Monday, October 26, 2009

An article - Church Horror Stories

Below is a recent article posted by one commentator

A church horror story

Q. I've been curious about what your take on my current situation would be. My family has been attending a new church for about ten months. We don't agree with some of the pastor's teachings (I've been down the "works" path and refuse to go back) but we are there mainly to give our children a church family as they have many friends in our homeschooling community who go to that church. I feel I get my spiritual nourishment from many different places and I didn't have a problem not getting "fed" at "church" so to speak.

Well, a few months ago during a camping trip it came out that I didn't agree with everything the pastor said. I tried to downplay it because this is a small, close knit church. I knew from my past church experiences that there was no sense in expressing my differences to church leadership because they would not change. They worship their pastor and believe what he says is not to be questioned.

After Bible study Wednesday night the pastor asked me to stay behind and everyone left. There was just the pastor, another man and me (my husband was not there that night). The pastor told me that I needed to decide if he was going to be my spiritual teacher. He used Hebrews 13:17 to tell me that I needed to obey him -- that even if I disagreed with him I needed to trust him. And if I did disagree, I needed to be quiet about it.

A couple of weeks earlier he had given a sermon (directed at me) about how there was someone in the group who didn't agree with what was being taught and who was causing problems. He said that "this person" needs to repent.

Responding to his interrogation on Wedensday night, I told the pastor I really didn't look at him as my spiritual mentor, although I loved and respected him and his walk with the Lord. I didn't say anything negative. I told him I didn't think it was a problem for people to discuss what they believe or discuss other scriptural viewpoints -- because "iron sharpens iron." But he made it very clear that Hebrews 13:17 commands me to come "under him" and to be quiet. He said that he does not want division in his church. He also advised me to stop listening to sermons from other pastors and teachers so that I wouldn't get confused. I told him I didn't feel confused at all. God is HUGE to me and doesn't fit into any box. I love what God is doing in everyone's life and I love learning and growing. I don't want to be limited to one man's teaching.

I wasn't hurt by what he said, though it was painful to sit there -- he was a coward in my book to not talk to my husband and me together. I was, however, hurt by how the people in the church knew what was going on, and I didn't. When my kids asked where I was, the church leaders' kids told my kids I was getting kicked out of the church. These were supposed to be my friends.

This whole episode is actually quite comical except for the fact that I have five young kids who are hurting on the inside because they will not be able to hang out with their friends anymore. What a mess for a testimony of Christian love. I later found out that one family had told their kids not to talk to mine -- but the kids did anyway when the parents weren't around.

So, with all that said, what do you think about my "submitting" to the pastor? By the way, obviously, I'm not going back. I don't think it's healthy for my kids to be under that kind of leadership. Yet part of me wants to go back and apologize to the people if they thought I was trying to cause a problem. That was truly not my intent.

Thanks for your input, Greg. I always enjoy your answers and respect your interpretation.

A. I guess I should not be shocked when I hear reports such as yours. After all, I know it's happening, so how can I be surprised? You ask for my input. Here goes. Your relationship with God is being damaged. God is being misrepresented to you. From what you have said about this situation, I can see nothing for which you should apologize.

If more people boycotted such Christ-less hell holes that call themselves a church then perhaps legalistic religion would realize the pathetic product of its dogma and control.

Leave. Don't go back. Nothing at all, in terms of a relationship with a brick and mortar church (church attendance, activities, outings, camping trips, church "friendships" -- etc.) is better than what you describe. Stay at home if need be -- if more people boycotted such Christ-less hell holes that call themselves a church then perhaps legalistic religion would realize the pathetic product of its dogma and control.

I know about this kind of authoritarianism and the lasting impact it usually has on our relationship with God. I experienced a similar kind of manipulation and brow-beating, guilt trips, and transfers of blame -- for many years. I and many others who existed in that particular religious swamp were told, when we didn't agree with religious authorities, that we were in "bad attitudes" -- and when we expressed disagreement we were told that we weren't being "loyal" (to a human being!). When and if we failed to conform to legalistic practice one of the ultimate clubs was to be told that our "conversion" was questionable.

And of course, when all else failed, there was blazing hot hell fire that awaited us, because we couldn't be obedient to God (that is, God as perverted and corrupted by religion). I lived through such religious oppression, thinking that I was the problem. I experienced such mind games at the hands of authorities who, to the best of my knowledge, were sincere. They were of course way off base -- way wrong -- but sincere. Deceived and messed up, and doing their best to mess up everyone to whom they "ministered" and "served." Your pastor may also be completely sincere -- but he is sincerely wrong.

