 was the son of King James, the man under whose reign the King James Bible was written, and the one who authorized the scripture that has come to be known as the Authorized Version of the Bible. After Charles was killed, the English people were not sure whether it was right to have killed the one on whom many felt that God had given a divine right to rule England. Any problem that befell England afterwards, some people owed to the bad omen of killing God’s representation to them. Such was the thinking that characterized many people in these medieval periods. The belief was that kings had a certain divine right to rule countries and that only their offspring could be royalty.
All of these were bolstered by a haphazard reading of the Bible, where two books of the 66 books were themselves called Kings: 1 and 2. The idea that God installed David as king of Israel and later ensured that only his heir ruled Israel, left much of mediaeval Europe with the notion that successive governments of monarchies must originate through only one family. All these changed first with the American Revolution (1765-1783) – which ended the reign of the English throne over the American colonies; and the French Revolution (1787-1799) which abolished the monarchy completely in France. I make this short history known because while monarchies have essentially been replaced by working democracies in our world today, another kind of monarchy is rising in our day: it is the rule of pastors.
I had very little desire to enter ordained ministry. I was content serving the Lord Jesus Christ as a “brother” until I had some experiences that proved to me that I needed to enter this special class of the pastorate to do my job well. It all began with a WhatsApp chat. I was communing with a brother, who had just been recently ordained and was sharing the challenges I was facing while doing the work of a pastor. This person then asked me when I was ordained and who was the person who ordained me. I explained to him that I never knew that I had to enter this special class of the clergy for me to do the work of a pastor. If I had several people who looked up to me for spiritual food and I also oversaw their souls, I was a pastor – I did not think I needed a special anointing from man or a system. This person disagreed with me. This is what set me off on the long path of being interviewed for the pastorate and my eventual ordination.
Another experience is worth noting here. I was made to understand, by another minister, that the Protestant ministers of today get their authority, through ordination, from a long line of ministers, starting with the Apostles of Jesus Christ, till now. It was not difficult for me to find fault with this reasoning, especially when you realize that from basic Church History, the Protestant Churches, at least from the point of view of Roman Catholicism, are an illegal stream of churches. While the Catholic can claim succession from the Apostles (no matter how spurious such claims are); the Protestant claim must originate from Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin (1520-1536). When you couple all these with the reality that even John Calvin himself, father of all Calvinists, was never ordained by any church, even though he ordained many more into ministry, you realize that the legitimacy of an ordained minister does not come from some supposed apostolic line, but from the Holy Scriptures. I will explain more.
The core of the debate that flowed from the 16th-century Protestant Reformation was the matter of authority. Who is the head of the Church: Christ or the Pope? What should be the rule of the church: scripture or traditions? These two questions led to the matter of how can a man be saved: by faith or by works. The magisterial reformers reached the conclusion that the Holy Scriptures must be the sole rule of the churches, which will inevitably lead to Jesus Christ, and not man, being the head of a local assembly. It means that what scripture teaches as the way of salvation alone must be the way that leads to heaven. It then means that the man who is most faithful to the scripture and its dictates is the man that scripture will call the man of God. The man of God, who understands the Bible to the extent to which it dictates godly living in his life, such that he can instruct others on the path of godliness, is the one that can be chosen into the office of the pastorate. While the people he leads are willing to receive his oversight, another proven pastorate can then step in and ordain this man into the ministry, to serve the Lord Jesus Christ – remaining faithful to the duties of instructing the church from the Bible alone. The only line of succession that is true to scripture is that line of godly men who over the centuries have remained faithful to the orthodox doctrines that the Bible teaches. Anything besides this is man-made.
If it was God’s eternal will that nations should be ruled by monarchies, the democratic ideals that have become quite popular in the nations would not exist today. It became very clear to people that the moment you bestow power and money on one individual, that individual becomes corrupt. It is from this we get the maxim that power corrupts, and absolute powers corrupt absolutely. Democratic ethos exhumed from Protestant America, as a people realized that they could form themselves into people groups and elect individuals to lead them in tenured offices. The idea is that even if elected person A fails in his tenure of office, another can take his place when his time is over. There will be no such thing as one man ruling all men until death, only to be succeeded by his children. The Christian idea that all men are equal before God compelled these Americans to sit down, discuss, and agree on how they were to be governed. Dialogue and not autocratic dictates formed the heart of what has come to be an acceptable modern system of government. How much more can this be done in a local church?
The Christian Church is a conglomerate of individual families, which are led by men. These men are led by the ordained pastor. The Lord Jesus Christ rules the church by his word. A functional church has the ordained minister instructing God’s people from the Bible. The words of the Bible ruling in the hearts of the men in the church, with which they lead their homes, also guide these men into ideas that can make for a functional local assembly and a working society. A healthy church, like a working democracy, is one where godly men, led by the minister, share ideas on how the local assembly can grow, and how the gospel can be spread to the communities where they live, etc. A healthy church grows in this environment, and it becomes a functional community of God’s people in an otherwise dysfunctional society. The “divine” in the church continues as long as the men and the minister(s) that lead them remain faithful to the word of God. A healthy church will be open to brotherly debates among the men in the church, while the love of Christ binds them together such that the debate never creates divisions. It is to the extent to which a minister is faithful to the scripture that the “divine” remains on him; just as it is to the extent to which a church remains faithful to the scripture that the “divine” remains with them – if not, Christ would have long removed his candlestick from their midst (Revelation 2,3).
Mediaeval Europe was ruled by a lot of superstition and one of those superstitions, as I have already stated in this article, was that there were some divine rights that some men possessed to rule others. It was Protestant America that tore through such superstitious beliefs and gave us the democracy we have today. In the same vein, there is no special divinity on any man today, such as to make him a representation of God on earth – possessing some divine anointing on him. The moment men, regardless of who ordained them, deviate from the truth of scriptures and begin to lead their churches on the path of apostasy, they lose all claims to divinity. It is hoped that at such a time, God can raise men who will pastor the church of Christ and feed the flock of God – which is essentially the job of a pastor. Whether that person possesses some ecclesiastical ordination or not, is a secondary matter – and the secondary must never be made the primary. The primary calling of a minister is faithfulness to the scriptures; the primary duty of God’s people is faithfulness to biblical commands. We retain the “divine” to the extent to which we are obedient to the Bible. The king or ruler that will enjoy the good graces of heaven must be one that is obedient to God; the pastor that will enjoy the same must be faithful to scripture. Or else, a community will degenerate into chaos and in some extreme cases the head of the monarch or pope is consumed in the process. While some wonder how the representation of God on earth can so easily be destroyed by mere mortals, others realize that these events are only a sign of God’s wrath on men’s sins.