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As yesterday’s post said, a small yet significant number of notional Christians have been moving into more extreme movements and churches in recent years.

Since I started this blog over four years ago, I’ve read more about groups old and new attracting more adherents to live a ‘holier’ life in Christ.

Of course, there is the centuries-old pietism, a questionable reaction to established churches in Germany, Scandinavia and Britain. A number of smaller sects, cults and independent borrowed heavily from it, as did some strands of Methodism. The Holiness churches are one example of this blending.

More recent movements are the curious Islamic-inspired family-centred movements which appoint the father as God’s representative of the household, dictating what wife and children may or must do and when. This includes the veiling of women in church and the lack of higher education available to female members of a household. The running of the house assumes an Islamic template in the use of corporal punishment by husbands on wives.

There is also an odd syncretism of Catholicism and Protestantism in the Federal Vision (FV) movement which over the past several years has become a fringe attraction for a small number of Calvinists in Flyover Country. Clergy dress like Catholic priests. A clear and reactionary ‘complementarianism’ of male and female roles is encouraged. Theonomy is a big theme; if only we could help Christ establish His kingdom — He needs our help (no!). Splinter FV groups advocate strict racial separation; the misguided get so mixed up in this that they do not hesitate to relocate in order to follow one of these pastors, who ends up establishing his own church because a Reformed denomination has rightly put him out to pasture.

And, in the midst of all this is the late 20th century Messianic Christianity: the Hebrew Roots Movement, Jews for Jesus, Sacred Name Movement and suchlike. Their followers are what the Epistles of Paul and Book of Acts referred to as Judaizers. I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, however, continuing from yesterday’s post, the Reformed minister Reed DePace wrote more on the subject for Green Baggins. DePace has strong views on the subject of the Hebrew Roots Movement, as he has a family friend — a former orthodox Protestant — who has begun following them. He has also counselled other families who became involved in this movement.

In ‘Gentle-Hardness with the Hebrew Roots Movement’, DePace writes (emphases in bold mine):

Let me say up front that the more I hear from proponents of the HRM the more I am persuaded it is a modern form of the Pharisaical-Judaizing heresy condemned in Scripture. More broadly I think these criticisms also apply to a large part of the Messianic Christianity movement (MCM). This follows because the HRM is both a child of the MCM and is the deep doctrinal well which waters the growth of the MCM. I recognize that there exist Messianic Jews who shun with horror the errors of the HRM and more broadly those in the MCM. My criticisms do not apply to them.

In my own pastoral calling I’ve have had to help families affected by the HRM/MCM. It was this need that first prompted my study of this subject a couple of years back. In part I sympathize with those attracted to the HRM/MCM. I acknowledge and affirm their desire for a better relationship with God.

One of the greatest sadnesses in my community is the problem of gospel-presumptive Christians. These are not nominal Christians, folks who are nothing more than culturally Christian. No, these are folks for whom Christianity is a regular part of their everyday life. They have a rudimentary grasp of the basics of the gospel. Yet they have little practical understanding of how to live by the gospel (Rom 1:16-17, Gal 2:20, Col 2:6-7, etc.). As a result they are left to trying to live the Christian life through the use of their own resources (i.e., living by sight, not by faith; 2Co 5:7). So when such folks run across a new (old) teaching that promises a whole new experience of God’s power; that offers out the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the abundant life (John 10:10), it is understandable how the HRM can be attractive to them.

The problem is that what is attracting them is not a better understanding of the gospel at all but something straight from the pit of Hell.

I was surprised to read in his third post, ‘Of Tzitzits, Tallits and Traditions’, that some of these HRM adherents — men — are wearing Jewish prayer garments.

In anglicized Hebrew the prayer shawl is called a tallit, the tassels are called tzitzits. Sit down with any Messianic Christian who uses a tallit with tzitzits and ask them to explain the practice. Very quickly they will be offering you arguments based on men’s traditions – NOT the Scriptures ...

It is hard to understand how this practice of the Mosaic Law is nothing more than a tradition of man. Therefore, to insist that in any manner its practice is even advisable for Christians, is to teach as holy what Jesus condemned as wicked.

DePace adds in the comments:

Spend some time looking at websites these folks frequent and you’ll see that they are teaching a new version of the old Pharisaical heresy, to wit that Torah keeping is still required of Christians. They can dress it up, massage it, tweak it any way they wish. At the bottom of all their arguments is this simple teaching: Torah keeping is necessary for the Christian in his relationship with God.

A commenter, JGIG, observes:

Also important to note here is that Torah folk are not focused on passing on the Life of Christ to the Lost; they are primarily focused on teaching Christians to become Torah observant. You will not hear them tell of spreading the Gospel to the nations, but of spreading Torah to the nations. The spreading of the Gospel, the message of the forgiveness of sins and the free gift of eternal life that the Apostles constantly risked and nearly all of them eventually lost their lives for, is not the Law keepers’ priority.

This makes them every bit the Judaizers that Paul preached so strongly against in the letter to the Galatians.

That said, I do not condemn them (the Law will eventually do that); most HRMers get into Law ‘keeping’ because they love and want to please God. Unfortunately, they come under a false belief system because they don’t have a firm grasp of

Who Jesus is
What He came to do
What that actually accomplished, and
Who we as believers are in Him.

When one has a firm grasp on those things, false teachings tend to fall away.

I guess I would just gently exhort you to not dismiss the HRM as just another ‘denomination’; they are not. They are preaching another gospel and also another jesus (they believe that Jesus/Yeshua is the Living Torah) – do not underestimate the damage they are doing in the Body [of the Church].

Going back to the ‘Gentle-Hardness’ post, DePace outlines the New Testament timeline of those in error between Torah and Gospel. This is well worth reading, especially for those who are directly impacted by family or friends in this movement as well as pastors who are counselling same:

AD 39-40: The Church in Jerusalem concluded that God has rescinded the Mosaic Law’s Jew-Gentile separation provisions (Acts 10-11).
AD 49-50 (the exact order of the following series is immaterial to the points being made):

  • Paul confronts Peter and Barnabas for their hypocrisy in separating themselves from Gentile believers in the Church in Galatia.
  • Later, Paul writes to the Galatians to warn them in the strongest terms against (supposed) Christians who were teaching them that Gentile believers needed to keep the Mosaic ceremonial/worship laws in order to be right with God.
  • The Church concluded that Gentile believers ARE NOT to be subjected to the ceremonial/worship provisions of the Mosaic Law (Acts 15).

AD 62-68 (again, the exact dates for writing each of these is immaterial to the points made):

  • Paul writes (First) Timothy, offering him instruction for his pastoral duties (Ephesian Church).
  • Paul writes to Titus, giving him counsel on his pastoral duties (Cretan Church).
  • Paul writes further instruction to (Second) Timothy in the discharge of his pastoral duties.
  • In all three letters one of the critical issues Paul addressed was the heresy of the Judaizers, those who would require Gentile Christians to practice the Mosaic ceremonial/worship laws.

Did you follow the progression of these things? From eliminating Jew-Gentile separation, to removal of Mosaic law provisions on Gentiles, to fighting against those who would place Christians back under slavery to the Mosaic Law.

DePace helpfully provides a list of New Testament verses which refute the Judaizers — and legalism. They were applicable at the time and continue to be so today. This is a useful collection of verses to use with legalists. Here are but a few:

Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in– who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery– to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (Gal 2:4-5)

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal 5:4)

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. (1Ti 1:3-4)

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1Ti 6:3-5)

Let us pray for those enslaved by legalism — religious or secular. Much of it is based on heresy.

Dr Wryzek’s blog, So What’s the Point? provides a thought-provoking insight into the 21st century Church.

Dr Wryzek has studied theology and has also spent time as a pastor. One of his latest posts, ‘Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right Thing … Really? (Part 1)’ followed the line of the Episcopalian Mockingbirds on legalism and ‘working’ for the church. The Mockingbirds posited that there were two classes of churchgoers: one which served and one that was served.

Although I wasn’t of this mindset until the last decade, I now believe that many pastors put to ‘work’ the middle and upper-middle class members of the congregation. The class ‘to be served’ is only on the receiving end of their gracious ministrations, as ordered by the pastor. It is another way — perhaps a ‘nudge’ — to get people to redistribute their wealth and time ‘for the church’. Meanwhile, they and their families get left behind.

One proponent of this perspective is a Baptist pastor, the Revd David Platt of the Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Alabama. Dr Platt is firmly committed to overseas missions, which is laudable. However, from what I have read of his theology on other blogs, it seems that he wants wealthy Americans — I use the term advisedly — to finance his missionary ministry with large sums of money.  Hmm.

Yes, as Christians, we are all called to charity, however, as with fruits of faith, we do this in various ways. We are not cookie-cutters. Platt proposes a ‘Radical Experiment’  which involves, as one would expect, money and time, some of which should be spent in small groups — the ecclesiastical collective flavour of the month.  Small groups often involve public confession of sins which are in general no one else’s business except yours and God’s. In the small group — a pietist innovation from centuries ago — the congregant humbly confesses before the appointed leader. If you’re thinking Communist Party here, you would not be wrong; check out the late ex-Communist Bella Dodd’s story of public confession before the local Party Leader.

I can appreciate Platt’s enthusiasm for missions, but to apply emotional blackmail to faithful Christians who are no doubt are already giving to their church and various charities — free time included — is bang out of order. It is not Platt’s business to coerce people into the redistribution of their wealth, which is really what this is. The Holy Spirit and God’s grace will move Christians towards a decision which is right for them as individuals and families.

Anyway, what happens when the money runs out? People like Platt seem to think it is an endless resource when it is, in fact, as Baroness Thatcher pointed out, quite finite, especially where redistribution (socialism) is concerned.

I’m not saying that Platt is a socialist by any means, but he seems to have fallen into a trap. Jesus’s advice to the rich young man was situation-specific. The young man said that he was faithful to all the commandments. This then begged the question: what was the only thing left which was required of him? Jesus tested him; in today’s parlance: ‘Well, if you’re that good a person, then, please, join My apostles and Me. The only prerequisite is for you to sell your possessions and donate the proceeds to the poor’. In other words, Jesus called the young man out.

It is unlikely that Platt’s congregation and adherents are self-proclaimed keepers of all the Ten Commandments. I certainly am not, even though I keep praying for the grace for increasing sanctification. We are all sinners, and almost all of us would fully admit that. So, why should Platt  feel he is authorised to develop a Radical Experiment for wealth redistribution? In any case, the first word — ‘radical’ — should start ringing alarm bells.

Seriously, if one’s ministry is that compelling — to use language which Platt’s generation would understand — then, money should just come flowing in naturally. Platt shouldn’t even need to hammer on this topic. However, as it is, his move comes across as arrogant and unbiblical — even if he doesn’t intend it to be that way.

I don’t think that Platt, as well meaning as he probably is, is using actual force or cruelty, just emotional blackmail. ‘Look at how much you have and how little they have’.

The Revd Wade Burleson, also a Baptist, has a balanced appraisal of both sides of Platt’s radical idea, accompanied by helpful Bible verses — the best I’ve read yet.

However, there is another aspect to this subject, which might come as news to Platt:

There are many European states which take in many people from the developing world every year. Not just a few dozen, but tens of thousands per Western European nation annually. These migrants do not want Platt’s sort of 19th century missionary charity in their own lands, even if they happily accept it as a stopgap measure; many are looking for economic opportunity in the West.  We European taxpayers provide every assistance to those coming to our countries — at the expense of our own — believe it.

To my American readers: In all sincerity, donate money and time as you wish, but do not give up your holiday homes or bulk savings for the missions unless you can afford to and really want to. We Europeans are redistributing our ‘wealth’ — via taxes — to those arriving from former colonies as well as in tens of billions of euros (pounds, etc.) in foreign aid to their homelands. Therefore, today’s taxes address the material problems the missions once did. This is the truth. So, relax, enjoy your families and contemplate your retirement. May it be an easy and happy one in this time of economic crisis.

But, I digress.

Back to Dr Wryzek, who writes of pastors employing emotional blackmail in more malign ways (emphases mine):

Because once a pastor always a pastor, I’m disturbed (probably in more ways than one!) at the condition many churches and their leaders are in these daysBut, this is nothing new; similar leadership degradation happened to Israel and Ezekiel 34 … describes what Israel’s shepherds did that brought them under God’s judgment and how the problem was solved.

You’ll notice the very first indictment is they used material and monetary resources reserved for the flock, and from the flock, to insure their own personal security and plenty; they became exceedingly fat while the sheep became skinny. Making this number one suggests it is particularly irritating to God (putting it mildly). Next, because of this inordinate self-preoccupation they lost track of the sheep and didn’t bother to go after those who either wandered away (the Hebrew word suggests ‘scared off’) or seek after those who became lost altogether (literally ‘perishing’). Furthermore, they failed to take care of the weak (malnourished), provide healing to the sick and bind up the broken (alludes to treating wounds caused by wolves). Finally, they ruled the remaining sheep (the ones not scared off or not yet dead from neglect) with force and cruelty ...

The ‘force and cruelty’ is a bit more subtle and is very often disguised by ecclesiastical authority (the minister/laity distinction or the so-called ‘Moses’ model of ministry are examples) and tricking the sheep into thinking they exist for the sake of the shepherd instead of the other way around. Using the force of guilt to manipulate a flock into supporting dubious, self-serving programs is one quite effective example. This works by appealing to loyalty for the shepherd (“I’m your loyal pastor so help me out here”), or by using the Bible to coerce some kind of behavior, usually about giving money (“…give to this ministry and God will give back to you even more”). The sheep feel bad if they don’t respond as directed or, much worse, might even feel they’re letting God down and this is just plain cruel.

