Shepherd’s Conference 2015 Recap

kalavinThis years Shepherd’s Conference was called the Inerrancy Summit, and it centered around the theme of reaffirming the doctrines of Scripture’s inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy. Sixteen keynote speakers and several breakout sessions presented messages and lectures confirming those timeless truths.

All of the session audio/video will be online at the TMS website. The Vimeo versions of the keynote speaker addresses are available now.

All of the key sessions were good, but a few did stand out to me. Steve Lawson’s breakout lecture which was a biographical sketch of William Tyndale was truly moving, and Carl Trueman’s talk on the historical doctrine of inerrancy was a fine debunking to those who claim “inerrancy” is a modern concept and was never believed by the Christian church. Others to consider would be Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever reading the entire 119th Psalm; and the Q&A on the background to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was also insightful.

The real highlight for me was meeting up with dear saints I know chiefly from social media and spending time with them in real person. I made a special effort to shake Carl Trueman’s hand, which he recounted at his blog. Many of The #15 were there, including Squirrel, Matt Rollings, and JD Hall himself, who made the trip driving down from Montana to LA with his family.

I also had the blessed privilege to spend extended time with No Compromise radio host, Mike Abendroth, and his faithful side kick, Steve “Tuesday Guy” Cooley. I also talked with David Wheaton and his brother, and I met up with Jimmy Li who runs the Domain for Truth blog. We ate lunch with Robert McCabe, who teaches Hebrew and OT studies at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.

There were some young pastors who encouraged me, including Nate Pickowicz who pastors Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton, NH, and Rick Cowan, who pastors Calvary Baptist in Windsor, Canada. His story is truly amazing as he recounted how he and his church are leaving wild-eyed, barking at the moon independent fundamentalism to sound, biblical orthodoxy and practice. I was truly blessed by his story.

We had our first “protester” in a long, long time. He was an angry anti-Kalvanist. Kalvan, according to this guy, was is a heritic from Jeneva. And apparently, I was also embroiled in seething internet controversy with the theonomy folks for my article last week on the debate between JD Hall and Joel McDurmon and with Brannon Howse of Worldview Weekend fame and his ridiculous faux-outrage at Todd Friel. However, the crushing number of attendees overwhelmed the network system to the point I couldn’t follow any of it, so I remained blissfully unaware of any trouble I was stirring up.

The thing with Brannon Howse insisting the number of people who died during the Inquisitions was 50 million almost seemed to be manufactured for the sole purpose of getting Todd Friel. The few individuals I spoke with during the conference who were aware of his multiple broadcasts addressing the subject, couldn’t understand why he wasn’t backing down after several corrections of factual error. No one spoke of it in positive terms and believed it only served to besmirch his reputation. But oh well.

That was the Shepherd’s Conference to end all conferences, so I’ll be surprised to see what will be tackled next. Of course, I am holding out for a Strange Flesh conference that reaffirms biblical sexuality and marriage, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.


My Top Blogs Christian Leaders Should Be Reading in 2015

So Ed “15 Angry Calvinists” Stetzer plug an article that listed the Top 30 Blogs Christian Leaders Need to Read in 2015. I clicked the link and scanned the suggestions. Nearly all of them I had never heard of, and of the ones I had heard of, like Rick Warren’s, I would never recommend to anyone as a resource being afraid that folks would be led into a spiritual slough of despond if they did so.

The author wrote up a list of criteria he thinks makes the kind of blog a Christian leader needs to read.

He lays out 6 points that identifies a “great” blog.

  • Great blogs provide solutions to the issues Christian leaders face.
  • Great blogs provide inspiration for Christian leaders to keep paying the price to move forward.  A great blog tells you you can and will make it.
  • Great blogs have credibility from being written by proven experts.
  • Great blogs have consistently new content and are worth re-visiting on a regular basis.
  • Great blogs have great content.  It rarely, if ever, disappoints.
  • There are also some bloggers listed below who may be well-known yet but should be on your radar.

Again, none of the blogs listed really match the criteria he lays out here. In fact, he list’s Perry Noble’s blog under those criteria and people would only get stupider if they read it on a regular basis.

With that list in mind, I thought I would offer up my own suggestions of blogs I think would be of greater benefit for Christian leaders to read than any of the ones mentioned. Furthermore, I think my list matches, if not excels over, the stated criteria for a “great” blog. They are all an inspiration, are written by proven experts, and have consistently new content that is worth revisiting. In fact, the content is actually helpful in that it addresses issues and makes a statement of committed, biblical clarity rather than some lame, wishy-washy “let’s build a consensus” conclusion.

Probably the only thing different about my list is the last item in the criteria. None of the bloggers are particularly “well-known.” There are a few, maybe; but even they are marginalized or ignored. If they happen to blog in some prescient fashion on a subject that makes them unpopular, say like the disaster that was Mark Driscoll, and when their warnings come to fruition, their detractors wonder why no one previously ever wrote about those problems. If they raise their hand and say, “we did,” then they are accused of gloating.

My list is in no particular order and may not be entirely comprehensive. Meaning, I may miss a few good ones here and there.

Pyromaniacs Originally started by Phil Johnson who is the executive director of Grace to You radio ministries. Now maintained by Dan Phillips and Frank Turk and the occasional reposts of the best of Phil, who retired from blogging a couple years ago. The writing is engaging, pithy, biblical.

The blog always has great content, never disappoints, should be a must read for any biblical leader.

The Cripplegate A consortium of writers, most of who are students and graduates of the Master’s Seminary. A number of them currently pastor full-time. They cover a full range of subjects of interest to the average pastor, like problematic doctrinal issues, book reviews, and even once an article about shaving.

