Introduction (by Natalie)

P.F.Y.C… It’s by far the largest event in the particular Holiness movement I grew up in. While many churches don’t even have 40 attendees, this annual meeting has thousands in attendance. And just last year, here is what was preached…

Our movement has been terribly affected by blogs, and websites, and podcasts, that claim to be presenting Bible holiness, and the whole time they’re doing everything in their power to tear it down!… You keep going to those websites and you keep noticing that they keep knocking every possible Holiness standard, when are you going to wake up and say, ‘Duh, I think they’re trying not to make me believe Holiness anymore.’ They’re telling you, they’re telling you young people ‘question everything you’ve every heard preached. You need to question everything you’ve ever been told to believe!’ Yeah, then they present themselves as the only true Bible scholars who can help you overcome all those terrible errors that you’ve been taught, while they will lead you, you poor wandering soul, that’s been so led astray, and now they’re going to lead you into the truth, hallelujah… CM Ward said about those Bereans in Acts 17 that they were what he called ‘honest doubters’ because it was said of them that they received the word with all readiness of mind… They diligently studied the Scriptures for the soul purpose of confirming the truth they had already heard preached and received. Amen! They were, they were not searching the Scriptures trying to find things that were not so, but they were confirming that which was so… So let me ask you today, those sites you read? And those podcasts you listen to? Do they spend more time trying to tell you about all the things that you’ve heard preached that are not so? Or do they spend more time searching the Scripture and telling you about those things that you’ve heard preached that are so?

“You young people are not idiots, are you? Anybody hear today say ‘Bro. — I’m a total imbecile, I admit it.’ Anybody? No? You’re not a mental or spiritual imbecile, are you? I mean, after all, a lot of you are taking classes like algebra and geometry and biology and physics and some of you are even studying Latin, so you can’t be idiots and imbeciles. What are the chances that you can read the King James Bible and actually understand it? I bet the chances are pretty good. Do you need somebody saying to you ‘you don’t know how to think?’ ‘You don’t even know what to believe,’ ‘You don’t even know what’s true, you don’t need a Bible all you need to do is listen to me.’ That’s nonsense! The Catholic Church told people that for hundreds of years because they wanted them to live in error! … You don’t need somebody telling you whether modesty is biblical or not. You know it is! Well, hallelujah. I mean, was it the Bible that said women are not to wear men’s apparel? Wasn’t that the Bible that said that? Now is that what it said or is it not? It did say that right? So that’s why all those people out there are spending the majority of their time telling you what that does not mean? Why aren’t you smarter than that? And say, ‘You know what? I got a brain for goodness sake, I’m not an imbecile’ You’re not, right? We established that? ‘I’m not an idiot. I can read the Bible and see what it says.’ Can you do that? Some of you got off my boat and I’m trying to help you out. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’ve got enough brains to read the Bible and know what it says, hallelujah!”

Considering that Nathan and I are the only people we know of who left this particular movement and created a website cross-examining Holiness standards, considering that the name of this website/nonprofit is “Berean Holiness,” and considering that this particular minister has called us out by name in the past, it was very clear that we were whom he was talking about (along with a few others who have shared on social media and/or a podcast).

Despite the minster’s false accusations against us, generous use of sarcasm, equivocation of strict dress codes with biblical holiness, and odd claims about real Bereans only confirming what preachers’ say (and never pointing out false doctrine), the huge crowd cheered and applauded. That crowd included people I use to do ministry with, go to Bible School with, who supported me in mission work, who used to be close personal friends, and possibly my extended family. Knowing this, hearing the hearty “amen’s” to a minister saying that I would claim to be one of the only true Bible scholars and that I tell people to only listen to me—a level of information control I’m adamantly against—well, it was odd.

Due to the targeted nature of the accusations, it seemed appropriate to respond. My husband, Cole, and I recorded a video in which we played the above excerpt of the sermon and shared our thoughts. We emphasized that we “appreciate Rev. [so and so] as a fellow Christian and laborer for Christ,” we did our best to make clear that we respected him personally and had nothing against him personally, we just disagreed with how he was portraying us and wanted to share our actual beliefs/teachings in contrast to his accusations. Then we posted it. (You can find it here and here.)

