Tuesday, April 17, 2012

This Is How Cults Get Started

Read something interesting yesterday. A blogger was talking about those darn sheep grumbling against the clergy, Guarding Against The Grumbling. He has found a convenient and common way to dismiss that, simply see yourself as pastor in the role of Moses and anyone who complains (and complaining is a pretty subjective notion, one man's complaint is another man's sincere question) gets placed in the role of ungrateful Hebrew.This is my comment on his post (assuming it gets past moderation)...

Well that certainly is convenient. As pastor you set yourself in the role of Moses and anyone who doesn't toe the line is in the role of grumbling Hebrew. If anyone doesn't get in line behind you, they are merely grumbling. Your will is indistinguishable from God's will so if the sheep don't follow where you lead they are opposing God. I think this is how cults get started.... 
Does that seem harsh? Maybe but this is dangerous ground. It is far too easy to insert ourselves into the Bible, almost always as the good guy. How often do you hear passages where Paul is writing to Timothy, a man never identified as an elder or pastor in the church, applied to local church vocational ministers? All the time and hardly anyone questions it.

Now certainly I get that people can be complainers and pastors sometimes get the brunt of that. I am sure people complain for silly reasons but they also raise legitimate concerns that often get lumped into the category of grumbling. Of course that is what happens when you set yourself up in an employer-employee relationship and mix religion into it. If we are all serving together for the glory of God there is not much to complain about but when you declare yourself the expert, the professional, the specially anointed one and then expect to get paid by your employer the local church, what do you think is going to happen? We have fundamentally altered the relationship between believers and especially the way that the church should relate as it applies to leaders. Rather than peers we work and minister alongside of and learn by observing the manner of their life, we have carved elders out into a separate caste in the church and made them distinct from the rest of the body. We call them "Pastor this" or "Reverend that" and truth be known not much else tickles the ear quite like getting addressed by a title of honor (Matt 23:5-7). In the same way not much else divides up the church and leads to grumbling like creating a ruling class in the church and if you think that the grumbling only goes one way you are fooling yourself. The traditional church system is almost perfectly designed to foster grumbling, resentment, apathy and division. Maybe that is not what Jesus intended.

When we were mormons we were told that when the prophet spoke, the discussion was over. A common tactic of cults is to say that anyone who doesn't follow the cult leader without question is rebelling against God. That is what Joseph Smith did, and Brigham Young and every mormon false prophet since. That is what David Koresh did and Jim Jones and modern false prophets like Victor Hafichuk did and do. It keeps people in line. This is serious, dangerous thinking and it infects the church in so many places. 

Don't grumble. Don't complain. Don't follow any man who sees legitimate, even hard, questions as rebellious thwarting of the will of God.


Arlan said...

"Your will is indistinguishable from God's will so if the sheep don't follow where you lead they are opposing God. I think this is how cults get started.... "

If by "your" we mean "the men" and by "sheep" we mean "the women," how does this change the argument?

Obviously we would have a plurality of men, not one man, speaking for God. But the Catholic church and most other denominations put their "front man" in accountability to some other group of men, so after all that isn't so different.

By requiring women to be represented by men in the assembly of God we are quite literally making men the priests for women. Women are not part of the priesthood of all believers.

Yes, they are "allowed" to talk to God outside of the assembly. But all of Israel was allowed to pray to God outside the holy place. The operation of priests is always tied to the holy place. We may have knocked down the temple/church but we have raised the tabernacle/house church in its place.

When Christ told the Samaritan woman that God would be worshiped in Spirit and in truth, he was not giving license for the Samaritans to build their own temple, and the Ephesians theirs, and so on right down the line to everyone's living room. He abrogated the whole concept of "holy place."

I expect you might reply that my conjectures about the implications of Jesus' statement can't overrule the clear explicit directive in the epistles. As I mentioned in my other comment, I see both sides bringing their broader understanding to bear on this topic. Atkerson says it's obvious the reference to the Law is Paul's own reference; Viola says it's obvious that the reference is the Corinthians', contradicted by Paul.

The insistence that we must bow before the simplicity of the verse is a common tactic used to establish the control of the clergy, hung on a very few unclear verses and a whole lot of others where the context is presumed. Like you, I don't think we should presume the apostolic authors relied upon our conception of pastors/decaons/offices. Like you, I don't think we should resort to "cultural decoders" from outside the Bible to "unlock" its core meaning (as Viola does on some points).

So I am deliberately trying to broaden this discussion, and also to focus it. The revelation of God's will is in Christ. What context does our understanding of Christ bring to our understanding of Paul's intent?

Arlan said...

If we are going to make church a special place where women must keep silent (though otherwise they may speak), we will have to explain what makes this place special. That is, if the presence of Jesus is not the Holy Place of the New Covenant, what did the transfiguration mean? If woman must go through man to "access" Christ, what was Jesus doing with the Samaritan woman, what that back-talking Syro-Phonecian, with Martha on the way to the tomb of Lazarus, with the adulterous woman?

If we say that all those situations were permissible because those times were not "church" (as if our gathering in twos and threes, in his name, is more sanctified than his presence), then we will have to cut very finely to define "church." That is, if you come to it, there is no mention of any women at the Last Supper at all. Ergo, women should be excluded from the Lord's Table. And, no more than 12 or 13 men should meet at any one time.

Church as a special time that imposes special restrictions on people and their permitted behaviors doesn't jive with anything I read from the Scripture. If it did I would march myself into a traditional church and sit my bum down on a pew. The only exception I can think of is the admonishment not to eat ahead of others - and that is really to my point. If we are going to eat a meal with someone we don't then eat it without them; ordinary courtesy of ordinary fellowship applies. Likewise the injunction to do all things "decently and in good order;" Christians are not otherwise supposed to behave indecently and raucously. We are never supposed to carelessly talk over each other, and church is no exception.

It is not that I take lightly the principle that husbands are to wives as Christ is to the church. I rather think those who feel able to step up to this are taking it to lightly. If you take the mantle in this verse you shall have to carry it in Ephesians 5:25-28, and it will fall upon you to purify and sanctify your wife. But to me this violates the position and work of Christ, so I must understand the meaning differently.

Would you say that only men participate in the priesthood of all believers? Or would you define priesthood differently, so that the mediated presence/voice of the woman in the assembly is not an act of priesthood?

Arthur Sido said...


I don't see the priesthood of all believers as something that is only expressed in one way. Women function in that priesthood in the same way that men do, namely by service and through approaching the throne of grace directly and without an intermediary. When a woman serves by raising her children or an older woman serves by teaching a younger woman to love her family, they are functioning as priests in the same way, perhaps more, than a brother leading the gathering of the church.

We need to get away from the notion that the priesthood of believers is only or even primarily expressed by the man or men leading from the front. Women are absolutely functioning as priests when they serve within the explicit guidelines of the Pauline epistles.

Arlan said...

In principle I agree that we can't define "priesthood" too narrowly. But it does still have a distinct meaning. Both the Old Testament priest and the use of the word by the author of Hebrews refer to one who represents another (others) before God. That is precisely what a man speaking for his wife in the assembly of God's people does.

I don't think the concept of "priesthood" is exhaustive of the Christian's role; certainly we can all minister to one another. But service/ministry can't be simply equated with priesthood. A priest could prophecy, but a priest isn't always a prophet; hospitality may be ministry, but ministry isn't always hospitality. I don't feel your response dealt with the specific concept of priesthood.