Friday, January 27, 2006
I forward the article below on the recent Orlando Statement (January 2004),
which I think should be of great interest to all, and especially us
Charismatic Christians, as regards Church governance and how we can avoid
more scandals. Any statement endorsed by such an influential group of
leaders acknowledging a crisis in leadership integrity within their own
movement deserves wide publicity and sober discussion. For those unfamiliar
with the names in the article below, I am not aware of any other meeting
having drawn such a high level group of international Charismatic leaders.
Please find here, my comments on the issue, then an article on the subject
and finally the Orlando statement itself.
We have to note that Jesus preached more against the hypocrisy of religious
leaders than any other issue. It therefore should deserve a similar amount
of our attention. While attacking specifically the religious leaders of his
day, he encouraged his disciples to avoid the same mistakes (Matt 23:11),
which indicates he was concerned about Christian religious leaders today -
not just Jewish ones in ancient Israel. A logical reason is that it
discredits our message on all other issues. Our enemies love to publicise
the fall of Christian leaders, because it hurts our cause.
Firstly I endorse the view the statement acknowledges, that we do have a
leadership ethics crisis today. Secondly, I endorse the general thrust of
the statement, but feel it doesn't go far enough in certain areas - for
example dealing with the need for accountability to followers. Possibly
this is being evaded because it would create unwelcome accountability and
reduced power for many senior Charismatic ministry leaders - and precisely
because the Orlando statement was probably drafted only by high level
leaders all with a vested interest in protecting their power. Real follower
accountability, I feel would require painful changes in many ministries, in
which there are currently no real avenues by which their leaders can be held
I argue that accountability to seniors and peers is insufficient as these
people often don't know what other senior leaders are up to. Because of
excessively autocratic and well defended power structures and mythological
celebrity images, it is extremely difficult for followers to hold many
senior Charismatic leaders accountable. Those who try to hold leaders
accountable, simply become the targets of organised spiritual abuse.
Leaders can then backslide undisturbed hidden behind protective layers of
employees afraid to lose their jobs; important titles; symbols of power;
abusive organisations; public relations image building etc. The Orlando
statement below emphaises personal rather than organisational/legal
accountability structures, which I view as a half-truth. They are not
enough alone, but safer to have them than not have them. The problem is
with purely relational accountability is that the backslidden leader can
simply protest a breakdown of relationship and cut relations with anyone who
challenges him. A formal accountability structure is harder to manipulate.
I feel that while these offices are valid, the Orlando statements
endorsement of the use of religious titles is contrary to Matthew 23:7-10.
I also feel the statement fails to address the problem of leadership
idolatory of 'superstars' within the Charismatic movement. This is a sin of
followers as well as leaders who tolerate it (Acts 12:23). It leads to the
unbiblical assumption of infallibility (Romans 3:23) and thus the view that
it is disrespectful to hold leaders accountable. It would have been very
helpful also for the statement to have said something about how spiritual
gifting should not be used as an assumption of integrity (Matthew 7:22-23).
I feel the statement should also have said something about the judgement of
God on leaders who fail to act against others serious sin (1 Sam 3:13),
which would hopefully create more accountability through more fear of God
and less fear of human leaders in our ministries.
Nevertheless, while I feel the statement is inadequate, I welcome the fact
that this issue is now on the central agenda of the core leadership of the
Charismatic movement I think is progress. Hopefully the statement will lead
to discussion will lead to more thought and perhaps further statements which
will bring real changes in ministries.
I would hope that the Orlando statement would embolden members of many
ministries to quit idolatory of unquestioning obedience and follow the
Matthew 18 procedure and Acts 6 procedure to hold their leaders accountable.
Does your ministry have any mechanism by which leaders can be held
accountable by their followers? For example, who decides what the leader
earns? Does he decide himself? Who is the leader obliged to consult before
making major decisions on your behalf? Who can force the leader to answer
questions if you hear rumours of scandal? Is the leader accountable to
anyone other than his paid staff or relatives? Does the leader chair every
meeting he goes to, so he can avoid discussion on topics he is afraid to
talk about? What set procedures for discipline exist in the organisation?
If none, then that makes it easy to manipulate? How could a grievience, for
example on of abuse of power or money be addressed within the organisation?
Are those who previously questioned the ethics of the organisation still
with the organisation - or were they intimidated into silence and encouraged
leave? Why not ask and find out? Don't wait till you discover unethical
behaviour before you argue for increased accountability.
Someone may question my standing to debate a statement by such an eminent
set of leaders in my own movement. I do so with appeal to the scriptures
(referenced above) and also with much first hand experience of the problems
described above. Charismatic ministries are not the only ones who
experience these problems, but perhaps being a young movement - have not yet
learned some of the lessons of the older denominations in restraining power
Special Report: A Call for Accountability
Charismatic leaders issued a strong call for ethics at the Ministries Today
Symposium in Orlando, Florida.
From Staff Reports (For the full text of this article, see the March/April
issue of Ministries Today.)
More than 50 charismatic leaders drew a line in the sand at an historic
meeting in Orlando, Florida, in January. Their message: "It's not about
power or titles, it's about winning the lost."
It was a virtual "who's who" of the charismatic/ Pentecostal community at
the first-ever Ministries Today Symposium, where high-profile ministers met
to discuss key issues relating to leadership and ethics January 6-7.
In light of the magazine's year-long emphasis on the fivefold ministries and
senior editorial adviser Jack W. Hayford's challenge for ethical
accountability (see "Practicing What We Preach," November/ December 2003),
Ministries Today's publisher Stephen Strang felt compelled to assemble a
group of leaders to address topics such as the use of titles, leadership
abuse, financial integrity and ministry ethics.
Hayford moderated panel discussions on three topics: leadership issues
regarding the fivefold ministries, spiritual and moral issues and questions
which challenge the credibility of the larger charismatic/Pentecostal
community's witness and the future of the movement.
Besides the positive relationships forged and productive discussion, one of
the immediate results of the symposium was a collection of affirmations
called "The Orlando Statement," compiled and agreed upon by the group at the
conclusion of the gathering.
During the first panel discussion, participants Reinhard Bonnke, Joyce
Meyer, Bill Hamon, C. Peter Wagner, Kingsley Fletcher and Rod Parsley
addressed the continuation of the fivefold ministries, the use of titles to
identify the offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher.
None in the panel or audience disputed the legitimacy of the post-New
Testament ministry of all the fivefold gifts, but some expressed concern
that the power invested in titles of apostle and prophet often causes the
holder to exercise authority and not service.
While a variety of opinions were expressed regarding if and when those
ministering in the fivefold gifts should be granted titles, the overarching
consensus of the discussion was the need to return to the work of
soul-winning and shepherding that the Scriptures demand-activities from
which the use of titles sometimes distracts the church.
The second panel, including Cindy Jacobs, John Bevere, Keith Butler, Steve
Hill, Mark Rutland and Rick Joyner, concerned itself with the ethical crisis
in the charismatic/Pentecostal community. Citing issues such as marital
responsibility, "cheap concepts of restoration" and a lack of
"self-moderating standards" in issues of finances, Hayford expressed his
concern at the outset of the discussion.
"Like the book of Judges, the movement is increasingly moving toward
everyone doing what is right in their own eyes," he said. "We're watching
the dumbing down of a movement, in many ways-dumbing down in the thoughtful
pursuit of what we're really about."
Hayford suggested that ethical issues threaten the continued viability of
the movement and the willingness of many to identify with it. Although many
may embrace the theological perspectives of the movement, they are reticent
to be a part of what they see as the excess and shoddy ethics of many
high-profile charismatic leaders, he said.
The third and final panel, including Ted Haggard, R.T. Kendall, J. Lee
Grady, Francis Frangipane, Myles Munroe and Frank Reid, explored the future
of the charismatic/Pentecostal movement.
The discussion largely surrounded the issue of the continued identity of the
movement and the need for a unified response to the gay agenda, same-sex
marriage, universalism and other issues on which there have not been strong
The Orlando Statement
Statement of Objective: In light of the current misgivings concerning the
awakening and release of the fivefold ministries in the
charismatic/Pentecostal movement, we observe six distinct areas of general
agreement. The following affirmations are presented in hope of promoting
relational harmony and ministerial partnership. In light of our biblical
mandate to be unified in the task of equipping the body for the task of
world evangelism, we express the following:
1. Unity and Diversity: We affirm that the proper functioning of the body of
Christ depends on the "unlikeness" of its members. Thus a diversity of
perspectives and an ideological tension must not only be allowed but also
encouraged for the sake of fruitfulness, maturity and interdependence.
2. The Heart of Ministry: We affirm that the heart of all ministry is
servanthood, the task of all ministry is shepherding, and the goal of all
ministry is the salvation of the lost and the equipping of the saved.
3. Continuation of the Fivefold Ministries: We affirm that there is an
ongoing post-New Testament activity of the charismata of 1 Corinthians 12,
as well as the ministries of the pastor, teacher and evangelist described in
Ephesians 4. Therefore, it would naturally follow that we affirm the ongoing
post-New Testament activity of apostles and prophets.
4. Current Escalation of Apostolic and Prophetic Activity: We affirm that,
while all of the fivefold ministries have been active since their bestowal
by the ascended Christ, that the last 30 years has evidenced an increase of
apostolic and prophetic ministry, resulting in substantive growth of the
church in the developing world and a resulting influence on the charismatic
church in the United States and Europe.
5. Distinction of Offices and Giftings of the Fivefold Ministries: We affirm
that there is a distinction between the office and the gifting of each of
the fivefold ministries: "office" being endowment of position with authority
and responsibility granted by a legitimate body of one's peers, in
recognition of gifting; "gifting" being those capacities and spiritual
qualities that only God entrusts to become manifest through an individual.
6. The Use of Titles: We affirm the appropriation of titles by those who
demonstrate the character and giftings requisite those titles, but we also
affirm that the use of titles be submitted to the demands of servanthood and
not become a distraction or hindrance to the very offices that they claim to
serve, or the gifting they have been granted to minister.
