Monday, June 8, 2009

Twisting Scripture: A Guest Post by Provender

The author of the informative Provender blogspot was so gracious as to be a guest poster on The Cult Next Door.

I shared several questions I felt were pertinent concerning scriptures abusive pastors use to solidfy their control over their congregation.

Here are my questions and Provender's insightful answers.

1. The Scripture- "Don't touch God's anointed" (my paraphrase) was used over and over again to assert my ex-pastor's authority to do anything she wished.

Do you think the scripture is actually giving pastors carte blanche?

That passage is used a couple times in scripture, first in I Chronicles 16 and second in Psalms 105 (which is an echo of I Chronicles). It’s clear in both passages that the phrase “the Lord’s anointed” refers to all God’s people, not just leaders. In fact, the very passage talks of God reproving leaders who do harm to His people. In context:

17And hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant,

18Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance;

19When ye were but few, even a few, and strangers in it.

20And when they went from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people;

21He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes,

22Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

23Sing unto the LORD, all the earth; show forth from day to day his salvation.

That passage alone ought to turn on its head the idea that God has some special protection in mind for abusive pastors. Instead, the protection is for all His people, and if abusive leaders hurt them, they can expect to be reproved by the Lord.

Thank you so much for your astute answers to my questions, Provender.
I hope any who are in the clutches of a controlling pastor will read your explanation and start questioning the toxic twist their leader has placed on God's Word.

What abusive pastors are really trying to cite is the passage in I Sam. 24: 5-7 where David refuses to kill King Saul when it’s in his power to do so because Saul is the Lord’s anointed king. Abusive pastors equate themselves with a king, which alone should be very telling. And with King Saul, too, whom the spirit of God has left. Also, very telling. Nevertheless, they try to draw a parallel. Saul did bad things, but submissive David recognized him as the Lord’s anointed and refused to kill him. I would say that, yes, we should not kill abusive pastors. I agree with the scriptural interpretation up to that point. But David did not put himself under Saul’s power, did he? He did not say, “Saul, God chose you, so whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.” No. He continued to keep his distance even though Saul wanted him to submit and be killed. He continued to point out Saul’s faults toward him publicly. Nowhere in scripture does it say that leaders are to be free from criticism or that they can never be held accountable for what they do.

Revelation 1:6 makes it clear that all believers, and not just pastors, “are made kings and priests.” And we are to submit one to another, not just to those in authority. (I Peter 5:5, Eph. 5:21) If your pastor isn’t submitting to anyone, but requiring you to submit to him or her, there is a problem. We all have to give up our naturally self-seeking desires on occasion, putting others first, not just some of us. Be careful of those who exploit your willingness to put others first.
2. What scripture would you use to set parameters to a pastor's authority?

The entire chapter of Ezekiel 34 sets out what a good pastor should do and what bad pastors do instead. It’s a must-read for anyone in an abusive situation. What the passage says good pastors should do:
• Feed sheep
• Help the sick and injured
• Bind up the broken
• Bring back those who were driven away
• Seek the lost (these are the lost who were already part of the flock)
• Keep sheep from becoming prey to devouring beasts

This is what the passage says bad pastors do:
• Feed themselves instead of the sheep (narcissism or greed)
• Kill best, fattest sheep and eat the fat (arrogance and self-focus) Traditionally, the fat belonged to God. They are taking God’s possession for themselves.
• Use the sheep to clothe selves (exploitation)
• Ignore the sick and wounded (Image consciousness)
• Don’t seek, care about those they’ve driven away (blaming others)
• Rule over sheep with harshness and force (lording it over flock)
• Allow sheep to wander and get devoured by beasts (impure motive)
• Don’t care when sheep scatter or get eaten (elitism: we’re good, they’re not)
• Provide dirty food and water (twisting scriptures)
• Push the needy and sick away (manipulation)

No question about it. The important thing for abusive pastors is to keep questions and scrutiny away. By putting church members on the defensive through scripture manipulation like this, they do two things: They keep the focus off their own unjust acts and onto the acts of the believers in their group. And they also shame church members into silence so they won’t compare notes and see that the problem is larger than just a problem with one individual.

