Friday, July 20, 2012

Independent Churches = Recipe for Spiritual Abuse?

We were taught submission at our former church:  children to parents, wives to husbands, husbands to Christ, congregants to pastor/elders, civilians to governmental authorities.

Most churches have a check and balance system in place to ensure that there are no abuses going on in church.  Here is part the doctrinal statement from our former church (located on the church website).

To each of these churches, He has given needful authority for administering that order, discipline and worship which He has appointed (1). There are two Biblically designated offices serving under Christ in the church. Elders (males, who are also called bishops, overseers, and pastor-teachers) and deacons (males), both of whom must meet Biblical qualifications.(

Here is part of the bi-laws discussing the responsibility of elders at our former church:

The New Testament Scripture is clear about those who have the responsibility of rule, oversight, and care of the church.  These men are called elders, overseers, and bishops.  All three different titles are used to refer to the same spiritual office of leadership in the church and are interchangeable (1 Tim 3:1-7).  We know that Christ is the head of the church and that He mediates His rule in the church through the shepherding of elders (pastors).   (Acts 20:17-18, 28-31; 1 Pet 5:1-4)
All the decision-making authority of the church is vested in the elders (pastors) who shepherd the church.  The objective of any and all decisions made shall be to do the will of God regarding the matter at hand. (Prov. 11:14)
Decisions shall be reached after prayerful consideration in a spirit of humility, with each elder regarding one another before himself.  All decisions are to be made unanimously.   This will at times require a dissenting elder to yield graciously to the elder body as a whole, thus allowing the Lord to direct and correct the decision made, while keeping the unity of the elder body intact in private, in public and before God.  Any decision will bebe a unified "yes" or "no" decision.  All elders agree to be unified in the final decision, "yes" or "no" in public and in private, even though it may not agree with their personal preference (Heb 13:17)
1.  The calling of or removal of the pastor-teacher.
2.  The calling of or removal of pastoral or non-pastoral ministry staff.
3.  The church's annual budget.
4.  Expenditures involving new property or new buildings and related indebtedness.
5.  The selection of elders.
6.  Any changes or amendments to the constitution and by-laws.

In one meeting with just the elders (we purposely asked that the pastor not be present at this meeting), we asked if they had ever, in 10 years of working with the pastor, brought up anything that needed to be addressed, ie,  any sinful behavior, anger, pride, relational issues, any issue whatsoever.  We weren't asking for any specifics, just asking the elders if they in fact were holding him accountable.

This was his first pastorate.  No person is perfect and it is the job of elders to keep their pastor in check and hold him accountable.  

Elders are supposed to be on the same level as the teaching pastor.  Our pastor should not have been exempt from that close observation just as the elders were certainly not exempt from his watchful eye.   Both elders told us that they had found no reason to bring up any issue, behavioral, sin, etc, in the prior decade.   

Not even one minor issue for a first-time pastor in 10 years?  That raised a huge red flag for me.    

So, if the elders did not and were not able to bring any issue to light, correction, criticism, concern, regarding any character issue, behavior, sin, etc, then who is?   We did not see anyone fulfilling that role.   What we saw were yes-men as elders and a pastor as an authority with no other pastoral oversight.  I never got the impression that the elders were equal level with the pastor . . . ever.

As I have been reading so many stories of spiritual abuse, there seems to be a common thread.  Some of these involve independent churches with pastors and elders who are yes-men with no other accountability or oversight.  If you are in a church with elders who are yes-men", it can be a perfect system set up for spiritual abuse.  

I'm sure this subject will come up again with the amount of stories I've read.  Perhaps this is something very important to consider when looking at new churches.  I had never thought to consider this when looking for a new church. Hindsight is 20/20, huh?  


  1. Agreed. Here is a short version: When people look for a new church, so often things that they consider are: location, good S.S. and Youth group, good worship, good Sunday messages, the feeling com community, etc. These are all valid concerns.

    What does not seem to be considered is devlving into that church's governance methodologies. People may look at the denomination and the type of governance, which is a start, but there are many more factors that need to be considered. The problem is that one cannot get the feel of how the church governance works in a church unless you are involved for awhile.

    People get settled into a church community, get involved in ministry, make new friends, and are found as regulars in this church.

    Then a few things start popping up, which people initially brush aside. Then one or more things begin to happen to challenge the peace and safety factor in that church and things begin to get rocky. And then the fun begins!

  2. Perhaps as important a question as whether the elders had confronted the pastor about anything is whether they ever would.

    In reading the elder qualifications/guidelines, what stood out to me is that everyone had to agree whether they agreed or not. It's one thing to say that when a group decision is made, you stand behind that decision as a group and don't undermine it by later disagreeing. It's another thing entirely if this is misapplied, suggesting that elders had better never disagree or challenge anything.

    The latter is certainly possible when anyone who challenges the pastor is labeled a goat.

    1. Right on, Will!

      The writing was 'on the wall' could you say??!!

    2. Will -I'm pretty sure we did ask the elders if they would confront the pastor if they found something and their response was yes. If they said no, they would pretty much be admitting they were failing their job, no? The sad part about this is - in this type of environment they can deceive themselves because I can't believe they would do this intentionally - it happens over time and before they know it, they are in deep.

      In this light, I'm realizing what a tremendous responsibility elders have to the body. They need to be the watch guard for the body and not be complacent about their pastor and his attitudes/actions, but diligently hold him accountable.

    3. The problem with asking questions of wolves in sheep's clothing is that they will answer as sheep. It is only through their actions that they'll be outed as wolves.

    4. Joy, what you wrote is so utterly profound!

      I just transcribed it into my notebook so as not to forget this insightful truth.

    5. Monax - I agree. I copied it to the spiritual help area.

  3. No checks and balances. Thought that the first time I looked at their website. Ugh…just ugh.

    Taken from Mark Dever’s book, “A Display of God’s Glory”.

    “We have seen the emphasis in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus on the elders being “blameless.” (In Titus 1:6 Paul wrote, “An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.”) The elder, then, must be willing to have a life that is open to inspection and even a home that is actively open to outsiders, giving hospitality and enfolding others into their lives.

    The elders should be marked by a use of their authority, which shows that they understand that the church belongs not to them, but to Christ. Christ has purchased the church with His own blood, and therefore it should be cherished, treated carefully and gently, led faithfully and purely, for the glory of God and the good of the church. The elders will give an account to Christ for their stewardship.
    As in a home, or in our own relationship with God, a humble recognition of rightful authority brings benefits. In a church, when authority is used with the consent of the congregation for the good of the congregation, the congregation will benefit as God builds His church through the teachers He gives to His church. Satan’s lie––that authority is never to be trusted because it is always tyrannical and oppressive—will be subverted by the benevolent practice of and recognition of the elders’ authority in the context of the congregation.”

