Test of Pastoral Orthodoxy

Originally published at: Test of Pastoral Orthodoxy | Corey J. MahlerCorey J. Mahler

The wife who merely does not commit adultery is not therefore faithful; there is more to being a faithful spouse than mere carnal fidelity. Certainly, a faithful wife is sexually faithful, but she is and does far more — a faithful wife keeps a home, cooks meals, instructs children. True faithfulness is not one dimensional, but all encompassing; a faithful wife is faithful to her husband in all things. The same is true for pastors — a faithful shepherd does far more than merely not openly worshipping false gods. A faithful pastor is faithful to God and to His Word in all things. A faithful pastor will preach and teach God’s Word — even the parts that are unpopular or make him uncomfortable; a faithful pastor will defend the flock from wolves; a faithful pastor will not hold or teach false doctrine. Your pastor may not be faithless, but he is almost certainly unfaithful.

Unfaithfulness is never a matter of one thing — it is always a matter of degree. It is very unlikely that your pastor will come right out and declare his allegiance to Satan or one of his lieutenants; however, all false teaching is from Satan — it is all doctrines of demons. Thankfully (for us and for our pastors), the descent through heterodoxy into heresy and apostasy follows a predictable pattern. There are four stages: rank heresy, denial of hierarchy and headship, denial of nature, denial of plenary inspiration. These are, more or less, in reverse order — those descending through heterodoxy into heresy and apostasy will generally pass through these stages from four to one1.

The purpose of this article is to enable you to test the spirits — to test your pastors and teachers.2 Your pastor3 will probably fail this test — you need to recognize and accept this. That your pastor will fail this test does not necessarily mean that you must start looking for a new church. At present, there are vanishingly few pastors who will pass this test; it matters more where and why your pastor fails this test. Ask the questions as worded4, and force out actual answers — do not accept evasion. Pay careful attention to how your pastor answers — write down his answers (even during the discussion, if necessary).

Let us begin.

Rank Heresy

If your pastor answers any of the following questions incorrectly, then you are obligated to do the following: Rebuke him and correct his error; if he does not repent, seek to remove him; if you cannot remove him, find a new church. You may not compromise here. To compromise here would be to endanger your soul, and every soul entrusted to your care. There are many questions that can be asked here — take any statement from the Creeds and pose it as a question. Here are five vital questions:

  1. Are all men sinful by nature?
    1. Yes.
  2. Are sinful desires themselves actual sin?
    1. Yes.
  3. Did Christ suffer and die as a substitute for mankind?
    1. Yes.
  4. Were Christ's life and death a propitiatory sacrifice that atoned for the sins of all men?
    1. Yes.
  5. Are the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper) Means of Grace (i.e., do they offer forgiveness of sins)?
    1. Yes.

If your pastor passes this stage, then you may proceed to the next.

Sex (and Gender)

Similar to the first stage, you are obligated to correct, remove, or flee if your pastor does not answer these questions correctly. A compromise — by your pastor — here is indicative of a pervasive, corrupting worldliness, and the pastor who has fallen this far will not long resist becoming a rank heretic. There is one key questions here, but a number of additional questions may be necessary (for various reasons). First, the key question:

  1. Are men and women ontologically different?

To clarify: Ontology is the study of the nature or essence of things, so what the question is asking is: ‘Are men and women different according to their natures, different according to essence, different according to God's design?’ Do not, however, avoid using the term ‘ontology’ — the terms matter.

You will likely need to ask some additional questions here. Understanding where your pastor truly stands on the key question is your true goal, but these (and other) additional questions may be necessary to flesh out his initial answer. Your pastor must hold that men and women are ontologically different, but you must examine exactly how he conceives, how he understands this difference. And so we must ask about a core difference between men and women: Submission.

  1. What does it mean for wives to submit to their husbands?

Most pastors will answer incorrectly (and likely also incoherently). It is your duty as a man to correct your pastor if he errs here. Find other men in your congregation and approach him together to correct his error (three is the ideal number here). Scripture is quite clear: Wives are to submit to their husbands in all things. Man is the head and woman must submit and obey.

If your pastor uses the term “mutual submission” (or any closely related term), then that is an enormous red flag. Man is not to submit to woman in anything — to do so would be sin. Woman is to submit — that is her nature —, and your pastor must be unequivocal about this. Your pastor may fairly raise the Scriptural teaching that a man must love his wife as Christ loves the Church, but such should be secondary to woman’s submission. If your pastor tries to use the previous teaching to ‘soften’ the fullness of woman’s submission, ask the following question:

  1. May the Church disobey Christ in anything?

The answer, obviously, is no, and so the teaching of how a man must love his wife does absolutely nothing to alter her proper submission.

