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Why Authority Issues are Important

Via Pandagon I found this story, also reported here. These are serious accusations, and more and more people are coming forward.

Such a story should emphasize several things to those of us who are in ministry, including how transparent our ministry practices should be. Teach and behave in such a way that an accusation such as this would be implausible in your ministry. In my view that includes not claiming excessive authority over the spiritual lives of others, and in fact teaching them to use their own discernment with respect to claims of spiritual authority. It also means practicing accountability, both to let the congregation know that you really mean it and to make sure that the opportunity doesn’t arise.

Christians should also be very conscious of efforts to force them to give up their judgment to another person. Even demands that one “prayerfully consider” something that you have already rejected (for good reason), can be efforts to break down your own good sense and rational judgment in favor of a church leader. If you haven’t prayerfully considered something, of course, it’s a good idea to do so. But when you have, remember that your decision is between you and God and don’t let yourself be pushed around.

All of this reemphasizes the point I made a few days ago about the dangers of authority, especially the type of church teaching that makes women spiritually inferior in authoirty to men, such as the teaching that a woman can never have authority over a man in the church. I discussed these issues in Women in Ministry: A Shock and Gifts Ministry and Blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Note what I wrote in the first of these entries:

God doesn’t like his children lording it over one another.

I have taught this repeatedly. Authority, especially spiritual authority, is dangerous. You create the potential for abuse as soon as you place them in charge and insulate them in any way from accountability. This is true in the home when a man is made “head of household” answering only to God, with his wife answering to him. It is true when one of the church offices is placed above all others. There are a number of teachers who emphasize that the pastor is the final authority in the church and insulate him from challenges because one cannot touch God’s anointed. But all of these options fly directly in the face of the gifts teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14. God gives the gifts as he wills. They are all important, they are all needed in the church. None of them are to make one of us Lord over another. To fail to recognize this will ultimately result in abuse. If you’re teaching it, though you may not be abusing anyone yourself, you’re opening the door. [Emphasis from original.]

Now notice the teaching that was apparently involved in this particular pastoral abuse, from The Dallas Observer Blog:

Allen’s practice of paddling adults has been widely known in local COGIC circles for years, but a common teaching in black Pentecostalism is that a church member should never make an accusation against a man of God. Instead, he or she should pray privately that God deals with the minister’s sin. The two women I interviewed, in fact, each cited this teaching, which is apparently based on a biblical statement, “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm,” that is mentioned twice in the Old Testament.

I don’t by any means believe that everyone who teaches a questionable view of authority is engaging in this type of abuse, but I do believe that any teaching that tends to remove accountability from someone in spiritual leadership is terribly, terribly dangerous and must be vigorously challenged by all Christians.

Unfortunately, in some charismatic and pentecostal circles, the belief that God’s Spirit can come upon everyone in the church and that God can speak to anyone sometimes gets perverted into the idea that God puts an unaccountable authority on certain church leaders. When you have that teaching, abuse of authority, whether spiritual, emotional, or finally physical will not be far away. (Note that I do not mean that the abuse is limited to or especially bad in charismatic and pentecostal groups; rather, that in those groups it is this particular doctrine, and related doctrines about “anointing” that are often abused in this way. Other groups have their own avenues into sin.)

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