This article is adapted from the book, CHARISMATIC CAPTIVATION,
by Steven Lambert. The book exposes the widespread problem of authoritarian
abuse in Neo-Pentecostal church-groups, and explains how it became infused into the
very fabric, foundation, and functions of the Neo-Pentecostal church arising out of
a false movement known as the Discipleship/Shepherding Movement
The main focus of the initial installment of our discussion was the matter of
hyper-authoritarianism in general and how easy it is for the most principled spiritual
leaders to cross over the "thin line of leadership" between leading and
lording, discipling and dominating, coaxing and coercing, to operate in "foul
ground" without even realizing it. In this part, we begin turning our attention
to some of the whys and wherefores of ecclesiastical predomination.
Of course, as was pointed out in the opening segment, there is nothing new about authoritarian abuse by spiritual leaders. In any age, there is no shortage of unscrupulous religious dictators bent on self-aggrandizement facilitated through personal kingdom-building purportedly "in the name of the Lord." Nevertheless, while it is not indigenous exclusively to our time, due perhaps to the move toward organizational ecumenicism commonly referred to today as "networking," there is little doubt that it is more widespread, at least within the protestant realm, than ever before.
Moreover, whatever the psychology behind it, the sad historical record is that few of those crazed autocrats are ever heedful of the criticisms or pleas of their fellows to turn back from such blatantly aberrant behavior, thus we will not engage here in the futility of attempting to convince them to do so. What is written here, is primarily for those sincere, honest, earnest, upstanding, and conscientious leaders who may realize from the reasonings offered herein that unwittingly and unintentionally from time to time they have transgressed the invisible line between leading and lording. The majority of that ilk, we are persuaded, will follow the
leading of the Spirit to discontinue any unScriptural and improper leadership techniques,
methods, and methodologies.
Most reasonable ministry professionals, if forthright,
would agree that ecclesiastical predomination and authoritarian abuse exists in nearly
every branch of the Church -- denominations, modern protodenominational associations
and "networks," as well as among independents -- and in far too great a
quantity. Regardless of the "checks" against such errancy supposedly inherent
in an "established" ecclesiastical hierarchy, every honest minister knows
there exists -- between the sequestered and secluded air-conditioned offices of
organizational headquarters and the salt mines of the local church -- a cavernous
void rife for self-aggrandizement by less than totally scrupulous church-leaders.
As earnest as organizational officials may be about their role of "overseeing,"
it has limitations. A local church-leader so disposed can construct a partition
around the affairs of that local operation, buttressed by servile and intensely loyal
church cronies, that is quite difficult to "see over." Despite genuinely
believed, eloquently articulated, and convincing pontifications describing the purported
fail-safe system of accountability in place between the senior church leader and
headquarter officials, the unsavory reality is that a leader could be a drunkard,
womanizer, wife-beater, child-molester, swindler, and egregious authority-abuser,
without anyone at headquarters ever knowing until a cataclysmic public eruption occurs.
Indeed, the increasing public scandals of this sort involving high-profile ministers
ladening the news-media these days is testimony of that reality. Impersonal hierarchial
governance will never be a safeguard against these potentialities. Only down-to-earth,
real relationships with real mutual accountability based on a balance between "the
God-kind of love" and the standard of "God-kind of living" among equals
having different functions and responsibilities can ensure against inappropriate
behavior and improper practices by church leadership.
The stark truth remains,
even in these days of supposed increased human knowledge, political systems by their
very nature, whether secular or ecclesiastical, are fertile breeding grounds for
corruption. As long as the Church insists on mimicking the world's way of star-worship
and undue exaltation of its leaders, and coronating them with inordinate and undue
political and monetary deference and "power" attributed to royalty, we
will continue to subject ourselves to such ecclesiastical corruption and public chagrin.
For, as Lord Acton so aptly observed, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts
absolutely." By no means are the hallowed halls of the Ecclesia a safe-haven
from that adage.