Alpha and Omega Ministries The blog showcasing the ministry of apologist James White, who has written a number of important books that every leader should read or at least have ready access in their library when they are confronted by apologetic issues like engaging Muslims with the Gospel or interacting with fanatical King James Only advocates.

His twice-weekly Dividing Line podcast ought to be on the rotation play list of all serious-minded believers.

Canon Fodder The blog of Michael J. Kruger who is swiftly becoming one of the leading scholars on early NT textual studies. His books are top notch and must reads for all Christian leaders.

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary The blog where the profs and grads of DBTS provide excellent articles on a variety of topics from a fundamental, evangelical Baptist perspective. Their journal is outstanding, also.

Domain of Truth Ran by Jimmy Lee, a TMS grad and pastor in SoCal. He and the contributors he has assembled provide a number of excellent apologetic resources, including his weekly links highlighting the better blog articles addressing presuppositional apologetics. You will also find insightful reviews of books and links to wonderful, but otherwise unknown theological sermons, lectures, and series.

Shadow to Light I just recently started reading this blog around Christmas time. Not sure who the author is, but the emphasis is upon interacting with and exposing the “new atheism” of such notables as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. There is lots of good stuff here. A tremendous resource for the youth pastor or pastor who may have some youth apostate and become angry church haters after attending their first semester at state college.

Dr. Reluctant The blog of Paul Henebury, who is a masterful writer on various theological subjects. He also runs Telos Ministries, where folks can find lots of excellent resources in print and audio.

MennoKnight The blog where you will find the insightful, witty, and always fun writing of Lyndon Unger. He also blogs at Cripplegate.

Gatestone Institute It is more of a website, but the writers/reporters talk about the state of the world outside of the US. Their particular focus is Europe. A great site for us soft Americans who tend to live in a bubble when it comes to events in the world.

Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International Sister ministries with the focus upon the worldviews of creationism and evolution. Not only do they keep the crucial issue of origins in the forefront, but both ministries consistently address it with clarity, fact, and Scripture. Some of the best apologetic material you can get when confronting skepticism in the church.

Triablogue I have had my tussles over the last year or so with Steve Hays, the principle writer at Triablogue, but in spite of our profound disagreements with each other, he and his team consistently put out good material that is challenging and polemic in defense of biblical Christianity. His atheist take downs are always worth visiting.

Resources on the Neo “Antinomianism”

TullianLast week, one sub-section of the Christian evangelical internet world was ignited when Tullian Tchividjian (hereafer, “TT”) got the left boot of disfellowship from the The Gospel Coalition. The primary reason, according to D.A. Carson and Tim Keller who wrote up a public statement of the aforesaid booting, had to do with his views of sanctification that border on antinomianism, or for those who may not be familiar with big, 20-dollar theological terms, anti-law.

At any rate, as TT was being shown the web portal, he took it upon himself to blast TGC for the way the members had ignored the SGM scandal and the preacher who-cannot-be-named. Of course, many wonder why, if that was such a big deal to him, why make a stink only after you get the left boot of disfellowship? I am not sure when TT became a contributing blogger to TGC, but I recall the Elephant Room 2 kerfuffle from a few years back and as far as theological kerfuffles go, that one was of more significance than the SGM scandal and the preacher-who-cannot-be-named.  Where was TT?

Back to the antinomian charge.

Now TT has his cheerleaders, like Chris Rosebrough of Fighting for the Faith (peace be upon him) who say that TT is NOT teaching any form of antinomianism. Not even a smidgen. All I can say is that TT has not been clear as to his views of sanctification and the role that God’s law plays in sanctifying believers. In a word, he is sloppy at best. That is also true of his Liberate conference friends, Paul Tripp and Elyse Fitzpatrick, who have also made vague, antinomiany like statements in their conference talks.

Interestingly, my pal Dan Phillips makes an extremely astute and important observation about TT’s neo-antinomian like statements and his connection to Key Life radio host, Steve Brown and his views of grace.  Brown has some really bad and sub-biblical views of grace that are not only antinomian, but are libertine in their pronouncements. (Read Dan’s article to see what I mean).  Brown teaches (or taught) at Reformed Theological Seminary at Orlando, where, as it just so happens, TT went to school. Hmmmmm…

So, with that background in mind, I wanted to direct any readers who are like scratching their heads and wondering what all this kerfuffle is about by directing them to some resources for your consideration. I’ll try to limit them to those readily accessible on the internet:

Curt Daniel’s lecture on historic antinomianism [this links immediately to an mp3 audio recording, so be alert]. In fact, I would exhort any serious student to listen to his entire lecture series on the history and theology of Calvinism. It will be well worth your investment of time.

Peter Toon’s The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Non-Comformity 1689-1765. His third chapter goes into detail regarding antinomianism.

Jerry Wragg’s Shepherd’s Conference 2014 message, The New Antinomianism. Goes into more detail regarding TT and pastoral concerns as this teaching impacts the church.

Wayne De Villier’s two-part lecture series at my Sunday school class, The Misleading Refrains of the Hyper-grace Movement Part I and Part II.  Wayne goes into extensive detail of what this movement teaches by citing from the books and lectures of the key figures, including TT.

I think that if a person seriously weighs the concerns raised in Jerry and Wayne’s lectures specifically, he will see that this issue is more than a silly disagreement on semantics, but there exists some serious concerns as to how this view of grace/law impacts the sanctifying life of the believer.


Shepherd’s Conference

conferenceShepherd’s Conference is this week. I hope to visit a few of the days, so anyone there who may read my blog, shoot me an email and maybe we can meet. Contact info is located on my About page. I’ve met a lot of great guys over the years and every conference is like a family reunion without the bitter cousin or smug uncle to wreck the atmosphere of the place.

