DO YOU NEED YOUR PASTOR’S PERMISSION ABOUT WHO YOUR FUTURE BRIDE SHOULD BE?
Nothing that is written here is to encourage anyone to become self-willed or stubborn about what they want, or to seek their own will more than God’s. Nothing that is written here is to encourage young people to ignore the advice of their pastor, close friends or family members who may have helpful things to say concerning this area of their lives.
We need to recognise what God is doing in our lives. He is to be the Lord of our lives and we are to honour him! It is God who paid the great price by giving his Son for us that we might become his children, and that we might seek and do his will in all things! Our lives are no longer our own but belong to him! (1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 2 Cor. 5:15). He himself is at work continually in our lives to bring about his will and his good pleasure! (Philippians 2:13). Have you got a relationship with him? Do you believe he is working in your life and leading you? Apart from your salvation through Christ, getting married is one of the biggest decisions you will make in your life. You might get bored with your job and leave it to look for another job, but you can’t do that with your wife – that is, you can’t do that if you are following Jesus Christ! You might make a bad mistake while driving and lose a leg, but if you leave your wife just because you think you made a mistake, you might lose your soul! Getting married is one of the most important decisions in your life! Doing something wrong here might not only bring loss and harm to you in this life, but in the life to come!
Do you think that God is interested in who you will marry? Of course he is! Do you believe this will happen just by chance or just by your choice alone? Is the Lord your God? Or is the pastor your God? I ask again, have you got a relationship with Jesus Christ? Do you seek your own will, or man’s will, or God’s will? Is it the deep prayer of your heart, the very breath you take continually to say to God, “Your will be done!” Do you believe he can direct your steps and guide you?
How can we now God’s guidance and will in our lives? Romans 12:1,2, tells us:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
This subject is a difficult subject. Why is it a difficult subject? It is a difficult subject because everything depends on the spiritual condition of the person – on the state of their heart! Do you really want God and his will, or are you just religious? Are you offering your body a living sacrifice to God on a daily basis, to live a holy life that is pleasing to him? Or are you seeking to please yourself, to enjoy the pleasures of the eyes and of the flesh? Do you live carnally or spiritually? The devil comes to young people and says, “You have waited long enough! Choose this one to be your husband, to be your wife! Grab this opportunity before it is too late!” (1 Timothy 5:11,12,15, gives us an example of this.) So they follow their own desires and the lust of the flesh and suffer great harm to their lives!
Whatever advice anyone gives you, it doesn’t matter how good it might be, it will not fundamentally help you unless your heart is right with God, unless you are in a right relationship with him! So nothing that I am writing here can guarantee that you will make the right choice and go the right way unless your heart is right with God.
So, if you genuinely want God’s will in your life then you will offer yourself and your body to him as a living, holy sacrifice, waiting on him, and not getting impatient with the way he leads you. As the Scripture we read above says, you won’t ‘conform’ yourself to this world; you won’t follow the bad habits and the lifestyle of other young people who love this world. You will spend time alone with God and you will read his word so that you might be ‘renewed in your mind’ so that you come to know in your heart what is his good, acceptable and perfect will for you! And this includes His will concerning your future wife.
As you walk with the Lord, he will give you an understanding of his will – which is good and acceptable before him! Your father and mother cannot tell you what is God’s will for you in this matter. Your pastor cannot tell you who is God’s choice for you. This is one of the most important choices you will make in your life – probably the most important! It is you who is to have an understanding of God’s will in this matter – not anyone else. It is God who will guide you in this matter, because He is your Father as well as your God! If we depend on someone else to tell us who our bride shall be, it means we have no personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are depending on a person as though we don’t know God. A man cannot take the place of God in our lives – whether parent, pastor, prophet or apostle!
If you go to your pastor to ask him if you can approach and ask a particular woman in the church to be your bride, then you are making him God or he is acting as God! If your pastor says, ‘No, you can’t ask her’, then he is making himself God. This is sin and idolatry. A man – the pastor – is taking the place of God in your life. I know this might be the tradition or law in the church that you go to, but nevertheless, it is sin against the church and the church members that the decision about who you can ask to be your bride has to depend on what the pastor says. There is nothing like this in the whole Bible. There is certainly no teaching like this in the New Testament. That is why such a tradition in churches is almost unknown in most of the world. It is not done and never has been by most believers for nearly 2000 years. A pastor has no authority from scripture or from God to tell you who you can marry and who you can’t marry just because he is a pastor! No one can, in the end, really tell you this. You are to have an understanding of who is to be your bride out of your own personal relationship with God! It is the same for a Christian woman, she must have an understanding from the Lord that the man she is going to marry is His will for her.
Please understand the context of this study. I am writing about the abuse of authority that some pastors are exercising in their churches. Of course, in some cultures today it is the parents of the woman who might not agree to you marrying their daughter and this is a completely different matter, and concerns the cultures of this world. I cannot enter into that subject in this study, which only concerns the issue of the power pastors exercise in churches.
You might say, “But a pastor has a responsibility to look after my spiritual well-being.” I agree completely! The word of God confirms this – Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17. There was a woman in the church that I wanted to marry. After some time of getting to know her and waiting on the Lord, I believed that this was God’s leading and God’s will. Nevertheless, I went to the pastor to share with him what the Lord was doing in my life and to see if he had any wise counsel to give a young man like me. I did not go to ask his permission to marry her – because, according to God’s word, he cannot give or refuse such permission – but I was ready to listen to any counsel or warnings he might have for me. And of course, he did not think that he had authority to tell me who I could marry and who I could not marry just because he was pastor. If he had had any worries or doubts about my decision, he would have shared them with me and I would have considered it my responsibility before God to consider his doubts or warnings. But in the end the decision would have to be based on what I believe God was doing in my life. However, my pastor was just glad with what God was doing in my life.
