Wicked Sheep

wolfsheep[3]Since writing up a post highlighting survivor blogs, I’ve come to learn the internet is filled with them. I guess that is to be expected it being the world wide web and all.

Typically, the folks who contribute to survivor blogs write up garment-rending laments bitterly complaining about how churches and pastors so utterly abused them. The only true recourse they had once they freed themselves from the shackles of their enslavement was to hit the internet and start a website detailing their spiritual abuse at the hands of wicked pastors.

I came across this scary looking website:

Wicked Shepherds

The moderator even posted a survey:

Spiritual Abuse Survey

The introduction states:

The following is a questionnaire to see just how healthy your church really is. To determine how well it ranks, answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions.

According to the survey writer, it is believed that if you answer yes to a quarter of these questions, then your church is showing real signs of being “unhealthy.”

The problem with this survey, however, is that it’s too vague. An honest person can’t really say yes or no to any of the questions because they are in desperate need of clarification. What is considered “controlling” for one person may not be so for another.

Definitions are also left up to subjective interpretation. For example, the survey writer mentions “public shaming.” What exactly does he mean by “public shaming?” Or he notes about having “different opinions.” In relation to what, exactly? Doctrine? How about when the writer speaks about being shut down by leadership for “asking questions.” Well, what sort of questions? Of course I’d want to know if the leaders did answer his questions yet why the answer the person received from them wasn’t satisfactory.

Anyhow, I thought I would take this survey, but with keeping these clarifications in mind as I work through the questions. A few of them are repetitive, and honestly, a bit odd, so I won’t be answering all of them. Rather than these questions exposing bad pastors who abuse sheep, these questions can easily expose trouble-making antinomians who don’t like pastors, or anyone for that matter, meddling in their personal lives. I’ll show this as I move along.

•Does your church tightly control the flow of information within its ranks?

This is the kind of question I would expect to be asked by nosy busy-bodies. It really depends on the information. If it is information necessary to shepherd the congregation, then wise pastors will tactfully share what is important to be known. If it is information withheld to cover over personal sin between disagreeing church members or pastors then there is no need to gossip about what can easily be dealt with by the parties involved and only known among a few people. It really isn’t anyone’s business. Moreover, the congregation doesn’t need to know about pastor so-and-so’s bladder control problem unless he is so inclined to share.

•Does the head of your church, along with the other “leaders”, use public shaming as a method to gain the compliance of followers?’

What does “public shaming” mean exactly? If by “public shaming” the person means church discipline in which the person in question has his or her name read from the pulpit, then yes, godly leaders do that on occasion.

•Does the head of your church and his “fellow elders” appear to be intolerant or consider it evil persecution when criticized or questioned?

What are they being criticized about? If it is nit-picky conspiratorial style questions made by a factious accuser, then any wise elder/pastor will definitely be intolerant of such a person after he or she has been rebuked two or three times (Titus 3:10, 11)

•Are you discouraged to associate with former members, being warned that they are “evil” or “defiling”; a “danger to your spiritual welfare”?

If the “former member” falls into the category of the person spoken about in Titus 3:10, 11, then that is exactly what the Bible is telling us. See previous question.

•Is leaving your church to join another church that “is not approved by your elders” equal to leaving God?

I’ll put it this way: Any person leaving our church to join a Catholic congregation, or an Unitarian congregation, or a Mormon congregation is leaving God. It makes me wonder if the folks who put together this survey have even read 1 John 2:19, 20.

I grouped these next two questions together because they cover similar ground:

•Do you fear being rebuked, shunned, or ignored for expressing a different opinion?
•Is questioning condemned as “whispering, back- biting, vicious slander, gossip, nit-picking, signs of a proud rebellious spirit, being disaffected and divisive?”

What sort of “different opinion” is being expressed? Denial of Christ’s deity certainly qualifies as a “different opinion,” but it is one worthy of rebuke.

What sort of questions are being asked? Are they spiteful, accusatory questions that imply the pastor is a crook because he is paid 50,000 a year?

I’m curious. How would the writer of this survey respond if he encountered a “member” constantly accusing the leadership of collusion with the UN, but the evidence the person presented as proof was baseless and bizarre? Would the writer rebuke that person? Shun him? or consider his views as “different opinions”? Would he think this conspiracy nut was genuinely asking questions, or would he see them as “divisive” or “slanderous?” Would he be willing to support the pastor who is attempting to deal with the troublemaker or accuse his pastor of condemning him?

