Pastoral Care Has its Limits and Must Allow for the Priesthood of the Believer
One of the recurring themes we hear from Christians who are abuse victims/survivors is that when they went to their pastor or church for help, reporting the abuse, they were told that they must remain with their abuser or at most separate from him for a time, always working toward reconciliation. You saw this thing recently in the case where The Village Church attempted to put Karen Hinkley under church discipline because, without conferring and seeking permission from the church elders, Karen had her ‘marriage’ annulled on grounds that it was a fraudulent marriage in the first place. (— It was a fraudulent marriage in the first place, which is why I put ‘marriage’ in quotes.)
Note: Matt Chandler, on behalf of the TVC leaders, has now personally apologised to Karen Hinkley — An Apology from Matt Chandler/Elders of The Village Church and a Statement of Forgiveness from Karen Hinkley at The Wartburg Watch, 10th June 2015.
In all cases like this, we have seen pastors and churches “shepherding” or “caring for” the victim and abuser — as they put it. And behind all of this there has been an attitude or conviction or doctrine of the church and of the pastorate and even of the nature of the individual Christian that essentially says “we will mediate Christ to you.” It is quite Roman Catholic actually. The thing is much like a formal priesthood which behaves as if the individual Christian is led and directed by the church, unable on their own to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd. And yet:
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me (John 10:14)
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
Every real Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and is led by the Spirit (See Romans 8; Galatians 5:16ff). Every real Christian is thereby enabled to understand Scripture.
You see the very same doctrine taught over and over again all through the New Testament (and anticipated in the Old Testament):
I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie — just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:26-27)
But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. (1 John 2:20-21)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:6)
But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, (Ephesians 4:20-21)
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (Hebrews 8:10-11)
God has, in Christ, given the church pastors and teachers (see Ephesians 4). There are the offices of elder and deacon in the church. We are told (Hebrews 13:17) to obey our leaders and submit to them as they keep watch over our souls. And we are to give double honor to those elders who work hard at teaching and preaching. But these leaders are also cautioned to not be “domineering over those in your charge” (see 1 Peter 5:1ff).
It seems to me that one of the chief errors of The Village Church, evidenced recently thanks to the courage of Karen Hinkley speaking out, is that the leaders there, as well as many of the members, had forgotten the doctrine of the priesthood of the individual Christian. They had neglected the truth that every Christian hears the voice of the Good Shepherd and that Christ is indeed quite able to direct each one of His people in the way they should go. This is exactly what Isaiah anticipated of the New Covenant:
And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isaiah 30:20-21)
And therefore church leaders must balance their pastoral ministry to the flock with these truths. Namely, that the individual sheep has the ability to hear the Lord saying “This is the way, walk in it.” That voice, we submit to you, is telling abuse victims that they have the RIGHT before God to exercise the wisdom He is leading them in to depart from their abuser, including divorcing him.
You simply cannot just “blow off” all of these scores of Christians, for example, who have told and keep telling us that they finally had to disregard to dictates of their church because those commands were in contradiction to what they came to realize was the leading of Christ. You cannot dismiss them. You cannot say “well, ok, so you have witness after witness after witness saying that the Lord told them to pack up right now and leave, but we choose to conclude that they are all just following their own selfish desires.” Nope.
If that were the case, the stories we would be receiving from these Christians who were victimized and chose to leave and divorce their abuser would be a repeated message of “my conscience is so guilty. I am under heavy conviction. I have sinned by leaving and filing the divorce papers.”
That is not the anthem they sing.
We all would do well to follow Martin Luther in all of this, especially when the pressure of man’s tradition is put upon us and the wicked or the erring try to enslave us:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.
We hope that Matt Chandler and the leaders at TVC are now in the process of re-evaluating their leadership practices so as to better align them with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. To help them do this, we would like to remind them of this TVC survivor’s story [link]. This story illustrates the point Jeff Crippen has made in this post. Note: the account was written by a survivor and published at Watchkeep before Matt Chandler, on behalf of the TVC leadership, personally apologized and sought forgiveness from Karen Hinkley.
… Once The Village takes a stand on something, they very rarely concede. I have been in numerous meetings with the pastors mentioned in Karen’s story and I have been met with the same “let us care for you” jargon. I was told repeatedly that because of my sin I was unable to make wise decisions and I needed to rely on the church to “guide and care for me.” I was placed under church discipline for a period because I “continue[d] to be a threat to [my] own safety and are unable to keep with the fruits of the spirit.”
For those who don’t now know the backstory to the Village Church / Karen Hinkley / Jordan Root case, here is a potted summary.
