Churches That Abuse – Part 3

sheep-surprised

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. – Acts 20:28

Continuing the series on the book Churches That Abuse by Ronald M. Enroth, the focus for this post will build off the previous topic of control-oriented leaders and spiritual elitism.  For leaders to control and foster elitism there must be mechanisms in place by which control can be maintained.  We will consider aggressive shepherding, having a reporting system in place, and rigidity of lifestyle.

In Part 2, I included links for a movement in the 1970’s called the Shepherding Movement. Shepherding is a biblical concept, but over-shepherding is not.  Peter called it “lording over” or domineering.  Ezekiel describes it as harshness and using force:

The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. – Ezekiel 34:4

Luke writes that men will arise from within the ranks and they will use subtle means to draw people away from the truth (Acts 20:31).

Enroth explains elements often employed by authoritarian leaders to gain control over a group of people:

Spiritually abusive groups routinely use guilt, fear, and intimidation as effective means for controlling their members.  In my opinion, the leaders consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and interpersonally, by focusing on themes of submission, loyalty, and obedience to those in authority.[1]

 

According to a former member of the shepherding movement, so-called because its members had “shepherds” who require full submission and taught the need for “spiritual authority,” these “leaders” had the true story of what was going on.  Pastors exercised control and manipulation through their sermons.  Certain themes came through regularly: covenant, authority, obedience, submission, serving, honoring… [2]

Systematically arranging the sheep takes time to implement, but through consistent shepherding, sermons, and studies the calculating leader can accomplish his goals given enough time and buy-in from the people.  Scripture will certainly accompany his methods, but it is often twisted and utilized with a desire to accomplish the objective.

It is a difficult job for one or two shepherds to keep the sheep in line, so one of the strategies often implemented is a monitoring system.  Who better to monitor the sheep than the other sheep, or to have the sheep “self-report” through their own public confessions?  To promote holy living and growth, the sheep interact with each other more often than the shepherd does, so reporting on one another is very effective at creating an atmosphere for abuse.  Once again, mutual accountability is a biblical principle, but is a principle that can run amuck in the wrong hands.

Public times of confrontation, confession, and repentance were common, lasting anywhere from four to twenty hours…  The airing of the most intimate details of one’s life was seen as opening the way for God to take one deeper into the spiritual life.[3]

 

The leaders encouraged people, even children, to reveal each other’s faults.  In a world with few material possessions, the most minor flaws became the source of guilt and self-loathing…  It became a community obsession to root out the most minute bit of evil in their lives with a ruthlessness usually reserved for members of restrictive monastic orders.  “It mattered how you acted, how you talked, even how you thought and looked.”[4]

With this type of living and monitoring, one cannot help but be forced into a rigid lifestyle; it’s a very natural outflow.  Everything matters when supposedly striving for holiness and purity of life.  With aggressive shepherding through control-oriented leaders, a spirit of spiritual elitism, and sheep monitoring other sheep, there is no other option but rigidity.  The table is set for the leaders to abuse the sheep and the sheep are not even aware they have been taken in and deceived.  It is no different than boiling a frog.  The heat is gradually turned up, the monitoring system is fully in place, and the shepherd knows the condition of his flocks.

Is this what the Christian life is all about?

These people may feel as though they are free yet are in bondage to a system of legalistic expectations set up and enforced by their leaders and by themselves.  As The Eagles sang, “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.”

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. – 2 Corinthians 3:17

Consistent with a number of similar groups, Pam and Tom’s fellowship attempted to live according to “first-century-church” standards.[5]

 

“We became victims of zealousness without knowledge.”[6]

 

As Pam looks back on the experience, she finds it hard to believe that when people called her brainwashed, she took it as a compliment.  “We were blessed to have a clean mind.  But it did reach a point where I didn’t decide things on my own.  Even vacations had to be cleared with leadership.”[7]

Pam and Tom’s experiences became increasingly more bizarre as leaders enforced a more rigid lifestyle the longer things continued.  “There wasn’t one area in our lives where we weren’t legalistic about something.”

