Why Aren’t Pastors and Churches Discerning Evil?

Heb 5:11-14  About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  (12)  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,  (13)  for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  (14)  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

This is one of the most important Scriptures for professing Christians and churches in our day. And yet most are ignorant of what the Lord is telling us here. This ignorance (or downright disgust) of these truths are causing all kinds of suffering to Christ’s people in so-called churches.

At best, most people who claim to be Christians are, as the Apostle says here, children. They of course fancy themselves to be quite the mature saints but the fact is that they cannot handle solid food. They don’t have teeth or the capacity to digest. Infants in diapers.

But that is at best. At worst, and I suspect far more common, is the reality that many if not most of them are not born again at all. God’s Word is therefore foolishness to them. And if that sounds unplausible to you, then just read on into Hebrews 6 because what the Apostle is doing here at the end of chapter 5 is introducing us to the topic of apostacy. 

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The Chameleon Nature of Evil or, “Where’s Waldo?”

2Co 11:13-15 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. (14) And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (15) So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

Most of you know that the sin of abuse hides. It hides in plain sight by donning a facade, a disguise, a costume of righteousness. The abuser is a chameleon, changing his outward appearance as necessary to not only blend into the current surroundings, but to even stand out a bit as an eminent example of whatever society (such as a local church) he happens to be in. I think there are some super-hero villain types in recent movies who can change their form at will?

Evil hides in plain sight. It puts on camo paint and blends, so that it looks like the “good” around it. What better vantage point to strike from? You never see it coming. Hidden in disguise it can work its harm for years, picking us off one by one. I think of the rabbits in Watership Down, willing to be domesticated and gain the comforts of it all — though it did seem that some of their neighbors mysteriously kept disappearing. Oh well.

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Many Times Teaching “Gossip” as a Sin is Designed to Hush up Abuse Victims

A friend emailed me and brought the following book to my attention. Ed Welch (who wrote the forward) is of course a bigwig in CCEF which I never recommend to anyone. I haven’t read the book. Apparently there is also a video series of it that is being used by churches.

Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue by Matthew C. Mitchell – Fwd by Ed Welch

But I just use this reminder to caution everyone regarding the typical teachings on gossip that we see in churches and in “christian” publications. Many times, if not most of the time, these teachings are actually used to hush up abuse victims. How many of you were told by your pastor, for example, that you were guilty of gossiping about your abuser when you reported his/her abuse?

I have seen this very thing exercised over and over by “the most holy saints” running churches. I remember for instance telling a wolf in wool one time (I didn’t yet understand what he really was) about the wickedness of a person in our church at that time. His response was accusatory. “Now, pastor, should you really be telling me this?”  He comes off looking all saintly and I wear the guilt.

So, I issue this caution about books and teachings like this one on “resisting gossip.” Beware. Christ publishes the sins of the wicked from the rooftops. And I don’t think He is guilty of gossip.

The Holy Spirit Calls us to Expose Evil — People Tell us to be Quiet About it

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)

All through my life I have seen evil and injustice. Like most of you, I have seen it personally in the workplace and in the church. And every time I have seen it, I have been told to be quiet about it. Not by the Lord, but by people. When you are told often enough that you are exaggerating, that you are too judgmental, that you need to just overlook things, you start to believe it. You think that you must be “a problem.”

Here is the thesis of this article that I want to state and support:

The Holy Spirit inhabits and leads every Christian. Because He is the holy Spirit, He reacts against un-holiness. When the Christian is in the presence of evil, the Spirit in him tells him “something is wrong here. This is not right. This is sin. Here is what God’s Word says about this.” 

And then what happens? When the Christian, led by the Spirit, speaks out against this wrong and exposes it, pressure from the enemy comes against him to be quiet about it. To minimize it. To feel a sense of guilt for even thinking badly about someone else. And this opposition to the Spirit, this quenching of the Lord in us, is particularly effective when it comes from the mouth of someone who claims to be a fellow believer —

“Now, Jeff, that is just how Mrs. Smith is. She is really a very good woman and fine Christian. So just be patient with her tantrums and steer a wide path around her and try to get along. We try not to talk much around here about her foibles. After all, she is such a fine pianist and choir director.”