    1. Thanks, Old Mom, good Mark Dever quote!

  4. I don't think independent churches are a recipe for abuse (consider the abuses of some of the larger, main-line churches), but they do lack the ability to appeal to a truly empowered outside authority source for the resolution of their problems with leaders. Honestly, any outside group (concerned pastors, councils, etc.) who might want to confront an abusive pastor have no power to really do anything to him or her. Unless there is the real likelihood of the loss of income, position, pulpit, or building, etc., it's all just coffee-talk, and the abusive leader is basically just doing everyone a favor by simply showing up to talk with them. But he truly has nothing to fear, in the present life. At least an abusive Lutheran pastor, for instance, has a bishop who just may take his job away from him if he doesn't get things right--not so for the little independents (like me!) The dark-side of the self-governmental, completely autonomous independent church is that it is particularly vulnerable to hurtful leaders who have avoided the vetting process that is often found in larger denominations. The bright side is that they do not have to submit to denominational decisions and edicts that violate the convictions of their own members. This is really tough on a church, because once the church is cornered by an abusive leader, she has very few resources to resolve the problems. The abusive pastor and his team become increasingly similar to the family of an alcoholic father or mother. The team-members begin to fill different roles, just as the family members in an alcoholic home all begin to assume differing roles--some become the security team/bouncers/body guards, some become the usual scapegoats, some the PR directors, some the "best friends," some the jesters, etc. Each has a role to play, with the overriding purpose being that of allowing the alcoholic to continue to drink without interruption or challenge. So, in an abusive leadership team, the overriding purpose is to keep the leader in power, period. There is very rarely a realistic system of accountability or confrontation. An abusive leader can easily get around the "accountability" requirements, unfortunately. His staff, fellow-leaders didn't get into their positions and roles through challenging the abusive leader or making him feel accountable to them, for goodness sake--why would he or they suddenly change the status quo?
    I've found it is more effective to require a leadership team to lead and relate in an honorable way towards each other, God, and the church they lead. The simple, direct question to answer is, "Is your pastor an honorable man, to the best of your knowledge? Do the leaders of your church behave honorably towards each other and towards those they serve?"
    I can't emphasize enough that the biblical direction concerning these types of leaders is to humbly confront them, and then quickly leave them. A church policy or constitution is only as strong as the people who are willing to empower and enforce it. If you do not have the power to enforce it, and you doubt that your leaders are loyal to it--it is meaningless to serve you! I'm sorry for the long post! I've been continuing to pray for you, Julie! Hope you're feeling great today!

    1. Hey Ken - Great response. It is fascinating to look at the abusive church family as a system just like the system created in an alcoholic family system. You'er right, the abusive church really does work like a system to keep the abuse going without challenge. That's pretty scary, too.

      Ok, so I'll be bold since you mentioned your church is independent and you obviously have great concern about abuse. What kinds of things have you done for yourself and your church to prevent these kinds of abuses to take root and grow (not that I could ever in my wildest imagination imagine you doing such a thing)?

    2. Hey Julie, That's a great question. Personally, I try to keep my relationships healthy with other people; including non-Christians, leaders, non-leaders, family, etc., so I have a healthy balance of people in my life who do not look to me for spiritual direction and care, but simply view me as a friend or neighbor. I don't put much thought into how to not be an abusive leader, as much as into being a man of character and humility before God, my family, and the church. As far as protecting the church, esp. in regards to its future (we're 138 years old!), I've found that it is the selection of leadership that made the most difference in the health of our church leadership team. We have an extensive process of congregational interviews, two months of observation, solicitation of input (privately and publicly) from the members, examination of doctrine, etc. All of this is before the congregation votes to include a person on the elder team. A person must be unanimously supported by the elders to serve, and must have a 75% support of the congregation, although I don't think any of us would serve if we only had 75%, regardless of the constitutional support to do so. But constitutions and church government styles aside, it really comes down to leadership: a bad pastor will hurt everyone under him. A bad bishop or synod leader will hurt those under him or her (or them), etc. I'm not convinced that there is any hope of inoculating yourself against ending up in an abusive church simply by avoiding and independent church, or insisting on attending a mainline-type denomination. They all have failed at times, and all have skeletons in their closets.
      I think the best shot at not being abused is to prayerfully observe the church, its leaders--and note how people act, and how they are treated. Look for humility, brokenness, and a deep fear of God and love for all people in a pastor. Listen to how he speaks of those who disagree with him, his church's doctrine. Does he smirk at doctrinal systems that he does not agree with, and present them as silly, unbiblical, even satanic, etc., as compared to his system (which, of course, is perfectly clear, biblical, etc.!) Does he speak of gays as if there are none in the room--and they wouldn't be welcome if they were? Does he spend much time criticizing other churches, and those who claim to be brothers and sisters in Christ, such as the Catholics and Orthodox? Is he critical of mission/evangelistic organizations with whom he disagrees as to their style and such, and does he encourage you (his loyal church member) to also be critical? Is it hard to be a divorced person, or an addict in recovery, or a relapsing addict, in his church? Does he bad-mouth the local and federal government a lot, and disrespect governmental leaders? Finally, a couple of BIG things that I would observe: Are the women in his church confident, assertive, and respected, regardless of the church's views on the egalitarian/complimentarian debate? Are the children "normal"? (By that, I mean, are they free to do the goofy, messed-up things that ALL kids do, or are they so "locked down" that they live in fear of failing and displeasing their parents and pastor?) And, last but not least--do your family and friends (who know and love you) see this church you're looking over as a good place for you, and for your relationship with them, or do they have reservations about it, and about how it makes you treat them?

    3. Ken, that's an excellent list. Julie Anne, just wondering how this compares to your former church...?

    4. Hey Ben: 2 words: polar opposite!

    5. Ken: I don't think independent churches are a recipe for abuse.

      I absolutely agree.

      Ken: The bright side of the self-governmental, completely autonomous independent church is that they do not have to submit to denominational decisions and edicts that violate the convictions of their own members.

      And if you’re not—say in a organization like the Presbyterian Church (USA) that owns your church buildings and trust funds, then it makes it more easy to extricate from your given corporation, especially when your General Assembly makes spiritual decisions that violate clear Scriptural directives. Some PC(USA) churches are locked into a worldly denomination due to these economic and legal realities.

      Ken: I've found it is more effective to require a leadership team to lead and relate in an honorable way towards each other, God, and the church they lead.

      There it is, my brother! Not a pastor that solely leads, but a team that corporately discerns, expresses and leads in submitting to the will of God for the church.

      Ken: A church policy or constitution is only as strong as the people who are willing to empower and enforce it. If you do not have the power to enforce it, and you doubt that your leaders are loyal to it--it is meaningless to serve you! I'm sorry for the long post!

      Pastor Ken, I’m grateful your ‘long post!’ Thank You.

      I’ve still got in my head denominations like the PC(USA), so I’d like to stress: Over and Above any church constitution there is the Word of God. Member churches in the PC(USA) want to expunge the language of sin as it relates to the practice of homosexuality from their Book of Order. Well, if they’re able to change the constitution to allow for women to teach and have authority over the men in the church (a clear violation of 1 Timothy 2:12), then they have the power to redraft their constitution to allow for whatever violation of spiritual authority is next on their rebellious agenda. When you violate Scriptures you open yourself up to a world of abuse.

      Ken: I have a healthy balance of people in my life who do not look to me for spiritual direction and care, but simply view me as a friend or neighbor.

      How refreshing that is to hear. I’m beginning to like and respect you even more, Pastor Ken.

      Ken: a bad pastor will hurt everyone under him.

      O how sadly true this is.

  5. Rather like the Penn State Board of Trustees....asking few questions, requiring no detailed explanations, rubber stamping the status quo?

  6. Julie Anne,

    You don't know how timely this post is! We found some articles on this while looking for other info yesterday.

    I've had more joy in my walk with the Lord the past few days, and have been praying that the Lord would give all of you a refreshing drink from His "springs of living water". I don't know what's happening but prayed for you on my way to go exercise this morning (I was late and got all green lights - "green light grace"? Not always, but today it was a special blessing.)

