Abuse in the Church and heresy that supports it

The Plague of Abuse

Abuse is a major plague affecting churches of all persuasion. It not only destroys peoples’ lives, the ripple effects for family, friends, and churches grow beyond our eye sight.

Thankfully, many people are addressing the problem of abuse. Here is a small sample of people writing about abuse in the church.

Dee Parson: http://thewartburgwatch.com

Amy Smith: http://watchkeep.blogspot.com

Julie Ann: https://spiritualsoundingboard.com

Others are writing and providing organized help for those abused, such as:

Boz Tchividjian: https://www.netgrace.org

And many of those who have been abused and continue to suffer from the church, such as:

Lori Anne Thompson: https://loriannethompson.com

Every person in the church would do well to read what each of these people write. To see the devastating effects of abuse. To grapple with the hidden costs of abuse. To realize that reintegration into a church can be threatening to say the least. To come to grips with how pervasive, soul destroying abuse can be.

The Heresy behind Abuse

Another layer of recognizing what is going on is to realize that many abusers and their defenders have used what seemingly provides a theological/Biblical basis for “handling abusers.” That is, a seeming “confession of sins” by abuser is offered (ala Matt. 18:15-20), then a quick absolution, and even quicker turn around to begin another ministry. As if that solves the problems. 

It gets even worse. Many of them claim that the only solution is for the abused person to meet face-to-face with the abuser, so that forgiveness can happen. By such a practice, this ensures that the abuser does not face consequences because he (I am using male pronoun, because most often it is a man) is in the position of power, hence the abuse is multiplied. Little wonder that those abused refuse to be put into that position.

Added to this dilemma, such an approach short-circuits the role of the congregation in the process (18:17). And the witnesses are not to be advocates for the one who sinned (the abuser), rather as witnesses that the process of confronting the abuser with what has happened. But another disaster has entered the process. The abuser seemingly can suggest his own punishment, even determining if something is too difficult to endure.

The Heresy

That process almost sounds Biblical. But they are using Biblical words with a different meaning, and therefore twist it to support the abuser. In the process, words like “confession of sin,” “repentance,” “forgiveness of sins,” etc. are detached from their biblical context and meaning. Thus, if questioned the abuser/defender can claim that the process of Matthew 18:15-20 has been followed. 

Sadly according to this misuse, a word like “restoration” automatically means as soon as forgiveness is declared, then the person can resume that same position or similar one in another church. That process does not reflect Biblical confession, absolution, or restoration. And that is the heresy.

Is heresy too strong a word to use in this context? I think not. Words of the church and by the Church have been torn from their Biblical context and meaning—coopted to support the abuser. Even church, pastor, authority, forgiveness, reconciliation have been twisted from what Jesus instituted for the Church. In the process these heretics are wanting Christianity as a whole to change in order to accept their perverted understanding of those words. And that is heresy. 

In the 4th century at the Council of Nicea (AD 325) a bishop named Arius was trying to change a teaching regarding Christ. Interestingly the difference between orthodoxy (straight doctrine, hence praise) and heresy (false doctrine publicly defended as true doctrine) was one letter, the Greek letter iota (ι).

The council recognized the widely spread deception of Arius, and condemned the teaching. Heresy could not be tolerated. Even more, the use of words by Arius to promote and defend the heresy had to be challenged. The church would not be the true church if it allowed the false acquisition of Christian/Biblical words by heretics.

The Fallout

In the era of abuse of today, false teachers are using slipshod definitions and use of words like sin, confession, forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation to circumvent the Biblical process of dealing with public sin. That is, the abusers, their supporters, and all others connected with the abuse need to restudy those words, so that these words can be taken as originally intended and not as a means of sidestepping what happened.

This does NOT mean a one hour study session with quickly re-written new policy. Rather, it means taking a long (year or years?) serious look at all the Bible has to say about sin, confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. Do NOT jump immediately to “forgiveness of sin,” because that will derail the purpose of the study. Confronting sin has to include not only the specific sin, but the larger consequences of the sin, the affect on family, the church, other spiritual leaders, etc. Over the years I have heard pastors who have abused a member claim that “I have been out of ministry for six months; now I am ready to begin serving again.” The reality is that he probably has not even dealt with the sin in its entirety, nor with the affect on other people.

Notice, too, that in the Matthew 18:15-20 passage, the one guilty of sin, does not determine the forgiveness, nor the consequences, nor the restoration, if any. In other words, he has no role in that whole process, regardless of how “fit” he might demonstrate at the moment. His only role is to confess the sin. He is not to be applauded, nor “rescued to serve again.” Sin has much greater consequences than his inconvenience. The church determines steps forward, and restoration to a former position is certainly not automatic, nor to be demanded.