Mrs. Smith has been the pianist and choir director in that church for 40 years! And for 40 years Mrs. Smith has thrown those wicked tantrums whenever she doesn’t get her way. This is sin. It is evil. Mrs. Smith is an agent of the enemy, but the “godly folk” there in the church make it clear that you must not speak of her sin or talk about the Bible saying we are to deal with sin in the church.

In the very first church that I was a pastor in, I knew by the third day that something was very, very wrong. I wasn’t wise enough to know exactly what it was, but I knew. I felt it. I met with the church board consisting of some six or seven people and I simply did not see Christ in them. Oh, perhaps one or two were believers, but not the rest (time would prove that assessment to be accurate). And there were other issues evident that plainly contradicted God’s Word regarding life in His church.

We were sent to this church by a home missions board that we were with. I phoned our regional director and gave him my assessment of the situation. In just a few hours I received a phone call from the head of the missions agency and he was irate! He told me that “of course the people in that church are unsaved. Don’t try to change anything. Just be patient with them, get to know them, and they will get saved.” In others words, “Jeff, just shut up about these things you see that you say are contrary to the Lord’s truth. You are just going to cause trouble.”

Well, I was in that church for eight years. I assumed the missions director knew what he was talking about. I didn’t want to be a trouble maker. So I preached Scripture and taught the people and. . . what happened? Trouble. Attacks. Constant division and fighting. Rank immorality. A terrible testimony to the community. And why was that? Because the Holy Spirit had been trying to tell me from the very start that this “church” was no church at all because there were but maybe one or two genuinely converted people in it.  That is to say, my first conviction that I needed to announce something like this to a congregation of the wicked was right, and that missions director was dead wrong —

When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations — I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:12-17)

You see, these were not mere unbelieving pagans. No, these were church members who claimed to be Christians! That “church” needed to be reduced to a small handful and genuine believers, and then begin a real ministry.

The Holy Spirit leads us to expose evil. People, especially false Christians, pressure us to hide it, excuse it, and cover it up.

And that brings us right back round to why abusers are able to operate and hide in most churches. Evil is not called evil. Those who call evil out are labeled as trouble makers. Just like most of you have been called trouble makers, unloving, unforgiving, and judgmental because you dared say that your abuser is a wicked person parading as a Christian. It has taken me decades, but the Lord has finally gotten it through my head. I will not be quiet when the Spirit of Christ shows me evil in His church. I will make trouble for that evil. I will not minimize the circumstances and excuse it with some blow off statement like, “well, you know we are all brothers in Christ here and we just must love and forgive and be patient.” No! Where in God’s Word does the Lord instruct us to keep quiet about Satan in our midst? Nowhere. That’s where.

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. (Jude 1:12-13)

Spiritual Abuse and the Church: Can a Church Bind Our Conscience?

Every Christian is free before God to be led by the Holy Spirit and the Scripture.  Each Christian has a conscience and the freedom to obey that conscience as he is directed by the Word of God.  This was Luther’s stand before Rome:

Since then your sere Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen. (Reply to the Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521)

As many domestic abuse victims can testify, local churches, pastors, sessions, and presbyteries far too often attempt to exercise authority over the believer’s conscience which God has not authorized them to do.  The most common example (for our purposes in this blog) of this excess is the church pronouncing that an abuse victim is not free to divorce her/his abuser.  Or to separate from the abuser.  Or dictating to victims that they must submit to everything their abuser says, how the victim should dress, the specifics of how she should relate to the abuser, and on and on the list goes.  The local church, pastors, elders, and other Christians do not possess the authority to dictate these matters of conscience.  They are issues which the victim has the right before God, in agreement with His Word, to determine personally.

This position is not radical nor is it unheard of.  It has been taught consistently by Reformed theologians through the centuries.  Here we will provide one such example.  Francis Turretin (1623-87, Geneva) wrote the Institutes of Elenctic Theology, which is essentially a very large systematic theology.  Turretin is very frequently quoted by people like R.C. Sproul and other leading theologians of our day.    Listen then as Turretin writes in his section on the doctrine of The Church (ecclesiology), and specifically about the authority of the church (he was, of course, opposing Rome’s unbiblical ideas of church authority):

31st Question:  Does a legislative power [in the church] properly so called, of enacting laws binding the conscience, belong to the church?  Or only an ordaining power, of sanctioning constitutions and canons for the sake of good order?  The former we deny; the latter we affirm against the Romanists.