The next three points are repetitive, so I took them out of order and put them together.

•At church, is there a sense of control, rather than support?
•Is there a misplaced loyalty from Jesus and God onto the leadership, which is idolatry?
•Is there a relentless obsession of reminding the sheep of “who’s in authority”?

If by the word “control” the survey writer means that pastors don’t applaud the wacko ideas of theological heretics or strife generating trouble-makers who disrupt church business meetings, then yes, a healthy church “controls” such things and would never support them.

I would hope the members of a God-fearing church would want to submit to and support their leaders. Hebrews 13:7, a passage I find absent on many of these “abuse survivor” site (or seriously maligned), clearly states we are to obey and submit to our leaders and I would hope they would support their leaders particularly in matters of factious members crying “spiritual abuse.”

•Are you told not to ask questions as to why others have left? Are you told to accept the statements that “your elders” give you?

It has been my experience that the ones who leave are rather vocal as to why they are leaving. I’ve never had to go ask an “elder” why such and such a person left, especially a person who was all the time questioning everything going on at church and held all the leaders in suspicion. The nature of most narcissistic loudmouths is to be seen and heard and have their agenda known.

•Are books, tapes and CD’s, speakers, music, etc., carefully controlled to keep only the belief structure of your church before your mind?

I hope so. Do the folks who put together this survey have any willingness to discern? Do they not think a doctrinal statement is a worthy thing to be defended? If there was some guy passing out Anthony Buzzard sermons in which he taught his anti-Trinitarian heresy, I want my elders to “control” the dissemination of that information. It makes me wonder if these “wicked shepherd” people think John the apostle was “a control freak” when he wrote to that lady and her family not to receive the one who comes to them with false doctrine (2 John 9, 10).

lamb_thumb[1]•Is there is a relentless campaign to keep you around the activities of your church, expecting you to be at all the stated meetings, except if providentially hindered? And if you are absent, is your spirituality and dedication sometimes questioned?

Is “relentless campaign” code words meaning “holding people accountable?”

Lookit, if you joined a church, committed yourself and your family’s spiritual health and growth to the pastor and leaders of that church, why would you NOT want to be involved in the activities of your church, including meetings? Do these people treat being a member of a church like a “come-as-you-please-when-it-is-at-your-convenience” affair?

•Is there present, the breaking of even the closest family ties, to “guard” the flock?

What do these people think Jesus meant in Matthew 10:34-37? Our Lord says that closest families may be broken apart over who he was. If telling a lecherous teenager of a faithful church family that he is no longer welcome at the youth group activities because of his crude, ungodly behavior will “guard the flock,” then regrettably, family ties will be challenged.

I am not going to respond to ALL of the remainder of these survey questions. I just wanted to highlight a few pertaining to leadership in general. Take note of the words “control,” “fear,” and “paranoia.”

•Is there the constant using of guilt and shame as tools of control?
•Is there present at your church the encouragement of the members to spy and report on each other, lest sin be found in the midst?
•Is there present at your church the dominant climate of fear in the group – fear of failing to keep one of the rules, and fear of being held up to public humiliation and rejection?
•Is paranoia the “very air you breathe”? Paranoia of falling from grace; thinking for yourselves; breaking the many unspoken rules as well as the clearly spelled out expectations of the leader?
•Does a code of silence reign at your church? Is no one to divulge the business of the church, or the faults of the leadership?
•Are you becoming paranoid – carefully watching your every word and even gesture, lest someone report your faults?

As I read these questions, I am reminded of Proverbs 28:1, The wicked flee when no man pursues… I start to wonder about a person’s spiritual state and overall motivation if he describes opposition to his issues with leadership in terms of their paranoia.

Generally, its the one crying “paranoia” who is in fact paranoid. “The leaders don’t want to address such-and-such or the pastors refuse to answer my questions pertaining to thus-and-so because they are paranoid of loosing power, or afraid they will loose money, or whatever.”

Because the person’s pet issues are so strange, pastors genuinely don’t want to answer them, or perhaps they give a simple response hoping to placate the person. The person, however, interpret the answers as “evading” or as a “code of silence.” If a pastor confronts and firmly rebukes the person for his odd-ball ideas, such a response is twisted to be “controlling” or stifling dissent which is hardly the case.

As a person considers these questions, it is clear to see they can cut both ways.