Tom reflects, “It seems strange that during our time in the fellowship, you would think that the overwhelming evidence in the New Testament concerning grace would have had some effect upon our minds concerning these rigidities.”[8]

 

In addition, Pam notes, “I lived in fear of correction, while Scripture tells us to embrace and love it.”  Also, many of the rules and regulations were never actually spoken or articulated as a command.  One simply knew from experience that something was a rule, and, if not adhered to, discipline resulted.[9]

When rigid lifestyles and interactions are demanded, any kind of disagreement is suppressed.  It won’t be tolerated, it creates “division” within the ranks, uprisings are quickly dispatched.  “Conscience became externalized” and members are taught to not “trust their feelings, intuition, and emotions.”

“We stifled the voice of God within, mistaking common-sense reactions for the ‘rising up of the flesh.’”[10]

 

Pam knew that even when she desired to stand and say, “This is crazy!” or, “I don’t agree!” she would have been disciplined for disrupting and coming against authority.[11]

Tom Murray gives a final warning: “It is foolish to think that you can remain objective in an abusive-church situation for any length of time without being subtly influenced.  No one can consider themselves above the possibility of deception.”

The only way to avoid this deception and spiritual abuse is through the Word of God and by the Spirit of God.  If you find yourself in an abusive church, you must leave, but it’s never easy, and as I will write about next time, abusive churches are difficult to escape.

 

Kevin

 

[1] Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – Page 103

[2] Ibid, – Page 107

[3] Ibid – Page 86

[4] Ibid – Page 60

[5] Ibid – Page 128

[6] Ibid – Page 129

[7] Ibid – Page 129

[8] Ibid – Page 130

[9] Ibid – Page 130

[10] Ibid – Page 131

[11] Ibid – Page 131

Social Media

price is right

Can social media really have an impact on the lives of those around you?  I think yes is the answer but I have been contemplating by which method this takes place.  I’m writing from a Christian Worldview so I believe that is different than what most write from but I also know Christians that use social media “effectively” and those that just “use social media”…

I’ve personally run just about every gamut of social media that is out there and I must say I’m ashamed of the way I’ve used it at times.  I’m not ashamed of every instance and of all circumstances but I’m certainly ashamed of when I’ve not glorified the Lord Jesus Christ in my usage.  That might be my “over-use” where it has had a negative effect in my home such as spending too much time there, of course that was always in the name of “furthering the gospel” but it has messed some things up in my home.

Or it certainly could be that I’ve desired to win an argument…  Yes, I know we never really set out to win an argument it just happens right?  Especially us Calvinists…  if we just quote a few more verses I’m confident that I can win this guy over to see it my way.

Lately I’ve noticed more than normal what I’d call rants.  Someone wants to make a point so they sort of just yell it out there…  It sort of reminds me of Bob Barker and his famous or infamous, “get fixed” actually I think he meant for your dog or cat to get fixed but whatever  he meant he was sincere about his message and I appreciate that although as sincere as he was; sadly he was sincerely wrong about what really mattered.  He served the creature instead of the Creator as far as I can tell.

But what if our message is even correct, what if it’s a good message?  We can get a reputation or we can be well known for being truthful or being a good Christian but we can also get a reputation as being aggressive or intentionally inflammatory to make our point.  I’ve decided this is not the route I want to take.  Don’t misunderstand we need to discuss error and point it out.  Yes, of course but how often might be a good question.

I’ve traveled several roads in my Christianity and there is a delicate balance between always being harsh and being too soft.  I want to be balanced and I’ve only one place to look for this balance and that is the life of the Lord Jesus.  He walked it perfectly.  He always glorified the Father and He always spoke rightly a word in due season.  I’m not Jesus, but I sure want to be like Him.  At the end of the day I want people to know that they can come to Him if they will but humble themselves.  That forgiveness and salvation is available at the foot of the cross and Christ came to save sinners.  And I recognize that I am foremost.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.  – 1 Timothy 1:15-16

So let’s consider how we do that best and maybe some need to tone it down and maybe someone needs to ramp it up.  I guess that is for you to decide.