They (the Romanists) by sinning in excess as on other points, make that power immense, maintaining that to the church belongs the power to make laws properly so called, which by themselves bind the conscience and cannot be violated without mortal sin and to which, therefore, obedience is due on account of the authority of those commanding.  However, we think that no proper lawmaking power was given to the church by which she can make laws directly and by themselves binding the conscience; but only an ordaining power which can form constitutions and canons for the preservation of peace and good order which on this account do not bind the conscience by themselves and directly, but only indirectly in case of scandal; that these are not laws enacted by a prince, but only an order by ministers; not of the essentials of Christ’s kingdom, but only of the external accidents and things indifferent…

Pastors have no right to make laws properly so called binding the conscience.  The reasons are first, because there is one lawgiver (James 4:12)…who has a right over the conscience and who can save and destroy, not only the body, but also the soul (Luke 12:5).  Pastors are mere commissioners and heralds, who have no right to make or change laws, but only the office of promulgating them and urging their observation…. in sacred affairs the authority of the command is from God alone, its promulgation (announcement) only is left to ministers.  The conscience has no one between itself and God by whom it may be known and judged.   As it is known to God alone, so it can be judged by him alone.   And second, it is not lawful to add to or to take anything from the divine law (Deut 4:2; 12:32).  If nothing could be added to the Mosaic Law, much less to the evangelical law of Christ.

We have heard account after account of abuse victims being directed by pastors and church leaders to obey the dictates of these leaders or face the condemnation of God.  “We declare that you have no right to divorce your abuser” is a declaration that adds to the law of God.  Many, many other directives, given with the supposed authority of God Himself and said to be binding upon the conscience of the abuse victim (and of others in the church as well) are common.  She is told how she must behave toward her abuser.

She is told what she can and cannot say to him.  She is directed in regard to overseeing her children.  And all of these dictates go against her own conscience, yet she yields to them because she desires to please the Lord.  In her confusion she does not realize that He is calling her to be free, to enact boundaries, to seek help from other sources…. and yet she remains in the bondage of these unauthorized commandments of man.

The fact is that the Word of God is what has authority to bind our conscience.  Nothing else.  When we, with sincerity of heart and after careful and prayerful study of the Scriptures, find ourselves free in conscience to take a particular course of action, then we have the freedom to do so.  If a pastor or church leader can, by the clear testimony of Scripture, demonstrate plainly to us that our decision is contrary to the Word of God, then that is another matter.  In such cases our conscience will concur and we will have peace.  But no human being can pronounce his own opinion as the Word of God.  This, only God can do.

And therefore I conclude that every church, every pastor, every church leader who insists that God forbids an abuse victim from divorcing her abuser is guilty of exceeding his authority and teaching as the Word of God the mere commandments of men.

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America Celebrates Divorce from an Abuser on the 4th of July – Independence Day!

Here is the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. It is a divorce decree. It is the recognition of a breach of covenant. We celebrate this divorce in the United States every July 4th. The purpose of this post is to simply put forth this question: If it was right and good for the American Colonies to divorce the King of England for his many and repeated abuses, if most all Americans including pastors and church members celebrate this Independence Day as a glorious win for freedom, how is it that these same pastors and church members insist that an abuse victim in a marriage has no right to divorce their abuser?

There is the question as all Americans wave flags and watch the fireworks and celebrate freedom from tyranny. How is it that so many professing Christians will deny the same freedom to a fellow believer who is suffering a present and evil tyranny right in their midst? It is quite common for churches to wave the flag and celebrate on this day, yet at the very same time they oppress the oppressed by demanding they remain in bondage to a wicked abuser.  The common double standard.

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The Unanimous Declaration of the
Thirteen United States of America
In Congress, July 4, 1776

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

“Christian” Enabling of the Abuser Increases His Attacks on the Victim

Recently an abuse survivor made a very insightful comment. She said that she could always tell when her abuser (a professing Christian) was receiving support from a Christian. How? He stepped up the intensity of his abuse. She said that while non-Christian support for him would certainly encourage him in his wickedness, her suffering at his hands increased the most when professing Christians sided with him. This is very sobering.

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