A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Abuse and Power: The First Shall Be….First?

Mark 9:33-37 ESV (33)  And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”  (34)  But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.  (35)  And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (36)  And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, (37)  “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

I really don’t know where to begin.  It’s like we have built a huge edifice and as we stand back to admire it we realize that we have failed to follow the blueprints.  The thing is wrong.  All wrong.

The fundamental tenet of following the Lord Jesus Christ is the requirement that we do as He did… take up our cross, deny ourselves, and step in His footprints on the Way.  He came to seek and to serve.  So must we. He who was greatest in glory emptied Himself and became the lowliest, cursed being on a cross.  He said things like this — over and over:

Mark 10:42-45 ESV (42)  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. (43)  But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, (44)  and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. (45)  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 23:11-12 ESV (11)  The greatest among you shall be your servant. (12)  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

And we could go on for a long, long time recounting all the times that Christ taught this theme by word and deed:

John 13:12-15 ESV (12)  When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? (13)  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  (14)  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (15)  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

I am not very good at this business of being last and denying myself.  Many of you are much more accomplished at it because you have suffered much more than I have.

Now, to the main point.  Here is my thesis:

Abuse is widespread in the Christian church because most seminaries (where pastors and scholars are trained), most local churches, most para-church organizations including missions agencies encourage and promote “the first shall be first, and the last shall be last.”  In other words, they are built upon a philosophy of “power over” just like the world.  And when you have such a model, you necessarily have the most power-hungry personalities stepping on one another to rise to the top.  It means abuse, abusers, and victims.

Think about it.  You don’t become the pastor of a larger and larger church, or the department head or president of a seminary unless you achieve.  You have to produce, and if you do you will be rewarded with promotion.  If you don’t, step to the back of the line.  “Oh no,” you say?  Pick up a seminary catalog or go to the web page of a large church and read the descriptions of the head honchos.  Tell me those descriptions are pictures of Christ’s model of “the last shall be first.”

Why do you suppose Jesus forbade His followers (US) from implementing a “first shall be first” model of life and ministry?  Because such a system does not save and heal people, it ABUSES them!  It places those who hunger for power the most at the top of the pile.  Get a PhD, then go get another.  Be so dynamic and charismatic in the pulpit that people flock to hear you tell them what they want to hear.  Send Bible College and Seminary students to conferences and chapels where you have the biggest names in show busin….uh, Christianity, come to speak while the audience oohs and aahs.

What if… I am asking (and I am trembling a bit as I type these words)…what if we have gone all wrong and that is why this blog is even necessary?  Think of it.  What do we have here?  We have genuine Christian people gathering here in cyberspace to help one another heal up from getting the *&%$# kicked out of us in institutions calling themselves the body of Christ?  Sexual abuse investigations are ongoing.  Missions schools are revealed as having been havens for child molesters.  And then there is “just” the plain ol’ ordinary folk like many of you — abuse survivors whose suffering was enhanced exquisitely by those who call themselves great in the kingdom of Jesus Christ!

What if, in other words, all of this evil is alive and well in our churches and Christian organizations because we have widely embraced the model of the first shall be first and the last shall be last?  And if this is true, what does it mean needs to happen?  It means that the gospel once again needs to turn the world upside down, only this time judgment must begin with the household of God.  It means that there is a whole lot of de-construction to be done.  Some churches and organizations probably just need to go away for good.  It means that perhaps many of the great names in Christendom need to step down in repentance, and we all need to repent for enabling them to climb up there in the first place.

And it means, if you would find a true church, look for one that is modeled upon Christ’s philosophy of ministry – “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”  Look for a place that knows what it is to suffer for Christ, to take up the Cross, and to deny oneself.  You will find mercy and help in a place like that because that is where Christ is.

49 Comments

  1. Bethany

    Before I awoke to the fact that I was in an abusive relationship I was attending a Reformed Presbyterian Church. I am a Reformed Baptist by conviction but this was the only “reformed” church in the area. When I finally kicked my abuser out of my house I was given “permission” by the presbytery to separate until he repented, then we were to reconcile. If he did not repent (repentance would be determined my the pastor, not by me) then the presbytery would deicide if the abuse was “bad enough” to make divorce necessary.
    Weather or not this “plan” would work we will never know because I refuse to put my life and the life of my children into the hands of a group of men that I had never met!! What if one or more of those men is an abuser themselves? Who said they were in charge of my conscience and life? How did they get there positions? Who did they have to trod on to get to those positions?
    These counsels and the control that they have over the ordinary Christian is dangerous and scary!

