Misuse of Power and Injustice to the Innocent: One follows the Other
3 John 1:9-10 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
As I was studying for this week’s sermon taken from Malachi, reading the Lord’s rebuke of a corrupt priesthood, I spent some time thinking about how this issue is with us today. The Levitical priests despised the Lord. They saw their ministry as wearisome toil, and they were quite satisfied to accept second-rate offerings from the people. What would the Lord have to say to the shepherds of Christ’s church today? As I mulled these things over, I summarized what I am seeing in our churches in these words:
There is a widespread abuse of power in our churches. A lording it over the people by the men who are charged with shepherding Christ’s flock as He would shepherd them. And one of the most telling indicators that such abuse of power exists is that the weak and the innocent are being rendered injustice, while the wicked are protected. Where there is a practiced, ongoing exercise of injustice, there will necessarily be an abuse of power.
Yes, sometimes injustice is dealt to the innocent out of ignorance and human limitation. Mistakes are made. But what we are seeing so often as we read the accounts of Christians who are victims of obvious, ongoing abuse and how they were unjustly treated by their churches, we cannot explain it all away by attributing it to ignorance. What I am seeing, with frightening regularity, is that abuse victims (normally women) are being mistreated by men who seem to enjoy power. It is the spirit of Diotrephes alive and well (3 John).
And yet, the thing is curious at first glance. One of the common complaints is that churches are not enacting biblical church discipline upon their members who are abusers. I say this is curious because one would think that power-broker church leaders would relish any opportunity to put someone out of the church. But they often don’t. What they do is tell the victim that she is being rebellious, instruct her to submit to them, and to go back to her abuser/husband. How can this be?
Well, here is my theory, and it is not pretty. I suggest that when our “priesthood” goes bad as it had in Malachi’s day, when pastors and elders become enamored with the supposed power they possess, they become abusive themselves. And abusive men do not render justice to the oppressed, but quite the opposite. In addition, they tend to protect the guilty. Why? Because they share a common spirit and philosophy with the guilty. Power and control appeal to them all and thus they are in a common fraternal brotherhood labeled “Sons of Diotrephes.”
I wish I did not have to propose this theory. But the data coming into me says that abuse of power, protection of the wicked, and oppression of the innocent, are 3-bedfellows. What this means is that where one exists, you will find the other two. Injustice rendered to abuse victims very often indicates that her church leaders think far too highly of themselves and enjoy being “first.” Any pastor who is a genuine shepherd of Christ will shudder as he thinks of these things because he knows just how easily he might become caught up in such sins himself. Pastors, let us diligently search our own hearts and beg the Chief Shepherd to keep us from such evil.