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

Discipline…

discipline

What a distasteful subject is the topic of church discipline, does anyone like correction?

Well that depends…

It depends upon the condition of your heart.

Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days. – Proverbs 19:20

Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool. – Proverbs 17:10

A scoffer does not love one who corrects him, nor will he go to the wise. – Proverbs 15:12

How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. – Proverbs 16:16

He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed. – Proverbs 13:20

What else must I do to convince you that God’s word is what we must use to gain wisdom? What else matters, and as the verse states above this is better than gold and should be chosen over silver.

God has not left us to stumble around in the dark without counsel. He has spoken on the matter of church discipline and has given the church direction. The scriptures are not silent on this subject, but the bigger questions are these…are we willing to listen, are we willing to heed the counsel?

Jesus clearly and perfectly lays out the formula. The church is to follow the example and sin must be dealt with in the church, or the church becomes polluted.

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:15-17

This is pretty clear isn’t it?

What is the purpose of this; can we see what Jesus desires in this instruction? He desires restoration. The goal is to bring the one in sin to a place of understanding their sin; a place of brokenness over their sin, so they can be restored to their brother.

This is being lived out in the life of the church that I attend. My wife, my eldest daughter and I are members and we dearly love the people in our church. It’s heart breaking to see sin in the lives of people. It’s even more heartbreaking to know that unless that sin is forsaken and turned from it will destroy. That’s what Satan does! He came to destroy people and he does it in the most sinister and deceitful ways possible.

Others in my church love this man and below is a letter that was written as the church is telling this man of his sin. It is our hope and our desire that this will restore the man to a right relationship with God.

It is our desire that if he is a brother, he will confess his sin and forsake his sin, if he is not a brother that he will repent and believe in Jesus Christ as his only hope for salvation. I post this that he will be ashamed of his sin and that others might read it, be ashamed of their sin, and come to repentance.

This problem is rampant in the “church world”. It’s not a victimless crime. It’s heinous and it’s ugly.

And if they are bound in

fetters,

Held in the cords of affliction,

Then He tells them their work

and their transgressions—

That they have acted defiantly.

He also opens their ear to

instruction,

And commands that they turn

from iniquity.

If they obey and serve Him,

They shall spend their days in

prosperity,

And their years in pleasures.

But if they do not obey,

They shall perish by the sword,

And they shall die without

knowledge. – Job 36:8-12

 

Kevin

 

I know a Man…

 

That he might be broken and ashamed:

On nights when he is angry with his wife, she goes to sleep in their bedroom. Meanwhile he sits in his living room, just a few feet from his bride-only a wall apart-browsing depictions of harlots, picking the ones that please him the most, displaying them on his screen and having sex with them using his self. It feels good to him, helps him to relax, so he does it again or another time. He knows it is sinful, but he isn’t broken by it so he doesn’t repent. It’s not really adultery he says. He won’t tell his wife. He knows it’s wrong but he doesn’t feel saddened over it, so he does it again. His only son sleeps soundly upstairs, unharmed so the man thinks. Yet he does not know God may require the life of the child for sin such as this. He took David’s child for this, yet the man fears God not.

He comes into the sanctuary of God’s people on Sunday’s. He will not open his mouth to sing praises to God. But repent- I think not- he just doesn’t feel like it. He won’t look at the preacher, for he despises that man, sure he led him to Christ, but he’s wronged him since then. I want to ask this man, would you pick up a knife and slit the throat of your son for this preacher who wronged you? Would you slay your son for that man who you think despises and rejects you? Have you forgotten o man that God sees your adultery? That this God sees your lack of praise, lack of love for the saints, sees your lack of time in the word, and yet still shows you His love?

God sends His people to plead with the man, turn, turn from your sin, lest the Lord reject you. This God sees your sin- takes His only son- and slays Him. He drains Jesus’ blood on the wastelands, opens His side and rejects Him; Pours out His wrath and His righteous indignation, upon the perfect lamb, the great I am, don’t you remember? Wasn’t it for your sin? Will you continue to reject Him? Christ died for sins, will you continue to live in them?