    • Jeff Crippen

      Bethany – Nice work! That is exactly the kind of thing I am talking about in this article. No church has a right to exercise that kind of control on its people. And you are dead on — how do you know there isn’t an abuser or two in the presbytery? You made a great choice!

    • Anonymous

      Bethany – this sounds an awful lot like exactly what happened to me. I believe you are wise and acting how God would have you to act. Nowhere in Scripture, does it say that the pastor/elders are to have this kind of control of your life. They are NOT to make decisions for your life! My new pastor, just got done talking about this yesterday. Shepherds, that is true Shepherds, are to help you, teach the Word to you, guide and encourage you and pray for you, but the decision is yours! They are not to lord it over or force you to make decisions they want you to make, so they can maintain their own agenda in their church. It is never wisdom from God, to allow people who have never even met you, or only known you for months or a year, to make decisions in your life. The worst mistakes I have ever made in trying to get help for the abuse in my marriage, to try to save it, was trusting those who called themselves shepherds.

      My excommunication is forthcoming.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Wear it with pride Anonymous!!

      • Bethany

        Anon- I left before an official excommunication but will never be welcome at a reformed Presbyterian Church again because I was unwilling to follow the commands of the council. We have elders and shepherds all over the world in the true body of the church and they are there to give advice and scriptural wisdom but they aren’t the holy spirit and they aren’t your conscience so they shouldn’t have the power to excommunicate you for not following there advice (unless it is a clear violation of scripture that makes you an apostate…no were in scripture does a divorce for any reason make you apostate!) I have sought Godly council from several pastors including Jeff Crippen and none of them have lorded authority over me in anyway. Instead they have given me Scripture, Wisdom, and advice. I have not agreed with all of the advice I have been given by these pastors, but I still respect all of them, they respect me, and I will go back to anyone of them for advice in the future.

      • Anonymous

        It is a sad day in the Church of Jesus Christ, when people are excommunicated for protecting their children and themselves. I have to say however, that I did contact R.C. Sproul, Sr.’s ministry, and they told me that they felt the elders in my Church had way overstepped their boundaries, and had no business telling me that I could not set boundaries for my husband, without asking them or getting their approval! He was just one of many Presbyterian ministries I contacted. So, it at least helped me see, that several well-respected pastors/elders disagreed with the elders at my local Church.

        I wish I had a better understanding of the “vows” you have to take to join a Church. However, God has shown me, that He expects the men who are the “shepherds” of the local body, to behave rightly and inside the authority given to them by God, and once they step outside that authority and act within their own power and authority, they are out of order and are operating on their own, no longer under God, and because of that, I am free from any vows I made. Perhaps that should be something added to the membership vows! “You are only bound by these vows, as long as the leadership of this Church, behaves according to the Scriptural guidelines given to us, not adding on our own rules, but only operating under the authority given to us by God, not our own authority, and we promise that should we fail in this area, we will step down from leading this Church and you will be released from any vows you made here”!. I just prayed and asked God to release me from my vows that I made rashly with that church, having been promised help with my marriage. Instead, I feel they just abused me and my children more. They still will not release my children. So, at least 2 of them will be next on their chopping block.

        I agree Jeff! John 9 comes to mind. Here is another good point. When pastors/elders say that they have authority to cast someone out of the Church forever and ever, based on Matthew 18:18, it seems they are mistaken. The word there isn’t “whoever”, but “whatever”. People are not “whatevers”. This has apparently been a long standing error in the Church. Zodhiates has a good commentary on this.

        Best to you Bethany, as you pursue God in everything. I agree, take the counsel that you know to be Scriptural and from God, and pray about the rest. God will always show you, if there is something you need to be following.

      • Jeff S

        “I have to say however, that I did contact R.C. Sproul, Sr.’s ministry, and they told me that they felt the elders in my Church had way overstepped their boundaries, and had no business telling me that I could not set boundaries for my husband, without asking them or getting their approval!”

        Good for him! I listen to him teach so much, it’s nice to see an example of good pastoral care, even if it was remote.