The main sessions of the conference will also be live streamed at the conference site or Grace Church.

Regular blogging, including my follow up to Authentic Fire chapter 6 should resume next week.

The Pastor and His Sermon Prep.

One of the highlights with the Shepherd’s Conference every year is the panel Q&A with the participants that generally takes place on Thursday of the conference.  This year, John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, Tom Pennington, Al Mohler, and Steve Lawson chatted with each other about their sermon preparation and the techniques and steps they take to craft their messages.

Of the group, only Phil does his work on a computer. Pretty much all the other guys do their prep long hand writing with a fountain pen. That revelation warmed my heart, because I am one of those guys trapped in the transition between the hand-writing age/computer age, and I learned in college how to take my notes and prepare a rough draft long hand, and then write it out on a typewriter (remember those!) and now a computer. I do that with my sermons as well as even blogging at times, particularly my longer blog articles I compile.

The conversation was interesting and fun to hear as the men explained the reason for why they prepare the way the do. It’s the one session I recommend all pastors to download.

Shepherd’s Conference 2013 Q&A

What A Fellowship!

pipermacI wanted to address some comments Kent Brandenburg made a few weeks ago. Writing on the cherished Fundamentalist practice of separation, he states,

Alright, so Charismatic doctrine is unbiblical.  I run into Charismatics all the time going door-to-door (I’ve written a very helpful tract to give them too, that we hand them), and they are not only contradictory to the doctrine of our church, but also the doctrine of the church period.  The young evangelical I referenced chose to call it an “odd ball view.”  Odd ball view?  It’s false doctrine.  It contradicts scripture.  That’s bad enough. We could stop there, but it does far more damage then that, and John MacArthur himself, this young man’s pastor, has written a scathing book against the odd ball views.  It was one of MacArthur’s early books, that went into a second printing, and he makes it look very bad and dangerous and hurtful.  He’s correct on all fronts.  Bravo John MacArthur in your true exposure of these false doctrines!

Writing a book is fine.  But what does Romans 16:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6 tell us to do?  It says “mark and avoid” and “withdraw ourselves” from these.  I’m not nitpicking.  I’m talking about applying what God commanded us to do.  Talk to God about it.  He’s the one that said it.  Are we nitpicking if we report what God said?  If so, well, then I guess I’ll be nitpicking.  And then he implies that we lack discernment, and that’s why we can’t have guys like Piper preach for us.  If he came, we’d get all confused and not know what we believe.  Right.  No, it really is wanting to obey passages of Scripture—that black stuff on white paper, those words.  That’s how we’re sanctified, is by the truth.  It’s in those pages we see the face of Jesus, which changes us into His glory.  Are we changed into His glory when we don’t do what He said?  No.

First off, I appreciate being called young. I was actually flattered a bit; especially seeing that I am probably older than Kent. It’s like that time a couple of Christmases ago when I went into the grocery store to get a bottle of wine for some recipe my wife was making and the lady at the register carded me by asking for my driver’s license. I was befuddled. “Really?” I exclaimed, “I’ve never been carded before in my life! You just made my day, mam!”

But moving along to the point at hand.

Kent was troubled by this post I wrote. Even more so with the comments I left to an individual underneath it regarding John MacArthur’s relationship with the Resolved Conferences, John Piper, and I guess by extension, C.J. Mahaney; but mostly Piper.

Kent represents a vocal group of Fundamentalist finger-wagging gatekeepers who have always been critical of John and his “affiliations” with alleged problematic individuals like Piper and Mahaney.  John’s relationship with them is viewed as an insidious form of compromise. As my commenter noted, for John to write a hard-hitting book against charismatics and then embrace a charismatic like Mahaney is confusing to folks.

Let me respond with a number of thoughts. Oh, I should add this one note: I do not speak in any official capacity here. These items reflect my own personal take.

First. Do Kent and his friends genuinely believe John is blissfully unaware of Piper and Mahaney’s “issues”? Or perhaps they think he doesn’t care? Believe me: John knows and he cares. The difference is that he understands the value of what they say on those areas of biblical importance, and when that comes to the Resolved Conferences, those areas are the Gospel message, the glory of God, the life of Christ, etc. Charismatic issues were never at the forefront at those conference. Any “confusing” questions about those issues can be dealt with at other points when they arise.

Second. John and John have been friends and acquaintances for sometime. Long before the popularity of “conferences.” Piper has come a few times over the years to speak at TMS and the TMC. The first time I heard him speak was back in the mid-90s for a TMS morning chapel and it was Piper at his best speaking on the glory of God in preaching.  Rather than throwing him under the bus, MacArthur graciously looks past those problem areas and emphasizes those profitable things Piper has to offer Christians as a whole.

Third. That does not mean MacArthur has “no opinion” about Piper or Mahaney. If you would ask him what he thinks of their problematic areas, MacArthur would not hesitate to tell you, all the while doing his best to be gracious toward them. Additionally, I know for a fact MacArthur has spoken with Piper on these things personally, though I am not privy to all that was discussed.

Fourth. Piper has been asked to speak at conferences with MacArthur, not necessarily his church. Though Piper has been in the pulpit at Grace on a few occasions, most of the venues under scrutiny by Kent and his friends are conferences.  There is a different tone, feel, and purpose with conferences than worship at a church. Though I am sure Kent will wrinkle his nose at this, I hold who speaks and what is said at a conference more loosely than who preaches and what is preached in a church pulpit. They are in two separate arenas for my discernment filter.

The reason being is that speakers can show up unexpectedly last-minute at a conference or say something off the wall that may not reflect what the conference is about specifically, or the conviction of the other conference participants particularly.