    Yesterday I met an Asian widow with 4 children who was inviting people to donate to a local cancer charity that helps families. We shared our stories and our hearts. I had lost my cell phone - and these non-Christian people helped me. This woman said "No, it not God - you LUCKY! You do good and good happen to you". (Sounded like "karma" to me, but I answered gently with Romans 8:28.) And when they gave me a chair in the shade and she shared about her husband dying of cancer just one year ago, I listened. She offered me a bottle of cold water from the cooler she had there for her children and other teens volunteering for this charity - I told her that was in my Bible too and shared the verse.

    She "wasn't buying, but she WAS LISTENING" and when my husband came to to help, he met her and we said we would come to their benefit concert and buy tickets next Friday afternoon.

    I bought a T-shirt from them - she said they "shrink" when washed. Now, I have a dilemma - I either need to lose 20# by next Fri. or give the T-shirt to my husband and hope they have a larger size for sale at the Friday concert! LOL!

    I think God must have a sense of humor - he sends "merry heart medicine"! When I looked in the mirror this morning, my hair was standing straight up, just like those old "Troll dolls" ~smile~ ROFL!

    God isn't only in an independent church with "perfect doctrine" - He's out in the community. Outside the grocery store, at the fitness center, at a customer service desk where I asked a lady about her heart necklace and she told me her husband bought it for her for a surprise Valentine's gift - it was made by a missionary in Haiti to raise money, (and he bought it at a "seeker mega-church"). LOVE.

    LOVE is the language that reaches hearts. I think there are verses in 1 John or James on that. But I don't have time to look them up right now. I'm on my way to the Post Office to mail a package & letter to a friend. She called "out-of-the-blue" this morning - that's why I was late for my exercise session.

    But the fitness gal understood - and the funny thing was - the next person was 20 minutes late too! I told her I was thinking about going back on Facebook to keep in touch with the Asian family and she said, "I'm on Facebook - I'd like to be your friend on Facebook too".

    HUH?- non-Christians want to be Facebook friends? (I got "unfriended" by Christians - part of the reason I quit Facebook. Shunning?)

    God is expanding my view of the church, and of how people respond to LOVE. And I DO share His Word freely. But without seeing LOVE, I don't think I would have listened to the friend who witnessed to me "way back when". I came under conviction of sin, but CHRISTIANS loved me too.

    BTW, even my new MD knew there were churches that weren't really "free" - that surprised me! Maybe the rest of the world knows more about "spiritual abuse" than many Christians do?

    People respond when we "tell the truth". They're looking for LOVE. And TRUTH. They aren't interested in theology or doctrine. Not yet, anyway. 1 Cor. "the greatest of these is love..."

    Love and Prayers to "all the girls in PNW"- I hope your "heaviness" turns to "joy" soon!

    1. Dearest Not a Rebel! Like no one else on here you make me smile as I read you.


      NaR: Maybe the rest of the world knows more about "spiritual abuse" than many Christians do?

      Yes. I believe this to be true for those who have been exposed to well-meaning but unhealthy church people! In fact, isn't it a sad thing that I'd rather hang out with my un-churched neighbor as opposed to my hyper-churched neighbor?

    2. That is a sad thing, monax. There are a lot of "hyper-churched: people who have difficulty understanding. And they may not ever . . . . until they experience it :(

  7. We once attended a church where the elders were "yes men" to the main pastor. I wouldn't say that there was spiritual abuse going on, but, the elders saw numbers and money and thought that the pastor was doing something right. Shortly after we left, many people left the church. The elders woke up to see what was going on. They no longer were the pastor's "yes men" but were concerned about the body. The pastor didn't last much longer because his solo ideas of how the church should work didn't impress the elders any more.

  8. Being far too proud of my Presbyterian heritage, one of my reactions when I started following this blog was "This would never happen in a Presbyterian church". Of course, that was a very silly thought. Wherever there are people, there's abuse of authority no matter how carefully the authority is structured. What is true is that if this had happened in a Presbyterian church, Julie Anne would have recourse to address the abuse in higher church courts. I'd invite all of you to become Presbyterians, but I realize that's pretty unlikely. Failing that, perhaps we can still find a good question here before joining a church. We might ask, "If there's a conflict between a member of your church and the leadership, how do you go about resolving that conflict in a Biblical manner?" In an independent church, I'd look for the realization that such conflicts occur and an openness to bringing in leadership from sister churches to resolve the conflict. Ken argues well that in reality this isn't enforceable, but at least it will give some indicators.

    1. In our experience, the pastor did have all of the right answers. Abusive church systems do not always practice what they teach/preach. Knowledge of how to deal with Biblical conflict appropriately and actually doing it are two different things which we certainly discovered loud and clear much later.

      Craig, I love what you mention about inviting openness from leadership in sister churches, but also wonder how that could realistically play out in an abusive situation (where one does not want any accountability). If this kind of relationship was established beforehand, when pastors are genuinely shepherds and healthy, it could help to promote accountability.

      I think another red flag that we missed was that we did not see the pastor maintain relationships with other pastors in the area. We didn't do anything with other neighboring churches because we were told other churches were inferior. That, too, should have been a red flag. We really were blinded! There's that 20/20 thing again.

    2. Unfortunately, nothing is wolf proof. To make matters worse, it's easy to have an almost romantic attachment (in the sense that love is blind) to a new church. Much of this has been said before, but here are some things I'd suggest:

      1. Ask questions about the past. Instead of asking "What would you do..." (as I advised above) ask "What did you do..."
      2. Look for self criticism. As the leaders describe past conflicts do they quickly acknowledge their own mistakes and sins.
      3. Talk to members. Ask them where they agree and disagree with the leadership.
      4. Listen to how other churches are described.

      Nothing is wolf proof. Praise God our Lord is far greater than any wolf.

    3. Those are so good, Craig. And as you said, nothing is wolf-proof. We must be mindful that even if we do find that good church, false teachers can secretly creep in (worm their way in as NLT says) Jude 1:4.

    4. Craig Vick,

      I’m curious, What Presbyterian denomination are you in—the PCA?

      Allow me to reiterate your spot-on question, I feel it so essential: “If there's a conflict between a member of your church and the leadership, how do you go about resolving that conflict in a Biblical manner?”

      Concerning independent churches, I believe it to be a sign of health to see them related to other ‘sister churches’ as long as these fellow churches aren’t sick and unhealthy (we do tend to stick to our own, don't we?) Ideally, it would be nice for the elders and members of these churches to interact in person and for ministry on a regular basis (not just the pastors, as JA mentioned, though this is a healthy and encouraging practice).

      Every church is a special constellation of believers, and when churches come together there's a unity and unique expression of the body of Christ. We all need each other, even the little boys who openly declare “the emperor has no clothes” or the woman who says, “the wolf is wearing sheep’s clothing!”

      Btw, I'm in the process of dealing with the session of a small Presbyterian church that recently left the PC(USA), one of the men there was ordained an elder, given the spiritual authority to make decisions for the church that were, here and there, unhealthy. In fact, I regard many of the words and actions of the man to be of a spiritually abusive nature. The abuse was spiritual because he had assumed for himself a position of spiritual authority within the church. He also lacked requisite Scriptural understanding and spiritual discernment. Discernment at one level is contingent upon a correct understanding of Scripture. The man was never qualified to be an elder and the church suffered greatly for this dislocation. And this was a "Presbyterian Church."

  9. Absolutely. Try walking into one of these "independent" churches and introduce yourself as an "independent thinker." You'd fit right in NOT. The "independent" part is only for the pastor, but never for the congregation. It is a huge misnomer which is as bad as the "grace" part of your old church in Beaverton.

