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