Sad to say, I became a religious authority in the same religious context, and inflicted the same rules, regimens and regulations -- the same atmosphere of fear and shame, of intimidation and bullying. Thinking it was what God wanted, I dished up the same kind of religious propaganda and lies on others. Many of my friends who knew me back then, and who continue to exist within a similar religious world view, believe that I am overstating the reality of what I and many others experienced back then. I believe that they, for a variety of reasons, are unable to deal with the truth of what happened to them and what they themselves participated in -- and thus they live in some degree of denial. I thank God for his gracious deliverance from religion -- for myself, for many people I know, and for many people I serve. I thank God that it seems that you too understand something seems to be horribly wrong in this church you have been attending.

Once again, the sincerity of your pastor and your friends is not the issue. Most of them, perhaps all of them, are doing what they believe to be "right." But by God's grace you seem to know it's not right at all. You mention that some of your friends "worship" the pastor -- when that dynamic is present it can give that human leader carte blanche, and eventually a person given that kind of reverence, whether politically, religiously, on the job or in the family, will become somewhat convinced that they are above and beyond the run of the mill people they ostensibly "serve." Worship of a pastor, however worship may be defined, is a huge danger sign.

Don't put up with this kind of treatment. Many who realize something is very wrong continue to allow such un-Christ-like behavior, in the context of a church, somewhat like a battered spouse will make excuses for his/her spouse who is physically and emotionally abusing them. The abused person will think they can change the abusive party. The abused person will talk about the "good times" when the abuse is not happening. The abused person will make excuses for the perpetrator, justifying him or her.

Women in particular find themselves in a difficult place when adult male spiritual leaders play the submission card. It's often the trump card, used to bring the "rebellious" woman back into line. And, ganging up on a woman when her husband is not present?!?! Religion is all about control.

My question is simple: I challenge religious legalism to please demonstrate and explain how Jesus is all about control. He is the polar opposite! This doesn't mean Jesus is a wimp -- it does mean Jesus gives us choices. He does not chain us to the church pews to make sure we attend every week! May God give you the wisdom and courage to take the steps you need. May his grace and peace be with you. My prayers are with you.


Anonymous said...

I think the pastor was right confront the lady with Hebrews 13:17. He was speaking the truth in love, in my opinion. If she cannot submit to her local church leaders because of doctrinal differences, then she needs to find another church where she can agree to submit to the leadership. I don't think the subsequent pain she experienced is entirely due to the pastor being "mean." In part, she brought it on herself thinking that she could raise her family in a church where she objects to the teaching without foreseeing the inevitable problems that caused.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. This is exactly the type of Spirit some Hope leaders have. There is nothing wrong with Hebrews 13:17 itself. It is only when leaders use it to "force" people to obey them, to the point that it appears more important to obey your leaders than to obey God. Or they might even try and teach that obeying leaders is the same as obeying God. That is definitely a wrong teaching. Why is it that to you Hope leaders, you have this mentality that you are always right & everyone else is wrong? I think you need to learn humility. Which if you haven't realised is also in the bible!

Watcher said...

Hi to Anonymous (the one who say I think the pastor was right confront the lady with Hebrews 13:17.),

As I was not involved in the event that was described in the article, I will not second guess what the "doctrinal differences" are which was brought up by the woman.

However, when she mentioned that 'We don't agree with some of the pastor's teachings (I've been down the "works" path and refuse to go back)..', I sought of suspect that it is possible that what was taught at that particular church was one in which works is needed to justify ourselves before God and that religious performance rather than the grace were the driving force behind the life of the church. If my analysis is correct, then that church has effectively twisted the gospel of Christ. In short, that church may not be preaching Christ but works based righteousness.

If mt analysis is correct that the pastor indeed was practicisng an authoritative form of leadership and preaches works-based righteousness, then i can hardly see how he was speaking in truth in love when he insisted that the woman submit to him. The verse which you used, namely Heb 13:17, has been used out of context. THe verse does not mean blind obedience or submission just because he or she is a pastor. We must submit to leadership who serves the church well and correctly handles and teaches the truth from Scripture. However, if that leadership is not preaching the truth properly but twist truth, then we as members must sound out. The fact that Paul confronted PEter in front of the brothers and sisters when Peter erred in withdrawing from the gentiles when brothers from James arrived, this example effectively shows that truth ultimately overrides position, rank or titles. Hebrews 13:17 does not mean wholesale submission without thinking.


Watcher said...

