THOMAS: There is an important Reformation principle behind this question: the priesthood of all believers. That was a profound rediscovery at the time of the Reformation. Religion had been hidden in a language that people didn’t understand by professional people to whom they had no real access.
The Reformation discovered that we are all priests before God. The individual can approach God by himself or herself through faith in Jesus Christ rather than through the intermediary of a sacerdotal system. The Bible being given into the hands of an individual was vitally important. That the individual could read and discover the rudiments of the gospel for themselves, through the help of preachers and teachers, was another vitally important Reformation principle.
PARSONS: It is often misunderstood that, as elders, as pastors who shepherd God’s people, we have authority, but our authority is not in and of ourselves. Our authority is not innate. Our authority is ministerial authority. It’s declarative authority. It’s authority based in the Word of God. Our job is to serve God’s people by serving them with the Word of God.
So, it is important that we have authority. The Lord has called us as elders to exercise church discipline and to proclaim the gospel of Christ and the whole counsel of God, but our authority is not in and of ourselves. Our authority is in the Word of God as we declare it to the people of God. The authority is in God’s Word and in God Himself, and we serve Him through that authority.
FERGUSON: It’s also worth remembering that, even in what Luther thought of as a right strawy epistle, James says that teachers and preachers will be more severely judged for what they do (James 3:1).
None of us should ever look at a preacher or a teacher and simply think he is in a position where he is being favored. Every word that comes out of our mouths is being assessed in heaven. It’s a joyful thing to be a minister of the gospel, but it’s also a tremendously sobering thing. God is not specially favoring ministers in that respect; He’s giving them great responsibility to put the food into the mouths and hearts of the people. That’s why we really need to pray for our ministers.