Statement of Objective: The pursuit of this statement is to affirm those
commonly-held values of biblical discipline and grace that have been
timelessly honored by the people of God in reference to ethics, morality,
marriage and ministry lifestyle. Our interaction has targeted the
formulation of statements which we acknowledge as essential to sustaining
the purity of the witness of the broad fellowship of charismatic believers.
We recognize that there is no human agency that can mandate or administrate
conformity to any set of values. Nonetheless, we present these summary
affirmations, in hope that:
1. We hope all who embrace life in the Holy Spirit would give an equal and
total embrace to the whole of the Scripture's requirements regarding ethics,
moral purity, sexual integrity, marital fidelity, financial accountability
and the spirit of Christlike ministry.
2. We hope we may present a point of reference for all charismatic Christian
believers that thereby they may be assured of the constancy of their
majority leadership to live by the character expectations of leaders as
revealed in the eternal Word of God.
3. We hope the values focused in these affirmations might become
acknowledged and honored as reflecting the common convictions and values of
the broad fellowship of charismatic tradition.
4. We hope we might recognize and affirm that, apart from the ongoing
transformation of the Holy Spirit, both structures and relationships will be
ineffective in the establishment of and the adherence to any moral or
We seek neither to establish a governing group nor attempt to frame and
administer legal structures for enforcing ethical standards. We know that
ultimately such are impossible apart from hearts of submission to God's Word
and Spirit. Still, with all, we hope that we may project an informal
mechanism for identifying and marginalizing those who independently pursue a
lesser commitment to Christian discipline or who demonstrate an indifference
to a biblical lifestyle, thereby separating themselves as apart from and
unrepresentative of true charismatic Christian standards. We embrace the
1. Ethical Crisis: the Problem: There is a crisis of ethical standards in
the church in general and among charismatic/Pentecostal leaders in
particular, characterized by: (1) an increasing tolerance for sexual
infidelity; (2) an escalation in instances of abandonment of marital
responsibility under the guise of commitment to ministry callings; (3) an
indulgent understanding of the concept of restoration and; (4) a lack of
self-moderation and discipline in areas of financial responsibility and
2. Ethical Crisis: Causes: This ethical crisis is in part due to (1) an
increase in the number of ministry leaders operating outside existing
accountability structures; (2) the failure of existing accountability
structures to enforce legal standards because of an absence of authentic
peer relationships; (3) an increasingly prevalent perspective of ministry as
a profession in which the importance of success and power outweigh the
demands of servanthood and integrity and; (4) a growing perception that the
private life of the leader has no bearing on his/her public ministry as long
as that ministry continues to gratify its followers.
3. The Ineffectiveness of Strictly Legal Accountability Structures: Proposed
structures of ethical accountability that are strictly defined by legal
limitations have not worked in the past and thus will not work unless
accompanied by the relational networks composed of both peers and superiors
who are willing to openly confront moral failure and constructively provide
avenues of restoration for the repentant. Thus, we urge assertive acceptance
of the responsibility to minister discipline with love and righteousness
with grace, so any independence from and persistence to behaviors adverse to
godly values be identified as alien to the lifestyle of charismatic
Christians and unrepresentative of the true charismatic Christian community.
© Copyright 2004 Strang Communications, All Rights Reserved
Author: Philip Rosenthal (Philip@rosenthal.net)
Date: 9 November 2005
THE CONTEXT 3
COMPROMISED HOLLYWOOD CHRISTIANITY LEADS TO MORAL CONFUSION 3
THE APPROPRIATE PENALTY FOR VARIOUS SITUATIONS 4
When did the adultery occur? 4
The alternatives for disciplining an elder 4
The degree of the offence influences the penalty 4
Other forms of sexual sin 5
MESSAGES TO THE READER 5
For those who have committed adultery 5
For those involved in church disciplinary processes 5
For Christian activists 6
For elders who have tolerated adultery of others in the pulpit 6
SCRIPTURAL ARGUMENTS 6
FAILURE TO MEET THE BIBLICAL CHARACTER QUALIFICATIONS FOR AN ELDER 6
OTHER SCRIPTURES INDICATING THE NEED FOR STRICTNESS 8
Requirements for deacons indicate further strictness 8
Other penalties for adultery in scripture 8
Old Testament requirements for priests and leaders indicate the need for strictness 9
Adultery is destructive and harmful and so should not be treated lightly 10
Exposure will normally make followers leave or pressure the leader to resign 10
God’s direct judgement 11
PRACTICAL ARGUMENTS 11
AN ADULTERER CANNOT PROPERLY PERFORM THE JOB RESPONSIBILITIES OF AN ELDER 11
An adulterous elder can’t be a good example to the flock 11
An adulterous elder can’t teach with credibility 11
An adulterous elder has no moral authority to exercise church discipline 11
An undisciplined adulterer cannot properly perform the leadership function of praying for his followers 12
An adulterous elder cannot be trusted to counsel his followers 12
AN ADULTEROUS ELDER MAY USE HIS POSITION TO HARM HIS FOLLOWERS 12
An adulterous elder will corrupt other good people 12
An adulterer is likely to be abusive to try cover up 13
The office of an elder gives a man power he can abuse to seduce women 13
OTHER PRACTICAL REASONS WHY AN ADULTEROUS ELDER MUST LOSE OFFICE 13
An adulterer will likely repeat the same offence if not properly disciplined. 13
It is in his own best interests for his spiritual recovery 13
Christians and outsiders will lose respect for all ministers’ offices 13
Adultery can have serious consequences which the elder may have to deal with 14
If a church or organisation does not get rid of an adulterous elder, its elders are responsible and guilty for his sin 14
If we tolerate adulterous elders, the gospel loses credibility 14
Getting rid of the adulterous elder publicly will cause others to fear 14
If an adulterer is not removed, all discipline will break down 14
SHOULD THE CHURCH HAVE LOWER MORAL STANDARDS THAN THE WORLD? 15
Many nations had serious criminal penalties for adultery 15
Most professions and sports have disqualification 15
Churches which tolerate sexual abusers are liable for damages 15
ANSWERING ARGUMENTS FOR KEEPING AN ADULTEROUS ELDER IN OFFICE 16
The man’s wife has forgiven him 16
The seduced woman has forgiven him 16
He will get counselling 16
His wife is also cheating on him 16
It was a momentary moral lapse and not an ongoing pattern of sin 16
But many great leaders were adulterers 17
The adulterer is the only well qualified person to do the job 17
The ministry is dependent on the adulterous leader for fundraising 17
The man has to eat 17
But shouldn’t we forgive him? 17
Doesn’t mercy triumph over judgement? 18
HIDDEN REASONS FOR KEEPING AN ADULTEROUS ELDER IN OFFICE 18
A number of South African church denominations and Christian organisations have allowed adulterous Christian leaders to stay in office even after they have been proven guilty. This is an abomination against God and a disgrace to the Christian faith. It is disobedience and must not be tolerated. We must show adulterous Christian leaders love and mercy, but let them find another job. Such people do not belong in church leadership or Christian ministry organisation leadership. If we allow such people to stay in office, they will corrupt the entire church.
Two of the most famous examples of a failure to justly discipline Christian leaders are those of the adulterous TV evangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. Swaggart defied the Assemblies of God request that he step down after being caught undressed with a prostitute, claiming he needed to keep his job, because thousands of orphans depended on his fundraising efforts. His ministry shrank and he was caught again with a prostitute – severely damaging the reputation of Christianity. The case of Jim Bakker was even more serious, because after his ministry leaders found out, they helped him cover it up for years – doing secret counselling with one of his employees and paying the girl to keep quiet. The ‘counselling’ didn’t cure Bakker and he began a homosexual relationship. When the truth finally became known, the Assemblies of God revoked the ordination not only of Bakker, but also his administrator, Richard Dortch, who helped Bakker cover up the scandal. Afterwards, Dortch wrote a book ‘Integrity: How I lost it and my journey back’1, in which he expressed the view that people had been too harsh with him since he had not committed the adultery himself, but only helped cover it up – and that Bakker should have been allowed to carry on running the PTL TV network since he had repented privately. What Dortch didn’t seem to understand is firstly that a man who commits adultery disqualifies himself from Christian leadership and secondly that followers have right to know about such scandalous behaviour. One sin leads to more sin. Bakker ended up defrauding his followers of millions, and Dortch joined him in jail for unwittingly helping him with this. Dortch had formerly been a respected pastor and executive in his denomination, but by keeping a hypocrite in office, he paid a very high price. Dortch had been deceived by ‘Hollywood Christianity’ – the idea that if Christian leaders just act well in the public eye – their private lives can be ignored. This article seeks to make clear why Dortch and those like him who support adulterous elders also commit sin – and hopefully stop others making the foolish mistake of covering up or being soft on adulterous Christian leaders.
One of the main reasons why we have a difficulty finding the moral courage to confront evil in the world is a failure to enforce church discipline against Christian leaders who fall into scandalous sin. As costly as it is, they must be dealt with, if we are to maintain our spiritual authority from God in relation to the devil and the world. Nevertheless, in a situation where a Christian leader has sinned scandalously, a lot of Christians get confused because they are used to following leaders and doing what they are told. Other leaders get confused because of personal relationships with the fallen leader and his loyal supporters.
Is pressing for the resignation of an immoral leader rebellion or vindictiveness? Or is it something we have to do because the Bible tells us to? There has tragically been a lot of compromise in this area – which has severely damaged the spiritual credibility of much of the church. Sadly many churches and Christian organisations have allowed adulterers to continue in leadership after they have been found guilty. Are you going to be a ‘no-compromise’ leader? If so, you need to be clear on what the Bible says on why an adulterer can’t be an elder.
The problem is not restricted to any one stream of Christianity. It has infected Protestants and Catholics, pastors, lawyers and activists, Charismatics and traditionalists. It is an evil corrupting and compromising the church that must be rooted out.