The Way Forward

It is encouraging to see people and churches take stands against abuse. But it is indeed sad that abuses have lived in a subculture that thrives on heresy. This is a call for all pastors, teachers, and Christians in general to seriously study the critical words in their Biblical context. Don’t settle for a shortcut that seems to cut off the abuser in the immediate situation, but may open to other abuse and other heresies. 

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For Study

I don’t have all the answers. Here is a suggestion for a beginning of this study, which gets to at least a couple items. Most critical I think is addressing the heresy that undergirds the abuse has to be identified, dealt with, and put away from the abuser, defenders, and the church. I would say a deep study of Galatians (what is the foundation of faith), Ephesians (what does it mean to be “in Christ” and in relation to one another), 2 Corinthians (how to deal with trouble in church), 1 John (what does Christ’s love mean for the Church, fierce love that Jesus demonstrated).

Study words such as sin, confession, forgiveness (in that order)

2 Samuel 12; Psalm 51

Psalm 32

3-4 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.

Then

5-6 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin.

From Jesus’ instruction Matthew 18:15-20

 If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

May we as the Church root out this heresy and remove that as a foundation for abuse.

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Away from the crowds

The Crowds

How do you respond to the crowd? For some (usually extroverts) crowds can be an important part of recharging themselves. For others (usually introverts, which I am), crowds are okay, but then there is a need to withdraw. For such people, recharging comes away from the crowds.

As we look at Jesus’ ministry, we discover something interesting. He would withdraw from the crowds. But something more happened.

But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, (Matt. 12:15)

Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. (Matt. 14:13)

So despite Jesus withdrawing from the people the people would not withdraw from Him. Amazingly, Jesus continues to care for them, healing, teaching, comforting them.

Palm Sunday: The crowds

Palm Sunday in one way is the peak of Jesus’ popularity. The crowds greet His arrival in Jerusalem as the new king, much in anticipation of the new David, King. Matthew noted the Old Testament prophecy related to preparation for His entry into Jerusalem.

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
 Behold, your King comes to you, Humble, and riding on a donkey, On a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  (Matt. 21:5)

The actions and words of the crowd reflect this anticipation of someone great, like a new King.

A very great multitude spread their clothes on the road. Others cut branches from the trees, and spread them on the road.  The multitudes who went before him, and who followed kept shouting, “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:8–9)

And the crowd begins to put the pieces together.

When he had come into Jerusalem, all the city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”  The multitudes said, “This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matt. 21:10-1)

Post Entry to Jerusalem

The attention to Jesus doesn’t end there. Jesus goes into the temple area and causes quite a stir.

Jesus entered into the temple of God, and drove out all of those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the money-changers’ tables and the seats of those who sold the doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers!” (Matt. 21:12-13)

On the one hand, the Jewish leaders are very concerned about this agitation of their little kingdom. On the other hand, Jesus is very concerned about the agitation caused by changing and defiling the temple and God’s work through it. Not only that, but Jesus heals many in the crowds (Matt. 21:14-15).

Jesus continues His ministry to the crowds

In the rest of Matthew 21, we see Jesus continuing what He had been doing in previous years: teaching the people (crowds), healing them, while also confronting the Jewish leaders.

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his illustrations, they knew that he was talking about them. They wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the crowds, who thought he was a prophet. (Matt. 21:45–46)

The crowds still follow Him, listen to His teachings, and receive His healing gifts. Jesus is doing what His Father had sent Him to do.

His crowd ministry never stops

The reality is that Jesus came into this world —for the crowds, even the enemies within the crowds. While needs time to be alone with His disciples, he never fully withdraws from the people. He knows their concerns, their hurts, they challenges, and their brokenness.

He continues to live out His ministry in fulfillment of Psalm 34:17-18:

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.

The LORD is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.

So we see that Jesus has much to do. In the days following His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. His crowd work will dramatically change focus on Maundy Thursday. He will begin the care for His followers of the future.

 

Places of Passion: Court of High Priest

In our midweek services we have followed the places that Jesus went on His way to the cross. This week we go to the court of the High Priest. This was the highest religious authority for the Jews. Jesus has one more stop after this: court of Pilate, Roman Governor.

In our text, the High Priest and the Sanhedrin were looking for false testimony against Jesus. Their intent was to put Jesus to death. And yet they couldn’t even find any. Even when they find two witnesses, they still can’t tell the truth about what Jesus said.

Nevertheless, when the High Priest finally addresses Jesus to tell the truth, Jesus does tell the truth, that He is the Messiah, the Son of God. He gives the same answer that Peter gave earlier in Jesus’ ministry:

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:15 CSB)

Peter got the title correct, but he didn’t want to hear what Jesus had to do in fulfillment of that title.

