By Thomas Williamson, Th.M, Ph.D. – 3131 S. Archer Avenue – Chicago, Ill., 60608
The familiar command, “Touch Not the Lord’s Anointed,” appears in Psalm 105:15. So that we can see what God is talking about here, let us quote the entire passage, starting with verse 10:
“And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant, saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance; When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it. When they went from one nation to another, and from one kingdom to another people; He suffered no man to do them wrong; yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” (Psalm 105:10-15.)
Many preachers and evangelists today teach that if anyone criticizes them, or finds fault with them in army way, or goes against their wishes, then that miserable sinner has “Touched the Lord’s anointed.” Many eloquent sermons, rivaling Dante’s Inferno in ferocity, have been preached to warn those who would dare commit such a sin that they face the unmitigated wrath of Almighty God. But is what that verse really talking about?
The immediate context of the verse is a reference to the patriarch Jacob, who was not an ordained preacher, at least not as we would understand that concept today. Just what kind of hazard was Jacob in fear of as he wandered from one nation to another people? Did he live in mortal dread that someone, somewhere, would criticize him? No, his concern was that the heathen would use physical violence against him. Read his complaint in Genesis 34:30: “And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.”
It is clear that to touch the Lord’s anointed is to commit an act of physical violence against the one anointed by God. It does not refer to those who verbally attack and criticize a preacher and his doctrine. Such verbal attacks may be quite wrong and sinful, and in some cases they may be commendable and necessary (see Jesus criticizing the Pharisees in Matthew 23, Paul criticizing Peter in Galatians 2:14-21, Paul versus the Judaizers in Galatians 5:12, Philippians 3:2, etc.) but they are not covered by the idea “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.”
For further confirmation of this, see I Samuel 24:6-7, where David had an opportunity to have King Saul killed, but refused to take advantage of it: “And he said unto his men, The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord. So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul. But Saul rose up out of the cave, and went on his way.” Immediately afterward, David publicly criticized Saul in front of 3000 of Saul’s troops, as well as his own 600 men, saying “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee. As sayeth the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked, but mine hand shall not be upon thee.” (1 Samuel 24:12-13.) No one seemed to feel that David was touching the Lord’s anointed by this open rebuke of Saul. It is clear that to touch the Lord’s anointed involved violence against his person, not criticism, rebuke or public disagreement.
A similar incident took place in 1 Samuel 26: “Then said Abishai to David, God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand this day: Now therefore let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the second time. And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not; for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless? David said furthermore, As the Lord liveth, the Lord shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 26:8-11.) David was willing to let judgement be executed against King Saul by the hand of another. He was not talking about the judgement of someone criticizing Saul, or disagreeing with Saul, or printing an article in opposition to Saul’s doctrine, but rather about the violent death of Saul. That is what it means to touch the Lord’s anointed.
In 2 Samuel 1:14-15, David had an Amalekite executed for the sin of stretching forth his hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed. What had the Amalekite done? Had he criticized the doctrine of a big-name televangelist? Had he exposed the moral failings of a preacher falsely claiming to be a holy man of God? Had he voiced opposition to some pastor’s proposed building program? No, his offense was of an entirely different nature – by his own testimony, he had taken his weapon and killed Saul, the man God anointed to be king of Israel. (I believe that Saul was already dead and that the Amalekite stripped his body and then concocted the story of having killed Saul in the vain hope of receiving a reward from David.) Regardless of whether or not this man killed Saul, David believed that he had killed Saul and had him executed for that offense, not for the offense of verbally criticizing Saul, which was something David himself had done.
Why, then, do we hear so much whining from preachers today who warn their followers, and their critics, not to touch the Lord’s anointed? Just what do these preachers have to hide, and what are they so anxious to cover up? One would think that it is the unpardonable sin to criticize or find fault with any preacher in any way. Some of the big televangelists have even hinted that God will punish their detractors with death.
To rebuke a preacher who has committed errors of false doctrine or practice cannot be the sin of touching the Lord’s anointed, because it does not involve the use or threat of physical violence. Such rebuke is appropriate and even commanded in certain instances. “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” (Galatians 2:11.) “Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” (Titus 1:13.) “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear,” (1 Timothy 5:19-20.) The office of elder here is the same as the scriptural office of bishop or pastor. Presumably it would also include televangelists and ecumenical evangelists, even though no such creatures are authorized in the New Testament, and they could not be higher in rank than the Apostle Peter, who Paul rebuked publicly before the congregation of Antioch.
Who is the Lord’s Anointed?
Since we are instructed so many times that we must not touch the Lord’s anointed, it might help to check out the New Testament and find out just who are the Lord’s anointed today. In 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 we read; “Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who also hath sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” The Apostle John tells us, “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things…. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” (1 John 2:20,27.)
There we have it – all Christians are the Lord’s anointed. How could it be otherwise? In Old Testament times, only some believers were priests, but in this age of grace, we are all priests: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ … But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:5,9.)
