Sunday, October 28, 2007

Churches with Issues

Spiritual abuse is anytime a person in a leadership position misuses that position to dictate the spiritual life of the follower.

I would also note that such an environment would necessarily have a lack of emphasis on the Holy Spirit even to the point of virtually substituting the leader for the Holy Spirit. Because of this, personal sanctification is stunted or non-existent, being replaced with legalism. Legalism, as a wholly ineffective means of controlling the flesh, produces conceited individuals who keep the rules but lack any real fruit of the Spirit.

Because of this, when you examine any form of legalism you will be able to trace the specific legalistic teachings back to a specific man or group of men, who did not fully understand the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Legalistic leaders are not always spiritual abusers. It takes a certain psychological profile or personality to be an abuser, to insist on that level of control. So while legalism (and a general lack of the fruit of the Spirit) is one characteristic of a spiritually abusive leader, a personality marked by insecurity and/or arrogance is another. This insecurity or arrogance may be a result of childhood issues. Arrogance may also be the result of training at any number of far-right fundamentalist colleges which confuse conviction with stubbornness and passion with anger and aggressiveness.

So a simple checklist for determining a spiritual abuser would be:
Is he or are his people legalistic?
Does he expect people to let him make their life decisions or vice versa? If not, do the people give him "veto power?"
Does he and the congregation display the fruits of the Spirit in deed, word and attitude?
Does he or his people seem insecure or arrogant (a brusque and/or know-it-all attitude)?
Is he a product of a Bible college, or does the church associate with a Bible college or major national church, which is known to reflect any of the above characteristics?
Does the bookstore stock a good portion of its material from such men?

************************************************** ****

That is not the only pitfall to watch out for when looking at a church. The other is when a church is not driven by people but programs. At a local church here in San Diego that I do not attend but have in the past, in this last week when the fires were raging throughout the county the music director complimented those who showed up for mid-week choir practice by saying they had the "character" to show up.

Now hold on. Homes are being destroyed, hundreds of thousands are being evacuated, families are coming together to help each other, and there is much in the way of human need and grief to think about. To insinuate that those who did not show up for choir practice during such a week did not have "character" is patently uncharitable, and therefore patently unchristian.

But it makes sense when church is about ministries and programs. When the church is not so much about the people but the organization. The Biblical "church" refers to people, not an organization. A new church starts out developing a fellowship of core people who support each other.

After a time, this core group decides they want to "do something for God" and start building the organization through increasing the number of ministries and programs, instead of committing themselves to one-on-one ministry to those around them. After a while, the organization takes preeminence and the people in the church find their spirituality measured by how active they are in the organization AKA the ministry. The pastor becomes a CEO and faithfulness to his "vision" also becomes another measurement of spirituality.

The church is thus hollowed out and made cold. The church is alive and yet dead. They are a great edifice of ministry and programs, but the community of believers is no longer an organic church- the organic church which existed at first has now been pressed into the service of the organization. This is the fate of the "successful American 'church'".

As the normal church constructs conform to the needs of the ever-expanding organization there is an inevitable increase in pure pragmatism. This manifests itself in preaching being less expository teaching to a more topical motivational style, even to the point of converting sermon time into a time for the pastor as CEO to "cast his vision" and promote a ministry. Easy-believism and legalism creep in as sound theological content no longer flows from the pulpit.

The lack of a true organic community apart from individual involvement in the organization combined with increasing pragmatism means Biblical church discipline is never practiced. This results in church members engaging in sins, sexual and otherwise, and not being dealt with, even when others in the congregation know. The only time such a church practices any form of discipline is when it threatens the organization and even then it is not Biblical... it is hush-hush behind closed doors with the pastor asking the person to quietly leave. As a result, you will see people get asked to leave for open disagreement with the pastor where another might sleep around and never be given any trouble for it.

So in spite of the "success" of the organization, drug use, suicide, sexual sin, and worldliness are to be found to an alarming degree especially among the young people. And people wonder why, since they have such a great "church" and dynamic ministries and a charismatic pastor. When really, the true Biblical church, the organic church, the community of believers, disbanded long ago- pressed into the service of the organization- a counterfeit church.

So a simple checklist for determining a organization "church" would be:
Is the church so large you can't shake the pastor's hand after the service?
Does sermon time get used frequently for "vision casting," ministry reports, and fundraising, especially around promotion Sundays?
Perhaps you have been going awhile... when you sit in the auditorium do you still feel disconnected or lost in the audience?
Do you feel like the only way you can really begin to form friendships is by getting involved in a ministry?
Are church promotions gimmicky?
Do they neglect to practice Biblical church discipline?
Does the church appear to revolve around programs, ministries, or promotional days?
Is there a lack of Biblical/theological substance from the pulpit? Not feeling fed?


Anonymous said...

What do you think of this book?

By the way, I have not read the book so therefore know nothing about it. Although, I have heard this guy on the radio and he's had some great messages. Though, because of personal life scheduling changesI haven't heard him for years (if he's even still on).

Anonymous said...

Did that go through? I'll try it again.

David T. said...

I have read most of the book and it is great! It is one of two great books I would recommend to any fundamentalist wrestling with legalism. The other is "A Matter Of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard & the Christian Life." Bill Gothard is the unacknowledged godfather of much of the legalism present in fundamentalist circles today.