4. What Scripture do you think refers to abusive pastors?

1 Peter 5:3 is advice from Peter to pastors: Don’t lord it over the flock, but be examples.

John mentions Diotrephes who “loves to have the preeminence” and who would not receive Paul. These are traits of an abusive pastor.
Paul says in I Tim 4 that “some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth.”
These are pastor’s commands: don’t marry, don’t eat this, don’t eat that. It’s a power trip. And the result of spiritual abuse is clear: some fall away through these leaders and their lies.

As Harold Bussell points out in his excellent article,
Checks on Power and Authority in the New Testament, when Paul confronted the great apostle Peter about his hypocritical double standard concerning Gentiles, Paul didn’t say, “I cannot question those in authority over me.” Bussell takes many, many incidents in the New Testament where authority is questioned and confronted and shows the absurdity of taking the spiritually abusive line toward them. Bussell’s article is another must read.

5. What would you say to the controlling pastor who quotes the Scripture, "Obey those that have the rule over you?"
First, I wouldn’t do much talking to abusive pastors. It’s often not worth the agony and the time. The scripture says “Mark those who cause division and avoid them.” Romans 16:17 In my mind, no one causes division in the church more than abusive pastors. When you finally realize that abusive patterns are happening in the church, instead of agonizing about all the steps of Matthew 18 or trying to reason with the unreasonable, your best course is often to leave. No scripture says that the local church you are currently in is THE church. No scripture says you must stay in any particular church.

But if you feel you must try to reason with a manipulator, you can point out any of the passages listed in Bussell’s article and see what the response is. Don’t expect contrition though, or any change at all. With abusive pastors, scripture is only a means to an end, and the end is control. It’s not about Christ, it’s not about scripture; it’s about controlling you. Any scripture the pastor gives back to you, you can be assured, will make you look like the bad guy and the pastor look like Moses or Paul.

As far as obeying those who have the rule over you. Good idea to get along with spiritual mentors. There are churches where laymen attack pastors for no good reason or are always throwing roadblocks in the way. You can have jerks who are church members as well as jerks who are leaders. It’s a good idea to cooperate with good church leaders and to work for peaceful relations in church. That’s a whole different matter from submitting to manipulative, dangerous leadership. You can sharpen your discernment skills by keeping close to scripture on your own, checking what is preached against what the word actually says, like the Bereans did, and keeping your eyes and ears open.

6. What Scripture would you use to convince a spiritually abused parishioner to leave the toxic church?
I wish I knew the answer to this question. Right now there is about one man left in our former church who was there when we were. This very humble man I am sure is confused and distraught. I have often thought about this. If I were to share scripture with this man, since I’m one of the excommunicated, would he even listen?

After all,
in an elitist church (and abusive churches are notoriously elitist, feeling they are the super spiritual while other churches and believers are tainted by the ways of the world) how ca

n you listen to someone outside with any confidence they have answers? They are the sinful, weak ones. They can’t help you.

Still, I often think about this. How can I get through to him?

I would first have to convince him that there is a problem with the church. That wouldn’t be too hard since so many have left or been kicked out. He’s already disturbed and unhappy. But then I would have to convince him that it’s worthwhile listening to me, and that might pose a problem.

If he did, though, I think I’d lead him to Ezekiel 34, because one thing is certain: Abusive pastors do not convincingly seek after the sheep they’ve driven away. They are hirelings. If any passage would make that clear, it’s this one.

I think my best bet is to pray for him, and if I get a chance share Ezekiel 34 and maybe some information on spiritual abuse. I’m open to suggestions on this too. Perhaps some reader has had success getting through to those still trapped. If so, I’d like to know
how it’s done.

3. Do you think this Scripture (Touch not mine annointed) is used to enforce the "Don't Talk" rule which characterizes abusive churches?


The Cult Next Door said...

Thank you so much for the insight!
These Scriptures are used so often to beat down an abused sheep-
Such a crime when God's very purpose for His Word was to set us free!

provender said...

It occurred to me later that some abusive pastors do seek after those who have left the flock, but only to keep them under their thumbs, or to keep them from talking to outsiders. That's a different thing than pastors who seek after wandering sheep to strengthen them or help them.

Anonymous said...

This is such a great blog. A friend directed me here and I have a feeling I'll be browsing through all the posts for the next week or two! :) Thanks.

The Cult Next Door said...

Thanks for your encouragement!
There is also a list of blogs in the tool bar that are very informative about toxic churches.