What Are the Biblical Character Qualities for the Office of Pastor/Elder?

With far too common frequency we receive letters and emails from abuse victims who have been ex-communicated from their churches because they have separated from or divorced their abusers. These victim/survivors have come to see that divorce is indeed permissible for abuse even though their pastors and elders and fellow church members insist that it is not. These enlightened victims understand that God does not require reconciliation in every situation and that genuine forgiveness does not necessarily include such reconciliation. In fact, Godly wisdom dictates against a resumption of relationship and trust in these kinds of cases. And yet, for walking in these truths with full freedom of conscience before the Lord, these oppressed people are further oppressed by their churches, even to the point of ex-communication.

I would like to speak to this travesty of justice (and mercy) in regard to two points:

  1. A reminder of just what biblical ex-communication is, and
  2. Two character qualities required in an elder or pastor that seem to be lacking these days in so many church leaders.

What is ex-communication? Is it a revocation of one’s membership in a local club of some kind? Is it an informing of an individual that they are no longer permitted to attend a particular church? It appears to me that these are the very kinds of things that church leaders have in their minds when they enact this “putting out of the church” step in church discipline.  Yet these answers are not the biblical answers to our question. These kinds of attitudes treat ex-communication far too lightly and as a result ex-communication is used in cases that it should not be. Listen to the Word of God:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1Co 5:1-5)

I have no doubt that the churches who are ex-communicating abuse victims because they leave or divorce their abusers would stammer and stutter if they were asked “so, it was your intent to hand this woman over to Satan for the destruction of her flesh, is that right?” Well….uh….    Notice the gross and rank nature of the man’s sin here in 1 Corinthians 5. Openly and shamelessly fornicating with (perhaps) his step-mother and bragging about it by coming to church with her! And notice carefully where the arrogance lies, according to Paul. It is with the church! With the pastors and elders who have not only refused to deal with this rank evil, but have arrogantly embraced it. Let’s see, that sounds a whole lot like what is happening in our churches in respect to the abuser. We boast about how merciful and gracious we are and point to the wicked man sitting in our midst as an example!

But, to the nature of ex-communication.  Listen again —

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mat 18:17-20)

Once more we see the very sobering nature of ex-communication. The two or three witnesses (God’s rules of evidence) testify to the guilty person’s sin, it is announced to the church, and the church’s verdict is given Jesus’ own authority. The decision is bound in heaven. Among other things, this means that JESUS Himself has rejected the unrepentant person and not only fully concurs with the verdict but acts as the supreme court that validates the sentence. So ex-communication is not merely dismissal and exclusion from a local church. It is the New Testament equivalent of being put “outside the camp” and under the Lord’s own curse. As the decree is bound in heaven, it cannot be side-stepped by merely going down the road to another local church as if nothing had happened.  [One of  the frequent problems we experience in genuine, biblical exercise of church discipline in cases of notorious, open, evil sin is that the process of ex-communication, intended among other things to protect the church and to bring the guilty one to repentance, is short-circuited by churches who unquestioningly announce “everyone is welcome here”].

We have heard of pastors and elders telling an abuse victim “you cannot come to this church anymore because you will not reconcile with your husband.” But do we all understand that there is NO biblical basis for such an action? A divisive person is to be rejected after a first and second warning (Titus 3:10-11) and rank heretics are to be pronounced anathema (Galatians 1). People who claim to be Christians but who habitually live in wickedness, we are not to even eat with (1 Cor 5). But will anyone argue that an abuse victim who leaves her abuser and who refuses to be duped into reconciling with him fits any of these categories? I think that the answer is obvious, and I also believe that this is one of the reasons that half-measures of discipline are used by churches to send victims away.