    1. The key is to keep your head down and your mouth shut. Never ask questions in church! You run the risk of being viewed as an apostate.

    2. As if in prayer, Kathi? LOL That seems pretty safe.

      David, an apostate? Tell me it isn't so ;)

  10. David, You got that right! Misnomer, indeed.

    Hey, where's the Like button on this blog??!! :)

  11. To add a dimension to this interesting discussion, I have been reading the insightful book: The Pharisees’ Guide to Total Holiness by William L. Coleman. He nails so many things. The following is a brief excerpt from Chapter 1.

    Coleman cites Erich Fromm’s book: Escape from Freedom and looks at some innate tendencies among many Christians. See what you think.

    “Fromm concludes that many people are basically afraid of freedom. We find it difficult to make decisions and we actually look for someone to tell us what to do. This “father” offers us a certain amount of security.

    Fortunately for Christians, Jesus supplies some of that need by directing our lives. However, the real problem arises when Christ then hands us back a great deal of our freedom. He lets us decide about everyday life, such as entertainment, investments, avenues of service, forms of worship, selecting clothes and friends, and personal habits. Yet inwardly many of us are disappointed. We have agreed to follow Christ, and now we discover that we still have to make decisions. :)

    Freedom becomes frightening again. Rather than learning to enjoy this new liberty, our fear sends us running toward someone who will tell us what to do and maybe even accept a little of our responsibility. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is always someone waiting like a religious con man to take us in. Maybe he is a pastor or a Sunday-school teacher or a Bible-study guide or a personal friend. He will be happy to divide all of life into neat compartments.

    He will label this as sin, that as righteous, the other as godless. He only has two crayons: black and white. He has never owned a gray. He is generous with his decisions and sees his very role in life as dispensing opinions like a candy machine.

    He supplies the same contraband the Pharisees produced. He offers instant solutions for people who are afraid of freedom.

    This distinction is essential to any discussion of the Pharisees. It is easy to assume that people want to be free from Pharisaism and that great hordes are merely waiting to be taught correctly. Indeed, the very opposite may be the case. While most Christians abhor the name Pharisee, in essence they want very much what the fraternity had to offer. They want someone to build fences so that they will know exactly where to stop. They want to be fenced in so that freedom will not upset them.

    For everyone who wants to be a moral slave there seems to be two masters ready to take him. Yet, for those who want one master who will give them tremendous genuine freedom, Jesus Christ offers an alternative.

    Among many Christians, freedom and liberty have become dirty words, but to Paul they were symbols of unshackled hearts and lives. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

    God has given us moral direction that does not need Pharisaic fences.”

    1. It’s been a long time since I read Eric Fromm, he’s my favorite social theorist from the Frankfurt School. The English title of Fromm’s Escape from Freedom in the UK was The Fear of Freedom. It was published in 1941 and explored the psycho-social conditions that gave rise to Fascism. I thought of Fromm earlier on this blog as I was commenting about Adorno’s F-scale. Adorno and Fromm were both members of the Frankfurt School of critical theory.

      What may be of interest to note is Eric Fromm’s thesis from his 1955 work The Sane Society. If I’m remembering correctly Fromm’s idea was something in line with: What we moderns institute as Sanity in society is in all actuality a pathological Insanity. Fromm wasn’t a christian, but as he refers to a societal alienation of ‘art’ I plug in the idea of a cultural absence of ‘Spirit.’

      This upside down thinking so prevalent in the church (you know, where "abuse" is called "authority" and "godly discipline"—that sort of thing) reminds me of the prophetic words of Isaiah 5:20, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

      Woe to those who call sickness health, and what is healthy sick!

  12. The attack on independent churches as being hotbeds of abuse would suggest you didn't pay close attention to the 3 billion dollars the Roman Catholic Church has spent since the mid 80s paying for their abuses ( spiritual and sexual). No religion has more accountability in place then the immense hierarchy in the Roman Catholic church.

    "Independent" isn't the problem. The sons of Adam are.

    1. I absolutely agree, James. As you, Ken, and Craig have suggested, abuse happens, period. It seems like there might be more checks and balances in hierarchal churches than independent churches, but no church is immune, sadly.

    2. James and Julie Anne,

      Backing up a bit here, I'd like to put this discussion into a context. There should be a large distinction here between the Protestant and Catholic churches. The abuse that comes from the heirarchy of the Roman church is assumed to be completely absent from Protestantism. That's one HUGE reason the Reformation took place. When it does occur within Protestantism (and in the linked post in my comment below I narrow the context further to those churches which hold more closely with their historic Protestant tradition) it seems to happen more often in those churches where leadership have no accountability to others, whether the accountability comes from a heirarchy or not.

      When heirarchy exists within church structures, it needs to be a "heirarchy" of servanthood rather than a heirarchy of authoritarianism. Matthew 20: 20-28

    3. I love that last sentence especially, Steve: hierarchy of servanthood!!! So good.

  13. Ok, I'll be a dissenter and skeptic.

    Having grown up in a totally independent church, I can see the logic of "independent churches are more likely to spiritually abuse" but I don't think it is necessarily true. I've seen spiritual abusers in denominations as well.

    I think leaders are more likely to spiritually abuse.

    The biggest spiritual abusers of Jesus' time were the Pharisees. They were hardly independent although there were several different factions.

    In my opinion (probably worth the paper this is printed on), to me, the issue is where is the focus of the leadership? Is it on protecting their flock (that is the doing of Jesus -- he is the shepherd). Is it keeping people on the straight and narrow (that is the Holy Spirit's doing). Is it trying to manipulate the culture around us? Isn't that work done by the Godhead?

    I guess my point is that spiritual abuse happens as people start to take on the functions of the Godhead while believing that they are doing their jobs.

    1. Agree, Joel! Your description (that abusers have tried to assume the functions of God) makes it easier to understand why they believe they are above challenge.

      Hope you don't mind someone joining you in your dissent. :)

    2. You raised some great points, Joel. I appreciate dissenters that challenge my thinking. Don't ever worry about that on this blog.

      I wasn't totally sold on the idea of independent churches being THE problem because as James said above, clearly Catholic churches have had their issues, too. I think the gist of my post was to point out the dangers of independent churches when there is no accountability. That is something worth noting.

      When the media took off with our story, I was inundated with e-mails from people asking me if our church was an IFB church. I thought that meant Independent Fundamental Baptist church (and it does). I was invited to join IFB Facebook groups and many people argued with me that my church was indeed IFB. I politely said, "sorry, I don't think so". I later found out that not only does IFB mean Independent Fundamental Baptist, but also Independent Fundamental Bible churches and then realized they were talking about independent churches with no hierarchy - so my church really was an IFB after all. That finally made sense.

      That issue has been in my mind a bit - wondering if we would be where we are today if the church had some sort of hierarchy to address these difficult issues. So there you go - the behind-the-scenes stuff that led to this post.

      The reality is that yes, we do need to be aware of the fact that having an abusive pastor in an IFB with no accountability can be very difficult. But also, as mentioned above, churches with a hierarchal structure are not exempt from abuse, either.

    3. Edmund Burke said this: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." I guess the triumph of evil can happen in hierarchies as well as in independent churches, but in hierarchies, I think we have an expectation that abuse will be handled within the infrastructure. Sadly, that is not always the case.

      Independent churches rely on laypeople to hold pastors accountable, and many of those good, decent laypeople are ill-equipped to handle a controlling and abusive pastor. They may not recognize the problem, and even if they do, it doesn't mean they have the constitution or skills to deal with such a person.