        Regarding “vows”, the current church I just joined has a statement on the authority of the church. It basically states that the church must earn its authority by leading well. It says that originally its authority is “positional”, but through time that authority must be maintained by keeping the trust of its members. I like that there is way more about the responsibility if the leadership to the members than the other way around.

        I did explicitly state when I did my interview fr membership that I will submit to the authority of the church as long as the leaders are able to maintain my trust.

  2. Bethany

    I move over 1000 miles away :)

    • I am so proud of you, Bethany! You are so brave and so wise! I wish I could have been like you back in the day. I sat around and let the corrupt pastors spoon feed me their garbage for way too long. Way to go, Girl! You saw wrong and chose to get out for your children, yourself, and your God.

    • Bethany

      I couldn’t have done it if God had not provided the support he did so early on through my parents, this blog, Anew’s blog, and renewed friendships.
      Thank you Anew for your praise but if I didn’t have your blog and this blog in my first days I know that I wouldn’t have made wise choices. You saved me from a lot of pain and I will be eternally grateful to you :)

    • Oh my word, Bethany, that makes me cry. So glad that the Lord brought us together to help each other through these hard days and into better ones! Much love to you, Sweet Sister!

  3. Jeff Crippen

    Thank you Heather. I’m not brave. It just seems that the Lord won’t let me be quiet! And besides, I have been on the receiving end of this abuse of power many times as well and I know what it is like.

  4. Still scared

    Jeff, wow, just wow! Need to wrestle and work with the thoughts you just posted. Wow.

  5. Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. C.S. Lewis

    I’m sure this is a factor.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Man, BIT, that is a great one. Do you remember what book he said that in?

      • God in the Dock.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Got it, thanks. I will have to pull that one out again.

  6. Loren Haas

    Jeff, I am holding down the “Amen” button on my keyboard!

  7. Now Free

    Jeff, after over a year of finding your sermons on line and your blog, I feel you still have great courage and passion for standing up for the abused and taking it from abusers and their sympathizers. You never pull any punches (sorry for any pun…not intended). May God continue to strengthen you. My prayers are with you.

    • NF- Wow, over a year already! Thank you for your encouragement!

  8. This is a paraphrase of a comment in relation to this article that one reader sent us –

    “At church yesterday the sermon was preached by a visiting seminary president. He preached on a passage I had heard taught many times in many kinds of churches. But he flailed his arms and spoke loud and dramatically. I was inwardly rolling my eyes. I could not “hear” what the guy was saying, so I turned to reading more in Job, and partially tuned him out. Elihu had more to say than this guy.

    In contrast, I know other seminary faculty and a pastor who do not “enhance” the gospel with drama and volume… let the Word speak for itself and keep the shepherd in the background. It is like the church pianist overdoing the fancy chords and arpeggios… making the music more important that the singing worshiping.”

    The reader makes a very good point. Consider for example what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about his own preaching style:

    1Co 2:1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 1Co 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1Co 2:3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 1Co 2:4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 1Co 2:5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

    • Anonymous

      Slamming the Bible down on the pulpit; yelling and screaming in an angry voice; flailing arms; stomping feet; slamming fists down on the pulpit. These are all descriptions of my past pastor. Pretty hard for a victim of abuse, to sit still and listen with attentive ears. I found myself often scrambling to get a notepad or pen, crossing and uncrossing my legs and feeling jittery. I now know why.

      New pastor: calm voice; loving encouragement; speaking peacefully and yet with godly authority; teaching so you can understand; teaching what godly authority looks like; laughs; cries a little when speaking of personal storms of life; comforting. I am calm and excited each week to go and hear how God is going to use this man to teach me what He wants me to learn. In all my discouragement, I know God is using this pastor to minister to me and teach me, and I am very grateful.

      Last week this pastor spoke about authority in leadership. He said that true spiritual leaders do not make decisions for the people, nor lord authority over them (Mark 10:42-45), but lovingly guide and teach and pray for the people. He said they lay down their lives and become the peoples’ servants. Wow! That was healing for me, in and of itself, because I have been specifically praying that God would show me what true spiritual leadership/authority looks like, because I don’t really know how to identify it. This was spot on and truly ministered to me. Thank You God, for your faithful men, Pastor Crippen included.

