"Winning through Intimidation"
"Everyone who has challenged me has either died, been seriously injured or has been eliminated from the work...God backs me even if I am wrong."
---Prominent COG leader
The world renowned Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho, once made a very interesting observation regarding tyrants and their methods. According to his wisdom: “If you want to control someone, all you have to do is to make them feel afraid.” This principle has been a longstanding practice in the Churches of God and has taken many forms—some unspeakably cruel. For example:
Over five decades ago a highly respected theology professor at Ambassador College decided to embarrass one of his students and make a public example of him for failing to participate in a speech club he directed. The student was shy and unassuming and came from a simple family of modest means. As a penalty for failing to conquer his fear of speaking the student was marched to the college natatorium and cast into the pool fully dressed. The other students laughed in a display reminiscent of school bullies picking on someone who was totally incapable of defending himself. Not wishing to suffer further embarrassment the student acted as if it was just good natured fun. However, it is difficult to imagine the Messiah ever joining in their prank.
This is not the only example involving this professor and a student. In a theology class he singled out a young man because he found his haircut objectionable. After his public rebuke he dismissed him and forbade him from returning until he corrected “his problem.”
Several years ago a longstanding COG pastor had a reputation for giving agonizingly long messages. Virtually every week services would go a minimum of thirty minutes overtime. This became a source of immense frustration to almost everyone in the congregation. Eventually one member decided to speak to him about it. After services the pastor, accompanied by a deacon, would move to a private room where he would conduct counseling sessions. It was there that the member VERY respectfully presented his petition to his minister. His manner was so conciliatory it even came across as apologetic. However, when he mentioned that a significant number in the congregation felt as he did the pastor exploded. He accused the member of sowing discord and undermining his authority. Additionally, he rejected the idea that anyone, other than the member shared his view. At one point he asked the deacon attending the meeting, “You don’t think services go too long, do you?” When the member heard this question he thought it was patently silly. This is because he was convinced there wasn’t a person on earth that would concur with the pastor on this. After all, it was a well-established fact that services began at 10:30 am and would conclude at 1:00 pm, if not later. Furthermore, the deacon was one of the most ardent critics of this practice. However, to the absolute amazement of the member the deacon provided the pastor with the response he sought although he was literally trembling when doing so.
The meeting concluded with the member being sternly rebuked and even suspended. Although he accepted this sanction he was justifiably disgusted with the entire process and thoroughly disappointed by the timidity of the deacon.
A Similar Example
Several years ago a prominent COG congregation had a well-established speaking club. Its members were men of accomplishment with long histories in God’s Church. The club met every other week with meetings scheduled to last two hours. However, at some point they grew in length until they would go well past the scheduled adjournment time. This posed a significant hardship on many members because of their professional responsibilities the following morning. In an effort to remedy the problem several of them appealed to the club’s President to inform the director that the length of their meetings posed an intolerable burden. However, not wishing to provoke the director to anger, the president decided to recommend that meetings begin one half hour earlier. This seemed like a perfect solution. Unfortunately, all it accomplished was to extend even further the actual length of their meetings
because they continued to go well past the scheduled adjournment time. When the director was eventually approached by another officer who was more candid, he was hugely offended and accused the officer of being a trouble maker and inciting the club against him. This pastor then decided to confront all the members directly. Regrettably, the men became so intimidated by his rebuke that nearly every one of them assured him they had no problem with the length of their meetings.
Several years ago a long-standing COG pastor became involved in a very animated discussion with a member over a holy day message he (the pastor) had just given. The member disagreed with certain points advanced by him but never approached him about it. Like so many members he simply didn’t want to cause trouble and decided to stay quiet. However, the pastor, thinking everyone loved his message, went grazing for compliments and, as luck would have it, his path led him to the member. When he asked the member what he thought of the message the member spoke candidly, expressing his disappointment concerning certain aspects of it. In retrospect, a little more diplomacy would have helped, but that just wasn’t his way. This is not to suggest the member was rude, he was simply being truthful.
At this point the pastor attempted to overcome the member’s comments by explaining his intent for giving the message. The member however, was simply challenging the Biblical accuracy of his message, not the motivation behind it. He even argued against it on the grounds that it went contrary to established Church doctrine—which the pastor vehemently denied.
The ultimate reaction of the pastor was predictable—he sternly rebuked the member for being insolent. However, what transpired next came as a shock to everyone. The minister excused himself and left the member for a few minutes. Upon his return he handed the member the envelope containing his holy day offering and indicated the Church wouldn’t accept it. The member, although stunned by this action, took the envelope not wishing to make a scene. However, he promised himself that, from that day on, he would NEVER speak honestly to ministers again because they just can’t handle it.
“Avoiding these people--Laodiceans that have left--just avoiding them, in a sense, also shows that we get a message across to them that they are influenced by the Devil and we don't want to have anything to do with them.”
Several years ago two leaders of a prominent COG became estranged. For several months each performed an independent work with their own following. Eventually, one of the leaders had second thoughts and wanted to reconcile. He therefore, approached the other leader and expressed his desire to return. However, the other leader informed him that he would have to acknowledge his sin and provide a public display of his contrition. The leader who made this requirement indicated that he owed it to his members to illustrate what happens to those who challenge him. This is a far cry from the model provided by the Messiah in the parable of the “Prodigal Son” (Lk. 15:11-32) but apparently this leader seemed to be more interested in vindication than in reconciliation. Furthermore, he is not alone in employing this approach. Another leader actually required a brother to issue a written apology to be published in a prominent COG publication. He even specified the font size to be used. Suffice it to say, the brother declined the offer.
In times past a common practice among many COG pastors involved giving sermons concerning the consequences for “leaving the Church.” Often they would relate stories of former members being afflicted with serious medical problems and attribute it to God’s judgment on them for their lack of loyalty. However, if an attending member suffered the same affliction it was blamed on the devil and his persecution of God’s people. Others would warn against challenging anything they uttered in messages whether it was right or wrong. One particular elder actually ordered a member to agree with him on an issue totally unrelated to doctrine. When the member replied, “You can’t legislate my opinions,” the minister yelled, “I can legislate you right out of this Church if I want!
Terrifying members is not a recent phenomenon in God’s Church. It was also a part of synagogue life during the days of the Messiah. One example is recorded in the ninth chapter of John. It centered on Jesus healing a man suffering from congenital blindness. Because it was reported that this miracle occurred on the Sabbath the religious leaders of the day began to investigate the matter in an attempt to discredit the Messiah. Here is the story.
The Man Born Blind
John 9: 1-17
And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.
The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he. Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened? He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight. Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.
They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind. And it was the Sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes. Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see. Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the Sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them. They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.
At this point the investigation turns to the parents. However, they were so intimidated by these religious leaders power over their participation in the synagogue; they declined to speak other than to admit that their son was once blind.
John 9: 19-23
But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight. And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? How then doth he now see? His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him.
The reaction of these parents is all too often a sad reality in the Church today. Members simply do not want to be on the wrong end of a minister’s wrath—so they keep their true feelings to themselves. So strong handed are a significant number of Church leaders that they have made having a different opinion on certain issues, an offense worthy of expulsion. Although the Pharisees embraced this practice as well, Jesus did not. Whether God’s leaders believe it or not, it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. The apostles’ lives illustrated that they were not always in agreement—yet not one of them ever considered “marking” another over their differences.
"Sowing Their Own Brand of Discord"
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