Additionally, planners for conferences may not, if ever, solicit the opinion of the other conference members about who it is they are inviting and who will speak with them. Hence. Just because MacArthur is on a platform with Piper or Mahaney does not mean he endorses either directly or by the so-called “platform association” the unspoken “problem” areas of their theology.

And yes, I know my detractors will say: “But you are inviting them!” Indeed we are, but again, it’s a conference not church.

Fifth. Because I make that distinction between conferences and church, if Piper was invited frequently to preach at our church, and his odd-ball beliefs – (which by the way go beyond any charismatic tendencies like his inviting Rick Warren to speak at his Desiring God conference and his embracing of Mark Driscoll) –  were to be taught from our pulpit and encouraged by the leadership at our church, then I think Kent could have reason to be concerned and write the criticisms he has. Because that is hardly the case, so I think his critique is petty and misdirected.

Sixth. After reading a series of posts that Kent wrote up, I am often left wondering if those individuals of a Fundamentalist stripe have ever learned any ability to genuinely discern. Do all our “associations” without exception have to fall in line under our stated theological convictions? Or is there any room for disagreement or covering over of those areas where our association may be “off”?

Take for instance a relatively unknown association MacArthur has been involved with for a good number of years. Back in the early 90s, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union and the doors opened to the West, Russian Baptist leadership began to seek out John to get more exposure to his teaching. That led to the planting of seminaries modeled after TMS and led by TMS grads, as well as a number of speaking engagements and Russian pastor conferences like what we have here in the U.S.

Those Baptist leaders who early on sought out John are for the most part Arminian in their theology. Moreover, they have weird traditions, like the notion that women can be literally saved by the number of children she has. Certainly there could have been Reformed folks who would nit-pick about John’s “association” with hardshell Arminians, and I guess one could say there were other issues of concern with those dear Russian saints. But rather than avoiding any involvement with them at all, John cautiously took the initiative and so began a tremendous partnership that has had amazing impact for the Gospel in Russia.

Seventh. The “separation” passages Kent uses to prove his point are woefully taking out of context. I’ll break them down for you:

Romans 16:17 says, Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.

Kent writes that no one wants to obey those words and it is not “nitpicking” to demand that we do so. However, in the next post in his series, Kent writes, It’s not plain that Romans 16 is talking about people outside of the church.  It seems like he’s talking about people in the church, people who call themselves brothers, because they cause division.

Is that what those little black words say? In the following verses, Paul writes,

18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.
19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.
20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (Rom 16:18-20)

There are a few characteristics of those so-called “brothers.” They are distinguished from the “brethren” mentioned in verse 17. They “do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ.” They intentionally deceive. It is implied they are not obedient in contrast to the “obedience” of the “brethren.” The “brethren” are exhorted to be wise in what is good as opposed to that which is “evil.” And Paul seems to imply that those who are to be separated from are identified with Satan in verse 20.

Nothing suggests that they are genuine Christians, because of these characteristics. Additionally, if they were genuine believers, why would Paul NOT offer correctives to their divisiveness? Is that implying that they were doctrinally sound in faith and practice in other areas of their life, but their “divisive behavior” just puts them on a banned list for all the other Christians?  I don’t think so. What Paul is saying here suggests a purging of unbelievers by the means of church discipline.

What about 2 Thessalonians 3:6 which states,  But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.

That is another verse that isn’t a stand alone comment from Paul. It is part of a greater context that extends to nearly the end of the chapter. That being, Paul’s exhortation to separate from individuals who no longer worked and were acting like gossipy busy-bodies as Paul describes them in verse 11.  More than likely, they were individuals who were of a “survivalist” cult-like mentality.  They were no longer “working,” but had given up the real life to sit around in the desert and wait for Jesus to show up. In a manner of speaking, the original Family Radio/Campingites.

The situation Paul recommends is to place them in church discipline in which they are admonished (vs. 18).

Now. As far as I am concerned, Piper is a Christian. Hopefully Kent isn’t saying Piper is a lying, false brother who is deceiving the simple minded.  And, I don’t think Piper has ever set a date about Jesus coming back to the point he created some wacky survivalist cult.

Does he have problem areas in his theology and practice? Certainly. But the Resolved Conferences are no longer and to my knowledge MacArthur isn’t involved with Piper in a conference anytime soon.

So let’s have a bit of perspective. Do you all seriously think John has compromised 40 years of faithful ministry to the point of disrepair because he had John Piper speak at a Resolve Conferences? Are Fundamentalist so feeble-minded when it comes to practical discernment within ministry that they have to twist and turn Scripture in order to concoct artificial “qualifications” so as to identify various lines of demarcation for whom to separate from?  Honestly, that mind-set can be just a serious a problem as Piper and Mahaney’s alleged issues.