In the light of this glorious truth, that all born-again believers are the Lord’s anointed, perhaps when we are admonished by a preacher to “Touch not the Lord’s anointed,” we would do well to answer, “Same to you, buddy!” In fact, the preacher from his place of prominence in the pulpit can do more harm, to more people, than the average man in the pew, if he is following unscriptural principles and practices, and therefore he is to be more carefully scrutinized and watched. Yes, the preacher is the Lord’s anointed, if he is truly saved, but so are you, and so are we. We owe a tremendous amount of courtesy to all of God’s true preachers, including an obligation not to oppose or criticize them in an improper and unscriptural manner. But they have the same obligation of courtesy to all Christian laymen, who are also the Lord’s anointed.
Some pastors seem to have the idea that because they are ordained to the ministry, they are on a higher and more exalted level than their followers, but at the same time they are to be held to a lower level of standard of conduct. Because they are preachers, they say, it is inevitable that they will offend people, and they are not going to try to avoid giving offenses, because if they did, they would have to stop preaching.
This is the very opposite of the teaching of the Word of God, which insists that preachers are to be held to a higher standard of conduct than their people: “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12.) “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all.” (James 3:1-2.)
Where do Baptists Stand?
This writer is a Baptist, and historically, the Baptist ministers have not held themselves to be on a higher and more exalted level than their people, but have regarded themselves as being on the same level before God as their members. Sad to say, some Baptist preachers have now begun to elevate themselves above their people, and to claim a higher privilege of rank. If anyone does not bow to their claims and allow them to rule over the people, then they accuse such detractors of “Touching the Lord’s anointed.” Perhaps such modern-day Baptist popes have been watching too many charismatic preachers on the boob tube.
As an antidote to such deluded thinking, allow me to quote from a few respected Baptist authors on the subject. First, from D.B. Ray, and his book Baptist Succession – A Handbook of Baptist History, published in 1912:
|“Thus we find that the elders are to rule by example and by feeding the flock of Christ. Whatever may be the different gifts or offices in the Church of Christ, no member has a right to claim the pre-eminence in the execution of the laws of Christ. The very fact that the ministers or elders are chosen or ordained by the churches, proves that they are inferior in point of authority to the churches which have invested them with the ministerial office. The apostles themselves only claimed to be servants of the churches, for Paul said, ‘We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.’ 2 Corinthians 4:5. The only way to become great in the kingdom is to be a great servant. Every minister is equal in point of privilege with every other member of the church; but, as a minister in his official capacity, he is subject to, and inferior to the church. His individual acts or decisions have no more binding force than those of any other member.” (Pp. 227-228.)?
Then we turn to the book Baptists, Thorough Reformers, by John Quincy Adams (not the sixth president of the United States, but a Baptist author of the late 19th century) who wrote:
“The principles of church government in the Baptist denomination are expressed in the text: ‘One is your Master, even Christ and all we are brethren.’ There is no opportunity for the assumption of authority by a few, if it were desired. All meet on the broad, even platform of equality. The rich and the poor, the minister, deacons, and people, are all brethren. The pastor is no more; the poorest member is no lees, than one of the brethren. Each church, in its collective capacity, transacts its own business, exercises its own discipline, and receives and excludes its own members, subject only to the authority of Christ, and governed by His Word…. In a Baptist church there is perfect equality. It could not be otherwise. They recognize the church as a voluntary organization, into which persons enter by their own choice, and whose privileges and benefits all have an equal right to share. Christ has nowhere delegated his authority to a body of arrogant ministers, or prelatical bishops, or blasphemous popes; and Christians have no right to recognize and uphold the assumption of authority by them. It is not a matter of indifference. To support the assumptions of men, who have arrogated to themselves authority which belongs only to Christ, is to engage with them in rebellion against the one only Master; and where this is done knowingly, such cannot be held guiltless.”
This is the historic Baptist position. The rise, among Baptists, of preachers who demand for themselves a position of dictatorship and lordship over the Lord’s church, and who defend themselves by crying, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed,” is a relatively recent development. It is not by any means a distinctively Baptist problem. The same tendency is arising among many denominations. It is the way of all flesh, the way of pride, of desire to dominate, desire to have the preeminence, a desire that goes back at least as far as the infamous Diotrephes, who took control of the church membership roll for himself, as some preachers do today (3 John 9, 10).
(It is said that our rounding father Thomas Jefferson developed his concepts of democracy and equality partly from attendance at a Baptist church near his home in Virginia, and from observing their business meetings. If Thomas Jefferson could visit a modern American church, would he find an equality of the brethren, or a Saddam Hussein-style dictatorship?)
The preacher or evangelist who thunders forth with the command “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” intends thereby to silence and shut the mouths of all who might find fault with his doctrines or methods, no matter how unscriptural they may be, He is a man with much to hide, a man who cannot bear to have his deeds and his ways openly examined and compared with what the Word of God teaches.
