If one major reason for pastoral abuse is because Christians are signing oaths they do not understand, or that violates the counsel of Christ, a second reason is the misuse of Scripture by those who believe in an inherent authority.
There are some proof texts which are cited for the false idea of there being rulers in the church, justifying the idea that others are to be ruled over.
To establish their overreaching authority, pastors, elders, or some other spiritual leader, will appeal to three verses in Hebrews 13.
First Proof Text
“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Heb. 13:7).
First, it is to be noted that the word elder, or pastor, does not appear in this verse, nor in verse 17, or verse 24. There is nothing in Hebrews 13 that teaches an elder, or pastor, is to rule over anyone. Jesus does not allow such a concept, or practice.
Calling the disciples unto Himself, Jesus said, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).
The Christian model for church leaders is that of a servant, not a ruler. Nevertheless, this passage has been exploited by authoritarians to assume unauthorized spiritual authority.
Second, notice the word “over” is not in this verse, nor in verse 17, or verse 24. Modern translations recognize the absence of this word, and faithfully translate the Greek, which simply refers to one who leads. “Remember your leaders” (NIV; Apologetics Bible). No one is to rule over anyone else in the church.
Third, Hebrews 13:7 is written in the past tense, not the present tense found in the KJV. The text should read, “Remember those who led you” (NASU). “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God” (ESV).
Fourth, Hebrews 13:7 is a verse reminding the Hebrew Christians of the saints mentioned in Hebrews 11 and 12. These saints were fearless (13:6), and are worthy examples. Those who had spoken the word of God to the Hebrew Christians would include Moses, the prophets, Jesus, and perhaps even the apostles.
Fifth, the word for “rule” in the Greek means “to lead, to go before, to be a leader.” The word does not have the connotation of ruling over, but that of giving leadership in the assembly. A leader, guided by the Holy Spirit will “go on ahead” and engage in study, teaching, and serving others, without being told what to do.
Second Proof Text
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).
Special attention should be given to the words “obey”, and “submit” in Hebrews 13:17. The Greek word for obey is peitho. This word means “to persuade; to win over”. The idea is to convince others by sound reasoning. There is not superior to inferior relationship in view. There is no authoritarian attitude present. According to W. E. Vine, the obedience of Hebrews 13:17 is not a servile submission to any authority, but an agreement resulting from persuasion (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
The word “submit” in Greek means “to choose to submit; to follow; to yield”. This is the only time the hypeikete is used in the New Testament and is best translated, “yield.” Much tension among Christians would dissipate if believers learned to yield to one another instead of demanding to be in charge, or do things in a certain way. The apostle Paul practiced this concept of being a yielded Christian. In 2 Corinthians 1:23 he said, “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand” (2 Cor. 1:24).
Third Proof Text
“Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you” (Heb. 13:24).
With the above information in mind, consider a better translation of the critical passages in Hebrews 13.
“Remember those who were [past tense] your guides, who led the way with the Word: who faith imitate, considering the strong way they ended their life” …Choose to yield to those who are out in front leading you because you are persuaded they are likewise being faithful in their task, knowing they will be held accountable…Embrace all those who are guides or leaders, as well as the Saints. They of Italy embrace you as well” (Heb.13:7, 17, 24; Wade Burelson).
If there is pastoral abuse prevalent in the local church, it is because individuals have a wrong understanding of Scripture. They are not to be ruled over by anyone except Jesus.
Christian, be careful about associating yourself with a religious institution, and individuals, that demand total capitulation and submission by authoritarians, who have crept into the flock of God to devour the sheep (Acts 20:29). The authoritarian style of church government finds no basis in Scripture. No elder, pastor, deacon, or Christian is to be found lording authority over someone in the church.
No New Testament position, or practice, carries with it inherent authority to rule over others. Jesus Christ alone has authority over His Church. Ideally, the Lord will rule His people by His Spirit, through His Word, with assistance from under shepherds, that meet His standards of approval. The people of God will humbly yield to the servant of the Lord as he persuades them to follow him, as he follows Christ.