Churches That Abuse – Final Thoughts

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In this post I’ll be wrapping up my review of Ronald M. Enroth’s book Churches that Abuse, I have some final thoughts, admonitions and hope for this series.  I hope that someone may recognize the characteristics of an abusive church and know how to stand against them.  It is also an admonition and warning those that continue in and support these churches to stop supporting them and work toward change or leave them.  Since the garden, Satan has been working to disrupt and distract from the simplicity of the gospel message.  Christ has established the church to bring glory and honor to Himself and the adversary is constantly working to distract us from the gospel message.  Let us not forget it is Christ’s church.

Pastoral abuse can be spotted quite easily, at least in its advanced stages.  Abusive religion substitutes human power for true freedom in Christ.  Unquestioning obedience and blind loyalty are its hallmarks.  Leaders who practice spiritual abuse exceed the bounds of legitimate authority and “lord it over the flock,” often intruding into the personal lives of members. God’s will is something that they determine for you rather than something you individually seek to know.  Abusive leaders are self-centered and adversarial rather than reconciling and restorative.[1]

God’s sheep can experience abuse, but they can also be complicit in the act of abuse; Paul warned Timothy these things would happen.  Paul’s warning against “easy believe-ism” in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 applies just as much to conservative churches.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  2 Timothy 4:3-4

Notice, Paul writes about people having teachers “to suit their own passions…” Have you ever known a legalist?  They love legalism.

Have you ever wondered why it’s so difficult to leave an abusive relationship?

Abused individuals sometimes turn away from listening to the truth and they prefer myths. There becomes a level of comfort with the situation.  The Stockholm Syndrome can become a very real thing.  Abusive teachers stay in power because the people either tolerate them or even celebrate them.

What protects sheep from abuse?  Who monitors them?  Biblically, a plurality among leadership is helpful except when they all believe and support the same theories  or have one dominant personality or confrontation and disagreement is not allowed.

Confessions of faith are a safeguard, yet even confessional churches can fall into the trap of authoritarianism.  The 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 offers a remedy:

Chapter 26 – Paragraph 15. In cases of difficulties or differences, either in point of doctrine or administration, wherein either the churches in general are concerned, or any one church, in their peace, union, and edification; or any member or members of any church are injured, in or by any proceedings in censures not agreeable to truth and order: it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, do, by their messengers, meet to consider, and give their advice in or about that matter in difference, to be reported to all the churches concerned;29 howbeit these messengers assembled, are not intrusted with any church-power properly so called; or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures either over any churches or persons; or to impose their determination on the churches or officers.30
29 Acts 15:2,4,6,22,23,25
30 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 John 4:1[2]

It’s important for local churches to have other local churches that come together and solve problems that have moved beyond the singular local church.  But is it even possible for abusive churches or authoritarian leaders to seek and follow counsel from outside sources? Notice the purpose is not “to impose their determination on the churches or officers” but to counsel with them. Authoritarian, abusive leaders don’t take counsel from others.

Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war. – Proverbs 20:18

Most of the abusive churches I have studied are independent, autonomous groups.  They are not part of a denomination or network that could provide checks and balances or any kind of accountability.  As we have seen over and over again in these pages, their leaders are accountable to no one and resist any outside scrutiny.[3]

Author, blogger and open-air evangelist Peter Boland made the observation that, “Some of the issues are fairly widespread. It seems to have crept into the Reformed camp due to an overreaction regarding church membership. It’s an overreaction to ‘easy believe-ism’ and the ‘no commitment’ church attendance of the 20th century. So now there is this strong emphasis on the membership submitting to the authorities and powers that be, in order to prove, that we are somehow wiser and holier, and that we have more of a ‘healthy church,’ than those mainstream Evangelical churches of the 20th century.”

Abuse can happen on all levels but as people seek a deeper understanding of Christianity, they seek Bible teaching, they affirm and long for more than a surface level faith, and there can be an overreaction.  Sometimes young or growing Christians can swing the pendulum in the other direction.  The Marrow Controversy of the 18th Century exemplified some of the very same issues as Sinclair Ferguson has so eloquently written about in his book, The Whole Christ.