If any of the above is happening to you or the flock you’re part of at least consider confronting the leadership or find a safe haven somewhere else. Blind loyalty to a person, persons or denomination just because of some ‘past’ good old days or long-standing history isn’t going to cut it because we are in the last days and the kind of ecclesiastical disintegration we are witnessing is a precursor, and contributor, to the great apostasy I think is already beginning (2 Thess. 2:1-3).

Pray for guidance when receiving pastoral requests for time and money. Avoid feeling pressured. Focus on your families’ needs first, then those of others.  Charity begins at home.

Whilst assembling the following sources, I ran across an illustration called ‘God’s Hierarchy’ in the Daily Kos. ‘God’s Hierarchy’ appeared in a 1974 Bill Gothard manual (it’s a must-see but requires permission to use).

Gothard, for my readers outside the United States, is a cultlike Christian leader who has been around for some years, although I had not heard of him until last year. Americans who have come under his influence would say that was a blessing.

‘God’s Hierarchy’ shows God (represented by a triangle and arms) with a hammer in His hand. The hammer — the father of the family — is pounding a huge chisel — the mother.  The chisel as mother is cutting the jewel,  the teenager. That is Gothard’s and the ultraconservative Christian’s idea of the family. It’s not what I grew up with but might be familiar to some of my readers.

So, it was not totally surprising to read about the Islamic version of this linear top-down relationship in the Telegraph. An imam in Catalonia (Spain) is under police investigation for advocating battering ‘errant wives’ (emphases mine):

Abdeslam Laarusi, an imam at the Badr mosque in Terrassa near Barcelona allegedly issued instructions during Friday prayers on how to beat unruly women without leaving telltale marks.

The Muslim cleric advised using “fists and sticks on various parts of the body to avoid breaking bones or drawing blood”, investigators said.

“He provided concrete examples of the manner in which wives should be beaten, how to isolate them inside the family home and how to deny them sexual relations,” said the police in a statement, saying they had received testimony from numerous witnesses.

The imam, a Moroccan immigrant who is married with five children, was called in for questioning by the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police force, on Tuesday …

Muhammad Kamal Mustafa received a 15-month prison sentence and a 2,160 euros fine for inciting Muslim men to physically abuse their wives in his pamphlet “Women in Islam”.

In it he wrote: “The blows should be concentrated on the hands and feet using a rod that is thin and light so that it does not leave scars or bruises on the body.”

Afterward, whilst browsing my blogroll, I came upon the latest posts from the Sola Sisters about Rick Warren’s continuing overtures to Muslims! One post asks what the King’s Way document actually says, another demonstrates that Saddleback pastors know it is an interfaith document and the third discusses one of Warren’s pastors, Abraham Meulenberg, speaking near Nice (France) in 2011 at an ecumenical conference. Photos show him lecturing on the commonality between Christianity and Islam!

It won’t be long before Warren’s fellow Baptists join him in this effort. It would seem as if the complementarians among them would have lots to learn from their Muslim brothers. (Sarcasm alert.)

Why are we teaming up with these people? Don’t discount for a moment the possibility that there’s more money and more prestige in this for Warren.

Back to domestic violence, however. As Anna Wood writes (please take a few minutes to read her post in full):

A man is abusive because he desires ungodly control over his wife. The sin of abuse lies in the abuser’s court.

When you meet up with an abused woman, remember these things:

When a woman is abused by her husband, it isn’t because

she didn’t submit enough (if she is like most abused women, she is far more submissive than most women ever have to be),

she didn’t obey often enough (in the name of obedience, he has likely commanded things that would disgust and frighten the best of us),

she hasn’t tried hard enough,

she didn’t love him enough,

she didn’t spend enough time in prayer for her husband and for their marriage,

she didn’t study the Word,

didn’t believe the Word

or didn’t try to obey the Word with everything within her.

Without further ado, below are resources which women (especially in North America) might find helpful in case of domestic abuse. Clergy and other church-based workers might also find them useful.

N.B.: I have not read the books, only blog recommendations and the Amazon reviews.


Cindy Burrell’s articles

Is substance abuse linked to spouse abuse?


A Cry for Justice

A Wife’s Submission

Submission Tyranny, in Church and Society

The Cross Is All

Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence


Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion

Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence

Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

The Batterer as Parent: Addressing the Impact of Domestic Violence on Family Dynamics and the sequel

Character Disturbance: the phenomenon of our age

In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People


Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (Australia)

Hurt by Love

Not Under Bondage

These are just a few suggestions. There are bound to be many more resources in cyberspace.

End of series

Since I was a child I have never understood the (mainly) American penchant for non-mainline Protestants to beat their children to a pulp from infancy.

This is another reason why I do not advocate pietistic and holiness movements and why I started this series exploring the background to these groups. Yes, some are said to be gentler than others, however, even some Amish and Mennonite communities consider extreme corporal punishment to be necessary for the godly raising of children.

A brief background

In the 1970s, whilst America was looking at post-Dr Spock ways of parenting with patience, the new Christian Right advocated the more traditional method of ‘beatings will stop when morale improves’.

During that time, James Dobson, a Nazarene (a Wesleyan-derived holiness church), started Focus on the Family. From what I can remember through his newspaper interviews, he advocated breaking a young child’s will but not his spirit. I believe it was he who said that you must whip your child with an implement, having tried it on yourself first to see if it would hurt — a fallacy if ever there was one. As children grew, the size of the implement would increase in order to inflict more pain.

I wondered what would happen between a parent who had a black-and-white view of the world and a creative or analytical child. What would happen with an adolescent who was turning out to be more intelligent and articulate than the parent? I concluded that, according to Dobson’s model, the child would need to be beaten into submission.

In the fundamentalist worldview, any opposition to the parent — God’s familial representative — is sinful, ‘rebellious’ and counter-productive to a ‘godly’ home life.

If it doesn’t make sense to you, count yourself fortunate.

The same line of thinking extends to Christian homes for troubled girls and boys, some — like Hephzibah House — operated by Baptist organisations. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Other advocates of this type of abuse in God’s name were — and are — associated with Dominionism which began in the 1970s as a fringe movement and has now morphed into various groups and churches which mostly agree on the necessity to have a home worthy of God, perfect obedience and an unquestioning mind. Some leaders are pastors, others are laypeople — especially couples. In the 1990s, Gary and Anne-Marie Ezzo wrote books and course materials on biblically-based parenting. Over the past decade, Michael and Debi Pearl have been popular in ultra-conservative congregations. To provide more of a structured paradigm for the dominionist model as it relates to the home, pseudo-Calvinists involved in Vision Forum have been at the forefront of the homeschooling movement over the past several years. There are also pseudo-cultish leaders who are promoting the dominionist agenda and a formulaic way to make sure one’s home is favoured by the Lord. I’ll go into that much more next week.

For now, however, consider that we are now into our third generation — at least — of conservative Protestants who are supporters of primitive methods seen to bring about increased godliness and Christian domination. The necessary rationale and mindset revolve around the Old Testament, with the Gospels and Jesus Christ taking second place. The doctrines of grace which are essential to Lutheranism and Calvinism have been displaced by the drive for holiness and sanctity.

Balanced = lukewarm

There is a certain mindset which is in place for the extreme fundamentalist. They separate from the rest of us — Catholics and mainline Protestants — because we aren’t on fire enough for the Lord. We take more measured approaches to faith and home life. The extreme denominations see that as being lukewarm and damned.

Here is an illuminating quote featured recently at Commandments of Men in ‘Balance, Extremes and Swinging Pendulums’ (emphases in bold mine):

All three are concepts which turn into crutches for religious addicts – particularly those in the halfway house phase of the journey.

I fear that a lot of people may have misunderstood the point or context of “balance” that Cindy Kunsman brought up in her review of Courageous

“In real life, these formulaic practices tend to degrade into extremes of legalism which compete with balanced Christian living over time. As Vyckie Garrison notes, because the father-centered ideology redefines balance as sinful mediocrity and compromise to be resisted at all costs under most all circumstances, her family “did NOT want to be balanced. This is a core symptom of dysfunction found in families affected by addiction, a pattern of behavior that Vision Forum teaches as God’s ordained plan for godly living.”

Under Much Grace develops this further:

in dysfunctional households, family members learn that extremes are normal, and when they start to live in balance, it feels wrong. They associate their lives and have learned to experience life through extremes of despair and ecstatic joy, so the balance of everyday living doesn’t feel much like living. They have to chase a high, and this makes sense if they’ve spent a lot of time coping with tragedy and events that left them in despair. They learn to hate that place of balance, the zone where balance places most events in life as the dynamically weave around the midline between extremes.

In extreme religious groups which tends to attract people who subconsciously wish to avoid their pain, not knowing that it even exists in many cases, that zone of balance and emotional health gets redefined. Just as dysfunctional adults redefine balance in relationships as deadness and extremes of continual extreme passion and disdain as intimacy (actually the enemies of true intimacy), religious groups tend to redefine balance in religious life as conformity and lack of commitment to God. 

They learn to experience the world through a framework that prefers extremes and controversy, or rather through conspiracies and extreme themes of apocalypse and triumph. People mistake balanced Christian living as lack of devotion and lack of intimacy with God. Some use gender motivated “culture wars” to play out their unresolved and displaced emotions. Some use the chase of religious highs or the attainment of perfect piety as another way of displacing their internal struggle.

Please note that last sentence about piety!

And this introduction into the desired imbalance starts as soon as a child is born.

Extreme punishment is ‘cleansing’

The Revd Ronald E Williams, Pastor of Believers Baptist Church in Winona Lake, Indiana, and director of the Hepzibah House for ‘troubled teens’ (mostly girls) says in ‘The Correction and Salvation of Children’ that not beating your offspring into submission will consign them to hellfire. As others do, he uses verses from Proverbs to support his methods.

I’m going to map his perspective on a chronological timeline:

When should a parent start using the rod of correction on a child that the Lord has brought into the family? … A child very quickly demonstrates his fallen, depraved nature and reveals himself to be a selfish little beast in manifold ways. As soon as the child begins to express his own self-will (and this occurs early in life) that child needs to receive correction. My wife and I have a general goal of making sure that each of our children has his will broken by the time he reaches the age of one year. To do this, a child must receive correction when he is a small infant. Every parent recognizes that this self-will begins early as he has witnessed his child stiffen his back and boldly demonstrate his rebellion and self-will even though he has been fed, diapered, and cared for in every other physical way.

On what occasions should a child be corrected? Whenever a child directly disobeys authority or shows disrespect and rebellion toward authority, that child should receive correction. Lesser infractions of course would receive lesser forms of correction with the rod being reserved for the more serious infractions.

It’s a cleansing ritual (this is scripturally impossible, by the way, because we cannot purify another’s soul):

The first part or the procedure of correction is highlighted by “Thou shalt beat him with the rod.” The one who does the beating, in other words, is the one who saves this child in a spiritual sense! Here is a very mysterious promise to a parent in the Scriptures, that consistent, Godly, disciplined correction of the child with the rod of correction will in some mysterious sense be instrumental in that child’s spiritual salvation from sin and death …

The beating spoken of in this passage is done often and consistently so that the child recognizes he will always pay a price that he does not want to pay for rebellion against his authority. Such a child who is Biblically trained and corrected will be far more likely to respond to the spiritual concepts of sin and salvation when he reaches the age of understanding. A vital principle for a parent to grasp in this business of child correction is that our children will leave our house to obey their heavenly Father in exactly the same way as they have obeyed their earthly father.

You can understand now why many on the Christian Right think that God or Jesus will give them a whipping if they sin.

Now, note:

Obviously, by the grace of God, there are exceptions to this general rule. By the mercy of God, the Lord has often reached down and saved a rebellious youngster who has left the home of parents who never corrected him in a Godly fashion. It must be remembered that he was saved by an all-wise, merciful, and loving heavenly Father who regenerated his heart even though his earthly parents were unfaithful in the area of correction.

That is the only biblical passage in the piece. We are saved by God’s grace, not parental or filial beatings!

Yet more on the cleansing ritual aspect:

A child may in fact be bruised by a session of difficult correction. In fact, the Lord has already anticipated this objection and has discussed it briefly in the Scriptures. “The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly” (Proverbs 20:30) …

God makes the point that if a child is bruised during one of these sessions of correction that a parent should not despair but realize that the blueness of that wound cleanses away the evil heart of rebellion and willful stubbornness that reside in that depraved little body. I must hasten to add that no parent should deliberately seek to bruise his child nor should that be the goal of Biblical correction. I simply must agree with the Lord and declare that if a bruise does occur, God knows about it and will use it to cleanse the guilty heart of that erring child.


To put it another way, the one who does not Biblically beat his child, in a loving and consistent way, in a very real sense predisposes that child for hell and even has a direct part in sending him there! This truth is precisely why the Lord says you “hate your child” if you do not chasten him betimes (Proverbs 13:24).


Although a hand may have to be used in an emergency session of correction, this is not what the Lord had in mind. Your hand cannot do an effective job of correcting since you will inflict about as much pain on your hand as you will on the child’s buttock. Your hand should represent love and affection, not correction. The Lord prefers this inanimate object called the rod.

This will be alarming to those of us not in this mindset:

Many parents in using the rod of correction on their child do so with an obvious lack of vigor and often stop short of the child’s will being completely broken. Manifestation of this error is illustrated in countless homes as a child gets up from his session of correction still spouting rebellious words and giving willful looks at his discouraged parent. The parent has no one to blame but himself for this problem since he did not completely break the will of the child during the session of correction. A child who is still willing to resist the authority of his parent after having received the rod of correction is still in need of more of that same rod.