A Word to Our Benevolent Dictators

eyeThe chief complaint I hear from survivor bloggers is how they were abused by hyper-authoritarian pastors and church leadership.
Though each person may vary as to his or her experience, typically, the “authoritarianism” is reported as manifesting itself in rigid, domineering moralistic preferences that govern every aspect of a Christian’s life.  The “moralism” can be as benign as a rule against wearing short pants in the church building, to the absurd notion that trick-or-treating on Halloween is satanic, to the more sobering idea that Christian families are in serious sin if their children aren’t homeschooled.
These moral preferences aren’t spelled out in any written document that is handed out to members. (Though I am sure there are survivor bloggers who could probably produce such a real-life document).  Rather, they are shared “convictions” experienced by members in the spiritual climate within the church by what is taught in the pulpit and advocated in the Sunday school rooms.
Take for example the pastor’s idea of Christian modesty.  If he teaches that no women are ever allowed to wear pants because pants are a “man’s garments,” or a man’s hair cannot cover his ears or touch his shirt collar because “long hair on a man is effeminate,” and everyone in the church conforms to those preferences, any “non-conformity” will be met by strong glares and possible rebuke.
It’s one thing for moralistic church leadership to forbid the people from listening to any rock music including CCM.  It’s quite another when they tell you how much money you need to tithe every month or what Bible version you must use or you risk falling into sin.  Particularly odious, however, is when they tell you how many children you and your wife must have or what kinds of foods you should eat in order to be really, really godly.
Any person who may not share in these preferences will find it difficult to participate in the body life of that local church without feeling a burden of guilt and an unspoken hostility from other members for non-conformity.  That is not a spiritually healthy environment.  Pastors need to be especially alert to fomenting this sort of oppressive atmosphere in their churches.  In fact, I would say these pastors are held doubly-accountable before the Lord in such cases.
The Apostle Peter warns pastors in his first epistle not to “lord over” those that have been entrusted to them (1 Peter 5:3).  The idea here is that pastors have a unique role as spiritual leaders and they should be an example of humble service to the people they watch over.  Pastors are not to abuse their authority with manipulative intimidation.  Especially in areas that genuinely are preferences regarding the living out of moral issues on a daily basis.
As shepherds, these are men who have been stirred up by God’s Spirit to desire that office and are divinely placed in their position to govern the spiritual lives of men’s souls.  They are first teachers of God’s Word, so they have a serious responsibility before God Almighty to handle faithfully the teaching of sound doctrine (James 3:1, Ephesians 4:11-16).  But moreover, their duties as shepherds means they have an equally great responsibility to serve God’s people by loving them, discipling them, and training them in godliness.
Using his God given authority to forcibly insist Christians must adopt his non-biblical moral preferences has never been the role of a shepherd.
A genuine mark of the Holy Spirit’s work in the body of Christ is that faithful teaching will produce faithful application of that doctrine in the lives of Christian people.  One struggle a pastor may experience is learning the discernment that distinguishes between the Holy Spirit’s exclusive sanctifying work in the hearts of Christians and the authority they’ve been granted to disciple the members of their flock.  When a pastor blurs the distinction between what is the exclusive work of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying believers with his scripturally revealed duties as a shepherd to watch after the flock, a danger exists for him to abuse his authority.
sundayA pastor who equates his personal convictions and preferences with true spiritual godliness risks lording over his flock and stepping into areas where he has no authority.
You as a pastor may believe watching TV is a worldly distraction that wastes time, and you may be right about that conviction.  But it is inappropriate for you to insist ALL church members must embrace and implement your anti-TV convictions as a means to obtain true spirituality.  All a pastor can do it mildly exhort people with long-suffering concerning his reasons for why it’s not good for Christians to watch TV.  Once he begins laying a heavy guilt trip on people, he’s moved into abusing his authority.
What steps can a pastor take in order to keep himself from falling into abusing his authority and head-off any accusations of “lording over others?”  I am sure there are probably more, but I’ll offer three simple thoughts.
FIRST, I would say communicate.  Explain clearly why it is leadership requires what they do from it’s members.  Discuss openly with the flock any major Church impacting decisions made on behalf of the people.  As long as you are sharing information that isn’t confidential, that would include any church discipline issues.
SECOND, welcome dissent.  Be prepared to defend your position, as well as answer hostile questions and challenges graciously, fully, and with long-suffering.  A pastor may have to deal with the same nit-picky, button-holing person over and over again, but dealing with hassling complainers is part of the pastor’s job.  His immediate response to dissenters must never be “my way or the highway!”
And THIRD, and most importantly, be humble. That would especially include receiving correction from the members that may result in changing a long held preference tradition or direct a course change in the way the pastor may have handle a situation.
I think if a pastor makes a good faith effort to work out at least these three suggestions in his ministry, no one can truly accuse him of lording over people and abusing his authority.
Now. A ending word to church members who like to cry “spiritual abuse” and  “hyper-authoritarianism.”
Similarly, members of the flock must heed the exhortation following Peter’s words to shepherds: Likewise you younger submit to your elders.  The “younger” here, I believe, has the idea of younger in experience, which means “young in the faith.”  The contrast is between elders/shepherds and the younger, or the remainder of those in church.  In other words, the flock over which the shepherds watch.
In the same way shepherds should serve the flock, members of the flock need to serve the elders.  They serve by submitting to them and not holding them in suspicion about everything they do.  That entails trusting their authority even at times when you, the member, don’t like them exercising their authority in particular areas.
A person prone to kick against authorities he believes are “meddling” with his life and sticking their nose in “my business,” needs to seriously re-evaluate what it is he wants out of church and why it is he’s there.  If you think it’s none of the pastor’s business that you let your teenage son date an unbeliever or that he’s concerned you and your family only attend church once or twice a month, it may be helpful to save him the grief and move on to a place where no one will interfere with your life.