In the well-known sermon Ten Shekels and a Shirt, Paris Reidhead describes the prophet seeking a place to fit.  He was willing to settle for a paycheck and a garment of clothing.  He wasn’t terribly interested in pursuing the best interest of his congregants and ultimately the Lord.  While he may have thought he was, he had an ulterior motive.

Today’s abusive pastor has an ulterior motive.  His life doesn’t match his words.  As John MacArthur describes, “he’s a moral heretic.”  When power or position has been achieved, it’s difficult to let go.  It’s difficult for an authoritarian man to face the truth that his life doesn’t match his speech.  Is the expectation perfection?  Of course not! But these men are called to a high standard and blatant hypocrisy should never be accepted.

As long as Satan prowls around seeking whom he may devour, there will be abusive churches.

Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.  Acts 20:31

The antithesis of the misuse of power is gentleness, which is best seen and understood within the framework of strength.  Gentle leaders, pastors, or teachers do not force their insights and wisdom on the unlearned, nor flaunt their gifts before those in need.  They are patient.  They take time for those who are slow to understand.  They are compassionate with the weak, and they share with those in need.  Being a gentle pastor, shepherd, leader, or teacher is never a sign of being weak, but of possessing power clothed in compassion.[4]

 

This [gentleness] is in stark contrast to the style of abusive leaders, who, as we have seen, often lack compassion and a gentle spirit.  Power has a way of blinding the conscience so that those who spiritually and psychologically abuse others (like abusive parents) show little sign of remorse and repentance.  They deny any guilt for what they have done to people.  And they project their own weaknesses onto others.[5]

Be ever watchful dear friends, know the signs of an abusive church, know how they operate, and be aware.  The greatest defense against abuse is a knowledge of how abusive churches and leaders operate, and most importantly, having an intimate knowledge of the Scriptures.  May the Lord bless His sheep and keep them by His grace.

 

Kevin

 

[1] Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – page 217

[2]http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/baptist_1689.html

[3] Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – page 217

[4] Harrold Bussell, Unholy Devotion (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1983), 70

[5] Churches That Abuse, 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth – page 219

So you want to be like Christ? – Part 2

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Ghandi has a quote that is attributed to him, and I guess I have no reason to doubt he said it. It goes like this “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Isn’t that an interesting quote on so many levels?

First of all there is a lot of hypocrisy in this statement. Was Ghandi like Christ? Some people think he was. Ghandi, never professed to be a Christian, as far as I know, but he is saying that if more people acted like Christ, then it might work better for him. Sure, I suppose… But more importantly, I agree with him. I also disagree with him, but I’m not going to spend time showing why I disagree, because I think there is enough here for the point of this article as to why I agree with his quote.

As a reminder, I started this little series based on a discussion I had with a friend over the years on whether one should be a follower of Christ, or Christ like. I argued that if we don’t start by following Christ we will never strive to be like Him, and that most will never TRULY follow Christ. Many will profess to follow, but when the going gets hard, the hardened get going.

But back to Ghandi…

Ghandi claims that Christians are not like Christ, and I have a lot of agreement with him on this point, so, how are we that truly follow Christ to be like Him? Have we considered, from the Bible, what it means to be like Christ? Let’s look at just two ways that we are to be like Christ. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1 Imitate me as I imitate Christ. Paul understood the desire to be like Christ. He had a proper grasp on what was valuable, but he also knew what it meant to really imitate Christ.

Suffering

Jesus Christ suffered. And so did Paul.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God… – 2 Timothy 1:8 The Christian life and suffering should be synonymous, this is being like Christ and being like Paul.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:10

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. – 2 Timothy 3:12

For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: – 1 Peter 2:20-21

The suffering and patient endurance for the spread of the gospel should be a privilege for all Christians to share in. Did you get that? It’s a privilege to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Yet in modern Christianity suffering for the gospel probably means the air conditioning is out at your church, or the latte machine is broken.