    4. Yes Joel, I recognized from day one when I began commenting here as David Johnson, and after looking at BGBC’s statement of faith and such, I recognized how they simply missed the mark with at least these two statements:

      BGBC: We know that Christ is the head of the church and that He mediates His rule in the church through the shepherding of elders (pastors).

      In and of itself this statement is wrong! What they failed to print was that Christ first and foremost mediates His rule through the Word of God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Something every American believer has access to. And it is by the Spirit and His Word that we discern the difference between what is godly and what is not. Between a circle of godly elders and a sick graceless leadership that is legalistic and ungodly.

      BGBC: The Bible teaches that the congregation is accountable to the elders (pastors) and that the elders (pastors) are accountable to God. Therefore, all decision-making authority is vested in the elders (pastors), who shepherd the church.

      Seriously! Who rationalized and wrote this monstrous statement? It’s illogically monstrous for reasoning that “all decision-making authority is vested in the elders (pastors), who shepherd the church.” It is true the elders are overseers and are accountable to God to rule, but they do not govern every aspect of a believers life. Every member of the Body of Christ is first and foremost accountable to God.

      The elders are there to teach and model what it's like to discern and submit to the will of God, not the will of the elders, but the will of God. Something every Spirit-filled believer has access to.

    5. Monax,

      You've picked up on two extremely large leaps in logic. Not only do they not govern every aspect of a believer's life, they don't "govern" every aspect of a church.

  14. Recovering PhariseeJuly 21, 2012 at 12:03 AM

    Great discussion. What it leads me to conclude is that a) our hope cannot be in a leadership structure, and yet, b) it is important to know what a given church's structure is and more importantly, how it is implemented.

    Barb, you are spot on! I've thought these very same things in regard to my former chruch and in the common story repeated here. You articulate it so clearly. That is a helpful explanation for those who struggle to understand why anyone would be willing to stay in an abusive church or even not recognize the red flags. The freedom we have in Christ is scary and hard to grasp, but when we do, it is sweeter every day!

  15. Julie Anne,

    I posted on almost this exact thing some years ago: (the links don't work anymore, but I think the short post is still good to read)

    1. You sure did, Steve. I wasn't reading your blog when you wrote that article. We seem to be saying a lot of the same thing.

      I especially liked your last paragraph:

      I believe that all forms of human government, whether self, family, church, state, or any other government, are subject to checks and balances from others. Nobody is their own (or anybody else's) Lord in any area of life.

    2. Steve, do you have an alternate link to John Reisinger article?

    3. Monax,

      No, I'm afraid I don't. I think the site was taken down last time I checked. When I link to the home page, it forwards to John Piper's personal blog. Go figure.

    4. Monax,

      Is this the article you are referring to?

      It has been extremely helpful to my husband and I.

    5. thanks Michelle,

      as i scan the article it looks like the one, Is this the one Steve? It does address the pastoral tyranny within some of the reformed baptist churches. i saved it for later reading. again, thanks!

    6. Monax,

      No, this isn't the series I linked to, but I can imagine from what I know of Reisinger that similar topics are in this piece.

  16. One question can help a great deal. Has the church ever shunned anyone and how was that decided?

    1. Ya think? Wow, that one was staring at me in the face. People, this is why we need one another. Thanks, An Attorney!

      BTW, I am compiling these and putting them in the Spiritual Help tab - it's under something like "how to find a new church - readers compile a list".

    2. Julie Anne, I tried to click on that link, and it was buggy. It could be me, but I wanted to alert you to the problem in case it's not.

    3. No, Jess, you were right. Thanks for letting me know. Let's try it again here:

      Going Back to Church - Some Thoughts to Consider

      And now after looking at the page, the formatting is really wonky. Not liking Blogger so much today :(

      I'm going to delete my post above yours now.

  17. Great post and great discussion!

    Until three years ago, I was heavily involved in independent churches (a "non-denomination" known as the Plymouth Brethren Assemblies, the Brethren Assemblies, or just the Assemblies). They are "ruled" by a plurality of elders (no pastor). The goal is to keep it from being one man who runs the show (at least, I think that is the goal), but unfortunately, there is usually one elder who gets his way and the others follow (yes-men, as you called them). This is the case in three out of the four assemblies I attended - my family is "under church discipline" / being shunned at two of the four (for reasons I will not go into). None of these elders responded to inside or outside counsel, they did what they wanted. What's that saying? "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

    Now I'm glad Pastor Craig Vick brings up the Presbyterian Church, because if there is a form of church government that I respect, it is that of the Presbyterian Church. I am not nor have I ever been Presbyterian (and because of doctrinal differences, I don't think I ever will be), but I have dear friends who are, and I've heard only good things about the checks and balances - so I would say Pastor Craig, you have good reason to be proud. :)

    However, there are denominational structures that do not have a great system of checks and balances. I'm thinking specifically of the SBC. I joined a church less than a year ago which is joining forces with an SBC-affiliated church. This is my first encounter with the SBC. It seems to be the trend that you don't question the pastor - because he has been appointed/annointed by God. You are there (as congregants) to support the pastor spiritually, financially, emotionally.

    Because of my history, I have no problem approaching my pastor and asking him questions if something doesn't ring right or true. I am careful in how I do it, and my pastor happens to be gracious about it. However, I've noticed a few people who are not comfortable approaching the pastor - possibly because of past experiences where they have been made to feel like they are discouraging the pastor.

    I think I agree with the general consensus that you can have abuse in any church, but checks and balances make it a little harder on the abuser.

    1. Lydia, I am sorry for your experiences. It's terrible to go through that at the hands of a church.

      I know you weren't attacking SBC churches in general and didn't take it that way at all. Still, I wanted to add that I am in an SBC church. I could question the pastor about anything, and he would (has) responded graciously. It's a wonderful, body-building, edifying, and best of all Christ-centered church. I've been in a bad church before, and this is a wonderful one. It's not perfect, obviously, but I love it.

      Some church structures may lend themselves to a lack of accountability, but the problem, as Joel Frederick writes above, results when a pastor or group put themselves in the place of God. I think he really hit the nail on the head.

    2. Lydia,

      If you're getting the "don't question the pastor" vibe.....maybe read this article and talk to the pastor about it. It is from the Journal of the Southern Baptist Convention. Notice the word DEMOCRATIC...quoted directly from the Baptist Faith and Message

      While the ultimate source for our faith and practice is the Word of God, our Baptist heritage has addressed these issues, as reflected in Article VI of our Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M).

      A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

      The New Testament church is a spiritual fellowship. The Greek word for fellowship (koinonia) is a beautiful word which describes spiritual fellowship, one in which there is a common bond. The BF&M 2000 clearly points out what that common bond is: the fellowship of the Gospel. On the other hand, the church must be organized to fulfill its work as given by our Lord Jesus Christ. How a particular local church is organized is where the discussion ensues. This organization calls for some type of self-government or polity. As already pointed out, there are various forms of church governance in twenty-first century church life. To the surprise of many and chagrin of others, the New Testament does not give specific institutional structural guidelines to the church. Whatever structure it does portray is quite simple and obviously met the needs of the local bodies at that time. There was function involved in the process of structure. There are functional roles discussed that seem to give us some idea of the structure which was present at the time. Many forms of church polity claim their essential ministry concepts are found in the New Testament. All claim to be a way to perform the ministry of Christ in the local church in an effective way.

