People on the Internet Are Not Your Pastor

People on the Internet Are Not Your Pastor May 6, 2020

The Internet has made it profoundly easy for any with access to the web to build a platform. Not only has it enabled prominent, disqualified pastors to continue to have an audience, it has given many a young man aspiring to greatness a place to develop an audience. It has given people the ability to be seen as a pastor, though they lack the necessary qualifications, and in many cases, arrogantly presume they need not apply themselves to the rigor of theological education in conjunction to a lengthy period of inspection from other, godly men. As I’ve written on disqualified pastors in the past, and have no real desire to bring that issue to the forefront here—my focus now is largely on those men seeking to build their own platform, especially those who do so with little to no regard for the office of an elder. Some are gifted, new converts who will be thrust into the limelight too soon only to fall at a later date (1 Tim. 3:6). This is a particularly sad, slow-motion train wreck that modern American Evangelicals seem to deliberately ignore, even though it is in vogue for them to watch it all unfold before them with a sense of glee that lacks much introspection as to why these men fail in such grand ways.

Others are men who haven’t proven themselves to be diligent students of the Scriptures, yet they invariably see themselves as having the gift of teaching. Perhaps this is true—yet for many, they are not willing to undergo formal theological training, nor place themselves under the headship of their elders for a season to be discipled. In other words, they are not willing to be proven by those who are already proven, yet nonetheless continue to teach as if they are. Many of these young men are braggadocios, manipulative, and seek to preach the gospel out of envy and rivalry (Phil. 1:15). In other words, though they may be intellectually gifted and deeply love theology, they fail in the moral qualifications of an overseer. If I am to be brutally honest though, many more fancy themselves to be morally and doctrinally qualified, ignoring any and all who challenge them. Having a “pastor” who is morally and doctrinally inept is not a problem limited to the confines of the Internet. However, it is a particularly easy in our modern climate for anyone with a computer to take a direct swing at people far brighter and more qualified than they. It also makes it abundantly easy for false teachers to go relatively unchecked as they propagate their false teaching to anyone who will give them the time of day, which sadly, is often to millions of people depending on who we have in mind.

Of course, there is always another dynamic to be accounted for in all of this. There are those who simultaneously prop up these types of people and give them a broader platform. I’m not positive there is one particular reason above another that makes all of this so, but I am willing to defer my hesitations. My suspicion is that many truly don’t know their Bibles all that well, or perhaps they know it, but don’t believe it when it comes to the non-negotiable qualifications an overseer must have. Couple this with a heightened sense of self-importance and the matching confidence to boot, an infatuation with the celebrity culture within Evangelicalism, and perhaps even a low view of the local church, and the resultant mix is an individual who seeks renown and a people willing to give it to them. I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt here though. I truly believe many theologically apt young men can fall into the trap of seeking renown under the auspices of serving Christ. Yet more to the point: I believe both the apt and the inept who develop the desire for renown initially do so out of an earnest desire to serve Christ and make an impact for the Kingdom. They desire to do big things for God, neglecting to see that it is the mundane, day-to-day faithfulness which is big in God’s eyes.

The true pity of it though is that for many of them, there are no safeguards in place for them in place to do this in a biblical manner. One of the things that I am thankful for is the accountability my local church offers in this regard. I know that my words here are every bit as subject to scrutiny by my elders as any others that I might speak in person at my local church. I am not a lone-ranger blogger, nor am I outside of the disciplinary process if I err. My elders probe at the state of my heart and my household. What that simply means is that I am held accountable to my elders and would need to give an account to them for what I write if it was not up to snuff, so to speak. I would likewise be asked to step back from writing if my personal life and family life were in shambles. What’s more than this is that I know I am held accountable by my friend and founder of this blog, Jack Lee. He is also held accountable by his church, and we are both held accountable by several other friends to varying degrees outside of our churches. We aren’t above scrutiny, correction, rebuke, and having to eat our own words—and we do our best to represent the Bible’s teachings as accurately and carefully as possible. We also do our best to charitably navigate areas of legitimate disagreement with in-house matters of the faith.