Responding to providential hints and under prompting (we believe) from the Holy Spirit, Karen pressed her (pseudo)husband, Jordan Root, to tell her what he’d been doing, and Jordan admitted to being sexually attracted to children and having voluntarily indulged this perversion for many years by viewing images of child sexual abuse (child porn), and that this sexual immorality of his extended right back to before they were married.
Karen, very wisely, had the marriage annulled, since it was a fraudulent marriage to begin with because Jordan had never disclosed his sexually perverse, criminal behaviour to her during the courtship.
For full details:
Karen Hinkley’s story, details and documentation at Watchkeep.
Apology from Matt Chandler/Elders of The Village Church and a Statement of Forgiveness from Karen Hinkley at The Wartburg Watch.
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
With deep gratitude thank you for this wonderful and liberating observation of truth. The greatest harm a batterer does is the identify theft of his victim! Karen Root amazed me and I watched in wonder while she exerted her authority as a woman that knew her true shepherd, listened to Him, followed Him and resisted those that falsely represented themselves as Messiah. There is one Messiah and He gave all people the power to be a new creation that carry priceless treasure of His Spirit in their souls. That same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead creates a new identity of God’s own dearly loved and priceless child!
The messianic complex is an affront because they interject their own authority rather then reminding victims of their true identity as one filled with love, power and a sound mind. The purpose of true ministry is to equip people in their own ministry to this broken world not to make infants out of them. Whether it be a husband, a therapist a pastor or a friend when we abdicate our own authority and identity as a believer full of the power of God to transform our world we come under bondage. I believe the greatest deterent to reclaim life and resist abuse is to understand our true identity. All of creation groans waiting for us to get this. Who Christ is in us and who we are in Him! I’m deeply saddened when I observe women oppressed by a husband abdicate the power over their lives to a pastor or a therapist with blind faith that either has their best interest in mind. It’s just more identity theft.
Very true. I think the reactions from church leaders also suggest a lack of real knowledge regarding the individuals concerned. It’s as if the leaders think these individuals (more often than not the wife) are seeking divorce for trivial matters or akin to secular society – just a throwaway marriage. They trivialize real abuse, straining a gnat while swallowing a camel.
This is so powerful, liberating and freeing, to us who want to know Gods truth.
We already have the Spirit of God abiding within us, once we accept Christ, leading us and guiding us.
The believer does not need overseers directing their lives contrary to the direction of Gods Holy Spirit, and should see such attemps to do so, as error, misguidance, and poor judgement that scriptures do not support.
And unless someone (overseer, elder, pastor, wanna-be church leader) can provide genuine well balanced scriptural reasons why my choice is wrong, I will not heed their advice.
The article states, “There are the offices of elder and deacon in the church.” To English speaking ears (or at least to U.S. English Speakers) the word “office” connotes, and maybe even denotes, one who has coercive authority. The very concept of “office” appears to be contrary to Jesus’ injunction against lording it over others, and in fact the word “office” is not in the Greek text.
For example, in ESV at 1 Timothy 3:1, we read, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” A more literal translation might read, “If anyone aspires to overseerage (ἐπισκοπῆς, episkopēs), he desires a noble task.” A less awkward sounding translation would simply read, “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble task.”
Even the use of the English word “overseer” is problematic. “Overseer” carries the connotation of “boss,” or even “overlord.” While I am not presently prepared to take a strong position on this point, it seems that ἐπισκοπῆς (episkopēs) more accurately refers to one who watches over, in the sense that a shepherd watches over and cares for sheep.
Probably I should resist the temptation to charge the translators with bad faith, but I do suggest that the insertion of the word “office” and the use of “overseer” instead of some word that does not sound like “boss” is anachronistic. That is, the translators have taken present (corrupt) practices, and they have written them into the ancient text.
People like The Village Church “pastors” and “elders” (are any of them over 40?) take this and other bad English translations (e.g. Hebrews 13:17) to justify the arrogation or assumption of authority that belongs only to Jesus—and they devour His lambs. The Village Church leadership have apologized for the manner in which they have exercised their supposed authority, but they have gone to some lengths to emphasize their continuing devotion to their authoritarian doctrine. Unless and until they renounce their doctrinal claim to authority that is not theirs, unless and until they renounce their assumption of overlordship, they will continue to rend and destroy. What does it matter that they will now do so with assuring smiles on their faces? What does it ultimately matter that, having been called to account, they have now entered the honeymoon phase of the cycle of (spiritual) violence?