      • Anon. well said!
        And the description of the abusive pastor as “Slamming the Bible down on the pulpit; yelling and screaming in an angry voice; flailing arms; stomping feet; slamming fists down on the pulpit” – boy does that remind me of a few people!

        It’s scary for anyone who has suffered trauma to sit through that kind of thing. Pastors who habitually do that are ignorant or don’t care about the effects of trauma on people, and how easy it is to re-trigger them.
        I’m not saying that it is never appropriate for a pastor to display righteous anger from the pulpit. But there’s a difference between that kind of pastor and the histrionic bullying intimidating act that your former pastor indulged in habitually.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Slamming the Bible down – how is that any different than an abuser throwing objects to frighten and intimidate?

  9. I second that, Heather, and in the spirit of friendliness I want to say that as one of this little team I’ll keep an eye on Jeff to make sure his head doesn’t puff up with all this praise! And he, I trust, will do the same for me. And if any of our readers think we are getting too puffed up, please tell us! :)

    • Now Free (after 43 years)

      Barbara, I can’t even imagine you or Jeff being puffed up in any way. Being confident in the Lord Jesus Christ and proclaiming His Word in simple and effective ways is definitely not being arrogant or puffed up. Your team is very much appreciated and I think encouragement is certainly not out of place. :)

      • Jeff Crippen

        NF – believe me, I can easily imagine myself becoming puffed up. The Lord has kept me from it (most of the time) by permitting me to be subject to abuse over the years at the hands of numerous professing Christians. While we should always escape abuse when possible, sometimes the Lord does leave us with a thorn in the flesh to keep us humble. Any of us, granted some mega-church “ministry” or fame, would be in a very dangerous position. Every Sunday I am reminded of my low estate when I step into the pulpit. I hope none of our readers have any notion that Christ Reformation Church is some large place with lots of people. We have about 45-60 people in church each week. That’s it. I am thankful for them and for their many years of faithfulness. So when the Lord tells us that if we are going to boast, we must boast in Him and not in our own strength or wealth or wisdom, He really means it and in my case He has made sure that I get the message. And still, we all have to be on guard.

    • I echo Jeff C’s words in a slightly different way. I feel myself most at risk of getting puffed up when I’ve just written what I consider to be a ‘zinger’ of a post. My mind swells and overflows with delight, excitement and satisfaction. I can barely settle down to sleep; I have to employ all my distraction techniques: read a novel, do puzzles, sometimes even take a sleeping pill. And what is the fleshly thought swirling at the bottom of my brain in it all? “Ah, NOW they’ll see how good I am!”
      Uugh, how shameful, how embarrassing. My thorn in the flesh. But I’m so glad God gives it to me.

  10. Joyce

    Another wow from me. Thanks Jeff. I think I will reiterate this to my children again. So important.

  11. MeganC

    Furiously nodding my head in agreement as I read this, Jeff!! How can we be so blind? How are we missing it?!

  12. Jeff that was really refreshing to hear. Completely aligned with Truth, I do not know if I have anything left to say, I cannot be quiet yet am aware I do not go about things when I speak up in such an eloquent way. Reminds me that I cannot battle this in my flesh alone. I need much more wisdom, much much more wisdom.

    • Like you have responded totally to my many direct questions about the church, in that letter its all there even though it was not meant specifically for me. Yet I realize I am putting it all out there in a “kicking butt, and taking names” kinda way. Most likely not the best approach.
      Thanks a million for writing that. It gives me for one , so much hope.

  13. I am with you on this one Jeff. Somehow, the people of God for the most part have lost the true vision of heaven. Most Christians live on earth as if they have arrived at the “pearly gates” already. Funny though, I have been treated better by the unsaved, and those who are down-trodden. The homeless I have found have more love in their hearts than some “blood washed Christians.” At least the ones that I have served over the years.

    Many have forgotten where God brought them from, and stick their noses up at you if you are not a part of their silly church groups. I have suffered much in my life, and if that is what it takes to keep me humble, then PRAISE GOD!

    I feel like a porcupine – many “thorns in the flesh.” I used to think that I was being punished somehow by God, and yet – how can a child be punished by our Creator for just being born? So I have learned.

    Thank you for speaking out as God would have you to do. I feel like you – I cannot be quiet – God will not allow it. We must obey the Holy Spirits’ prompting always.