Both my wife and I have often remarked that it is good that one of our children was not our firstborn. This particular child who came along later in our family was extremely willful and rebellious toward our authority and would often require sessions of correction lasting from one to two hours in length before the will would finally be broken! Had this child been our first, we may well have been tempted to despair of the grace of God.

In the first part of the article, he advocates that even young adults — especially girls — be punished in this way.

As long as you have a child under your authority and your home where you can directly supervise and correct him, there still is hope that you may turn that child from his wicked ways and break his will. You may still teach him to submit to authority in his life

A good illustration of this hope is found in the case of a mother who called me from a distant state about her troubled teenage daughter … I explained to the mother that we did not have room to receive the girl at the time because our beds were filled. However, I mentioned that I could give her a possible answer for her predicament. I also said, “But I doubt that you will follow through.” The mother, hearing that there might be a solution to her crisis, desperately implored, “Yes, I will take your counsel. What is your solution?” I then proceeded to explain that the mother should get a stick that would not break and get after that daughter until the daughter asked for peace in their relationship …

Three weeks later, I received a phone call from this same mother. I had forgotten who she was and was reminded of her identity only when she reminded me of the lock and chain she had purchased to secure her daughter. I remembered who she was at that point since that was a unique method of restraining the girl. I asked, “Well, what has happened since our last conversation?” The mother replied that she had taken my advice to secure a large stick that would not break, and to quote the mother, “I wore off her behind!” I chuckled at the mother’s response and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the story … The mother then said, “And it has lasted for three weeks! But I think she needs it again this week.”

Note how the mother’s attempt to amend her daughter’s behaviour translated into a carnal desire to repeat the experience. Not unlike Christian Domestic Discipline with its ‘maintenance’ sessions: ‘Honey, I’ve saved your soul for the Lord and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it!’

You can read more about Williams’s Hephzibah House here — not for the faint-hearted or sensitive, by any means.

Reformed Baptist minister Voddie Baucham promotes ‘first-time obedience’, which relies heavily on corporal punishment to break a child’s will. Baucham also believes that a child’s innate shyness is ‘selfishness’ and must be beaten out of him. He insists on being addressed correctly by toddlers after church. Carnal? This man is how many times the size of a small child? Why would he feel threatened by their shyness or social inadequacies?

I’ll go into more of his perspectives next week, however, these parenting methods raise several questions, as Under More Grace shows:

I wholeheartedly agree that letting children (or encouraging children) to engage in rude, disrespectful behavior as a toddler encourages “rank disobedience” later in life. Yet how appropriate is it for an adult to put a small child into a situation wherein the adult expects the child to behave like a rational adult, capable of demonstrating the emotional control of an adult? I think that reasonable tears of fear/hiding one’s face in shy behavior demonstrates an appropriate response under certain circumstances, and the intolerable sticking out one’s tongue are two very separate issues …

Fear is not a sin in a two year old, and fear can sometimes manifest as anger or as shyness. Even adults run to the Rock of our Salvation and hide in the clefts as the adult and valiant warrior Psalmist often did. We trust under the feathers of God and find solace in His shield and buckler when we are afraid, even crying out to our Heavenly Father. Why would this similar behavior be inappropriate for a two year old? …

I am also confused about what Baucham argues here regarding the apparent the virtues of a two year old, wondering how a totally depraved creature who has not yet come to faith in Christ with understanding and credulity can also be filled with the Spirit as evidenced by desirable behavior as a manifestation of willful choice. Does Dr. Baucham believe that good behavior always indicates the manifestation of the indwelling Holy Spirit? Can’t an unbeliever who has been conditioned with behavioral consistency and techniques of “child training” manifest good behavior, or can’t good behavior be feigned apart from the work of the Spirit? Cannot and do not unbelievers, consummate examples of “the good person,” raise respectful, polite and obedient children? How does one differentiate this “deceitful feigning” of good behavior from the miraculous manifestation of the indwelling Holy Spirit, all prior to the child’s mature and willful faith in Christ with understanding of the atonement?

This carnality under the guise of ‘godly discipline’ can be fatal.

Notional pearls of wisdom can lead to prison

Michael and Debi Pearl — an unassuming couple if ever there was one — have (amazingly) made their living in recent years by advocating that parents use a length of plumbing line to beat their children, starting in infancy.  It’s cheap and convenient, they say, because you can have them located easily all around the house and on your person.

In November 2011, America’s ABC News reported on three deaths that resulted:

In May, the 11-year-old daughter of Larry and Carri Williams of Sedro-Woolley, Wash., died after they allegedly used Pearl’s methodology, according to a reported The New York Times. The parents were charged with homicide by abuse Sept. 29 and have pled not guilty.

Hana, who with her brother had been adopted from Ethiopia, died from hyperthermia and malnutrition and was found face-down in her back yard, according to the report.

Police said Hana had often been whipped and was forced by her parents to sleep in the barn and to shower outside with a hose. They say that her parents had used a 15-inch plastic tube that is recommended by Pearl to discipline children.

You can read Hana’s horrifying saga here in the Skagit County Sherriff’s Office report.

More from the ABC article:

Lynn Paddock of Johnson County, S.C., was convicted in the first degree murder of her 4-year-old son, Sean, in 2006, and the teachings of Pearl came up in the trial.

The boy suffocated after being tightly wrapped in a blanket and his five other siblings testified they had been beaten daily with the same plastic tubing.

And, another terrible and moving case of Lydia Schatz, who died in Paradise. California, that is. In 2010:

7-year-old Lydia Schatz of Paradise, Calif., was “whipped” to death with rubber tubing for mispronouncing a word during a homeschooling lesson. She died from severe tissue damage and her sister had to be hospitalized.

An ex-fundamentalist blogging at I must follow if I can, is now a member of a mainline Presbyterian church. He lived in the same community as the Schatzes and recalls:

They homeschooled their 9 kids, dressed like Mennonites. And because of the long sleeves and long dresses, nobody knew the children were being beaten.

It was a wake-up call to realize I had helped to plant a tiny church which did not have the kind of resources that may have allowed us to confront the Schatzes. Instead, the church consisted of a few other Fundamentalist, home-schooling “breeder” families, who reinforced and encouraged each other’s isolationist views. Everyone looked to the Schatzes as shining examples in parenthood—not because any of us knew what went on inside their house, but because we all noticed how well-behaved their children were and secretly envied it. If only we had known

Karen at Then Face 2 Face has more, including the passage with the word which Lydia had problems with, which came from Frog and Toad Together, a book about true friendship. Karen tells us that the Schatzes adopted Lydia and her sister Zahria from Liberia (an unstable country where children are treated as cannon fodder).  Lydia and Zahria were in an orphanage at the time. You don’t make friends in an orphanage. You know you will never see your parents. Your relationships are nil. So it’s no wonder that Lydia stumbled over the same word again and again in a story about companionship and loyalty which she never knew.  This must have caused her great pain, a distress which she could not — or would not have been allowed to — articulate. (Having moved around because of my father’s transfers with his employer, I know to a lesser extent what Lydia and her sister endured. In that situation, there are no friendships, no Frog and Toad. It is not surprising that certain anomalies manifest themselves, triggers which would not feature in children who had grown up in the same town all their lives.)

Her adoptive parents couldn’t even show her a Frog and Toad example of security and gentleness.

Karen describes what happened:

I am haunted by Lydia. She died some weeks ago when communication with her adoptive parents became fractured as she read a Frog and Toad storybook during a homeschool lesson. She died because she was beaten until she went into heart failure. She died after her adoptive parents took turns holding her down while the other beat her with a 1/4 inch plumber’s supply line, for hours … She died because her parents, exactly the kind of godly salt-of-the-earth sorts of people that I have sat next to in Homeschooling conventions, relied for wisdom in a terrible situation upon the teachings of men rather than the Holy Spirit of God–or even upon their God-given common sense. Lydia died because horrible ideas have horrible consequences

Both of Karen’s posts are worth reading in full — moving and poignant.

Meanwhile, Michael Pearl is unrepentant.

Beatings can cause renal failure

Plumbing line is not the only implement which can injure or result in death. A switch off of a tree will get the job done, too.

In 2002, sons of a Baptist pastor beat a 11-year boy, Louie Guerrero, so badly that he was hospitalised for renal failure. You can see the photo of his back at this post at Under Much Grace, which has more on the story:

Louis Guerrero also required a blood transfusion.  (To my knowledge, there are now three cases of renal failure related to corporal punishment as a Christian practice.)

From a CNN transcript of the Wolf Blitzer show:

BOBBY TAYLOR, BOY’S ATTORNEY: They took him to this private home, and the person who took him was the — I won’t call him youth minister, but he was a 22-year-old minister, and apparently, he may have been the son of the minister of the church — cut a branch off a tree, made my client lay on the bed, and there began to beat him, and beat him for almost an hour.

BLITZER: The child is reportedly conscious now, but has been in a local intensive care ward since the middle of last week. The incident allegedly occurred while the boy was attending a religious summer camp at the church, for Spanish-speaking children. But, church officials say that, because this happened at a sub-chapter for Spanish- speaking members, it’s not a church matter, and they won’t comment on camera …

BLITZER: The child’s parents refused to speak on camera, but they said when the young ministers dropped their son off at home, one of them told the parents they should discipline the boy further.

The Deseret News reported on December 13, 2003:

Joshua Thompson was ordered to serve 26 years for injury to a child and 20 years for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The sentences will run concurrently and he could be eligible for parole in 13 years.

Caleb Thompson was sentenced to concurrent 14-year sentences on the same convictions, meaning he could be eligible for parole in seven years.

Caleb Thompson, who held Guerrero down while his brother beat him, said he was sorry for causing the boy’s injuries.

In 2011, a Mennonite girl was removed from her home for the same reason. The Pearls’ whipping methods were also implicated.

This type of renal failure is related to rhabdomyolosis (physiology diagrams at the link):

Rhabdomyolosis describes the condition which follows massive skeletal muscle deterioration, liberating large amounts of muscle cell waste into the bloodstream. As a nurse in critical care, working in critical care for more than ten years and in nursing for twenty-five, I’ve cared for about four patients in active and severe rhabdomyolosis, two of which were related to metabolic/medical processes and two were trauma related. The trauma cases were patients that had major muscles that were torn apart in car crashes, and the damage was extensive and very visible. Some marathon runners and people in or training for triathlons can develop clinically significant rhabdomyolosis because of extreme and abnormal muscle cell rupture, showing high levels of muscle cells in their bloodstream after these types of events. My salient point here: moderate to severe rhabdomyolosis is not a common occurrence. It certainly should not be a consequence of spanking or discipline.

… I am concerned that cumulative damage can occur over time and that more acute damage (rapid onset of symptoms) may also occur in other children in the future. I’m also concerned that the church may never find out about most of these cases and cannot really get the information needed to truly evaluate the safety of Pearl’s method …

Zariah Schatz will live with compromised kidneys for the rest of her life because a part of her kidneys died. She may have enough function after treatment, but she will be compromised somewhat. As she ages, this will be a health concern for her.

Have there been undiagnosed cases of rhabdomyolosis and has it occurred on a chronic basis producing renal insufficiency in some children? Many of the communities of people who rely on the Pearl method eschew traditional healthcare. Some children are never issued birth certificates, born with the assistance of lay midwives. What else goes unnoticed?

I think that it would be wise for the church to take notice of these matters before one more child suffers. You only get 2 million nephrons in life (those tiny little wonderful miracle tubes in the kidney), and they don’t grow back if they get damaged. Could the plumbing line be ironically destroying a child’s own metaphorical plumbing?

As Christians, we all need to be aware of abuse of women and children. As was said earlier, those delightful, well-behaved children might be undergoing a daily calvary. Pastors, elders and teachers also need to be on the lookout for symptoms which could indicate abuse.

In the meantime, for the über-conservatives out there: no amount of beating will cleanse your child’s soul, although it may send him to Heaven sooner — and land you in prison.

For further reading:

Kidney disease related to Pearl (Under Much Grace)

Why good people make dangerous choices (Under Much Grace)

Links related to Lydia Schatz, the Michael Pearl method of child training and First Time Obedience (Under Much Grace)

Is Michael Pearl responsible for a girl’s death? (Tritone Life)

Ezzo feeding methods versus American Academy of Pediatrics

Gary Ezzo’s educational background and run-in with John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church (documentation begins on page 2)

God isn’t your dad

A few more posts on spousal abuse, then I’ll close on the topic.

This is such an unpleasant topic to research in a Christian context, because I had been under the impression that the Church helps women in this type of situation.

However, today — in the 21st century — the pendulum is swinging back perhaps further than in the 19th century. Women, submit!

Here is Baptist minister John Piper in 2009 answering a question on domestic abuse:

He seems to half-smile the whole way through and gives a rather daft response.

Piper, for those who are unaware, is lead pastor of his church in Minneapolis and is the head of  Desiring God Ministries.

Many men and women of a Reformed persuasion rely on him for guidance in leading a Christian life. I’ve quoted him here once or twice. However, he has become clearly identified with complementarianism, which is that women should take second place to their husbands at all times except if the husband would cause the wife to sin (e.g. a three-in-a-bed romp).

So, you can imagine how a godly woman who is being abused by her ‘leader’ and high priest (imam) of the household feels when she hears Piper tell her to keep enduring then go to the church for help. After all, was it only verbal abuse or physical? To Piper, it matters, because it is a trivial issue. He doesn’t advise calling the police, by the way.  Ask permission before using the telephone?