 

Kevin

If Only…

if-only

There is a statement that goes something like this…  “I’ll be happy when…” and then you fill in the blank.  Of course we all conjure up things in our minds when we think about a statement like this.

I’ll be happy when I have X amount saved in my 401K…

I’ll be happy when my kids get out of diapers… or I’ll be happy when I retire…

You can go on and on with this and we often do.  Sometimes we do it in a more noble way and we just “look forward” to certain things.  I’m not saying it’s sinful to look forward to things but why can’t we just live in the moment and live for the here and now and be content in the circumstances that we currently reside?

It really is an area that we should consider some discipline in our lives.  An area that can stand some refinements and improvements if you will.  And since this is not a self help blog I won’t try and provide “advice” for you to do that.  I think we must, if we are Christians, consult our truth source.  Perhaps you’ve already thought about a text or two that I might cite.  Maybe you are already jumping ahead and anticipating where I’ll go with this.   But I want to begin at the beginning because sometimes to identify issues in our lives we need to not just jump to the application but it’s better to study the root of the issue.

But the serpent said to the women, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5

From the very beginning the enemy sowed seeds of discontent.  Can you imagine the garden that Adam and Eve were placed was far beyond our imagination in beauty and perfection.  No insects are mentioned in the creation account.  So when Adam and Eve were in the cool of the evening with God they probably weren’t swatting at mosquitoes.  No gnats buzzing in their ears and no poison ivy or wild parsnips that was burning their skin.  They had all the food they could eat and were told to enjoy the surroundings, cultivate the land and procreate…

It was as good as it could possibly be.

Yet what does the serpent do?  He attacks the word of God, and he sows discontent.

“You know…  if you were only allowed to eat that one fruit you were told not to then life would be even “better” than it is now…”

“God is so unfair to you…”  “How could He keep this knowledge from you?”  “What a rotten God He really is…”

The woman had to think quick and Adam stood by and watched it all  happen.  As she thought about it I can imagine what was going on in her mind.

Maybe she thought things like “well, maybe he’s right?”  “Maybe God is holding out on us…”

“It’s so unfair that God would withhold this fruit from us…”  “Don’t we deserve it?”  “I mean Adam works hard every day and all, let’s just put this on credit and pay for it later…”

Given the knowledge of what it might have been like after the fall I wonder if Eve ever regretted the decision?  And sometimes when we “get what we want” the empty and hollow feeling of regret comes on so strong that we wonder what was the big deal about it anyway.  I know that for me there are things that are “nice”.  And I actually do appreciate them in my life but that has only come through a satisfaction that Christ provides.

I don’t receive my joy through the “If only’s” in my life.  I receive the joy and the satisfaction through being obedient to Christ and abiding in Him.  There is NEVER disappointment or regret in my joy and fulfillment in being in Christ.  There is never a stale aftertaste when I’ve spent time with Him.  There are never regrets that leave me hollow…

There is an instant satisfaction that comes through saving faith in Christ but there is also a learned satisfaction that comes through growth in holiness and a new desire through a changed heart.  That is where we have the privilege to suffer and give for the sake of the gospel.  Because if the gospel that saved you is only about you then you’ve got the wrong gospel.

Paraphrasing Leonard Ravenhill:  “Many want to come to the cross but they just don’t want to get on it…”

The Christian life should be one of sacrifice, learning to grow in contentment and striving for the glory of Christ.  Our “If only” in life should be that “If only I had lived more intentionally for the glory of Christ”…  That is an “if only” I can get behind.

If you find yourself wishing your life away or desiring happiness in things that rust and corrode then take a few moments and consider where is your hope?  Have you found true joy and hope in Christ or in that next thing you got going on?