I quoted Hebrews 13:17 above, which gives one aspect of a pastor’s role in the church, but we need to be instructed by the whole counsel of God to give us a balanced picture, so let us look at 1 Peter 5:2,3, where Peter is giving instructions to pastors,
“Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for dishonest gain, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.”
This is the same instruction that Paul gave to the pastors from Ephesus, namely, that they should feed God’s people with God’s word. This is what the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep!” This is the great responsibility of pastors, and they are to do this without acting as lords over God’s people, they are not to use their position to rule or dominate over the lives of the people of God. They are not to have or use authority over God’s people like a village chief, like a president – this is the teaching of God’s word! Listen to the words of Jesus,
“But Jesus called them to him, and said unto them, You know that they who are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their leaders exercise authority over them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever would be great among you, shall be your servant: (Mark 10:42,43).
Do you see? The Lord Jesus said, ‘so shall it not be among you’. So, how does it look in your church? In the Kiswahili Union Version translation it says, ‘hutawala kwa nguvu’, but ‘kwa nguvu’ is not in the original text, the translators have added this. The word used in the original Greek means to rule over someone like a lord! In the original Greek of the New Testament, the word ‘hutawala’ in Mark 10:42 is the same word as ‘wajifanyao mabwana..’ in 1 Peter 5:3 – Greek: katakurieuo. This word means ‘to rule as a lord’ – and the Lord Jesus Christ has instructed us that pastors are not to behave like this! What does Jesus say about those who lead in the church? He says, “but whosoever would be great among you, shall be your servant: And whosoever of you will be the first, shall be servant of all. (Mark 10:43,44). So, how does it look in your church? Is it like this?
The main characteristic of a pastor is someone who serves the believers. He serves and feeds them with the word of God; he serves them with love and care. He does not use his position to act as lord over the believers, over their lives or over their faith. The apostle Paul makes this very clear when he says to the Corinthians, “Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith you stand.” (2 Corinthians 1:24). Even when the apostle Paul had to correct and rebuke the Corinthians, he did not seek to dominate and control their lives! Even as he says later in this letter, “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor.4:5). You see, Paul declares himself to be their servant! Writing to the Thessalonians he says, “And now you know what restrains that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity does already work: only he who now restrains will do so, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked One be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 2). A true pastor is willing not just to preach but also give his life for the sheep! Paul preached Christ – and Paul LIVED Christ in front of the believers.
Let us now return to Hebrews chapter 13, but this time looking at verse 7 which says, “Remember them who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their manner of life.” Pastors do not ‘rule’, pastors ‘lead’. At the time of Jesus, in the land of Israel, a shepherd went in front of the sheep, leading them. He did not drive from behind! In verse 7 we are told to FOLLOW the faith of those who lead us and preach to us the word of God – considering carefully end of their conduct. What do the words ‘the end of their conduct’ mean? These words are asking you to consider carefully what fruit is being revealed in the lives of those who preach to you. Is the end result of their preaching and living bearing the fruit of the life of Christ in their own lives? Let us put verses 7 and 8 in sequence. Now we read, “considering the end of their manner of life. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever..”. You see? We are to follow the faith and teaching of those who manifest the life of Christ in their own lives – that is, the end, final result or direction of their lives is Jesus Chrsit! Their preaching and faith is to produce the life of Christ in them, and that is why we are to follow their faith and teaching so that it produces the life of Christ in us also!
So now we can better understand verse 17 of this chapter: “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.” First, let us recognise that it says we are to ‘obey’ and submit to those who lead us, not those WHO RULE OVER US! Don’t follow anyone who seeks to rule over your life! It will be very dangerous for your spiritual welfare! We are to submit to those who labour in the care of our souls, who care for our spiritual progress! Their ministry relates to our spiritual growth in the Lord, and that is why we should submit to them – it does not relate to them making decisions for important matters in our lives instead of us!
Jesus said concerning the true shepherd, “And when he puts forth his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.” (John 10:4). We also saw that Peter tells elders, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for dishonest gain, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.” Together with Hebrews 13:7,17, these verses show us that we are to follow those who are an exemplify the Spirit of Christ to us. The position of eldership or being a pastor does not give a person the right to control or rule as a lord over God’s people, as if they have to obey him whatever he tells them to do in their lives.
(Finally, I would like to say something about the word ‘obey’ in Hebrews 13:70. In the original Greek of the New Testament the writer uses the Greek word ‘peitho’ – here, as I say, translated as ‘obey’in English. Generally in the new Testament this Greek word is not translated as ‘obey’, but rather has the meaning ‘to persuade’ (Luke 16:31), or ‘to depend’ (Mark 10:24), or ‘to trust/believe’ (2 Corinthians 1:9; Acts 28:24). So in the context that we are looking at the word ‘peitho’ could mean something like ‘to do or to follow something or someone because you have been persuaded, or you believe, it is right to do so’. So if we apply this meaning to Hebrews 13:17, we understand that we should follow or put our trust in those who lead us because we have been persuaded by their conduct – which presents itself as a worthy example for us to follow! However, it is not necessary to have a knowledge of the Greek to understand this verse because the Scriptures we have looked at, when taken together, give us this same understanding!)
