August 24th, 2020
If we use the broadest definition possible, we are all abusers. We are also all abused. I am not qualified to talk about abuse in very many forms. I am, however, qualified to speak on one type: Church abuse. I’ll define church abuse as the following: Church abuse is any attempt to belittle individuals or manipulate their behaviour by using theological, philosophical beliefs, or religious structure.
At best, church abuse manifests in good-hearted and good-intentioned people trying and failing (sometimes horrifically) to help. At worst, it is a deliberate method used to manipulate and force individuals into compliance. The problem comes when one tries to discern the difference; are you a helpful idiot or just plain evil? A friend recently posted a series of memes that were initially posted on Instagram by @yourfavoriteheretics (Note to Canadian readers, they spell ”favourite” the American way). I have to say it made me feel a variety of feels. That is to say: I had mixed emotions on this. Much of what they say is bang on the money, and much of the rest is an affront to the Gospel and the Church I love. There is, however, also quite a bit of room for healthy, theologically and epistemologically correct expressions of some of these things. As a result, I hoped to write a bit of a primer for believers illustrating healthy and unhealthy expressions of the following. This post comes to you in three parts, and I’ll try to avoid getting too far into the theological weeds.
I should say at the outset that my goal here is not to explain away abuses that have occurred. These must be brought to light and be dealt with transparently and in a way that befits an organization that wants to be salt and light to the world. If you have found yourself here because you have been injured by the church or individuals within, please know that I am not trying to minimize your experience or your pain. Jesus is perfect, but his representatives... not so much.
@yourfavoriteheretics listed nine categories, I'll reproduce them here, three at a time, in no particular order.
Mental Health Abuse
Modern medicine is an expression of God's "common grace" and should not be ignored.
We are living in a generation where mental health and well being is coming into sharper focus. Rightfully so. Christians would never tell someone with a broken arm to only "pray about it.” We might pray for and with a cancer patient, but we'll do so while we sit alongside them in the chemo chair. Modern medicine is a part of what we call God's "common grace" in the world. It is something that God has provided not only for the believer but for all of humanity. If you suffer from addiction or mental illness, you do need to “be delivered” from it. That deliverance can, and perhaps likely will, come in part (perhaps in large part) from medicine. When they are correctly utilized, we should thank God for the discovery of treatments like sertraline, alprazolam, lorazepam, venlafaxine and any number of other medications that help people live healthier lives. Prayer, scripture, and fasting (while supervised by a doctor) is a healthy and positive expression of your faith, even alongside the help of professionals. God is in control, but your emotions are still real and valid. God can certainly heal whomever He chooses, Often, He'll use mental health professionals to do that.
Money and Finances
Christians are called to give joyfully and sacrificially. It's a "both and" not an "either or."
Hey! Everyone's favourite topic! First and foremost, the prosperity gospel of "health and wealth" has zero place in any faithful church. God has ordained for some to have much money and some to have little. There are principles and general wisdom in scripture to help you manage your finances well, this is true, but prosperity preachers manipulate this to their ends, and it's evil.
Here's the reality, we are called to submit our money and finances to the glory of God. We are also invited to give generously and sacrificially to our churches, causes we believe in, AND those who are needy around us. Our pastors and leaders should be paid well for the work they do and the service they provide to the believing community, but not excessively! Mansions, cars, etcetera are an inappropriate way to compensate the pastor of any church. Pastors are called to be servant leaders. They should model the kind of joyful generosity they teach others to have. When I was a pastor, I instructed the board and treasurer to disclose both my salary and giving to anyone form the church who asked. So far as I know, no one ever asked, but even if they had, I'd never know. (I also instructed them not to tell me if anyone did ask) An excellent general guide I learned in Bible College is to set the maximum pastor's salary at 2x the median income of the church's parishioners. It's not a perfect system, but it's a good enough general guideline. If your church isn't transparent enough to disclose at least a range of salary, I'd argue you may need to consider if that's a place you want to attend.
Service is good, noble, and honourable, but not required for entry into God's Kingdom.
I have known many pastors who make very little (I made barely more than minimum wage as a pastor) and whose every purchase is scrutinized by certain people in the church. Did your pastor buy a new TV for their family? "Is that really the best way to honour God with your finances, Pastor?" Did they save up for a couple of years to take their family on a nice vacation? "Pastor, that seems like a LOT of money to spend on yourself, doesn't it?" If it's not a sin for you to do it with your money, neither is it a sin for your pastor to do it with theirs.
You should volunteer. You ought to joyfully serve God with more than your monetary giving, and you should use the time and talents God has given you to serve as well. However, while your local church is a natural and logical place to do this, it's far from the only one. I serve within my church (AV team), but my wife doesn't. She serves at a youth centre with young, pregnant teens/moms. So you should volunteer, you should serve. Service is a natural outpouring of the Christian life. You shouldn't be forced, however, to do so.
Written by Kevin Seguin