Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Spot the Wolf

The following post was received today from Pastor Anton Bosch. This is a subject which he intends to continue in the next few weeks, so we will periodically post his subsequent writings on this topic as they become available.

One of the e-mails I get all too frequently and that really breaks my heart is when people tell me how their leaders have disappointed them, broken their trust and, far too often, abused them emotionally, financially and spiritually. The very men who should have protected the sheep turn out to be wolves among the sheep devouring and destroying. Every time this happens my blood boils, and I weep for those sheep who have been led to the slaughter and scattered by unscrupulous thieves and robbers.

In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus warns of those who will appear to be sheep, but who are actually wolves in sheep's clothing even though they claim to preach, perform miracles and cast out demons in Jesus' name. He further said that we will know them by their fruit. Paul warns the leaders of the Ephesian church that “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” (Acts 20:29) So how can we spot these wolves? I hope to give you some pointers by which to examine those to whom you have entrusted your confidence and spiritual care. While no leader is perfect, there are certain traits that are clear warnings to the flock. If you find just one of these signs, you need to be careful and on your guard.

Also, don't be afraid to examine your leaders and their lives. If they resist this kind of inspection then you need go no further, they are dangerous. Any leader who is not open to scrutiny and examination has something to hide, or is so arrogant that they think they are above being in submission to anyone else. This does not mean we can invade people's privacy and snoop around their private lives. If there are problems, they are often quite visible to those who care to look. If you have ever been hurt by a leader and thought back, you will remember lots of tell-tale signs you ignored long before the blow-up. Paul is clear that shepherds must be blameless and above reproach (1Timothy 3:2,10; Titus 1:6,7). He also says, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.” (1Thessalonians 1:5)

Wolves are brutal and savage. In Acts 20:29, Paul refers to “savage wolves” who do not spare the flock. One of the marks of a wolf is that he is brutal, harsh, cruel and fierce. Ezekiel 34:4 says, “The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them.” Of course they cover this all up with a nice exterior, but at their core there is a savageness about them. Sometimes you will notice this when they are under pressure or when someone has upset their nice little routine or questioned their authority. If you look carefully, you will see the knife glinting beneath the kid gloves. The other time this becomes very visible is when someone decides to leave the church. How do they handle that? Do they take delight in telling everyone how bad the person is and that they have backslidden etc? Are they mean to those who sin or who leave or are they sad because another one has gone astray? Do they have compassion for the lost or a judgmental self-righteousness which condemns anyone who does not go along with their program? When he preaches, is he hard and does he frequently take the whip to the flock? A good shepherd will often speak directly and may have to bring strong correction to situations in the church, but he does not beat up the folk, or act as their judge and executioner. A true shepherd loves the sheep and even though at times he has to discipline them, he does so with love. Beware of those men who are harsh. They may be managers, drivers or masters but they are not shepherds. Paul says, “We were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives” (1Thessalonians 3:7).

Wolves do not practice what they preach. In Matthew 23:3, Jesus says that wolves “say and do not do.” A sure sign of a wolf is someone who tells everybody else how they should live but he himself does not practice what he preaches. He will demand that others pray, tithe, attend the meetings, give of their time and live holy lives. Yet they themselves do none of those things. Beware of preachers who do not lead by example in everything they teach. We know that preachers are mere men and are fallible and we need to make allowance for that but anyone whose lifestyle does not mirror what he says in the pulpit is a hypocrite, and Jesus warns us to beware of this kind of falsehood. Paul had no hesitation to tell people to “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1Corinthians 11:1). A true shepherd leads the sheep (Psalm 23:2,3), but a wolf will drive them into a corner where he can destroy them.

The next verse (Matthew 23:4) deals with a similar problem: “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” Cult leaders and other abusive leaders place massive burdens on people. One of these burdens is that of guilt by which they try to manipulate people to do what they want. Jesus came to share the burdens, not make them heavier. Yes, sometimes the Word and the Spirit will convict us and we ought to be obedient to such conviction; but if it is simply the leader trying to make you feel guilty so he can better control you, beware. These burdens are often financial burdens, expecting people to give way more than they can afford or have faith for. We should give as the Lord directs us and not as the leaders manipulate us. When the financial burden is placed on others in order to fulfill the pastor's grandiose plans, we should be careful. Sometimes these burdens are ones of time to attend various meetings, work days and other projects. Yes, we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25), but abusive leaders like to add extra meetings just to control people. Some of these leaders will not even attend all the meetings themselves, or arrive when the meeting is almost over while expecting everyone else to be there. While it is right that every member of the church carry their part of the load, good shepherds will be there with the folk, sharing the load and encouraging. Bad leaders make demands and stand back as they crack the whip over the poor people who have become their slaves. Avoid such men. Jesus came to set us free, not to enslave us.

By way of conclusion of this part, let me again warn that while there are many wolves among the sheep, there are also many good shepherds who lay down their lives for the sheep. We must be sure that our judgment is righteous. When there are clear signs that we have submitted to an abusive leader, we need to take heed to those warnings and run for our lives, before they have so entangled us in their web of deceit that escape becomes impossible. If you are a leader and any part of these articles makes you angry at me, then you are a wolf and you need to repent while there is yet time. (To be continued…)

[Reprinted with permission of Anton Bosch. Pastor Bosch is currently publishing a book that will be of significant help to the many faithful believers who have been left without a church and without a shepherd. More information on this to come soon!]