      While the Baptist Faith and Message does make clear that each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ, it states that it does so through democratic processes. I like the words of Franklin Segler, who said that "democratic polity and theory... does not always guarantee democratic practice."1 He also said that the spirit of the persons involved in each instance will determine the quality of the freedom exercised in the decisions and actions of the church. Realizing the many voices that surround us, and realizing that our own confession of faith declares that there is a democratic process that should be a part of church polity or government, let us look to the ultimate Source to see if there is some light it can shed upon our questions. In Acts 20:17-32, we read the story of Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders. He used the word "elders" in verse 17. This word is in the plural. As many scholars point out, the word is often used synonymously with pastor or bishop.

  18. Julie Anne,

    It is true that our spiritual abuse also occurred within an independent church. But I've also heard far too many cases of church abuse within non-independent churches as well. You have mentioned Sovereign Grace Ministries before, and you are well aware of the abuse that has occurred within that "family of churches." We can also look at the sexual abuse coverup that happened within the Catholic Church, which is anything but independent.

    Regardless of the structure of church governance, I think the problem is the ability to "load the leadership." The Bible warns us about this in 2 Timothy 4:3:

    "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear."

    It's impossible to state in an exact manner how church leadership gets loaded in an independent church, because each church has it's own bylaws and teaching. I've seen power plays where strong personalities comes into a weak, struggling church and because of their ability to bully (lead?) they end up taking the reigns. Other times, elders have a tough time filling the pulpit, and they become desperate, so they will hire anyone and keep their mouth shut. Or, a pastor could plant a church, and hire other pastors under/beside him that are in agreement with him. Earl Paulk's church in Georgia comes to mind.

    If you want to see how the leadership can be loaded in denominational churches, you could read Michael Rose's "Goodbye, Good Men" to see how homosexual Roman Catholic seminarians were favored in certain dioceses/seminaries to straight men. Some of these homosexual men who were ordained priests eventually became bishops, creating a homosexual culture within the clergy.

    My point is, "loading the leadership" can happen from the top down, down up, or sideways. Any of these models are ripe for abuse with the wrong men at the helm.

    The real crisis in Christendom is not one of pastors & elders who claim authority, rather, it is of pastors and elders who lack the authenticity to express that authority.

    1. You have a lot of good points there, Matthias. The book you mentioned sounds very interesting.

      This has been a great discussion. What we can clearly see in the experiences of readers here is that no matter what structure of church you are in, not one method is exempt from false teachers/abusers who worm there way in.

    2. Matthias: The real crisis in Christendom is not one of pastors & elders who claim authority, rather, it is of pastors and elders who lack the authenticity to express that authority.

      Yes, the real crisis is that we have men and women taking positions of spiritual authority within the church who are Scripturally unqualified for such headship. And as heads they do such damage, become by nature of their dislocation spiritually sick (and often times unwittingly abusive because they lack requisite Scriptural understanding). The way they relate should be direct evidence against them of never ever having been qualified in the first place. But here’s the sickness of it all, the sheeple are often so ignorant of Scriptural realities that these leaders are often not recognized as being dis-qualified from leading.

      And in established churches like the Presbyterian Church (USA) certain men and women take positions of spiritual authority, positions they are unqualified to take, but yet they are given these positions of authority by other men and women who are as Scripturally unqualified as the fresh blood they're bringing in.

      For me the authority rests with the Word of God. A child who knows the Bible and has an intimate relationship with the Godhead is in a position to discern the difference between authentic and inauthentic church leadership.

      The crisis of authority within the church is a failure to submit to the Word of God as it has been given to us to live by.

    3. Monax

      I would agree...
      "Yes, the real crisis is that we have men and women taking positions of spiritual authority within the church who are **Scripturally unqualified** for such headship."

      I would say - The first question to ask when...
      “Going Back to Church - Some Thoughts to Consider”

      Is - Are these folks - Who say they are in “Leadership” - Pastor, Elder, Deacon... Do they meet the “Qualifications” - found in 1 Tim 3, Titus 1, and other places?

      Of course that means that the believer has to actually know...
      What the “Qualifications” are.

      And they have to have the courage to show the “qualifications” to these so-called Pastor, Elder, Deacons - And ask them - eye to eye - Do you Qualify?

      Every believer has this right - to check out the so-called Pastor.

      And we beseech you, brethren, **to know them**
      which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord,
      and admonish you;
      1 Thess 5:12 KJV

      Every believer is responsible *to know* -
      If your Pastors/Leaders/Elders - Qualify....
      To be an “Elder/Overseer.”

      If they don’t like you asking - Run, Run for your life.

      I had to learn this the hard way. Many years and many tears.

    4. Jesus: You will **know them** by their fruits.

  19. I don't think the size of any institution is a deterrent nor determinant of abuse of power. It's those who are in positions of power who choose whether or not to abuse the power entrusted to them.

    As the ancient saying goes: A fish rots from the head down.

  20. Very true. We're reading stories of abuse from mega churches to Podunk.

  21. Okay, I want to comment on the by-laws.

    Notice the article about the elders, article VI. The very first section in the article has to do with the AUTHORITY of the elders. Not the shepherding, not the tending of sheep, not the instruction of the gospel, not being an example for the sheep, and not the living amongst the flock; but the authority.

    Then, notice what that authority entails. This section spells out dictatorial control. ALL decisions in the church are within the power of the elders. Second opinions within the eldership are not allowed. The "yes-man" syndrome is mandated by the by-laws themselves.

    Do the sheep have any authority over their own gifts and ministries?

  22. Steve, you make a good point. When I first came across Julie Anne's blog and story back on March 1, I had a quick look at that church's website.

    It certainly doesn't take long to see where the problems lie--just by reading the information posted. You have articulated the eventual outcomes of such a church governance style by the guidelines presented.

    In my book: 'Spiritual Abuse Recovery', in the the third chapter I take a look at leadership from a New Testament perspective. I try to give some thoughtful interaction in how biblical godly leadership can be viewed using a New Testament lens. I raise numbers of issues and questions about leadership and try to provide some insightful dialog.

    Doing things the way they have always been done has shown that there are some major problems with the system. It also demonstrates that 'expectations' of both leaders and of congregants need to be examined and then adjusted in light of the New Testament teachings.

  23. Steve Scott: Do the sheep have any authority over their own gifts and ministries?

    Yes. Their vested authority ultimately comes from the same One who gave them their gifts and calling.

    First Peter 4:10-11 (NKJV)
    As each one has received a gift, minster it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the sovereignty forever and ever. Amen.

    1. Monax,

      LOL! My question was in the context of whether this church thinks so, as Julie Anne only clipped the elders part of the by-laws, and you gave the answer directly from the bible. It was the verse I was thinking of but didn't have the verse address handy. Thanks.

    2. Steve,

      Isn't it interesting that of the only five tenets of BGBC’s Statement of Faith they just so happen to include their position on Spiritual Authority?

      I knew you had the biblical answer to your question. I thought it worth echoing and quoting First Peter Four Ten. My personal project this Summer is to get a better understanding of what it means for a Spirit-filled believer to possess and wield spiritual authority. What does true, God-ordained, spiritual authority look like? Anything you have to offer me in insight or direction will be most welcome.

      Where does our power come from—real spiritual power? See, truth and love and righteousness invests us with real power. A life worked out of the heart and mind of Christ provides us with an authority that comes from the throne of the Righteous One, the One Who is Truth, Who is Love, Who is the Master and King of the Universe. We share His Spirit and His kingdom work. Kingdom work needs spiritual power and authority to accomplish the pleasure of the King.

      As a Spirit-filled ambassador of Christ I have authority over my own self—ultimately I answer to God for how I exercise my authority, but I’m still accountable to the true body of Christ for how I wield it. As a Christian I also wield the authority to pull down strongholds, and cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. Even the demons are subject to me.

