A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Sheep, sheep-like shepherds, shepherds, and wolves

Society and especially the churches are in perilous times. Therefore it’s imperative to discern the difference between shepherds and wolves.

There are three types of people in the church, as there are elsewhere. That’s a generalisation, but it can help us understand life. In Christian terms, those three types are Sheep, Shepherds and Wolves.

This is part 1 of a 3-part series.  Part 2  Part 3

Jesus is the good shepherd, the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep (John 10:11). Jesus is the chief shepherd (1 Pet 5:4).

There are under-shepherds who are doing their humble best with the gifts God has given them to help other believers learn and apply the truths of God.

But here’s the rub: Any under-shepherd who is respected by sheep may turn out to be more sheep-like than shepherd-like. And sheep-like leaders can pretty easily be manipulated to enable the wolves, which means they abandon the sheep.

Here is a sketch of Sheep, Shepherds and Wolves in a typical church:

The Sheep are told that if they come along on Sunday, behave just so during the service (e.g. wave their hands in the air, or not wave their hands in the air), sing the songs just so, and believe the things they are told, they will become the children of God just so and Redemption is assured. They’re told they are amongst all good people and the Wolves are prowling around outside in the ‘world’. So they feel safe and good about themselves in this fantasy world.

The Shepherds tell this story just so and feel mighty important preaching this Feel-Good News and all will be well. God is smiling down on them. The importance they feel becomes pride, and distorted perceptions set in. Soon the Shepherds are attached to this image of the good people safe inside being led by good Shepherds (themselves) and the bad people (the Wolves) are all outside. So the Shepherds feel important in this fantasy world and become reliant on it.

The Wolves love this story because, in this story, the Wolves do not exist inside the walls of this feel-good-social-club and are free to fleece and cull the sheep at will. They are invisible. And the Sheep and the Shepherds will cover for them whenever the reality threatens to break cover and become visible, because everyone is all too attached to this fantasy feel-good safe world within the church.

Then someone comes along to blow the whistle to alert and protect others from the Wolves in their midst, and gets attacked by all the feel-good Sheep and Shepherds who would rather live in a fantasy.

Well, there is definitely someone smiling down at all this fantasy (lies) and it is definitely not God.
comment by James at my blog The Mystery Of Iniquity

So-called shepherds in the church could be broadly categorised into two groups

1. True under-shepherds for Jesus Christ (Eph 4:10-12).

True under-shepherds in the church must personally know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. They must be following Christ and heeding the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

The office of under-shepherd (pastor, overseer, bishop, priest, elder) in the church requires character and capability.  I’m going to quote the passages in 1 Timothy and Titus which set out the qualifications for under-shepherds. (Possible trigger warning for victims of abuse who have had these passages used against them.)

And a preliminary note about the phrase “the husband of one wife”. That phrase probably means a church leader should have exemplary sexual morality. It may be similar to our phrase “he only has eyes for one woman”. In other words, no ogling, no nursing of illicit sexual desires, no illicit sexual relationships, no concubines, no use of prostitutes or pornography. It does not mean the person can only be married once. (more about this on p 60 of my book Not Under Bondage)

A bishop must be faultless, the husband of one wife, sober, discreet, respectable; who is welcoming toward others and giving of shelter; able to teach; not drunken, no fighter; not given to the love of money, but gentle, abhorring quarrels, abhorring covetousness; and one who rules his own house well, having his children under obedience with all respectfulness. For if a man cannot manage his own house, how will he care for the congregation of God? He may not be a young scholar, lest he swell and fall into the judgment of the evil speaker. He must also be well reported of among those who are outside, lest he fall into rebuke and the snare of the evil speaker. (1 Tim 3:2-7)

faultless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not known for running wild or disobedience. not stubborn, not angry, no drunkard, no fighter; not given to the love of money, but welcoming toward people and willing to take them in; one who loves goodness, sober-minded, righteous, holy, temperate; and such as cleaves to the true word of doctrine, so that he may be able to exhort with wholesome teaching, and to refute those who speak against it. (Titus 1:5b-9)

Those two passages say that a church overseer should be “able to teach” — a person who “cleaves to the true word of doctrine, so that he may be able to exhort with wholesome teaching, and to refute those who speak against it”. If someone is able to teach and lead sheep as a true under-shepherd, that person must be able to think logically and handle multiple variables. See Logic and Authority in the Church.

Some people have the character and natural capability to function as true under-shepherds but they are not given any formal office of leadership.