We have no concept of what it means to suffer for the sake of the gospel, in some cases you might be marginalized or laughed at. If you do any sort of open air ministry you will most definitely be mocked, if you are preaching the true gospel, but rarely will you be beaten. At least not in this country. So I think that true biblical suffering is not readily experienced by most Christians, in fact it’s experienced by very few. However, I will offer some hope that the day is coming when the true elect of God will be revealed through the suffering of the church and it appears that day is not very far away. Do yourself a favor and begin to experience it now, so it won’t come upon you as some sort of surprise.

Preaching

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17

Well now, that’s a little bit inconvenient for most of us. In a culture that likes to say “preach the gospel always and if necessary use words” this upsets the apple cart. The word “preach” literally means public proclamation.

The word κηρύσσω kērýssō is a word that carries force and gravity. It means that someone is confronted to make a decision about what they have heard. In fact it demands a decision, and it is a call to obey. In the days before newspapers, the nightly news, and the internet, the way a king would get his message to his subjects was through a herald. One that was sent to deliver the message of the king. He went into the town square and read publicly the message. The subjects were called to obey.

Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities. – Matthew 11:1

But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.” – Mark 1:38

And He (Christ) commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. – Acts 10:42

Why is this so important?   Why such a radical call? Most professing Christians will think this is a foolish way to spread the love of Christ and they will offer alternatives like friendship evangelism, life-style evangelism or “missional” group evangelism. I’m not saying we should not evangelize our friends, or those in our life, or we shouldn’t have groups of people sitting around talking about missions, but this is not the primary biblical model that Christ, the apostles, the early church, and the church of the past century utilized.

Why this method?

Paul is very helpful to our understanding of why open air preaching and gospel proclamation is imperative to the spread of the good news. In short God uses this method to save people. Not all will be saved in this manner, but many will.

So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. – Romans 1:15-16

Do we see it? The gospel saves…

The proclamation of the gospel, in particular, through the foolish preaching of the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18) is the method that God, in His wisdom, chose to save those who believe. That is hard to comprehend, but it is the truth.

And I can affirm to you that one way to bring suffering (like Christ) is to proclaim the gospel.  Publicly, for those called to do so, through the oversight of your church.  The local church is to provide cover and support for this endeavor.  The Elders affirm a man’s ability to preach and they provide accountability, and protection against errant messages.  Understanding that it is to be men that publicly preach, just as in the local assembly.  Women are also called to serve in evangelism but not in the same way as preachers.  They can be engaged in one on one conversations, or passing out gospel tracts and eliciting conversations with people.  In properly ordered churches this will have an impact on the community.  In this manner we can begin to disciple the nations (Matthew 28:18-20).  It’s a beautiful thing.

This will bring persecution and it will bring salvation’s. If you want to be like Christ, these are two ways for you to imitate Paul as he imitates Christ.

 

Kevin

Woman of Virtue?

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This past week I had the privilege to hear some of the finest Bible Expositors that are around today. The men that God has given wonderful gifts, to exhort and edify the body of Christ.   I’ve learned much from these men, and I also have much to learn. I came away knowing how little I really know about God and His word. I realized I’m a man that has devoted the majority of his life, to worthless things.

I look back down the road from my salvation in 2009 and I understand I’ve come a long way, but yet I see a great mirage that I continue to chase and it just keeps getting further away. I’m thankful that is the case. It causes me to hunger and thirst all the more, yet it is sometimes overwhelming in my desire to know truth. Not just for the sake of knowledge, but so that when I bow before my Lord, I will know Him already, yet I desire to know Him so much more.

That is the way the Christian life is meant to be, and I was stunned to hear one of the men say this very thing, a man that from my perspective knows more than I will ever know, or could ever know in several lifetimes. He knows Hebrew and Greek and even speaks them fluently and reads in them.

Among all the amazing sermons, something was said by Paul Washer that really struck me. It was almost a side note. A little blurb on the end or at the start of something that I’m sure for most people was not noticeably significant. But it hit me, and I know it hit others, as I’ve heard testimony about how it affected them. He said this about his wife, and I’m going to paraphrase. He said that in 20 some years of marriage his affection and love for his wife has grown, and that has primarily been because she has grown in virtue. Her growth in virtue has allowed him to love her more.