And, just like that, social media exploded; the reactions were incredulity and outrageOne person posted a screenshot of the Berean Holiness Facebook page and captioned it,

“My Bible says… ‘Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm’ This page made a bold post against a Holiness preacher and it breaks my heart… I just feel the need to warn people.”

A comment read,

“It was 100% wrong for them to mention him by name… To use a man of God’s name, and his sermon to break it down, I have no words…”

Another post said,

“There’s a place in Hell for those who make it their mission to tear down the truths of the Bible to make themselves appear special/smart/justified in their sins. That isn’t a hateful statement… My prayer will be that God sends a gut wrenching, soul softening conviction to those who are so driven by bitterness against God’s Word & God’s messengers.”

And another,

“There’s a lot of people that Better be watching out for bears! It’s not a light thing to go against the man or woman of God… Whether you agree with them or not… ya’ll better be careful out there! That’s all I’m saying. [bear emoji]”

It’s a strange contradiction—it’s a world in which a respected minister is cheered on by thousands when he makes false accusations against specific people (including a young woman) from behind a pulpit, and yet, when she and her husband reply, “We respect you as a brother in Christ, but we disagree with how you portrayed us; here’s what we actually teach…” they passive aggressively threatened us with hell and mauling by bears. 

As the first post explained, the “biblical” basis and proof text for this authoritarianism is Psalms 105:15 (also quoted in 1 Chronicles 16:22). But does the above reality reflect a proper interpretation and application of this Scripture? Like a true Berean, let’s search the Scriptures and see. Below, you’ll read what we found in our studies, may it only serve as a springboard for your own deep dive into God’s Word.

Natalie Edmonson


Touch Not Mine Anointed (Article by Nathan)

“Touch not mine anointed” is a common refrain among hyper fundamentalists. It reflects the generally sincere belief that the “man of God,” usually a pastor or evangelist, has received special anointing from God, and is to be treated differently from other people. He is to be shown more deference and never criticized.

The particular phrase in question comes from Psalms 105:15. Here it is in context (v. 8–17):

“He is the LORD our God: his judgments are in all the earth…

Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance:

When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it.

When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people;

He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes;

Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

Moreover he called for a famine upon the land: he brake the whole staff of bread.

He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant:”

The word “anointed” means to be consecrated for special use. In context, “anointed” refers to the Children of Israel and their prophets.

“Touch” refers to doing wrong, particularly violence, as was done by Pharoah and various other pagan kings to the nation of Israel in the stories referenced in the Psalm. The Hebrew word (תִּגְּע֥וּ) means “to lay hands on,” but it has several euphemistic meanings. In context, that meaning would be “to strike.”

So, this verse says that we are not to hit the Children of Israel or their Old Testament prophets, or by extension to do them any harm. This seems sensible enough, but how did it come to be quoted in the sense that you can’t express public disagreement with a preacher?

Let’s look to the New Testament to see if this theme of “the anointed” recurs there, and if the anointed merit any special consideration. 

There are numerous references to Jesus as anointed (e.g. Luke 4:18). It seems fair that we shouldn’t want to harm him. In fact, other than a handful of literal uses regarding the sick, Jesus is almost the only person of whom the word “anointed” is used in the New Testament. 

There is a single spiritual use of the term to refer to anyone other than Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:21–22, “Now he which establisheth 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.”

In context, this word refers to all believers as anointed or “set aside for holy use.” 1 John 2:27 also supports the understanding that all believers are anointed, “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”

There is no use of the word in the New Testament or Old that suggests extraordinary peril for those who disagree with a preacher. If there is special peril for those who harm the anointed, that would refer to the entire church and to Christ Jesus himself.

However, even though “Touch not mine anointed” can be safely dismissed as a poorly applied verse, there is still an open question of whether spiritual leaders deserve special treatment.


What Deference Do We Owe Spiritual Leaders?

The crowd’s favorite story of people disrespecting spiritual leaders comes courtesy of the prophet Elisha. The Bible records in 2 Kings 2:22–23 that God sent bears to maul some hooligans who were insulting him. While much ink has been spilled by commentators explaining the justice of this, the moral of the story is pretty straightforward—don’t insult prophets.