2. Hirelings / hired servants / hired men

A hired servant, who is not the shepherd, neither are the sheep his own, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep, and flees; and the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep. (John 10:12)

These people have been given the office of shepherd by a church or parachurch organisation. They are attracted to the office by status and pay; they are not committed to protecting the sheep. If they are deemed shepherds by an online community, they may not be paid for what they do, but they are attracted by the status of having a following.

These people do not understand Jesus’ saying, “What you did for the least of mine, you did for me”. (See Matt 25:41-46)

Some of these people are what I call “sheep-like shepherds”. Some them have believed in a Story Faith but do not personally know Jesus — they are not born again. Others are born again and know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, but, because they do not have the personal qualities to be a true under-shepherd, they are easily manipulated by the wolves and the wolf-master Satan. (See Logic and Authority in the Church).

Other hired servants are committed wolves, masquerading as shepherds but consciously working for their father Satan. Jesus warned us, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matt 7:15) The Apostle Paul said, “For I am sure of this, that after my departing, grievous wolves will enter in among you, who will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20:29)

Wolves always try to manipulate shepherds so that the wolves can get away with preying on the sheep. Furthermore, wolves will use blackmail and other devious arts to get the sheep-like shepherds to join in or go along with the wolfish evil agenda.

Sheep-like shepherds may be wittingly or unwittingly complying with the wolfish agenda. See Blindness exacerbated by individual choice and Blindness as a result of being deceived by others

But the sure foundation of God remains, and has this seal: the Lord knows those that are his. And let everyone who calls on the name of Christ depart from iniquity. (2 Tim 2:19)

Sheep in the church, broadly speaking, also fall into two groups

1. Those who personally know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

These people have been born again. They may not possess (or yet have developed) the qualities required to be a true shepherd. They are happy and willing to be led by shepherds.

These people tend to read the bible diligently; scripture feeds them and helps them grow in Christ. But it’s important to note that some genuine believers who are survivors of spiritual abuse choose not to read the bible much, because it triggers them. Their abusers used scripture as a weapon against them. They are taking personal responsibility to manage their triggers without being flooded.

Because the church is heavily weighted with hirelings, and because many of the hired servants are either wolves or have been recruited or blackmailed into complying with the wolfish agenda, these sheep can have a hard time discerning between the true under-shepherds and the hired servants. See Blindness exacerbated by group choice and group-leader choice

2. Those who have believed in a Story Faith but who are not actually born again.

These people do not personally know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. They are happy with the church being a social club. They buy pretty much whatever the shepherds tell them.

These people tend to read the Bible rarely and then only skim it.

For all who care about humanity in these perilous times, and for all true Christians, it is imperative to discern the difference between true under-shepherds and hirelings.

Part 2: How can you tell if someone who has the office of shepherd is actually a hireling?

Part 3: What happens when sheep are led by hirelings and wolves?

***

Many of the ideas and words in this series come from James, an ACFJ commenter and guest poster. Used with permission.

Further reading:

Logic and Authority in the Church – by James

Why is the church so slow at responding rightly to the epidemic of abuse? – by Barbara Roberts

Jesus on Violence – by James. This addresses self-defence and defence of folks who are oppressed by wolves.

Have you been told to keep your focus at the foot of the cross?

“Keep your focus at the foot of the cross” is often dished out by those who consider themselves Christians. It’s a common mantra in Christianese. It’s used by accredited Christian counselors, church leaders, pew warmers, tin-pot evangelists… you name it.

The saying is easy to learn and repeat parrot fashion, like a mantra. Or like the instructions on the medicine packet: “take one with water three times a day with meals, and one at bedtime”.

Have you ever pondered about what “keep your focus at the foot of the cross” means? If you have, you may have wondered

1. Which cross?  — because there were three crosses

  • the cross of the man who repented
  • the cross of the unrepentant man
  • the cross on which Jesus was nailed

2. Which individuals at the foot of the cross / crosses?

  • good individuals? — perhaps including soldiers
  • bad individuals?  — including whited sepulchers
  • “average” individuals?
  • the soldiers who cast lots for Jesus’s clothing?
  • individuals present but not referenced in the Bible?

3. Perhaps Jesus’ foot, nailed to the cross?

“Jesus’ foot nailed to the cross” is a legitimate interpretation of “the foot of the cross”. Folks who interpret words concretely and folks who think about the multiple meanings of the word “foot” may well ask the question: Whose foot? Jesus’ foot?

Over to you, dear readers

What are your experiences, thoughts and reflections on the advice to “keep you eyes on the foot of the cross” or “keep your focus on the foot of the cross” or “keep your eyes on the cross” …or any other variants of that saying.

