Why Pastoral Abuse Continues Unabated in America

Then came his disciples, and said unto him, “Know you that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?” But he answered and said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father has not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” (Matt 15:12-14, KJ2000)

Recently in her blog “A Voice Reclaimed,” Anna Waldherr wrote two articles about pastoral abuse in both Catholic (1) and Protestant churches (2) that seems to be running rampant here in America today. She quoted this astute observation by a New York Times writer who did an investigative report on one such church, Willow Creek in Barrington, IL, and its pastor Bill Hybels.

In many evangelical churches, a magnetic pastor like Mr. Hybels is the superstar on whom everything else rests, making accusations of harassment particularly difficult to confront. Such a pastor is seen as a conduit to Christ, giving sermons so mesmerizing that congregants rush to buy tapes of them after services.

In the evangelical world, Mr. Hybels is considered a giant, revered as a leadership guru who discovered the formula for bringing to church people who were skeptical of Christianity. His books and speeches have crossed over into the business world.

Mr. Hybels built a church independent of any denomination. In such churches, there is no larger hierarchy to set policies and keep the pastor accountable. Boards of elders are usually volunteers recommended, and often approved, by the pastor.

But the most significant reason sexual harassment can go unchecked is that victims do not want to hurt the mission of their churches. (3)

There is a principle that never fails to be true whether it be in secular governments, corporations, Catholic or Protestant churches. Lord Acton of England said it well in about 1904 while talking with an Anglican bishop.

“It is not a question of who has the right rule [over others]. No one has the right to rule. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely!”

Below the sentences in bold are from the above N.Y. Times quote.

  • “a magnetic pastor like Mr. Hybels is the superstar on whom everything else rests”

People flock to charismatic and powerful personalities whether it be in sports, Hollywood, politics, or even in the churches. It is a form of idolatry. They are looking for a flesh and blood god to stand before them. Even in Christian circles, Jesus who they cannot see is not enough, because believing in Him requires faith (see Hebrews 11:1). Most “Christians” lack a faith that trusts in Christ alone without being fortified by highly visible men telling them what they want to hear. At best these are “carnal Christians” or at worst pagans with a religion. They even fall down before their gods and worship. When these church leaders have an “altar call,” the faithful go forward and kneel before them and pray, awaiting a touch or a word from their holy man to let them know that they got “saved.” This tradition is not scriptural, neither is the “altar call,” nor kneeling before a man (a tradition popularized by Charles Finney, not Jesus or the Apostles). For instance, look at the way that Apostle Paul dealt with this kind of idolatry when it was aimed at him and Barnabas.

While they were at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas came upon a man with crippled feet. He had been that way from birth, so he had never walked. He was listening as Paul preached, and Paul noticed him and realized he had faith to be healed. So Paul called to him in a loud voice, “Stand up!” And the man jumped to his feet and started walking. When the listening crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their local dialect, “These men are gods in human bodies!” They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus and that Paul, because he was the chief speaker, was Hermes. The temple of Zeus was located on the outskirts of the city. The priest of the temple and the crowd brought oxen and wreaths of flowers, and they prepared to sacrifice to the apostles at the city gates. But when Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings like yourselves! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. In earlier days he permitted all the nations to go their own ways, but he never left himself without a witness. There were always his reminders, such as sending you rain and good crops and giving you food and joyful hearts.” But even so, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them. (Acts 14:8-18, NLT)

Today, we don’t offer animal sacrifices to these men, but we gladly dig deep into our pockets and purses to bless them as the offering plate goes by. (This practice was initiated by Queen Elizabeth I in 1662 in the Church of England and it has stuck ever since). Paul did not encourage this practice either (see below).

Paul did not rely on his speaking ability or personal charisma to sway men into believing in Christ.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1Cor 2:1-5, ESV2011).

For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ” (1Thess 2:5-6, ESV2011).

The problem today is that very few men who share the gospel rely in the power of God, but rather their own powers of human persuasion. The result is millions of people who think they are born again, but instead they are spiritual stillbirths. Salvation has to be the result of God personally gifting us with saving faith IN Jesus Christ and in no other.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13, RSV)

  • Such a pastor is seen as a conduit to Christ

The apostles pointed all men to Christ and away from themselves (who were mere servants of Jesus). When the Corinthians were putting Christ’s messengers in the place of Christ, Paul told them they were “carnal” and not spiritual at all. I am afraid that the churches in America more resemble the believers in Corinth than those in Ephesus whom Jesus commended.

