Posts Tagged ‘1 Samuel 24’

Whenever I hear the story of a pastor under attack – whether the account comes from the pastor, one of his family members, or a board member – I wish I could utter some magic words and resolve the entire conflict peacefully.

In the minds of many Christians, those magic words already exist in the pages of the Old Testament.  Those words are:

“Touch not the Lord’s anointed!”

I first encountered this phrase in my early twenties when I was serving as a staff member under the supervision of a pastor.  Within a short time after I came to the church, the pastor and church council butted heads.

The council asked the pastor to carry out certain duties.  He agreed that he would do them, but then resisted.  The council became frustrated, and then the pastor promised that if they asked him to resign, he would do so.

They finally did ask him to resign, and he countered with, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed, and do thy prophets no harm.”

I guess in the pastor’s mind, those words – quoted as a proof text – were supposed to end all discussion about his future as pastor.

He had played his trump card.

I don’t remember how many council members backed off after hearing those words, but I know of two individuals who decided to go to Scripture and view those words in context.

I was one of them.

The first time we encounter the phrase, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” in Scripture is in 1 Samuel 24 when David has the opportunity to kill Saul.  Let me share with you what I wrote about this passage in my book Church Coup:

“I have heard pastors under fire quote 1 Samuel 24:6 as a way of keeping their critics at bay.  While King Saul sleeps in the front of a cave, David – who is hiding in back with his men – creeps up and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, even though David’s men want him to murder Saul instead.  But David tells them, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.’  David speaks directly to Saul in verse 10 and utters a similar sentiment.  I’ve also heard pastors quote 1 Chronicles 16:22 to silence critics: ‘Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.’

“These passages teach that God appoints and anoints leaders, whether kings or prophets.  (Paul states in Acts 20:28 that the Holy Spirit appoints pastors/elders as well.)  David knew he was the successor to Israel’s throne but would only secure it in God’s time and way.  But when David agreed not to ‘lift my hand’ against the Lord’s anointed, he was refusing to remove him from office by killing him.  (Israel didn’t vote on anything.)  Because the Lord selected leaders in the Old Testament, they could only be displaced by divine decree.  But since members elect their pastors in congregationally-run churches, they have the right to un-elect them as well.”

Let me delve a little deeper into this phrase by making four observations about it:

First, while we can draw some parallels between Israel’s leaders in the Old Testament and spiritual leaders today, we can’t press every detail.

David had the chance to kill Saul, but didn’t take it.  Good for him.  He didn’t want to become king by using violence … nor to become king prematurely.

But who is trying to kill pastors today?  Almost nobody.  When churchgoers attack their pastor, they attempt to remove him from office and destroy his reputation.  But that’s a far cry from the temptation confronting David: to become king by murdering Saul while he was sleeping.

However, I will say this: a cursory study of the Old Testament reveals that most of the time, God was the One who authorized the removal of a king, prophet, or priest from office.  He may have done this through human means: Saul was killed/committed suicide in battle; various kings were assassinated; a prophet like Isaiah was sawn in two.

But most of the time, God removed the leaders of His people through death by natural causes (like David himself) … and He let “nature” take its course.

Second, some Christians quote this phrase because Scripture doesn’t give us a lot of guidance concerning how to remove spiritual leaders.

For example, Paul never says in any of his 13 epistles: “Now here is the way to remove an elder/pastor from office …”  He doesn’t seem to even have envisioned it, which is why some churches believe that elders should be leaders for life.  It would have been helpful if Paul had included several extended sections on how a congregation could remove a spiritual leader in his writings, but he never did.

In 1 Timothy 5:19-21, Paul says that those elders/pastors who sin [continually] “are to be rebuked publicly,” but he doesn’t state explicitly that they should be removed from office.

This is why many churches … but not enough … create a section in their governing documents on how to remove the lead pastor from office.  Those documents may or may not cite Scripture with their directions, but because Scripture isn’t clear on how to pull this off, many churches have chosen to follow an extra-biblical/political process instead.