Let me make it plain. If your pastor tells you to rob a shop, would you ‘obey’ him? Of course not! This example is clear. Let us take a more practical example. You believe God is leading you to move to another city. Your pastor says to you that this is not the will of God and that you must remain in your present town in his church. What would you do? Would you immediately ‘obey’ him, because he is your ‘pastor’? Now I know sometimes we believe God is leading us in a certain way, but we are sometimes not completely sure and sometimes we might be wrong. That is why with such decisions it is good to wait on the Lord and also to listen to people’s advice, including your pastor’s advice because they may have something to say that will help us discern God’s will. This is normal and good. There is nothing wrong with listening to your pastor’s advice – as long as you understand it is his advice! Your responsibility is to bring what he says before the Lord to see if this is truly what God is speaking to you, and then you must make the choice based on your relationship with the Lord, based on what you believe the Lord is saying to you and how he is leading you.
But if you don’t do this, if you just immediately obey him because he is your pastor then you are honouring or fearing man more than you are honouring and fearing God. You would be disobeying God or grieving his Spirit. Or is it that you don’t know God, that you don’t have a relationship with him and you need a man to tell you how God is leading you in your life? The scripture says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). Are you a child of God? Then be led of God in your life and don’t let man control your life.
A pastor can’t make decisions for you. A pastor mustn’t make important decisions for you or instead of you. That is not his role; that is not his ministry. He is to preach Christ and him crucified; he is to teach sanctification, grace, love, faith and holiness so that you grow in Christ, so that YOU make the RIGHT decisions in your life! He has no authority to control your life with his decisions. That would be a kind of witchcraft. He is to care for your spiritual well-being and growth. That is his responsibility. Yes, part of this responsibility might include giving counsel and advice, even warnings, but he has no biblical or spiritual authority to make decisions instead of you for your life. He certainly has no authority whatsoever to COMMAND you what to do or what not to do in the practical matters of your life. If he gives you good spiritual ADVICE and you recognise it as such and follow it, then you will be blessed. If he gives you advice and you only follow it because he is your pastor, then you are on very dangerous ground. This is the worship of man.
Please don’t misunderstand me! I have been a pastor and yes, I have met believers who have decided God has told them to do something and they will not listen to anyone. Basically, they want what they want and they won’t let anyone stop them! Nothing I am writing is written to encourage this kind of self-willed and stubborn behaviour! Such people bring hurt and loss on their own lives.
Let us now come to the matter of seeking a bride. No pastor, prophet or apostle has any scriptural or spiritual authority to tell you who you can marry and who you can’t marry. This is madness. This is a deception. This is an invitation to disaster and abuse! This is nowhere taught in the Bible, nor do we have even on example of such a thing in the scriptures. This is the clear fundamental truth that we have to recognise.
However, you might say to me that a pastor has responsibility to look after his flock. (I have already dealt with this in some measure but let us pursue this idea a little more.) Yes, a pastor has a responsibility to look after the flock and I have already stated that a pastor can give advice and even warnings, but he cannot himself decide who you can marry and who you can’t marry.
The basic problem is this:
some pastors act like God or like a lord in their churches, which is against the teaching of Jesus Christ and the apostle Peter. Not only this, the believers are in fear of the pastor, as if he is a God, or like a village chief!
This is the root of the problem!
As a result, the church members are afraid to do or say anything with which the pastor might disagree or make him displeased or angry. This becomes a terrible culture of fear and idolatry, and this results in much evil and sin.
Because of this culture, a young man can go to his pastor and tell him that he would like to approach a woman in the church to start a relationship, and the pastor can just say, ‘No, you can’t.” And the young man just has to accept this ‘law’, this ‘order’! No advice or explanation is given! It is just the pastor’s decision. So nothing happens! This is an unbiblical, evil custom. Without doubt, the pastor is sinning against this young man. Nothing can justify behaviour like this. The pastor is not God! (Please understand, I am talking about normal situations that many believers face. I am not talking about matters of serious sin. In matters of serious sin, this becomes an issue of church discipline and that is not what we are talking about here.)
What is grieving is that not only is the pastor acting like God, but that the Christians are also behaving like he is God, as if they had never read the Bible. There is no understanding of the Bible in these matters.
The Lord Jesus has purchased his church with his own blood (Acts 20:28 – and Paul reminds the pastors of this in this verse!), and He is the Head and Lord of his church, and we are not our own, nor do we belong to the pastor or any other person, but to Jesus Christ alone! (1 Cor. 6:19,20).
What is happening is not an example of ‘spiritual care’ or exercising ‘spiritual responsibility’ – it is the domination of one man over God’s people! Instead of God’s people being allowed to be led by the Spirit of God into His will (which, yes, might involve advice from the pastor, but not his domination), the pastor now takes control of this area of their lives! He takes the place of God. The pastor now becomes like a prophet, and we have to go to him to find out who we should marry? Can you see how this can harm and destroy your relationship with God, because your pastor is taking God’s place? And as I will show, this custom has already harmed and destroyed many lives.
Please remember that at the beginning of this study I said that I am not encouraging anyone to be stubborn or to rush into a situation. I am not encouraging anyone not to listen to the advice of others that might be useful. I know that young people make mistakes in this area of life because 1), they are impatient and don’t wait on the Lord’s timing for him to bring the right person to them, or 2), they love the world more than Christ and follow the desires of the flesh and so rush into a wrong relationship or into sin or 3), they confuse physical attraction with love, etc! Yes, all these things and more can be true. This is why I say that what is important is that a pastor should preach Christ and him crucified, and the power of the cross to sanctify and save us from the power of sin. Added to this, wise biblical teaching and counselling can be given to young people about how to live and about what dangers to avoid in this area of their lives. All this is good. But for a pastor to act like he has some kind of special knowledge about who you and I should marry is a deception.
