"Bullies at the Pulpit"
“Life is a fight, but not everyone’s a fighter.
Otherwise, bullies would be an endangered species.”
—Andrew Vachss, Author
Several years ago a very prominent COG splinter became embroiled in a serious rift between its leader and its Board of Directors. At issue was how Church resources should be allocated. The contention grew to such an intensity the leader was actually removed from his position and stripped of all his authority. What made this action so unique was that he enjoyed the overwhelming support of the group’s general membership. As a result, even though he was ostensibly fired as their presiding evangelist he reaped the benefit of retaining the vast majority of tithe paying members in his newly formed group while his prior organization was left with all its liabilities and virtually no way to support them. Suffice it to say, they didn’t last long.
When establishing his new fellowship, the leader crafted the Church’s bylaws in such a way as to ensure that he would never be challenged again. The following excerpt illustrates this point.
"The Presiding Evangelist shall be the spiritual and the hierarchical leader of the Church through the living Jesus Christ. The Presiding Evangelist's actions WITHIN THE CHURCH are perceived to DERIVE FROM CHRIST'S DIVINE GUIDANCE AND BLESSING, and are THEREFORE ENTITLED to respect by both the Board of Directors and the Council of Elders."
This sad episode in the recent history of the Church is not an isolated case. On the contrary, it has played out numerous times in plain view of the Lord God Almighty as well as His people, not to mention a myriad of bitter antagonists all too willing to seize upon it to vilify the Church. To describe such acrimony as a source of immense frustration and embarrassment is a huge understatement. Sadly, it speaks so poorly of COG leaders and reflects the height of immaturity. Nothing more graphically illustrates this point than how the newly founded organization mentioned above openly assailed those who remained in the prior fellowship. For several weeks their sermons were nothing more than soft spoken tirades mocking their former co-leaders, making them the brunt of jokes, and actually giving them nicknames clearly intended as an insult. However, because these men were ministers, their members would politely chuckle out of respect, but in truth, there was nothing funny about it.
“Instead of messages lifting up Christ all we seem to hear
are ones that tear down our brethren.”
Long standing member
The Power of the Pulpit
Having the power to speak before congregations is arguably the greatest ministerial advantage in the Church today. This is because those who have it control the agenda and make all the rules. As a result, the pulpit has become a platform for prosecuting personal battles disguised as biblical issues. It is a place where individual members are routinely chastised without having an opportunity to defend themselves. It is the home of weak apologies and stinging rebukes. This isn’t to suggest there are not compassionate leaders who have the character to leave their emotional baggage at home, it is simply an observation concerning how something can be used as a vehicle for horrible abuses. To illustrate this point, considering the following:
During the early days of the apostasy perpetrated by the WCG, a long standing minister with a distinguished history would give messages attempting to defend the changes. However, when he spoke he seemed genuinely confused about them and was simply attempting to be a good ministerial citizen of the Church. In other words, he was preaching what he was told to preach.
Within his congregation one gentleman would openly discuss messages after services. It started with just a few members but grew in popularity. It was here that congregants genuinely felt they were getting straight talk as opposed to double talk. Furthermore, although these gatherings were informal the actual discussions were focused and structured, with the member facilitating them. Suffice it to say, the minister became concerned. As a result he had deacons join the discussions and report to him any potential issues. The minister never personally engaged the member on any of the various topics being discussed—and for good reason. In truth, he was no match for him. The member, although very respectful, was highly skilled in debate and possessed a thorough knowledge of Church doctrine and scripture. Additionally, he was fearless when it came to defending the faith. Even the deacons who were sent to spy on these discussions became loyalists to them.
Eventually, the pastor gave a sermon taking dead aim at these gatherings and their host, although never mentioning him by name. For over an hour he asserted that the discussions were unhealthy and “discordant.” Toward the end of his message he spoke pejoratively about the member. His words were so pointed that the majority of the congregation turned and looked directly at him as if to expect a response.
This was the pastor’s remedy to a problem. He simply created rules of engagement that gave him the only voice. Sadly, this approach is very typical in the Church and is born out of temerity, not wisdom. The clear injunction in scripture is that pastors are duty bound to defend truth. However, when this minister had an opportunity to do just that he became a hireling instead—abandoning everything he once embraced. In the end the member resigned from the WCG and is associated with one of its splinters. He still hosts healthy discussions after services. The pastor remained a hireling.
“What if the kid you bullied at school, grew up, and turned out to be the only surgeon who could save your life?"
A few years ago the leader of a prominent and highly respected splinter group gave a message defending a practice of his Church. He selected this topic because an article challenging it had gained significant favor in the greater Church. His message clearly reflected a high level of frustration which became more evident as it progressed. Eventually, this pastor resorted to personally attacking the authors of the article even going so far as to suggest that demon possession may be involved. He also identified flaws in the lives of these men and claimed that they lacked the caliber of someone God would ever choose to teach a person of his stature in the ministry.
Another prominent leader of a different group took dead aim at the aforementioned article as well, even suggesting that its co-authors may have committed the unpardonable sin in writing it. He then piled one insult after another on them insisting that they were insignificant and unworthy of being taken seriously.
It is extraordinary to witness how some leaders can be so dismissive of members who thoughtfully examine an issue and arrive at a different conclusion. Sadly, this is all too often a reality in the Church today. With respect these specific COG leaders, they spoke with contempt for those who dared to challenge them. However, what neither of them would do was publically debate them on the issue, and for good reason. Both pastors would have been overwhelmed in such a forum because their opponents couldn’t be intimidated by them. In truth it was the authors who were the definitive experts on the subject, a fact that they could effectively demonstrate without rancor.
“So many in the Church today treat those in other
fellowships as threatening strangers—and deny
the greater truths that unite us.”
Long standing COG member
Several years ago a leading minister in a major COG association asked a member of his congregation to assume responsibility over a certain function pertaining to Sabbath services. The member was a very thoughtful man with a distinguished history in the Church. He possessed an excellent grasp of its doctrines as well as its history. Additionally, he was deeply loyal to his fellowship. However, after weighing the pastor’s request he respectfully declined, indicating that he sincerely felt he did not possess the requisite skill to perform the duty in a manner it required and believed other men were better suited for it. The pastor was somewhat taken aback by the member’s declination and pressed him to reconsider. However, he could not prevail. At this point it is important to understand that although the conversation was not acrimonious per se, the pastor was definitely frustrated by the member’s lack of acquiescence. In fairness to the member, he simply didn’t feel comfortable with the request and made that point very clear.
Shortly after their meeting the pastor gave a sermon in which he chastised the member although he didn’t specifically mention him by name. However, his reconstruction of what took place clearly portrayed him negatively. Furthermore, when doing so, he was able to shape the narrative concerning what transpired while the member had no opportunity to present his side.
A Recurring Approach
The examples above have become all too common in the Church today. In all likelihood virtually every member of every fellowship has witnessed firsthand the vilifying of others from the pulpit. The painful truth is that those who employ this approach lack the courage necessary to play fair. As a result, they create rules of engagement which make it impossible for them to lose. The real tragedy is that the only thing being served is the speaker’s ego.
“To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle,
shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves
also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived,
serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and
envy, hateful, and hating one another.”
Titus 3: 2-3
"Winning Through Intimidation"
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