The blog Emotional Abuse And Your Faith discussed Piper’s video (a partial transcript of which is on a Women in Ministry post). Emphases mine below:

When the women of his church that have been abused, and wake up and leave his church? John Piper is seriously going to wonder what happened. That’s the sad part …

Allow John Piper to hear from a child that realizes the church has told their Mommy that she needs to take verbal abuse for a season, and allow herself to be hit by Daddy. THEN the church will be called to help mommy with the aftermath. Ask the child to tell John Piper what effect that had on their life …

Jesus had harsh words for anyone who would cause a child to stumble, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Bible tells parents to be gentle and loving with their children (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21) …

Please let them know that you have to be SURE what type of abuse you are dealing with so you will know how to respond. Please tell them that one kind of pain from the abuser is better than the other please. They truly need to hear this from your pulpit. How about a children’s sermon huh? Please tell the children the truth!

Readers offered other helpful Scripture passages on pastors and Christian relationships in general:

Matthew 23:10
King James Version –
Neither be ye called masters:
for one is your Master, even Christ.

The Amplified-
you must not be called masters ( leaders )
for you have one master ( leader ) the Christ.
Ro 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,
Php 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ,
Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ,
Tit 1:1 Paul, a servant of God,
Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God
2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant

Romans 12:1-2, which is written to “brothers,” men are told to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”

Tasha, a commenter, observes:

I have no problem with gender roles. Myself, I am definitely more on the complementarian side of things.

My problem is that Piper is saying that my temporary role as wife supersedes that as sister in Christ.

If my biological brother were in a pattern that damaged his soul (say… pornography, dishonesty, or pride) it would be my duty to warn him of the weeds Satan had been using to choke his soul.

Danni writes (emphases hers):

One verse should be sufficiently striking in addressing Piper’s advise to women to endure verbal abuse and only after physical abuse should they call the church for help. I Cor. 5:11 says the church is to put a “railer” out of the church and treat him as an unbeliever. A railer is a verbal abuser — not a physical abuser.

But the Word says far more. It says that a man who doesn’t provide for his family (and that provision, based on the whole teaching of the Word about a husband’s responsibilities, includes more than money) he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. Does the Word mean what it says?

An abuser is an unbeliever (regardless of a “profession of faith” and all the right “deeds” – this is the Word’s judgment, not mine) and this puts a wife into the position of being married to an unbeliever (I Cor. 7) — to whom she is not bound if he is not “pleased” to dwell with her. An abuser is not pleased to dwell with his victim. His is displeased with everything — even if he refuses to remove himself from the house.

To which a complementarian — male, most probably — responds:

Physical abuse is horrible when committed by a man to his wife, but that same women (along with all other men and women) committed the unspeakable physical abuse in the torture and slaying of the Son of God. Swallow your pride and get some perspective! We should be praying for the abusive husband, excercising church discipline, and pleading that God would restore him – not getting angry, fighting back, or blogging about which of our rights were violated.

See, women are such whingers — it’s all about ‘rights’, isn’t it?

Swallow your pride and get some perspective!

Okay, I’ll up the ante with a few online stories on Minister Jacky’s blog — a Charismatic minister in Oxford (UK) who is offering advice to and an outlet for abused wives. Here is part of one American woman’s story:

I totally agree that I should not have to submit to him when he is leading me against the will of God (about going to church, etc.); however, in my case I must be willing to suffer very unpleasant consequences when I go against him. The church I am currently allowed to attend, with him, is 45 minutes from our home. In our six years of absence from our former church, which is less than 10 minutes from our home, we have attended four different churches. We attended this one for a period of about 2 years, left, attended two other churches, then went back to it. I have not been permitted to make any friends at the church. Since my husband has sort of started his own church, he now does not feel obligated to attend church elsewhere

There is absolutely no way I could see a psychiatrist or psychologist without my husband at least knowing about it. He often tracks my mileage on the car and questions me about exactly what I’m doing. Yes, there are confidentiality laws that protect psychiatric patients in the U.S., but good lawyers have ways of getting around that. He could dig for information if he really wanted to. And believe me, he always finds a way to twist the facts around in his favor. We do not have the finances for professional counseling, and my insurance does not cover it. As for the psychiatrist, I am not sure how to go about finding one that will meet my needs.

I have a good Christian friend/neighbor who is like a mother to me. She lives up the street and we just had a conversation about that very thing, after my last melt-down. She let me know that I could always go up there to get away for a bit, if I need to!

Piper and his fellow complementarians would say that this woman was overstating and complaining. Be happy in the Lord, sister! Take your stripes — verbal or physical! You, too, crucified Christ!

Here’s part of another story from Minister Jacky’s site:

The hard part can be that he is a tyrant vicitm, meaning he goes on these anger tyrades where I am left cowering and silent and then the next day is saying what a terrible person he is and how he is so messed up. This sounds like he is coming close to repentance but really I think it just pushes him to be more angry. I have heard the same thing for four years. I used to try and tell him what a good person he was, how I believed in him and what God had for him. That was part of the cycle too so I stopped saying anything.

He is going through weekly counseling with a pastor right now – not for the abuse but for his own heart healing. This is great but nothing has changed for me at home. I feel so weary. At church I am counseled to fight for our marriage, to go through our house and declare God’s authority. It is very hard for me when I feel all I really want to do is crawl into a ball in the lap of God. I have been fighting since we have been married. I do 80% of the household duties while he sits and watches TV. Any request for help is met with another tyrade. Why is it also my responsibility to save our marriage? This cannot be dependent upon me. I really feel the need to rest. Deep down I love my husband but much of that has been buried by all of the hurt and pain. He can be very sensitive and very sweet but those times are overshadowed by the anger and then he can’t understand why it is hard for me to respond to him physically. I feel used. “Take up your spiritual armor” I just can’t right now.

Minister Jacky has a good response to Piper’s video:

I often get emails from women as a result of my own ministry. Usually the women have been given the sort of advice John Piper gives. Unfortunately, things tend to go from bad to worse and abusers are excellent at convincing Pastors and the like that they are no longer abusing while continuing to abuse.

I do not doubt John Piper’s love for Jesus. I have no doubt he wanted to help and gave the best advice he could. However, it just does not work.

If an abused wife said anything like John Piper suggests to an abusive husband it would actually be likely to increase abuse. This is a problem many who seek counselling for abuse come accross – they are told to do things that seem absolutely fine but are not wise in the context of the relationship. There are seemingly normal things you can say to an abusive person which make them worse

At least John Piper goes further than those misguided churches that suggest a woman continues to submit to a violent man ‘because it is scriptural – it happens

One Reformed pastor who does understand the issue is the Revd Jeff Crippen who co-blogs with Anna Wood at A Cry for Justice.

On Mr Crippen:

Jeff Crippen is the pastor of Christ Reformation Church in Tillamook, Oregon and has been a pastor since 1983.  For the past three years, Jeff has studied the subject of domestic violence and abuse.  He began this study after he and his church suffered through an incident of sexual abuse by a member of their church … 

On Mrs Wood:

Anna Wood is a survivor of many years of domestic abuse and has been active in blogging about the topic in an effort to help other victims. Beyond that, first and foremost, she is a bond-servant to Christ. She is also a lifelong resident of the South, a Reformed Baptist homeschooling Mom of many who enjoys study, reading for pleasure, playing games with her children, cooking, homemaking and her crazy cats and dog. She sets aside as much time as possible for writing.

On both of them and their blog (in my blogroll, as is Anna’s):

We are not “liberal” Christians.  We hold to the solas of the Reformation.  We believe absolutely in the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture.  We insist, along with God’s Word, that a person must be born again through faith and repentance in Christ if they are to be justified before God.  We say all of this because we have just established this blog, and already we have been hammered by a couple of fellows who seem to think that anyone calling attention to domestic violence and abuse has to be part of some kind of radical, Christ-hating, liberal, feminism that is conspiring against men.  Frankly, the tone of such attacks is identical to that used by abusers we have known!  We suggest such people work on their disguises a bit!  Their true self is showing!

Crippen’s take on Piper’s video is here:

we could go on for a long while  listing well-known authors, pastors,and  theologians who refuse to acknowledge abuse as biblical grounds for divorce.  The thing is epidemic in our churches, especially our conservative, Bible-believing churches.

What are we doing?  Why have we exalted men such as this to such a level of prominence that whatever they say, it seems, is God’s Word?  Are they prophets?  No.  Why are we acting as if they are?  Their books sell by the thousands.  As in the above youtube clip, here are these men who sit in front of large audiences, being asked questions about what God says.  Why?  Should we not embrace the Apostle Paul’s attitude

Galatians 2:6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)–those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.

And in another post, he asks us to uncover the Church’s resistance to help abused women.  Yes, unfortunately, John MacArthur is among those named. I think that, as wonderful as he is at explaining Scripture, MacArthur — like so many of these men — lives in a rarified atmosphere.

Crippen writes:

I am not a politician – I am a pastor.  A controlling, power-seeking man once told me years ago that if I did not become a better politician, I would never make it as a pastor.  I blew him off.  And I still do.  He was right in a sense.  Our church has grown small.  A politician would have kept them happy and the crowd would have stayed. But that is not the Christian pastor’s calling.  In fact, one reason abuse victims are receiving so much injustice in our churches is because leaders are playing the politics game

I believe that our primary mission right now, in light of the horrible ignorance of abuse in our own conservative churches and in light of the terrible injustices regularly being meted out to victims who seek help from their pastors, that our mission is to address this very problem.  I am not sure how yet.  Writing books and blogs and networking is certainly a pretty good start.  We need to sound the alarm, loud and clear, about what is going on.  We need to expose and oppose and correct the nonsense that the “big” leaders, like MacArthur, Piper, and Sproul (these are just 3 of many examples) have been feeding our churches for a long, long time – largely unopposed.  We need to issue a cry for justice and expose to as many Christians as we can just how wickedly abuse victims are being treated.  And how the evil abusers are being enabled and protected.  You know the story.  For many of you, it is your own story.

Now, here is the issue I that bring up to you with fear and trembling.  I do not think it is wise for us to allow ourselves to get all caught up in the complementarian / egalitarian debate, at least in regard to this specific mission.  Anyone who really “gets it” in regard to abuse and especially if they are truly Christians, has a burning desire for justice and for the correction of this evil, be they complementarian or egalitarian in their views of the headship/submission doctrine of Scripture.  I have my views in regard to this particular debate – most of you probably can guess what my position is.  (By the way, whichever side you might imagine I am on, I can tell you that I fully agree that the truly biblical concept of headship/submission has not very often been taught to us or by us).

And here:

… The fact is, most Christians do not know nor understand the mentality and nature of abuse.  They are oblivious to the nature of the sociopath and psychopath.  Which is to say, they have not really met evil.  Abuse victims have.  And that is why Christians who have been on the receiving end of the evil of abuse go ballistic when they hear leading evangelical pastors and teachers announcing that abuse is no reason for divorce.  No one is untouchable in Christ’s church.  Not MacArthur, not Sproul, not Piper.  If we have misrepresented them by saying that they teach that a woman beaten by her husband has no biblical grounds for divorcing him, then please send the quotations to us in a reply on this blog.  But don’t use the argument – “why, how dare you criticize these men of God”…

Wayne Grudem, a famous Baptist theologian, is also in this camp. Crippen says:

So, what would Grudem tell a woman who came to him with black eyes and a split lip?  I am granting that he would surely pick up the phone right there and then and call the police and see that the brute was thrown in jail.  Piper would, Sproul would, MacArthur would – I have to believe that.  But then what?  Would they tell her that she has the right to divorce?  From everything I am reading from these men, the answer is “no.”  They would tell her she can separate, but only for a time and during that separation she needs to keep working toward reconciliation.

Wayne Grudem is not my enemy.  He is a brother in Christ.  I am not setting out in naming names in these blog posts to simply attack these men because it makes me look and feel like the self-righteous big-shot.  I am simply sounding out A Cry for Justice – and I am saying that such men’s teaching in the church that, in God’s name, forbids beaten, terrorized victims to divorce their abuser (who has already destroyed the marriage covenant) is wrong.  It is injustice.  It is cruel.  And God is not pleased with us for teaching it.

Grudem has an ESV Study Bible. Crippen has this take on it:

The people who put the ESV study Bible together believe that a man can beat the living &^%$(* out of his wife and she CANNOT divorce him.  He can terrorize her (oh, and note that he gets a free pass the first time he punches her lights out – it has to be “repeated” instances of physical abuse), but she can’t divorce him.  She can separate, but always with the notion of reconciliation in mind.

Crippen and Wood are authors of a forthcoming book, A Cry for Justice: Recognizing Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Abuse in the Church and Rendering Justice and Help to Their Victims. More news when it is published.

Anna, a godly woman and the furthest from a feminist that you can imagine, has added her own insights. ‘Comforting the Abused’ is a perfect response to complementarians, and pastors should read it. Here is a brief excerpt:

Abuse isn’t anger issues, isn’t caused by lack of submission on the wife’s part and isn’t a momentary issue. A man isn’t abusive because he isn’t getting enough in the bedroom or because he is intimidated by his wife. Abuse is a long-standing pattern of treatment designed to break and control another person.

A man is abusive because he desires ungodly control over his wife. The sin of abuse lies in the abuser’s court.

