How Fear Perpetuates Itself in a Climate of Fear and Enables Evil. Example: bullying in ARBCA
A thousand shall flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill. (Isa 30:17)
One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. (Josh 23:10)
When we think of being “afraid,” we are talking about fear. Fear is a powerful tactic and weapon of the enemy and we must be very wise in regard to it lest it control us.
And when we speak of of being afraid, when our thoughts turn to fear, immediately we need to be asking ourselves, “afraid of what?” Because fear necessarily requires some fearsome thing, some threat, some potent enemy that is able to do us harm. This is how the devil works to enslave people, a slavery from which Christ sets us free:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb 2:14-15)
In this post I want to primarily speak about fear itself, in the sense of fear existing APART FROM any fearsome threat. Objectless fear, I suppose we might call it. Fear existing with no basis. People just being “afraid” but if pressed unable to identify the source of that fear. So what I want to speak of here is this nameless fear that is FAR more common and pervasive in our churches than we realize. It is self-perpetuating and has something to do with Winston Churchill’s warning, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
The Apostle Peter was motivated by this kind of fear when he was in Antioch —
… prior to the coming of certain men from James, he [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. (Gal 2.12-13)
Peter’s fear led to him to be a hypocrite and many others joined him in hypocrisy. If Paul hadn’t withstood Peter to his face, because he was to be blamed, and told Peter before them all that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel (vv 11, 14) then the hypocrisy would have become ingrained in the church at Antioch. And who knows how much damage that infection and corruption could have caused to the great commission of spreading the gospel!
Let me explain what brought this to my mind recently.
As many of you know, our church used to be a member of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches in America (ARBCA). We left that association a number of years ago due to bullying, power-seeking traits in a small clique that held the reins. Many others left as well. Now we find ARBCA in the news because of the revelation that one of their member pastors, Tom Chantry, has been arrested on child molestation charges. Furthermore, it appears that ARBCA pillars worked to effect a coverup of Chantry’s alleged crimes as far back as 2001 (though the sexual molestation charges were apparently not known until approximately two years ago).
Now, in relation to this typically grievous alleged coverup and in regard to the bullying that resulted in so many churches and missionaries resigning from ARBCA, I have had occasion to speak with various ex-ARBCA pastors. The typical feedback I received from them is that they thanked me for speaking out on some of these issues, but before we were finished speaking they added, “I have told you these things privately, but please do not identify me to anyone as having told you.”
Now, let’s put this in perspective. ARBCA is NOTHING more than a fellowship of churches with some shared organizational structure and yes, the Administrative Committee does have, according to the constitution, certain powers and duties. All of which powers are given by the association members of course. A church, for instance that decided to embrace a Roman Catholic view of the gospel could be dismissed from membership and so on. BUT, the people I have spoken to are not members of ARBCA anymore. That is to say, ARBCA has no authority over them whatsoever. And yet these men remain fearful of….?? A nameless fear, you see. A felt fear with no identifiable object. Yet it is palpable and controlling.
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:12-14)
Here is my theory. What are these men afraid of? I believe that what has happened is that over the years various power-broker big wheel types (Diotrephes’ brethren, see 3 John), used threat of various sanctions in such a way as to create a climate of fear. Fear that silenced. Fear that used pious sounding phrases to entrench itself – “we must always make a judgment of charity about a brother in Christ.” That kind of thing. The bully’s very demeanor, even without words, bullys. Agendas at meetings were announced ahead of time with the clear yet often unwritten message – “any divergence from the agenda will not be permitted.” The result was that at church conferences the real issues would be discussed in whispered conversations but never openly with everyone present. No one would EVER say, for instance in a corporate meeting with all members present, “Pastors X, Y, and Z are lording it over the flock here and I can give you specific examples.” Never happen. Why? Fear. Evil remained hidden. Anyone who said otherwise would be thrown out of the temple.
And that fear has continued to perpetuate itself. It is a foul fog that still hovers over so many pastors and churches who really have absolutely nothing tangible to fear. What are you afraid of? ARBCA is not the Pope. ARBCA does not hold the keys of the kingdom with the power to send you to hell. What are you afraid of? This nameless fear causes a hundred of you to flee when only a few or even none are chasing.
The result? Silence. People who KNOW the facts about what has really taken place in regard to this whole scenario involving Chantry have not openly spoken out in protest. They are afraid. And I ask each one of them, “what are you afraid of?” Are you afraid of making the power-brokers mad at you? Are you afraid of their gnashing of teeth? Of their accusations they will level against you? Understand? What we have here is fear itself with no real basis. It is like people who have come out of a cult, who were so long under the threats of a cult leader who played with their mind, yet still find themselves controlled by the lies and fear that wicked one instilled in them.
Now, there is the example of fear itself functioning in regard to the ARBCA/Chantry situation. But I also want to propose to you that this same kind of nameless fear is what is at work in so many local churches today. People will not speak out and shine the light on evil that has crept in because…because…why? Because they are afraid. Afraid of what? Being hated? Being put out of that so-called church? Think about it. Those things are really without substance because they are without God’s authority. In the end we find ourselves in such poisonous surroundings being afraid….of nothing.
Any supposed “Christian” setting in which you feel fear is not of Christ.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1John 4:18)
Stop being afraid. Be bold, be courageous, speak out, because the Lord our God is with us wherever we go. As Dale Ingraham so powerfully has written in his book by this title, Tear Down This Wall of Silence*.