I believe that whenever we discern the theology of Scripture on any given topic, we need to take the whole of Scripture into account … so I don’t think this single phrase represents the entirety of the Bible’s thinking on the issue.

Third, the good thing about David’s words in 1 Samuel 24 is that he takes the call of God on Saul’s life seriously.

As talented as David ended up becoming, he didn’t call himself to become Israel’s second king.  God did that through a “not it” process involving Samuel the prophet selecting David instead of his brothers.

I don’t think most churches – or church boards – think very much about the fact that pastors haven’t chosen to go into church ministry by themselves.

No, pastors go through training and ordination because they believe that God has called them into the pastorate.

I served as the solo/senior pastor of four churches.  Nobody in those churches ever witnessed how hard I worked to obtain my Master of Divinity degree from Talbot.  Nobody saw me research and write my 100-page thesis for Dr. Robert Saucy.  No board members in those churches were present at my ordination council or commissioning service.

In other words, they did not witness all the events that transpired when I was called, trained, and commissioned for service.

And most board members, I would guess, have never even attended an ordination council or commissioning … so they don’t view the pastor as a called individual, but as a hired one.

But I do know this: I became a pastor not because my grandfather and father were pastors … not because I couldn’t do anything else with my life … not because I thought I would become rich and famous … but because God handpicked me to become a pastor when I was 19 years of age.

My general call to the pastorate was ratified when I was ordained.  My call to specific churches was ratified when a congregation voted on me to become their pastor.

God called me to be a pastor, and no board or person can take that call away from me.  As my friend Charles Chandler is fond of saying of churches, “They can take your position, but they can’t take your calling.”

But I don’t see church boards or church antagonists even referencing God’s call upon their pastor when they attack him … either his general call to ministry or his specific call to their congregation.

I believe this is a grave mistake.

The call of God upon a pastor’s life does not mean that he cannot be criticized or even removed from office.

But it does mean that such actions need to be engaged in carefully and soberly.  David carefully weighed the idea of removing Saul through murder and decided against it because God had called Saul to be king at that time … not David.

Many church boards need to decide against removing their pastor as well … and learn how to work things out in a biblical manner instead.

Finally, the call of God upon a pastor’s life does not protect him from the consequences of his own actions.

If a pastor drifts into heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior, a church has the right … and the duty … to remove their pastor from office.

*If a pastor teaches that you can earn your salvation through good works … or that Christ’s death on the cross isn’t enough to save us … or that Jesus rose from the dead spiritually but not physically … that pastor is guilty of heresy and should be removed from office.

*If a pastor has been sleeping with a woman other than his wife … or he’s been sleeping with another man … or he’s been caught with a prostitute … quoting “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” just doesn’t wash.  The pastor has disqualified himself from office.

*If a pastor robs the local Best Buy … or smacks his kids around … or, God forbid, murders someone … he can’t yell, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” as if he’s immune from correction and removal.

But sadly, this is how this phrase is sometimes used.  The pastor is saying, “I’m special … I’m above God’s law and man’s law … you can’t touch me … and if God wants to remove me from office, He will do so directly.”

But most of the time, God removes a sinning pastor through His people.

Now should proceedings begin to remove the pastor from office, I believe the pastor should be treated with dignity, respect, and love … even if he has disappointed many people.

I think of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who word hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.”

If you’re a pastor, and you’re under fire in your church, please don’t use the phrase, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” as a way of getting your critics – or the church board – to back off.

God doesn’t include that phrase in Scripture to provide you with ecclesiastical immunity.

And if you’re a board member, and your pastor has clearly been engaging in conduct that requires correction or removal from office, don’t even hesitate to move forward, even if he should tell people repeatedly, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.”

There are many phrases I’d prefer that Christians use instead whenever a pastor is under attack … and Colossians 3:13 just may be my favorite:

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”





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