What is the basis for saying Christians must obey church elders?

Have you been told to submit to church elders? Have you heard the ‘rule’ that we must obey church leaders?

What is the basis for this ‘rule’ that you, as a professing Christian, must (must) obey church elders?

Definition of terms…so we all start on the same page.

I will be using the term ‘elders’ to refer to those who have been appointed to spiritual leadership positions: pastors, church elders, ministers, reverends, presbyters, moderators, bishops, archbishops…and you can add cardinals & popes to that list. Some translations of the bible use the word ‘overseers’. For the purpose of this article, all those titles are interchangeable.

Let us examine the two verses in Hebrews 13 which speak about obeying or submitting to elders. Most pastors focus on Hebrews 13:17 which says:

Obey those who have the oversight of you, and submit yourselves to them, for they watch for your souls even as those who must give accounts. Let them do it with joy, and not with grief. For that is an unprofitable thing for you.

However, verse 7 in the same chapter says:

Remember those who have the oversight of you, who have declared to you the word of God. See that you look upon the way they live out their life, and follow their faith.

The ones who have oversight over the congregation need to be able to rightly divide the word of truth: rightly explain and apply what the Bible teaches. If the elders do a poor job of that, if they twist, selectively hammer, and misapply the Word, they ought not be in the position of overseer!

It is not a sin to ponder whether the elders are rightly dividing the word of truth.

Verse 7 also tells us to look at the way the elders are living out their lives. In other words, use your brain, your capacity to think independently, and ask yourself:  Is what this elder says consistent with what he does?

If you have not been brainwashed…if you observe and are discerning and can think independently, you may notice gigantic inconsistencies between their rhetoric and their conduct.

Often these discrepancies are particularly obvious when it comes to the way elders deal with interpersonal abuse and oppression, i.e., injustice perpetrated by the more powerful onto the less powerful.

The conduct — the pattern of behaviour — of arrogant / prideful church leaders shows you that they are hypocrites and Pharisees. Instead of defending and vindicating the oppressed, they are ignoring or re-traumatizing the oppressed. One of the ways elders do this is to give the impression they support the abused…but when it comes to the crunch, they let them down.

It is clear from Hebrews 13:7 that every true Christian is urged to scrutinise and evaluate the pattern of conduct of church leaders.

You need not obey or follow a church leader whose pattern of conduct is glaringly inconsistent with the whole counsel of the Word.

How can you evaluate the pattern of conduct of elders?

James 1:27 is a good verse to use when evaluating the pattern of conduct of church elders. Pure devotion, and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their adversity, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

If you think that women abused by their husbands are not widows, I encourage you to read this: The Widows and Orphans of Our Time.

Apart from Hebrews 13, there are only two other passages in the New Testament which allude to submitting to church elders

Here are those two passages in context. The ‘submit-to-elders’ parts are in purple.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15
We beseech you, brethren, to recognize those who labour among you, and have the oversight of you in the Lord and give you exhortation – to have them the more in love for their work’s sake, and be at peace with them.
We desire you, brethren, to warn those who are unruly, comfort the faint-hearted, bear up the weak, and have continual patience toward all people. See that no one returns evil for evil to anyone, but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and among all people.

1 Peter 5:1-7
The elders who are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the afflictions of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. See that you feed the flock of Christ that is among you, taking the oversight of them not as though you were compelled to it, but willingly; not for wrongful gain, but of a good mind; not as though you were lords over the parishes, but so that you are an example to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you shall receive an incorruptible crown of glory.
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to the elders. Submit yourselves everyone, one to another. Knit yourselves together in lowliness of mind. For God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you when the time is come. Cast all your care upon him, for he cares for you.

***

Scripture quotations are from the New Matthew Bible (NMB).

Further reading:

The abuse victim as widow

The widows and orphans of our time

A Sure Sign that Something is Wrong in a Church – Failure to Care for Widows and Orphans

Salvation is not a ‘spiritual bargain’ you can make with God

Salvation is much mis-taught and misunderstood in Christendom.

ABUSERS who claim to be Christians could be roughly divided into two groups: the ones who genuinely think they are Christians, and the ones who intentionally lie in their claim to be Christians. The abusers who genuinely think they are Christians may be thinking they are saved because they’ve made some kind of spiritual bargain with God. 

It’s also possible that there are VICTIMS of abuse who think of themselves as Christians — yet they may not be saved. They, too, may be thinking that salvation is some kind of spiritual bargain you can make with God.

This guest post by Helovesme might help you think about these things.