    Stay strong!
    Terry L.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thanks, porcupine! Press on!

  14. Wow! What an amazing post! And, so timely for me. Just this Sunday, the 2nd, I sat for an hour and listened to our associate pastor drone on and on about how everything is pride. Fear and anxiety are a sign of pride. Of course, it was all done very dramatically. He had a fancy suit that he calls his Marion Berry suit because he only wears it to Marry ‘Em and Bury ‘Em and then he had his coveralls he uses for changing his oil and mowing his lawn. He was talking about putting on the appropriate attire for the job, and Christians must put on humility. His dramatics didn’t seem very humble. It was infuriating. I was thinking of Jesus sweating great drops of blood as he suffered the stress and anxiety of the foreknowledge of the cross the next day. That phenomenon is caused by stress and anxiety. Wait, the pastor just said that those emotions are a sign of our pride……the Sinless One was suffering from pride the night before He was crucified? I’d really love to hear his backpedaling on that one.

    The sermon this past Sunday followed a “performance” by one of the leaders’ favorite worship leaders. She sings extremely high, changes all the words, and holds notes incredibly long. No one can follow her, so we all just sit and listen to her for twenty minutes. The whole fiasco was an exhibition of pride from the worship songs to the sermon!

    When the financial director told our head pastor that the church wasn’t making it and he needed to take a cut in his huge salary, he responded, “If you don’t want me to be your pastor anymore, all you have to do is say so.” Every single member of the staff LOST every dime of their pay in order for the two pastors to continue to receive a salary that is four times that of the average wage earner in our community.

    Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    • Bingo!
      People (and I usually find they are men) who preach “everything is pride; fear and anxiety are a sign of pride,” are often very proud themselves. In some cases it seems like pride is their besetting sin if that’s not too Roman Catholic an expression.
      Just because pride is *their* big sin, doesn’t mean pride is everyone’s sin.
      And sometimes anxiety and fear do not originate from pride.

      In fact, for a man to think that anxiety and fear are always rooted in pride says to me that his anxiety and fear are rooted in pride: – so what is he fearful and anxious about? Losing his status, losing his position of entitlement and privilege, losing his reputation for being the top dog, the richest man, the biggest bully on the block, the most intelligent brainiac, the best player on the field, the one at the top of academic tree, or the king of his castle at home.

      Maybe I’m being a bit over the top here. I’m open to correction.

      • Bethany

        I love you Barbara :) You make me smile. I don’t think you were over the top at all, but I did get a vision of you sitting at your keyboard typing the list with passion and vigor to the point of banging the keys. Then the last sitting back, taking a deep breath, and then typing the last sentence :)

      • Yeah Bethany, you got it right. All you missed in that vision was the tall half-strength latte glass that was beside my computer in the cafe!

      • Song

        I agree, ANFL! Way to go!

        Barbara, You go, Girl, over that top! When you go over the top and bust through that glass ceiling, we get to go with you and see what it looks like on the other side!

      • LOL!

      • Jeff S

        I think fear is a root cause. We have pride because we want to be in control. We have anxiety because we don’t like being out of control. So I think this pastor has it inverted. Fear is the cause of a lot of our sin (and sometimes of our good boundaries) rather than the other way around. It’s always good to ask ourselves if and how fear is driving our behavior. If we can figure out what we are afraid of and if it is a reasonable fear, then are a lot closer to knowing how to address the problem.

    • Still scared

      When I think about my pastor, and the assistant pastor at my church who have been so supportive of me. The assistant pastor stepped down because our church can’t afford two pastors anymore and the pastor took a cut in pay. I am thankful my kids are able to see their examples.

      • Jeff Crippen

        A rarity indeed! That gives us all hope. Thanks, SS

  15. Ooohhhhh, I think you just nailed something big!!!

  16. I recently read an article about, oh, I think it was called statement analysis. Our American president was the focus of the article, but the gist of it was that people admit things in their words if we will take the time to analyze them. .

    • Yeah, and that’s why it’s not all that hard to identify the language of abusers, once you have enough experience in this area.

  17. Song

    Thank you, Jeff. Thank you that go where other’s fear to tread. Thank you for following your heart!

    And thanks to all who commented here. Your individual and collective wisdom is greatly appreciated!

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