Canis Lupus Pastoral

wolfpastorIdentifying the Wolf Pastor

I‘ve been interacting a little bit with the survivor blogger phenomenon.
These are individuals who claim they have experienced severe emotional and spiritual anguish under the rigid domination of abusive, overbearing church leadership.  Now that these folks have “escaped” from the tyranny of these demagogic pastors, they believe they have a duty to warn everyone with a personal blog that details the spiritual abuse they suffered.
I can understand to a degree the passionate motivation of a person who believes he has been spiritually ill-treated at a church over a long period of time.  A church is supposed to be a safe haven.  It’s a place where a family can hear the Word taught and grow in the love of the Lord together with like-minded folks.  Pastors who “lead” with a heavy, controlling hand, who for example implement unreasonable “holiness” codes among the membership and demand absolute conformity by everyone, can quickly sour souls against attending church.  In some cases, such narrow legalism will forever turn away people from church altogether.
Despite the passionate motivation, as I wrote in a previous post, I believe survivor bloggers go over-the-top with their expose’ of their previous experiences.  They will attribute to their former pastors a spiritual darkness that falls near the realm of demonic, and in some cases borders on paranoia if not the outright absurd.  For example, commenters on one survivor blog I read suggested that recent internet connectability problems the blog was experiencing could possibly be due to abusive leadership hacking the account.
Typically, though, the accusations survivor bloggers level against pastors are so imbalanced they paint an unfair picture of their true character.  The main pastor is often called a “wolf” who wants to only harm the flock, not protect and feed it like a faithful shepherd should.  He will be accused of being a controlling bully, even to the point of claiming he employs a network of spies who secretly inform upon non-conformists in the church.  Anyone, it is claimed, who asks pointed questions of him or the leadership are stifled, told they are rebellious, and threatened with dismissal.  The pastor is said to have no accountability to any one and other leadership are merely “yes men” enabling his continued reign of power.
I’ve argue that survivor bloggers are unhelpful with these sorts of criticisms.  There are a couple of reasons I draw this conclusion:
First, survivor bloggers only generate more strife and perpetuate divisiveness among church members by pitting them against the leadership.  Pastors are a group to be looked upon with suspicion, to be nit-picked to death regarding every little sniggling decision they may make on behalf of the congregation.
Second, the claims of the bloggers are ultimately one-sided, and in some respects even dishonest.  That is because they provide the readers with only one perspective of the story: the victims point of view.  Hence, there really is never a concise way in which a person can ascertain the truth of the charges leveled against the former pastor.  We can only take the victim’s “word for it.”  The leadership is often accused of lying anyways, so why bother asking them their side of the situation.
However, a real major problem I see with survivor bloggers and their supporters is the imprecision with their use of terminology.  For example, I noted in my previous article the inaccurate use of cult.
Another illustration of what I mean is the use of the word wolf to describe a bad pastor.  A bad pastor who is automatically defined as a “wolf”  immediately poisons the conversation because the charge ignites a specific image in the minds of the hearers. The idea of a “wolf” presents a man who is only seeking to prey upon and destroy people’s lives.  This is a problematic charge when a pastor may only just be unqualified as to leadership and yet is identified as a “wolf.”  His overall character as a Christian person is then tarnished, slandered, and ruined because of foolish descriptions thrown about on a survivor blog.
One of the key reasons I see for this  imprecision is that these bloggers erroneously conflate the qualifications of an elder as outlined in 1 Timothy 3 with what truly defines a spiritual “wolf.” A man who is occasionally impatient and unyielding with congregants, who has a rebellious teen, and who may struggle with personal pride, may not be qualified as a pastor, but that hardly identifies him as a “wolf” bent on destroying men’s souls.  It is these type of men I believe survivor bloggers are wrongly identifying with true spiritual wolves.
So how exactly do we distinguish between the two? I believe Scripture lends us some insights.
Let me consider a couple of passages.  One from the OT and a second from the NT.
First, in Ezekiel 34 the prophet gives a word of judgment against false shepherds.  Though God’s judgment is proclaimed specifically against religio-political leaders in Israel immediately before the Babylonian exile, there are some applicable points we can draw relating to pastors.
If one looks at Ezekiel 34:1-10, there are at least four observations to be seen.
1)The false shepherds feed themselves from the flock (1-2).  In other words, these were leaders who only saw their role as designated leaders as a means to pursue their self-interests at the expense of those they were appointed to serve.  Honestly, this is the attitude of true spiritual abuse because even though these leaders may not have direct, personal contact with the congregation, they were abusing their God given authority.
2)They do not feed the flock (3). Simply put, they do not strengthen the people by the proclamation of the Word.  In the context of the OT, the leaders were to remind the people of their covenant obligations before God.  This can only be accomplished by drawing the people to the written Scripture that reveals how they were to love the Lord and walk before Him in godliness.
3)They did not shepherd the weak (4).  The picture is of an unhealthy, sick lamb that the shepherd essentially ignores and allows it to die from its illness.  In like manner, those people who are spiritually sick are ignored by the leaders and left to themselves.  There is no personal involvement or concern for their spiritual well-being.
4)By ignoring the weak sheep, they are allowed to wander off into spiritual error.  They are led astray by every whim of doctrine away from spiritual truth and eventually spiritual doom.
Here we have at least four marks of a “spiritual wolf.”  Leaders who are self-centered and uses the people for self-interests, who do not teach them the word of God, who ignore the spiritually weak, and allow them to wander off into soul-damning error.
Turning to the New Testament, there are a number of passages I could consider, but let me zero in on Acts 20 where Paul presents his final words to the Ephesian elders and the church.  I should point out that with these final words, Paul, who will never again see these people, warns with much earnestness the need to be on the guard against what he calls “savage wolves.”
1)They come in among the body (29).  This implies the “wolves” mingle among the regular members in the church.  They are not necessarily limited to only being pastors, but could be lay level individuals.  By application, this can mean that self-proclaimed survivor bloggers are capable of being a wolf just as much as the pastors they say “abused” them.
2)Wolves also come from among leaders or elders (30).  These particular individuals, however, are primarily marked by what they teach. They teach “perverse” things; twisted, heretical doctrine that draws people away from the truth.
Notice, though, it is what they teach that marks them.
There is no discussion about whether they are “controlling” or overly “authoritarian” or shut down questions being asked of them. It is not the pastor’s inability to diplomatically manage disagreement among the members or him being short-tempered with dissenters that is in view here.  What marks out a leader as being a “wolf” is the false doctrine he spreads.
Hence, a pastor may be sweet, loving, accepting and accommodating to everyone in the church, but if he teaches that homosexuality is not a sin and God approves of gay marriage, the man is a wolf.  The people at Biologos, though they are not technically pastoring a church, are in essence wolves who destroy men’s souls.
In both of these passages, false shepherds who are spiritually abusive wolves are indicated by at least three truths:
– they seek their own self-interests with their appointed position,
– they do not guard the flock against heresy and
– they in fact will teach heresy leading disciples to ultimate destruction.
These are people we can confidently conclude are outside true salvation.
On the other hand, much of the leadership declared by survivor bloggers as being spiritually wolfish are not genuinely wolfish.  They are Christians who may lack the biblical qualifications to lead the people because of personal areas where they are yet to be sanctified.  They should be admonished and exhorted, not slandered publicly on a survivor blog.