Some people confront him on his sin when his conscience overbears him to report it. Repent of it- no- but agree that it’s sinful- yes. I’m just being honest says the man, I can’t turn cause you told me, or I don’t want to deny feelings. Little does he know his flesh is destroying him.  He sees his wife and child, and loves them he thinks, but show them Christ in Him-maybe he will get to that next week.

This man is hardened-stiff necked, his sin spreads and spreads. He lives it, breathes it, chews it, and loves it. Love the saints? No time for that. Preach the Gospel? Who needs it. Serve the body? They don’t deserve it. But I deserve my sin says the man, after all, who are they to tell me it’s sinful? The proverbs warn him. Destruction and calamity await him- will he turn yet from his sin? I think not. He just doesn’t feel it…

You are that man… Repent and turn to Christ and you will be forgiven.

 

 

 

Are Your Children Saved?

saved

One of the great tragedies of religion is the failure to identify and deal with the truth of biblical conversion. As I think back to my life before salvation and the different churches I had attended I was never once asked when and how I was saved. I guess it was assumed that being in a church meant I was saved.

Why would this presupposition be any different with children today?

I believe there is major deception among Bible believing churches and church attendees that don’t know how to deal with this subject. I can tell you that I didn’t know how to deal with it.

First of all, I didn’t even know that I wasn’t saved, until my salvation was challenged.   If you’ve ever asked someone about their salvation and they become offended I’d really wonder why? Isn’t this a legitimate question for Believers to ask of one another? Isn’t God brought the glory He deserves when we discuss how He saved someone?

Salvation is a super-natural work of God where He takes a dead, God-hating soul and regenerates that heart into a heart that has all new desires. It’s really here that this topic begins. We must first understand it’s a work of God. In order to be saved we must recognize we need saving.   We were, or still are, spiritually dead.

Ephesians 2:1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins…

If we don’t understand the significance of this verse, there is no understanding of the doctrine of salvation. Paul is writing to the saints (those set apart for service and worship of God) and he is telling them Christ made them alive. Why? Because they were DEAD!

Secondly, we must understand that God does it.

The prophet Ezekiel wrote about this super-natural work and we can see the purpose and reason behind salvation. Do we benefit from salvation? Most certainly, but is it primarily for our benefit, absolutely not.

Ezekiel 36:22-23   “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the LORD God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but my My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the LORD God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.

This is God exalting, pride crushing, man debasing theology at its finest. “IF” you are saved, if your children are saved, it’s by the grace of God to bring Him glory. If you think that your salvation is about you then you need to read this again and humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.

It’s important to quickly note that Israel is not the nation state of Israel. Israel is Believers; God’s chosen people, not just Israelites, although some are included in this group. See Romans 2:28-29, 9:6-13, 1 Kings 19:10-18.

Ezekiel 36:24-25 For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.

Do you recognize your filthiness and your idols? When I think about mine before salvation and what God rescued me from, I’m overcome by the work that God has done in my life. Do you ever look back and think, “that was me, but for the grace of God?” When you go into a large public gathering do you look around and see the idols and the filthiness? Do you ever wonder who will be saved? Does it break your heart for the lost?

Ezekiel 36:26-27 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

Did you have anything to do with your salvation? Did you lead your children in a prayer or manipulate them into asking Jesus into their hearts? This verse could not be any clearer. Jesus affirmed this in John 3 when He challenged Nicodemus with his salvation.

Ezekiel 36:31 Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loath yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations.

Jesus said it this way “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3

If you have no recognition of your past, and your offenses against God, if you think that your children are relatively decent or well behaved children, you don’t understand the holiness of God. Without this recognition there is no chance for them to be saved.

