Monday, April 16, 2012

Church Leaders Gone Wild

Steve Scott is continuing his look at spiritual abuse and his latest post, Elders Behaving Badly, is centered around a facebook conversation he had with Kevin Johnson. Here is a snippet:

In Reformed circles, we are happy to eject men both out of the ministry and the church on what may seem the smallest of theological technicalities (cf. Frame, "Machen's Warrior Children") but we will not take similar action when similar men abuse their ministerial authority and use the leadership they have in ways that are unfaithful to God. This is a huge inconsistency that shows us where our real loyalties lie as Reformed church men and women. Often, we demonstrate that we care for our doctrines and our pet leaders more than we care for our fellow believers. And, that's just idolatry.

That is just excellent. The irony of a movement where the latest pet peeve is “celebrity pastors” even though the adoration given Reformed celebrity pastors is so over the top that it has become embarrassing is as rich as it is tragic. Men can visit conferences surrounded by handlers to keep the little people away or beg and cajole for funding so they can build ever larger temples to showcase their rhetorical talent and no one bats an eye. Step off the Westminster Confession reservation by one foot? Bang, you are branded a heretic and booted from polite company.

There are many “pastors” who run their little religious empires like petty despots. Whether men like Mark Driscoll who seem to have no problem with firing guys who don’t meet their standards (standards that are completely extra-biblical) and run enormous empires or local church pastors who see any question, no matter how innocent or sincere, as an affront to their “authority”, these sorts of abusers are out there. It is telling that Driscoll’s detractors are more concerned with whether he uses salty language than they are with his grotesque and unbiblical view of church leadership. As Kevin points out, all sorts of minor theological points can get you kicked out of the Kool Kids Klub that goes by the label “Reformed” but gross misuse and misapplication of spiritual authority doesn’t make the list. Of course there are a great many pastors who don’t act like this but the temptation and the structure that leads to spiritual abuse is omnipresent. The old power tends to corrupt thing.

My hands are not clean here. In various times and places I have engaged in this sort of behavior, whether overt abuses of “spiritual authority” or by smacking around someone who is less theologically astute (or at least is less impressed with how clever they are) than I am. There is way too much jockeying for position between “churches” that compete for money and members with other churches or ministries that scramble to attract a larger percentage of the finite pool of giving, often leaving the smaller ministries feeding from the bottom while the big name, famous ministries get the lion’s share. All of this because we associate visibility and brand recognition with success. Having “A wholly owned subsidiary of Mars Hill Church, Inc.” as part of your brand is going to draw people in while “Nobody Ministries With No Money, Recognition or Flair” is not.

What is this? It is not the ekklesia of Christ. It is not the community of redeemed sheep supporting one another and building each other up for the mission of Christ. It is some sort of bastardized religious power game where the strong devour the weak, where the less able members of the flock are culled out by men who have declared themselves shepherds. When one group of Christians puts an offer to help on the table but with the caveat of the church being "helped" getting absorbed, having men terminated, having other men deemed unacceptable and removed from leadership and driving away those who are not drinking the Kool-Aid, the Kingdom of God is not in view. The desire to supplant God and build the kingdom of men is on full display.

The solution is obvious. Actual servant leaders who lead by example rather than by decree. Men who serve out of a love for Christ, not as a profession and for a paycheck. Elders who are unconcerned with the ecclesiastical titles they hold or the honors bestowed by virtue of education or “ordination”. That sounds so simple and just rolls off the tongue but the entrenched powers in the church make this difficult, perhaps impossible. Too many men, too many organizations, too many institutions are reliant on the status quo. To shake things up is to threaten those who hold power and many of those who are threatened react like any authoritarian leader does when threatened: they lash out, they accuse, they obfuscate, they distract.

Christian, you don’t need someone to be “in authority” over you other than Christ. If someone is serving and living a life that reflects the sort of life that the Bible says we should emulate, follow them. If someone is waving around their credentials and titles and education and achievements and telling you that you have to follow them because they are a “pastor” or “reverend”, they are a liar and a wolf. Flee from them as you would from any other mortal danger. Jesus did not give any of His sheep the right to abuse any of His other sheep.

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