You might say to me, “but young believers may not be spiritually mature enough to decide properly in these matters, so they need the direction and decision of the pastor because he knows all the church members.” I have already answered this in my comments above, but let us consider this matter further from another biblical perspective, the perspective of a pastor’s spirituality. Do you think a pastor is spiritual because he is a pastor? Then you are on dangerous ground! Jesus told us that there would be wolves in sheep’s clothing and that we would know them by their fruits! Being a pastor does not guarantee your spirituality! To the pastors from Ephesus the apostle Paul said this, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30). So we see from this a pastor can start well but then he becomes corrupt because of the power that his position gives him. He no longer represents the Spirit of Christ, but starts to control the congregation like a lord. He becomes lord of his people instead of Christ!
We have a clear example of this in John’s third letter, where he writes, “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, receives us not. Therefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he does, speaking against us with malicious words: and not content with that, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and forbids them that would, and casts them out of the church.” (3 John 9-10). The scripture puts the truth clearly before us. Some men, that is, some pastors – if not many – love to have the preeminence in the church, something Jesus said should not happen among us. These things should not be so. Do you see? Diotrephes controlled the whole church and ruled it like a dictator, making himself lord over God’s people! Anyone who disagreed or spoke against him was chased out of the church. And is it not like that in some churches in Tanzania? Even elders do not want to appear to disagree with the pastor or challenge anything he says. Why? Out of respect? The answer is ‘No’. It is because they fear him; fear what he might do. And certainly the church members wouldn’t say anything to directly disagree with the pastor, because the pastor rules as a lord and people are in fear of him like a villager might be in fear of what the witchdoctor can do! Such behaviour does not represent the Lord’s church!
This has gone so deep into people’s thinking that they believe this kind of system and behaviour is normal! It is not normal in God’s church! It is a deception. The believers at Corinth judged things by the outward appearance (2 Cor. 10:7). If anyone presented themself as a prophet or apostle and made himself important, then the Corinthians submitted to him whatever he did among them, and gave him money when he demanded it from them. The Corinthians LET this kind of man dominate them and rule over them – even to the point of hitting them! Listen to what Paul says, “For you permit it, if a man brings you into bondage, if a man devours you, if a man takes of you, if a man exalts himself, if a man smites you on the face.” (2 Corinthians 11:20). And this is happening today!
This is a deception and very dangerous. Because of these things Paul warns the Corinthians that they are in danger of accepting a different spirit, a different Jesus and a different gospel. As I said, these things do not represent Christ or his church.
Tell me, would you like to have corrupt pastors like the ones mentioned above to be your pastor? Or do you count all pastors a spiritual? Listen to Paul’s amazing statement in Philippians 2:20-21, where he is talking about Timothy, “For I have no man like minded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” This is remarkable! This is his testimony of other men after being years in the ministry. He says that many seek their own and they do not genuinely care for the flock! Why is this? It is because many men in ministry love position and power, love having authority, love money, love being popular (2 Cor.11:20; 1 Thess.2:5,6; 2 Tim.4:10). All these things corrupt a man’s heart and make him act as Lord or God in his church. Such men are certainly not spiritual and they cannot truly spiritually feed and lead God’s people into Christ and into a true knowledge of him.
The spirituality of the pastor is not guaranteed just because he has been made a pastor!
You remember we looked at Hebrews 13:7, and there we are told to carefully consider the manner of life of those who lead us and what their manner of life leads us to. And we saw that the end or direction of their manner of life should display the life of Christ! These are true shepherds who we are to follow and submit to.
Why am I writing this? I am not writing this to say that all pastors are unspiritual. I writing this in response to the false idea that a pastor is spiritual just because he is pastor; and secondly in response to the false idea that a pastor is spiritual enough to tell you which person to choose for marriage! If this custom is allowed, it opens the door to all kinds of evil. It gives a pastor power and authority that a man should never have. Let me give you some examples and perhaps you can add others that you know of.
A married pastor had a relationship with another woman in the church and she became pregnant. He had committed adultery. As soon as the pastor learnt that she was pregnant he went to a young man in the church and told him, “It’s time for you to get married because you’re old enough now. Look, isn’t so and so a good church member? I think she would be a good wife for you!” And of course the pastor mentioned the name of the church member that he had made pregnant! Obviously the pastor hid this information from the young man! The young man then followed pastor’s advice and not long after he married this young woman who had been made pregnant by the pastor. Of course, eventually the truth came out. This same event happened in two different churches – one in the Iringa area and one in the Morogoro area. In the first church the young man continued to live with a woman he had married and who had been made pregnant by the pastor. In the other church, the case was taken to the court and the young man’s marriage to the young woman was annulled!
This is heart-breaking! The pastor not only ruins one life – the woman’s – but because of this custom and his godlike authority in the church he can also ruin the life of another person – the young man’s! And what about the parents of these two young people? What heart-ache must they go through?
This custom is not only unbiblical but it attacks the very centre of our relationship with God by transferring power to a man – power that a man should never have! Because of this, as I said, it opens the door to all kinds of evil and sin.