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each” (1Cor 3:1-5, ESV2011).

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (1Tim 2:5, RSV- emphasis added)

  • “giving sermons so mesmerizing that congregants rush to buy tapes of them after services.”
  • “In the evangelical world, Mr. Hybels is considered a giant, revered as a leadership guru… His books and speeches have crossed over into the business world.”

Oh, yes, the true sign of a “powerhouse for God”–MONEY! And what did Jesus have to say about this?

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matt 6:24, NLT)

And  Paul wrote,

“I have never coveted anyone’s money or fine clothing. You know that these hands of mine have worked to pay my own way, and I have even supplied the needs of those who were with me. And I have been a constant example of how you can help the poor by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:33-35, NLT)

Did the apostles retail their messages as is so common today with the sales of seminars, books and tapes? Here is what Paul and Peter had to say about that.

What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel. (1Cor 9:18, RSV)

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat. (2Thess 3:7-10, RSV)

But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach their destructive heresies about God and even turn against their Master who bought them. Theirs will be a swift and terrible end. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of them, Christ and his true way will be slandered. In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction is on the way. (2Pet 2:1-3, NLT- emphasis added)

  • “In such churches, there is no larger hierarchy to set policies and keep the pastor accountable. Boards of elders are usually volunteers recommended, and often approved, by the pastor.”

Even when there is a hierarchy, elders or a denominational board of directors in these churches, they are likely to rubber stamp the wishes of their cash-cow man in the limelight. When he is asked to step down because he caused them so much embarrassment, it is with the mindset of laundering him as quickly as possible so that he can get back on center stage once again and cut their losses. Bill Hybels might have stepped away from the pulpit, but he is still active behind the scenes at Willow Creek Church.

  • “But the most significant reason sexual harassment can go unchecked is that victims do not want to hurt the mission of their churches.”

Oh yes. The “No Speak” rule. This is how it works: cover for the one caught in sin and cast blame on the ones he has enticed and seduced. We have seen in recent years the fruit of this rule being carried out “in spades” in the Catholic church where pedophile priests have abused thousands of children and been covered for by the hierarchy. But it is often the same in Protestant churches. The higher the profile (and the more money they bring into the denomination), the more they cover up the abuses of these men and keep the machine going.

I typed in “pastoral abuse of authority” on Google and got 3,070,000 hits! Do you think that this problem might be completely out of control? If we had only followed Jesus’ command to His disciples…

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45, RSV)

A few years back, George Davis and I wrote an article, “Apostles, True or False.”

Jesus said, “…you tried those pretending to be apostles, and are not, and have found them liars” (Revelation 2:2). The trial of those who pretended to be apostles is listed among the positive actions of the Ephesian Church, which pleased the Lord. We are fully aware that we are living in a day when many of God’s children fail to understand the difference between testing and judgment, discernment and criticism, and view all speech and writing of a negative nature as critical and destructive. This has led to a general no-speak climate enforced by those in control that resists reform and allows unchecked deception. We are commanded to prove (dokimazo – to test, examine, scrutinize) the genuineness of all things and hold fast to what is good. (See 1Thessalonians 5:21). (4)

The more things change in the churches, the more that the root problem in them remains–abuse of authority that was never supposed to be in the hands of church men, but rather only in hands of Christ. This is part of the reason why instead of only ONE Church throughout the whole world (see John 17:21), there are over 41,000 Christian denominations and sects that only give lip-service to Him as the Head and Builder of His Church. God’s judgment is on this system called “The Christian Church.”

Then this message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: Destruction is certain for you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the broken bones. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with force and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd… Though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, along with their right to feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey. “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places to which they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. (Ezek 34:1-12, NLT)

He judged the Shepherds of Israel and His heavy hand will come down on this Christian system that is abusing His people as well. Dear saints, this last days religious system is called “Babylon the Great” in Revelations and the warning to us is clear. Do all pastors abuse their place as shepherds? No, but the larger a congregation gets and the larger their church building, the greater is the propensity for corruption for Satan still knows that if he can smite the shepherd with sin, his sheep will be scattered. Jesus called this system Babylon the Great the mother of harlots in Revelation and to those who in its grip He calls today,

“Come away from her, my people. Do not take part in her sins, or you will be punished with her. For her sins are piled as high as heaven, and God is ready to judge her for her evil deeds.” (Rev 18:4-5, NLT)

After he [Jesus] has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they recognize his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t recognize his voice.” (John 10:4-5, NLT)

Dear saints of God, learn the different between the voices of strangers and the voice of Christ’s Spirit and no matter what they say follow HIM.

