What Goes Around Comes Around

The Spiritual Abuse of Under Cover

Jim Allen

"What goes around comes around" is a well-known phrase reminding us that what we do never goes unnoticed. One example is a person who blesses others will be blessed. The Bible says life has a way of repaying people for the good they do (Galatians 6:7), but that payback also applies to those who do wrong. While it may not always seem that way, and the wrongs perpetrated by some appear to go unnoticed, payback is always on the way.

Just recently a local newspaper announced that a high-profile church removed its lead pastor based on allegations circulating among its members. The church board-of-directors voted to remove the pastor from church without financial compensation. Though no explanation was given, there is an ongoing investigation into the allegations.

One possible account for what might have happened surfaced from a public disclosure offering a substantial clue. About a year ago, this pastor apologized publically in an online video to those who had a bad church experience or felt abused under the leadership. The pastor went on to say they should never have been abused by those who claim to love them. One person, commenting on the apology, said that although the apology was brief, its central theme was more in line with healing and moving forward in love. Another person said the lead pastor forced all kinds of people out the church for absolutely no reason and that the apology hardly sincere.

Of course, I was not surprised because I attended this church for a short time. The leadership adopted the heretical teaching known as Under Cover*, which I wrote about in another Blogos article:
...when anyone in leadership...made a personal request of a lowly believer, yes was the only acceptable answer regardless of one's previous commitments to job and family. To say "no or maybe"...was looked upon as disobedience. Church leadership used the Under Cover teaching as its final authority to transform the "church agenda" into the Golden Calf with full expectation that everyone would bow to its every whim. When some of us in the church spoke against the false teaching, the senior pastor said of us one Sunday morning, "Do not listen to them; view everything coming out of their mouth as vomit!"
By then I had left the church and didn't wait for the dreaded spiritual spanking. Based on the local newspaper report, it would appear that what goes around is coming around for this pastor.

Another clue suggesting why the pastor might have been removed was posted on the church's website in a daily blog telling its members what to pray for in 2014. The lead pastor wrote and posted nineteen things the laity should pray about, one of which was for them (the membership) to "obey and submit" to the lead shepherd and staff.

This pastor was reminding everyone who was in charge. Obey and submit without question was the rallying cry for total control, the first step towards abuse. Ronald M. Enroth, in his book Churches that Abuse says:
Abusive churches...are first and foremost characterized by strong, control-oriented leadership. These leaders use guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate members and keep them in line. Followers are led to think that there is no other church quite like theirs and that God has singled them out for special purposes. Other more traditional evangelical churches are put down. Subjective experience is emphasized and dissent is discouraged. Many areas of members' lives are subject to scrutiny. Rules and legalism abound.
While the list of abuses in organized religion is long and sobering, there are a least two reasons suggesting why this "beloved and gifted pastor" fell from the high call of serving. Rather than serve, care and nurture the flock (Matthew 23:11), this pastor turned the tables to be served resulting in this pastor's present dilemma.

For any pastor to find oneself in such a dreadful quandary is often the result of repeatable infractions, like links in a chain that connect bad decisions to a narrow path with a known end. For this pastor, the first mistake was to approve and adopt the Under Cover teaching (by John Bevere). The second mistake was to discredit those warning the pastor about the error in this unbiblical teaching.

In response to our warning, the lead pastor said on Sunday morning, "Do not listen to them; view everything coming out of their mouth as vomit." It became clear that this pastor (and leadership) lacked discernment (Acts 17:11), so we left. Those who stayed would soon learn how hard it would be to swallow this unbiblical kingdom of God.

John Bevere writes in his book, "...the kingdom of God is just that — a kingdom. It is ruled by a King, and there are rank and order and authority." (p. 9-10) Yes, there are rank and order and authority but the head is Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18). There is no rank between the head and body. Under Cover elevates and places church leaders between Christ and the body by twisting Scripture to say what it clearly does not and herein embrace the mistaken notion that leads to control and abuse.

In his review of Under Cover, R Carlson writes:
This is one of the most abusive and manipulative teachings under the classification "Christian literature" that I have ever read. While the idea and importance of submitting to God's inherent authority is indisputable, Bevere's...presentation of it is categorically false.
The Bible says, "Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition and not based on Christ" (Colossians 2:8). And Jesus says, "They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men" (Matthew 15:9). God is not bound by the authority of leaders who view themselves privileged in the Kingdom of God. Dr. Paul Jehle writes:
Believers within the church are priests, not pawns. They hold the highest authority, not the least. Leaders are to equip believers to work the ministry, not keep them dependent upon their every word of instruction so they are like babes that never grow up.
I am saddened but not surprised by the removal of this pastor from the pulpit and church membership. I knew and liked the pastor, hoping the warnings about this heretical teaching would have been prayerfully considered; but, it was not to be. Abuse has consequences and what goes around comes around. This pastor's public admission and insincere apology for earlier abuses would strongly suggest that failure to deal with past behavior led to this present-day situation.

On the upside, not all abusive people are dark spirits. While I am not judging this pastor, it would appear this pastor (presently beloved and held in favor by some) simply failed to discern the false from the true (1 Thessalonians 5:2122) and heed the warnings. The newspaper went on to report there is hope this pastor will take time to reflect, heal, and grow from the experience to perhaps one day return.

In closing, as Major Scott Nicloy wrote:
The hurt and harm of spiritual abuse is rarely inflicted upon people with the intention to wound anyone. Most spiritual abuse is inflicted by Christians who are very sincere, who believe they are obeying the Bible in sharing Christ with others, and who often believe that they are being led by the Holy Spirit.
But from time-to-time even the most sincere among us, including this pastor, can get it wrong.

*Under Cover is a book authored by John Bevere that promotes a works salvation and pastoral rule over laity.

Image Credit: Duke University Archives; "Pastor's School, 1953"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Church-Issues  |  Controversial-Issues  |  Current-Issues  |  False-Teaching  |  Ministry-Church

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Published 9-24-2014