And in ‘Silence Heard In Hell’, she writes:

There is a desperate need in the church today for godly men and women to be willing to openly address this issue. To educate themselves on domestic abuse. To be willing to call out the abusers. To minister to the abused. Believe the abused. Most Christians aren’t. Even most Christians in Reformed circles aren’t. By failing to speak out in behalf of the abused, by pretending this isn’t an important issue (or that we are somehow infringing on other’s rights by addressing it), we are speaking very loudly about it. Very loudly, indeed, and our silence is heard in hell …

The obligation to speak truth lies with each one of us. We’ve been silent far too long. We must teach about abuse and minister to the abused because the abused are important to God. This isn’t an easy issue to address; if you take a stand on it some folks won’t like you. Some already don’t like us for taking such a stand but that’s okay; it’s God Whom we seeking to honor, not a person. We’re walking into the fray and we invite you to go with us. We might get singed but since many of Jesus’ followers have been burned at the stake, that’s a small price to pay. I pray that many others feel the same.

It’s a cry and request to all our fellow Christian bloggers to please support our abused sisters in Christ and to help shine a light on nonchalance in this area.  If you don’t, please don’t be surprised when you find increased numbers of atheists and a greater belief that secular government is the only remedy to domestic abuse.

For those who wonder if they are or have been ‘under the influence’ of a toxic church, the Cult Help and Information Library offers two insightful quizzes you can take with regard to toxic churches.

This one helps you to determine whether you are in a ‘destructive group or belief system’ — a general quiz but also helpful for evaluating a church situation.

The second quiz I highly recommend to all my readers — ‘Are You A Candidate For A Cult?’

You may be surprised.

This post is not for those of a sensitive disposition.

For Christians recovering from toxic churches, Ronald M Enroth’s 1992 book Churches that Abuse is recommended reading.

The book has been mentioned on many church abuse recovery sites and is available in its entirety online for free. It’s well worth a read, even for those who belong to sound, doctrinal congregations. It will confirm certain stereotypes but smash a few others.

What follows are a few excerpts, highlights mine.

Background to the book

… Despite the defensive protestations of authoritarian leaders that ex-members of their churches lie, distort the facts, and are “accusers of the brethren,” there is abundant evidence that a serious problem of abuse exists in the Christian community …

It is my hope that this book will provide a context for understanding. If we have basic information about a subject, we can sometimes take preventative action. Regrettably, it is not always possible to “get through” to people already caught up in abusive churches. They do not see themselves as being manipulated, or in any danger of spiritual abuse. Hence, the frustration of parents, relatives, and friends who try to reach or “rescue” them. There are no easy solutions to this problem.

In the final analysis, the book presents a hopeful outlook. Not only can individuals leave abusive churches and achieve recovery and restoration, but there are encouraging signs that some groups are themselves recognizing the need for change and are moving away from the fringe toward the center. May their numbers increase. (Preface, pp ix and x)

In Chapter 1, Enroth states that he conducted interviews of ‘hundreds’ of abusive church victims and also visited some of the churches in question. Whilst the church names in most cases are real, the names of the victims have been changed (pp 30-31). His intent was to expose the nature of manipulation, control and pain that these cultish congregations foster under seemingly omnipotent pastors.

Pastoral control over relationships

Chapter 4 details an Asian-American group near Los Angeles, which changed its name several times. At the time Enroth was compiling information, it was called Church of the Great Shepherd and, as a legal entity, Shepherd’s Training Center (STC).

Jean Liang headed the group and damaged family relationships among her adherents:

As the head of the STC, Mrs. Liang dictated every aspect of life, whether spiritual, physical, or relational …

Members shared a common purse …

Evan and Stacy’s two daughters almost died as a result of Jean Liang’s influence, the oldest from being force-fed at six months and routinely beaten, the youngest because of premature birth due to Stacy’s being overworked in the communal house. In addition, Roy and Mandy Chan’s young son and daughter were severely abused, being regularly beaten or shaken for such offenses as wetting, crying, not keeping their eyes closed, or falling asleep. After a severe shaking of their three-month-old daughter, Jean said that it would be better for her to grow up submissive and retarded than intelligent and rebellious

The bonding of mothers and children was seen as a great sin. Jean regularly separated nursing mothers and their infants, even going so far as to take them from the breast, saying, “You are tying your child to yourself and not to the Lord.” This “tying” supposedly endangered the child’s salvation. However, former members state that Mrs. Liang’s five children are strongly bonded to their mother, but have little respect for their father. Husbands and wives were also separated for long periods. Their relationships supposedly were impure and ungodly, based upon lust and manipulation.

Public times of confrontation, confession, and repentance were common, lasting anywhere from four to twenty hours. These sessions usually took place at night. The airing of the most intimate details of one’s life was seen as opening the way for God to take one deeper into the spiritual life. All participants were victimized because of their idealism and desire to more fully serve and love God. These intimate details, including those related to one’s sexual behavior, were brought up over and over again to produce feelings of deep guilt. “It amounted to spiritual blackmail,” states Evan. Many persons were labeled as homosexuals and were required to write letters to old associates confessing this “sin.” Old “sins” were never forgotten nor forgiven. (Chapter 4, pp 85-86)

Enroth observes:

Spiritually abusive groups routinely use guilt, fear, and intimidation as effective means for controlling their members. In my opinion, the leaders consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and interpersonally, by focusing on themes of submission, loyalty, and obedience to those in authority. In all totalitarian environments, dependency is necessary for subjugation. Jerry MacDonald, a student of autocratic religious movements, notes that authoritarian religious groups manipulate “rewards, punishments, and experiences to systematically sever from members their past support systems, which include their own powers of independent and rational thinking, their ability to test, define, and evaluate, as well as their ability to freely interact with others about their experiences. These internal support systems are replaced with exterior support systems under the control of the leaders.(Chapter 5, p. 103)

Pentecostal ‘demons’ and deliverance

Chapter 2 discusses the Pentecostal focus on demons and deliverance:

On March 20, 1986, Janet Cole drove from Seattle to Portland and drowned her five-year-old daughter, Brittany in a motel bathtub. The attractive thirty-seven-year-old mother, described by friends as the ideal Christian woman, was convinced that she was demon possessed and that a similar fate would probably befall her daughter. She wanted the little girl to go to heaven and so committed an act of love by killing her.

Janet Cole was also a member of a large Pentecostal church, Community Chapel, in south Seattle that ex-members and other critics claim was pre-occupied with demons and “deliverance ministry.” The tragic drowning resulted in the first of a series of media reports that brought unwanted publicity to the church and its former pastor, Donald Lee Barnett. In addition to the emphasis on exorcism, a swirl of controversy emerged as a result of Barnett’s teaching on “intimate dancing” and “spiritual connections” with members of the opposite sex.  (Chapter 2, page 35)

Barnett regularly received special ‘revelations’ which he passed on to his members. Enroth describes what happened when Community Chapel was at its peak, which was in the 1970s and 1980s.

Barnett’s ‘intimate dancing’ involved members finding ‘spiritual connections’ with other members of the opposite sex — not their spouses. It went far beyond dancing, as spiritual connections were to spend time with each other during the week.

Enroth unpacks the situation:

Community Chapel had not always been so controversial and controlling, although its pastor had promoted various unorthodox concepts from the beginning. As a youngster, Barnett and his family belonged to the United Pentecostal Church, a small denomination isolated from the Christian mainstream because of its rejection of the traditional concept of the Trinity. Barnett still preaches a non-trinitarian message.

Although never ordained a minister, he did attend an unaccredited Bible seminary in Idaho and began his ministry as a Sunday school and Bible study teacher in a series of Assemblies of God churches in Washington. Barnett left each of these churches because of doctrinal disagreements. Meanwhile, he worked as a draftsman. (pp. 38-39)

As his church grew:

Barnett instituted “Operation Rescue” in which members were instructed to report each other’s faults to the pastor. A dress code for both men and women was also begun, as well as dietary code restricting pork, shellfish, and alcohol, all based on Barnett’s interpretation of the Old Testament laws. Oreo cookies were outlawed because they contained lard. Interracial dating was proscribed. Certain Christian books and bookstores were to be avoided because they promoted “false” creeds. However, Barnett approved of and quoted from a weekly publication by a neo-Nazi group.

Celebrating Christmas and Easter was discouraged because Barnett considered them secular holidays. Engagements could not be announced until Barbara, the pastor’s wife, was informed. Every indication of a negative or “rebellious” attitude or unapproved opinion was attributed to demons. (pp. 39-40)

The irony is that the focus on demons and deliverance actually encouraged Barnett and his members’ demonic behaviour:

The practice of “spiritual connections” had a particularly demonic impact. There were numerous accounts of adulterous relationships, sexual assault, harshly shunned and rejected dissidents, child abuse, suicides and attempted suicides, broken marriages, child-custody battles, and lawsuits, several of which were aimed at Pastor Barnett for alleged sexual misconduct. (p. 41)


Another problem was the abdication of personal moral responsibility for sin, blaming it instead on the work of demons. There was a tendency to attribute any problem, interpersonal or otherwise, to demons. Members would spiritually psychoanalyze one another with regard to what specific demons were troubling them and then point to the need for “deliverance.” This would be the case frequently between marriage partners. Common, natural emotions were more often than not attributed to demons. Members were told that when they saw their spouses dancing in an intimate manner with some other person, they were not to feel any jealousy, resentment, or hurt. The natural tendency in such a situation is to feel possessive of one’s spouse. Yet, when they experienced those feelings, they were accused of having a demon of jealousy. (page 49)

Sex and sensuality – a warning!

I found the following mention of sexual activity, particularly oral sex, interesting in light of Mark Driscoll’s views:

Barnett discussed oral sex in Sunday school and was “inappropriately explicit” regarding sexual matters from the pulpit.

Community Chapel has reportedly paid for abortions for members, including teenagers, and Barnett has preached that “God never did really say ‘thou shalt not have an abortion.’ ” Those who say abortion is murder are said to be guilty of a “legalism,” a term used to refer to an incorrect or overly literal interpretation of biblical, civil, or moral law. He reasoned that if “adulteresses” were forced to have babies, the children raised by them, or given up for adoption, would grow up to lead sinful lives and end up in hell. If aborted, they would return to God.

Robin and Matt [former members] say that the extreme emphasis on sexual issues impacted the children and adolescents of Community Chapel in one of two ways. “Either they were really into it or they think it’s junk” …

What went wrong at Community Chapel? How can one explain the bizarre series of events that led to Barnett’s eventual downfall? According to former members Robin and Matt, “Don Barnett lost his grip on the Bible. It was that Book which kept the place reasonably sober over the years. He gradually diminished and de-emphasized the Bible as something to preach from, as something to live by. He had to get rid of the Book.”

Much of the problem can also be attributed to the deceptive nature of Barnett’s sensual theology. He and his wife, over a period of several years, drew the congregation into the trap of believing that the sexual and the spiritual realms were innocuously intertwined. Barnett increasingly relied on mystical and subjective religious experience to convince his followers that he was indeed in touch with God. He gradually, cleverly, and subtly prepared his audience for what would be considered outrageous pronouncement in more conventional evangelical churches. (pp. 43-44)

This is also worth noting:

An interesting postscript is that in Robin’s opinion, those who were considered to be the most spiritual at Community Chapel and who supposedly had the most contact with God were those who had come out of deep occult backgrounds. Those persons who resisted getting involved in the dancing phenomenon were told that their refusing to dance was the result of “demonic oppression.” (page 46)

The importance of the Bible

Afterward, former Community Chapel members voiced the need to examine teachings by the light of Scripture. I know that some of my readers would not agree on this, and they have their favourite authors who offer more comforting messages. However:

What contributed to Community Chapel’s slide into what observers agree is false teaching and deception? Virtually all ex-members agree with the conclusion of a founding elder of the church that an over-emphasis on experience began a drift away from the Bible. “It was the experience focus that got us off the track more than any other thing.” People need to be reminded,” commented another former member, “not to put their confidence in a set of criteria put forth by a man who is simply relating his observations, but to place their confidence squarely on the Bible as the only infallible standard for judging truth. (pp 47-48)

Dangerous discipling

Chapter 6 tells the story of Barbara Harold, a 21-year old student and hospital employee, who began attending the Phoenix Valley Church of Christ, affiliated with the infamous Boston Movement.

As Barbara became more enmeshed in the cult, she found her new friends dictating her every move. Her daily exercise regime was pulling her away from God, she wasn’t making enough converts in local evangelical excursions and she had to have a certain amount of ‘quiet time’ each day.

Enroth tells us:

Given that she had to be at the hospital each morning at 6:30, Barbara would rise by 4:15 to spend her “quiet time.” Invariably, because of the demands of her heavy schedule, she would fall asleep unless someone else was with her. This led to her being called “weak hearted” and lacking in zeal for God by her disciplers (those more mature Christians who supervised her spiritual activity) and the other women in her Bible study. A vicious cycle of emotional highs and guilty depressions resulted.

… She was told, “You must live for God’s kingdom only.” Because she came to believe that her whole family would be lost if she didn’t try to convert them (the Boston churches constituted the only “true Church”), Barbara was constantly speaking to them about their salvation. Her family grew tired of the spiritual barrage, as did her old friends, so Barbara ended up moving into an apartment with four other women from the Phoenix Valley Church of Christ.

Although she enjoyed the activities and the pep-rally-like church sermons, Barbara was under constant pressure to be something she wasn’t. She was always required to confess sin to her discipler. Not being a very extroverted person, Barbara found it hard to meet the requirement to constantly evangelize. Times with her discipler were like interrogations: How many persons did you reach out to today? Barbara’s answer was invariably one, two, or none. She was told that because she didn’t desire to reach out and witness that Satan was in her, that she didn’t have Jesus’ heart for the lost, and that she needed to be more like Jesus. Finally, the pressure became so great that she began making up sins to confess so that she would at least have something else to say. She constantly felt guilty ...