Other churches, let’s say ones that hold to the “permanence view” of marriage – no divorce for any reason at all and no remarriage as long as the spouse is still alive – practice their PV doctrine in their own circle and tell people they discipline for divorcing for ANY reason that “well, you can go down the road and find another church that will allow you to be there, but you can’t be here because we don’t cotton to what you did” are also taking a non-biblical view of church discipline. Either the ex-communication is biblical, is endorsed by Jesus Himself, and is therefore binding upon ALL true churches, or it is not. You can’t pronounce someone anathema or say they are handed over to Satan only in your own local church, yet advise them to seek fellowship in some other church.

Alright then, now to the second point I wanted to discuss and which is the basis for the title of this article. This concerns the biblical character qualities for the office of pastor and elder.  Here they are:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1Ti 3:1-7)This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you — if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Tit 1:5-9)So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1Pe 5:1-3)

It is apparent to me that something is very wrong in many if not most of our local churches. You can’t study this subject of abuse and talk with scores of abuse victims who are genuine Christians and hear the stories one after the other about how they were treated and even ex-communicated by their churches when they sought help in dealing with their abuser and not eventually come to realize that something is very, very wrong with the leaders of many churches. As I have looked over the three passages quoted above, I have concluded that the dealing of injustice to victims is a sure sign of an absence of at least three character qualities that are indispensable for the pastor/elder.  These are:

  1.  Not arrogant
  2. Not seeking shameful gain
  3. Not domineering

These are all very much related. And the tie that binds these three together is PRIDE. We are not seeing Godly humility and a servant’s heart in the leaders of churches that shamefully treat abuse victims, but quite the opposite. Any single one of these three negative qualities disqualifies a man for service as pastor/elder and in fact will necessarily result in such an officer dealing out injustice to the weak and oppressed. An arrogant, gain-seeking, domineering man is not going to deal out the mercy and compassion and justice of Jesus Christ.

I must conclude that any pastor or elder who insists that divorce for abuse IS definitely and without question sinful and un-biblical is arrogant.  Why?  Because so many Christians all through church history have held a different position on the biblical grounds for divorce. For any of us to rise up and announce that we are so certain WE are right, even to the point of being willing to hand a person over to Satan and place them under the condemnation of the Lord himself, is rank arrogance. Can you see that? I hope so.

In regard to shameful gain-seeking, a pastor or elder motivated by a lust for material gain or for self-acclaim because of his office is never going to stand with the weak and oppressed. It is too costly. And cost is not what such a person has in mind. It is far more profitable to stand with the abuser in so many of these cases because that is where the power and money and assets are.

And finally, this business of domineering or lording it over the flock. This is the Diotrephes of 3 John. It is a love to be first. It is an abuser who has obtained office in the church. The lover of power and control. Such a person issues decrees and pronouncements and demands that all bow the knee to what he says. He is one who “talks down” to the people of Christ and exalts himself above them. Domineering is arrogance in action.

In contrast, the Lord Jesus sets the example of how He expects His flock to be shepherded. It is a laying down of one’s life. It is loving and serving the bride of Christ. It is standing with the weak and opposing the wicked. It is dying to oneself and walking in the footsteps of the Chief Shepherd.

Today I received a refreshing report of a pastor who IS eminently qualified for his office. He announced to his church that he has been ignorant of the nature of abuse, that he has mis-handled some of these cases in the past, and that he has resolved to set himself to correcting these deficiencies. Now there is a true shepherd of Christ’s people.

Some Thoughts on Broadway, the Narrow Way, and Abuse

The Large Majority of Professing Christians Travel on Broadway, and thus are not Christians at all

Matthew 7:12-16  “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

Now here is a point that I am trying to emphasize more and more lately.  These kinds of warnings in Scripture are primarily addressed to people who claim to be followers of Christ.  Christ is speaking primarily to the Jews here. “He came to His own…I have come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Go back through the Old Testament and you will find that the prophets were sent to Israel with few exceptions. The same is true in the New Testament Scriptures which primarily address people who profess to be Christians.