Certainly there are churches that are spiritually unhealthy and the atmosphere is smothering. There are pastors who are controlling and lord it over the flock they are to shepherd. However, there are also individuals and groups who bristle against any authority whatsoever, especially pastors who may come along and step on their toes. If that pastor begins to shake up the congregation a little bit with the authority of Scripture, or he puts his finger on a sore spot in an person’s life, the first response is to yell anti-authoritarian buzzwords like “controlling!”

16 thoughts on “Wicked Sheep

  1. “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord." Jer 23:1-2 Fred, in your quest to diss spiritual abuse sites, please keep these verses in mind. Much easier to shoot the messenger than to tend the wounded sheep, huh? ~JA Any time you want to talk, you have my #.

  2. Julie,I think you're missing Fred's point – the questions he cites are too vague to be of any help in determining which churches qualify as abusive and which do not. One person from a particular church may believe it is abusive (perhaps because they were subjected to biblical church dicipline, while another from that same church may believe the church is only doing what God requires. There is a context and several qualifying facts that must be considered before making such a serious charge against a pastor or church.Also, merely citing Jeremiah 23:1-2 does not end the discussion. There is a context there as well that has to be taken into consideration when properly interpreting and applying its truth to a contemporary church or pastor. My point is one must prove that a particular pastor qualifies as a false shepherd who destroys!Also, there is a critical difference between a false shepherd who destroys and a pastor who has sinned against a church member. The most obvious difference is that the shepherds rebuked in Jeremiah 23were obviously unredeemed. The sinning pastor may very well be a redeemed brother (though he may well have disqualified himself from his pastoral office – another subject). By the way, I don't see where Fred is "shooting the messenger" as you imply. He is merely evaluating the survey posted for public use and view on one website. There's no reason to take offense.Also, (this is aimed at all sides) it seems to me that since this whole issue of abusive churches has become so public that genuine believers ought to go to great lengths to discuss and debate with one another graciously and biblically. The world is watching how we interact with one another which is far more important to the reputation of Christ than any particular person winning their own argument. Blessings,Steve

  3. Wow, Fred! You come across as an insensitive and ignorant bully. I truly pray you’re not in a position of spiritual authority, for your abusive rant betrays you as a potentially dangerous man if given the slightest modicum of power.

  4. Julie Anne,I hope you understand that this particular post is not against you, but is merely an expression of my concern with what I see on the internet regarding factious individuals fomenting rebellion against churches and pastors. It's disgraceful and is as much of a dishonor to the Lord Jesus as these so-called wicked pastors. Go back and consider what I wrote in response to this survey. Are any of the things I noted possibly true? How can this survey, which is vague and subjective, seriously be considered a gauge on which to evaluate the health of a church or the liberality of a pastor? The ironic thing about your response to my questions and criticisms is that you are in fact becoming like Chuck ONeal by stifling my dissent and not taking my questions and criticisms seriously.Rather than saying I may have a point about such and such an issue, you dismiss what I say out of hand claiming I am ignorant and need to know about "your story." Just consider the fact that you removed the link to my previous post from your sidebar. It means you don't want folks to know about someone who took a different view of your claims, and honestly evaluated them and those of other so-called spiritual abuse survivors against a church or pastor. Again, why do I need to speak with you over the phone about your situation? Why can't you summarize your main issue with this pastor and church on your blog? With 11 hours of meetings that apparently amounted to you being shunned when in fact there was no reason for this as you claim, I would think you could tell us the heart of the matter. You say you refrain from telling your story because the guy has spies on the internet. Really? What real harm could they possibly do to you? If you are in the right, there should be no fear with opening up and telling the whole side of your story. The fact that you won't publicly document your story raises a red flag in my mind. It makes me wonder if you have something to hide that would damage your credibility as a whistleblower against this pastor. That means there is something more to all of this between you and Chuck than you just driving by a Google review page and leaving a "negative" review. That was just a fuse to set off the bigger keg that was already prepared to go off. I am half-way sympathetic to your plight, but these dark spots in the way you have responded to my questions and criticisms raise even more questions. Add into that mix other genuine troublemakers who leech onto you in the form of commenters and anonymous bloggers so they can continue to malign the church where they left only causes me to crinkle my nose and wonder even more.

