As we end 2012, I am reminded of the scripture study to show thyself approved unto to God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (I Timothy 2:15).
One man said “not only will studying your bible keep pressure off you now, it’ll keep the heat (hell) off you later”.
No one expects pastors and church leaders to know everything, but at the very least, everyone expects them to know and practice their bible. I know from personal experience that often ministers fail to give careful prayer or thought to what they are teaching or what they do in their churches. It’s sometimes no more than what my 14 year old says when he doesn’t want to bother to think about something-- “sounds legit” he says, and moves on. But when the subject involves people’s spiritual welfare, that’s sad.
In the coming year, I am hoping in this blog to tackle basic doctrinal issues that people take for granted, like the basic qualification of a pastor, deacon or minister. I think this particular subject is enormously important because the American religious trend is toward more independent, non denominational churches.* This means as people are joining less mainstream religious groups, there’s less oversight over church leadership and more vigilance is needed by the people and fellow ministers and Pastors.
Too many of America’s pulpits have been taken over by preachers that look at their calling as a really cushy part time job. Not to say that there aren’t many great Pastors out there. There are, I have one, but one bad Pastor can blight the whole profession. Once they get their church up and running, it’s often anybody’s guess where they’re getting their doctrines from. I was given permission to post a letter a Pastor wrote to other pastors about the mistakes he made as a preacher in misinterpreting scripture and the bad culture it created in his congregation. Regrettably, not many pastors have the courage and humility of this man. (See “A Pastor’s Letter”).
When we go to a doctor, we expect help with our body. We rely on their advice. We may even make life changing decisions based on what we perceive to be their expertise. If my doctor tells me “Don’t worry about that pain in your side, its normal”, and I die, my family can sue for this serious misdiagnosis. In which case, the trial lawyer will ask himself, “did the doctor go through the proper steps in making this conclusion”? If the doctor went off on some half baked scheme of his own, he’ll be paying a heavy price. Why? All doctors must follow standard procedures for their profession. Just like all Christian ministers must follow their bible.
In our society, those who work with people’s lives are not allowed to do their own thing without serious consequences. Someone may be severely damaged.
Pastors are the spiritual life blood of a congregation. If they go bad, a whole system can be created that is unhealthy and spiritually toxic. Hey folks, the bible’s open for all of us to read and has been since Wycliffe in the 1300s.
The Pope hated Wycliffe’s translation so much that he ordered his bones to be dug up, crushed and scattered. Now, that’s the type of hatred that’s generated when a whole system is being challenged. Silencing the person is usually the remedy for perpetuating that religious organization.
Many churches had developed a system, sometimes an unsaid system, where people are not free to discuss any wrongs, grievances, or concerns. They are labeled as troublemakers, divisive, and gossips. When ministers study their bible, they will see how unbiblical and unhealthy this is.
This is kind of like Dorothy going to the wizard and as she questions him, he yells”silence!” As they get closer, they find out that he’s just a man behind a curtain.
One of the worst things a person can experience is to trust someone to help them spiritually and be bamboozled with scriptures and fear. Many have put their whole lives, their money, and their eternal destination in the hands of people who do not care about their welfare. Betrayal like this, causes people to leave the Christian faith altogether. I applaud those that have hung on, and have not let misguided people cause them to lose their faith in Christ. It’s quite a struggle but it’s a winnable one.
My friends at BGBC Survivors http://bgbcsurvivors.blogspot.com/ experienced this type of silent system first hand. The Pastor tried to sue the blog writer to the tune of $500k because she named the church and told of her bad experiences there. The court threw the case out and the blog continues. Why? People can talk about what REALLY happened to them, and they don’t’ have to be silent to make the other person feel better about themselves.
If these types of preachers are so sensitive, why are they Pastors at all? A Pastor (and we will discuss qualifications in a later blog) should be able to take criticism, threats, and disagreements with the love and grace of God. Right? Which of the New Testament church leaders do we find whining about how someone “talked about me?” It may not feel good, but criticism comes with the territory. Retaliating is not handling things with grace. Apparently, that is what this Pastor did.
Recently, someone made me aware that a Pastor had actually threatened a congregation with legal actions if they told any more information about what was going on in their congregation. Now, after you stop laughing, realize that lawsuits about defamation have one factor that has to exist for the suit to have any merit. The disseminated information HAS TO BE FALSE! So before any person walks into a lawyer’s office and demands a suit is filed on his or her behalf because someone has stated bad things about them (queue the violins), they need to make sure someone has at least said something that is actually false. If it’s true, they’re going to have a hard time.
Frankly, many Pastors who threaten to hang people at high noon and make their lives miserable in retaliation of whatever, need to realize that they will be blessed if that person stays with the Lord and doesn’t sue them. If you cause a person undue emotional distress and it is proven to be intentional, they have more of a legal foundation than you, to bring a case to court. Some people have never heard of “intentional infliction of emotional distress”, but guess what, that’s a real civil action. How many Americans I wonder could file this suit after having to see therapists, to get their life back together after being duped by a dysfunctional religious system? Actually, the best option, is to move on and enjoy life, and not let it take up anymore of your time.
Anyway, having done some study on cults, and having experienced unhealthy church situations myself, the first sign of any unhealthy church is Silence. I had a minister I was working with one time, threaten that if I talked any more about how he handled things, he was going to make sure I went down with him. Mind you I hadn’t done anything, but he was going to make sure I looked just as guilty as him. Another preacher made sure the chapel was empty before he flew into a rage and then railed on me about not agreeing with his charges against me. When I asked him exactly what I had done, he couldn’t give me a straight answer and used I Corinthians 5:3 to say that he could “discern” like Paul that I was out of order and didn’t need any proof, and that I had been making faces at him (that’s right –faces) and demanded that I appear before a body of ministers to answer his charges against me. Something I had actually already done and there was nothing new to discuss.
When people are afraid to talk, that’s not loyalty, that’s bullying. No system, whether it’s a formal mainstream denomination, a standalone non-denominational church, or just a bible study, has a right to forbid its members to discuss their legitimate biblical grievances. A healthy church will actually invite discussion if its actions are founded in the Word of God. Wouldn’t treating people right and being fair with them, solve a lot of the problems of a bad rep, anyway?
Ye are witnesses and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:
(I Thess 2:10).
(I Thess 2:10).
Jim Jones’ ministry was hailed by community leaders and other churches as a wonderful place, but it became toxic to the point of that fateful day in Guyana. He started to become paranoid, and many of the survivors testify that Silence (shh!) became the cardinal rule. In reality, silence often becomes a way to hold in information that church leadership knows would be damaging to their survival and control.
Unity becomes defined as keeping all negative information a secret and not discussing the problems at all. Everyone who agrees to do that, is loyal and good, and those that do not agree, are bad.
But if someone is my spiritual leader and I am not happy with something I feel is biblically wrong. Am I not due an audience, since this affects my soul and spiritual welfare? Do I have to suffer in silence to appease everyone’s comfort? Hey, I’m starving over here because I’m stumbling at something, and it’s not because of my disobedience, but what I perceive as yours. So can we talk about that? Is that allowable? In most bad church systems it's not.
Loyalty to dysfunctional systems is dangerous and it’s no secret that they can harbor pulpit criminals. Need I mention various cases of catholic priest pedophiles and recently Eddie “Boys Town” Long? Pictures? Really? And he’s still “da man o’ God” to many.