      Jesus, to those He was sending ahead of Himself: Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you (Luke 10:19).

      [[ Consider, here, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 ]]

      In line with a life of obedience toward this end, consider the words of Scripture in Philippians 2:12-13: Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    3. 1 Corinthians 6:1-8

      Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!
      Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!

    4. Monax,

      Yes I did notice that elder authority was one of the five tenets of the faith in their statement. I'll think on your question of what true spiritual authority looks like.

  24. Steve, when I typed the bylaws I didn't even notice all the authority references. Maybe I was zoning out. I just find that odd that I didn't catch it.

    1. I don't find it that odd, Julie Anne. If you haven't been in a church that abused power, I doubt it would occur to you that this might happen. Many of us go into a church trusting that people will do the right thing. It's what we expect from fellow believers.

      In my professional life, I write contracts. I would never dream of handling a transaction without having something in writing. Years ago, my husband was hired by a church and promised a certain salary package and benefits. We didn't get this in writing, thinking that it was a church and surely they would not renege.

      There were lots of problems in that church, and some of the people on the search committee left shortly after my husband was hired. The pastor changed a lot of the terms of my husband's pay and benefits and also forbade my husband from discussing anything with anyone else. I would have dealt better with it had this happened to me. Instead, I watched my very strong husband become demoralized. My husband was miserable at the hands of a pastor with personal issues and who wasn't a very nice person. I was ashamed that we foolishly hadn't insisted on a written offer.

      It took us a few years to realize that we needed to go. Yes, years. When you face something like this, you don't want to be a whiner, so you buck up. It takes a while for it to hit you between the eyes that it's not a good situation.

      Many of the indicators of how the pastor would be were evident when we first met him, but we didn't key in on them. Why? We never dreamed a church would be any way other than what our previous experience had been. I'm sure it was the same when you typed the bylaws.

  25. It's one of those funny things. Is the Pastor the actual head and final authority of the church? Or is the Pastor just in fact one facet of the operations of a church? When I was younger I looked to the head Pastor as a sort of authority figure, the big guy, the one who was in charge of the whole church. And in many cases that is true. As an adult now, I recognize that there is no such infallible person on this earth that could fulfill an absolute role of authority. The moment that someone is given that role, there exists the opportunity for abuse of power, and this is how tyrants get born.

    The reality is that a Pastor is not and should not be the final authority in a church. A Pastor is the lead teacher as appointed by a body of elders in the church. And the elders are most definitely responsible for keeping the pastor accountable to the scriptures. As an adult and I have seen that in my own church. The head pastor is not a final authority. He is powerful in his position, but only as granted to him by the elders. And those elders meet with him weekly to discuss the operations of the church and the direction of the teaching that is to be presented at that church. Those men get together every week to pray, and to decide in congress, how to pursue the future of the church. There has been times where our pastor has exercised that ultimate authority and it has almost always gone badly. But thankfully we have a body of elders that are able to discuss the matters frankly with our pastor and to help him make better decisions in the future.

    If you are attending a church where the Pastor is always calling the shots and no one is calling him out on what is clearly unbiblical behavior, then it's time to get up and go.

  26. In this day and age of authoritarianism, I don't trust "pastors", "elders", "deacons", etc. It's time to ditch the churches. Stay home and read your Bible. If you can find other Christians to pray with, then great, but ditch the organized religion. It's bad news.

    1. You are certainly not the first person to mention this on the blog, Bob.

  27. 56 years a Baptist, mostly SBCJuly 22, 2012 at 4:41 AM

    There is a theological reason for democracy in the church, and the best functioning churches are democratic in structure and practice that democracy regularly, with love. The Bible teaches that all Christians are priests and we are are members of the Body. Jesus taught that none of his followers should seek to rule over other followers. So the best church structure is an absolute democracy.

    I once was in a church with about 500 in attendance on Sunday. Every month there was a business meeting. Committees were elected by the body and reported to the body. The pastor rarely commented on issues before the group, and avoided the business side of the church, as did the Deacons, who were busy ministering to the families of the church. There was a moderator elected by the congregation, usually an attorney or business person with some experience in managing meetings and discussion for fairness. Discussion was open, fair and without rancor (the pastor would comment when emotions seemed to be heading the wrong way, on the need to be respectful and loving).

    The congregation thus learned how to make decisions together and how to respect differences of opinion.

    The practical aspect is that a group of Christians, all praying and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will usually make a better decision that one person concerned with his authority or a small group concerned with their authority. Let the whole body, in prayer, make the decisions.

    1. 56yaB,mSBC: the best church structure is an absolute democracy.

      I do not see the Kingdom of God, nor His church as a democracy. Can you show me how this is in Scripture?

      I do agree with you that many of the decisions need to be informed by the wisdom of the whole body, and that corporately we are to pray and seek God’s direction for the church. But no, I don’t agree with you that we’re to “Let the whole body, in prayer, make the decisions.”

    2. 56 is making a lot of sense. Listen to him. The Church is ultimately a monarchy, but the Monarch is Jesus Christ, not some human pastor. On the human level, we are all priests and kings under Christ. Therefore, the democratic approach is best.

    3. ‘And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him”’ (Mark 9:7).

      So what did Jesus and His Apostles say about this? I’m open to being taught.

    4. Monax -

      Off the top of my head....
      " But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ." - Matthew 23:8-10

      "Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
      And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
      Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith." - Acts 6:3-7

      Seems we are not to elevate one over others and the multitude was given the job of selecting the 7 elders to take care of the business end of things....

      Anyone else have more?

  28. Old Mom

    You quote Mark Dever @ July 20, 2012 1:22 PM...
    “We have seen the emphasis in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus on the elders being “blameless.”

    In my experience with “The Corrupt Religious System” and “Pastors that Abuse”
    Is - They say one thing and do another. ;-)

    Mat 23:3 ...but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

    “Abusive Pastors” will say there are “Qualifications” for - elders/overseers...
    And - so-called Pastors even preach - 1 Tim 3, and Titus 1, as the biblical standard.
    BUT - They ignore or twist them to explain why he, and his “Yes Men” “Qualify.”

    Here is just the first qualification for “elder/overseer” that most Pastors ignore. ;-)

    1 - A bishop (overseer) then *must be* **blameless**... 1 Tim 3:2 KJV
    2 - For a bishop (overseer) *must be* **blameless**... Titus 1:7 KJV

    **Hmmm? “Elders/Overseers” *Must Be*...

    That *must be* is the same Greek word as: ...
    You *must be* born again. John 3:7.

    *Must Be* is Strongs #1163, die. - It is necessary (as binding).
    Thayer’s - necessity established by the counsel and decree of God.

    **Hmmm? Must Be - **Blameless**... How important are these words?

    Blameless - Strongs #423 - anepileptos - inculpable, unrebukeable.
    Thayer’s - that cannot be reprehended, (cannot be, rebukable, reprovable,
    cannot find fault) not open to censure, irreproachable.

    Dictionary - Without fault; innocent; guiltless; not meriting censure.

    1 Tim 3:2 ASV - The bishop therefore must be without reproach...
    1 Tim 3:2 NIV - Now the overseer must be above reproach...

    How many, who honestly examine themselves,
    seriously considering this one **qualification,** (*Must Be* **Blameless,**)
    can see themselves as **Blameless,** without fault, above reproach,
    and thus qualify to be an “elder/overseer?”