There is protection in that, both for us as contributors and for those who read our blog. There are older, wiser men above us who are not afraid to ask hard questions and challenge us, yet we are also surrounded by godly peers who do the same. There have been times where either we or a guest contributor has desired to publish something that has not made it before the public eye, namely because we didn’t see it as something that would end up being edifying. There have been other times where posts have been taken down, retracted, or clarified. Our goal has always been quality over quantity, and while we recognize we can’t (nor shouldn’t) please everyone, we can say with confidence that we do our best toward to be found faithful. None of this is written to toot our own horn, but rather to simply say that we take this deadly seriously, because neither of us believe Christians should do such things outside of the purview of their elders, whom God has entrusted their souls to. Our peers are an added bonus—yet the buck stops with our elders at the end of the day and in the same token, that should really be said of everyone. God has designed it to be this way.

The reason for this is relatively simple: the Internet is not your church, and therefore, people on the internet are not your pastor. No people other than your elders are accountable for your souls, at least not to the same degree. People will invariably be accountable to some degree on the basis of their words, no doubt, yet they are not the ones whom God has primarily charged to shepherd you (Heb. 13:17). Another blog post could be written entirely on this alone, as the author of Hebrews is also particularly concerned with why they ought to be obedient and submissive to these shepherds, yet for our purposes, let’s simply focus on the fact that he doesn’t call you to obedience and submission to another leader, nor especially a “thought leader” in the broader Evangelical world. God calls you to obedience and submission to your local church’s elders. Not John MacArthur. Not John Piper. Not [insert famous pastor here]. Not some random dude in a Christian Facebook group with an opinion. Your elders. To put it another way: you are entrusting your soul to someone God has not.

In one sense, we truly are in a strange dilemma; none of the apostles would have foreseen what blessings the Internet would bring for the spread of the gospel and sound, biblical teaching—yet also, what dangers would lie in wait for Christ’s sheep. Many of the dangers we recognize; there are notoriously false teachers that any discerning Christian is aware of. Yet many dangers are still present beyond these flagrant wolves. There are many well-meaning Christians who have neglected the command in James 3:1 that few should teach. The reason I believe this might be the case is simply because they haven’t taken the warning all that seriously—that God will legitimately judge them on the basis of what they teach. This is particularly why biblically qualified elders are so important to this whole process, as they are the ones able to confirm one’s aptitude for teaching, as well as one’s moral life. Sidelining this process does no one any favors, as excitable, winsome, or charismatic as the person may be. In the end, we don’t need more people rising as if they are qualified to teach when the best thing they could do for everyone involved is to settle down, submit themselves to disciplined, formal teaching, and a period of lengthy examination from other qualified men.

As strange as a dilemma we might be in with blogging, podcasting, vlogging, live videos, podcasting, conferences, books, etc.—we do know that the Scriptures still speak to this issue. We are to obey and submit ourselves to our elders. At best, those who aim to teach you outside of your local church should be seen as a helpful supplement. Unfortunately, much of the time they are not, which invariably means those whom God has sovereignly ordained to shepherd you are continually dealing with competing and often conflicting voices. True, your pastor is no John Piper—he’s the man God has gifted you with instead (Eph. 4:11). The amount of times I have seen Christians asking for counsel from strangers on the internet is positively alarming to me, given not only the reluctance people have in going to their own elders, but because the advice that is often given is terrible advice. If you desire to hear enough opinions that you can eventually placate your guilty conscience, then any internet forum is for you. You will find exactly what you want to hear. If you want wisdom, drown out the cacophony of conflicting voices and entrust yourself to the one who has actually proven to be wise. Entrust yourself to the counsel of a man whose life you can actually examine the fruit of and desire to follow as he follows Christ.

The idea that I’m driving at here is not that it is necessarily bad to learn from others outside of your local church. Rather, my point is that if the broader church understood and submitted themselves to the importance of the qualifications of elders, there would be far fewer people climbing into a place of authority they don’t belong in. Yet more to the point: if you can’t entrust your soul to your elders, it is most definitely time to find a new church. Of course, the assumption here is that you are a faithful, God-fearing Christian who actually desires to obey and submit yourself to your elders as the Scripture commands; not begrudgingly, but joyfully. It also assumes your motives for leaving said church are good and biblical motives. Given the climate of the modern Evangelical church and my penchant for remembering that even Christ did not entrust Himself to men, for He knew all men, I am hard-pressed to think this is often the case. Rather, I see these as simultaneous problems; the people want to obey and submit themselves to one whom God hasn’t entrusted their souls to, and that man is happy to gain their trust for nefarious reasons. The solution to these things are one in the same: we submit ourselves to our elders. We develop the conviction that at the end of the day, their counsel and advice matters most, and what’s more than this is that we actually intend to heed it.

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