The foregoing questions adequately explore this stage, but you may wish to ask some additional questions to further gauge your pastor’s understanding of these matters. There are two equally effective questions here:

  1. Should a father, under present circumstances, permit his daughter to attend university? If so, should he permit her to live on campus?
  2. Should (single) women be allowed to live alone?

These are, in truth, the same question — feel free to ask either or both in whatever order you like. You are asking your pastor about male headship, about his understanding of the state of the world, and about his presuppositions and priors with regard to a fair number of things (freedom, liberty, Feminism, Egalitarianism, et cetera). As ever, listen carefully to your pastor’s answers — his diction will reveal much.

Now, if you are in the US, then your pastor will likely have a number of idols of which he will need to be disabused (e.g., the Constitution, freedom, liberty, equality) — this will take time. Your pastor may err here without requiring you to remove him or find a new church; you must rebuke and correct him, though. Quite clearly, the answer to both of these questions is no (the follow-up to the fourth question should also be answered in the negative). We all know why this is so — indoctrination, promiscuity, headship; your pastor should know these things — it is his duty to you, to your congregation, and to God to know these things.

However, these questions are not the immediate focus of this test, and so I will not be treating (at any real length in this article) how to handle your pastor’s answers.

Race

With some precious few exceptions, pastors will err here. Your pastor will probably err here. You should rebuke your pastor if he errs here; you should find other men in your congregation who believe rightly on this issue and bring them with you to talk to your pastor; but you should generally not seek to remove your pastor or to find a new church if your pastor answers these questions incorrectly — however, this general rule does not apply if he preaches or teaches such error.

  1. Are there differences between and among the races of men with regard to their attributes (e.g., musculature, bone structure, height, intelligence), behavior, et cetera?

Your pastor must be a race realist — to be anything else is to lie about God and about His Creation —, and so your pastor must answer this question in the affirmative. We know that there are many differences between and among the races — there is virtually endless evidence of this. We also know that all men are descended from Adam. Your pastor must affirm both of these things. The nations (i.e., races) are part of God’s good plan and they will be preserved in Paradise. To deny that race exists is to call God a liar; to deny that the races will be preserved (or to claim that they are punishment for Babel) is to accuse God of sin. Christians are not permitted to be anything other than race realists.

It is very likely that your pastor will have adopted lies from our culture on this issue — you will have to lead him to the truth over time. Find other men in your congregation who believe the truth and start up a regular conversation with your pastor — buy him a coffee or a beer. Your pastor needs to know that this is a matter of truth and fidelity, not a personal hobbyhorse. You want him to be faithful because you care about him, his flock, and truth itself.

If necessary, make clear that this is not an issue over which you will find a new church, unless he forces you to do so. You are dedicated to your church and to your fellow parishioners — your pastor must have to doubts about this. However, your higher duty to God and to truth will compel you to find a new church if your pastor preaches or teaches what you know to be lies — he must similarly have no doubts about this.

Plenary Verbal Inspiration

Not all heretics start with denying the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture — in fact, most start elsewhere —, but all pass through this stage. All (future) heretics will eventually feel compelled to twist Scripture or simply to deny that all of it is inspired. As Christians, we are required to hold that Scripture is the Word of God — and this is all the more true of pastors. This is the most expansive of the stages in theory, but the most narrow in practice. The key question:

  1. Is the Bible the inspired Word of God?

Your pastor must give a one-word answer to this question: Yes. The only permissible ‘qualification’ is: ‘Yes, Scripture, in the original autographs, is the inerrant Word of God.’ If your pastor offers any other qualification (e.g., Scripture ‘contains the Word of God’), then you are in mortal danger. The pastor (or Christian) who denies plenary verbal inspiration will not long remain a Christian.

As stated, the denial of the inspiration of Scripture is seldom the actual first step — there is virtually always some underlying or motivating reason why such a man abandons Scripture. Men who wish to justify their sins — or those of others — will inevitably deny and pervert Scripture. All men recognize the Word of God — some do so to their condemnation. If your pastor does not give a simple affirmative answer, you must ask him a second question:

  1. Which parts of Scripture are not inspired?

In truth, it does not really matter how your pastor answers this question (unless he uses his answer to this question to walk back his answer to the previous one). A pastor who denies any part of Scripture is a false shepherd, and you must remove him or flee. Here are some parts of Scripture you may use to test your pastor (even if — especially if — he answers that Scripture is the Word of God):

  1. Is polygyny morally permissible?
  2. Is (chattel) slavery morally permissible?
  3. Is the death penalty morally required?