  5. Monax, whose profile page is cowardly unavailable for review,Go back and read the comment I left for Julie Anne immediately before this one. How come my criticisms and questions automatically mean I am a bully? Do you expect me to just roll over and believe without question every sob-sister spiritual abuse survivor story? Answer my comments in the post: Was John the Apostle a controlling, bully pastor for exposing the errors of those individuals troubling the churches he was writing to in his epistles? I bet you Diotrophes asked questions of his leaders, yet John rebukes him as an evil man. What about the factious guy in Titus 3:10, 11. I bet he asked a lot of questions of his elders. Did Paul encourage Titus and the elders to bully him when he told them to put him out of the church? Why or why not?It's amazing how hypocritical these abuse survivors become when someone comes along and asks some pointed questions about their story. All of the sudden the skeptic becomes a bully and is labelled unqualified for ministry.

  6. Fred,You are unfortunately on the wrong side of this one. Most of the survivor sites that I have come across are concerning Independent Fundamental Baptists and similar types that, for lack of a better term, are hyper-legalists that have no respect for the role of pastor as biblically defined and are in fact abusers of God's sheep. It has been highly documented concerning the abuses of power by Lester Roloff and the Roloff homes and Hepzibah House and the like that will take 'your kids' and straighten them out, no matter by what means they take. My advice is that you rethink what you are attempting to convey here. Now, there are some godly men that are criticized by false converts or troubled Christians, and that is wrong. However, your blanket condemnation of 'survivor sites' needs to be repented of.God bless,prchrbill

  7. Bill,You're coming in late to the discussion. I'm not sure if you saw my previous post (linked in this one). It may behoove you to go back and read it and see where I am coming from. As I stated here, I am sympathetic to Julie Anne's plight and would probably agree with her against her pastor. I just see some question marks in her claims that I am just pointing out and to shut down my dissent is just like any of these wolf pastors shutting down their dissenters. However, I think you give way too much credibility to the number of survivor blogs that dot the internet landscape. Besides, I am not blanket condemning ALL them. While it is true that a number of them are against the extreme forms of fundamentalism, like Peter Ruckman style fundamentalism, the ones I have encountered over the last few weeks since engaging the "spiritual abuse" victims and their diatribes, do not seem to be from folks who come from those backgrounds and they have a heavy streak of anti-authoritarianism and anti-church altogether. It's down right troubling.But let's stay focused on what I have written here and this survey as it is presented. As I asked the anonymous critic above, how exactly am I wrong in my criticism? The questions are so vague and subjective they cut both ways. The survey can just as easily be used as a guide for encouraging false converts as it could to gauge so-called unhealthy churches. So I think your call for me to repent is a bit premature and overreactive at this point especially seeing you don't really engage what I am saying here.

  8. Fred,This post, and the other one that articulates your position on this issue doesn't surprise me. After all, one must consider your connections to John MacArthur and Phil Johnson. Both are defenders of spiritual despots and Christian mystics. Regardless of CJ Mahaney's well documented abuse of power, Mac will joyfully appear with him at this weekend's Resolved Conference. Johnson, as well as you, criticize Julia Anne's pastor for suing her while remaining silent on the fact that RC Sproul did the same thing to a blogger that criticized his ministry. And on the fact that Sproul put his son back in the pulpit after he was defrocked by a Presby session for spiritual abuse:SILENCE.Fred, you are a pathetic crony and New Calvinist hack.

  9. Paul, another blogger whose profile is conveniently unavailable. You write,This post, and the other one that articulates your position on this issue doesn't surprise me.So humor me and interact with the arguments I made in this post and the previous one. Give me some explanation as to how I "don't surprise" you.Continuing,After all, one must consider your connections to John MacArthur and Phil Johnson. Both are defenders of spiritual despots and Christian mystics.Oh really? Defenders? And you make that judgment based on what, exactly? Just because C.J. teaches at a Resolve Conference? Are you one of those second degree separation Christians?Regardless of CJ Mahaney's well documented abuse of power, Mac will joyfully appear with him at this weekend's Resolved Conference.Did you read that so-called "well documented" document? It was 600 pages of PDF files. A good bulk of it was whiny he-said, I-said stuff. Much of it being silly bitter oriented petty nonsense generated by SGM views of sanctification and other charismatic related issues. To claim he's a despot, however, is laughable. Hence the reason why neither John or Phil made any significant declaration against him in favor of his critics. RC Sproul did the same thing to a blogger that criticized his ministry.Actually, the folks around here had the same reaction we had about Chuck's lawsuit. We thought it was a waste of time. I am taking it that you are familiar with the blogger they were suing, because he represented a group of cranks who didn't get their way with their church leadership. You need to google "Mrs. Binoculars" and "Doug Phillips" and you'll see. That's not to say I am defending Doug Phillips. Just to say that his critics and the ones going after RC and his group are hardly pure and innocent "abuse victims." So. Being the pathetic, crony New Calvinist hack that I am, tell me where you go to church? Whose your pastor now? Or am I asking too much?

