Flee From the Wolf
This is the final in the series of six messages from Pastor Anton Bosch entitled "Spot the Wolf." Pastor Bosch has just authored a book that will be very helpful to the many believers who have had to flee from churches. It is helpful, practical and biblical. As soon as his book becomes available Herescope will post information about it on the blog.
Are you convinced that the leaders of your church are wolves in sheep’s clothing?
If so what should you do?
The answer to that question is not very easy because there is a chance that your assessment may be wrong. The various characteristics Jesus lists in Matthew 23, and that we have discussed over the past few weeks, could be very difficult to measure in absolute terms. The line between a strong leader and an abusive one often runs very thin.
So get advice. Speak to another pastor, elder or experienced brother and ask them to confirm or allay your fears. Please note that I am not encouraging gossip. Do not discuss your concerns with just anyone. Preferably seek the counsel of someone who can be trusted, who is not in your church, and who has experience in these matters. Even then, it is very easy to exaggerate the bad and underemphasize the good. So, try to be as objective and as honest in your report as possible.
Once the advisor makes the judgment, then abide by it. Don’t go around looking for advice that will suit your agenda. Unfortunately, those who find themselves in abusive situations are often isolated from any outside ministry and it would be hard for them to find good counsel, but it is important nonetheless to get good advice.
(The reason I advocate getting outside counsel is because if the leaders are abusive and indeed wolves, they will simply deny the charge and convince/intimidate you into believing that what they are doing is right.)
Should you discover that your leaders are indeed abusive, then what should you do?
Well, the Scripture is clear – go to the one with whom you have the problem and tell him his fault alone. (Matthew 18:15). His response will go a long way to confirm or deny your fear. If he is a godly man he will respond in a godly way but if his response is one of anger, vindication, victimization - or in any way negative – then your hunch has been confirmed. If you are satisfied with the response of the brother, then try to build on that and see if there is a change in him, or in your attitude. A true shepherd will leave you without any doubt that he is a true shepherd.
If, however, his response is negative then you have a real problem because the next step is to take witnesses with you. (Matthew 18:16, 1Timothy 5:19). The first problem is that in an abusive situation, most folk will be so intimidated that they will not be willing to testify. And the second problem is that most believers do not have what it takes to confront a wolf who is entrenched in leadership. This leaves you with only one option: run for your life.
Too many people remain in churches where the leader is a wolf because they feel that they can fix the situation. Do not be deceived. Someone who is not in a very powerful position in leadership themselves will never be able to change a situation where the leaders are wolves. I do not know of a single example where those under the domination of an abusive leader have ever been able to bring about significant change. Have you ever noticed, that Jesus never even tried to convert the scribes and Pharisees, except for the two who came to him (Nicodemus and Joseph)? Why do you think He did not try to transform the synagogues with their system of scribes, rabbis and lawyers?
Jesus warned: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1). And in Matthew 16:11&12 He says: “How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? – but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Thus Jesus refers to both the hypocrisy and the doctrine of these leaders as leaven. Why did he not refer to it as dirt or weakness or some other analogy? Why is it leaven? Because there is a cure for filth, weakness, a lack of understanding and even sin, but there is no cure for leaven.
Once a little leaven gets into the lump of dough, it will penetrate at a microscopic level until the whole lump is infected with the yeast. (1Corinthians 5:6, Galatians 5:9). Paul says the only way to purge leaven out is to make a clean break with the source of the leaven and to have a new lump of dough. (1Corinthians 5:7). If the source of leaven is one of the believers, it is relatively easy to put him out of the church (after following Matthew 18), but if the source is a/the leader, it becomes almost impossible to deal with. Either way, distance has to be put between you and the source of the leaven.
One of the popular errors propagated by abusive leaders is that as long as the believers are in submission to the leaders, the Lord will reward those believers for their submission but the leaders will be judged for the error. Thus they tell you not to worry too much about where the church is going – that is up to the leadership and even if the whole church is led astray, the followers will be fine because they are being obedient and it is not their task to discern right from wrong.
This is a sure sign of a church that is already deep into heresy. “Each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12). Even in the Old Testament it was established that “all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4). And “each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1Corinthians 3:8). Each one of us is responsible before the Lord and, while shepherds will give an account for the flock, the sheep will never be able to blame their failure on the shepherd.
In Revelation 2:18-23, Jesus speaks about Jezebel (a symbolic name for an actual person in the church of Thyatira) “who calls herself a prophetess (who) teach(es) and seduce(s) My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” (verse 20). While He pronounces a severe judgment on her, He judges the church for allowing her to continue her evil work, but even more startling, Jesus says that He will also “kill her children with (eternal) death” (verse 23). This means that those who are followers of false prophets will be judged with the same judgment as the false prophets! So don’t think you can continue following false shepherds and not be contaminated with their error, or worse, be condemned with the same judgment.
To those who find themselves in a false religious system God says: “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4)