Continued from previous article:

As I looked at the article, there is one event described by the woman which seem to expose the mentality of the pastor in his role as a leader. It seems strange that the pastor did the following:

"After Bible study Wednesday night the pastor asked me to stay behind and everyone left. There was just the pastor, another man and me (my husband was not there that night). The pastor told me that I needed to decide if he was going to be my spiritual teacher. He used Hebrews 13:17 to tell me that I needed to obey him -- that even if I disagreed with him I needed to trust him. And if I did disagree, I needed to be quiet about it."

Why would the pastor need to approach the woman and express his view that the woman should submit to him? True leaders do not need to 'pull rank' to get people to honour and respect them and follow them. They have people following because their godly lives, by their gifting from God, and their service to the church. They lead by presenting themselves as man and woman who can correctly handle the word of truth. They show it by their character. THe fact that the pastor say have to pull rank to get people to submit to him shows his great depth of insecurity and desire to control ppl. These are serious issues that need to be dealt with. Why is it that the pastor wanted the woman to keep quiet? Of course, if keeping quiet is right step to avoid unnecessary divisions in the church, then we should glady do so. However, if keeping quiet is to prevent the woman from exposing the false teachings of the pastor (if any), then I cannot agree with keeping quiet. Of course, we should raise any doctrinal issues in a loving manner. We must speak the truth in love. This means leaders speaking truth to memebers in love, and vice versa, and between members as well. But what must be shared has to be according to the truth and not things to seek control of others. As far as I am concerned, leadership is earned out of the service you have rendered, and of course based on your spiritual gifting.
You also mentioned that she brought it up upon herself the pain she experienced to a certain extent and thus we cannot bring fault to the pastor entirely. This could be be true. If I were in her shoes, most probably I would rethink about the pros and cons of staying in the church. In fact, I left my previous church for another denomination (i switched from Pentecostal to Reformed) as I foresaw that my doctrinal inclinations would clash with the teachings in my previous church. I knew that by staying for too long and holding a different set of doctrinal beliefs would lead to inevitable tensions and conflicts.


Watcher said...

Continued from previous article:

Of course, it is also possible that the woman might have committed some serious problems, such as difficulty in submission to leaders. If this problem truly exist, then the woman would have to deal with it and learn the importance of sumbission to leaders. Anonymous, it is in this aspect which I agree with you that she should learn how to submit, if it is really true that she have problems with the leadership that arose not from the leadership but herself.
Perhaps, I can end my note with a comment on the book of Philemon. We can see that in the book of philemon, Paul, being an authentic Apostle sent by Christ to preach His name to the gentiles and wrote many authoritative Scriptures (which holds supreme authority for all christians), never used his standing and authority to enforce obedience from philemon to accept Onesimus back even though Onesimus ran away from philemon. Paul appealed to philemon's faith and love to his fellow brethrens as a basis to forgive Onesimus for the wrong he committed (i.e. running away even though Onesimus was philemon's slave. This amounted to death sentence during those days.) Furthermore, Paul mentioned to philemon that Onesimus is also a brother in christ and all the more there should be forgiveness and reconciliation. Whatever wrong that Onesimus had committed, Paul even appealed to philemon that it be counted to himself, meaning Paul. Paul did not command philemon evne though he could be bold to do so, but instead used persuasion and appealing. Paul wanted to do nothing without the consent of philemon. Paul hoped that philemon's obedience was based voluntary and not by compulsion. Notice that Paul did not address himself as an psotle in the opening of the letter but as a prisoner. Furthermore, he also addresed himself as a "partner" together with philemon (I'm using the NKJV version). The book of philemon suggests that Paul does not pull rank to get people to obey him. He persuades by going to the good virtues and truth of the faith to highlight why certain actions should be taken.

In the end, as I read the article posted by one of the commentators, I could not help but shudder at the fact that the lust for power is truly a sin that holds many of us, including myself at times, to vie for wrongheaded control of others. Hopefully, the grace of God would be infused into our hearts to grant us strength to turn away and overcome the sin of lust for power.


Anonymous said...

To Anonymous (the one who say I think the pastor was right confront the lady with Hebrews 13:17)...I am very much sickened and disgusted by the use of this verse Heb 13:17 over and over again by leaders who are totally insecured, and lust for power to "whack" and abuse people who genuinely have certain issues against the leadership. Instead of trying to understand these people and their concerns, these power-lusting leaders use their so-called "godly-annointing" to destroy their fellow bros and sis in Christ.

For those who keep on advocating this verse, that one has to submit to the leadership no matter whether the leader is right or not, I pray that you would reap and receive abundantly your belief system and your fruits a hundred folds! I pray that God be fair to all so that you can have a taste of your own medicine! This is my most sincere prayer that I make to God and I don't care if there are other entries that come that criticise me for my harsh words. I stand judged by God only, as well as you all do!

ex-member said...