This article should be read in conjunction with another detailed article ‘Why we shouldn’t cover-up sandal?’, which was written to explain why 1 Timothy 5:20 must be strictly applied. Email Philip@Rosenthal.net to request a copy.
Compromised Hollywood Christianity leads to moral confusion
We must understand the context in which we are living and why there is so much confusion on this issue. The church in the Western world is currently in probably the most backslidden state it has been in the past 500 years. This backsliding includes the prevalence of scandal in the ministry. The rise of liberal ‘higher criticism’ scripture interpretation has gutted respect for the Bible in most of the older denominations, and sadly, this disrespect has also influenced those who profess to respect the Bible. This liberal false view of scripture has lead to the death of Christianity in Europe. People realised there is no point in going to church if the churches don’t respect the Bible. In North America and South Africa, many historic Western churches, having departed from scripture, have not yet died but are in the throes of death.
Further, most newer churches and organisations tend to function on an ad-hoc basis without many checks and balances or rules for accountability and fair procedure. Often they are isolated from serious accountability relationships with other leaders and ministries. A consequence is that discipline is often not exercised at all, and when it is exercised, this is done either too weakly or too harshly. Given the chronically backslidden state of the church, we therefore cannot use present general practice as an indicator of what we should be doing. We must go back to scripture.
If Christians are to be salt and light in the world, we must first ensure high moral standards in the church, with the highest moral standards for those who serve as Church leaders. Many Christian have been seduced by ‘Hollywood values’. They think the marital unfaithfulness of ‘super-hero’ Christian leaders can be brushed off like the immoral lives of Hollywood film stars. That is not what the Bible teachers. We must restore true Biblical values.
Most of Western Christianity has become intoxicated with a ‘Hollywood media culture’, where Christians spend more time watching, listening and reading the mass media than the Bible. Thus often their worldview is more influenced by Hollywood than the Bible. Even when listening to Biblical teaching in church, such Christians filter what they hear to fit with what they already believe from Hollywood. Consequently, most either don’t know or do not take seriously the explicit teaching of scripture. Hollywood values superstars and success, believes in relativism and pragmatism and rejects moral purity as ‘politically incorrect’. Thus, unlike previous centuries, scandalous elders are commonly able to get away with gross disobedience to the scriptures. We are living in a society and in a church environment where moral standards and respect for scripture is sadly very low. In this environment, we must try to be a light in a dark place, and use the scripture as a guide, rather than current general practice.
Those Christians who chose to spend less time absorbing the mass media and more time with their Bibles will better understand the seriousness with which the Word treats the issue of sin and especially that of leaders.
The appropriate penalty for various situations
When did the adultery occur?
Where a man has committed adultery before conversion is a different situation than if he does so after conversion. In the former case, many years would need to pass before he would have proven the character that would give the church the confidence to allow him to be an elder. A new convert should not hastily be made an elder (1 Timothy 3:6), but the church should be even more cautious about making someone an elder who has scandalous sin in his past. Nevertheless in these cases, at least one can assume that the work of Christ through conversion may have changed the man.
However a man who commits adultery after conversion has trampled on the grace offered to him in Christ. He would need a longer period to demonstrate repentance and changed character before being allowed to be an elder.
A man who commits adultery while in the office of a church elder has not only trampled on the grace offered him in Christ, but has also proved grossly unfaithful in his duties in that position. There is a debate amongst biblical evangelicals as to whether such a person should ever be allowed back into an office of Christian leadership at all. I personally believe that in some cases, such a person may in certain circumstances be allowed back after much caution and many years to ensure he has properly repented. Nevertheless, some Bible scholars argue such offenders should never be allowed back.
The alternatives for disciplining an elder
The alternatives for disciplining an elder are:
1. To stay in office, whilst keeping the sin a secret.
2. To stay in office, whilst giving the man a public rebuke.
3. To suspend the man from office for a period and then automatically return him to his old job.
4. To remove him from office for a period after which he may be considered.
5. To bar him permanently from office.
* Alternative 1 is clearly a violation of 1 Timothy 5:20, which requires public rebuke.
* Alternative 2 complies with 1 Timothy 5:20, but not with 1 Timothy 3:1-7, which requires character standards for elders.
* Alternative 3 fails to comply with the requirements of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, which require the man to pass a character and reputation test and not just assume he is fit for office.
* Alternative 4 and 5 are within the constraints of scripture.
The degree of the offence influences the penalty
Very often, adulterous elders cover-up, lie and manipulate to avoid exposure and losing their leadership positions. In this case, these are also compounding offences, which also need to be disciplined. Other elders may have helped in the cover-up process and they will also need church discipline, which is at minimum public rebuke (1 Timothy 5:20). There is also a difference in the severity between a long-term adulterous affair and a once off act of adultery, to which the elder immediately confesses and repents.
Where an elder is guilty of multiple offences, then depending on the number and severity of the offences, it would take much longer to regain trust in his character – if it is ever restored at all. Nevertheless, as an absolute minimum an adulterous elder must be publicly rebuked and also removed from his position of leadership at least until a sufficient number of years have passed to regain confidence in his character.
Other forms of sexual sin
Adultery is not the only sexual sin condemned in scripture – nor the only sin that warrants exclusion from the office of elder. The term ‘adulterous’ is used here to refer to the broad category of sexual contact across the marriage boundary – which includes things other than copulation such as ‘heavy petting’ or viewing nakedness in a sexual context.
Other sins should be disciplined according to the scale of severity which the scripture treats those sins and in relation to the harm caused. Adultery is dealt with in detail here, because it is very serious and unfortunately also fairly common.
Sexual sin which crosses the boundary of gender (homosexuality) (Romans 1:27) or species (beastiality) or the innocence of children (paedophilia) is an even more serious perversion than adultery and consequently must be treated even more severely.
Messages to the reader
For those who have committed adultery
Some of the people who read this article may have committed adultery in the past. If you are such a person and you have repented, then God will forgive you (1 John 1:9). Nevertheless, you may have to suffer some consequences for the sin. If you have not already done so, go and speak to the pastor of your church and ask him what you should do for spiritual restoration and to restore relationships.
If you in a Christian leadership role and have committed adultery whilst in office, and have not been disciplined properly, please resign and confess your sin to other leaders who will deal with the issue in a Biblical manner.
For those involved in church disciplinary processes
Church discipline is not for the faint hearted. Anybody who gets involved in a church disciplinary process is likely to get counter-accused of wrong motives, wrong procedure, an exaggerated petty offence or some other invented offence. Don’t be surprised when this happens and don’t flinch in your prosecution of the scandalous offence. Unjustified criticism will be more painful the closer the relationship or the more respect you have for the person making it. Remember what happened to Jesus when he accused the religious leaders of his day of gross hypocrisy (Matthew 23): they counter accused him and then crucified him on the basis of false accusations. We are called to follow Jesus’s example – and participating in godly church discipline process is one of the ways we do this and share in his sufferings. But don’t be under any illusions that the task will be easy or surprised when you get hurt. You are almost 100% guaranteed to get slandered and threatened in the process.
We don’t get involved in church discipline because of benefit to ourselves in this life, but because God commands us to and will reward us in the next life.
For Christian activists
Is this an issue worth fighting about or is it just a distraction from ‘bigger issues’ in the world? Is it worth the conflict and disharmony that is created inside the church and the harm to relationships? Yes, it is necessary and worth it because if adultery is tolerated in the pulpit we have no credibility with God, with Satan or with the world. Furthermore, the tolerance of adultery in the pulpit makes the church weak on other issues such as abortion and homosexuality. Abortion is commonly used as a method of hiding adultery2. Therefore adulterers are likely to favour the option of abortion, since it gives them a way of getting rid of unwanted babies. Ministers who tolerate adultery will lack the moral courage to attack other evils in society. One leader commented regarding the Episcopal ordination of homosexual bishop Gene Robinson in the USA, ‘Sadly, Protestants, evangelicals, Charismatics and Pentecostals have nothing to say on this matter, because there is a regular stream of reports of pastors and ministers who have affairs’3.
If we want to win on issues of abortion and homosexuality in society, then unfortunately, we have to also tackle the thorny issue of adultery in the pulpit.
For elders who have tolerated adultery of others in the pulpit
The secondary sin of tolerating adultery in the pulpit is serious. This is what caused the high priest Eli to lose his office in ministry – not only for himself, but his whole family line. ‘Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.’ (1 Samuel 2:22). Thus God judged Eli and his family. “For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them.” (1 Samuel 3:13)
The specific cases would need to be looked at on the merits of what happened – what the person knew, what they did and what their authority was in the situation. Nevertheless, such an offence is sufficiently serious to warrant the removal of those who protect adulterers in the ministry as those who commit it – as was the case with Richard Dortch in the case example cited in the introduction. At minimum, this is due case for very serious public repentance (1 Timothy 5:20).
For those who are in the serious category such as Dortch, please resign, public confess your sin, and submit to a Biblical disciplinary process.
Failure to meet the Biblical character qualifications for an elder
An adulterer fails the character qualifications to be an elder, which are specified in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. Different Bible translations use the terms like ‘overseer’, ‘elder’, ‘shepherd’, ‘pastor’ and ‘bishop’. These words are used interchangeably in different scriptures indicating that the requirements all apply to the same group of people, who in this article will be referred to as ‘elders’. Nevertheless, the same applies to those Christian leaders who use other titles such as ‘home group leaders’, ‘ministers’, ‘archbishops’, ‘apostles’, ‘moderators’ and ‘superintendents’ etc. These are really just different levels of eldership responsibility. Leaders of Christian NGO’s often use titles like ‘CEO’, ‘director’ or ‘chairman’. While they may not be ‘church elders’ in the same sense, they perform a very similar ‘eldership function’ and sometimes even more influential role in the Christian community than do ‘church elders’. Thus they need to be subject to similar moral qualification standards.