    And if you can see yourself as **blameless:**
    Is that pride? And no longer without fault? ;-)

    The Bible talks about “elders/overseers.”
    And very tough **qualifications** for elders/overseers. (*Must Be* **Blameless,**)

    Can you have one without the other? Hmmm?

    This is only one of many tough qualifications.
    And there are tough **qualifications** for the children also.

    If an “elder/overseer” does NOT meet this “Qualification” - *Must Be* *Blameless*

    Will they remove themselves? And be a good example to the flock?

    1. Wow, A.Amos Love - In our case, if the elders don't "see" any problems and the pastor doesn't disclose any problems (even if the congregants can see them plain as day), they stay.

      When you preach the same story on humility at least five times in two years and YOU are the character in said humility story, perhaps the subject ought to be changed to pride instead of humility, ya think? Humble people preaching humble sermons about themselves? Humble people writing books on humility? And so it goes . . . .

      Everybody needs to be on board with accountability. If one person is not, there is a hole in the system.

    2. Yes, Amos! I love your emphasis on how an overseer **must be blameless**!

      also, and here’s the kicker: “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:4-5); and “his children are to be believers and not open to the charge of being wild or disobedient” (Titus 1:6).

  29. Julie Anne - What you’re doing here is wonderful and precious. Be blessed.

    Yes - “there is a hole in the system.” It’s “the Religious System” NOT the folks.
    And “the Corrupt Religious System” has them in bondage to “Tradition.”

    Here’s two more qualifications from Titus for “elder/overseer” - 2 - Just. 3 - Holy -

    That most who want to be an “elder/overseer” today *will ignore* or “Twist” in order to obtain - for them - a Title/Position of importance. A “Title/Position” with Power- Profit - Prestige - Honor - Glory - Recognition - Reputation. Pastor/Elder.

    ALL those things Jesus spoke against.
    ALL those things “highly esteemed among men’ - BUT...
    ....Is an abomination in the sight of God. Luke 16:15.

    Titus 1:6-8 KJV
    6 If any be *blameless,* the husband of one wife,
    having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
    7 For *a bishop must be blameless,* as the steward of God; not selfwilled,
    not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
    8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, *just,* *holy,* temperate;

    2 - Just
    Strongs #1342 - dikaios {dik'-ah-yos} from 1349;
    Thayers - 1) righteous, observing divine laws
    1a) in a wide sense, upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God
    1a1) of those who seem to themselves to be righteous,
    who pride themselves to be righteous, whether real or imagined
    1a2) innocent, faultless, guiltless
    1a3) used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting
    is wholly conformed to the will of God,
    and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life

    3 - Holy
    Strongs #3741 - hosios {hos'-ee-os}
    Thayers - 1) undefiled by sin, free from wickedness,
    religiously observing every moral obligation, pure holy, pious.

    Now that’s three tough qualifications for “elder/overseers” given by Paul.
    1 - “Must Be” **Blameless** 2 - Just. 3 - Holy. Yes?

    Makes an interesting study - checking out ALL these tough qualifications for “elder/overseers” - then checking out those who say they are “elder/overseers” compared to the qualifications. :-)

    And we beseech you, brethren, **to know them**
    which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord,
    and admonish you;
    1 Thess 5:12 KJV

    And if they don’t meet the qualifications? - Will they remove themselves?

    And be a good example to the flock?

    Jer 50:6 KJV
    *My people* hath been *lost sheep:*
    “their shepherds” have caused them to “go astray”

    1 Pet 2:25 KJV
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

    1. That is very helpful to see and it really is plain.

      Once again, you have illustrated the clear pattern that I have observed and also confirmed by many others I never knew who have reached out to tell their stories.

      :::::JA sighs heavily::::::

      Thank you, A Amos Love

    2. Amos, the problem encounter in certain churches is one of doublespeak. How does a church define blameless? In this, you'll find the answer varies widely. And how is it in so many toxic churches that the elders/pastors are held to a *different standard* than the rest of the members? Notice I didn't say a *higher standard*, just a *different standard*. Not necessarily a *published standard* either. And then there are churches where one is considered blameless based simply on the office they hold. That's a road loaded with theology I'd rather not go down right now. It's simply important for this discussion that we recognize that reality.

      I heard a pastor state boldly from the pulpit one time that he could go days without sinning. Blameless? Or deluded and lacking self-examination and humility?

      Humility is the root of all Christian virtue. It is so important, I believe it to be the number one thing people should look for in the leadership of a new church. Most people are looking for inspiring preaching, uplifting music, a great Sunday School program; but really, these things are just window dressing. Take time and observe not just the things the pastors/elders say, but what they do, in and out of the church. And if you are pressured by the leadership about membership, especially after sharing your past experiences at a toxic church, run in the other direction as fast as you can.

  30. More things I noticed about the by-laws:

    In the decision making process (article VI, section 1B), it says that all decisions are to be made unanimously. Dissenting elders need to yield. The bible tells us that our "yes" should be "yes" and our "no," "no." But, with the demand of being unified, it is required of dissenting elders that their "no" be "yes," the exact opposite of bible teaching!

    Let's say there are three elders. What's wrong with saying, "hey, we're split on this, 2-1"? with the dissenting elder saying, "okay, I don't agree, but I'll support it and we all will see what happens, and we can visit this again down the road when we have a chance to learn more?" I've experienced this and it is refreshing to see your elders as humans like the rest of us, rather than superChristians that can do no wrong.

    But with these by-laws, elders are required to be unified even when they aren't, and must be unified BOTH PRIVATELY AND PUBLICLY. This is a built-in gag rule, the "no-talk" rule Julie Anne has mentioned. And if BGBC is like many other churches, the elders probably took an oath to uphold the by-laws when they were appointed. So they agree to a gag rule before any future events even occur.

    So, Julie Anne, when you asked the elders if they ever had a problem with Chuck or disagreed with him, they were likely already required to say "no" and were prohibited from saying yes even if it were true.

    This whole unanimous and unified concept only helps to foster the primacy of outward appearances. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for cleaning the outside of the cup and not the inside. It also has the effect of the majority dictating to the minority how their consciences work. "You will believe what we believe or else."

    And in section 1C we have a strange coincidence of sequence. The result of elders who don't comply with section 1B. Removal. And we've read plenty about this stuff on other websites dealing with spiritual abuse.

    As for sinful behavior of a senior pastor - anger, pride, relational issues, etc. - all he has to do is claim that it was a doctrinal issue that he was expressing righteous anger over, and a bunch of yes men will have no way of dealing with the matter other than to agree. And of course when you're taught a lie over and over, you begin to believe it as truth.

    1. Steve,

      Many had problems at the abusive church I left and they defiantly rebuked anyone who questioned anything. Their membership dropped, along with their 'income' (tithes) and they went from three services a week to only one service a week. Anyone who questioned anything was treated harshly, to say the least. And several of the pastors/elders/leadership participated in theft by deception.
      When I tried to recover some of the losses I incurred from that, I was threatened with a lawsuit for 'malicious slander and defamed the 'xxxs''….. The truth hurts those who live their LIES behind the Bible.

      This church later added into their leadership application:

      * Do you affirm the vision and mission of Lighthouse and agree to cooperate with the pastors and elders of the church?

      And spiritual abuse is alive and well, and those who are aware of it continue in their 'country club' atmosphere thinking it will not happen to them, and they just keep up the friendship club they belong to.

      As for lies over and over again, I heard so many lies in that church. I believed them when I was repeatedly told they were going to 'take care of me because I was a widow'. I can't afford to be taken care of like that again, financially, emotionally, or physically.

      When does it end?


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