Notably, many other prophets were called names (and killed) and no such fate befell their mockers on earth, so we can’t say this is a general protective ability even all prophets had.

While it’s easy to refer to an Old Testament story and simply apply things directly to the new covenant era, this is risky business. Old Testament prophets like Elijah had the authority to unilaterally declare and carry out death sentences (1 Kings 18:40). I don’t find new covenant reasons to extend that authority to our pastors. This is also a poor way to read the Old Testament in general.

In the Old Testament, spiritual leaders tended to get verbatim, audible instructions from God for people to listen to. Moses is a good example. Clearly, such men are owed the utmost deference when they relay what God has said. 

However, even Moses was occasionally taken aside and instructed, such as by his father-in-law Jethro in Exodus 18. In this instance, Jethro pointed out that Moses needed to delegate better. But this isn’t the only instance from Moses’ story in which spiritual authority needed questioning. 

The other instance was the rebellion against Moses in Numbers 16 by Korah and his gang. Spoiler alert—Korah and company get swallowed up by the earth. At first glance, this might be evidence that we should never question spiritual authority. However, a closer read of the passage reveals that Korah also claimed to be a spiritual authority. So if you’re a typical Israelite minding your own business, you would have been forced to pick sides between Korah and Moses. So even in the Old Testament, where leaders had downright supernatural power and insight, spiritual authority had to be questioned to some degree.

This is always the case today, as claimed spiritual authorities often disagree. For every pastor who declares the “correct reading of Scripture” or a new revelation, there is one within 5 miles who would see the exact opposite reading or reject the revelation as a false prophecy. And you can’t just use the principle of “the authority that God placed in my life is correct,” or you would find yourself siding with the Pharisees over Jesus. Such a false principle would also mean that everyone born and raised in the unitarian universalist congregation is obligated to uphold the beliefs of their pastor and the Apostolic Oneness congregation across the street has the same obligation to theirs.

While we shouldn’t malign anyone (Matthews 5:22), much less someone being used by God, we need to look to the New Testament to find the boundaries of our conduct. Given the degree to which claimed spiritual authorities often contradict each other, logic demands that unquestioning obedience isn’t the standard God has in mind.  There must be some latitude to challenge spiritual authorities. 


What Does the Bible Say About the Pastor?

When we say “pastor,” we often refer to the single man who “shepherds” or provides spiritual leadership for the congregation. In a small church, he is usually a teacher, preacher, counselor, and minister. Any other elders or deacons answer to him and serve at his bidding.

This may come as a shock to some, but the office of the local pastor just described isn’t in the Bible. Spiritual leadership in scripture is always plural (1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5). 1 Timothy 5:17 does say that elders “labor in preaching and teaching” merit “double honor,” but there is no conception of the sole leader. No allowance is made to give ultimate authority to a jack of all spiritual trades. If a church doesn’t have some plurality of spiritual leadership, it isn’t following a clear New Testament pattern. (For more on this, listen to “Encouraging a church to embrace a plurality of Elders” by Practical Shepherding.) It’s at least worth considering that any pastor who considers himself an unquestionable spiritual authority is more a Korah that you should run from than a Moses that you should follow.


What Does the Bible Say About Spiritual Leaders?

The Bible does talk at some length about the role and purpose of spiritual leaders. Numerous passages describe the attitude those leaders should take toward their flocks:

Mark 10:42–45 “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

1 Peter 5:2–3 : “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 

The guidance to leaders is pretty clear—they exist to serve, not to be served. They lead by example and exhortation, not decrees and intimidation.

However, in addition to what they owe us, the Bible is quick to point out that their flocks owe them several things as well (the following list is not exhaustive).

  1. To pay them for their work (especially those who preach and teach) (1 Corinthians 9:7-10, 1 Timothy 5:17)
  2. To honor them (1 Timothy 5:17)
  3. Not to rebuke them lightly (1 Timothy 5:1)
  4. Not to admit a charge against them without evidence of two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19)
  5. To imitate their example (Hebrews 13:7)
  6. Obey and submit to them.