to be continued…

Responding to the Wolf Watchers

wolfI’ve been mixing it up a bit with survivor blogger Julie Anne Smith and a few of her fans. We’ve been going back and forth in the comments of two previous posts HERE and HERE.

I encountered the so-called ex-church survivor movement shortly after I began blogging in 2005. I didn’t consider how extensive a movement it was until about a month or so ago.

After surveying the uncountable number of websites on the internet, I am confirmed daily these are folks who have a profoundly unhealthy preoccupation with the alleged wrongs done against them by bad pastors and church leadership. The attitudes I see displayed on these sites are not a good thing.

By creating websites like “X” church survivors or “X” church watch that chronicle with scrutinizing detail every slight done against them, either real or imagined, people can quickly become inwardly- focused, disgruntled navel gazers. The “survivors” come across as angry, vindictive, unforgiving, suspicious, and in some cases, paranoid. Going through life after a bad church experience with dark clouds of bitterness trailing behind you should never be a mark of a Christian. (And I am not say these folks aren’t Christians, btw, lest someone yell at me in the comments).

When I wrote up my first post highlighting Julie Anne’s case, I had two thoughts in mind. First, I was using it as a stepping stone to what I see is a much larger problem with survivor blogs. Specifically the bitterness, strife, narcissism, vindictiveness, petty name-calling, anger, antinomianism, and anti-authoritarianism I see splashed across these blogs and website. If you think I am mistaken about my claims, just drop by Julie Anne’s comment pages and read the nasty comments left by folks who brand me a fake Christian sexist hater. They blast leaders who allegedly stifle dissent and criticism, but when I raise questions about the motives and claims of survivor bloggers, attempts are made to shut me down and dismiss me. Irony, much.

Secondly, I was also amazed how easily the media, as well as self-described “Christian” commenters under the various reports about Julie Anne’s case, would immediately support the victim while demonizing the so-called abuser. Probably 99% of the people didn’t know either party. They certainly didn’t know all the facts nor were they privy to all the background leading up to the situation. Only those “facts” supplied readily by the abused party were considered. Who’s to say she is right and the church is wrong? I agree the pastor and the church is misguided with filing a lawsuit against an ex-member, but am I to believe that misguided move on their part makes them a “cult?” The pastor a mind-controlling wolfish cult leader? Really? That’s what I am suppose to automatically conclude? And just because she is being sued by a misguided pastor does that make his claims against her false? Could there be any merit to what he says she has done even though he isn’t handling the situation correctly?

At any rate, in response to my contentions I have with survivor bloggers in general, a number of commenters at Julie Anne’s place raised some questions and objections they want me to answer. I’ll hit on the key questions I see repeated, as well as respond to one particular slight against me.

There are churches that do not overtly transgress orthodoxy and yet are very cult like in their behavior. Do you agree that such churches exist? If so, how do we spot them?

At the risk of being pilloried by my detractors as mocking, this is a loaded question. I’ll point out that if we agree such churches do in fact exist, then it is only obvious there has to be some marks that allow us to spot them. Thus, we don’t have to make up phony “marks” indicating so-called “cult like” behavior. Either they are cult-like or not.

Moreover, if there are genuine “marks” to consider, where the disagreement lies is what we think those marks indicating “cult like” behavior may be. But that could differ from person to person. What you may think is “cult like” behavior may not be what I think is “cult like” behavior. Hence, the term “cult like” is too subjective and ultimately unhelpful. The idea of “cult” has a specific meaning: It primarily defines pseudo-Christian heresy. I personally do not believe the bulk of those churches accused of “spiritually abusing” the sheep by Bible-believing Christians are “a cult” in the common, technical sense of the word.

Now. Moving to the question. The qualifier of “do not transgress orthodoxy” obviously means a distinction exists between Bible oriented churches and say those of the Kingdom Hall variety. So we are not talking about churches that deny essential, historic Christian doctrine.

churchladyProbably what is in mind here would be for example churches where legalistic preference issues have been elevated on the same level with biblical doctrine and are made to control the lives of individuals. Such things, anti-CCM, or men can’t wear shorts, women can’t wear pants, whether it is worldly to watch movies, etc. Certain strains of independent, Fundamentalists Baptist and Pentecostal groups fall into this category.

Preference issues are not a bad thing in and of themselves; it is how those preference issues are applied to the body life of a local church that can be a problem.

My take is that if a pastor insists certain preference issues are determiners of one’s salvation and spirituality as a Christian, along with faithful Church membership, this is a red flag in my mind. Let’s say someone sees you going to the movies, or reading a Harry Potter novel, or some other preference considered “sinful” and the pastor confronts you and demands an account of your actions or there will be consequences, I would say that is overstepping his bounds as a pastor. But I distinguish this approach from a pastor who may admonish you regarding the same preference issue, yet leaves it up to you as to whether or not you will continue practicing it. Some folks may not like the pastor stepping on their toes, but he is not overstepping his bounds.