(1) https://avoicereclaimed.com/2018/08/19/predator-priests-part-1/

(2) https://avoicereclaimed.com/2018/08/26/predator-priests-part-2/

(3) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/05/us/bill-hybels-willow-creek-pat-baranowski.html

(4) http://awildernessvoice.com/ApostlesTorF.html

16 comments on “Why Pastoral Abuse Continues Unabated in America

  1. kathleenjeanthomas says:

    Interesting – passing the offering plate came in the state church at the same time as the dissenters were thrown out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Michael says:

      Kathleen, you would be amazed to learn where all our church traditions come from. The book, “Pagan Christianity,” by Frank Viola and George Barna documents many of them quite well. George Davis and I also documented some of the ones having to do with the church hierarchic system in “The Great Ecclesiastical Conspiracy” http://www.awildernessvoice.com/GEC.html Thank you for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kenneth E Dawson says:

    Yes Mike I have seen all the things you wrote about and I will tell you about an actual experience that happened to me that verifies that final sentence in your article.—–As a new child of God I was going to a fundamental conservative church in Miami,FL—-They taught me about the destruction of Sodom and Gomora using the text from Genesis—God destroyed the people because of homosexual practices.Then years later I got this book called living by Gods grace written by a well known author and using that text in Genesis he said God did not wipe them out because of homosexual sex but because they practiced their gay sex in the wrong ways.So I put the book down and I asked Father to tell me if He approved of gay sex—yes or no period.He said to me in my mind—no—-So I threw the book away and now when the issue confronts me I simply tell them that God said no and that settles it for me.I do not care how others interpret the texts,I heard from the Boss.The only good sex is between a man and a woman,in marriage and when the baby forms in the womb its not for abortion—-Its for your responsibility of raising them up properly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alan Haungs says:

    I wonder how many of us thought:

    If we say something “negative” we will damage new believers among us.
    If we say something “negative” we will frustrate the gospel of the church.
    If we say something “negative” it is because we are not forgiving.
    If we say something “negative” it is prove that we are against authority
    If we say something “negative” spiritual judgement from God will happen
    If we say something “negative” we are divisive
    If we say something “negative” we do not have ‘revelation’ or ‘see the vision’

    First I would like to say that all of us have to be honest with ourselves and others. I have seen how the title “negative” acts as a great attack to kill honesty. But according to Jesus, freedom is only found after passing through reality (truth).

    I like freedom, so I will try to remain there. The “NO SPEAK” rule is a fast track to slavery.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Michael says:

      I know that you speak from some really hard “church” experiences in your life, Alan, and shining light on their darkness has cost you, dearly. Neither Jesus or the apostles followed “the no speak rule.” Like Paul said,

      “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.” (Gal 6:1, KJ2000)

      And John wrote the same thing using different words,

      But if we walk in the light [walking with one another in all truth], as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:7, KJ2000)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Alan Haungs says:

        Mike,

        But the good news is that the “cost” I paid eventually secured my freedom from leaders who assume they are more than a brother. I have seen what I experienced also is very common elsewhere, among other organized groups, and I am so glad I am free to avoid company that smells bad, and no longer waste years suffering.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Michael says:

        Alan,
        As for “leaders who assume they are more than a brother,” oh yes, what a bondage. Been there and God put me through enough of this kind of abuse to make sure I never did it to another of His saints.

        George Davis once shared with me that when John saw the multitudes in heaven they were all standing on a sea of glass. The ground at the foot of the cross is perfectly level and crowns in heaven are given to be thrown down at Jesus’ feet.

        “The four and twenty elders fall down before him that is sitting on the throne, and worship him that lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev 4:10-11, KJ2000)

        And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon it was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a robe dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. (Rev 19:11-13, KJ2000)

        Now we know where their crowns went!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. As usual this is a profound and biblically-based post, closely researched. I would expect nothing less of you, Michael. You would have made an excellent lawyer. More importantly, you seek and proclaim the truth of the Word of God. His light shines brightly through you. I am gratified you would reference my posts.