If you “stuffed” bad feelings toward someone down in your heart, that is, if you didn’t confess them, you were in sin. This would obviously lead to more sin since a root had already taken hold.

Barbara’s last night with the Phoenix Valley Church of Christ was one of severe reprimand and interrogation by the members of her Bible study because of her alleged “stuffing” of bad feelings. The Bible study was not “advancing” (growing in numbers), and she was obviously at fault. What bad feelings and thoughts was she stuffing? Why wasn’t she having quality quiet times with the Lord? How many persons was she really reaching out to each day? One by one, each member told her what her shortcomings were

Barbara asked to move back with her parents that same night. “It was the hardest decision I ever made,” she said … Her guilt increased, exacerbated by the fact that members contacted her and asked, “How could you allow Satan to harden your heart so much to do this to your friends?” She was told to remember that her heart was “exceedingly deceitful.” (Chapter 6, pp 112-113)

Extreme church discipline for all ages

Enroth relates the story of Pam and Tom Murray in Chapter 7. The Murrays were members of the No-Name Fellowship, or C-U Ministries, based in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

It’s difficult to imagine people who are better off economically and socially becoming entangled in Christian cults, yet, the membership base was solidly middle-class, well-educated, ‘highly idealistic’ and between 18-25 years of age. For those who are unaware, Champaign-Urbana is a university town.

Similar to the Pietists, this group felt that organised church worship was lacking, so they started their own Bible study. A man by the name of Doug Kleber emerged as the chief elder, with his ‘greater calling of God’.


Kleber, who had an authoritarian personality, also had ‘revelations’ which, interestingly, told him how to dictate everyone else’s life:

These extra-biblical “revelations” dictated how members were to properly eat, dress, discipline their children, decorate their homes, clean their homes, and behave in the marriage bed. Because of the group members’ love of the Lord and their genuine seeking to know and do what he wanted, they submitted to Kleber’s self-appointed spiritual authority, even though at times Pam knew that he was wrong. As time went on, she eventually convinced herself that she “was the one that was always wrong.” (Chapter 7, p. 128)

Like extreme pietist groups, the group reverted to an early Christian lifestyle. The world was evil and church denominations ineffectual. Everyone else was damned but they.

there was so much “revelation” coming that the average member found it impossible to take the time necessary to carefully study the Bible to determine for him or herself that what was being taught was the whole truth of God. In addition, as Pam notes, “I lived in fear of correction, while Scripture tells us to embrace and love it.” Also, many of the rules and regulations were never actually spoken or articulated as a command. One simply knew from experience that something was a rule, and, if not adhered to, discipline resulted. (p. 130)

Unfortunately, as a result:

For Pam, who had had an active prayer life before the fellowship, “God turned into an unreachable spirit. It was like playing a game that I could never win.” She has lost all desire to share Jesus with others.

If members ever did decide they had reason to disagree with Kleber and his “revelations,” they quickly found reason to stop. Pam knew that even when she desired to stand and say, “This is crazy!” or, “I don’t agree!” she would have been disciplined for disrupting and coming against authority. (p. 131)

This is how Kleber and his followers conducted church discipline for disagreements:

Although the “breaking of the Word” may have been a part of the settling of dissenting opinion, outrageous discipline of members was the order of the day according to Pam and other ex-members. These measures included the spanking of adults with hands, belts, wooden paddles, or other objects; the drinking of salt water; having liquid soap squirted into a woman’s mouth for inappropriately addressing her husband; and lying at someone’s feet in order to apologize. Pam recalls a woman’s prayer meeting at which one woman was told to remove her dress in order to become “more vulnerable.”

… Tom adds, “Many, but not all, of these disciplinary measures took place in front of the entire body, because we regarded ourselves as family. Many times the body was asked to judge whether they thought the offender had found repentance.”

Unfortunately, the harshness of the discipline extended to the children as well. Pam says, “I could cry over some of the spankings they received. Bruised bottoms. They were even calloused.” The eventual disbanding of the church was in large part related to a tragic event that took place in another branch of the organization in Spokane, Washington. (At one point the group also had outposts in Passaic, New Jersey, and Plano, Texas.) (pp 131-132)

Eventually, corporal punishment — ‘discipline’ — resulted in the death of a ten-year old boy with juvenile diabetes at a branch of the organisation in Spokane, Washington:

When his physical condition worsened and prayer did not seem to be effective, elders of the church were consulted to determine what the problem was. According to a story in the June 21, 1988 issue of the Chicago Tribune, the elders determined that Aaron had sinned. The sin was masturbation, but Aaron would not confess to the sin. His father decided to spank Aaron with a board because the Holy Spirit had told him that he had been masturbating. As the Spokane County deputy prosecutor stated, “His father and the elders ‘rebuked’ Aaron to confess, but he wouldn’t. Aaron’s father and Kleber then beat the child . . . A wooden paddle was used at some point until Aaron confessed. On Sunday morning when his parents awoke, Aaron was dead. There were severe bruises on his buttocks. (p. 132)

Catholics not exempt

In Chapter 11, Enroth reviews the changes made in some of these toxic churches and movements in the late 1980s and 1990s.

He makes general mention of Catholic Charismatic groups and the ‘extreme submission of women to men’ and conformity required. This went so far as to celebrate the birth of baby boys but only a tolerance of baby girls. Pastors and other leaders also discouraged family contact, even of children towards ailing and aged parents.

Some Catholic Charismatic leaders have now acknowledged their error and arrogance.

That false feeling of exclusivity

Throughout Churches that Abuse, former members report that they believed their church had the only way, that it was exclusive, that they were uniquely blessed and so on.

When there are no guest preachers in the pulpit and no free exchange of ideas, when the pastor wants to dictate your living quarters, your personal time, your relationships with family outside the church, your potential employment, your parenting methods, your attire, your hairstyle and your health — run for the door.


Those of us on the outside reading this will wonder if it was pure gullibility that drew these people into cults and toxic churches.

However, as Enroth points out in Chapter 10 and elsewhere in the book, a number of factors can be in play:

– Personal circumstances, e.g. an attempt to come out of substance abuse or the occult.

– Being accustomed to an authoritarian home life.

– A search for security on the assumption that more rules equal greater security.

– A desire for exclusivity and the ‘only way’ to holiness.

– A successful way to cope with and counter our ever-changing society.

– The need for heroes one can admire.

– The adulation of experts — including gifted clergy: ‘If X says so, it must be true’.

However, the question now is, 20 years on and where are the victims now? And have the leaders ever truly repented?

Answers on a postcard, please.

The following post is for adults only.

Last week, I posted on Mark Driscoll’s type of Christianity. It’s hard to know how to describe his constant tickling of itching ears in the Seattle area at Mars Hill Church. Who knows what is going on in his church-planting Acts 29 network?

In this post, I cited an article which appeared in the Seattle Times. There, we learn that Mark grew up near a strip club in a working class neighbourhood.

Driscoll also gave the reporter his impressions of Mass in the Roman Catholic Church, in which he was raised (emphases mine):

It was like an aerobics class: stand up, sit down, kneel . . . It never intersected with food, sex, friends, going to college, getting your first job — the things kids think about.

Later on, after he became a Christian of an Evangelical Calvinist sort, he decided he wanted his very own church:

I’d never preached, run a business, gone through seminary.” But “it’s like you’re at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving and someone says: ‘Someday you’ll get to the big table.’ [Forget that]. I’ll just form my own table.

In 2007, Driscoll preached in Edinburgh (Scotland) on the Song of Solomon. He then created a series of sermons on it called The Peasant Princess. The ‘princess’ refers to the young woman in the book, who, Bible scholars say was actually a nobleman’s daughter being oppressed by her brothers. So, in reality she was neither a peasant nor a princess.

In an article from 2009, the Baptist Press described Driscoll’s interpretation of the Song of Solomon:

A May 18 interview with Driscoll, on the syndicated “Family Life” [radio] program hosted by Dennis Rainey, was halted in mid-broadcast after Bott Network founder Dick Bott learned Driscoll was the guest. Bott then cancelled another scheduled interview and ordered all Bott stations not to carry any programs featuring Driscoll …

Bott said he made the decision because of what he saw as Driscoll’s penchant for using vulgarity in his sermons, especially his questionable interpretation of the Song of Solomon in a Nov. 18, 2007, sermon preached in Edinburgh, Scotland, and subsequently in a multi-part series entitled “The Peasant Princess.”

“I’ve seen a lot [about Driscoll] that’s on the Internet and that only makes the whole thing worse,” Bott said. “I’ve seen what he said at that church in Scotland and as far as I know he’s never addressed it in any repentant way or apologetically tried to explain why on earth he got so far off the reservation as to think that that’s the way to address people.”

Driscoll’s Edinburgh sermon included graphic detail to explain his idea that Song of Solomon 2:6 encourages husbands to stimulate their wives by touching private parts of their bodies. He said chapter 7 of the book gives biblical justification for spouses “stripping” for each other and quipped that while lovemaking is better than wine, “lovemaking is great with wine.”

During the sermon, which was entitled “Sex, a Study of the Good Bits from Song of Solomon,” Driscoll interpreted Song of Solomon 2:3 as referring to oral sex and then said, “Men, I am glad to report to you that oral sex is biblical…. The wife performing oral sex on the husband is biblical. God’s men said, Amen. Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It’s biblical. Right here. We have a verse. ‘The fruit of her husband is sweet to her taste and she delights to be beneath him.'”

Driscoll went on to tell an anecdote about a wife who he said won her husband to Christ by performing oral sex on him. Driscoll said he told her that giving him oral sex would be following the admonition of Scripture. A transcript of the sermon quotes Driscoll saying he told her, “1 Peter 3 says if your husband is an unbeliever to serve him with deeds of kindness,” referring to oral sex. Verses 1 and 2 of that chapter, however, tell wives it is their “pure and reverent” conduct that will win their unbelieving husbands.

By 2009, Driscoll was already being invited to major American conferences headed by older Calvinist pastors with their own ministries. The Christian Worldview cautioned against giving him more credibility and renown than he merited:

Oddly enough, it was a stand-up comedian, foul-mouthed Chris Rock, whom Mark Driscoll credits with teaching him how to preach. Mark claims this comedian was “a better study in homiletics than most classes on the subject.” (Confessions of a Reformed Rev, pg. 70). Therefore, would he think others should also follow his example, which will require them to fill their mind with curse words and smut in order to learn how to effectively deliver a good sermon?

Admittedly, Mark Driscoll states he is reformed in his thinking, and he can deliver a sound sermon if he wants to. But, that does not negate his reckless, irreverent treatment of God’s Word, and the crude language that proceeds out of his mouth. This only makes his ministry more dangerous. If an enemy of the faith had used the same comedy to mock and pervert the Word of God, we would see this attack for what it is. Moreover, throughout the history of the church, vulgarity and playing fast and loose with Scripture would have immediately been identified as falsehood, error, or a serious character flaw. However, for some reason, today many in the Church are compromising and excusing ungodly behavior coming from the pulpit.

We tread down this new road to our own demise. In the words of A.W. Tozer, We should and must learn that we cannot handle holy things carelessly without suffering serious consequences.

I submit that this ministry attacks the integrity of Scripture, the character of Christ, and feeds the sensual, worldly heart of man. [Emphasis here in the original.] Therefore, out of love for Mark Driscoll and the Body of Christ, there needs to be close examination and scrutiny of this ministry …

Driscoll’s sex advice offers no other scriptural basis for his views other than his interpretation of Song of Solomon. Nor does he discuss scriptural precepts that are at odds with his interpretation, like the Romans 1 warnings about anal sex — “natural for unnatural” — or the exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 4 about “sanctification and honor” in the marriage relationship, rather than “lustful passion, like the Gentiles.”

While no vulgar language was used by Driscoll in his interview with Rainey, Bott said he could not trust Driscoll, given his track record, and that he worried what might be said could damage or offend Bott’s reputation for offering family-friendly programming to a wide range of listeners …

Scriptural admonitions about “unwholesome” speech (Ephesians 4:29) and “filthiness” and “coarse jesting” (Ephesians 5:4) should give pause to any Christian, especially preachers who stand to publicly proclaim the Gospel, Bott said …

He said some of Driscoll’s interpretations of Song of Solomon passages are extreme at best and he is concerned that Driscoll is being hailed as a role model and mentor to too many, particularly young pastors.

Driscoll’s emphasis on women servicing their husbands sexually and pressing the notion of female submission reminds me of Muslim family life. Islam, as practiced, gives the husband to demand from his wife what is his — conjugal rights, whatever time of night. If she does not submit to him, not only that way but in others, he is allowed to beat her. After all, she is his property. Much of practical Islam is intended for the man, not the woman, who is considered in Sharia courts as less of a human than he is.

Driscoll’s preaching is not much different. Sure, his wife Grace takes part with his permission, in panel discussions which he leads. I did see one video of him where she starts to speak and then goes quiet. He looks at her, smiles indulgently and says something like, ‘You can say something, that’s okay’.  So, he has given her his permission.

This over-attentiveness and submission should concern faithful Christians — men and women. We have no business modelling our lives on Islam. The ‘modesty’ issue also plays into this, with Christian women warning others to cover up, because men are too easily led into sexual thoughts. That is exactly what happens among certain devout Muslims. Some Protestant women already insist on wearing veils to church. How long will it be before they are wearing ‘Christian’ hijabs and niqabs?