The character requirements for an elder listed in the above scriptures are very much higher than that which is required for an ordinary Christian to be accepted as a member of a church. An elder is not expected to be perfect, but he is expected to consistently behave in a way that is a good example to others in and outside the church. A man who is nominated as an elder can be disqualified for offences much more minor than adultery.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 " 1Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap."
With regard to the above criteria, an adulterer fails on the following counts:
1. An adulterer is not above reproach. The act of adultery is a serious reproach.
2. An adulterer has violated the spirit of the requirement to be monogamous. An adulterer sleeps with more than one woman. The scripture requires that he must be the husband of one wife (i.e. not polygamous). Thus the requirement given for an elder (monogamy) is stricter than simply avoiding sexual immorality. It implies avoiding sexual immorality as an obvious minimum standard that does not need to be re-stated.
3. An adulterer is not self-controlled. He has shown himself unable to control his sex drive.
4. An adulterer is not respectable. The scripture requires that the offence be made public (1 Timothy 5:20). The day it is made public, he has lost his reputation.
5. The requirements of an elder ‘being temperate’, ‘hospitable’, ’not loving money’ set the standard a lot higher than a mere prohibition on adultery. None of these other requirements are punishable offences under the Old Testament law. The only requirement that comes close to an offence under the Old Testament law is that Old Testament priests were forbidden from drinking alcohol during their duties. This indicates that the Biblical requirement for an elder is much higher than just avoiding adultery.
6. As for the ‘ability to teach’ an adulterer does not have the moral authority to tell others how to behave in a Christian manner, since he has failed to do so himself. If he teaches, his obvious disobedience will destroy the credibility of his message and that of other teachers.
7. An adulterer has not ‘managed his own family well’ and has likely lost the respect of his children.
8. An adulterer who has been publicly rebuked according to 1 Timothy 5:20 will not ‘have a good reputation with outsiders’. Most non-Christians frown on adultery as much as much as Christians do. Unbelievers are disgusted and disappointed at the failure of Christian leaders, which is why such stories make media headlines. They will not respect an adulterous Christian leader and therefore if the church does not get rid of such leaders, unbelievers will lose respect for the church.
9. While an adulterous leader is not a ‘recent convert’, he is even more suspect in terms of repeating his sin than would be a ‘recent convert’. Therefore, even after disciplinary action, if he is ever reinstated at all, he should have an even longer period to prove his reform than a new Christian who has not had an immoral history.
Thus an adulterer fails on the criteria listed in 1 Timothy 3.
Titus 1:6-9 "6An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it."
The letter to Titus adds a few more criteria:
10. An elder must be ‘blameless’. An adulterer is not blameless. Adultery is a serious sin. He has offended God, his wife, his family, the congregation and the wider body of believers. Blamelessness is defined in Titus 1:7, amongst other things as being ‘not overbearing’ or ‘not quick tempered’. The Old Testament law prescribes no penalty for these offences, while it prescribes death for adultery (Leviticus 20:10). Therefore adultery is a much more serious sin and if these smaller sins can disqualify an elder, then adultery will surely disqualify an elder.
11. An elder must be ‘upright, holy and disciplined’ (Titus 1:8). An adulterer is not upright, not holy and not sexually disciplined. He is crooked, unholy and undisciplined. He fails the test.
Thus the adulterous elder fails on two more criteria listed in Titus. Note that almost all of the biblical qualifications for an elder are character qualifications. The scripture doesn’t list that the elder must be popular or good at public speaking or a skilful church business manager or have some academic qualification or fundraising ability. Yet some Christian organisations are prepared to ignore character issues, if the leader is has some great abilities.
Other scriptures indicating the need for strictness
Requirements for deacons indicate further strictness
A deacon is a lower level of authority in a church than an elder. This person serves in the church but does not have a governance and teaching function. Nevertheless, deacons are subject to a screening process in which the congregation have a say. This implies then, that elders, who have a higher authority should also be subject to a similar screening process. Perhaps this is not mentioned because a person would not be made an elder until he had first served as a deacon.
1 Timothy 3:10 "They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons."
Thus, the scripture implies that before a leader is given a position, there should be a consultation with people who know him and/or his future followers to determine whether his character is acceptable. If a person has committed adultery, then that is surely an issue that such people would bring up against the prospective elder. Thus there would not be ‘nothing against him’. He would be disqualified by objections.
Other penalties for adultery in scripture
The model of governance of civil and religious communities by elders is rooted in the Old Testament law. Therefore, while under the new covenant we may not be bound by all the detail of Old Testament laws, it does give principles we can take forward – unless there are other scriptures that indicate we should interpret the law differently. The Old Testament law on adultery was simple:
Leviticus 20:10 ”‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death."
Thus any elder in Old Testament Israel who committed adultery would not be able to continue in office, because he would be dead. Any discussion on the merits of the issue would be pointless, because he would not be able to fulfill his duties while dead.
Now under the New Testament, firstly, the church does not have the authority to put anyone to death and secondly, there is the opportunity of forgiveness for those who have sinned and repent. Nevertheless, forgiveness does not restore a man’s bad reputation and bad character. That can take many years to restore – if it ever is at all.
The New Testament scriptures indicate that unrepentant adulterers are going to go to hell (1 Corinthians 6:9; Revelation 21:8, 22:15). In addition, irrespective of whether or not they repent, they will suffer God’s judgement in one form or another (Hebrews 13:4).
We Christians are not to associate with others who call themselves Christians, but who are sexually immoral (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). Such a person, if he does not repent and comply with discipline, must be thrown out of the church (1 Corinthians 5:13). If such penalties are prescribed for ordinary Christians, how much more so to an elder, minister or pastor. While the sin of a private individual can be dealt with privately, the sin of an elder is a public issue (1 Timothy 5:20). Where such a leader fails to comply with the disciplinary requirements imposed on him, then we must all disassociate with him. When an adulterous elder does manage to stay in office it is very often a result of cover-up, deceit and manipulation. Such behaviour is evidence of a lack of repentance.
Thus adultery in the Old Testament is a capital offence and in the New Testament, unrepentant adultery is an offence resulting in excommunication. The New Covenant does allow the grace of repentance, but treats the issue just as seriously as the Old Covenant, prescribing the maximum penalty possible.
Elders are judged more strictly than ordinary congregation members both by God (James 3:1) and also by the church in their selection for office (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). Thus adultery by an elder must be dealt with much more severely than adultery by a church member.
All of this indicates that appropriate discipline for an adulterous elder must be severe. Removal from office would logically be included in a severe penalty.
Old Testament requirements for priests and leaders indicate the need for strictness
An elder is not a priest in the Old Testament sense of the word, nevertheless he performs many similar functions of spiritual leadership, teaching, hearing confessions of sin, praying for others as did the Old Testament priest. Therefore, we can deduce that while the qualifications for priests are not identical to those of elders, some similar principles apply. The Old Testament qualifications for priests include a long list of ceremonial and physical purity requirements. For example, the priest is not allowed to have a physical defect (Leviticus 21:17-23). He must also go through various ceremonial cleansing rituals to establish his purity. He must also wear perfectly clean clothing whilst performing his duties (Leviticus 16:4). All of these physical and ritual requirements are indicators of a very strict moral purity requirement for religious leaders. Since the symbolic in the Old Testament ritual usually is interpreted as having a moral application in the New Testament, we can deduce that religious leaders are expected to maintain the strictest standards of moral purity and holiness. This interpretations fits well with the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
Furthermore, the priests had to obey a stricter set of rules than the ordinary people. For example, if a priest got drunk, he was killed (Leviticus 10:1-9). Drunkenness is a sin for ordinary people, but it isn’t punished with death. Likewise a priest could not marry a non-virgin, such as a divorced woman – which is a constraint that was not put on the ordinary Israelites. A priest’s daughter who was immoral was to be burned in the fire, which is a harsher punishment than the normal death by stoning for ordinary people. Thus the indications are that religious leaders were expected to have a stricter moral purity standard than ordinary people. This stricter set of rules for elders is similar, but not identical, to that in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
An adulterer cannot fulfil such moral purity requirements.
If the anointed priest sins, then the sacrifice required is much greater than that for an ordinary person who sins (Leviticus 4:3). Nevertheless, there was no sacrifice for adultery: under the law, the adulterer would have to die.
All of this indicates that the moral purity of religious leaders is to be taken very seriously. While the exact requirements and penalties may have changed from the Old to the New Testament, indications are that the issue is meant to be dealt with utmost seriousness.
Adultery is destructive and harmful and so should not be treated lightly
Adultery is one of the most destructive sins, because it undermines the family. In the case of leaders, it undermines the families of all those who look to that leader as an example.
Job 31:9-12 "9“If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door, 10then may my wife grind another man’s grain, and may other men sleep with her. 11For that would have been shameful, a sin to be judged. 12It is a fire that burns to Destruction; it would have uprooted my harvest."
Proverbs 6:32-33 "32But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself. 33Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away;"
Amongst other things, the shame of adultery destroys a man’s character reputation.
Exposure will normally make followers leave or pressure the leader to resign
The scripture requires elders who sin to be rebuked publicly (1 Timothy 5:20). This means that his followers may take action against him. This may mean they:
1. Pressure him to resign.
2. Ask other elders to pressure him to resign.
3. Vote with their feet and leave to find another leader.
Other elders in other ministries are also likely to disassociate with him and thus he will find it very difficult to work.
Only in a situation of cover-up will mature Christian believers continue to follow an adulterous elder. If the minimum requirement for discipline of elders specified in scripture is properly followed, then in the instance of adultery, losing office is likely to follow also. Maybe a few blindly-loyal or immature Christian supporters may continue following the adulterer, but he will either lose office altogether or have a considerably smaller leadership role.
