I don’t like to think about spiritual abuse, or abusive churches, or abusive pastors. I don’t like it. For one reason, this is because the abusers I have had to deal with over the years as a pastor LOVE to accuse me and our elders and our church of having abused them. So I am sensitive to this subject. Sometimes when it comes up, my self-doubts kick in. Maybe I am guilty? Maybe we have abused people? But then, and I think it is the Lord helping me at those moments, I go back and remember what those abusers did and how they abused. And I realize that the mere fact that I am presently anxious about the horror of us as a church abusing people is probably not an attitude to be found in a truly abusive church.
I think we are a church, and I am a pastor, who has certainly made mistakes in handling people in the past. There have probably been instances in which we have even sinned – and in those cases I hope that we have confessed to anyone we have wronged. No pastor can truly study the subject of domestic violence abuse and not conclude that there were instances in the past that he would have handled at least somewhat differently – and in some cases, entirely differently. Oh, and one other thing that comes to my mind when I study abuse and think about abusers in the church and how they are to be dealt with – I realize that we were blind to them far too long and let them do their evil far, far too long. If anything, I think that has been our major error in this regard.
I don’t like to think about spiritual abuse. But we MUST think about it, see it, and reject it, lest we become like it.
Well, that’s the rather rambling prologue to the subject – How to Create an Abusive Church. Listen once again to those verses in 1 Cor 2 –
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. (2) For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (3) And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, (4) and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, (5) that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
I highlighted verse 5 because that is the one I want us to think about. How do you create an abusive church? How do you build a “thing” that has all the “Christian” exterior frills, but is devoid of the presence of Jesus? Well, Paul says that one way to do it is to build it on a man’s (or woman’s) personality. Charm. Charisma. Call in Pastor Golden-Tongue. Team him up with Pastor Novelty. What will happen is that as this cult of personality expands, the faith of the populace will be based upon (have its object as) – these ring leaders. The church bookstore will be filled with Golden Tongue’s books and sermon tapes. He has plenty to say on any subject you can think of. The youth group and children’s ministries and even the senior ministry will have that flair that only Pastor Novelty can pull off.
And it will grow. Oh, how it will grow. And the money? The buildings? Who can argue with success, right?
Yet none of it, NONE of it is of God. The “faith” there rests upon the so-called wisdom of man (which is foolishness in reality), and is totally devoid of the saving, regenerating power of God.
And the POWER. Feel the electricity of the power. Listen to it in the voice of Golden-Tongue and in the excitement of Novelty. It streams through in the music too. Tears flow. Hallelujahs are shouted.
And none of it is of Jesus. None of it. So guess what you have. You have a thing, a monster, that is devoid of the love of Jesus. You have created a house made comfortable for some uninvited guests, who most certainly are going to show up one day –
Matthew 12:43-45 ESV “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. (44) Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. (45) Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Victims of abuse simply will not find mercy and justice and kindness in such a place. Furthermore, the widespread experience of the many Christians who have been victimized by abuse and who have told us their stories of how they were mistreated and rejected by their churches, tell us something else. It tells us that perhaps Pastor Golden Tongue and his associate, Pastor Novelty, are not only to be found in the huge mega-churches. They may well be standing in far more of our pulpits today than we would even want to admit. How many of Jeremiah’s words here apply to the condition of the evangelical church today?
Jeremiah 6:14-19 ESV They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. (15) Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,” says the LORD. (16) Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (17) I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’ (18) Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them. (19) Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not paid attention to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it.