So a young man in the church can go to his pastor and ask him if he can begin a relationship with a particular young woman in the church. The pastor can say ‘no’ and in some churches he doesn’t even have to say why. This is utterly wrong. Why does the pastor say ‘no’? Is it because he is so spiritual that he has special knowledge from God that such a marriage would not be right?! Or is it because the young lady leads the choir or has some other function in the church and the pastor doesn’t want to ‘lose’ her ‘to a marriage’? Or is it because she is pretty and the pastor likes having her around the church as a single lady? Or is it because she is very pretty and the pastor wants to start a sinful relationship with her? Or is it because he has already committed adultery with her and doesn’t want to lose this relationship? (In this last example it would certainly be good for the pastor to say ‘no’ to the young man – don’t you agree?). Or is it because the pastor has been offended by this young man in the past? Or is it because the pastor doesn’t like the young man? Or is it because… or is it because… or is it because…? You see? This system is opens the door to all kinds of abuse, sin and confusion.
If a denomination gives a pastor this kind of authority and decision-making then they are sinning against him because through this unbiblical custom they are exposing him to temptations of power and control over people’s lives that he should never possess!
What a terrible situation! It is possible that God himself is awakening desires in a young person to lead him to his future bride. But then the pastor can crush and destroy what God is doing without anyone knowing the reasons! In most of the world there is nothing like this – because there’s nothing like this in the Bible! According to his own pleasure and preferences a pastor can stop two people getting to know each other. We have already mentioned the following great truth, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” I know this clearly refers to the marriage of two people, but if we are God’s children then does he not work in our hearts and lives to lead us to the person we might be our husband or wife? Although we probably do not hear a voice from God, nevertheless does he not give us a peace in our hearts that acts as a confirmation of the way that we should go and who we should be with? Does not God bring two of his people together so that they may be joined together according to His will? What judgement then awaits a pastor who – without any authority or guidance from God – stops two people from getting to know one another; two people whom God might be wanting to bring together!
As we have seen, this evil can work the other way as well. Not only can the pastor stop a genuine relationship from forming, but because of his power and authority in the church, he can also lead young people into a completely wrong or inappropriate relationship with another church member. This too, has terrible consequences!
There are other examples that don’t involve sin as in the two examples above, but they can be equally disastrous. A pastor can go up to a young man and tell him that a particular young woman in the church would be a good wife for him! And such is the godlike authority of some pastors that the young man thinks it is right and good to take her as his bride and marry her! And who knows for what reasons the pastor is doing this! Is not this the reason why some, if not many, marriages have problems or even end in divorce after not too long a time? I have been told it is, and it is no surprise! Two people are thrown together by the pastor. Two people who have had no feelings for each other and who perhaps don’t know each other very well have been led into a marriage that is not of their making! In many cases there will of course be problems, great problems, in such inappropriate marriages, and these problems have been caused by this evil custom.
The stories and examples above hardly begin to tell all the damage and heart-ache this unbiblical custom has caused! This system of church oversight is not only destroying biblical understanding and people’s relationship with God, but it is also depriving them of their normal reasoning powers. They are blinded because they respect, fear and obey their pastor as though he were God! It is as the prophet said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you, that you shall be no priest to me: seeing you have forgotten the law of your God.” (Hosea 4:6). People do not follow the word of God nor his truth. They prefer the traditions of men to the knowledge of God!
I am not saying that every pastor that is part of this system is evil or unspiritual! They may indeed be placed in churches as pastors where this has been the custom for some time, but they themselves are spiritual. They don’t abuse this authority or their position as pastors. They don’t stand in the way of what God may be doing in people’s lives. They advise and counsel or maybe even warn but they do not seek to control people’s lives. Praise God for spiritual men like this wherever they are!
Again I would like to make clear that I am not writing these things so that you should disrespect your pastor, whether he be spiritual or carnal. I have already quoted verses which teach that we should respect those who lead us and have spiritual oversight over us. But this does not mean we have to obey them in things for which the word of God gives them no authority! I am writing these things to give the reader a biblical understanding of this area of church life so that they don’t fall into the devil’s trap! I am writing these things so that young people will hopefully find a way through to the will of God for their lives.
I am writing this because of events like the following, which happened this year (2017) in Warri, Delta state, Nigeria, in the church of a man who calls himself a prophet. The prophet calls out a woman from the congregation and asks her if her husband is present. She says she is not married. He then tells her to walk around the whole church, which is large and has many hundreds of people, and to choose a young man who she would like to marry. After walking around the whole church she comes back and tells the prophet that there was no one that she would like to choose. The prophet then invites any young men from the congregation who would like to marry this woman to come forward. Eight men came forward and stood at the front, but she didn’t like any of them. After telling the woman that she had a spiritual problem, the prophet invited the single women in the congregation to come forward and stand behind any of the eight men that they liked and would like to marry. Many women rushed forward and stood behind the man they liked. One man had about 11 women behind him. The prophet then told the men that he gave them one month to choose a bride from among the women that were standing behind them. He asked other pastors in the congregation to write down their names, and said that when the men had chosen their wives he would sponsor the marriages on the same day. How could anyone describe this as Christian or biblical!
If you are shocked by this, then what about your country, your church? If the pastor uses his position to tell you who you can or can’t marry, or can tell you who you should marry, then your church is no different from the church above. Maybe it is different in the degree that it happens, but in essence it is the same evil custom. It might be a different size of fruit but it is from the same root.