Maybe it's our European lineage, or maybe it's just a basic
human propensity, but the American Church seems to have this inexorable need for
a de facto ecclesiastical aristocracy from which it is not willing to repent. Like
Israel in the day of Saul, we clamor for our kings and our queens after the manner
of the other nations of the world. We are even willing to render unto our Caesars
a superabundance of our personal resources in order to have royalty through whom
to vicariously live a life of opulence, ease, and privilege. Like the nations of
the world, we just plain want our kings. They need not even subjugate or conquer
us to gain aristocratic ascendancy, for we freely and wantonly bestow it upon them.
Speaking about the need for a single world leader who would have the political cunning and charisma to preside over a one world order, a senior United Nations official quipped to reporters some two decades ago now, "Give us a super-leader, be he devil or Divine, and the world will follow!" Likewise, this seems to be the collective clamor for Christendom as well. And, the worldwide, ever-expanding move toward the false unity of ecclesiastical ecumenicism taking place in the institutional churches is certainly further evidence of that religion-related proclivity.
So it is not only base lusts of
crazed charlatans that leads to authoritarian abuse, but rather it exists and even
flourishes also because of the unredeemed fleshly desires of those who are willing
to be subjugated by charismatic beguilers spewing forth utopian promises of grandeur.
Let's face it, somewhere in the human psyche is the desire for Oz, a new Garden
of Eden, heaven on earth -- call it what you will -- we long for it, even Christians,
who theologically should know better. Little wonder then that even the "elect"
can be so easily deceived by new-age "New World" philosophies and vain
promises. Unredeemed humanity and unenlightened Christianity alike crave utopia
now, in this life, in this present world-system -- never mind that it is antichrist-ruled
-- rather than have to endure the temporary duresses requisite to the manifestation
of Christ's Kingdom on earth.
Besides having a general disaffinity for learning,
mankind, as a whole, is intellectually and spiritually lazy. The majority of people
don't want to have to study, to read, to seek, to investigate, to ruminate, to mentally
assimilate, to pray -- we want someone else to do all that for us, because it requires
too much effort and cuts into the time we allot to leisure, pleasure, and entertainment.
Thus, what most people are looking for is not merely a spiritual shepherd -- someone
to teach and guide us in the ways of God, but a guru, a dalai, a priest -- someone
to do all the "spiritual stuff" for us, and then just tell us what we should
believe and do.
The fact of the matter is, especially in a free society, there
would be no authoritarian subjugation if there were no one willing to be subjugated
by self-aggrandizing despots. Without question, in the case of many, their tacit
acquiescence to predomination is purely a matter of intellectual and spiritual laziness
coupled with general apathy. However, in those cases where a very defined and definitive
system of deliberate domination and control has been instituted, there is another
dynamic at work -- selfish ambition.
Indeed, at bottom, it is selfish ambition,
both on the part of the subjugator, and, ironically, the subjugated as well, that
drives hyper-authoritarianism. The subjugator is bent on building a private kingdom
wherein he or she is exalted and exulted as lord, master, and supreme-ruler. And,
the subjugatees are enticed into becoming a participant in the grandeur through promises
of shared ascendancy and personal aggrandizement, which appeals to and appeases their
own selfish lusts for superiority.
Where it is employed today, the nuts and
bolts of ecclesiastical group-predomination, virtually without exception is a kind
of multi-level, pyramid authority structure, or polity. It is identical to the M-L-M
(multi-level marketing) schema so popular today in the business sector, wherein each
participant recruits other participants, all of whom formulate his "downline."
Supposedly, each participant's downline is his personal pipeline of income reaped
from the efforts of his recruits as well as each of theirs, and so on down the line.
The basic hypothesis is that this pyramid-shaped structure intrinsically produces
exponential and near effortless synergism equating ultimately to perpetual residual
income. Essentially, it's the modern, sophisticated version of the old chain-letter.
things that should alert thinking observers to the impropriety of these types of
structures apparently escapes the notice of many. One is the fact that pyramid
schemes, though most M-L-M have found crafty ways to circumvent it, have been deemed
by every state in the U.S. to be illegal, essentially because the postulation of
synergism is fraudulent except in the case of those in the first few levels at the
apex of the pyramid. The second is that the pyramid, as evidenced by the pyramids
of occult-rife Egyptian heritage, is the very signature and icon of the occult and
its ultimate author, Satan.