The Boundaries of Obedience and Submission.

The strongest of these commands is the command to obey and submit. It’s not a common refrain but only appears in one verse. Given the obvious potential for misapplication, it deserves deeper analysis. It comes from Hebrews 13.

Heb 13:7–9, 17, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away with diverse and strange doctrines… Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

This leaves open at least two questions before we can jump to the application. The first is “who are legitimate spiritual leaders?” the second is “is there any limit on their legitimate authority?”

In the first question, it’s easy to inject ourselves directly into the text, name the pastor or elders from our church and assume that we have to obey them. This disregards that the author of Hebrews knew his original audience and their particular leaders. So the recipients are expected to obey their leaders, but it doesn’t follow that all claimed leaders should be obeyed. For instance, if you were witnessing to a Jehovah’s Witness, who used this verse to say he couldn’t listen to you, because the Bible says he had to listen to his leaders. That would clearly be a misapplication of the text. 

There are a few keys in the passage about what constitutes legitimate spiritual leaders (in addition to 1 Timothy 3:1–13 and Titus 1:1–16 about the qualifications for elders). We are called to consider the outcome of their way of life, their faith, and the soundness of their doctrine. All of these things will have to be measured independently against God’s Word. A spiritual leader who falls clearly short wouldn’t merit submission. He may need to be challenged, even if he is not fully in error, as Paul challenged Peter for his partiality in Galatians 2:11.

In the second question, we must answer what limits exist to spiritual authority. In Matthew 22, Jesus advises us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesars.” This general principle implies that some authority belongs to Caesar, and some does not. All legitimate human authority exists in a matrix of complementary and limited authority structures—within families, places of employment (often described in scripture as master/servant), government, and spiritual authority. All authority is overshadowed by the ultimate authority of God and simultaneously confused by the alleged authority of false shepherds, abusers, and other illegitimate claimants. Spiritual authority rendered to church elders is better represented by a debit card with a clear account limit, not a blank check.


Legitimate Spiritual Authority over Administration

Some applications of the authority given to spiritual leaders are obvious. When is the church going to meet? Who will the next elder be? What ministries will it operate independently? What will it partner with other churches and community organizations to accomplish? This is all standard internal organizational authority that any institution has, from a civic club to a factory. 

We see some of this sort of administrative authority in Acts 6:1–7, as the Apostles appoint the first deacons to manage a food ministry. We also see it in Acts 4:37 as the Apostles manage the funds generated from offerings. In these regards, we should clearly submit or our local churches will become chaotic and unworkable.


Legitimate Spiritual Authority Over Personal Conduct

But beyond these matters, what authority do spiritual leaders have to regulate our private conduct, if any? Let’s look to the book of Philemon and an extensive example of an eminently qualified spiritual leader providing direction to a couple of people in error. 

Philemon is a brief letter from Paul to the wealthy man Philemon whose bondservant, Onesimus, has run away and apparently stolen from Philemon to aid his journey. While I won’t attempt to unpack the story in full, the bottom line is that Onesimus has wronged Philemon, and Philemon needs to accept him back with love and forgiveness by elevating his status above that of a man who is working off a debt.

Paul knows what the right thing for Philemon to do is. Not based on any special revelation but on a clear application of God’s word and how one brother in Christ ought to treat another.

In verse 8, Paul tells him what to do. “Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.” He then goes on to appeal to Philemon to accept Onesimus with open arms, offers to personally repay any outstanding debt, and gently reminds Philemon how much Paul has done for him.

The tone of Paul’s instruction is exemplary. He is kind and tactful rather than harsh and condemning. He clearly prefers to cajole rather than command. But even more important is the substance of his counsel. He essentially tells Philemon to follow the scripture and love his brother. He helps Philemon apply the plain teaching of scripture to an emotionally fraught, but otherwise straightforward situation.

Paul isn’t making up a special standard for the platform. Paul isn’t offering a radical new doctrine. Paul isn’t putting guardrails around Philemon’s Christian liberty. Paul is just applying scripture to a situation. Philemon is not at liberty to live in unforgiveness towards Onesimus. Paul is tactfully pointing that out. Philemon ought to obey Paul because Paul is simply relaying the message of God, in an authoritative way.