You might ask me, “What should I do if I find myself in this kind of church?” In answering this question let me first tell you another true story that happened in a church in Tanzania. There were two young people who loved each other but the pastor refused to give them permission to be engaged. The young woman explained to the pastor in tears that they love one another and that parents on both sides had given their permission. The pastor told her, “God has not spoken to me about this engagement!” And the pastor didn’t give his permission and so didn’t let this engagement go ahead. Who can defend such an evil and unbiblical practice?! Why does the pastor think that God has to speak to him personally about who one of the church members should marry or not? Who has taught him this deception?
However, these two young people believed that God was bringing them together and decided to leave the church and move to a different church. In doing this, they did nothing wrong. Their own personal relationship with God is far more important than submitting to the evil control of that type of pastor. When the two young people left, the pastor told his church that he had cursed the lives of both these young people. However, the two young people were well received into the other church, they got married there and have been blessed in their marriage up to this day.
These two young people had the courage to believe God more than man, to fear God more than man. They had a sense of what God was doing in their lives and chose to follow what they believed was God’s leading. However, for some there is a problem. It is a problem I have mentioned earlier but now would like to look at in more detail.
In some churches (of course, not in all) it is taught that the church you have now joined is the place where you meet God and where the ministry of his Spirit is. This is where the altar is and where the pastor is now responsible for your spiritual well-being. This is emphasised to such an extent that the believers are made to think or made to believe that if you leave this church, then you are leaving God! If you are disobeying your pastor in anything he tells you to do then you are disobeying God. They are taught that if you leave the church you will be cursed by God. What a cruel deception this is! This is not taught anywhere in the NT. On the contrary, what is taught in the NT is that there will be men who take control of a congregation and rule there like they are lord!
So what are some of the results of this teaching? Firstly, the believers in the church cannot have true spiritual respect for the pastor, because they fear him in a wrong way. The pastor and what he says in every matter carry almost the same weight as if it were God! Contrary to the words of Jesus and of Peter, he makes himself Lord over the people of God and the people treat him as a lord, or as if he were president or even a witchdoctor. This is not spiritual submission to the pastor, this is enslavement! It creates a culture of control on the part of the pastor and a culture of fear on the part of the congregation. This does not represent respect for the pastor, it represents the spiritual bondage of God’s people. This doesn’t encourage spiritual growth in Christ, it prevents it or destroys it! None of this represents the Spirit of Jesus Christ or his church.
So what is the result of this in the context of what we are considering in this study? The result is this, that not everyone has the courage to do what the two young people in the story above did, namely, to leave their church and find another church where they will get good spiritual leadership and oversight. Many believers are enslaved to the idea that if they leave their church against their pastors wish, then they are leaving God and losing God’s blessing! Truly this is a kind of superstition or witchcraft! And if people are enslaved to this culture or system, there are two possible options that happen. Some will submit to the word of the pastor as if he were God, and perhaps allow him to crush what God wants to do in their lives. Others will not just leave the church but also together with this they will stop following Jesus Christ. Why? Because they have been completely deceived by the teaching that the church where they are now members is the only right place where they will be blessed by God, and to move away from the church against the pastor’s permission is the same as disobeying or sinning against God. So when they leave the church because the pastor refuses to give them permission to be engaged, they believe they can no longer follow Jesus Christ. Because they have been taught that turning your back on the church you are in is the same as turning your back on Jesus Christ! I have been told that more than a few young people have turned back from following Jesus Christ because of this issue. It is surprising how deep this deception is rooted in the hearts of people. It is difficult to believe that people can be so deceived when we have the Bible that shows us clearly that nothing like this is taught.
What am I saying? I’m saying that if you are a child of God you have a responsibility to look after your relationship with God. In the end, you have to obey God rather than man, even if that man is a pastor, a so-called prophet, or a so-called apostle. Children of God are led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14). Yes, this is a serious matter! And you must know from the Lord what he is doing in your life and how he is leading you. You must wait on the Lord and know what is the witness of the Spirit in your own heart. If you have a relationship with Jesus Christ then it must be like this, whatever the cost. You should not go against the witness of the Holy Spirit in your own heart. You should not go against what you believe the Lord is doing in your life and speaking to you. There are things that at times the Lord does in our own personal lives that are basically for us to recognise and know, and not someone else. He doesn’t tell someone else. He expects you to know and to walk in the obedience of faith. This is part of growing up spiritually in the Lord!
In 1 Kings chapter 13, God sent a prophet to Bethel to prophesy against the altar of Jeroboam. God had also told this prophet that he must not eat bread or drink water or return the same way that he had come after he had prophesied in Bethel. Later, after the prophet had done this, an old prophet who lived in Bethel went to this prophet and asked him to come to his house to eat bread. But the younger prophet said he could not do this because God had forbidden it. The older man then said that God had also spoken to him through an angel and told him that the other prophet should come back to his house and eat bread. So the prophet went back to the old prophet’s house. But after eating and drinking the old prophet prophesied against the other prophet because he had disobeyed God! And when the prophet left the old prophet’s house, a lion met him and killed him.
It is important to know what God is doing in your life and saying in your life! Another person cannot act as God in your life! If we let this happen then we give opportunity to the devil. (When I say that you need to know what God is ‘saying’ in your life, I don’t mean that you have to hear God’s voice physically; I mean that God can speak to us through the Scriptures, through circumstances, through what other people say and through the witness of his Spirit in our hearts.)