Barb thinks there are two ways this post might help you, dear reader:

  • It might help you discern and detect the abusers in your life.
  • It might help you test your own faith. The Apostle Paul urges all believers to do this: “Prove yourselves, whether you are in the faith or not. Examine your own selves. Do you not know your own selves that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless you are castaways.” (2 Cor 13:5)

End of preamble by Barb. Now read on for Helovesme’s post….

Being a slave to sin, imprisoned by sin (as the Bible speaks of) does NOT mean you have no choice but to blindly obey its commands. Being unsaved does not mean you “can’t help yourself.”

Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master. (NLT)

Thy sin lieth open in the door. Notwithstanding, let it be subdued unto thee, and see thou rule it. (William Tyndale’s translation, 1537 Matthew Bible)

Those words in Genesis 4:7 were God’s words to Cain when he was intending to murder his own brother. Those words still stand. You do not HAVE to let sin be your master.

Abuse is sin.

The abused have nothing to repent of in being sinned against. The darkness, the brokenness, the suffering, are things victims unfortunately deal with — but they have no one to blame but the abuser for what they caused.

[A victim  of abuse is not to blame for being abused — that blame belongs wholly to the person or persons who did the abusing. The responsibility is fixed to the abuser, not the victim — the blame must be sheeted home to the abuser. Sheeted home is an idiom that is commonly used in Australia and the UK.]

When I was in the kingdom of darkness, I suffered from my own sins (which were many) and from the sins of others (which were also many). Nevertheless, one did not trump the other. No matter how much or how often I was abused, none of it reduced the culpability of my own personal sin. And no matter how much or how often I sinned, none of it reduced the culpability of who sinned against me.

Can you imagine the Lord telling me, as unsaved person, that because I was abused, the severity of my own sins were “decreased” in His eyes? Can you imagine the Lord telling me, “Sure, I get it: you were hurt by bad people and that’s why you are so bad yourself.”

Let’s say this really happened (it didn’t). My repentance, and becoming born again, would have been something of a joke. My old self, that Christ told us to “reckon” as dead, would not have been fully reckoned as dead, because I had just been given permission to downgrade my own sins, and upgrade the sins done to me — sort of like a “spiritual” bargain. So I’d only be sort of born again, kind of forgiven and possibly a new creation in Him. If I had refused to be held fully accountable for my sins, that would not have fully exited me from the kingdom of darkness — where excuses and denial of sin rules and reigns.

***

Thanks to Helovesme for allowing her words from this comment to be used in this stand-alone post.

Barb added William Tyndale’s translation of Gen 4:7, as cited in The Story of the Matthew Bible by Ruth Magnusson Davis (p 65).

Words in square brackets within Helovesme’s post are Barb’s.

Hymns to strengthen your faith in these difficult times

I hope these two hymns will encourage you and build your faith. They are not particularly Easter hymns, but they certainly speak of the power and love and mercy of God. I encourage you to sing them out loud. Find the tune below the lyrics.

Hail our once-rejected Jesus

1 Hail, our once-rejected Jesus!
Hail, our Galilean king!
You have suffered to release us,
hope and joy and peace to bring.
Patient friend and holy saviour,
bearer of our sin and shame;
by your merits we find favour,
life is given through your name.

2 Paschal Lamb, by God appointed,
all our sins on you were laid;
by almighty love anointed,
full atonement you have made.
All your people are forgiven
through the virtue of your blood;
opened is the gate of heaven,
we are reconciled with God.

3 Jesus! Heavenly hosts adore you,
seated at your Father’s side;
crucified, this world once saw you,
now in glory you abide.
There for sinners you are pleading,
and our place you now prepare;
always for us interceding,
till in glory we appear.

4 Worship, honour, power and blessing
you are worthy to receive;
loudest praises, without ceasing,
right it is for us to give.
Help us, bright angelic spirits
joined with ours, your voices raise;
help to show our saviour’s merits,
help to sing Emmanuel’s praise.

These lyrics can be sung to the tune in this video.

We trust in you, our shield and our defender

1 We trust in you, our shield and our defender;
we do not fight alone against the foe:
strong in your strength, safe in your keeping tender,
we trust in you, and in your name we go.

2 We trust in you, O captain of salvation—
in your dear name, all other names above:
Jesus, our righteousness, our sure foundation,
our prince of glory and our king of love.

3 We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
and needing more each day your grace to know;
yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We trust in you, and in your name we go.”

4 We trust in you, our shield and our defender:
yours is the battle—yours shall be the praise!
When passing through the gates of dazzling splendor,
victors, we rest in you through endless days.

