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Why Impostors Love the Church
Mon, 03/12/2012 - 10:56amLink
Well written article talks about a real danger in our churches -- predatory impostors. Although he did not go there, I think this is particularly likely to happen in the camouflage of a youth group.
Mon, 03/12/2012 - 10:59amLink
I commented on the blog post-
It isn't just sexual predators and criminals who use the church. Any person who desires to dominate, manipulate, and control others sees fertile ground in the church for grooming victims. Church leadership, their families, and their close friends are often in charge of nearly every facet of the church's ministry, and any concerns or questions are addressed as rebellion or spiritual immaturity. Thus everyone else is kept on the defensive, allowing the leadership to keep the sheep submissive to their unScriptural demands.
To see the wolves for who they really are, the evidence lies in how they live their private lives. They can preach and teach about financial responsibility, sobriety, sexual purity, and Godliness, but if they spend *their* time and money in frivolous pursuits and viewing immorality in the media, they have no spiritual food to offer the hungry sheep, and a hungry sheep is a weak and desperate sheep. What's more, the sheep sometimes don't even know they are starving to death and that they themselves are being slowly consumed.
I am seeing this more and more, and quite frankly, it is starting to get scary.
Mon, 03/12/2012 - 12:06pmLink
I too share the concerns raised by Moore and Susan. The reality of power-hungry individuals is one of the reasons that I prefer Presbyterian church polity. For those who are not going to become Presbyterian, I still think there is something to be gained from a Presbyterian-esque polity.
Presbyterianism implies a diffusion of power. The teaching elder of a church receives an equal vote in policy matters as the ruling elders (or other teaching elders). So, no one person can simply make a significant hire/fire position. The pastor can't just install his son/brother/nephew as youth pastor without the consent of both the church's elders and the local presbytery. This means that there are multiple opportunities for someone's credibility and fitness to be examined. Because the locus of power is diffuse and the path to influence more circuitous, I think this cuts down on the number of power-hungry people seeking church office. Like the thief who cases the block to find the vulnerable target, I think predators of this sort are going to go after easier marks.
Additionally, I think this form of church government cuts down on the cult of authority that is so prevalent in single-elder, autonomous churches. None of the Presbyterian churches I've attended or visited have ever struck me as being unduly pastor-centric, although I suspect that the more celebrity pastors may have tendencies this way. Outside of some very small micro-Presbyterian churches, I've seen a healthy respect and diversity among church members, a willingness to take personal responsibility for one's beliefs and convictions in conversation with the church rather than a stifling, leadership-imposed homogeneity.
In the end, I think Baptists can do things to make the best of their polity as well. Multiple-elder congregations would be a great start. Beyond that, there may be ways for individual churches to network with others in ways that build accountability and confraternity without sacrificing autonomy.
Tue, 03/13/2012 - 6:47amLink
Accountability is the key
I don't agree that Presbyterian church polity is the answer. But I do believe there is a shortage of accountability and oversight in many churches. There is definitely more that can be done to build more of a culture of accountability in a local church. It ought to start with the pastor or pastors, who need to be more open and accountable to their congregation about what they are up to. I pastor a very small Baptist church where it would be a temptation to not be accountable. I have to make conscious decisions to be accountable by "over-communicating", even when it slows the decision making processes.
While the power of the pastor should be "diffused" in a good number of ways, maintaining a stance of proving those who should be in leadership and making accountability a cornerstone of how we serve are important first steps.
Tue, 03/13/2012 - 7:06amLink
It all sounds great in theory, but let's take a hypothetical or two... or three.
1) The pastor's family has over $40,000 of unsecured debt for which they have begun to default. A bit of it is medical bills, but most is credit card debt that the wife has been hiding from the husband. They are also late on their mortgage payments and may lose their house. What should the church do?
2) When confronted about the sin issues in her life, the pastor's wife threatens suicide. How does the church address this?
3) The pastor's older children are full time college students who still live at home- they are often engaged in PDA, and it is often rumored among the young people that they are sexually active with their respective boyfriend/girlfriend. Should the church get involved somehow?