Can a Leader Make Up Personal Commands Not Directly From Scripture?

You’ll be hard-pressed to find any commended examples of church leadership making up special doctrines and standards for their churches. Actually, it’s fairly prevalent in the early church for false shepherds to do this, but Paul is always condemning it in his epistles as “other gospels” and false teachings.

As a rule of thumb, it seems safe to say “no,” leaders can’t do this. 

However, there is one instance that is somewhat close, occasionally used to suggest your local pastor has this authority (when you’ve already informed him that you carry bear spray, so that threat isn’t working). This account is in Acts 15, when Gentiles are first integrated into the church at Antioch.

There is some conversation among the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem about the question of whether Gentiles needed to abide by Mosaic law in any respect. Paul, Barnabas, and Peter make the case that they do not. The council agrees that Gentiles should not follow Mosaic law but work out some compromise guidance to send back to the church that includes avoiding sexual immorality (which was probably more common in Gentile culture, but unbiblical in any case). 

Their guidance also includes three elements not found elsewhere in scripture. They ask them to refrain from things sacrificed to idols (explicitly allowed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:8–10), strangled things, and eating blood.

As a compromise solution to make peace in the church, this guidance made sense. These elements of the Jewish dietary laws would be the most visible to potential Jewish converts, who might be repelled away from the church if they were so blatant about their Christian liberty. This would seem like a sensible application of the principle Paul expounds later about not using your liberty in ways that harm fellow believers or the spread of the gospel (Romans 14:13; 1 Corinthians 9:19–23).

However, it is a fairly specific application of the principle, and it raises the question “by what authority could this council command rather than just suggest the church do this?”

There are several possible ways to understand their authority:

  1. This was apostolic authority that was normative for the original apostles who walked with Jesus in the time before the text of scripture was complete, but not for spiritual leaders today.
  2. This was a special revelation from the Holy Spirit for that instance, which made it rise to the level of scripture or tested prophecy (stated explicitly in Acts 15:28).
  3. This is a general authority that church leaders have, under certain conditions, to translate biblical principles into specific commands for church followers.

If 1 or 2 are the best reading of the text, then this is descriptive rather than prescriptive and has no direct application today. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say #3 is the correct application, at least in part. If leaders do have this authority, then we should limit it to the conditions under which it was applied in Acts 15.

  1. Church leaders exercise this authority extremely rarely (once or twice in their lifetime, since we only see this happening once in Acts)
  2. Church leaders should be responding to some particular problem (like division in the church), not just introducing their preferences and pet peeves.
  3. Church leaders should be exercising this authority in massive unity with other church leaders across an entire city or region.
  4. There should be a significant dialogue about the pros and cons of different decisions with lively debate and sincere Christians on both sides of the issue stating their cases at length.
  5. Church leaders should be espousing a general rule for all believers in the region, not prescribing a course of action for a single individual.
  6. Church leaders should point to specific Biblical principles to back up their guidance (which was the case in Acts 15, even though some of the scripture wasn’t written yet).

If this principle has general applicability today (which is not clear), it certainly does not give the self-styled “man of God” the authority to make up guidance for members of his congregation whenever he finds it easier than discipleship. For the church to even exercise this authority, it would require conditions that are impossible to achieve in hyper-fundamentalist churches.

Biblical leaders exist to serve, not to be served. As lay people, we should be discerning about whose authority we submit to. The bulk of claimed spiritual authorities in Jesus’ day and our own don’t meet the biblical standard. When you find a group of leaders who meet the biblical standard, we have to remember that we should also seek to serve them in mutuality and not demand to be served. Lay people can certainly be self-centered and domineering just like leaders can.

We honor, uplift, and even obey them as they point us toward the clear implementation of God’s word in our lives. As they disciple us to be more like Christ, let’s thank them. If they try to domineer and curtail our Christian liberty in violation of Scripture, let us respectfully correct them. If after proper correction, they insist on a gospel of works and of human authority to prescribe those works, let them be accursed (Galatians 1:8).

—Nathan Mayo


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