Popular theologian and Desiring God founder John Piper says it's a good practice for Christians to make sure their pastors and church leaders agree with the teachings of the Bible. Pastors are not infallible, and should not be taken as the ultimate authority, he cautioned.
"The Bible is the ultimate authority and infallible, not the pastor and not the elders. And it doesn't mean that you believe everything he says without examining it," said Piper in a recent discussion about whether or not online sermons undermined local churches.
He explained that while the Bible advises Christians to submit to the authority of their spiritual leaders and encourages respect for the office of the pastor, it doesn't mean Christians are supposed to accept everything church leaders tell them as the infallible word. On the contrary, he noted, the Bible represents Christians who track the leadership of their pastors with biblical study as desirous.
"You see in Acts 17 that the Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica because they examined the scriptures daily to see if these things were so when an apostle was speaking to them. So it's not wrong for a people to love their pastor and submit to their pastor and still make sure that from the Bible, what he is saying and how he's leading squares up with Scripture," said Piper.
In discussing the impact of the access to online sermons on local church leadership, Piper pointed out that online sermons are just an additional layer of people's access to truth other than their preacher.
He explained that the monopoly Christian leaders once had on access to the teachings of the Bible began to break when the Bible was first translated and made available to the public. That monopoly continued to give way with the advent of books, radio and television.
Local pastors and their congregations could choose to see this increased access in a positive light.
"Is that a bad thing to have exposure to knowledge that might reveal unhelpful things?" asked Piper. "If it makes the pastor acknowledge that he has to make a good case then that's good to feel pressure."
If exposure to online sermons causes people to disengage or become disrespectful of the leadership of the local church, then in that case, it would definitely be hurting it, said Piper.
But while increased access to different sources of teaching may cause relational tensions between pastors and congregants, "I think avoiding those kind of tensions by hiding from truth is probably not going to honor God."