Where Should we Expect to Find the Enemy?

Jude 1:4  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

As a Christian, where has the major portion of suffering and persecution come at you? What has been its most typical source? We are usually taught that we should be looking for attacks from the world, and certainly that is one common base of the enemy. The world, the flesh, and the devil, you know.

But I want to show you from my own experience and from Scripture that the most typical locale for the enemies of Christ to attack from is not “out there.” Rather, it is within the walls of the visible, local church.

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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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The Nature of Abuse Demonstrated in the Crucifixion of Christ

Last week as I was reading through the Gospel account of Christ’s betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, I was struck with how often this narrative exposes the mentality, nature, and tactics of abuse.  This really should not surprise us because abuse is just plain sin.  I think that it is in fact perhaps the most “diabolically beautiful” portraits of sin to be found.

Its essence is the lust for power and control over — everything!  It is the acting out of Satan’s declaration, “I will be like the Most High.”  In other words, the abuser, like the devil, lusts to be God.  Understand that and your eyes will be opened to everything else he does.

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Let’s Put This “But he hasn’t physically abused you” Nonsense to Rest Once and For All

Listen to these far too common words from a pastor to an abused wife who has gone to him for help. The abuse has occurred for decades, habitually, without repentance:

From what I have been told, you have suggested that your husband’s looking at inappropriate images on the internet is adultery,  but he has not committed the physical act .  Could this not be more appropriately handled with counseling than divorce? From what I have been told your husband has not deserted you but conversely is willing to go to a counselor of your choice. You have intimated that your husband has not physically abused you, but has said mean things in the past and has been manipulative.  Again, could this not be more appropriately handled with counseling rather than with divorce?

There it is. “He has not committed the physical act of adultery. He has not physically abused you. Therefore, tough it out and quit complaining. Why, your husband is even willing to come down here to the church building with you and let me counsel the two of you.”

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When a Pastor Claims to be God’s Prophet: Wicked and Harmful Words to an Abuse Victim

A victim of a very deceitful, habitually lying abuser shared an interaction she had with the pastor of a church she and the abuser attended. We thank her very much for allowing us to publish what this pastor told her. As is so typical, you see here the incredible arrogance such false shepherds have and the refusal to acknowledge his ignorance about the very evils he insists that the victim submit to his counsel upon.

Here are the highlighted points of the enslaving lies the “pastor” laid upon her, followed by my comments:

1) “What is your end goal, best case scenario?”  Here, in this “harmless” sounding opening question, the pastor is already trying to make the victim say that divorce for abuse is not an option and that her goal must be to stay in the marriage.

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