 

Kevin

Empty House

empty_house

I live in an empty house in many ways…  I desire my house to be emptied.  What is it about my house that I really don’t care for?  I guess it’s the body of death that I wander around in that I’m referring to.  This temple, or as Paul said this tent.  We all live in them and the Christian hopefully has a better understanding of it than the average person.

2 Corinthians 5:1-3

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.

I want my earthly home to be destroyed because it’s not a very good one.  In fact it’s a mess and the closer I draw to Christ and see His amazing goodness the more I’m overwhelmed by my wretchedness.  I desire a better place.  A cleaner place, a place that glorifies and honors Him instead of bringing Him the shame I so often consider in my fleshly life.  I see that my desires continue to shift in that I really hate my sin.  I really hate that I try to overcome certain things and the going is very slow.

Lest I sound too gloomy there is hope…  But shouldn’t we sometimes just stay in this place?  Shouldn’t we just bathe in our own filth for a while?  Not that Christ hasn’t overcome because He has but I mean for me?  And for you?  Shouldn’t this help us understand what it took to accomplish our redemption?  Really give us a glimpse of the misery we are in?

2 Corinthians 5:4-5

For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

Here is the good news!

For believer’s we have a guarantee.  We have a guarantee of salvation because the Spirit has been given to us.  The word means a guarantee, earnest money, a down payment and the full amount to be paid subsequently.  It’s a sure thing.

We see two truths existing side by side in the way that God so often shows us things that are sometimes hard to understand.  The fact that we need to detest ourselves yet in that have the utmost of all hope.  We hate our sin, but we love our Savior.  We detest our flesh but seek the Spirit.   There is this bizarre thing going on that is almost too much for the human mind to make sense of.  It’s like a puzzle that makes no sense on the surface but as we stand back and gaze upon it later on it all comes clear.

God is that way in so many of the things He does.  We don’t understand how sorrow and mourning produce repentance and faith.  We don’t get that persecution brings joy.  We don’t get it because we can’t see it the way God sees it.  We only see the short term, the temporary state of our being.

We don’t always recognize that God is producing in us something that is far more valuable than what we want for ourselves.  Perhaps we want something that seems good but maybe God says you are not ready yet.  And so we wish for things but God says, “No, not yet, or maybe ‘No, never’ because I have something different for you.”

It’s hard to understand sometimes and I must admit in my flesh I don’t like it and I want this earthly tent to be gone.  I want to be in glory with Christ where the struggles of the world are done.  But then again, He says “No, I’m not done with you yet…”

And sometimes it’s just great to say it all out loud and cry out to Him for help.  “Lord, cleanse me….  Lord forgive me for I am  in a sad state of affairs… “

In all of it I find if we don’t know what to do  then we can only trust and we can only do our best to obey.  It seems obedience is a recipe for success if you will.  There is a time when just laying down our arms and giving in to that which we know is true is the best way to go.  But yet so often we fight against it.  And I don’t want to do that but yet when I do, when I receive the chastening, it produces a peaceable fruit of righteousness and I know I’m a son that has been trained for it.

2 Corinthians 5:6-10

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

The day is coming friends when we will appear before the judgment seat.  All I have to offer the Lord is my obedience and that is not enough so my hope must be in the Lord Jesus Christ and that is enough.  My focus and my desire needs to be Him and all the rest falls into place.  That is my desire.  I hope it is also yours.

 

Kevin

Today was a good day…

20160929_193905

And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31

Today was a special day not because of anything I did but because of what God did.  He is the reason for all things and He has purpose in all that He does and all occurs because of Him.  But today was special and He encouraged me and the others with me on this day in an extraordinary way.

Today is Thursday and it’s the day we go to Iowa City to the Emma Goldman Abortuary.  This is one of two clinics in Iowa City that take the lives of unborn children and snuff them out before their time.  They murder these little precious souls before they have an opportunity to see the light of day.  It is a sad day in that respect.