Tue, 03/13/2012 - 8:44amLink
Susan, I think your scenario, while quite tragic, offers a useful glimpse at how polity can either help or hinder a situation. It strikes me that, in general, Baptist churches are ill-equipped to handle such a situation. First of all, it's quite possible that nobody would know how to go about handling the situation. That is, there is no explicitly stated mechanism for dealing with such a problem.
Also, the situation is likely to devolve into a congregation (or deacons) vs. pastor situation that is ugly for all involved. If it's a small church without any other serious leaders (other pastors/elders/deacons), the pastor may so dominate the church by his personality that it's impossible to do anything other than leave. If it's a larger church in which assistant pastors are tied directly to the senior pastor by his sole hire/fire power, then the lower-level leaders may be too scared to do anything. Perhaps a multi-elder Baptist church would have greater resources for handling the issue. In the end, I think the problem remains that the only people who can do anything about the situation are people who are used to following the leadership of the person in question.
Presbyterian church government would (theoretically) improve on the situation in a number of ways. First, the multi-elder system means that there should be at least a few people in the church who relate to the pastor on more of a peer level and who are used to taking responsibility for difficult leadership decisions. Second, the Book of Church Order, chapters 27-46, gives explicit guidance for how the disciplinary process works. Chapter 34 (quoted below) directly addresses teaching elders. Thus, at the very least, someone in the Presbyterian church ought to know what to do.
Third, the investigation and (if necessary) trial will be conducted by the Presbytery, which means that the persons involved will be 1) trained in Scripture and the Church's doctrine, 2) experienced in ministry, and 3) not under the personal power of the minister in question (as an assistant pastor or deacon might be). That is, I think, the best shot for a fair and satisfactory resolution. Fourth, if the church does end up losing its pastor, the presbytery can quickly help with interim supply and assist the search for a new minister.
Of course it's never easy, and the best system in the world can't ensure righteousness, but it remains crucial to examine our systems and structures to see whether or not they contribute or detract from the peace of the church.
Special Rules Pertaining to Process Against a Minister
34-1. Process against a minister shall be entered before the Presbytery of
which he is a member. However, if the Presbytery refuses to act in doctrinal
cases or cases of public scandal and two other Presbyteries request the
General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction (to first receive and
initially hear and determine), the General Assembly shall do so.
34-2. As no minister ought, on account of his office, to be screened in his
sin, or slightly censured, so scandalous charges ought not to be received
against him on slight grounds.
34-3. If any one knows a minister to be guilty of a private offense, he
should warn him in private. But if the offense be persisted in, or become
public, he should bring the case to the attention of some other minister of the
34-4. a. When a minister accused of an offense is found contumacious (cf.
32-6), he shall be immediately suspended from the sacraments and his office
for his contumacy. Record shall be made of the fact and of the charges under
which he was arraigned, and the censure shall be made public. The censure
shall in no case be removed until the offender has not only repented of his
contumacy, but has also given satisfaction in relation to the charges against
b. If after further endeavor by the court to bring the accused to a
sense of his guilt, he persists in his contumacy, he shall be deposed and
excommunicated from the Church.
34-5. Heresy and schism may be of such a nature as to warrant deposition;
but errors ought to be carefully considered, whether they strike at the vitals
of religion and are industriously spread, or whether they arise from the
weakness of the human understanding and are not likely to do much injury.
34-6. If the Presbytery find on trial that the matter complained of amounts
to no more than such acts of infirmity as may be amended, so that little or
nothing remains to hinder the minister’s usefulness, it shall take all prudent
measures to remove the scandal.
34-7. When a minister, pending a trial, shall make confession, if the matter
be base and flagitious, such as drunkenness, uncleanness, or crimes of a
greater nature, however penitent he may appear to the satisfaction of all, the
court shall without delay impose definite suspension or depose him from the
34-8. A minister under indefinite suspension from his office or deposed for
scandalous conduct shall not be restored, even on the deepest sorrow for his
sin, until he shall exhibit for a considerable time such an eminently
exemplary, humble and edifying life and testimony as shall heals the wound
made by his scandal. A deposed minister shall in no case be restored until it
shall appear that the general sentiment of the Church is strongly in his favor,
and demands his restoration; and then only by the court inflicting the
censure, or with that court’s consent.