As far as the Song of Solomon is concerned, Andy Bannister, writing for Answering Islam, tells us:

The primary message of the book is this: that human love, marriage, and, dare I say it, sexual love, are a gift from God. If there is one area of life that we tend to get into trouble over, it is this latter area. On the one hand, you have the worst excesses of Western secular culture, where sex is cheapened and disengaged from love or, at worst, simply used as a marketing tool to sell dishwashers. And at the other extreme, you have what occurs in many Eastern cultures, where sex is seen as totally taboo, dirty, is not talked about, where women are hidden away behind closed doors. These are just two examples of the various errors into which a society can fall — cheapening sex, or writing it off as dirty and taboo. Song of Songs, and indeed other parts of the Bible, correct both errors. The poem we have just read celebrates the joy of sexual love; but within the context of a one-on-one relationship in marriage. The poem commends the shepherd and the maiden for their devoted love to one another, the maiden is praised for guarding her virtue and her virginity against all the advances of Solomon, because she is saving herself for the one she loves and wants to marry. Yet sexual love is also commended and celebrated in the poem as a gift from God to be celebrated and to praise Him for. This theme is not only found in the Song of Songs, but goes right back to the very beginning. For, as we read in the book of Genesis:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24

What should concern us is the thought process of the young men in Driscoll’s congregation listening to these sermons. Saying that oral sex is okay is likely to encourage them to think unwholesome thoughts and thereby ignore Driscoll’s veneer of religiosity and cautions. These men could then well say to their wives — current or future — that Pastor Mark said that if a wife truly loves her husband she will perform oral sex on him.

The lady who writes Freedom For Captives warns (emphasis here in the original):

Does anyone else get it? Does anyone else see how sickeningly sexually abusive it is for Driscoll to teach young husbands (by the thousands!) that they can basically demand oral sex from their wives because, he says, the Bible strongly endorses it?! What if that wife is opposed to oral sex? What if she has past sexual abuse issues where her dad or other abuser orally raped her or forced her to perform fellatio on him? Come on, Driscoll, and everyone else, please, open your eyes! This is beyond, waaay beyond merely putting up with a “Christian brother” who has differing theological views than I do.

The man is doing and saying countless things that appear extremely abusive: spiritually, psychologically (verbal/emotional), and now sexually, in that he is outright condemning the poor woman who will not “submit” and make herself perform oral sex for her husband because it “pleases him.” Oh, and then he claims that one believing wife brought her husband to the Lord by performing oral sex on him. Okay.  I see this in John 5:9… NOT!

A few years ago, I read a couple of posts which a youngish member of a Wesleyan church wrote on his own site. He extolled Driscoll’s videos and sermons, saying that they were biblically sound. This chap, who was single with no marital prospects at the time, said that he expected his wife to be fully independent during the day, know how to handle a firearm, homeschool the kids, clean the house, make meals from scratch and — in the evenings when he was home — totally submit to him!  Ladies — be careful whom you date. That is the profile of one Driscoll admirer.

In response to her post, Freedom For Captives heard from another Driscoll admirer:

For the record I’m a 19 year old white guy, I have struggled with porno in the past, I have treated women badly in the past and Mark Driscoll has done so much to turn me away from porn and get me to treat women right. So, please keep criticizing this man of God, get angry at everything he says, keep singling him out. As for me I am going to back this faithfull preacher of the Gospel. I will hope for him, I will pray for him and I will thank God for him and on judgement day I am going to be in the crowd smiling as Christ says to Mark Driscoll “Well done good and faithfull servant”

For the record im not going to read anything else anyone posts on here. So however you choose to argue against me, it doesnt matter, you can load up your gun, but there are no deer in the forest, no ducks in the barrel, no monkeys in the trees, no nuts in the bundle… no fries left in the happy meal… im done, I wont respond any more or read any more.
Blog away!

Note how this young man, speaking as Driscoll would, is granting a woman who is probably old enough to be his mother the permission to continue blogging without him! The arrogance.

Freedom For Captives responded:

You may not read this, fine. But your response truly baffles and saddens me. I simply cannot comprehend how you could read those quotes of Mark’s, (in my June 29 comment, as quoted from The Christian World View [cited above]), find humor in them (???) and then say you now “treat women right”… pardon me, but how can that be?

You’re 19. I’m glad you shared that… I’ve stated before that the more I read of Mark, the more I think he comes across as being at the developmental level of an 8th grade boy… His apparent emotional immaturity has been noted by many others besides myself.

Mark has apparently mocked the holiness of our Lord and Savior, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, I don’t think God takes kindly to that. He has also apparently caused much damage to women and to men in his oppressive, anti-biblical teaching about women, men, marriage and sex… I don’t think he will get the “well done” on any of that.

None of us is perfect. But, when someone is a leader in Christ’s name, and leader of thousands no less, he will reap the harsher judgment for steering people wrong (see the book of James: not many of you should aspire to be teachers…) and for shaming the name of Christ.

She added in another comment:

If Paul, writing through/in the Holy Spirit, or rather the Holy Spirit writing through him, wanted to indicate authority, leader, one in charge, top dog, etc, he would have used the word commonly used for that in those times in that culture, which if I remember correctly was something like “archeon.” But he used head, “kephale,” (forgive me if misspelled) which means source

And, yes, what is confusing at times is that Mark can and does say/teach some really good things… at times… But as a friend pointed out to me the other day, “A little poison will still kill you.” And I would say that there appears to be more than a little poison in the overall message that Driscoll offers, and in the apparently controlling/bullying way he offers it– repeatedly, in patterns, consistently over time.

I’ve watched a few Driscoll videos, as many as I could stomach, and his carnal message outweighs his Christian message. I did not hear a mention of grace, freedom for the spiritually oppressed or anything on Christ and Him crucified.

This new type of preaching is called ‘missional’. Today’s definition of ‘missional’ has nothing to do with the most godly evangelists of the 19th and 20th centuries but instead plays to a congregation’s carnality.

Tomorrow: Mark Driscoll versus the sanctity of marriage

Last week, I cited Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church as an example of toxicity.

When I first started reading about him a few years ago, I wondered what his background was. The only Driscolls I ever knew were Roman Catholics.

Driscoll, for those who are unaware, founded the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, as well as the Acts 29 network of churches. His is an Evangelical Calvinist theology.

He has an odd way of combining the religious with the carnal. However, as Janet I Tu wrote for the Seattle Times, perhaps it’s no wonder:

The oldest of five siblings, he grew up in a house behind a strip club in SeaTac [Seattle-Tacoma area]. He saw drive-by shootings there, drug dealing. Being close to all that, “it’s not enticing. I think that’s what kept me out of trouble.” He also had a strong father who “made it really clear that ‘my kids don’t do certain things, and that’s the way it’s going to be.’ “

He’s a tough, streetwise kinda guy:

He says he didn’t have a drink until he was 30, never tried drugs. But he always had a temper. “If you [annoyed me], I beat you up.”

So, it’s better to be teetotal than to beat your opponents up. However, as long as there have been pietist and holiness Protestants, Catholics have not been untouched by this type of thinking. One might suspect that there might have been a drink problem among a Driscoll antecedent which would have brought on a family prohibition.  Who can say?

Here is how Mark describes his early Christian upbringing (emphases mine):

His parents were devout Irish Catholics and until age 13, he went to church weekly. But the meaning of Mass eluded him. “It was like an aerobics class: stand up, sit down, kneel . . . It never intersected with food, sex, friends, going to college, getting your first job — the things kids think about.”

He stopped going to church and got involved in sports and student government. At Highline High School, he captained the baseball team, edited the school paper, served as student-body president.

So, he never had a drink until he was 30 and yet thought that Mass was ‘like an aerobics class’? Also, if his parents were ‘devout Irish Catholics’, why wasn’t he better catechised and taught about the Order of the Mass? I, too, am an ex-Catholic and would never think of referring to it as ‘an aerobics class’.

Incidentally, this is what Christ said about ingesting:

18 “… Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, ”What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” (Mark 7:18-20)

St Paul said (1 Timothy 5:23):

Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.

Although he intended that for St Timothy, the young evangelist, it could also pertain to an adult who was experiencing occasional digestive upsets.

And what about Proverbs 31:6?

Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish.

However, it seems as if alcohol was a distant runner compared with ‘food, sex, friends’. This would show up later in his ministry.  And it seems that even in secondary school, he was already developing a gift for the gab.

Meanwhile, it was his girlfriend and future wife Grace who got Mark started on the Bible:

Driscoll went to Washington State University on a Fulbright scholarship. He considered going into politics or journalism — something where he could influence. He certainly wasn’t interested in being a minister. He remembers reading the New Testament in college in two weeks — mainly because he was smitten with Grace, who had given him a Bible. He immediately disagreed with most of what he’d read.

Of course, he didn’t think he was a sinner. One wonders if this is the sin of pride he seemingly acknowledges yet projects on his congregation — that they, too, somehow do not think they are sinners.

It wasn’t until he read St Augustine that he

realized pride was the worst sin. That was like a kick to the groin.

St Augustine was a libertine until he began reading Roman classics and from there delved into Holy Scripture.

That, too, must have been a revelation to Driscoll. Perhaps he recognised himself in Augustine’s writings.

He testified to Ms Tu, the Seattle Times reporter:

God told him to marry Grace, preach the Bible, plant churches, train men. He married Grace, graduated, worked as college outreach pastor at Kirkland’s Antioch Bible Church.

It’s funny that John MacArthur has never said that God told him to go to Grace Community Church. Yes, he had always hoped to have his own church, start a seminary and train men to serve God, but it does not appear that he received a divine message in this regard.

I also doubt whether MacArthur viewed the ministry the way Driscoll did:

I’d never preached, run a business, gone through seminary.” But “it’s like you’re at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving and someone says: ‘Someday you’ll get to the big table.’ [Forget that]. I’ll just form my own table.

Is that a good and humble way to view service to Christ’s people? (Driscoll did attend Western Seminary.)

And the way he describes Judgment Day?

the party to end all parties, the good time to end all good times

Most of us consider it seriously and solemnly, hoping that we will be able to see Christ face-to-face and be in God’s kingdom for eternity. We never thought it was going to be a party.

So, how would Driscoll’s preaching play out in church? One woman — the author of Freedom For Captives — who attended Mars Hill occasionally with her husband wrote:

In his Spiritual Warfare series Mark states that when he counsels couples “Invariably one feels their sex life is fine and the other is not satisfied.” He says this is a wedge between them and “it is Satanic,” that is, demonically influenced. He goes on to say, “It is like Satan is sleeping in bed between the two of you.” He implies the wife should not hold out on her husband, that if both parties are not getting all the sex they want and if it is not “fun and exciting” there is “Satanic” involvement. Nothing is said about the woman’s possible if not probable prior sexual abuse.

After three years of grad study to earn my masters to be a psychotherapist and 2 years of doing therapy with deeply traumatized women, those statements and implications of Mark’s are absolutely abhorrent to me. Many studies report that 1/3 to 1/4 of women have been sexually abused (e.g., childhood incest, rape, etc). This kind of trauma often causes severe, complex PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which includes terrifying, panic stimulating flash backs, dissociation, avoidance, and hypervigilance. This has very little if anything to do with one’s cognitions (thoughts) and very much to do with one’s emotional brain (the amygdala) taking over due to various cues in ones environment or unwanted, unelicited flashbacks. Therefore, it is not under one’s conscious control or one’s will power or one’s spiritual beliefs and memorization of Scripture.

Mark is not a therapist, to my knowledge, and certainly not a Traumatologist, and he is therefore treading on waters he knows absolutely nothing about… he seems to think a few short Scriptures and some counseling where he convinces this poor woman that she needs to, according to him, “repent of believing lies” will cure her and the sex “problems” in her marriage.

You would no doubt be forgiven if you thought of the aforementioned strip club after reading this passage. I did. Given abused women’s circumstances — of which there are bound to be more in our age of sexual freedom, now encompassing nearly two generations — perhaps the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is guiding them, not Satan. An abused woman does not need more pain in her life, especially of a sexual nature. If anything, it seems that Driscoll’s preoccupation with sex and scatology in his sermons reveals a possible  carnal nature.

On a post about the closure of the women’s blog at Mars Hill in 2008, near the end, one of the women (Anonymous, April 30, 2008, 12:24 PM) says:

Driscoll envisions himself as the head, or “father”, of a movement. He has often joked that his goal is “world domination.” Is that sinful?

So, what are we to think? That Mark Driscoll is a young Dominionist in postmodern clothes? Or, alternatively, the next Rick Warren? Who is he exactly and what is he really after?

It all seems very confused. And if it is confused for the onlooker, imagine what it must be like to be listening to him week after week. As to his Calvinism, well, that’s another matter entirely.

The author of Freedom For Captives is right in making this assessment. She wisely has no answers here but says:

When Peter became overly concerned with John’s walk with Jesus and whether or not he would remain alive until the Lord’s return, Jesus told Peter to never mind about John, “you follow me.” Why is it that certain anxious men must so vehemently demand that women submit to them? Why don’t they leave that “command,” if it is such, up to the women to fulfill or not, just as we are all called to choose whether or not to obey the Lord on many various issues. This is harmful enough when male laity behave in such a manner, but it is exceptionally abusive when men use their church positions (and usually false authority) to coerce women into obedience to their desire to rule and reign (all in the guise of obeying Scripture, of course).

I find it awfully suspicious that some “Christian” men are so extremely invested in ensuring that women “obey” a few cherry picked Scriptures! This is very cult like. This is what cults do. That is why MH’s stance on women and the testimonies of those harmed by this caught my attention, along with other aspects which match up with VanVonderen’s and Dr. Enroth’s descriptions of church abuse. Cults use various Scriptures out of context also in order to control the cult members. Driscoll, and others like him, use Scripture passages which are difficult to translate, to understand and to apply correctly partly due to one glaring reason: they seem to contradict the gender equality Jesus teaches, Paul teaches and Gen 1-3 teaches and which many other Bible passages exemplify. Conversely, you do not find women in an uproar about husbands not loving their wives properly and not giving their lives up for them, now do you? …

Freedom4Captives is about analyzing and highlighting what appears to be CHURCH ABUSE at Mars Hill. The more I read of mind control, aberrational “Christian” churches and of cults, the more I see similarities in Driscoll’s style of “leadership” (control) and the Mars Hill system.

