I've been a Christian since 1995, and have read the Bible over and over ever since. However, I never heard of the term "pastoral authority," until around the year 2007 or so. Some churches carry this thing to the point of cults, such as having a pope, or church prophet. Other churches also are cultish with their beliefs in pastoral authority, by teaching that if any of the congregation go against anything their pastor teaches, then that person is not saved.
Many churches practice varying shades of pastoral authority, but not all of them are cults, and there may be something scriptural to a proper form of pastoral authority. Many churches believe in pastoral authority, but they believe it only as far as the pastor having the final say on things of church business, such as what color the new drapes should be, if no one can agree, and the direction he thinks the church should take - to expand, to stay as they are, or to cut out extraneous programs which aren't very scriptural, anyway.
Pastoral authority does not extend to each individual that attends said church, unless that member is in an obvious backslidden condition, in which case, if it is bad enough, then scripturally, the person could be shunned. To read the scriptural account of what shunning really is, click here.
Now, let us take a gander at some "pastoral authority" scriptures:
Under the New Testament, or new covenant, we no longer have priests. Jesus was our high priest:
"Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession." -Hebrews 4:14
Born again Christians are now priests and kings:
"And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." -Revelation 1:6
In the New Testament assembly, the Pastor/Preacher/Minister/Bishop is in the churches. However, he is not the head of his church. The universal church is made up of the body of Christ, which is all believers around the world. Jesus is the head of the church:
"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body." -Ephesians 5:23
The pastor of a church is to follow Christ's lead in his church. If someone in his congregation disagrees with one or more of his teachings, he is not to punish the person for it, but consider how he may possibly be wrong, else he can use the Scriptures to show the person why he thinks he's correct. Each Christian should test everything they hear against the scriptures - even the preaching in their very church:
"These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." -Acts 17:11
Jesus also told people to search the Scriptures, and see for themselves that He is the Messiah:
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." -John 5:39
Now, let's move on to the main Scriptures used the most, in support of pastoral authority, and let's see what they really say, instead of taking anyone's word for it:
"This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." -1 Timothy 3:7
"If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers." -1 Timothy 1:6-9
Notice the pastor (bishop) is supposed to be apt to teach. Sermons are not supposed to be fluff, or feel good pieces. They are supposed to be lessons in the scriptures, to help us learn more about our Lord, and draw closer to God. A pastor is also to rule his own house well. In the home, the Bible says the husband is the head of the house. However, it doesn't say that he is to rule the church (its members), but that he is to "take care" of it (them). One can take care of their sick sister, but that doesn't mean they have rule over her. The pastor takes care of the flock by teaching sound doctrine. The pastor also takes care of the church by making decisions for ministries the church starts or partakes in, etc. This taking care is along the lines of guiding the church. He is to rule his house, and guide the church. If he does not have the wisdom to rule his family well, then how can he possibly have the wisdom to guide, or take care of the church? Notice it didn't say he is to rule the church.
"And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves." -1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
"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." -Hebrews 13:7
"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." -Hebrews 13:17
The above scriptures don't say it's specifically the pastor of your church who has rule over you. If the above passages were referring to pastoral authority, then why didn't it say bishop, or whatnot? Who are those who have rule over us, as per the above verses?
Those who have rule over us in the Lord would be those who are older (and wiser) than ourselves, who are also Christians, and who we know to be good, wise Christians. This would be the aged men for Christian men:
"That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience." -Titus 2:2
"Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded." -Titus 2:6
And the aged Christian women for the younger Christian women:
"The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to..." -Titus 2:3-4a
Younger, less experienced Christians are to submit to older, wiser Christians:
"Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." -1 Peter 5:5
Again, we are to check what they say against the Scriptures. Never take anyone's word for what the Bible teaches. Dear reader, you must check, study, and learn the scriptures for yourselves.
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." -Acts 20:28
Notice this doesn't say "rulers over the flock." It says "overseer." An overseer is one who directs, supervises, and manages. The pastor is to be an overseer, in that he is to direct his congregation in proper doctrine, he is to supervise the church staff, and he is to manage the church, staff, and the preaching. In this sense, we see above "overseers, to feed the church of God." The pastor is to make sure proper doctrine is taught in the church. However, the above doesn't say that the congregation isn't allowed to check everything their pastor says with the scriptures. We know we are expected to, from earlier scriptures quoted in this article.
Below is another scripture some use for pastoral authority:
"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock." -1 Peter 5:1-3
The pastor is to lead his congregation via example, not by lording it over them. This sounds different to what many churches teach about pastoral authority. It's not supposed to be about control. It's supposed to be about order in the church, sound teaching, and the pastor being an example to the flock.
What did Jesus say about pastoral authority?
"But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all." -Mark 10:42-44
The above tells us the minister is not to exercise lordship over us, but is to be a servant. The pastor is to serve Christ by serving His church.
"But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren." -Matthew 23:8
No pastor, pope, or church "prophet," is master over the children of God. Christ is our Rabbi (which means master). Speaking of titles, did you know that it is unscriptural to call a minister or pastor "reverend?" Like "Father," "reverend" is a name for God, not a man:
"He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name." -Psalm 111:9
"Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand." -2 Corinthians 1:21-24
The apostles went from church to church, to teach them sound doctrine. Soon, churches had the Bible, and they were/are to get their doctrine from that. Apostles and pastors do NOT have dominion over our faith. They are to lead and guide, not to dominate. They are to serve the church, not lord it over.
Do I believe in pastoral authority? Yes and no. I prefer not to use the term, because of its strong cultish undertones. I do not believe it is scriptural, in the sense of the pastor ruling the flock, but I do believe it is scriptural for the pastor to have the final say on things related to which missionaries the church supports, what classes are to occur, and which ones to drop, etc.
Now, what about their authority to the flock, when church is in session? Certainly, we are to give our pastor respect, just as we should to any person. God is not a respecter of persons (snobby against certain people) and neither should we be. To study this further, see the first half of James chapter 2. In the church, the congregation is expected to quietly and peacefully listen to the pastor. However, they are also expected to check the scriptures for themselves to make sure the teaching is sound.
Outside of the church, the pastor has limited "authority" over the flock, however there is some:
"It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" -1 Corinthians 5:1-6
"Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme." -1 Timothy 1:19-20
When a Christian is shunned, they are delivered up to Satan. They are no longer welcome in Christian fellowship, until they repent of their backslidden condition. This does not at all mean forgiveness is not given. A Christian is commanded to forgive. One may shun and still forgive at the same time.
A Christian in an obvious backslidden condition is to be shunned from the church, unless they turn from their wicked ways. This is scriptural. For more scriptures and information on this, see Simply Shunning.
If you are sharing Bible study articles, or sharing what you've learned from the Bible with others, you are not going against any "pastoral authority," even if what you believe/say is different than the official stance of your church. Just as long as you are backing up your doctrine with the scriptures, and you aren't leading people astray, away from Christ, then you are doing nothing wrong. In fact, the Bible calls this 'iron sharpening iron:'
"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." -Proverbs 27:17
Many people, especially women, have had the calling to fiercely study the Bible, and to share with others what they've found, but they have been put down by their very church, and told they are not allowed to do that. Balderdash. See Women and the Ministry. No church has any authority to tell a Christian they can't spread the Gospel, or share their bible studies with others.
Sisters, follow your calling from God, but first, make sure it is from God, and lines up with the scriptures.
In concluding, I don't believe in pastoral authority as it is generally taught.