God saves those of a humble and broken spirit (Psalm 51, Matthew 5:4, James 4:9). Broken and humbled over their sin and their offenses against a holy God; recognizing their filthiness. This applies to you, it applies to me, and it certainly applies to our children. Jesus told us the path that leads to life is narrow. Salvation is not decisional, it’s recognition of your sin, repenting and living in a manner completely different to which you were.

If we, as parents, can understand the gravity of salvation there is a much better chance for our children to be saved as we accurately present the gospel. In the end there is nothing more important.

Kevin

“It doesn’t feel like you love me…”

IMG_3952

“It doesn’t feel like you love me…”

These were the words of my daughter Madeline after being on the receiving end of her father’s instruction and correction.  To put it bluntly she didn’t like it.  How many of us like chastisement?  Especially as adults, when we think we’ve got things figured out.

Proverbs 3:10-11 My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD love He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.

These words, more often than not, are very difficult to accept, especially if you are in the middle of correction.  I know I don’t like it in most cases, “it doesn’t feel like you love me…” say I.

It’s painful…  Isn’t that the point?

Should the believer enjoy chastisement?

Hebrews 12:7-8 If you endure chastening, God deal with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?  But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.

The word chasten is paideuō – which means to train up a child, that is, educate, or by (implication) discipline (by punishment): chasten (-ise), instruct, learn, teach.

For children, this can mean the rod….  Gasp! Yeah, not culturally relevant but since when has God’s word been culturally relevant?

For adults, this can mean the sword, the word of God (Hebrews 4:12), this is equally unpopular today.  When was the last time another believer came to you and confronted you with sin in your life?  I would say it rarely happens because it’s uncomfortable for the person coming to you, and it’s uncomfortable to the one going to that person.

It’s really tough, yet God’s word is pretty clear isn’t it?

Aren’t we commanded to go to people, or does it say only if it’s a really big sin?

Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 

Jesus also told us to go to them if they’ve sinned – Matthew 18:15 and James affirms this in his epistle James 5:19.

Why is this so unpopular, and if we truly love people wouldn’t we warn them about unhealthy practices in their lives?  Don’t we have warnings on cigarette packages that this is an addictive sin and it could lead to cancer?  Do we condone drinking and driving and just wink and nod if a friend tells us they did that?

We don’t do it very often in the church because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, or we don’t want to risk embarrassment, or we most often don’t want to have that person turn on us and get angry.  It’s pretty easy to know why we don’t do it.

Is it loving to confront sin or unloving?  If we really care about people should we tell them they are in sin?

Or is your definition of love that you just look the other way and hope God deals with them?  No!  Believer this is your job.  This is love, but yet to them, “it doesn’t feel like you love me…” as my daughter said.  How can you trust your feelings? (Jeremiah 17:9)  We can only trust the word of God.

This whole topic is very relevant in my life right now and I deeply love someone that I confronted in some sin.  This is not a “10” sin on a scale, but does it matter?  I say that because how much sin do we tolerate?  Do we think for even a moment that the Lord is tolerant of a little sin, and only cares about the big stuff?  Should we REALLY pursue holiness?  Well the scripture tells us without it we won’t see the Lord and along with it we must pursue peace with all people (Hebrews 12:14).  That is peace between man and God.

Did our Lord suffer a brutal punishment; take on the wrath of God, so that we can dabble in a little sin from time to time?  Are we covered by grace?  Well yes, we are but we shouldn’t use this as an opportunity to sin more.  Certainly not!, emphatically says Paul (Romans 6:1).

John Owen writes: Until then (speaking of glorification) believers are ever to be killing sin, or sin will be killing them.”[1]

God’s word has a lot to say on this topic but most people will just gloss over it…and churches certainly won’t preach and teach on it.  “That’s waaaay too offensive and judgmental, besides we don’t even really know them.”

Yes, that is a problem isn’t it?

I want to finish with something that we should all meditate upon and really consider how we love people.  All people, believers and non-believers alike, we must teach them that if we love God we will keep His commandments (John 15:9-10).