Submission is only obligated in the realm of righteousness.

Just as we are to submit to our government as long as it does not go against biblical principles, the same is applied to church leadership.

So if church leadership is not flowing in the realm of righteousness, we have a right not to submit under their authority as they have loss their divine position. And Jesus is the true and final authority.

Just my take on this.

Anonymous said...

"I think the pastor was right confront the lady with Hebrews 13:17."

I wrote this comment and stand by it. If people cannot submit to their local leadership, especially because of unreconcilable doctrinal differences, they should find another church where they can submit. If you're going to stay, then submit. If you're not going to submit, then leave. It's as simple as that. The alternative is that they stay and cause trouble for themselves and for the church. Which would be better?

Watcher said...

Hi Anonymous,

I respect your stand in this regard about submitting to leaders. In fact, that was the reason I left my previous church. However, suppose the pastor or leadership had sinned by teaching and practicing false doctrines against the truth of the bible, if you as a lay person, how would you respond?


Watcher said...

Hi Anonymous,

Of course, if the lay person had committed sin and is truly rebellious, then he or she should also repent, otherwise staying in the church could cause trouble.

One more question for you and I hope that you could explain it to me: Which is the ultimate basis of truth, the authority of the pastor, or God speaking through the Scriptures? Which do we obey and give our ultimate obedience?

Hope to hear from you soon.


Anonymous said...

I wanna be a pastor in Hope too!!! =)

Rules by their bible
- Rule 1: The pastor is always rule
- Rule 2: In situation where they are wrong, refer to Rule 1
- Rule 3: If Rule 1 and 2 are wrong, then shut the people up

Perks of a pastor
- People listen to me and have to obey my every command (Where do you get cheap slaves like these?)

- If they disobey, God'll help you to punish them. If they are unrepentant, God'll get rid of them for you

- People have to accomodate their life styles and beliefs to yours only. If they disagree, they are bad spirit. As pastor, I can be as comfortable as I can be.

- I get to say my part of the story when things go wrong, give my excuses; My "enemies" don't stand a chance - The concregation can't hear the other side of the story from them. =)

- Finally, I am equivalent of God!

To those who disagree with me, the PASTOR, go to other churches and don't come back! If you want to disagree, start your own church and be your own PASTOR!

Hersh said...

Hi Anonymous

In reference to your post on November 2, 2009 at 10:09 PM, I hear your frustration and wish to affirm that your feelings are real and probably valid having regard to your personal experiences. I can even associate with your feelings having been under the leadership of a authoritarian pastor myself.

That said your post needs clarification in one respect: The majority of Hope/HIM pastors do not practice or subscribe to the principles you have articulated.

That's the simple truth.


Anonymous said...

I'm the Heb 13:17 person. To answer Watcher's question, if I disagreed with the actions or doctrines of my pastor and could not reconcile them with biblical truth, then I would leave that fellowship.

I think that's the point the author of Hebrews is making. Look at a previous verse, 13:7. The author is telling people to consider for themselves the life example (and hopefully biblical teaching) of their leaders, and to follow them on that basis. If we look at their life example and biblical teaching and cannot take that as a model for ourselves, then we need to find another shepherd (pastor).

Heb 13:17 is not about mindless obedience, it is about willingly submitting ourselves to local authority that we can trust and be convinced by.

I think people need to get over the idea that they cannot leave a local body. Yes, you can. It's hard and heart-wrenching, but sometimes it's better for all involved. I hope that's what the pastor in the original post was trying to convey to the disgruntled member. At least, that's the way I viewed it.

Watcher said...

Hi Anonymous (the Heb 13:17 person),

Thanks for the response you have given. In fact, your answers to my questions are exactly the same answers I have provided in my previous comments in this blog. I fully agree with you on the point that Heb 13:17 is not about blind obedience. That we should submit to those whom we are convinced regards to doctrine and way of life. In fact, it was because of my disagreements with the doctrines and practices of my previous parish that I left for another parish (i moved away from my previous Pentecostal and Arminian church because of my cessationist and calvinist (Reformed) inclinations).
In fact, I would add that when we leave, we should leave quietly and not raise a big issue out of it.

THe only point which I differ is that i seriously think that the pastor in the blog needs to re-examine some of the erroneous doctrines he is preaching. If I were the pastor and i teach something wrongly and live something wrongly, i must humbly accept my mistakes and repent and seek to be aligned with the truth.

Thanks for your response and I truly appreciate that. Cheers,