Such a man is very self-centered, selfish, soulish, and in the final analysis childish. A small child must have everything his own way, and cannot bear to be challenged, contradicted or denied anything he demands. He feels that the world should revolve around him, and that all should cater to his wishes. The dictatorial preacher is no different; his followers must devote themselves entirely to his service, going around on tiptoes for fear of offending him in any way, while he feels free to offend all. Little or no time or effort is left with which to serve Christ, after the followers have served the ego and the cravings of their pastor. Ho is an insecure, immature man who lives in dread that somewhere there is someone who dares to differ with him on some minor issue. Christ has appointed believers to liberty, Galatians 5:1, but the dictatorial preacher robs his followers of all their liberty.
The moment anyone objects to such immature conduct, or to the fleecing of the tithe money of God’s people, or the lapses in moral standards and doctrinal soundness, the preacher responds, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed!” How silly – no one has threatened to slay them with a sword, as was done to Saul. It is time for such preachers to grow up. We would all object, and quite rightly, to any powerful layman who attempted to take control of a local church and to force all the other members to follow his will without question. For a layman to lord it over the church is wrong and out of the question. For the pastor to do so is equally wrong.
This is made quite clear by the words of Jesus in Matthew 20:25-27: “But Jesus called them unto him (the Apostles) and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” The same thought appears in the parallel pasages of Mark 10:42-44 and Luke 22:25-26. In 1 Peter 5:2-3 we read, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof’, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”
A New Caste of Untouchables
The effect, if not the purpose, of the new emphasis on the exalted rights of ordained ministers, is to create a new class of “Untouchables.” Unlike the Untouchables of India, who are at the bottom of society, the new Untouchables are at the top of Christian society, taking advantage of their sheepish followers at will, clobbering them anytime they want to, while they themselves cannot be touched. They will reign like kings, living the life of Riley while their riled subjects have no choice but to bow down and obey.
If all this seems rather extreme, then consider a very incomplete list of some of the offenses committed by this incipient class of Untouchables here in the United States:
|XActs of adultery by famous televangelists and Christian celebrities.
XDiversion of tax-exempt funds given for the preaching of the Gospel, to be used instead to pay off mistresses and paramours.
XPrayer requests thrown out in the garbage unread, after donations have been extracted from the letters.
XConverts sent to Roman Catholic churches and other churches which openly deny evangelical doctrines.
XWild prophetic speculations, including date setting for the Second Coming of Christ, exposing evangelical religion to ridicule and contempt when the predictions fail to come true.
XFalse claims to receiving direct revelations from God, when the preacher is only quoting from the notes of the heretical Dake’s Study Bible.
XBizarre false teaching, such as that there are nine persons of the Trinity, that Christ was not God, that all men are gods, that Christ went to Hell and was born again there, etc.
XBullying and intimidation of church members and followers.
XTeaching that to be born again is to recover one’s lost self-esteem, or that it can be achieved in a mechanical manner by repeating a few words or coming forward in a meeting, with no conviction of the Holy Spirit.
XHigh-pressure, unethical fund raising tactics, and waste of funds to purchase ostentatious luxury items for the preacher.
The New Untouchables would have us to believe that all these sins are permitted for them, but if any lower-caste Christians dare to criticize them for these offenses, or dare to withdraw their support from preachers who sin, and advise others to withdraw their support, then we are told that they have committed the unpardonable sin – they have “Touched the Lord’s Anointed!” What a convenient double standard for the New Untouchables – they can sin greatly, while those who would never have dreamed of sinning after such a manner are condemned and made to feel like miserable wretches.
(The lowest circle of Hell has been reserved by the New Untouchables for those who actually dare to name the names of preachers who have swerved aside from sound doctrine. We are told that there is “no redemption” for them. In that case, the Apostle Paul must be there, since he named names, warning against Hymenaeus and Alexander.)
We should not be taken in by the pretensions of the New Untouchables. We have already seen that all Christians are the Lord’s Anointed, that all Christians are priests, and that there is an equality among all Christians, whether they are ministers or laymen. It is time for us to return to the primitive and scriptural state of things, in which all Christians are equal, having only one master, even Christ. “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” (Matthew 23:8.) “Ye ere bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:23.)
Yes, the Command is For Today
The command, “Touch not the Lord’s Anointed” is for today. In 2 Corinthians 11:19-20, Paul warns against religious leaders who would take advantage of believers: “For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.”
Today, among some preachers, it is considered a mark of distinction that they are able to bring their followers into bondage, devour them, take of them, exalt themselves, and smite or abuse their followers. They brag about this sort of thing in their preacher’s meetings, and conduct pastor’s schools to teach others how to do it and get away with it. But notice what Paul calls such men – he calls them Fools! In the context, it is clear that he is not talking about laymen abusing preachers, although that is also wrong. Here he is talking about preachers who abuse and misuse laymen, and according to Paul, such preachers are fools.
To those who would smite God’s people in the face, the command of God is “Touch Not the Lord’s Anointed!”