Personally, I do not know. Nor do I have an answer. However, Mark Driscoll is said to have an increasing following in the UK. Furthermore, many Protestants have not appreciated Driscoll’s somewhat flippant — others might say lightearted — approach to Christ and to relationships. We didn’t grow up with this approach, nor did we grow up with ‘federal headship’, another idea now almost into its second generation. Again, I would urge caution on church membership and subjective feelings of security and protection, particularly on the part of women.

Tomorrow: Mark Driscoll and the Song of Solomon

What follows is an illustration of a controlling pastor.

This video shows Mark Driscoll, lead pastor of Mars Hill Church (MHC) in Seattle, Washington, which could probably be best described as an Evangelical Calvinist church. Here Mr Driscoll apologises for his absence of humility in an artful way, with helpful notes from the video maker to show the degree of control and manipulation going on. In other words, what appears to be an act of humility and a request for forgiveness by the congregation is a disguised warning to the congregation to not pry too closely into church affairs:

The person who uploaded the video says:

He is saying “I have not been humble, I am proud. Therefore because I have been proud many of you members are also proud. So we will not listen to you and your concerns, even if valid, because of your pride. I repent of my pride and will now teach you to be humble.” In fact, he talks about how the church will humble you or exalt you. In fact that is not the church’s role at all.

Freedom For Captives is a blog for those who have attended Driscoll’s church and left confused or angry. One of the posts discusses the aforementioned video. Excerpts follow, emphases in bold mine:

“People who have misused their spiritual power have disrespected or beaten down your boundaries. They have shamed you out of your ‘no,’ clouded your will and intruded into your life with religious agendas. They have violated your spirituality by playing ‘Holy Spirit.’ Having an opinion has come to equal lack of submissiveness. Having a right to not be abused is selfish.”

(1991, David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church, p. 47).

From a NY Times article, Jan 6, 2009, Who Would Jesus Smack Down, by Worthen, and from readings of Driscoll’s book, Vintage Church, and listening to various of Mark’s sermons (especially part 2 on Spiritual Warfare, see notes of this in another blog), I get the impression that at Mars Hill Church (MHC) and particularly by Mark Driscoll (pastor), women are viewed and treated—despite words to the contrary—as second class citizens

From my understanding of the Membership Covenant and instructions to members, MHC Members are commanded not to take their grievances to other members, only to the leadership or elders. But what if the elders are the very ones who are in sin, who have oppressed and done unjustly? So you go to them, and you are ousted as a trouble maker …

According to Dr. Enroth [Ronald M Enroth, author of  Churches That Abuse] you can have a very Evangelical, Word based church and it can still be a cult in its spiritual abuse and control. What I ran into at MHC is very sad to me because in many ways Mark seems to be really preaching the truth and thousands of young people are getting saved; BUT I can never, ever condone any kind of abuse and control which strips people of their God given autonomy and their God given dignity and which therefore demeans and confuses them making them slaves to another person …

Mark told stories stressing the importance of “submission to your leaders” and not being “rebellious and divisive.” He gave an illustration that he would be like a Martial Arts instructor in how he deals with difficult subordinates, “I take them into the ring and I break their nose.” Nice. Jesus is the one who tells us that leaders in the world “lord it over those under them, but not so with you.” Jesus came to be a servant; how much more his leaders. I’ve also heard it said that the more a husband needs to claim Eph 5, “my wife HAS to submit to me!” the more he, not she, has the problem. A loving husband, laying his life down for his wife, does NOT need to demand submission.

Likewise, according to Jeff VanVonderen in his book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, the more a leader teaches on submission and rebellion, and the more controlling he is, the more he actually disqualifies himself from being a leader. Mark appears to spend a lot of his preaching on insubordinate members, former members, often using as examples those who displeased him, questioned him, “were divisive,” those who are sinful, prideful believers who ruin churches. The message is apparent, “If you want to survive here, you’d better not do any of the things they did or you too will be cast out!” A psychologist told me recently that people have a “visceral response to being cast out. It threatens at the core our sense of belonging. If you are cast out of the family group, you become tiger food.”

Jesus’ little “s” shepherds are not to control and manipulate His sheep, they are to be compassionate and humble and serve the sheep and take care of them, not demand complete and total submission. I was reading Dr. Enroth’s book, Churches that Abuse, and the issue of control, control, control came up over and over again as the NUMBER ONE INDICATOR of abusive churches. What I see in Driscoll is a lot of demand for a lot of control, and as the NY Times article stated, “Driscoll has little patience for dissent”…

” … When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached …”

In the Spiritual warfare series Mark goes on and on about how satanically influenced women apparently often become, and he calls them “busy bodies” and “the weaker vessels” in regards to their character and their susceptibility to temptation. Not all women are “busybodies,” Mr. Driscoll, despite Paul having addressed some as having been so, and men can also be gossipy little busy bodies. And as to “weaker vessels” many theologians state this was regarding our physiology. There’s really no indication it’s about our character.

What I am seeing thus far are plenty of red flags, sometimes flaming red flags.

I did not find Driscoll to be a disagreeable man to meet, not at all. He can come across (when he’s not yelling from the pulpit) as sensitive, caring, and humble. But he seems to have this other side that often shows up which is dogmatic on doctrines in Scripture which are not clear (such as Calvinism as the only way to view God’s Sovereignty and His work in redeeming hearts, and the Complimentarian view).

According to my understanding of Mark’s book, Vintage Church, besides agreeing to Mark’s doctrines, per the Membership Covenant, a prospective member must agree to “not be divisive” and to “sign a pledge” that you will give regularly financially and of your time in volunteer work. MC states they will send you quarterly reminders. If you slack off in giving, I’ve read that your core group will “hold you accountable,” or something to that effect. Signing a covenant with a church and signing a pledge to give one’s money and time are unbiblical, legalistic and very controlling. They are abuses of church authority.

Mark does not seem to allow anyone to question him. He has created By- Laws wherein he and the other four hand picked elders make up the group of elders, and from what I read it would be next to impossible to fire him. So now he has tenure.

From his statements in his Spiritual Warfare Series, part 2, he seems to demand quiet submission from women, and he appears to demean women who have opinions and speak about what they want, such as, “I want to be married to a pastor.” Mark says to single men, “Run. She’s satanic. She wants to be in the middle of things and have power and be a drama queen.” Well who says? How do you know her heart, Mark? That may or may not be true. But see, she is a strong woman who knows what she wants which, according to former members, is a big “no, no” at MHC. Mark goes on to say that the woman who really wants to be a leader of women’s ministries is the one to avoid for the same reasons. Then his voice becomes soft and gentle as he says that the woman who is quiet and non-assertive, who wouldn’t even ask for that position, she is the one that would be best in that position. Well, that kind of temperament certainly wouldn’t cause Mark many problems and would be more easily controlled.

He said he protects his wife, “You bet I do! I’ve put up a 12’ high wall, with machine gunned armed guards. Women will say to her, ‘oh let’s do coffee.’ Uh uh! Those are busy bodies! That’s Satanic. A couple will say, ‘oh let’s have you for dinner,’ uh uh!” Whoa! This sounds extremely paranoid and controlling to me. He seems really concerned that people are trying to get the dirt on him through his wife, and maybe this has been his experience, but man. Does your wife have NO SAY re: with whom she might like to have coffee? Does she need your permission? So apparently he lords it over his wife and his people in his church, and he teaches men in the church to likewise lord it over their women

Mark has also preached about “being able to see into people’s hearts, and read their mail” (as in their personal business/issues) … He has said, “Their hearts aren’t right…” when describing those who question him. If that is the case, there would be no protection from such a one as Mark and no way to get justice within that system ruled by Mark …

The experience of ‘worship’ at MHC felt stifled to me. The music was grunge… well, okay, I’m all right with alternative, but this was a bit weird, but although the words were heavy-handed gospel, there wasn’t much if anything about entering into deep worship of our loving, awesome Lord. The thousands of young people around us were not getting into freely worshiping either … there was no celebration, no feeling of liberation, no adoration of the One who loved us enough to die for us.

I do not think I would have ever been welcomed at MHC unless I would have ditched my entire personality. I get the impression that in order to please men (Mark and the other male leaders at MHC), I would have had to submit to what I can only describe as soul-murder, the death of who God really created me to be. I am an outgoing, very verbal female, who knows some stuff and likes to share it, AND I am a therapist (Psychology seems to be frowned on at MHC). The worst thing you can do to me is try to shut me down, to steal my voice. I am a questioner, an analyzer, this is how I learn and process. I think that what that church would have done to me, what Mark would have done to me, would only be a crazy-making, cruel retake of past abuse in my life. God, I thank you for sparing me! I pray you would release others as well. Bring Mark humbly to his knees and remove from him any false power not from you. Rescue these young people who are so impressionable and who are new converts and know no better. Set them all free to obey YOU out of a heart of love, not dictatorial fear. Amen.

The blogger cautions Christians — women, in particular — against a more subtle pastoral manipulation, which she experienced elsewhere years before:

He was educated, a good speaker, eloquent, powerful, but, unlike Mark, he actually came across as humble (false humility), that is, unless he was psychologically manipulating you into a vice and pressing you so tightly with his version of mind control you just couldn’t think clearly anymore, and unless he was telling you how pathological you are because you’re questioning him and doubting his motives. There appear to be a lot of similarities between that abusive spiritual leader and Driscoll in their abusive styles, even though one is extremely dogmatic and conservative and the other is extremely liberal. Abusers come in all stripes.

That’s the sort I know — and only one, thankfully. Couple that with faulty theology — very much the opposite of Driscoll’s, yet equally flawed — and this type of pastoral leadership is equally suspect. I’ve read on Catholic blogs of similar episodes. An older woman quietly pointed out to a pastor that he omitted the creed during Mass; the priest whispered, ‘Don’t you dare criticise me,’ by way of reply.  However, married couples — with the husband opposing pastors and elders — with regard to liturgical or doctrinal ‘innovations’ can end up in a disciplinary situation. Therefore, this is not necessarily a woman-only scenario.

One of Freedom For Captives‘s readers wrote in:

My former pastor did this too!
Crazy thing was, he didn’t read their hearts as much as project his own sins upon them.
No where was that more clear than in his attitude toward the youth.
Because he was a wild, uncontrolable helli[o]n, that was motivation he projected on the youth. He bashed them frequently.

NOW, a couple of these youth he bashed…
One is a brilliant Doctor and Mayo Clinic.
Another is an F-16 pilot in the Air Force.
While this pastor has had to dis[s]olve his church, is separated from his wife, and it looks like there may be a divorce.

He didn’t see into their hearts.
He didn’t read their mail.
He created an idea in his heart about their hearts that matched his heart when he was a teen, not based in any prophetic ability.
But based on the same thing he does to God.
He projects onto God his own desires and thinkings and intentions (at least the ones he considers good). And he projects on those who have dared to question him his own desires and thinkings and intentions and labeled them bad.

Freedom For Captives offers this checklist of controlling churches which should ring warning bells. Whilst these are specifically about Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill, they are also pertinent to other congregations around the world:

Controlling Pastor with “Yes Men” Elders;

– No Talk Rule;

No Dissent;

Emphasis on Submission and Obedience;

– Shunning of “Unrepentant” Former Members;

Dis-fellowshipping “Questioners” and Critical Thinkers;

– By-Laws Removing Accountability of Pastor/Elders;

Mind and Thought Control;

Membership Covenant and Financial Giving Pledge Required;

“Biblical” Counseling Only, if Referred Out, Must Sign Release Form (no confidentiality allowed);

– Kangaroo Court Firing of Two Elders Who Dared to Question;

Extreme Gender Role Enforcement;

Members Must Attend Accountability/”Community” Groups.

Many of those are characteristics of pietist and holiness churches, particularly the signed membership ‘covenant’, enforced pledging and accountability (‘small’ or ‘cell’) groups. Please be careful.

This sounds quite Islamic. Islam is becoming increasingly insular in the West whilst becoming more public in its perspectives on family life and sex roles. No good Muslim argues with his imam. The woman stays at home or is employed outside it under controlled conditions.  Women are made to submit for their ‘protection’ and ‘God-given’ role. In the extreme context of this role, they are quiet and cover up most of their bodies in ‘modesty’. Men are supreme. The man runs the household and dictates the spiritual and temporal life therein. Islam appeals to men because it gives them the opportunity to ‘lord’ their authority over others. This is why their prison ministries attract so many disaffected male prisoners. It gives them power over others; they have licence to become religious dictators in their own homes.

This Islamic tone sounds suspiciously like the church and family life which Mark Driscoll and a few other pastors are promoting in the 21st century.

It is still unclear whether there is a conscious goal on the part of certain Christian pastors or vicars to push their church members into communitarianism leading to an Islamic lifestyle. However, Rick Warren is working on a joint Christian-Islamic statement of co-operation on projects for the ‘common good’.

Depending on the congregation, this new Christian communitarian lifestyle could be a conservative pietist-holiness kind or a liberal social gospel variant, getting everyone ‘involved’ and ‘committed’ to church and interfaith ‘projects’.

Tomorrow: More on Rick Warren’s reaching out to the Muslim community

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