This is really an incredible statement, because her growth has caused growth in her husband. It’s a mutually dependent relationship. She depends on him, he depends on her. When they are working together there is much more forward motion. Much more ground is gained; all to the glory of God, but how He blesses them in this relationship and this growth.

Who can find a virtuous wife?

For her worth is far above

   rubies.

The heart of her husband safely

   trusts her;

So he will have no lack of gain.

She does him good and not evil

All the days of her life. – Proverbs 31:10-12      

To really understand this wife of Proverbs 31 we must understand what it means to be virtuous. The Hebrew word is chayil : strength, might, efficiency, wealth, army

No wonder she is hard to find, this is not the meaning of what most think is virtue. Most think that it’s more like chaste, almost graceful or elegant, or simply revolves around her moral character. She no doubt is of the highest moral degree, but that is not at all the biblical concept of virtue. Virtue is all about the strength, might and efficiency of a woman. She’s an army wife. She knows how to get things done, and she doesn’t just sit and consume resources. She’s sturdy… and faithful to her tasks.

If her commander needs her to take a hill, she takes the hill. We must understand who it is she’s working for. “The heart of her husband safely trusts her…” She’s a kept woman; she knows that it is her husband that she is to fulfill and to complete, as unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:22-23). She is a helper. How radically different from the modern concept of the strong woman? She’s strong for sure, but her strength is not for her own benefit, her own fulfillment, and her own desires. She’s strong and independent, but not for her own benefit, it’s for the benefit of another.

What a contrast…

Next post, we will take a look at the virtuous woman’s counterpart, the woman that mostly resembles the world today. We will see a stark difference between these two.   We must then consider what is the difference? Why?

Kevin

I never knew Stuart Scott…

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…I don’t know anybody that does know Stuart Scott, and so I can’t say anything about him with absolute certainty. I do know that he was well liked and loved by many. By all accounts I’d be pretty certain we could have hung out and become friends. I’m confident we’d engage in good conversation and enjoy a cup of coffee together. He seemed likeable. He seemed decent. He obviously had a tremendous amount of love for his family.

I’m not a huge sports fan, but the times that I saw Stuart Scott on ESPN I thought he was incredibly talented and was on some very funny commercials. So for the most part I’d say I really liked him. Today I’m still 49 years old and on Sunday Stuart Scott’s life ended at 49 years of age. I’m not sure why his life ended and mine continues, but that’s just the way it is. God is in control, and it is His decision who lives and who dies. He’s sovereign over all of it.

This article is not about Stuart Scott. It’s about you. It’s also about me. And most importantly it’s about the God that gives us life, and takes away life. If you or I don’t recognize that truth…that reality, then this article really needs to be considered long and hard. It takes hard work to really think about things like this, because…well honestly, because it’s just plain hard. I hate thinking about death. I hate watching shows where people die, especially the young or especially those that seem “good”.

I really wish it wasn’t that way, but it is. It is because man wanted to have his own way. Ultimately a man, Adam, chose his own way. Not God’s way. So we are left with that life taking cancer, if you will. It has us all infected, infected to the point of death. There was a warning that came along with the command. Don’t eat from this one tree, and if you do, you WILL die. And now we see that clearly in the death of what seemed like a really nice man.

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. – Hebrews 9:27

Every one of us will die once. That speaks of our life here on earth. Our physical bodies… they will die. There is no doubt. And we see the reality of what happens next. The judgment. This means we will face judgment after our death. It’s easy to understand isn’t it?

But do you, or do I, really understand that? Please allow that sink in for just a moment. We will stand before the Creator and be judged. He knows every thought we’ve ever had. He knows every deed we’ve ever done. He sees it all. Nothing is hidden from His sight.

That time when you were so angry with, you fill in the blank, that you just wanted to smack them… did you know that is the same as murder? Every time you looked upon another human with sexual desire, other than your spouse that is the same as adultery? Every lie you ever told has been recorded in the book and every disobedient act against your parents.