Notwithstanding, there are a plethora of hybrids
of this system being used very effectively in churches in America and around the
world to expand their membership, from mainline denominations to independents, though
all those employing it would adamantly and vociferously deny it. Nevertheless, it
can hardly be denied that a staple of modern church "development" methodologies
is the "small group" concept, which virtually all churches employ in some
degree and form. In some churches they are called "cell groups." Others
call them "care groups," or various other appellations. Whatever they
are called, they are essentially small groups of only a few to fifty or a little
more, who meet usually in someone's house, usually the leader's, for the supposed
purpose of fellowship, prayer, and exhortation.
In itself, of course, there
is nothing wrong with that concept, and indeed it is quite Scriptural, useful, and
effectual in terms of practical ministry. In fact, it is in the small group setting,
away from the ecclesiastical formality of the sanctuary where people can be real
that real ministry takes place. After all, real fellowship and ministry cannot be
achieved with the back of someone's head, or in the hour or two of a church-service.
Moreover, there is certainly much more to real fellowship and ministry than mere
handshakes, chit-chat, and congregational prayer.
The main problem comes
in the leadership of those small groups, and the status given those who host or "lead"
them. Indeed, the essence of the problem is in whether the people in charge of these
meetings are considered merely "hosts" or spiritual "leaders."
In many churches, those who host these meetings are considered and even called "leaders."
Sometimes the term is prefaced by the prefix "lay-", nonetheless, they
are given a status of being a "leader" of some echelon in the church polity,
as well as varying degrees and forms of deference commonly attributed to that nomenclature.
the concept of deploying the laity of a local church in constructive and effectual
roles of real and substantive function according to their God-given giftings and
talents is an altogether proper, needed, even necessary, and certainly Scriptural
concept (Rom. 12:3-13; 1 Pet. 4:10,11; et al.). However, where that concept goes
awry in application is when untrained, ungifted, unanointed, untried laymen are all
of a sudden dubbed "leaders," and congregants look to them for counsel,
Biblical answers, and direction for the diverse range of problems and needs believers
typically encounter in their Christian pilgrimage.
When it comes to such spiritual
input into the lives of God's sheep who were purchased with the precious cost of
the shed blood of Jesus, it is vital that it be: firstly, correct and Biblically-based;
secondly, God-inspired; thirdly, prudent and pragmatic; fourthly, timely according
to God's timetable; and fifthly, presented in a constructive rather than destructive
way. All of that requires experience and expertise. Summarily, the matter of speaking
unto God's sheep on His behalf is a fearful thing that should not be taken lightly. Nor, because of its extensive potential ramifications, should it be delegated to undeveloped, inexperienced, Sunday-morning spiritual "dabblers," or spiritual "weekend warriors," especially those steeped in self-absorption and a super-inflated sense of self-importance, seeking status, recognition, and ascendency over others.
The problem with the multi-level downline or small group system instituted within the ecclesiastical minisociety also known as local churches is that by nature that system is fertile ground for such spiritual sophomorism and thus attracts the very people who engage in it. The very unfortunate result is two-fold. One, what in essence, to put it bluntly, is a bastardization of the ministry. True ministry is devalued, degraded, debased, and debauched, which is precisely what has happened on a large scale in many sectors of the Church today. Two, the sheep of those flocks are being subjected to a debauched, defiled, and, in some cases, a desecrated counterfeit of genuine ministry, depriving them of the benefit they could have derived from true God-ordained and -anointed ministry.
without exception, where hyper-authoritarianism is occurring, such a small group
system with lay-leadership is employed, supposedly to promote "church growth,"
which invariably refers to growth in terms of size rather than spirituality. And,
in these multi-level downlines the under-leaders are indoctrinated by the ultimate
leader with certain patent hyper-authoritarian precepts and practices by which to
"govern" the affairs and functions of their particular downlines. The
under-leaders in turn pass those dogmas and doctrines onto the group they lead.
The result is an entire church of participants in an infrastructure of unauthorized
domination and control over its members that to them seems wholly proper and good
because they were spiritually reared and trained in it, in some cases from the very
beginning of their new life in Christ.
This is a dire development in our churches today that sorely needs wholesale correction, but it is only one of the many factors leading to authoritarian abuse and psychological enslavement in church-groups.
READ PART ONE OF THIS ARTICLE