I couldn’t find a YouTube version with the above lyrics, so I’m sharing this instead. The lyrics are almost the same. To my way of thinking, the hymn is better sung a little slower than is done here.

 

PS—the lyrics I have reproduced here are not copyright.

Covid-19 and the analogy of sin

Covid-19 has pulled people up short and made them think about death. We are born, we live, we die—but most people have avoided thinking about death, preferring to distract themselves with the delights of this world while they can. Covid-19 has pulled the human family up short and brought it face to face with the the reality of death. In addition, the global lockdown and economic collapse is causing anxiety, fear, mental overload, emotional roller-coasters, stresses on families and personal relationships, not to mention massive adjustments in most people’s lives.

Compared to other infectious diseases, Covid-19 has a long incubation period — they say it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear after a person has been infected. Many who are infected do not become seriously ill. But for those who die, the time from first symptoms to death can be quite long—several weeks it seems.

Sin—the sin nature—the bias towards sin— is a ‘virus’ we are all born with. We inherited the sin nature from Adam. The analogy would be catching the infection, contracting the disease. After we are born, we might live in this world for three score years and ten, or more, before our mortal bodies die. But for all that time until his mortal body dies, the natural man, by his sin nature, is dead spiritually—blinded and cut off from God.

We can’t avoid contracting the sin nature by practising social distancing and washing our hands. Nothing we do in our own efforts can cleanse the sin nature from us. Nothing we do in our own efforts can cure us from this ‘disease’.

I’d like to take this analogy further.

How are doctors treating patients who have Covid-19? This is a hot topic of debate among medicos and scientists at present. Here are some of the treatments which doctors have been using: give them extra oxygen; intubate them on ventilators to pump air and oxygen into their lungs; give them hydrochloroquine and azithromycin in the early stages of the disease; give them high dose Vitamin C intravenously. (I’ve listed the treatments I’ve heard of and read about; there may be other treatments which I have not heard of.)

If sin is like a virus, a virus we contract at birth, a virus which causes separation from God in this world and the next, a virus which leads to both physical death and eternal death, what is the treatment for the sin virus?  That, dear friends, is easy to answer. The treatment, the remedy, is repentance and faith in Jesus. Jesus died for the sins of all mankind. Jesus offers forgiveness and purification to all who repent and trust in him for salvation. The treatment is free, and instantanously effective.  But anyone who thinks he can receive salvation without humble and heart-true repentance is deceiving himself; he is choosing to live in darkness rather than light.

For God so loves the world, that he has given his only Son, so that none who believe in him should perish, but should have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world through him could be saved. Whoever believes on him shall not be condemned.

But whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he does not believe in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the condemnation: that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But whoever does truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be known, that they are wrought in God.

John 3:16-21 (NMB)

The Covid-19 crisis has brought all this closer to the surface.

Trying to ‘do the right thing’ in this world — whether it be social distancing, hand-washing, financially providing for your family, telling others your perspective on what has caused the Covid-19 crisis…all those types of activities are for this temporal world. They may or may not benefit others in this temporal world.

But what about the next world?

People panic about death from Covid-19, yet often those same people steadfastly resist thinking about sin and its consequence—eternal death. Hmm. What does that signify? What can we make of that? What can we do about that?

I don’t have answers to all those questions, but I encourage us all to ponder those questions and factor them in to the situations we each of us are dealing with in our daily lives.

On a personal note, I have been struggling to write a blog post since the Covid-19 panic hit. I have been reading and listening to many different points of view—from scientists, from Christians, from ‘whistle-blowers’, from ordinary folks who are out of a job or working from home or stressed by other elements of the lockdown. I’ve been through my own roller-coaster of tears, grief, anger, tears, irritability, sadness, despair, frustration, and guilt. Feeling like a leper. Trying to smile at and encourage others. When I’ve been unable to read Scripture I have been able to sing hymns; that has helped me a lot. I have been trying to get exercise daily and expose my skin to sunshine for Vitamin D.

May the Lord have mercy on us all.

Perhaps it may help to end this with a few verses about blessing and blessedness, from the New Testament.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when men hate you and thrust you out of their company, and rail, and abhor your name as an evil thing, for the Son of man’s sake.

I have shown you in every way how, by so labouring, you ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercy and the God of all comfort

Blessed are the dead who die hereafter in the Lord, as the Spirit affirms, that they may rest from their labours; but their works shall follow them.

Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. For on such the second death shall have no power. For they shall be the priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

Blessed are those who do his commandments, so that their power may be in the tree of life, and they may enter in through the gates into the city.