By Dr. David Schnittger
This is the sixth and final article on the subject of “corruption in Christian leadership.” The purpose of this series is to help you maintain your spiritual freedom by becoming more discerning as to whether corrupt and spiritually abusive leadership has taken over your church or parachurch organization. This series is based on my almost 50 years of studying the Bible and over 40 years of experience in vocational Christian ministry.
We began this series by looking at biblical examples of corrupt leadership, such as Saul in the realm of civil leadership and the sons of Eli in the area of religious leadership. The second article described the attitudes these individuals had which led to their corrupt actions. We concluded that their behavior placed them in the clinical categories of “sociopathic” and “narcissistic.”
In the third article I gave examples of Christian leaders I have served under who exhibited these sociopathic/narcissistic behaviors. This was followed in the fourth article with a description of what corrupt leadership looks like from the vantage point of the boardroom and the pew. In other words, what does corruption and spiritual abuse look like close up, from the perspective of one in leadership, and far off, from the perspective of one in non-leadership roles in the church or Christian organization? We then saw, in the fifth article, marks of an abusive church. Perhaps you recognize some of these “nine marks” are true of your church or the Christian organization where you serve. What do you do now? That is the purpose of this concluding article.
First, I want to look at scriptural motifs in the New Testament of corrupt religious leadership. The twin motifs of “burdens” and “bondage” are biblical figures of speech that are used to describe what corrupt religious leaders seek to do to their followers.
Jesus spoke of the scribes and Pharisees of his day in the following manner: “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Mt 23:4). Jesus described the hypocrisy of the Pharisees more fully in Luke 11:39, 46: “And the Lord said unto him, ‘Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness…Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! For ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.”
So one of the characteristics of corrupt religious leaders is that they place heavy and grievous legalistic burdens on their followers, burdens which these hypocritical leaders do not themselves keep.
Another biblical figure used of those suffering under corrupt religious leaders is the picture of “bondage.” In the book of Galatians, Paul warned against religious leaders who sought to bring their followers into the bondage of legalism: “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gal 2:4). Paul went on to warn these Galatian believers: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1).
So the biblical motifs of corrupt religious leaders, as used in the New Testament, are the figures of “burdens” that lead to “bondage.” One modern day example of this in some churches is the trend of imposing “membership covenants” on congregations. While these covenants often sound holy and proper, upon closer examination they are means of placing “burdens” and “bondage” upon congregations by elevating the leadership to a place of privileged unaccountability and reducing the congregation to servile submission. Check out the following link that examines membership covenant “red flags.” (click link below)
What, then, is the biblical remedy if you are suffering from leaders who are seeking to impose elitist legalistic “burdens” on you designed to bring you into “bondage?” The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-19: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
In my view, when corrupt leaders take over your church or Christian organization, you should consider them as unbelievers and you should separate from them. The Apostle Paul referred to them as “…grievous wolves…not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). You are wasting your time to try to unseat them. Once they have taken the reins of power, you have no other recourse but to leave and leave quickly. I have known individuals who have tried to stand against corrupt leadership, and they always lose and get badly bruised in the process.
I have had many people through the years talk to me about how bad things are in their church, about how the pastor does not preach the Word and how the leadership is arrogant and abusive. When I counsel them to leave they say, “But there aren’t any good churches in my area. Where do I go?” My advice to them is this: START YOUR OWN CHURCH! Gather your friends and likeminded friends in your living room or a nearby restaurant with a private room, and start holding worship services. Many new churches are started because of church splits.
I started a new church in my home a few years ago and had a fantastic time! A few likeminded families joined my family weekly for a time of sharing, prayer and study of the Word. It was a rich and rewarding experience. We sometimes have the mistaken idea in America that one has to have a seminary degree, be ordained and have a church building in order to hold services. That is NONSENSE! None of the apostles had credentials or facilities, yet look at the explosive growth of the church under their leadership!
If you do not think you have the wherewithal to begin a church, let me suggest a website where you might actually find a good church in your area. Check out the following website: www.chuckbaldwinlive.com. There is a link on the right column of the home page called “Black Regiment Pastors.” Within that link is a directory of sound, liberty minded churches and pastors all across America.
If you work for a Christian organization that has been taken over by corrupt leadership, my advice would be the same. Leave the organization, and, if possible, start your own ministry. Do not think this is impossible, for that is how many new ministries get started. Do not despise the day of small beginnings, for nothing is too hard for God! We read in Daniel 11:32b: “…but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.”