Yes, they will rend and destroy! What is it in men that they continually seek control … ego, self worth, insecurity, entitlement? Why is it so difficult to be humble like Jesus? It almost seems that women have an easier time in that respect … because women have been oppressed for so long?
Yes…so long as they maintain their current authoritarian position, the abuses will continue. They can’t help but continue.
So long as they hold the position that the church elders have the right and responsibility to make personal decisions for their church membership regarding such things as separation and divorce…and that they have the right to know all details regarding the marriage and (as church elders) sit in judgment over the marriage and decide whether or not the church member is ‘permitted’ to divorce…so long as they believe they have the right to initiate church ‘discipline’ against any member who does not agree to having their personal intimate marriage details scrutinized and judged by the elders…who do not agree to abide by whatever ruling the elders make regardless of level of personal danger…there will be abuses. It is a system set up to perpetuate abuse by stripping the individual of the right to make their own decisions regarding their own personal relationships, based on their own prayers and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I totally agree that many church leaders have taken on too much authority, to the extent of being unbiblical. I’ve even thought myself that it seems eerily Catholic sometimes. But what would you say is the right way to balance the fact that church leaders don’t have absolute authority–since that belongs to God alone–with the fact that church leaders do have a measure of God-given authority? Obviously it’s important to draw a line, but where? Clearly (at least I think it’s clear) Karen Hinkley was right, but I mean in general, for situations perhaps less extreme and serious than that, what’s the right time to refuse to do what a church leader says?
Mary, allow me to suggest that church leaders are given authority, first to serve, and in case of need, to protect. Except to prevent harm, church leaders may only suggest, encourage, teach, and so on; they are not authorized to impose. In fact, it would be best to avoid the use of the word “leader” in the context of church. The word “minister” would be much better. “Minister” is more consistent with Jesus’ teaching that those who would be first must be the servants of all. When a minister attempts to impose his / her will in matters where protection from harm is not in issue, s/he is attempting to be first in the sense that Diotrephese wanted to be first.
Just in case somebody may object that the word(s) “leaders” or “those who rule over you” appear in Scripture, I suggest that the better translation, in Hebrews 13:17, 24 at least, would be something along the lines of “those who have gone before you.”
I do like the term “those who have gone before you.” This would indicate for those “leaders” to be more responsible. Who was the first who has gone before us … Jesus!
This should be the norm … not deviating from Jesus’ preachings.
Gary W., it never came across to me that our church leaders were supposed to serve and to protect … how sad. Several years ago, I had started a church group in our home. It kind of happened when I had moved to another area where churches were few and far between. A pastor of a larger church, further away, agreed to come to our home once a week. The group grew. I took care of the secretarial and treasury needs. Then one time, I had a disagreement with the pastor about divorce. He stated, if I were to divorce, our church would not be able to survive. One word let to another and I indicated that I might choose to no longer be part of it.
The pastor responded, “If you quit, I will quit too.” He tried to threaten me. He thought that I sought power which is the furthest from the truth. Of course, he did not have anyone else to do all the work so he tried to “con” me not to leave.
The elder told me, in so many words, that my membership was considered “not in good standings.” I replied that they may as well cancel my membership because it did not matter to me to be on someone’s roster … my membership was and is with Jesus!
He even went as far as indicating his doubt of my soul going to make it to heaven.
Well, as Pastor Crippen said, the Holy Spirit speaks to us believers too not only to the clergy. God’s words are written in my heart.
I agree with that translation. I liken it to the way I “rule over” my now college age children … In other words, I can’t. I can ONLY LEAD THEM in the way they should go by example. The rest is up to them. If I try to do anything more than that, they are OUTTA HERE!
Good points, Mary. I would say don’t go against conscience and Scripture to obey anyone. For example, church leaders say command an abuse victim not to divorce her abuser, telling her God does not permit it. And yet, in her conscience she sees herself free to divorce for that abuse (in most cases after trying and trying and trying for decades to “fix” it) and she believes Scripture supports her conviction (which is also supported by some other Christians as well), then I maintain she is free to follow her conviction even if her church threatens her with ex-communication. That is to say, in matters of conscience we are free. Whether to home school or not, what kind of clothing to wear or music to listen to, or whether to borrow money. In such cases no one has the authority to dictate to us because Scripture leaves us with that freedom. Sure, if a matter runs over into rank sin (ie, choice of clothing means someone is dressing in a blatantly sinful manner) then it becomes a clear biblical issue. If we end up going through our daily lives constantly worried about “what will the elders say?” then there is a problem.
