“Propriety” and “Protocol” are Often Used to Protect Evildoers

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Mat 15:12-14)

Evildoers and those who protect them often create “protocols” in order to silence anyone who would seek to expose wickedness. As we work to shine light upon evil that is hiding in churches, we see this tactic very frequently.

As you can see in the verses above, Jesus smashed through the niceties of the day and confronted the wicked in broad daylight. The Pharisees were the “clergy” of the day. The exalted church leaders claiming God’s authority, yet they did not know Him at all. They misused God’s Word to keep people in bondage and to exalt themselves. Power and self-glory were their goal.

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Mat 15:10-11)

He called the people to him. He told them publicly. So that not only the people, but the Pharisees could hear. He said that the theology and doctrines of the Pharisees were bunk. And everyone knew exactly who he was talking about.

The disciples, bound to some degree by the evil-protecting etiquette of the day, cautioned Jesus that he had offended these holy ones. “Too bad. Forget about them. They are destroying people along with themselves.” That was Jesus’ reaction to “protocol.”

We have the same false, binding, evil-protecting rules laid upon us today. For example:

  • Oh my goodness, you said these men who are our brothers in Christ covered up for a child molester. Yes, I see there is a possibility they did, but it just isn’t right for you to say so where everyone can hear.
  • You must not speak of your husband that way. Sure, what he is doing is wrong, but a wife must obey her husband.
  • It is wrong (Bill Gothardism here) to “take up an offense of someone else.” You must not speak of a sin or crime committed against another person besides yourself.
  • A Christian must never, ever say something negative about a fellow Christian. Especially in public.
  • That man is a great, holy Christian who has accomplished magnificent deeds for the Lord. And YOU dare criticize him?
  • Ok, ok, he did that. But now is not the proper time to say so. What you say may be true, but I don’t like the way you are telling it.
  • In response to a news article about a wicked man who claimed to be a Christian, charged with murdering his wife and two children, one commenter said: “There isn’t enough information to even tell if he’s guilty or not. It shouldn’t be guilty before being proven innocent. There are no details at all about the crime and why they think that he is guilty.” So we must not speak of it, you see.

People who expose injustice know that if they “play by the rules,” nothing is going to change. They are not going to be heard. Because “the rules” are most typically loaded in favor of the wicked. Of those holding abusive power. Think for example of the civil rights movement. Protocol said that a black person was not to drink from a “whites only” water fountain, or sit in a whites only seat on a bus and so on. These were the very things that civil rights workers did. It got some of them killed. But it was right. The protocol was what was evil and wrong. Or think of the women’s suffrage movement which sought to get the vote for women. They did not always concern themselves with “propriety” so as “not to offend.” Because the propriety was what was wrong in the first place. It silenced the righteous.

And so it is in the church today, just as it was in Jesus’ day. If we are going to expose domestic abusers hiding in the church, or pedophiles creeping in among us, or power and control junkies like Diotrephes (see 3 John), then we cannot “play by the rules.” Like Jesus, we must be willing to be hated by the powers that be and press right on in announcing that they are leading people into a pit.

But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Act 4:17-20)

When Victims of Evil Become Evildoers Themselves

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. (Numbers 11:4-5)

As we confront wickedness, one of the chief reasons we do what we do is for the benefit of its victims. We confront domestic abusers hiding in the church because we want their victims set free. We oppose false teachers who bring another Jesus, another gospel, and another spirit because we do not want people deceived by them. And many times we receive deep and sincere thanks from these victims.

But not always.

Over the years I have seen more than one wife of a wicked husband choose to stand with him. To be his defender. For a time it seemed that perhaps these women were starting to see the bondage they were in. A couple of them even asked for help and we poured our lives into them in an effort to confront the wickedness and get them free.

But then they made a choice.

Just like the wavering Israelites longing for “the good life” in slavery in Egypt, these victims chose to defend their own “Pharaoh” and they became very abusive themselves toward those who had tried to rescue them. “My husband is a good man. How dare you speak against him!” They chose up the side they were on and became allies of evil themselves.

This is important for all of us to understand and expect. That sometimes the very people who are targets of evil, the people we are trying to help, will turn against us and become our enemies.

Why? How can this be? I will suggest a few possible reasons:

  • They did not want to give up the material benefits they enjoyed. Some were married to wealthy men and they had grown accustomed to that wealth. To stand for truth and against evil would require them to give at least some of that up.
  • They enjoyed a widespread “reputation” as a fine Christian couple and family. The wickedness which is so often hidden and secret, behind closed doors, was something not many people knew about. The facade of saintliness had its benefits.
  • Others allowed fear to drive their choices. Certainly it is fearful to be the target of an abuser, but most often, eventually, victims will conquer that fear and go to freedom. But not all. I have known several who chose to stand on their abuser’s side, defending him against anyone who would confront him with his evil. In this way, they believed, they could remain in good graces with him and escape at least some of the abuse.

In each of these instances, the victim becomes an ally of evil and eventually exercises evil toward others herself. This decision, this change of attitude toward those who she was once warm toward and who she saw as her rescuers, can happen as quickly as you can throw a switch. One day she is your appreciative friend, perhaps having even come to you for help. The next day the warmth is gone, replaced by a cold distance, as if you had never been a friend at all. The years of friendship are over and soon fade into a distant memory until eventually it is as if you had never known one another before.