  10. Correction, you did address the Sproul lawsuit. You said,"….this lawsuit is not the wisest of things to do on the part of Ligonier," while calling the blogger a "crackpot." Gee Fred, I don't want to be a crackpot. Even though Mahaney has never repented of blackmailing Larry Tomzcak, is Mac really "ministering" with him this weekend or is that a conspiracy theory? You can also correct me on what was revealed by those pesky crackpots about RC Sproul's son if necessary. Your pastor often supplies a platform for ridiculing Joel Osteen. Well, let me tell you something about JO: he wouldn't try to prevent someone from leaving his church for doctrinal reasons or any other reason, and he certainly wouldn't blackmail them with information that was privileged to begin with. It is what it is. where's the conspiracy theory here? There isn't any. Mac's approval of Mahaney speaks for itself.And Johnson's approval of those who believe in progressive justification also speaks for itself: "I love John Piper."Ahhh, bless your heart Phil.

  11. Fred,Profile? My blog is Paul's Passing Thoughts .com. I was of Reformed theology for 20 years at the same church and a Reformed elder for 5. That is, until the hostile takeover of said church. I only begged that they would be up front about what they were teaching. The response? I wasn't ready for the progressive justification that they were teaching. Am I a second degree separatist? Fred, I break fellowship with those who refuse to repent of blackmailing others. I break fellowship with pastors who won't let parishioners leave for doctrinal disagreements.Got a problem with that?"….bitter oriented petty nonsense"? Fred, I think the transcript of the recorded phone conversation between CJ, Larry, and Doris clearly reveals the blackmail that was taking place and CJ's other character issues.Fred, I am a member in good standing at Germantown Baptist Chapel in Germantown, OH. I took a sabbatical from being over men's ministries to write the book, "The Truth About New Calvinism: It's History, Doctrine, and Character." I am also a former rabid respecter of John MacArthur untill he started drinking John piper's Koolaid in 1994. Very disappointing.

  12. I've come to despise the survivor blogs. They suppose themselves to be helping; THEY ARE NOT.If you were SERIOUSLY spiritually abused, turn your back on the survivor blogs and get on with your life asking the Lord to help you let go of the bitterness and anger.Wallowing in the survivor blogs only serves to keep one focused on self; Satan's plan.In my opinion, spiritual health is not found on survivor blogs.

  13. Wow, preacher bill standing up for women for a change. Will wonders never cease?"What sort of "different opinion" is being expressed? Denial of Christ's deity certainly qualifies as a "different opinion," but it is one worthy of rebuke."That's not the point. The operative word is do you FEAR *raising the question*? A proper response to such a question would not be one that engenders fear but will catechize the one questioning. How will anyone learn if they FEAR asking questions or saying the wrong thing?It's pretty clear to me what this survey means. Churches do not operate on fear, period. If you think that's ok, maybe that's why you don't understand the problem.

  14. Rabbi-Philsopher said "If you were SERIOUSLY spiritually abused, turn your back on the survivor blogs and get on with your life asking the Lord to help you let go of the bitterness and anger."Well that's so compassionate of you. If you were seriously abused, just get right back up, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do everything the way I want you to.Who are you to say how a person 'gets on with their life' and works through this? It seems to me your own advice hasn't made you more gracious and compassionate toward 'seriously abused' people! All you do is look down your nose at them. Great help.

  15. TG writes,That's not the point. The operative word is do you FEAR *raising the question*? A proper response to such a question would not be one that engenders fear but will catechize the one questioning. How will anyone learn if they FEAR asking questions or saying the wrong thing?Well. Go back and deal with the follow-up I raise. IF the church answers the questions, and the answers are not WHAT YOU want to hear, do you keep asking? The so-called FEAR factor this survey raises I believe is a ploy to avoid other issues. "I'm afraid to ask because he tells me what I don't want to hear."TG writes,Churches do not operate on fear, period. If you think that's ok, maybe that's why you don't understand the problem.And the fear of the Lord plays where in your paradigm? I bet you think Peter was a "bully" in Acts 5.

  16. Pingback: Answering Survivor Bloggers and Other Sundry Theological Cranks | hipandthigh

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