Were the two young people in the story above right to leave the church? If they loved each another, if they both believed it was God’s will for them (and maybe after listening to any advice of others) and if there was no ungodly reason which would make it wrong, then yes, there was absolutely nothing wrong in them leaving that church and that pastor! Apart from the question whether it was right for them to get married or not, it was good for them to come out from under the ministry of a man who thinks God has to tell him first before a young person can get engaged to another young person! To be under the ministry of such a man is dangerous. However, if they fully believed that God had led them to be together, then there was nothing wrong in what they did by leaving church. And according to the testimony of the person who knows them, getting married does indeed seem to have been the right decision!
The word of God says, “For there is one God, and ONE mediator between God and men, the man CHRIST JESUS.” (1 Timothy 2:5). This is very clear! I know that this verse basically refers to our redemption through Christ alone and our access to God through him, but it does also underline the truth that we have a direct relationship with the Father through the Son! There is now no priest or pastor that stands between us and God in this relationship! A true Christian has been born God’s Spirit and has access to Him by the Spirit through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:18). This is the nature of the New Covenant as declared by God when he said, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:10-11). Does this mean that we don’t have to go to church or listen to the word of God being preach? Of course not! Of course we do this and should do this! But it does mean we have a personal relationship with God and that out of this relationship with Him we can know his good and perfect and acceptable will for our lives (Romans 12:1,2).
In one denomination, you have to go to the priest to get forgiveness of sins. So, contrary to the Scriptures, the priest becomes the mediator between you and God! Now in other denominations, you have to go to the pastor to know who you are to marry. So, contrary to the Scriptures, the pastor has become the mediator between you and God! The word of God says, “For it is God who works in YOU both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13). Do you see? God is at work IN YOU, in your heart and in your life, to bring about HIS will and good pleasure! God is at work in you to give you an understanding of his will in your life! There is no mediator between you and God except your saviour Jesus Christ! But do not easily and quickly mistake what you yourself want for God’s will, because the verse before this says, “Therefore, my beloved…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (verse 12). Do not use the expression “God told me…” just to do what you personally want to do! Yes, God is at work in your life to bring about his will, and you and I are to offer our bodies a living sacrifice and to be renewed in our minds to make sure that we come into an understanding of his will for us. And we are to do this not in an easy casual way, but with godly fear, seeking only his will and his glory in our lives!
I don’t know if you are genuinely following the Lord with all your heart, or if you are just a very religious person who wants to follow the desires of your flesh. Nothing that I am writing here is to encourage any young person to selfishly and wilfully ignore the advice of others. Nothing I am writing here is to encourage any young person to consider these things lightly or to make quick and easy decisions based on just physical attraction for another person! I know there are people, and probably you have met them, who use the expression “God has spoken to me…,” or, “God has told me…,” and we know from the situation and from their manner of life that this is not true, but they just use these expressions to justify what they themselves want to do.
Nothing that I am writing here is to encourage this kind of thing at all! However, people who are stubborn and selfish will probably continue to be so.
Now, a person might read this and think, “What shall I do? The only reason I married my wife, married my husband, is because I was following I pastors instructions. I wasn’t personally convinced about this, I was just following what the pastor said.” And the person might particularly think this if they’re having some problems in their marriage. Firstly, let me say that just because there might be problems in your marriage doesn’t mean that your marriage is wrong! Secondly, God looks on our hearts, and if you were following your pastor’s advice because you thought this is what pleases God, then God will know this and he is well able to be merciful to you through all these things. Paul said that he obtained mercy from God because what he did when he persecuted Christians he did in ignorance: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and insolent: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” (1 Timothy 1:13). God knew your heart at the time and he is able to be merciful more deeply that we can recognise and make a way for you in it through his grace and mercy.
Thirdly, and more fundamentally, let me say this: the Lord is God; he knows the end from the beginning. He is greater than all things. He is greater than any mistakes you think you have made, and he is greater than any condemnation that wants to rule or remain in your heart! (1 John 3:19,20). What is God’s will for you? God’s will is that you do not live in the past; that you do not live in regrets about the past; that you do not look back to the past. If there is anything that you believe you must put right in your relationship with God, then put it right with him. But then this is the word of God to you, “Brethren…this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as would be perfect, be thus minded.” (Philippians 3:13-15).
And this is what you must do. If you are married you are to love your wife, love your husband. If you are married, you are one flesh with your husband, with your wife – and this union is of God, it is according to God, for he said, “Therefore they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6). For this reason, do not leave your husband, do not leave your wife. Basically, the one thing that dissolves a marriage is the death of the other partner. (And the only cause for divorce is if the other partner has committed adultery.) Don’t let the devil ruin your present and your future by making you look back to the past and the mistakes you think you have made! His grace is sufficient, his love is strong enough to carry you through and to bless you and your present husband or wife to the day you meet the Lord face to face!
To underline the importance of this subject and what I have just said, I will finish this article by emphasizing the importance and meaning of marriage in the Bible. Please read the following which will show us the importance and significance that marriage has before God.
This is an important subject. It is a serious subject. The marriage relationship is the most important of all human relationships! In the beginning God created Eve out of the side of Adam. The first picture the Bible gives us of human relationships is not of parents but of man and woman, of husband and wife! Having created a wife for Adam, God said, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). From this verse we see that the marriage relationship has priority over the relationship between the parent and the child – “therefore shall a man leave his father and mother.” I have a very close and strong relationship of love with my children. This is what we would expect in any family! But when three of my children got married, I realised they were entering a relationship that was ‘stronger’ and that takes priority over my relationship with them! “And they shall be one flesh,” God says of the husband and wife.
