Traditions of Men Have Largely Consumed the Evangelical Church and are Causing Widespread Suffering
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mat 15:8-9)
Once again today, as happens at least once every week, I spent an hour on the phone with a wonderful Christian lady who is severely traumatized, broken, and living in fear moment by moment. She is married to an abuser. The most wicked kind of abuser — the kind who claims to be a fine Christian man and who loves to quote Scripture to her. She is a member of a church, where he is a member, and all she receives from her church is more abuse while her abuser is enabled in his evil. What do you say to such a person? How can you help? Twenty years or more of living in oppression, watching your children be alienated against you by his lies? I listened. I told her she is not to blame. I told her she is married to a man possessed by lust for power and control. I told her he is not going to change and her marriage is no marriage. She asked me if she had to go back to that church. I said, most definitely, no! Be free.
After we hung up, my mind went to where my thoughts spend a lot of time these days. I thought about what claims to be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and about how this very kind of evil this lady is sorely oppressed by has spread like leaven (as our Lord warned us it would) throughout local churches, seminaries, counseling ministries, and other Christian organizations. The visible church of our day has, it is my conclusion, been commandeered by a modern, and yet not new, version of the Pharisees and their evil leaven.
How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Mat 16:11-12)
A yeast cell is so small it can only be seen under a microscope. But in the right environment — warmth, the right amount of moisture, sugar to feed on — yeast ferments, the cells divide and multiply. And you see the results of yeast when it has spread though and inflated the whole lump. It puffs up the lump with air — the air of pride and arrogance. And over and over again Christians today are ignoring Jesus’ words and are giving evildoers warmth, the right amount of moisture, and sugary teaching (cheap grace), so the evildoers thrive and their leaven spreads throughout the whole lump.
Let me list just some of the man-made traditions that are parading among us as if they were the Word of God and wreaking the kind of intense pain and suffering and bondage that this lady and so many others are ensnared in today:
- All sinners are the same. All of us are just as guilty as an abuser.
- Divorce is the real evil of our day. Christians must not divorce and abuse is no grounds for divorce. Those who do divorce (including abuse victims) have sinned and are to be looked down upon.
- The family is where it is at. Husbands, wives, children. As long as they all stay together they are doing God’s will. The family is the central unit of God’s kingdom and His church.
- Marriage displays God’s covenant-keeping love to the church. If a Christian seeks divorce, they are giving a bad witness to the world because they are not ‘displaying the gospel’.
- Men are the priests and lords of their wives and children.
- God’s will is that husbands and wives have many children.
- A person can be walking in sin, habitually abusing his/her spouse, and yet must be counted as a Christian.
- Troubles of all types are to be handled within the confines of the church, not referred to “outsiders.”
- The pastor and elders in their “collective wisdom” are adequate to handle anything. (One lady recently told me that when she questioned her pastor and disagreed with his command to her regarding her marriage, he said to her “now, you be careful.”
- A husband has the right to tell his wife “you must obey me.”
- There really is no evil in our churches. Evil lies “out there” in the world, but not among us.
I could go on and on and I am sure that most of our readers could add to this list. But my point is that these things are being held to and taught as if they are the Word of God, authoritative and binding and anyone who detours from following them is in sin.
And what I am saying is that the incredible, terrible, horrific suffering like this lady has lived in for decades and is still living in IS A DIRECT PRODUCT OF THESE PREVALENT TEACHINGS IN MOST LOCAL EVANGELICAL CHURCHES. If you think I exaggerate, then you should come listen to the phone calls and read the emails and letters we receive here at ACFJ every single DAY about YOUR churches, pastors, and the horrid injustice the majority of you deal out to these widows and orphans of our day.
Where do these traditions come from? They originate most commonly in the minds and teachings of evangelical celebrities who everyone who is anyone surely reads! Their traditions, presented as the Word of God, are picked up by pastors and elders and seminaries and Christians far and wide and treated as if they were gospel. But they are not.
You say I am being too hard, too negative, too pessimistic and judgmental?
Alright then, YOU talk to these daughters of Abraham who are bent and bleeding and suffering, who are searching far and wide for help, crying out for justice, and there is no one to answer. Listen to them tell what happened when they went to their pastor and church for help. Hear how they were and continue to be traumatized not only by their husband but by their “church.” And don’t tell me that I am blowing isolated incidents out of proportion! I will come unglued if you do. Your “isolated incidents” run into the hundreds and thousands and probably even tens of thousands in the pews of YOUR church and others in your town.
So what do I tell people like this wonderful, suffering Christian mother who really is giving her life for her children? What do I tell them when they ask if there is anything we at ACFJ can do to open the eyes of their pastors and church members to the nature and mentality and tactics of abuse — of evil? What do I tell them? I will tell you what I am telling them increasingly:
Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit. (Mat 15:14)
“Oh, Jeff. No, no, no. You can’t say that about your fellow pastors and churches.” Yes I can. And I do so on the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Want to prove me wrong? Then explain to me and all of our readers why the “clergy” of our day is not perfectly described by Christ here as well–
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. (Mat 23:4-7)
Proper response by a Pharisee to these charges?
And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Act 9:4-9)
Three days and three nights, blind, sitting there, devastated by the realization that he had been persecuting the very Lord he claimed to be serving.
This post was written primarily by Jeff Crippen, with a few additions by Barbara Roberts.
On the notion that Marriage ALWAYS displays God’s covenant-keeping love for the church:
John Piper teaches that marriage — the institution of marriage and therefore all actual marriages — displays and portrays the covenant-keeping love of God. And he most certainly teaches that the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church (Ephesians 5). Piper never sees the husband as the church in that Ephesians 5 analogy; he sticks to the script that he thinks he sees in Ephesians 5. He says the wife represents the church and the husband represents Christ.
He never inverts that Ephesians 5 metaphor in how he applies it to men and women; he never talks about an abusive husband as being the picture of the church, because the husband, in Piper’s concrete and blinkered mind, can only ever represent Christ. Piper just seems to ignore the fact that abusive husbands are pictures of Satan persecuting the church and keeping her in bondage, rather than pictures of Christ caring for the church.
I guess if you could push Piper and nail him down on this, he might readily concede that abusive husbands are displaying Satan not Christ. But he would never say that that allows the wife of an abuser to divorce and remarry a true Christian husband if she so choses, because for Piper, the principle that trumps all other principles is that The Chief Purpose of Marriage is to Display the Covenant Keeping Love of God for the Church.
Nothing can uproot this fixity in Piper. He is so single minded on it that he devoted THREE CHAPTERS to it in What Jesus Demands of the World. And guess what? In that book, Piper devoted one skimpy shallow paragraph to the command of Jesus that we not put our pearls before swine.
(adapted from a comment Barb made here)