Notice carefully that it DOES NOT say to deny the Holy Spirit (who lives in those who belong to Jesus), but to deny SELF. But to abusers, there is no difference. They believe that any people who are under their authority should obey, serve and worship them in the way that they (the abuser) deems worthy; and that any who don’t comply quickly and perfectly should EXPECT wrath and punishment. True abusers do not have the Holy Spirit in their hearts and in fact, they hate Him. When they pretend to love the Lord it is actually a form of mockery. Gal. 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” The word for “mocked” here is used only ONCE in the Bible: “muktérizó: to turn up the nose or sneer at. properly, to turn up the nose, turning away to sneer; (figuratively) mock, scornfully disdain (contemptuously reject).” This is what those who masquerade as Christians are actually doing when they pretend to “serve” God–turning their noses up at him (and you too because you serve him). Disdain and contempt are what people without a conscience feel toward others. They believe themselves to BE God. They take advantage of those with a heart to serve and they turn that serving into a perversion in which THEY are the God who is being served. They know an easy mark when they see one and they’ve learned that “the church” is a perpetual source of scrumptious and easy prey. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, as the old saying goes. And when “the church” tells the abuse victim to try to work things out with an abuser, they are forcing them to turn away from God and the Holy Spirit who lives in their heart and in effect, turn up their noses at God too.
When we train people up to blindly serve all authority without also teaching Biblical discernment we set ourselves up to be destroyed. The situation in the post is sadly, far too common, and it was extremely brave of Karen Hinkley to bring her abuse out into the open. As you’ve mentioned before Jeff, you don’t expect the world at large to change, but through God’s grace, we can change some peoples outcomes, especially those who are our brethren in Jesus.
Another commenter to a different post here on A Cry for Justice (Mary, I think) noted that it would be nice if we tried to educate people BEFORE they got involved with abusers so that entire families weren’t devastated in the aftermath of evil. Hopefully, this will happen more often as those of us who’ve endured and survived this horror continue to turn and help. And that we learn how to stop “playing” with evil humans, and so end their game. Every time we post on this topic, we are giving others a little more wisdom / armor / knowledge on what evil can look like and how to treat it and deflect it. Don’t stop!
I am so wounded by how I should have behaved that, when he left, I am overwhelmed with feelings of guilt for divorcing him for abandoning me. He still tells the kids that it wasn’t his fault because I filed. I filed because HE LEFT. and if I didn’t file before 6 months was up, he would have done so in a different county where he moved to. Its as if I couldn’t win even if I laid down as the slaughtered lamb. His finger continues to point at me and with the church’s help I continue to feel to blame for not “taking it”.
Shifting the blame is the typical ruse of the abuser.
To do evil all the while deflecting the blame from themselves, and onto their innocent victim.
They have murder in their heart, all the while covertly appearing to do no wrong.
These types seem no different than the liars that show no conscience when caught on the TV show called Forensic Files, (due to the physical DNA evidence that links them back to their crime) that leads to their ultimate conviction.
Only with our abusers, they rarely leave behind physical evidence to link their intention to destroy.
But God sees through all of this, and I pray that just like he provided protection for Elijah when he was pursued by evil Jezebelle, until he found safety, God will also provide a way for us to escape, and protect and preserve us durring that time.
It’s taking me a long, long time – and still taking it – to see the murder in the heart. It’s hard for me to see, but slowly I’m beginning to see it.
I just started reading “Give Her Wings,” and in the foreword by Pastor Jeff he writes that abuse is the “purest” form of evil. As I ponder what that means I’m thinking that perhaps it is thus because while other forms of evil outwardly act as evil, this evil hides and represents itself as truth and light all the while murdering (or attempting to) the soul behind closed doors. Behind a smile.
Living on the receiving end of it really causes me to hunger all the more for God’s righteous judgment, God’s own hand in deliverance and justice, God’s perfect understanding, and trusting in the Lord to make all right some day.
You are not to blame. You are not to blame. You are not to blame. You were at the receiving end, and please remind yourself – as I do – that I never instigate pointing the finger at him. Sometimes I end up defending myself or the actions I’ve been forced to take, but I have to be careful about that because I’ve noticed that even by my child it ends up sounding just like this “he said, she said” scenario without recognition by the audience of the instigator. Yet, speak truth we must. Speak up we must. I try to exercise Godly discernment and pray for that to know when to speak and when to remain silent. There are times for both, I think. Lord, please give Anewanon the wisdom and discernment she needs to know when to speak and give her the comfort of knowing the extent of Your sovereignty over even this.
You are not alone, Anewanon. And you are not to blame. I can hear the pain in your words, and if I can hear it, I know Jesus does.