Knowing these things will provide us with wisdom. When we are working to help victims of evil, it is wise to proceed with some caution. We must realize that one day this person who is so appreciative toward us now may turn against us and choose the abuser’s side. Whatever things we have discussed or shared with such a victim in the past may well then become common knowledge to Pharaoh once she is back in Egypt.

The fact is that we simply cannot set someone free from evil if they are not willing to be free of it. Not even the angels who came to rescue Lot and his family could help Lot’s wife. She yearned for Sodom, she looked back, and she was salt. So let us be wise in these things.

 

When a Church Becomes a Man’s World it has Strayed from Christ’s Model, And from His Blessing

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. (Rom 16:1-6)

but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (Joh 19:25)

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luk 8:1-3)

I suppose that in some ways this is one of the most important articles I have ever written. It is the result of realizing something that is so pervasive in the church, so much the air which we breathe in typical Christianity today, that we cannot see the log right in our eye. Let me explain.

I recently watched the memorial service at St. Andrews Chapel for R.C. Sproul. I wanted to watch because Sproul taught me so much, even though I never met him personally. I absorbed his teaching tapes some 30 years ago and still have them all in our church library. I have steered many people to them over the years.

But I did not always agree with him. He taught, you might recall, that domestic abuse was not a biblical grounds for divorce. He in fact changed that position at least by 2012, but never publicly announced that correction.

This morning, I listened to the Ligonier broadcast of Renewing Your Mind, entitled Spiritual Father: Remembering R.C.  It was very interesting and I appreciated the testimonies given by two of his long time friends who were led to Christ by his ministry.

But something really struck me as I listened. What I am about to say, I do not say in a critical way, but simply as an observation of what I would call “the obvious log” that so many churches and church leaders have in their eye – the one they do not see. Here it is:

Conservative, evangelical churches and organizations, pastors and elders and church members, often (even typically) become so male oriented that they almost forget about women. Women become secondary, even to be seen and not heard. The men lead. The men hold office. The men are the theologians. The men serve the Lord’s supper. The men preach and teach. The men are even told that they are the priests of their homes. The men, the men, the men.

I am not here proposing that women are to be pastors and elders in the church. That is not a subject I even want to address here. But what I am stating is that men in the church so typically develop a mindset in that climate of trivializing their sisters in Christ. You will notice from just the Scriptures quoted above that women were very, very active and prominent in the ministries of Jesus, of Paul, and of the New Testament church. In fact, Scripture records for us that sometimes when the men bailed, the women stayed.

What does this have to do with my viewing of R.C.’s funeral and listening to Renewing Your Mind today? Well, if you watched the funeral (you still can see it on YouTube), what you saw was:

  • Men who were friends of R.C. giving eulogies
  • John MacArthur, Jr. gave a eulogy as well, which I very much appreciated
  • Robert Godfrey, a theologian and I believe current President of Ligonier, spoke
  • At least two men, pastors I assume, offered prayers
  • The primary message from Isaiah 6 (the basis of R.C.’s great book The Holiness of God) was delivered by Sinclair Ferguson, pastor and theologian.
  • Both the choir and the congregational singing were directed by men

And then you have the Renewing Your Mind program for today (Dec 22, 2017) which focused on R.C. as a personal evangelist. Two of his long time friends told how they were led to Christ through his ministry. Both of them were men. Furthermore, as they related their stories, they described how they met R.C. at the golf course and especially at the locker room where R.C. spent time almost daily writing and studying after a round of golf. They told about all the other men that R.C. influenced in that place over the years.

And that is why this all struck me today. I know that the funeral service and the RYM program cannot and did not present a comprehensive view of the entire ministry of R.C. But nevertheless, what struck me is that in such a world that R.C. ministered in, in such a church and in his professional contacts, and at Ligonier, at the seminaries and Bible College, the climate appears to me to have been one of male….what? Male leadership. Male emphasis. Male ministry. Men of God. Brothers.

And where does such an atmosphere leave the women?

Oh yes, I have no doubt there are some kinds of women’s ministries at St. Andrews. We know that men and women both attended the Ligonier conferences. And yet as we pointed out in our article last week, when it came down to dealing with men who are hypocrites, men who abuse women, men who are church members but who cruelly oppress their wives, R.C. taught that a woman cannot divorce an abusive husband. In addition, even after he changed that view (or at least “broadened” his opinion on it as he wrote to me), R.C. never did make it a priority to publicly correct his error. Why? Why did he not feel the burden of those many victims in Christian churches, including his own? Why did he seemingly just blow off our pleas to announce his changed position? Why?

Well, think about it. If you live and move and have your being in a structure that is so male dominated, a place where elder meetings and presbytery meetings and General Assembly board meetings consist pretty much solely of men, just how likely is it that such men are inevitably going to end up rather deaf to the needs and pleas and talents of their sisters in the Lord? How do such men view a woman, for instance, who comes into their office asking for help?

Compare this with Jesus and Paul. Look at their writings and the accounts of  their dealings in the New Testament in ministry. What do you see? You see men called as Apostles, but you see women mixing it up right in there with them. You see a church where women’s names in the registries are as prominent as those of the men. You see stories of women clinging to Jesus when men abandoned Him. You see Jesus coming to a screeching stop in order to heal a poor woman who dared touch His robe. You see Jesus nailing the male hypocrite clergy of the day with a pronouncement of divine woes!

And I submit to you that all of this male-emphasis not only had an effect on R.C. Sproul, but it has had a significant effect upon all of us in the church today as well.

And that effect has not been a good one.

You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, (Exo 22:22-23)