When asked about divorce, the Lord Jesus quotes these words from the book of Genesis and then he adds, “Therefore they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6). This is a most deep and wonderful thing to understand! God has made us in such a way that when they marry, the husband and wife become one flesh – and this ‘joining together’ is according to God’s design! The importance of this is made clear to us by God in the Old Testament. If a married person slept with another person, that is, to commit adultery, then both of them were to be stoned to death (if both were consenting to the act). They had torn apart what God had joined together! What could be more serious than an act that you had to die for? However, if an unmarried man forced himself upon an unmarried woman against her will, then God commanded that he must marry that woman because he has dishonoured her (Deuteronomy 22:22-29).
From this we can see that the physical union between a man and a woman has great significance before God – a significance and importance that is deeper than we realise! Because of its significance before God, and because how such a union affects a man and a woman, God has ordained that such physical union should only take place within marriage – between a man and a woman.
Now, we are not under the Old Testament, however, the significance and weight of this truth remains the same for us as we have already seen from the words of Jesus. The apostle Paul also makes this truth very clear to us in 1 Corinthians 6:15,16, when he says, “Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid. What? know you not that he who is joined to a harlot is one body? For two, says he, shall be one flesh.” This is an amazing statement by Paul! He is talking about the sin of fornication or adultery, and Paul is reminding the Christians that their bodies are members of Jesus Christ, that they belong to Him, and he says that if you lie with another woman who is not your wife, even if she is a prostitute, then you make yourself one body with her! Do you see how important these things are before the Lord? Paul points out how uniquely serious this sin is when he says, “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is outside the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Generally, according to the word of God, the only thing that dissolves the marriage relationship is the death of the other partner (Romans 7:2,3; 1 Corinthians 7:39), although as we know, Jesus says if one partner commits adultery this is grounds for divorce. All these things help us to understand that the union between a man and woman is holy, precious and of great meaning before God. And this union, according to God’s design, is between one man and one woman for as long as they both shall live! This is all the more important because it reflects a spiritual and eternal truth.
The picture of the marriage relationship between husband and wife has a greater significance than just for mankind! What God did in the garden of Eden prefigured God’s eternal purpose in preparing a bride for his son! God put Adam to sleep and then took a rib out of his side and with this he created Adam’s bride, Adams wife – Eve! When the soldiers came to take Jesus down from the cross they found that he was already dead and they pierced his side was a spear. And from his side blood and water flowed out. Do you see the parallel between what happened in the garden of Eden and what happened at Calvary? At Calvary the elements that would redeem, cleanse and sanctify Christ’s bride flowed forth out of the Saviour’s side! We are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and we are no longer our own but we belong to him! Moreover, Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
When God had formed eve out of Adam’s side it says that he brought her to Adam, he presented her to Adam. And out of Jesus side water and blood flowed forth so that he might present to himself a glorious pure church! In Ephesians chapter 5 Paul makes this comparison complete when he says, “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (verses 30-32). Isn’t that amazing! Paul quotes from Genesis where it talks about the relationship between Adam and Eve and he applies this to Christ and the church!
The relationship between a husband and wife represents the relationship between Christ and his church and this is why Paul says, “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
This gives us some vital biblical background to this very important truth. Let us now look again at what Jesus said when he was asked whether a man could divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus quotes the verse from the book of Genesis that we have looked at and finishes by saying,
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6).
Some people like to quote Genesis 28 1:9, as if this represents a foundation for the teaching that a pastor can tell you who you can or cannot marry. The first thing to notice here is that Isaac told Jacob not to marry any of the daughters of the Canaanites. Isaac didn’t choose Jacob’s bride, he just told him to choose a bride from their family. But the truth that this represents is already found in the New Testament, namely that a Christian should only marry a Christian (1 Cor.7:39; 2 Cor.6:14). The second thing to notice is that Isaac was Jacob’s father and not his pastor. But as I said, the advice that Isaac gave to his son is already included in the word of God in the New Testament which tells us we should not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever.
As I have said, the he teaching or the tradition that you need to get permission from a priest or from a pastor so that you can approach a particular woman whom you would like to marry is nowhere to be found in the Bible – neither in the old Testament nor in the New Testament. To force this tradition on churches opens the door to many dangers and to much evil. Of course a young person can make a mistake, but this evil tradition is not the solution that will help and direct young people in the right way. I have addressed the ways in which young people can be helped and directed in these matters in this article.
However, let me mention the two examples we have in the Bible where a specific woman was chosen to be the bride of a man. The first happened in the garden of Eden, where God took a rib out of Adam’s side and created a wife for him, and God brought his wife to him. In this example it is God who chose the woman who would be Adam’s wife! The second example of is that of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham loved and cared for his son. He did not want his son to have a wife from among the heathen. So Abraham (that is, the Father) sent his oldest servant (that is, the Spirit) to find a bride for Isaac (the Son) from his own country and family. (Genesis 24). And if you read this wonderful story you will see how God worked through circumstances to lead Abraham’s servant to the right woman! And when Rebekah was brought to Isaac, he loved her. In both these examples, God was wonderfully at work in the lives of these two men to bring to them wives that were suitable for them!
So I would like to encourage you to give yourself to God, to put your trust fully in him, and allow him to work in your life, and patiently wait on him to lead you to the wife’s that will be suitable for you! And remember, as in all relationships, you will need to grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the love of God in order to know God’s blessing in your marriage!
It is my great hope that what I have written will help some of God’s children come into a deeper relationship with him and also to come to an understanding of His will for their life and how they are to fulfil it.
© David Stamen 2017
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