If your pastor does not answer all of these in the affirmative, then he is — at best — unfaithful. You must rebuke and correct (with applicable Scripture passages) your pastor if he answers incorrectly; you may not accept a pastor who answers incorrectly and refuses to repent when corrected from Scripture. Do not permit your pastor to obfuscate with comments about the positive law, philosophy, or other such irrelevancies — force him to answer according to Scripture, according to the Moral Law, according to God’s Word. God permits polygyny and slavery5 and He demands the death penalty6. We may ban polygyny and slavery under our laws (for God does not require them), but we may not neglect the death penalty (as God does require it).

A pastor who cannot affirm these truths has already rejected God and His Word; he will descend further into false teaching over time and may very well apostatize. This may seem extreme, but: You must seek to remove a pastor who repeatedly refuses to amend his errors with regard to these matters, or you must seek a new church. You must not support such a false shepherd with your (continued) attendance and you must not endanger the souls entrusted to your care.

Conclusion

With full knowledge, understanding, and acceptance that by doing so I elect the stricter Judgement, I advance that these sixteen questions may be used to ascertain whether or not a pastor or a teacher is orthodox in his teaching and his beliefs — at least sufficiently orthodox that one may remain under his spiritual headship without sinning by going against conscience. Further, I advance that you should ask your pastor these questions — it is your duty as a man to ensure that your pastor is faithful and that the souls entrusted to your care are being taught right doctrine.7 Do not be found derelict in your duties.

To be clear: I do not advance that this test is perfect, not least of all because it relies heavily on the ability of the questioner to pay close attention to and to interpret the answers given in response to the questions. You must hear what your pastor is actually saying — sometimes when he does not even fully understand all that he is saying (intentionally or not). The test is sufficient, if you employ it correctly.

These are many unfaithful pastors in the West, generally, and in the US, specifically, and a growing number of faithless ones. You may learn some unfortunate things about your pastors and your teachers via the use of this test, but it is your duty to know such things. Instruct and preserve the souls entrusted to your care, and ensure that they are not being led astray by false shepherds. Do your duty.

God has always preserved His Church — she will not fall now. The gates of Hell — all its fury, rage, slings, arrows, spite, malice, slander, temptation, and all the rest — shall not prevail. Gott mit uns.

  1. It is worth noting, however, that stage four is a 'special' stage in that it is typically motivated by some other heterodox or heretical belief. ↩︎
  2. Matthew 7:15–23. ↩︎
  3. n.b., for most of this article, I will employ "pastor" to mean both pastors and teachers. ↩︎
  4. If you are an exception to this, you will know. If you are not absolutely certain that you are an exception, then you are not. ↩︎
  5. In the OT, He actually commanded slavery, at times. ↩︎
  6. Genesis 9:6. ↩︎
  7. TGC 207 — Thinking Out Loud (Trinity 8) ↩︎

To My Fellow Lutherans

You may wonder why I have neglected to mention the Book of Concord in this article (although I have linked to the site). You are right so to wonder, but you are wrong to believe (if you do) that I should have done so. The Book of Concord is a correct statement of the Faith — I subscribe, quia, to the doctrinal, exegetical, and philosophical content of the Book of Concord. However, the Book of Concord is not a complete statement of truth, or even a complete statement of the Faith — and not one of the men who composed the documents that comprise the Book of Concord or defended the Book of Concord at risk of life and lands would have contended it is. What the Book of Concord addresses, it addresses correctly, but Satan is clever — he has attacked us where the Book of Concord does not speak, because we have become blind to areas of the truth that have been neglected over a course of centuries, and in earnest over a course of decades.

It is, of course, vitally important that we continue to contend for the Faith, and specifically for soteriological truths, for Rome, and others, yet exist and teach falsely, but doing so is not sufficient. All truth is one, and we are not permitted to deny any truth, for denying any truth is a tacit denial of all truth. Where the battle is waged today is ontology — the nature of man, the nature of woman, the nature of reality, the nature of creation, et cetera. If we line up neatly for battle where Satan has withdrawn and neglect to defend the position he is assailing, then we are faithless soldiers and fools. Do your duty.

If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.

Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.

— St. Martin Luther of Wittenberg, Confessor