God’s direct judgement
The scripture says that ‘...it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God…’ (1 Peter 4:17) indicating both the direct judgment of God and the priority of sorting out the church before the world. This was also the pattern of judgment in the Old Testament, which symbolically began at the temple. ‘Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple.(Ezekiel 9:6). Just in case anyone thinks Jesus is different in the New Testament, hew warned the church in Thyatira that he would personally judge wicked leaders and their followers ‘So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.’ (Revelation 2:22). This also applies to Christians in general ‘…for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral’ (Hebrews 13:4).
If God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:29), who had no Bible to tell them sexual immorality is wrong, how much more will he judge wickedness in the church and especially amongst religious leadership.
The mildest form of God’s judgement and also the most common, is the withdrawal of his blessing from a compromised church. If we want God’s blessing of spiritual revival, we cannot ignore his moral requirements.
An adulterer cannot properly perform the job responsibilities of an elder
The job of an elder includes being an example to his followers, teaching them, counselling them, praying for them and exercising discipline against those who sin. An adulterous elder cannot properly do this.
An adulterous elder can’t be a good example to the flock
People follow the example of their leaders more than the words of their leaders. An adulterous elder has set a bad example and so should not be followed.
An adulterous elder can’t teach with credibility
Teaching is an important function for elders (1 Timothy 3:2). Followers expect leaders to practice what they preach. Family morality is at the core of Christian teaching. Those who violate this basic respect for family values have no credibility to teach in church.
An adulterous elder has no moral authority to exercise church discipline
Church elders are responsible to exercise church discipline according to Matthew 18:17 and 1 Corinthians 6:4. An adulterer cannot do this job properly, since he will have clouded and confused moral judgement – since he has severely disobeyed it himself. His main interests are likely to be to protect himself rather than to implement God’s word. Thus he is likely to be ultra-lenient on moral issues, which relate to God and ultra-harsh on issues which threaten his personal authority. This is most likely going to be abuse of authority rather than fair use of authority.
Discipline is a form of exorcism – getting rid of the devil in the church. A person who tries to engage in exorcism without proper moral authority is going to get seriously hurt. The same is true for church discipline. Authority to discipline depends on obedience (1 Corinthians 10:6).
Furthermore, church discipline is not simply a job function, but also a spiritual function. Church discipline is dealing with the devil and not just with people – that is why Matthew 18 deals with both issues in the same paragraph. A wicked man has no authority over the devil. Thus if he does try to deal with spiritual problems he is likely to get hurt (Acts 19:14-16). If the sin is publicly known, then the offenders on other issues are also likely to disrespect the judge who they know is a hypocrite.
An undisciplined adulterer cannot properly perform the leadership function of praying for his followers
One of the responsibilities of any Christian leader is to pray and intercede before God for his followers. Examples include Moses, Samuel, Elijah and Jesus praying for his disciples (John 17). An adulterous elder has a seriously damaged relationship with God. He thus needs to concentrate his prayers on repairing his own relationship with God. He does not have good standing with God to intercede for other people – until at least he has repaired this relationship. Effective prayer requires holiness and repentance. Without this, prayer is a waste of time. Not only the leader, but his followers also will be praying and working in frustration.
An adulterous elder cannot be trusted to counsel his followers
The job of an elder normally involves giving counselling advice to people with problems. An adulterous elder cannot properly do this. Firstly, he has messed up badly in his own life and thus does know the correct way to live. Secondly, he especially cannot be trusted to spent time in private with any women who may come to him with problems.
An adulterous elder may use his position to harm his followers
An adulterous elder will corrupt other good people
Bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33) and hypocrisy spreads like yeast (Luke 12:1). Thus an adulterous elder will corrupt other people, especially those he is close to and keep company with him. An adulterer who is not immediately disciplined is likely to develop all kinds of other character problems (not necessarily sexual) since he is a hypocrite – and he will infect others with these problems also. He will infect people irrespective of whether the sin is kept secret or not. He may seduce more women. He will badly mentor younger leaders by setting a bad example in his personal conduct. If he is left undisciplined, while the sin is made public, he corrupts others by giving them the impression that the sin is not serious. Thus others may copy him.
John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard denomination, said ‘…leaders sin, when improperly treated, is like a highly contagious disease, quickly spreading throughout the entire body of people they are ministering to.’4. This image gives an urgency to deal with the immorality properly before it spreads elsewhere.
An adulterer is likely to be abusive to try cover up
An adulterer in office will be very insecure and will have to try to intimidate people in order to keep his position and avoid investigation. Thus in the process of intimidating people, he is likely to hurt lots of innocent people by being harsh on petty issues. Cain was an example of a hypocrite who killed his brother because he was jealous of God’s favour toward him (1 John 3:12). Jesus himself attacked the hypocritical Pharisees for a list of sins ending with the persecution of the prophets (Matthew 23). It is a pattern repeated through history and specifically with Jesus that the main persecutors of the righteous have usually been religious hypocrites.
The office of an elder gives a man power he can abuse to seduce women
The office of an elder gives a man moral trust and respect in the community, which lowers a woman’s natural caution against relationship with him. It will often also give him direct authority over women in his ministry, which he can use to manipulate them into a seduction situation. For example, he can arrange to spend much time working with a particular woman he is interested in. He can awe her with the authority he commands from others in the ministry situation. He can use the excuse of wanting to counsel her for some problem. Thus an elder has power he can abuse to seduce women. The abuse of power in this way is not tolerated in the workplace by secular courts. Should the church have lower standards? No. The church should have higher standards. It should also protect its people from lustful power-abusers.
Other practical reasons why an adulterous elder must lose office
An adulterer will likely repeat the same offence if not properly disciplined.
An elder who has the audacity to commit adultery and then gets away with it, is likely to commit the same offence again. Thus he will harm himself and a woman or women through his sin.
It is in his own best interests for his spiritual recovery
Spiritual leadership puts huge stresses on a man and also tends to isolate him from the type of accountability to other people that is good for spiritual growth. It easily fosters pride and elitism, encouraging leaders to ignore others’ caution. Thus it is not a healthy environment for a spiritually broken person to be healed. It is a war-zone, where he is likely to get hurt again and fall into more sin. One does not leave wounded soldiers on the battle field to get hit again, but sends them home to recover.
A leader who resigns for several years may recover his character to the point where he may be allowed back into ministry, but a leader who stays in office is likely to backslide further, to the point where he must be removed forever.
Christians and outsiders will lose respect for all ministers’ offices
When an elder commits adultery, all Christian ministers and especially those related to him share the loss of credibility. The office of elder itself is degraded and cheapened if an unqualified person can get into the job. Would you allow yourself to be treated by an unqualified doctor or work in a big building designed by an unqualified engineer? Qualifications are there for a purpose and elders’ qualifications must be respected, otherwise all elders lose credibility if unqualified people can do their work.
Thus their leadership work becomes harder. The only way this loss of respect can be mitigated and restored is to strictly discipline the offending elder.
Adultery can have serious consequences which the elder may have to deal with
Adultery can have serious consequences such as illegitimate children, divorce, sexual disease and in some cases abortion to cover-up the scandal. These problems can also have a serious impact on the life of the elder and also on his potential for future ministry work. Illegitimate children can mean that the elder must now continuously care for children in two families instead of one. Likewise sexual disease can inhibit his work potential. Abortion is murder and a much more serious offence than adultery. It may also result in divorce – either in his marriage or in that of the woman. All these effects can also permanently scar the life of the woman with whom he has committed the offence. Thus adultery is very serious sin and must not be tolerated – especially not amongst elders.
If a church or organisation does not get rid of an adulterous elder, its elders are responsible and guilty for his sin
Adulterer causes serious harm, not only in offending God, but also often in harming other people. For example he may destroy another man’s marriage. If the church does not get rid of the adulterous elder, then the other church elders will be correctly perceived as condoning the sin.
1 Timothy 5:22 "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure."
Laying on of hands is the method by which a man is appointed as an elder. The scripture says that if a man is hastily appointed as an elder without proper precautions to determine his good character, then if he sins, those who appointed him are guilty. How much more seriously guilty are those who know that a man is an adulterer, yet leave him in office.
If we tolerate adulterous elders, the gospel loses credibility
If the primary Biblical moral absolutes such as the prohibition on adultery, lying and murder cannot be enforced for senior Christian leaders, then they can be enforced for no-one. And if they can be enforced for no-one, then they are not absolutes. And Christianity without absolutes is not Biblical Christianity. It is just a man-made, religious self-help club.
Getting rid of the adulterous elder publicly will cause others to fear
Getting rid of an adulterous elder publicly will cause other people to fear similar consequences for themselves if they sin. Thus the church will be purified by healthy fear of God and of church discipline. Hopefully other hypocrites will get out of office before they are caught.
Proverbs 21:15 "When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers."
1 Timothy 5:20 "Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning."
If an adulterer is not removed, all discipline will break down
Adultery is one of the most serious sins in scripture. If adultery is not disciplined, probably other issues will not be disciplined either such as abortion, lying or financial scandal. All of these sins offend God and hurt people.
Should the church have lower moral standards than the world?
Many nations had serious criminal penalties for adultery
Today our society does not take adultery seriously and sadly, many Churches have copied this attitude. Nevertheless we must remember that it has not always been this way. Not only ancient Israel, but also historically many nations, Christian and pagan have had very serious penalties for adultery. Pre-Christian Poland for example, punished adultery with public castration5. It was only about a hundred years ago that adultery ceased to be an offence in South African law.
Most professions and sports have disqualification
Most professions and sports recognise disqualification. Athlete Ben Johnson was banned after being caught with drugs in 1988 despite being the best in the world6. Those, such as Hansie Cronje who took a bribe to let the South African cricket team lose, lost his job as captain. The accountants of Arthur Anderson Consulting who covered up the financial scandals in Enron and Worldcom lost their jobs and their company was destroyed. If a civil engineer’s negligence leads to a building falling down, then he usually loses his right to practice his profession. Employees who steal are usually dismissed even if it was only a small amount, because those who steal little may also steal a lot. These measures are harsh, but they help protect everyone else from harm. More harm results if discipline is not exercised. Nevertheless, while we take all these disqualifications for granted in the professions and sports, why is it controversial in the church? Does the church have lower standards than the world? Of course it should not! But some people are confused.