21 From then on Jesus began to point out to his disciples that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to you!” (Matt. 16:21–22 CSB)

In our text, Peter is mentioned ironically, wanting to see the outcome:

Peter was following him at a distance right to the high priest’s courtyard. He went in and was sitting with the servants to see the outcome. (26:28 CSB)

Ironically, when Jesus publicly confesses who He is: the Messiah, the Son of the living God. By Jesus’ assertion, the Sanhedrin didn’t need a false testimony, Jesus gave a true witness… that served their purpose to kill Him, and it served Jesus’ purpose to reveal Himself in His testimony and in His death.

The truth of Jesus’s statement culminates in events that lead to His death… but even more.

Matthew 26:57–66

57 Those who had arrested Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had convened. 58 Peter was following him at a distance right to the high priest’s courtyard. He went in and was sitting with the servants to see the outcome.

59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they could put him to death, 60 but they could not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. Finally, two who came forward 61 stated, “This man said, ‘I can destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

62 The high priest stood up and said to him, “Don’t you have an answer to what these men are testifying against you?” 63 But Jesus kept silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

64 “You have said it,” Jesus told him. “But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? See, now you’ve heard the blasphemy. 66 What is your decision?” They answered, “He deserves death!” (CSB)

Places of the Passion Pt 1

The Upper Room

During our midweek Lenten services we will take a look at five places connected to Jesus’ death. Each place will expose us to the people involved in Jesus’ death. We will see people taking actions that reveal that they are not only witnesses but accomplices in Jesus’ death.

Our first look  tonight will be at the upper room. The upper room is a place for intimacy, a gathering familiar and cherished by Jews. The Passover celebration was not a private event, but a family and friend oriented event.

In the midst of this, Jesus addresses two items of critical interest: 1) the identify of his betrayer, sin exposed, and 2) the institution of the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins.

As we explore tonight we begin our walk to the cross. Like the disciples we ask “Is it I, Lord.” As we examine our hearts, we, too, will see our own sin—confessing during the service. And the solution is the forgiveness that Jesus earns for us and He gives to us through the Word, through Baptism, and especially tonight, the Lord’s Supper. We cherish the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness we desperately need and want.

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17  Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”

18 And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.”’” 19 The disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.

20 Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 As they were eating, He said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.” 22 Being deeply grieved, they 1each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 And He answered, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. 24“The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” 25 And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself.”

26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:17-29 NAS)

Sermon: Matthew 18:15-20

Preached Sep. 10, 2017

Forgiveness in the Church and for the Church

 

Matthew 18:15-20 CSB

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”

 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8XYDMInOhQEekY1SXJYU29ralE/view

Sermon Matthew 16:21-28

Sermon preached on September 3, 2017

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8XYDMInOhQENjN6VHZfVFcxY1U/view

Matthew 16:21-28 (NAS)

21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to His deeds.

28   “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Church—some thoughts about it

Lately I have been thinking a lot about “church” —what it is, what it is not, how it functions.

There are two approaches that have garnered a lot of attention. As I describe these, at this stage I am observing, not evaluating them The first is the formal, structured church. This is evident in not only architecture but also in worship life. Most of “church” revolves around the building and the liturgy. Great care is taken in the details of both.

The second is the person-centered approach to church. Thus, the person’s needs, wants, desires move center stage. Instead of a formalized liturgy the need to encourage, excite, motivate people is the focus of worship. The second kind of church has been an occasional part of my life in the last 25 years. I have participated in some very moving worship times.

Interestingly, though, I have also felt a hollowness of my own spirituality in such churches. As I examined this more, I discovered that there were no long lasting links with the Church. Songs from 20 years ago were no longer sung. The experience of the gathered people in worship spanned maybe 10-20 years. Yet I am in my late 60s. My spiritual and worship life span almost seven decades.

I grew up and have spent almost all of my adult life in the first kind of church. The liturgical form of worship was all I personally knew until I was in my 40s. The temptation was to let my participation turn to auto-pilot. I knew everything by heart, no need for the hymnal, except for occasional hymn that I didn’t know by heart. At times such participation became automatic with little thought of “what was I saying/singing.”

Yet, in some of the deepest valleys in my life, my participation in that liturgy and hymns brought stability when nothing else did. The congregational span of worship was not limited to the age of the participants. It reached back hundreds of years, and even further. The perspective was not limited to any one in particular but to the Church as a whole, throughout the ages. I realized I was part of a community that could carry me along as we sang the Kyrie, even if my lips did not move. As church, we sang, prayed, and meditated. I needed that. And over the years I have encountered others who have realized this “larger than me” experience of church.

The Foundations: Word and Sacrament

In the Church of all ages, there are foundational elements of Church: The Word of God, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Confession and Absolution, and our responses of prayer and singing. They form the heart of Church life.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 CSB)

And Matthew 18:15-20 (CSB)

15 [Jesus said:] “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”