Voyle A. Glover
One of the hallmarks of every cult is its propensity to gather closely around a leader and to elevate that leader to a kind of kingly status both in their minds, and in their treatment of this leader. The leader's words and sayings becomes law. The leader is often viewed as being above reproach. In Christian circles, it is often viewed as "carnal" and "unruly" to be critical of the leader, particularly if that criticism deals with doctrinal positions taken by the leader, or pronouncements that are viewed by some as contrary to Scripture.
In Christianity today, we are witnessing a dramatic rise in the cult of the personality resulting in a flood of bad pastors standing in our pulpits. Today, we are seeing two distinct movements within Christianity. First, there is the fleshly, man-centered risings of certain churches, always occasioned by man with a powerful, dominating personality, who takes control over the church, leading it according to his own sense of direction. Naturally, his position is that the direction he is taking the church is towards God, because, after all, he is following Christ. It is not uncommon for such strong leaders to become, in a real sense, an "extra-biblical" manifestation of Christ and His Word to the people. They will come to feel that they are seeing God manifested in this man, and that this man is so close to God, that when he speaks, it is as though God speaks. In other words, these men, these bad pastors, these corrupt leaders within the Body, these wolves in sheep's clothing, become so powerful that they are often able to turn the people away from God, and are able to lead the people completely astray.
The second movement is one that is more difficult to see and more difficult to combat. Under the ruberic of "love," some Christian churches has begun aligning themselves and their people with other churches that are on the perimeters of Christianity (and some are beyond the pale). Some churches and Christians have moved into a stream of affiliations and ties that will soon become snares. They are attempting to mesh doctrinal differences or in some instances, deliberately avoiding the differences, and concentrating on the "positives."
I contend that both of these movements tend to create churches that are cultic. Both of them lead to the same destination, albeit by different routes. But, though the journey may take different turns, and may have different sights, at the end of that road there is a final stop-- Idolatry. The ultimate sin that is pervasive in the congregation is the substitution of a man, for God. They never see it, and would never admit to it. But it is there.
Now a cult is a difficult thing to define in the English language. If you look at the strict dictionary definition, all of Christianity might be called a "cult." But in fact, historically, the term has been taken to mean those groups which are religious abberations, that is, they have abandoned traditional Christian doctrine and forged new doctrines that are both contrary to the Scripture and to doctrine long established and recognized by Christendom.
I have my own definition for a cult.
Where a group of people place their ideas, their words and their persons in a position that cannot be challenged by the Bible and who refuse to accept the authority of the Bible, but instead devise cunning and clever doctrines that fit their fancy, then this group is a cult.
Cults will always defy God. They may pay lip service to God, but they are nonetheless, defying God. They have rejected His Word, they have rejected His commandments, and they have rejected Him. They have committed the sin of idolatry, for they have built themselves a god they will serve, and it is a god of their imagination. Debate it, analyze it and study on it, but when you're done, it still comes down to idolatry. That is the ultimate destination of any group that goes down the Cultic Path.
It is a contradiction of terms to call a Christian ministry a cult. A cult cannot be Christian, but a Christian or a group can be cultic. A ministry may be cultic and still be Christian. In other words, it may retain all the trappings of basic, Baptistic Christianity, but still exhibit cult-like attributes. For example, a group may follow traditional Christian beliefs in most areas, but may also adopt a doctrine or practice of handling snakes, or drinking poison, or some other irrational, strange doctrine which is, when all is said and done, a doctrinal abberation that is cultic and clearly not of God. They may be "born again" believers. But, because of their doctrinal ignorance, they are on the Cult Path.
Erwin W. Lutzer described the beginning of a cult rather aptly when he discussed the beginnings of idolatry which Gideon brought into the land. He said: "Once Gideon had set himself up as a high priest and placed the center of worship in his hometown, idolatry swiftly followed. The biblical account says starkly, : 'All Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it [the ephod] there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.' " (Jud. 8:27). WHEN A GOOD MAN FALLS, Erwin W. Lutzer, Victor Books, 1986, p. 47.
Idolatry, which is always built on a foundation of pride and covered with a veneer of self love, is easily the greatest single element in the corruption of a ministry; and probably, there one single thing that causes the cult meter to register completely off the scale in determining whether a Christian ministry is going down that path.
It has to do with how the members of the church treat a fellow member when that member has, by word or deed, shown disloyalty to the leader.
Now let me first lay some foundations before I continue. First of all, some definitions: Unfaithful: "Not adhering to a pledge or contract." - Websters. Disloyal: "...faithlessness." - Websters. Faithful: "Adhering strictly to the person, cause, or idea to which one is bound: dutiful and loyal." - Websters. Websters lists several words as synonyms, including "faithful, loyal, steadfast, constant" and "true."
We are commanded to love one another (John 13:34; 15:12, 17). We are told to love Jesus and that our love for Jesus shows love to God (John 16:27). He noted that if we loved Him, we'd do His commandments. "If ye love me, keep my commandments." - John 14:15.