Philippians 2:3-4 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Do you see that when we confront sin, we are looking out for other’s interests?  Can you also see that when we don’t we are being selfish?  We are being selfish because we don’t want to deal with what might come our way.  We are afraid to offend others, to possibly lose relationship with them.

Have you considered that love is an action, not a feeling, and to truly love we must give of ourselves for the benefit of others.  You know like Jesus did… or do we live in fear of how they will react?

That is very real isn’t it?  We don’t fear God enough to risk hurting others feelings.

That is really what it comes down to, and if we love them we must, just like I must discipline my children if I really love them.

We fear men so much, because we fear God so little. One fear cures another. When man’s terror scares you, turn your thoughts to the wrath of God. —William Gurnall

Kevin


[1] Owen, Mortification of Sin in Believers, in Works, 6:9.

Our sinful self…

sin

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

Sin is an ugly thing…  There are no doubts we can see the ugliness of sin in the lives that have been ravaged by its illusion.  The examples abound don’t they; aren’t they everywhere you look?

If you could see the outcome would you make the same decision?

What is sin?  Hamartia (ham-ar-tee’-ah): to miss the mark; to miss or wander from the path of uprightness.

Sin is deceitful and we can quite easily convince ourselves of our own goodness.  It’s easy for me to see how well I’m doing, how “holy” I’m becoming…  Pride goes before destruction… (Proverbs 16:18)

God has provided a way out of sin for His people and we need only embrace them, but there must be effort, there must be a war waged against sin.  The adversary will not give up easily.  Below I’ve highlighted six essentials that are God given defenses in the battle against sin.

The Word

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that they man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God’s Word is absolutely essential for knowing and understanding God, and what He says about dealing with sin and all things concerning life.  To neglect God’s Word means you will easily succumb to sin.  The Sword is meant to fight off the attacks of the enemy and give us a victory over sin.

The Church

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as we see the day approaching.

The preaching and teaching of God’s Word as we assemble with other Believers is one of the most important avenues to holiness.  Anybody left isolated is easily subject to sin.  Preaching should consistently bring conviction leading to life change.  Do you walk out of your church feeling good about yourself more often than you feel the weight of your sin?  There should be a heavy dose of life saving medicine delivered from the pulpit in a healthy church.

Believers

Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

All Believers are called to be concerned about brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are to have influence and impact in the lives of those near us.   Husband and wives, parents and children, those that we are close to and know their lives.  This is not always popular so the Apostle Paul calls us to do it in gentleness; lest we also be tempted, but yet we are to do it.  Do not neglect this if you truly love them.

Those in Spiritual authority

Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

This is very challenging for most that profess Christianity.  We naturally rebel against authority and there are so few churches that practice this well.  However, it doesn’t release you from this command.  Did you notice it was a command and not a suggestion?  If the leaders of your church live this out you can be grateful for God’s grace.

The Spirit of God

John 14:15-17 “If you love Me, keep My commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”

The Holy Spirit is consistent in the lives of Believers and will convict of our sins.  The biggest question today is will and do you receive Him when He shows you your sin?  Believers are responsible for sin and God hates sin, so there must be accountability.

Prayer

Romans 12:12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer,

Prayer is our conduit to God.  Without a consistent and willful prayer life we will flounder in this ongoing battle.  Have you ever stopped communicating with your wife?  How does that go for you?  When Jen and I are not communicating I’m proactively creating distance between us.  I may not always do this intentionally but it happens none the less.  It’s unhealthy for our marriage.  Why would we think this is any different with God?  When I’m most vulnerable is when I’m on my knees the least.

I’ve read that the great evangelist Leonard Ravenhill spent hours and hours praying each day.  He spent more time in prayer than he spent preparing for his sermons, and the result of this was an effective ministry for Christ.

“Oh Lord may we be a people broken in our sinfulness and a people that seek You diligently.”

Kevin