34-9. When a minister is deposed, his pastoral relation shall be dissolved;
but when he is suspended from office it shall be left to the discretion of the
Presbytery whether the censure shall include the dissolution of the pastoral
34-10. Whenever a minister of the Gospel shall habitually fail to be engaged
in the regular discharge of his official functions, it shall be the duty of the
Presbytery, at a stated meeting, to inquire into the cause of such dereliction
and, if necessary, to institute judicial proceedings against him for breach of
his covenant engagement. If it shall appear that his neglect proceeds only
from his lack of acceptance to the Church, Presbytery may, upon the same
principle upon which it withdraws license from a licentiate for lack of
evidence of the divine call, divest him of his office without censure, even
against his will, a majority of two-thirds (2/3) being necessary for this
In such a case, the clerk shall under the order of the Presbytery
forthwith deliver to the minister concerned a written note that, at the next
stated meeting, the question of his being so dealt with is to be considered.
This notice shall distinctly state the grounds for this proceeding. The party
thus notified shall be heard in his own defense; and if the decision pass
against him he may appeal, as if he had been tried after the usual forms. This
principle may apply, with any necessary changes, to ruling elders and
Tue, 03/13/2012 - 10:44amLink
Presbyterians have a great vocabulary!
Tue, 03/13/2012 - 11:40amLink
I'm from an area where a regional school for many years (still does?) taught its students complete Pastoral authority over the church. What the Pastor says goes, he might even hold the checkbook, etc. Our entire state is rife with small churches pastored by men with this mindset. The result is a lot of Pastors who weild a gavel over their churches, often playing the part of a not-so-benevolent dictator instead of a loving shepherd.
Combined with Independent Fundamental Baptist polity, this has created a disaster for many of these churches and especially tarnished the name of Christ.
I know Charlie's words are near-blasphemous to people trained as dyed-in-the-wool Baptists (if you doubt that, you don't really know any dyed-in-the-wool Baptists), but I have been thinking more and more over the last few years that our IFB lack of a denominational structure is not better than a church that has one - it just has different problems.
When a denominational structure "goes bad" it brings lethargy, politics, "corporation-ness", and the risks we Fundamentalists know all to well from the 1920's - 50's - the world's influence on the structure affecting the churches.
But removing the structure didn't remove problems - it just changed them to problems that were easy to miss in the change. Rogue leadership, strange doctrine, power struggles, rampant egos - all of these tied to the accountability that the denominational structure had provided.
While many Baptists absolutely refuse to consider the notion of multiple elders, Charlie's proposal is a great intermediary between denominational structure and independent lack-of-structure.
I don't remeber where I read it, but someone pointed out that in our well-functioning IFB churches, what you see in leadership still emulates multiple elders, whether it gets called that or not. The Pastor leads, but he is surrounded by a group of men whom he consults (not dictates to) for wisdom and spiritual guiadance that doesn't reside solely in himself. They work together to accomplish what God has for them. Though one person is ultimately responsible, in every other way they function as a team to serve the church and bring glory to God. Unfortunatley (at least from where I sit), this seems to not be the usual situation.
I've been giving this a lot of unrefined thought for a long time now. My friend is a Pastor in the Weslyan Church, and when we discuss these things he finds our IFB problems strange and sadly humorous.
At the end of the day, we don't need other solutions if Pastors would be humble servants. Unfortunately what you get when you remove all chance of true accountability on earth is a bunch of men who think they are God's gift to the church (not in a nice way). We give these men near-Total Authority over the church, then are shocked when it goes to their heads and they abuse it. We fail to understand that by not having a system of accountability, we actually draw the strange ones to these positions of leadership.
Tue, 03/13/2012 - 12:14pmLink
Dictatorial personalities exist in denominational churches and independent ones. The argument against Dictators is with dictating itself and whether a Pastor may in part or whole function this way but it does not serve as an argument, for or against ecclesiatical forms of government. All forms of governments have areas which may be exploited. But such possible abuses are not arguments against the governmental form but against its exploiters.
As to imposters I certainly agree that the body of Christ's organizational availability has historically been seized by many foreigners and heirlings for objectives outside of God's for the chuch