As odious as the application of preference issues can be in churches, however, that doesn’t necessarily imply the church or pastor are “cult-like.” So we have to turn our attention to what the Bible says about the qualifications of a shepherd. Here is where we can address a man’s personality and abilities to lead a church.

Paul provides those qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Peter further elaborates on them in 1 Peter 5:1-5. Some of the key qualifications listed in these passages are sober-mindedness, not quarrelsome, nor pugnacious, nor manipulative, nor demagogic. When spiritual abuse victims complain about “controlling” pastors, it is more than likely the opposite of these characteristics the abused person has in mind. In other words, the pastor or leadership are quarrelsome, pugnacious, manipulative and demagogic.

So what recourse do church goers have when they encounter a pastor who is manipulative, controlling, and abusive?

The Bible does not prohibit confronting a pastor. Paul writes that an elder can be confronted in 1 Timothy 5:19, 20, but any accusation brought against him must have two or three witnesses confirming it. That way, there is consistent, affirming testimony as to the charges leveled against him.

If the pastor doesn’t teach heresy, yet he behaves abusively according to biblical standards, and there are a number of other members who confirm the same pattern of abuse, well then it is certainly within biblical parameters to confront him. Just as long as the accusation isn’t contentious because you didn’t like him confronting your sin, or disagreed with his counseling, or didn’t like some decision he made.

And what should a church goer do if the pastor won’t hear a complaint against him and dismisses his accusers as trouble-makers?

Every situation is different because of the people and surrounding events. However, depending on the circumstances, if a person or persons have respectfully confronted a pastor or church leadership about what they consider are serious personality behaviors and those people are waved off as disruptive trouble-makers, that’s when those folks need to leave. It real is that simple.

Respectfully means you don’t make a scene by spreading gossip and strife about the pastor(s) and then leave the church. You don’t need to be dramatic and send the pastor(s) a certified, FED-EX letter explaining how you are “removing your membership” or any such nonsense. Just tell the leaders the reason why you are unable to fellowship and leave. If people ask “why” tell them the truth about why you are leaving. If they press you as to your claims, be prepared to give examples of what you mean. If they persist that you are mistaken, don’t argue, just thank them for their concern and move on. There really is no need to leave negative website reviews or start a “survivor blog” detailing your issues with the church. Let it go.

But someone needs to warn others about that church and the abuse they may receive.

Perhaps, but that may not be you. Certainly leaving negative reviews and starting a survivor blog daily journal isn’t the wisest course of action, either. First it makes the person appear to be mean-spirited and divisive when in fact that may not be true. Second, it only serves as a magnet for genuine troublemakers who are utterly ignorant of the situation who will only stir up real strife with their input. Third, falling into a “survivor/victim” mentality only keeps a person focused on that bad experience from a selfish perspective. “Look what they did to ME.” “I got hurt by them.” etc. This is not a means of being sanctified in the truth.

Your criticism show no compassion for those hurt and come across completely uncaring for anyone genuinely abused

I don’t doubt there are people who have genuinely experienced spiritual abuse at the hands of incompetent and manipulative leadership. I am sympathetic to their plight. But rather than enabling their continued wallowing in a state of perpetual victimization and self-pity by applauding their on-line “Wall Watching” efforts, isn’t the better course to refocus their thinking away from their own self interests and toward how they can learn from those difficult circumstances so that they can honor Christ? That has been one of my key reasons for being critical of survivor blogs.

warpathFrom my view, Fred’s question is clearly sexist. … It’s sexist because he writes it in the context of an argument concerning the credibility of complaints against a pastor. In effect the question says, “Julie Anne, your perspectives and feelings don’t really count because you’re a woman.” Was that Fred’s intent?

I noted in my original post addressing survivor blogs that it is my observation a good many of them are maintained by women. I can understand why knowing how women are by nature more emotionally invested in such things as men typically will be. That is not meant to be a sexist remark, but just an acknowledgement of basic human nature between the sexes.

That said, when I have interacted with Julie Anne, I have asked her what her husband thinks about her spiritual abuse blogging. I certainly don’t mean to imply anything sinister with that question.

I work from the assumption that Julie Anne is a Bible-believing Christian, which means she has a biblically informed understanding of marriage. Scripture describes a husband and wife as being one flesh (Genesis 2:23, 24; Matthew 19:4-6) and that a wife submits to her husband as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24). What a wife does publicly impacts that relationship. The husband mentioned in Proverbs 31 could safely trust in his wife (vs. 11). The implication being that the virtuous wife brought honor to her husband and family with her public interactions outside the family.

Again, assuming Julie Anne is a committed, Bible-believing Christian, what her husband thinks about all of this is an important question. Does he see the alleged abuse the same way Julie Anne sees it? What is his take as a man and husband with regards to the claims against his and Julie Anne’s ex-pastor? Does he have the same opinion of him being “controlling” as Julie Anne does? He left with her, didn’t he? I am not saying her “perspectives and feelings” don’t count as the commenter suggests, but a husband may have a complementary perspective that may bring things into focus.

The charge of “sexism” is lame. Not only does it display an attitude that diminishes the fundamental significance of a Christian marriage, it also reflects worldly thinking. This is how liberals argue against conservatives in politics.

Along with that, the charge of “sexism” has a tone of anti-authoritarianism ringing through it. Christian marriages are defined by particular spiritual parameters, namely a husband loving a wife and the wife submitting to her husband’s authority. The world thinks of marriage in the opposite fashion. That being, a woman loses her identity as a person if she “submits” to a husband, and so a man is considered “sexist” if he suggest she must. This is not the Christian way to think about marriage relationships, and calling me “sexist” is not only worldly, but it’s a dishonest way to dodge my questions.

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!”