Today was extraordinary not because lives were saved, although God has His purposes in those lives regardless of how long they live.  Nothing surprised God today and nothing is out of the reach of His Sovereign arm and good pleasure.   He sits in the heavens and does as He pleases.  So nothing caught Him off guard today.  But He blessed us.  He blessed us with sweet fellowship and He blessed us with a common cause to proclaim His name and to make His name known to those that went inside the killing place, those that walked past and those that stood guard.

There was a new procedure in place today at Emma.  They, for the first time to my knowledge, had deathscorts.  What is a deathscort you ask?  It is a person hired to escort the women into and out of the “clinic”.  I suppose they are there to “protect” the men and women that go into the “clinic”.  They are there to help them along the road that leads to the termination of the small child that is safely snuggled in the womb of its mother.  At least for a short period of time.

The deathscorts are an obvious answer to the consistent presence of a small church that committed itself to doing abortion ministry on the streets of Iowa City.  Two weeks ago the Police were called and I had a nice conversation with the officer, and he told me he disagreed with us, but he was there to defend our right to do so if we are acting lawfully.

Apparently Emma has become more “concerned” that we are effecting their business and they need some help getting them in the door.  They know if they get them in the door the odds are much higher they will go through with it.  They are so nice to them in the clinic and so supportive and I’m sure they continue to carry this facade all the while removing the life inside of the mothers.  It’s sad and it’s tragic on so many levels.

Yet, the encouragement and the blessing that comes from the Lord even in such a place of horror is that God is still Sovereign.  As brother Todd engaged the deathscorts, I’m sure they had no idea how they would be confronted in their new job.  Todd delivered the good news of Christ with passion and urgency and told them that He and He alone can save them from their sins.  Even the sin of murder as they are complicit with what is going on inside of that place.  The nice Catholic woman that was present because of the 40 days of life had no idea what she was going to hear when we began to engage them and she was in complete shock as she scurried for the other side of the parking lot.  I tried to engage her in conversation later to tell her why we do this but she wanted nothing to do with it.  She was content to rub her beads and pray to the god that was not hearing her prayers.

The encouragement came from the angry kid that asked me if homosexuality was a sin and I said that God tells us it is and yes, I believe the Word of God.  The encouragement came from the conversation with Katy that had never heard the gospel before through her upbringing as a Catholic and had no idea how to get to heaven other than her own good works.  She was quickly exposed to the truth of her good works being filthy garments in the sight of a Holy God.

Encouragement came as we went downtown to openly proclaim Christ in the public square.  The crowds were huge and many that would never hear the truth of Christ’s love outside of an open air preacher being present.  The religious woman dressed in the garb of a clergy woman holding a sign that said “God loves all” and when I asked her if she could be wrong about that would only ignore me.

The encouragement kept coming and as we gave away 150 DVD’s of “The Biggest Question” in a short hour that many received with joy and many mocked as the Scriptures tell us they will.  It was all about Him and nothing about me and although I had the greatest uplifting I’ve had in a while I labored for Him and I put no confidence in my flesh.

As I exchanged some text messages with Todd later I said this to him.

“Well I’ve had many good days but this was special.  Not sure why maybe having you and your family.  A combination of the conversations and the deathscorts.  The rejection by the Catholic woman and the open air preaching.  It was all so good and so amazing.  Maybe I was just humbled that God would save a wretch like me and use me for His glory.  My cup runneth over…”

So much  more could be said about this day but here is the bottom line for me as an evangelist and as a Christian.  When a Christian fails to do evangelistic work, they lose out on the biggest blessing that God could possibly bestow upon them.  To suffer for the sake of Christ.  I never thought I was suffering for Him today but we were ridiculed, mocked and reviled by many today and I consider it pure joy as I encounter those that despise the Lord that I love.  He told me this would happen and because of this I was not surprised.

I write this today to encourage brothers and sisters that take to the streets.  I write this today to afflict those that are comfortable in their Christianity.  I write this today to encourage those that might be considering gospel ministry.  I hope that nothing in this speaks of me other than my wretchedness, but I belong to a great Savior and that is worth boasting about.

God bless.

Kevin