And so it is here in Matthew 7. Christ is telling us about two ways: the narrow gate, and the way that leads to destruction.  He compares and contrasts the two:

Narrow Way    
Narrow (difficult)
Leads to Life
Few travelers
True prophets

Broadway Wide and easy
Leads to destruction
Packed with traffic
False Prophets

These two ways, I suggest to you, are pictures of the true church versus the apostate church.  Not so much the church vs the world, but rather two churches, one true and the other false.  From Christ’s words here we can confidently conclude then:

  1. Most people who profess to be Christians do not belong to Christ at all. We must, therefore, stop assuming that most everyone who claims the name of Christ really belongs to Him.
  2. Most people who claim to be Christians are going to end in hell (destruction).
  3. Most of what claims to be the church of Jesus Christ, is not. That is to say, most visible churches, “christian” denominations, etc are on Broadway, packed with false believers, taught and led by false prophets.

How can we tell the difference?  By their fruits. Not so much by what they say (though that needs to be examined as one “fruit” as well) but by their practice.

Matthew 7:20-23  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

See it again?  I cannot emphasize strongly enough how important this is for us to all get hold of. ALL the people the Lord is speaking of judging on that Day here call Him Lord and spent their lives claiming to serve Him.  Yet MANY are not known by Him at all.

If you have at all bought into the notion that infects the visible church today that assumes most all who say they are Christians surely are, that most everyone is surely going to end in heaven, then you need to seriously re-examine your thoughts in light of Scripture.  It seems that in so many local churches and “Christian” organizations today, the only thing regarded as heresy is to doubt someone’s salvation!

The fact that oppressed people like domestic violence victims and sexual abuse victims are being dealt rank injustice in what claims to be the Christian church today, and that the wicked such as domestic violence abusers and sexual predators are being enabled and allowed to remain in the pews, is strong evidence of a widespread denial of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

 

There is no Hope for a Wolf in Wool

Mat 21:19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

Luk 10:13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

You have heard me say many times that abusers never change. Not the kind we deal with here. The conscienceless, power and control hungry, sociopathic/narcissitic cruel taskmaster. And most of them wear wool. That is to say, they are wolves who look to devour, but they disguise themselves as sheep.

There are MANY scriptures in the Bible that speak about this kind of person. The Pharisees and scribes (with very rare exceptions like Paul and Nicodemus, who as I have recently written, were not abusers as we define them), the wicked kings of Israel like Ahab or his evil wife, Jezebel, Pharoah, the citizens of the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida. Think on this carefully. We are never presented with such people in scripture as people who there is great hope of salvation for. Why? Because they know. What they do, they do intentionally, knowing full well that…well, here it is:

Rom 1:32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Think of the domestic abusers whose evil deeds we hear about time after time after time. Their victims tell about it. They tell us how this evil one is regarded as the most pious saint in his church, how he is so popular and charming and everyone just thinks he is wonderful, and yet behind the scenes….you know too well what goes on there.

Recently I had an appointment and as it turned out, an evil man our church had to deal with many years ago was scheduled at the same time. He didn’t even recognize me (have you ever noticed this phenomenon – that such a wicked person is so caught up in themselves that they suppress and forget the evil things they have done and the people they have doen them to?). But I knew him. The people in the office where I had my appointment took note of him and said to me – “he’s such a wonderful man.” Well, I took the opportunity to do a bit of educating. “No he isn’t,” I said. “Let me tell you about him.” Their response? “I would never have guess he would do such a thing.”

But he does do such things. The wicked of his kind do such things because they are of their father the devil. He is a murderer and a liar. They are murderers and liats. He puts on a disguise of angelic light. They put on the same disguise. And what I am saying here is that there is no hope for such a person. They know. But they will not do. They know what the Lord requires. They know who the Lord is. And yet they choose to USE the Lord and His church for their own evil self-glory seeking designs. Year after year. Decade after decade.

They will perish in their sins. Do not pity them.