    Your sister in Christ,

    Anna ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael says:

      Anna, it is funny that you said I would have made an excellent lawyer. Jesus said to His followers,

      “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And you shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what you shall speak. For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks through you.” (Matt 10:16-20, KJ2000)

      If He does not speak through me I have nothing to say and God is far wiser than any lawyer. Thanks for your encouragement once again, Anna. May He continue to draw you ever closer to His wonderful heart that you might shine forth with His glory in your life. ⭐
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  5. jmwe29 says:

    I am glad to see another voice bringing light into this mess. I came out of one of these years ago and it was indeed Viola’s book Pagan Christianity that helped me see how the whole basis for what we call “church” is founded on traditions of men that make the Word of none effect. I believe the institutional church system just begs for abuse because of the way it’s set up to start with, which is why it’s so rare to find a church that doesn’t have an abusive pastor at the helm. And as you point out, why is a person at the helm in the first place?? I like the way you put it- we give lip service to the concept of Jesus being the Head.

    What we do as a matter of course in the traditional church system is just simply idolatry. And now I’m looking at this whole “altar call” tradition and realizing how sad that is! I distinctly remember feeling pressured to go forward for prayer for whatever, but knowing inside it wasn’t right. But being in that atmosphere bewitches you so you don’t see how corrupt it really is. Altar calls really just feed the beast, don’t they? I put up my own blog on all this quite some time ago at Red Flag Churches, and unfortunately, I get a fair number of views, particularly on the post on the spiritual covering doctrine. Now I may need to add my 2 cents on the whole altar call mess! And equating this with Babylon- wow. Thanks for another perspective on the issue. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael says:

      Dear Marion,
      Thank you for your comment. I found your blog site ( https://red-flag-churches.blogspot.com/ ). You have a lot of information on your blog about the difference between being a member of the ecclesia — Christ’s body of those called out of this world system — and those who have just traded one system for another called “church.”

      You wrote, “I believe the institutional church system just begs for abuse because of the way it’s set up to start with, which is why it’s so rare to find a church that doesn’t have an abusive pastor at the helm.” I agree. Where there is a man in control over people, there is abuse. The most subtle abuse of all is that they have their eyes on him for all their spiritual needs instead of on Jesus of whom it is written, “In HIM we live and move and have our being.”

      In the past I was caught up in two different “Christian” cults and have learned a lot about spiritual abuse the hard way. Like my dear brother George Davis has put it, “God rubbed my nose in everything He wanted me to never do.” I know that except for the grace of God working in my life I would be one of them.

      You are so right, “But being in that atmosphere bewitches you so you don’t see how corrupt it really is.” This is exactly what Paul wrote about to the Galatians.

      “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” (Gal 3:1-3, RSV)

      This witchcraft of men can be so powerful that we will even allow a man to get between a husband and a wife! Some even have drank the “Cool-aid” and died by he hundreds at the request of a charismatic figure over them. Witchcraft! This is why John equated the anti-christ spirit with false teachers in 1 John chapter two and then concludes that we who have the Spirit in us have no need that any man should teach us for HE is our Teacher. We are so easily bewitched by those who know the Bible and how to twist its meaning to say what they want it to say. The letter of the Bible kills, but the Spirit gives life. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. It is all there if we have spiritual eyes to see. You are right, what blinds us is idolatry in our hearts.

      As for the “spiritual covering” doctrine, God settled that for me with, “The head of every man is Christ.” and “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his Head.” and especially this one…

      “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Eph 4:13-15, ESV2011)

      May the Lord bless and keep you ever closer IN His Son,
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Tobie says:

    Michael, I only just read this post, and my heart sang as I did. Thank you for going against the tide in such a crystal clear fashion. I marvel at the fact that nothing has changed since the serpent’s first conversation with a human. Abusive authority, based on a (seemingly) more spectacular word than God’s, originated in Eden. This where the notion of religion mediation began, and we still lust after it just as our forefathers did. The good news is that there is a growing collective disillusionment with this type of thing. The houses built on sand are starting to fall – one after the other – and people are noticing. May the shepherdless finally realise that they are, in fact, without a shepherd, and that they have been so for a long time. And may this prompt them to return to the Overseer of their souls.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael says:

      Thanks, Tobie. It seems that for many of us spiritual sight has to come in two stages. When we first come to Christ we are totally blind then He touches us and we “see men as trees walking.” Later after a deeper work has been done in us through a lot of dying to our old carnal natures and desires by the work of the cross, we come to see “all men clearly.” That is when their dead works no longer appeal to us as they once did and Christ becomes our sufficiency in ALL things. Sometimes, as it was in my case, we have endure much abuse at the hands of these false shepherds and false prophets before we finally come to understand that ONLY Jesus is our Good Shepherd and that the rest are never to be trusted no matter how “wonderful” they seem to be.

      Liked by 1 person

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