Thus, it follows that where a Christian sins by not being in obedience to Jesus, logic would tell us (or at least suggest degrees) of the following: (1) that person is not demonstrating love for God; and (2) that person may not love Jesus; and (3) certainly that person loves his or her sin more than God; and (4) at the very least, that person has been unfaithful to and disloyal to Jesus, because that person has turned against Jesus' commandments (some of which is to walk upright, to be holy, to love God).
Say what you want, but when a Christian chooses to sin, he or she chooses not to obey God. That's the long and short of it. When such a person chooses to sin, he is saying he desires that sin more than pleasing God. He chooses to please the flesh instead of God. He has chosen sin over God. He has been unfaithful to God. He has been disloyal to God. If you hear I have gotten drunk, you can reckon that I chose to disobey God, and you can assume, logically, that my desire for sin was greater than my desire to please God. And you could, with all authority and truthfulness say to me: You have been disloyal to your God and your calling as a Christian.
That said, I have a question for some pastors. Tell me, you pastors who seek the adoration of your congregation, ye who seek the prominent place in your congregation, which is worse: to be disloyal to you, the pastor, or to be disloyal to Jesus? Is it worse for a church member to betray you, or God?
Now, most pastors would not have trouble answering those questions correctly. I suggest many would not answer it truthfully, though. Their actions, and the actions of their congregation betray them. If a church member in certain churches I know, backslides and gets drunk, or commits adultery or fornication he will not be voted out, will not be formally disciplined, and will not suffer any serious repercussions. Perhaps the pastor will quietly counsel with him, and will seek to encourage him back onto the path of righteousness. Or a friend will try and restore him. But he will not be shunned, nor will he be booted out the door. Oh, there are some churches that will expel such a one if he refuses to be repentant about the matter, or shows no evidence of a change in his life. But mostly, nothing will be done to such a person besides, perhaps, getting several to pray for him, perhaps visit him, and perhaps, at worst, move away from him socially. He will still be treated in a friendly fashion at church. (Hey, in some churches, he will continue to hold a position of some kind in the church and held in high esteem.) Ah, but you let that same man say a bad word about the pastor or side with someone who has been critical of that pastor and suddenly, it's different.
Now, he's treated like a gay leper with AIDS. He may be told by security at the church that he cannot attend the services any more. He may even be voted out of the church membership. Why? Because of disloyalty to the pastor. They will, in defense, say it is dealing with an unruly brother, or separating themselves from one who doesn't follow the teachings of the Bible, or some other reason, like calling that person a "disgruntled" church member. Whatever it is, the bottom line is that person who has been so bold as to offend by being "disloyal" to the pastor, is suddenly an evil person, a person to be shunned, and a person to be driven out of the church. Some of you know this is true. Some of you have experienced it. And those of you who are in churches like this, or who have been in churches where the pastor is held in a god-like esteem, know what I'm talking about. You know what I've just said is true.
Well, for the record, let me say that I think such churches and the membership are cultic. I think the excuses they dream up for such unruly church members is often a disquised attempt to rid themselves of individuals who have seen through the facade, and who refuse to commit idolatry any longer.
Sorry guys. I don't buy your excuses anymore. You are cultic and your membership is cultic.
YOU HAVE PREFERRED A MAN OVER GOD.
Do your analysis any way you choose, but the long and short of it is that a man is given greater respect than God. When you see folks getting angrier over a brother's disloyalty to a pastor than over that brother's disloyalty to God, realize that church and its members are cultic. If you are in such a church, I do not say leave it. You have to hear God on that, not me. God didn't drive Jeremiah from the midst of the idolatrous Jews. He stayed on as salt and as a witness. (Sometimes we can get so intent on being fed that we forget the seed in our own bag.)
Now, this is not to say that a church member who is sowing discord amongst the brethren is not to be dealt with, perhaps even expelled from your midst. But the "discord" he's sowing better be discord which is sinful. Did you know it is all right, and not sinful, to sow "discord" amongst sinful brethren? Do you understand that the preacher who is doing his job does that every Sunday? Do you understand that the pastor wants to cause those who are living in sin within the brethren to feel uncomfortable, and not to be at ease, and to either change or leave so they don't corrupt the others?
I'm not talking about an ugly harangue, or a harsh spirit which is condemning, unforgiving and relentless. I'm talking about standing and declaring a thing to be sin, to be wicked and to be shunned. Do we not warn our children of the evils of fornication? Don't we want our children to hear warnings against sin? Don't we want them to be uncomfortable in their sin? Don't we want to make them uncomfortable if they are not following Christ as they ought? Yes. Of course we do. Well, isn't that all right for us, too? AND IS THE PASTOR IMMUNE? Can he sin without rebuke? Can he do wrong without question? Can he have the appearance of evil without inquiry?
If a layman's "discord" is the honest and fair questioning of a pastor, or a church's morality, or ethics, or is an attempt to get answers to some honest questions about church business, then to call that "sowing discord" is to call the work of God evil. And we know there is terrible penalty for that.
The bottom line in this matter is simple. Jesus said to His disciples, in response to a query about which of them could sit on his right hand in heaven: "But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." Matt. 20:26, 27. And again: "But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." Matt. 23:11, 12.