Churches which tolerate sexual abusers are liable for damages
In many cases, adulterous church ministers are abusing their positions of influence in order to seduce women – for example through counselling or with employees. In such cases, the ministers are liable for civil damages from the abused women and if the church or organisation protects them, then they are also liable for damages. The Roman Catholic Church is estimated to have paid out approximately $1 billion in damages in such lawsuits7 and it is estimated they will have had to pay $5 billion by the time the current lawsuits are finished. It is a very sad day when secular society has a stricter standard of morality than does the church.
In South Africa, a business employee won a R776 000 damages from her employer for failure to properly investigate and discipline allegations of sexual harassment8. It is only a matter of time before such lawsuits are brought against churches and Christian organisations in South Africa.
But should the standards of the business world be higher than the church? No. If sexual harassment is treated severely by the civil courts – who hold the whole organisation accountable if they fail to act - why is this not also the case for consenting immorality within a Christian context?
Answering arguments for keeping an adulterous elder in office
The man’s wife has forgiven him
Answer: If a man’s wife has forgiven him, that settles a family dispute, but it does not settle a church dispute. This is a separate issue. It also does not resolve his character problem. Besides that, the wife has a vested interest in keeping her husband in his job, since she is often financially dependent on him and may suffer if he needs to get a lower-paid and/or lower-status job.
The seduced woman has forgiven him
Answer: The seduced woman has also sinned. She is in no position to determine the outcome of the disciplinary process. If he seduced her, he does need to repent to her, but he has offended many parties including God, his wife, his family, his followers, and other Christian believers. He must settle issues with all of these parties and that may take a long time.
He will get counselling
Answer: Adultery is a sin problem – not a psychological problem. Counselling may be helpful for the rehabilitation of an adulterer, but counselling does not instantly restore his character or his reputation. That can take many years to happen. Counselling done in secret to deal with adultery of an elder is just wicked cover-up and counsellors who participate in such scandal must be challenged to repent.
His wife is also cheating on him
Answer: Firstly, if an elder’s wife is also cheating on him, then that is a double reason to keep him out of office. While one may have sympathy for the extenuating circumstances the man is in, an adulterous wife is also a hazard in the church who is likely to cause double trouble. Both of them need loving help, but church leadership is not a wise or suitable occupation for him. The interests of the purity of the church must come first before the elder’s personal interests. Secondly, two wrongs do not make a right. Just because an elder’s wife cheated on him, that does not give him a right to cheat on her. If she has committed adultery, he does have a right to divorce her and marry someone else, but one adultery doesn’t cancel another adultery.
It was a momentary moral lapse and not an ongoing pattern of sin
It is argued that if the sin was just a momentary once-off moral lapse and not a long-term pattern of sin, then the elder should be let off more lightly.
Answer: Adam and Eve also had a momentary moral lapse from a previously good behaviour, but their sin resulted in the discipline of being thrown out of Eden and infected the whole human race with sin for all history. The curse resulting from their sin is still in effect today. Momentary moral lapses can have serious consequences. Likewise, David’s adultery with Bathsheba was possibly a momentary moral lapse, but it plunged Israel into civil war and brought disrepute to Israel amongst the pagan nations.
In most cases, a person who falls into sexual sin will have been entertaining the thought of sexual sin - and failing to mentally fight the temptation - for quite some time before he actually commits it. A person in such a weak spiritual state needs help himself. In many cases, he will first have been holding sinful conversations with the woman – which are also inappropriate for a church elder and worthy of discipline in their own right.
The damage resulting from sexual sin to a man’s character is not something that can heal in a short time. It opens the door for the devil and possibly other temptations. Like a broken bone it can need a long time to heal – if it ever completely heals.
But many great leaders were adulterers
Many great military and political leaders and other heroes were adulterers.
Answer: We must not lower the church to the standards of the world. While we need to promote morality outside the church, family integrity is very closely linked to the job function of an elder. The church is built on the family as the core unit. Thus the ability of an elder to set an example in conducting his family affairs in a good manner is critical to his job as an elder. An adulterer has failed in his family office and thus also in his church office.
The adulterer is the only well qualified person to do the job
The qualifications for leadership in 1 Timothy 3 are almost all character requirements – not ability requirements. Some may include a component of ability, but ability is not the main issue. Character is the main issue in all of them. Thus the elder must not be kept on because of his ability to raise money or lead people or preach or because of his Bible knowledge. We must appoint elders based on character. In the short term, the group may suffer the loss of the skills, but in the long term the gospel retains its integrity. Why should a spiritually immature man be put in charge of a congregation?
The ministry is dependent on the adulterous leader for fundraising
In many cases, the ministry of the adulterous elder is dependent on him for fundraising. These funds may be used for all kinds of good purposes, such as to pay the salaries of his staff, print Christian literature and feed hungry children. Must these innocent people then also lose their jobs and the children go hungry because the funds dry up?
Answer: This is a pragmatic argument. Firstly, Christianity is not based on pragmatism, but on obedience to God’s commands in the scriptures. Yes, the consequences of obeying God’s word can be very painful and harm a lot of people. Nevertheless, our job is to obey God’s word – not to try and do God’s job for him and bend the rules to solve problems. The argument implies that the fallen leader is indispensable to God. Nobody is indispensable to God. If we honour God, by obeying his word and trying to do our best in the situation, we can trust him to take care of the rest. Secondly, even taking pragmatic arguments into consideration, the ministry is probably going to lose a lot of money anyway due to the exposure of the scandal.
The man has to eat
Answer: An adulterous elder does not need to eat. If he suffers financial loss or even goes hungry as a consequence of his sin, then that will help him learn not to do it again. A better argument is that his family need to eat. Thus, if he complies with the disciplinary process, we should show mercy and possibly try help him find another job. However, he will not necessarily suffer financially. Often elders can get better-paid jobs outside the church. If he was a voluntary worker, then he will not lose any money.
But shouldn’t we forgive him?
Firstly, followers must personally forgive the adulterous elder for breaking their trust and shaming the church, but that does not mean they should automatically trust him again with the same job. Secondly, he not only wronged people, but also wronged God and is a potential danger to the flock.
Doesn’t mercy triumph over judgement?
Some quote James 2:13 ‘Mercy triumphs over judgement’ and say that the spirit of scripture should be followed rather than the letter of scripture.
To answer this, firstly, the example of the cross. God didn’t compromise his justice in order to exercise mercy. If he had, Jesus would not have needed to die in our place. Mercy is going beyond justice – not ignoring justice. Secondly, in any issue there are many people involved. Exercising unbiblical mercy towards an offender can result in injustice towards others – such as those abused by an adulterer. Thirdly, Jesus objected to Pharisees majoring on minors and missing the purpose of the command. With adultery, the issue is major and the purpose of the law is in line with the intent of the law.
Hidden reasons for keeping an adulterous elder in office
Besides the publicly stated reasons for leaving an adulterous elder in office, there may be some other unstated hidden reasons for doing so. For example:
* Other elders may prefer leniency because they are afraid to set a precedent, because they would also wanted to be treated leniently if they sin – or they may even have secret sins that they fear may one day be exposed.
* Other elders may fear losing their power, which they have by association with the ‘big man’.
* Other elders may fear counter-attack in the disciplinary process.
* Other elders may have a wrong idea about the meaning of grace and not understand the balancing truth about the justice and holiness of God.
* Others may pity him because he doesn’t have other skills that could produce a similar income.
* Other elders may have close personal relationships with the fallen leader and thus may want to protect him from harm.
Needless to say, such hidden unstated reasons are illegitimate and unacceptable.
The severity and number of offences of an elder who sins sexually will affect whether an immoral elder will ever be trusted again with a leadership position and if so, how many years he will have to demonstrate reformed character for before he is allowed back. An adulterous elder cannot stay in office. We can show him mercy by helping him find another job if he was getting a church salary, but we cannot tolerate him staying in a Christian leadership role. He must get out. Keeping an adulterous elder in office is a serious threat to the health of the church. It is disobedience to God and brings a bad reputation to the gospel.
Those who get involved in trying to discipline adulterous elders are likely to get hurt, but will be rewarded for their efforts in heaven.
An adulterous elder fails the character qualification requirements listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Other scriptures on the qualifications for deacons, Old Testament priests and the eternal judgement of elders reinforce the need to treat scandalous sin very strictly. The scripture treats adultery as one of the most severely punished sins. Under normal circumstances, the congregation will not want an adulterous elder to stay in office and he must depend on cover up, manipulation or protection by other elders. An adulterer cannot properly perform the job requirements of an elder to be an example to the flock, to teach with credibility, to intercede for his followers, exercise moral discipline on others, or counsel other people. An adulterous elder may harm his followers by corrupting other good people, by being abusive of his authority and by abusing his position to seduce more women.
An adulterous elder is likely to repeat the same offence if he is not properly disciplined. It is in his own spiritual recovery’s best interests to remove him from office. If we do not exercise discipline against leaders, non-Christians will lose respect for the gospel and standards will be lowered amongst all Christians. If, on the other hand, we do get rid of the adulterer, then others learn to fear similar discipline. The adulterer is likely to have damaged his own family and maybe those of others. He needs to focus on repairing the damage – not looking after a ministry.
Numerous poor arguments are used to try to justify keeping an adulterer in office. Nevertheless, all of these can be well answered in the light of scripture. Other church elders may have selfish reasons for keeping an adulterer in office, such as to protect their own power and jobs. Such actions are wicked and must be fought. Showing mercy and forgiveness can including finding the elder another job, but can’t include leaving him in office.
All relevant scriptures point to the same conclusion. An adulterous elder must lose his office. Anything less than this is disobedience to both the letter and spirit of scriptural teaching.