Did you know that you’ve committed treason against the One that made you? Treason is a crime punishable by death.   It really sounds grim. It sounds hopeless.

Did you know there is a way out of the bottomless pit you are now in? His name is Jesus. He died on a cross nearly 2000 years ago, and if you turn to Him, cast off your sins and repent of them, then place all your hope and trust in Him, you will be saved. You will be saved from God’s wrath and indignation toward those that are at enmity with Him.

There is still hope for you, if you are reading this. There is still hope for me as I write. I can’t save myself anymore than Stuart Scott could heal himself of cancer. That’s why we need Jesus. He came to this earth and healed to prove His divinity. He lived, He suffered, He died, and He rose again to conquer death. That is the good news. That is the best news I’ve ever heard. Will you reject His sacrifice today, or will you submit to His Lordship. You will give account.

He said these words that we could understand His grace and His mercy. He will give you rest, if you are tired of fighting against the deaths of this world. He gives life, and He gives it richly to those that place their hope in Him.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Matthew 11:29-30

I hope Stuart Scott knew this.

 

Kevin

Big or Little?

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http://serhanvardarli.deviantart.com/art/father-and-daughter-136495150

I can remember one of our children asking me, “Dad, am I big or little?” Well of course it was adorable coming from a three-year old, but it’s a good question to ask of ourselves even as “big” people. The implication here from my daughter at the time, was that she wanted to grow up. It’s funny how when you are little you want to be “big”, but as you grow older you don’t want to be little, but you’d like to be younger.

This morning I’ve been thinking about moral littleness and the role this plays in the life of a Christian. In this scope our desire should be littleness, and not bigness, if that makes any sense. Let’s look at the words of the Apostle Paul and see if this sheds any light on the topic.

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. – Ephesians 4:1-3

Paul speaking to the saints at Ephesus and speaking to the saints today is imploring us to walk worthy of our calling. The big question in this brief statement is “have you been called?” What does it mean to be called? The first three chapters of Ephesians tell us what it means, but let’s look quickly at Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus.

It’s really important to note that it’s by the will of God.   Would anybody doubt that Paul was called to be an apostle by Jesus Christ Himself? It’s pretty obvious, that this is the case. Paul will go on to tell us that all saints have also been called out by the will of God, and here is where it’s more difficult for the sinful human heart to accept. We really don’t care much for the Sovereignty of God in Divine election. It just doesn’t feel good and therefore we would rather reject it.

This letter was written to the church in Ephesus, but we can see it was also written to the faithful in Christ Jesus. The faithful (pistos) those that believe in Christ, those that exhibit a life change by their belief, not just a mental ascent or a verbal affirmation.

If you are one of these, then you have been called and if you’ve been called you have a responsibility. You must now walk worthy of the calling and this all begins with an understanding of your moral littleness; a desire to be small.

David understood this.

…And cleanse me from my sin…

For I acknowledge my transgressions…

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity…

Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities…

Create in me a clean heart, O God…

Restore me to the joy of Your salvation…

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God…

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise. – Psalm 51

Our calling must begin with an understanding of our relationship to God before salvation; an understanding of our wretchedness, our inability to please God in ourselves and our need for Christ. This is the whole point of Jesus coming to this earth.

I need Jesus.

You need Jesus.

Why…because we are little. We have nothing to offer Him accept our wretched selves.

“God resists the proud,

                But gives grace to the

                     humble.” – Proverbs 3:34

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. – 2 Peter 5:6-7

Evidence of your calling is a view of your moral littleness and a desire to resist sin. You will then walk worthy of this calling by living and desiring to live a holy life that is pleasing to God. This shows the world that you are a new creation, a new birth has occurred.

It will be a radical change that causes people to take notice. Most of them won’t like the change. If you begin to walk worthy it will mean exposing darkness and calling others to repentance. It will upset apple carts and destroy worldviews that were so dominant in our lives before. Yet there is no greater purpose than to serve the Lord Jesus Christ with a pure heart, to bring Him glory, to proclaim His name, to submit to His Lordship, this is a walk that is worthy and there is no greater joy.

 

Kevin