Now the message there wasn't one that said the person who would be "great" was to be the preacher, but rather, the message was to take on the heart and nature of a "servant." Greatness is to be found in humility and servitude. The God of the Universe, the Creator of all mankind, He Who created the stars in heaven, knelt before puny men, took their dirty feet in His hands and washed them. It was a dirty job, a job reserved for slaves and servants. But somehow, we've missed the message there. A pastor should be least amongst us, if he would be great. But today, they all want to be LEADERS. They want to be vibrant, strong, [macho] forceful, leader-types. When I read those verses, I don't have a whole lot of names of preachers leap into my mind who are servants. But, the ones that do are simple, faithful shepherds of their flock, leading kindly, sometimes rebuking, sometimes teaching, but always loving, and always patient, and manifesting the fruits of the Holy Spirit. These are true leaders.
Folks, an accountable pastor will listen to the members and deal kindly and fairly with them, even those who are critical. Wally Metts, a Florida pastor said it well when he wrote: "That you are a member of a local church does not mean that your pastor has unlimited authority over your behavior.... My first obligation as pastor is not to build an effective organization to showcase my authority, but to feed and build up the flock. The first consideration is the welfare of the flock, not the enhancement of my position." FAITH BROKERS, Professional Christians and Their Ungodly Gains, Wally Metts, Global Publishers, 1987, p. 34. [I HIGHLY recommend this book, by the way. It is excellent.]
A good leader will not consider himself above reproach. A good leader will not expect blind loyalty. A good leader will accept criticism, and will prayerfully consider it as perhaps a message from God. A good leader will take the criticism that is undeserved, and will continue to treat the critic with love, and will not suddenly turn that brother into an unruly brother or disgruntled church member. A good leader will understand that his "ministry" is from God, and that critics cannot destroy it without going through and over God. Did not God protect Moses' "ministry?" Didn't God defend Moses against the people of Israel? Didn't God defend Moses' authority? A good leader understands that a brother who is unruly in the biblical sense of the word, will have a difficult time finding genuine fault with the pastor. And eventually, that man will be seen for what he is, and can be dealt with in an open and forthright fashion. But, too often, the "unruly brother" is a man who has made some very sensitive criticisms, and raised some genuine concerns that are valid. So what happens? It is covered up. Hushed up. And the "unruly brother" is hustled into the night where he can't "contaminate" others with his truth...uh, his uh, unruliness.
Pastor, what kind of church do you have? Christ centered or man centered? On whom do the people dote, you or Christ? Who will your members react most angry towards: one who is disloyal to God, or you?
Church member, do you get as angry at the brother who falls into sin and is disloyal to God, as you are with the one who is perceived by you as being disloyal to your pastor? Which do you treat kinder? Who are you quicker to forgive: the brother who sinned against your pastor, or the brother who sinned against God?
I'm convinced there is more idolatry going on within the ranks of Christianity, particularly fundamentalism, than ever in the history of the church. I'm convinced that if Christians don't start to think and begin to change their attitudes, and re-examine their feelings and behavior towards certain people within their midst, God is going to judge (and already has) us terribly.
Church member, take the pastor off the throne of your heart, and put God back on the throne. Give your pastor honor and respect. But, give honor and respect to all the brethren as well. And yes, do count your pastor and other laborers in the Lord as worthy of double honor. (Whether you want to argue that means money or honor as in respect, I would think both are applicable and deserving.) But, don't give honor or elevation to a pastor that is forbidden. You do your pastor no favor when you do that. We have no king but One. Don't put another in the place reserved only for Jesus. Double honor does not mean the honor you give God, assuming it connotes a kind of respect as well as monetary payments.
Pastor, move away from the pedestal. Quell the people's desire to make you king. Quench the fire in your own bosom that yearns for the adoration and admiration and praise of the people. Be humble, and know that you are but flesh to whom God has given a special responsibility. Know that the glory you have is His alone. Know that the praise you get is His. Be quick to sidestep the praise of men. And, understand that God hath chosen the weak things of this world, and you are merely one of those weak vessels He chose. You were not chosen to serve because you are strong, or smart, or brave, or virtuous, or any other special trait. You were chosen by the will and desire of a holy God who saw a weak man whom God wanted to use.
Give God the glory.
Do not rob God.
And do not turn your people into a subservient group working themselves into dreary spiritual oblivion for your glory. Well said was the words of Mssrs. Arterburn and Felton when they said: "Churchaholics have embraced a counterfeit religion. God is not honored, and the relationship with Him is not furthered. Work is the focus of everything." TOXIC FAITH, Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton, Thomas Nelson 1991, p. 120.
Indeed, have you, pastor, turned your people into Churchaholics? Do they have churchitus? Has the ministry, the work become the idol planted in your back yard, and become a snare to you and your people? Has your desire to have a "great ministry," and be known as a "great man of God," snared your soul?
Beware, lest it be so.
Comments? Be happy to converse with you about this subject, so long as it is done with a spirit of love and kindness. The Bible says to speak the truth "in love." Too often we manage to speak the truth but have some difficulty doing the latter part: in love. Voyle Glover
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Voyle A. Glover
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