1 Dortch, Richard, Integrity: How I lost it and my journey back, New Leaf Press, 1992
2 Dancing with Delilah, Worldnetdaily.com; Chuck Baldwin, Saturday, July 28, 2001
3 Doing reconciliation, Alexander Venter, Vineyard International Publishing, 2004, p189
4 John Wimber ‘How should we treat them’; Pastoral circular letter
5 See Rousas Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 1973, Chalcedon Foundation
6 “The biggest drug scandal in history”, http://www.time-to-run.com/drugs-in-sport/articles/speculate.htm
7 “Priest sex abuse tab surpasses $1 billion”, http://www.detnews.com/2005/religion/0506/17/A05-211207.htm
8 ‘Warning to office sex pests’, You Magazine, 16 June 2005
Why an adulterous elder must lose office
Ref: PR: [Why must an adulterous elder lose office6.doc]27 January, 2006
Ref: PR: [H:\Email\Church governance & HP\Why must an adulterous elder lose office6.doc]27 January, 2006
1. Little or no real accountability of senior leadership to followers.
- Much talk about accountability, but usually just followers to leaders – not vice versa.
- Lack of transparency.
- Highly authoritarian leadership model, without space for open discussion or dissent.
- Sin and failure covered up rather than dealt with honestly and openly.
- Promotion based on blind loyalty rather than merit.
- Senior leaders surrounded and protected by ‘yes-men’.
- Rapid growth and execution of projects.
- Lack of open discussion on failures, gives illusion of no failures.
- Rapid growth and illusion of no failure, encourages more to invest time, money and energy in ministry.
- Apparent success fuels even more rapid growth.
- Ministry appears more successful than others and so doesn’t listen.
- People who question problems in ministry get unjustly attacked by leadership.
- Eventually dissent is silenced as thinking people are demoted or move away.
- Lots of abused and hurt people leave ministry, but are replaced by others deluded by apparent strengths.
- Leaders all overwork to produce results and under stress treat people very badly.
2. New leaders taught same elitist/abusive Pharisee model of leadership
- Those who question and think are not promoted and so don’t get to senior leadership.
- New leaders are told they are part of an elite within the ministry, which itself is better than other ministries.
- Arrogance and autocracy grows amongst leadership.
- Model is justified by apparently brilliant short-term growth results.
- No one opposes when leader goes off track. Those who do are marginalised.
- Leader goes further and further off track with scandal and abusiveness.
- Eventually leader crashes either because of scandal or chronic abusiveness.
- Leader (rather than system) is blamed for crashing.
- System is not questioned.
- New leader(s) take over with same elitist/abusive production oriented style.
- New leader doesn’t know any way to lead except what taught before.
- Organisation merges with another similar group and/or changes name.
- Disassociates with former group.
- A few minor changes in accountability, without addressing core issues.
5. System repeats itself from step 1 again with the next generation of leaders.
- Lots of disillusioned and hurt Christians
- Lots of highly intelligent promising leaders corrupted with elitist/abusive Pharisee style leadership model.
- Lots of wasted money, time and energy that could have been better invested in God’s kingdom.
Date last updated: 25 Jan 2006.
THE 'KANGAROO COURT', 'GANG UP' OR 'ABUSIVE INTERROGATION' 1
HOW TO FIND ACCUSATIONS AGAINST AN INNOCENT PERSON 1
THE THREAT AND ULTIMATUM 3
ALTERNATING TO FLATTERY AND CONCILIATION 3
ETHICAL PROBLEMS 4
WHY DO OTHERWISE GOOD LEADERS BEHAVE LIKE THIS? 5
When one hears news of unethical behaviour in some ministries, one may wonder how the leader managed to avoid being held accountable. Many such ministries have developed sophisticated mechanisms to defend themselves from accountability. Often these methods have become part of the senior leadership culture, but no one else knows about them. Thus they can catch people by surprise. Unsuspecting enthusiastic young Christians involve themselves under the authority of a dynamic and successful ministry leadership – not realising that the leader and his organisational hierarchy is itself not subject to proper authority checks and balances. We all like to think that the ministry to which we belong is spiritual and in the will of God, but multiple scandals have to force us to sober up and consider what we can do to protect our own ministry against falling into such behaviour.
THE 'KANGAROO COURT', 'GANG UP' OR 'ABUSIVE INTERROGATION'
One of the most effective methods is the ‘Kangaroo Court’, otherwise known as the ‘gang up’ or ‘abusive interrogation’. The person raising an objection is invited to a meeting, to discuss his concerns. He is not allowed to bring any witnesses, as the meeting is supposedly a 'friendly one'. He is also asked not to take notes at the meeting, since it is 'friendly'. On arrival he finds four to six senior leaders in the ministry waiting for him. Nevertheless, the issues he has come to discuss will not be discussed. The meeting has one purpose only - to neutralise the person trying to hold the ministry accountable – by any means possible.
The abusive leader may has usually developed something of a ‘personality cult following’. Some loyal yes-men may participate in such behaviour with the best intentions, believing they are protecting the ministry from a ‘troublemaker’ or ‘division’.
Sometimes the leaders will be introduced in a grandiose manner, in an effort to intimidate the objector - using big titles and bloated achievements. Then the accusations begin. The leaders attack the objector with any type of accusation they can think of. The objector may try to defend himself, but this will not be allowed. If he tries to do so, another leader will accuse him of disrespect. At this point it becomes evident that the meeting is an ambush and is not a friendly discussion about concerns with the ministry. There is no logical or fair discussion. The leaders know that if they were to allow this, they may lose, so they don't allow it. They just attack. The abusive leaders take turns to attack and may interrupt each other to add to the abusive accusations.
HOW TO FIND ACCUSATIONS AGAINST AN INNOCENT PERSON
How do the leaders find the accusations? Anything in the objectors favour is reversed in these attacks. For example, if he has raised the same concerns with other leaders, then he is accused of 'slander'. If some of the other leaders agree with him, then he is accused of 'divisiveness'. An objection to the ministry raised at the meeting becomes evidence of 'disrespect'. If he wanted to bring a witness or wants confirmation of records, then he is accused of 'not trusting the leaders'. If he doesn't bring a witness, then he can be accused of 'acting alone'. Raising problems in the ministry is 'troublemaking'. If the objector is part of the ministry leadership, he can be accused of 'unsubmissiveness'. If he is not part of the leadership, then he can be accused of 'lack of accountability' or 'not being a leader' and thus having no right to raise objections. A general accusation that can be levelled at anyone raising objections to a ministry' behaviour is 'a bad attitude', since this is unprovable. If he is disagreeing with the ministry tradition, then this must be evidence of 'pride'. An objection to a policy of the ministry is 'hurtful' to the leaders of the ministry. All of the above require 'repentance'.
The leaders may try to attack the status of the objector. A technique is to make them wait a long time outside. Then they can be attacked for any reason e.g. marital status; lack of ordination or leadership status within the ministry; spiritual maturity; sanity etc.
Most of all, however, the leaders aim to attack the character of the person raising the objections to the ministry.
Another source of items to attack is issues totally unrelated and irrelevant to the current issues in question. Take trivial past incidents and blow them up into big issues trying to prove guilt. This practice is know as ‘manufacturing offence’ and is related to bearing false witness against ones neighbour – a violation of the 9th commandment, with the intention of undermining or destroying his reputation.
If the abusive leader doesn't know anything against the objector, then he can at least in some ministries use his 'spiritual gift of discernment'. i.e. Pretend that the 'Holy Spirit' has shown him all kinds of problems in the life and background of the victim/objector.
Efforts are made to get the objector to 'confess his sin'. If he does so, this can be used against him and he may feel legitimately guilty. Trying to get the objector to do this is a clever manipulative trick, because:
- If he does not, he can be accused of lying or covering up because everyone sins so often (1 John 1:8; James 3:2). The objector may then be accused further of ‘obstinacy’.
- If he does confess, then the abusive leaders can distract the focus of the meeting from the serious sin of the organisation or leader to whatever has been confessed. The confidence of the objector may also be weakened.
During the discussion, the abusive leaders may try to legitimise their authority through dubious theology. Any attempt to debate this or other ethical issues related to the objection will not be tolerated. The objective of the meeting again is not to find truth, but to silence the objector.
Another tactic is for the interrogators to provoke the objector to anger with false accusations and then accuse them of being angry. If the objector shows signs of frustration, he may be accused of ‘bitterness’.
By attacking the objector personally, mistreating and slandering him, rather than discussing his concerns, the abusive leaders lay the groundwork for more potential further accusations. The objector must now show even more restraint in raising his objections, lest he be accused of ‘taking revenge’ for personal reasons, rather than those of the public good. The leaders move attention off themselves and onto the person making the objections. Hence the saying ‘the best defence is a good offence’.
THE THREAT AND ULTIMATUM
At the end of the meeting, which may last several hours, the objector will be given threats and an ultimatum to shut up or leave the ministry. The ultimatum may include methods to control the objector, that will have been agreed by the leaders beforehand. The abusive ministry leaders want the objector to come under their control. They can do this for example by setting up a structure which they invite the objector to join or alternatively demanding that he 'be discipled' or 'counselled'. Obviously, the point of such a 'structure' or 'discipling' or 'counselling' is to change his mind or alternatively intimidate him into shutting up.
If the objector at a later time tries to clear his name either by explaining or apologising for whatever accusations have been made, this will be fruitless. The issue is that the ministry leaders are not interested in the truth. They just want to silence the objector. The abusive leaders may be too busy to meet again. Alternatively, the objector must waste his time trying to meet with each of them individually. The point is that the ministry doesn't want to know the truth, because that might be painful and cause them to have to change their behaviour. The only thing they want is for the objector to withdraw his objections and shut up.
By this time, the objectors mind will be focused on defending themselves rather than the original purpose of the meeting, which was to discuss his objection. He is now in a vulnerable position to agree to shut up.
Now most people have no idea that the leaders they respect and look up to can be manipulative and abusive. But these things happen in ministries as with some families and also romantic relationships. So, unprepared the victim/objector may be in a state of shock and think that they may truly have done something wrong - which they need to try remedy.
An easy threat is that the leadership will publicise the abusive false accusations. Others, not knowing that they are from an abusive ministry or otherwise in denial may believe them.
ALTERNATING TO FLATTERY AND CONCILIATION
If the above approach does not work, and the objector is not intimidated by the abusive behaviour but persists with objections, then the abusive leaders may either escalate the abusiveness or alternatively shift to conciliation and flattery. This is similar to an abusive husband who beats his wife and then the next day tries to romance her so that she forgives him.
After such abuse, the objector/victim will often be so relieved by the shift to conciliation that he will accept anything rather than re-raise his issues of objection. The issues can thus just be sidelined by evasion and doublespeak without the need for the use of additional threats. The objector may be offered some benefits from the ministry in exchange for dropping the issue.
Nevertheless, if the objector does persist, the 'Good cop-bad cop' manipulation technique will shift back to abusiveness. If they cannot silence the objector then they will have to find a way to discredit them (using true or false accusations) or otherwise evict them from the ministry.
Now there are serious ethical problems with the above approach:
- It is deceptive to invite someone to a 'friendly' meeting, which is actually an ambush.
- It is manipulative to forbid bringing a witness. This then gives the abusive leaders two further tools of manipulation. Firstly they can deny their abusiveness at the meeting; and Secondly, they can later accuse the objector of anything having happened at the meeting, for example being 'disrespectful' - and then use this to institute disciplinary procedures against him.
- It is unfair to criticise without giving a person the opportunity to defend themselves.
- It does not follow any biblical disciplinary or grievance procedure.
- It is clearly aimed at frustrating biblical procedure being used to try to hold the leaders accountable. Because of this it can be manipulated and also the victim cannot legitimately proceed to the next stage of church discipline, because they have no witness to the discussion. Thus the abusive leaders are protected, while the objector is vulnerable.
- It frustrates the opportunity to resolve the concerns of the objector in a reasonable way. In this way, either it will be suppressed altogether – or alternatively escalated if he decides to pursue it. Either method is usually unhealthy.
- The above methods are classic abusive manipulation techniques developed by the communists to try to break people who dissented with communism. With the communists they were usually successful. This is classic brainwashing methodology. Communist methodology should not be tolerated in Christian ministries.
- An atmosphere of ungodly fear develops in the ministry, and less courageous people learn that they should not challenge the autocratic leadership. Then more hypocrisy and abusiveness is tolerated.
- It is a way of 'finding out' more information from the objector so that any future real disciplinary or grievance procedure can be frustrated by cover up or false accusations against the objector.
- The goal of silencing the objector can be achieved by the following mechanisms:
- The objector genuinely is convinced by the abuse of the leaders that he is in the wrong and needs to repent. (brainwashing)
- The objector leaves the ministry.
- The objector is intimidated into silence.
- The objector agrees to participate in the recommended leadership structure, counselling or 'discipleship', by which he is then further manipulated.
- The abuse of trust of position as a ministry undermines respect for the office of other good ministry leaders.
- Such false accusations can do serious psychological damage, especially to an emotionally weak person.
- The leaders are de-facto judging their own case, where they have a conflict of interest. Effectively, the disciplinary process is inverted and reversed. Rather, if it cannot be resolved privately, outside mediation should be brought in.
- The leaders have pre-determined an outcome which they want to manipulate the victim/objector to accept.
- The biggest problem with the above is that most of the time it is effective. Once all objectors are silenced and the ministry is in denial, then all types of hypocrisy and abusiveness can flourish. The climate has been created where scandal can fester and grow.
WHY DO OTHERWISE GOOD LEADERS BEHAVE LIKE THIS?
Many people will have a difficulty with understanding how leaders who are otherwise often nice people can use such manipulation and thus not want to believe it. One must understand that in abusive families, the father is usually outwardly a nice person, but sometimes something triggers his abusiveness, for example alcohol. The dynamic is similar in abusive ministries. In this case, the trigger is a threat to power. Abusive leaders are driven by a love of power. Any attempt to take it away will elicit a violent reaction. To those who don't threaten their power, they will be nice people. Abusiveness on various levels can become part of a culture of a ministry.
So-called Christian ministry driven by a lust for power, fame, money, success or anything else worldly is actually idolatry. Leaders can shift from good spiritual motivation to worldly motivation without realising it.
There is also the issue of presuppositions. All denominations read the same Bible, yet their members come to different conclusions from it – because they start with different assumptions. Usually one of those assumptions is that my denomination is right - or alternatively that the error is not important. A hunt is made for scriptures seeming to defend the denominational position and those against it are ignored. In the same way, most people in abusive ministries assume the leader is right. Thus any evidence showing the leader is wrong is ignored or trivialised. A hunt is made for evidence to discredit the objector and the evidence he presents is ignored.
Nevertheless, beyond this, there is a culture of denial. Ministries don't want to admit they or their leaders have behavioural problems. It leads to fundamental painful questions. It is much easier to pretend nothing is wrong. In the same way most alcoholics refuse to admit they are alcoholics. The first step in coming right is to acknowledge they have a problem.
False accusations repeated often start to be believed. The abusive leaders are likely to have previously discussed the issue in the absence of the objector. Any number of stories or accusations or half-truths can be raised at such meetings without the objector having opportunity to know them or defend himself. The leaders want to believe these, because it is much easier than considering the possibility that their ministry is unethical/hypocritical etc.
Elitism in many ministries creates a spiritual blindness. Anyone below the level in the hierarchy is simply ignored or at best treated like a child. Their concerns are treated as personal worries rather than real problems with the ministry.
Such ministries develop a culture where leaders are obligated to defend each other rather than investigate the truth.
In most ministries, leaders use the senior leader as an ethical guideline, thus no one questions his behaviour. If invited to such an abusive interrogation, they just assume the procedure is acceptable and that the objector is a troublemaker needing to be 'sorted out'.
There is no moral feedback to the abusive leader, and he becomes more and more like a problem child who never matures due to lack of discipline.
As with abusive families, also, there is usually a culture of silence. The whole family knows, but they want the family to stick together and keep their social reputation - so they say nothing. Often the abused are financial dependent on the abuser. The same in ministries. Money is used as a tool to manipulate and control people. Anyone who breaks the 'no talk' rule, will in both abusive families and abusive ministries be usually accused of insanity.
As with abusive families, most abusive leaders have been mentored by another abusive leader – and thus think that the behaviour is ‘not so bad’ or even legitimate.
Similar tactics of trying to discredit a witness are commonly used in law courts - often successfully. Lawyers will interrogate a witness to try to get him to admit something that will discredit him. Nevertheless, in a law court, both parties have access to lawyers and the judge tries to be objective. In a church 'kangaroo court'/'gang up'/'abusive interrogation', there is no one being objective and no support for the objector.
If anyone thinks this is far fetched, look at the behaviour of the Pharisees and priests at the trial of Jesus - when he challenged and undermined their religious power.
Most people will not be brave enough to confront authorities that behave in the above manner - or even get near such a meeting. Thus any type of hypocrisy and abusiveness can flourish in the ministry.
The above techniques and many others have been well documented by those helping people from abusive ministries and I have seen variations on these techniques more than once first hand myself. The organisation 'Rape Action' has recommended that sexual accusations against people in ministry should be taken directly to the secular courts and not dealt with internally within ministries – citing the abuse and manipulation of church discipline. At the time, I argued against them. Unfortunately, I now think they have a point.
To read more on these abusive methods in the discipleship context go to
And do a search for books on ‘spiritual abuse’ at www.amazon.com
The are many other tools abusive leaders use to defend themselves against accountability, but the abusive interrogation is one of the most powerful. This practice needs to be attacked and stopped, because if is successfully stopped, then the entire abuse system of abusive ministries will collapse – rather like how the Soviet Union fell apart once they stopped the government killing people and exiling them to Siberia for speaking up.
To try to prevent abusive interrogations and other abusive behaviour:
- All ministries should have a policy to ban the practice of kangaroo courts/ abusive interrogations. There should be proper channels and procedures in every ministry for dealing with both discipline and grievances in a fair way. Try to create a culture of openness.
- Any leaders who have been part of such practices should repent to their victims.
- Ministries which have covered up sin in this way need to repent both of covering up sin and for the sin itself.
- All Christians should be taught their rights and the proper discipline and grievance procedure to follow in terms of Matthew 18 and Acts 6.
- Anyone who discovers they have been invited to a ministry 'kangaroo court''/ 'gang up' or abusive interrogation should walk out immediately. There is no benefit in dialogue in such circumstances. Anything a person says may later be used against them. They should then re-convene the meeting at a later date with witnesses.
- Christians should be taught to beware of abusive and unethical leaders and hold them accountable rather than blindly following authority.
- Christian leaders should avoid symbols and behaviours of spiritual elitism, which make them unapproachable and thus their ministries unaccountable.
- Leaders should withdraw support from other leaders who behave in an abusive manner.
- If you are raising an objection to the ethical behaviour of your ministry, you must chose your witnesses from outside of the salaried employees of the ministries. Financially dependent people will almost always defend their employers (otherwise they lose their job stupid!). Preferably chose a witness from outside the ministry.
- Anyone who has been a victim of spiritual abuse in the above or other ways or is otherwise interested in trying to combat it should contact me and I will email you some literature that will help you.
- If you are a leader:
- Consider whether you may have defensively used or participated in such methods in the past – possibly without realising it. If this is the case, you need to repent. You will not get away with it forever. Remember Jesus warnings of God’s judgement against abusive religious leaders (Matthew 23).
- Examine your own heart, motivations and life to see whether you have developed the fear of man (Matthew 10:28), turning aside from your first love (Revelation 2:4) and the love of money (1 Timothy 6:11).
- Missionaries going to communist countries or other hostile governments should practice the skills of combating abusive interrogation before leaving - as the techniques are the same.