Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Impotence of Religious Power

(This isn't an indictment of ALL churches, ALL denominations, or ALL of the people in said churches. It's meant to be a general look using a couple of specifics as examples)

The other day, Elizabeth Esther posted this piece on her website. It's very compelling, and gives a great deal of insight into why I'm a little queezy with the Calvary Chapel denomination (and yes, I realize that CC doesn't refer to itself as a "denomination", but if it looks, talks, and acts like a denomination, well...). For those of you who read here and perhaps attend a CC, rest assured that what I'm writing here isn't intended to pick on you or your church. The CC movement, as a whole, is merely symbolic and symptomatic of the greater issue I'm going to attempt to address. I've never, to my knowledge, visited a CC, but I do have some insight into them, having had interaction with a couple of CC pastors who I came away very unimpressed with.

I realize, just as EE's article points out, that lots of GOOD things happen in and through Calvary Chapel, and I don't want to diminish that at all. By the same token, some good DID come out of the People's Temple, but we'd be doing those ultimately wounded by it an injustice if we didn't examine and attempt to understand the cultic nature of it, seeing as how it all turned out.

We've all heard the saying "Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely".

Does it ever.

Many non-denominational churches set up their power structure on the "Moses Model". CC is something of the posterboy of the Moses Model. Bad, bad, bad idea. On every level. Why? Several reasons, but three that are extremely important from my vantage point...

A) I don't think the Moses Model was necessarily ever God's idea. It's what a rebellious, fearful, Holy Spirit-less people chose. Remember when God wanted to commune with and speak directly to His people? "No Moses! He'll kill us! YOU talk to Him and tell us what He says! YOU do it!" The people didn't want intimacy with God. Since the people refused to be ruled directly by God, Moses became the intermediary, and the system of Moses and the judges under him was set up. Moses was the most humble of men. He never wanted to rule, never wanted to be in the spotlight. Personally, I think this is a big part of why God chose Him.

B) No man should ever have the sway and influence over a group of God's people that Chuck Smith has over ALL of Calvary Chapel. The pastors I dealt with practically worship the man as a deity. Not good. Not good at all.

And the biggie...

C) The Moses Model sets the same trap that fundamentalist patriarchs and quiverfullers fall into by taking Old Testament descriptive accounts, modeling them, and making them prescriptive agents. This should be a HUGE deal to anyone seeking truth, being that we now have the indwelling Holy Spirit, which the people in the OT "models" didn't, to lead us into all truth. Modeling power structures, systems of living, and systems of worship that were created and instituted to serve and minister specifically to a group of Holy Spirit-less people, and then implementing them to govern the lives and fellowship of Holy Spirit-filled people is the equal of reverting BACK to dark ages medicine in the midst of modern medical breakthroughs. We have atonement through Christ, and the indwelling, intimate Holy Spirit that comforts rather than scares us. Why on earth would we want a Moses Model? Why on earth would we NEED a Moses Model?...unless it's all about control. Even Moses didn't want a Moses Model. 

To take this all a step further, when human fingerprints become so deeply ingrained in a religious power structure (and again, this isn't exclusive to CC, but can be found in many mainstream denominations and non-denominations - even if only in traces), absolute power results. Where absolute power resides, corruption follows. Eventually, that corruption can, and will, take over the heart and moral compass of the person wielding unchallenged authority. CC, for instance, has had it's share of scandal, and Chuck Smith has made many very questionable decisions in his handling of those scandals, decisions that, if left up to the people of CC, may look considerably different. If you don't like Chuck's decisions, you can leave. Period. It's all about Chuck. 

It becomes a dangerous thing, in my way of looking at things, when people cease to call the pastor by name and instead they become "Pastor Steve", "Pastor Frank", or "Pastor So and So". The pastor is no more or less special than the people in the congregation, and the way I chose to approach pastoring, if the pastor is serving the people well, he's the LAST person you'll notice. In fact, in the little groups I pastored, I asked them to not refer to me as "Pastor". Yes, I taught, but they had ONE teacher. I'd rather they remain focused on Him. There's waaaaaaaaaay to much coddling, cooing, undeserved adulation, and often, undeserved respect of a title heaped on church leadership. It gets more than a little cultic.

When Jesus spoke of power structure, He made it clear - become small. To be first you have to be last. Rather than ruling OVER the flock, pastors (and others in positions of leadership) need to be coming in UNDER the flock, supporting them, seeing to the needs of the people, becoming selfless administers of resources rather than THE source.

The current, bastardized version of "spiritual authority" practiced in most formal churches has left no champion for the people. Leadership has become impotent. They've become rock stars, and often have the same mentality as rock stars. People pour into mega-facilities just to get a glimpse of the great "Man of God". It changes the whole paradigm from ministry to a program/business model. Numbers mean money. Money means power. Rather than planting NEW congregations in communities in need, it's "Let's see if we can get to 20,000 by the end of the year!" Lots of quantity, but little quality. And people keep scrambling in the doors, week after week, hoping that THIS week is the one they'll finally get to shake the Man O God's hand. But all too often, when they're truly hurting...there's no one to champion their cause.

Too many in positions of leadership no longer will sacrifice their base of power over a matter of right and wrong. Oh, they take "brave" political positions (which their flock already agree with), but all that does is firm up the base of power. When the least of these needs someone to stand with them, they often have to stand alone. People in power don't want controversy, and genuine right and wrong concerning the least of these usually comes with controversy. When this is the example at the top of the human pyramid, it trickles down to the flock.

As I've dealt with the whole mess of fundamentalism and patriarchy over the last 3 years, it's broken my heart to discover that few people, even though they clearly see wrong where wrong exists, are willing to stand against it. Most people, even professing Christians, when faced with difficult situations of right and wrong, will choose neutral, easy, and no controversy, while brothers and sisters suffer. If it might cost them anything, count them out. If they stand to gain something, well, maybe. Most of mainstream Christianity sees P/QF as weird, cultic, and dangerous, but they're afraid of standing up to it, fearing what political bridges might be burned, fearing how their own image might be altered into something less marketable, fearing whomever they might offend that could potentially be a resource for them in the future.

The church is no longer a people that will stand for right at the potential cost of all. The church is no longer a people that will champion the lowly, even if it costs everything...and this is heartbreaking.

It's humanity treading where the Holy Spirit should have dominion. It's the commandments of men treated as the dictation of God.

It's absolute power become corrupt, and therefore impotent - prone to do as much, if not more, harm than good.


  1. I am fortunate in that I didn't experience the patriarchal/quiverful life so many of you have. But I've had several friends who either came out of it, or are still in it. It breaks my heart.

    I've been in the "large" churches where the pastor is so concerned about recording his sermons for the weekly t.v. broadcast, that he doesn't have time to speak to his congregants ... I was (and still am) horrified that a year after leaving a church where we'd spoken to the pastor TWICE in the hallway, we received an invitation to his daughter's wedding and reception (which was held at a very la-ti-da historic hotel in Galveston).

    I am blessed that we have finally found a church family where the pastor (little "p") teaches the Bible and has said (and proved) that he is there to serve the congregation. He is a meek and humble man, without pretense of any sort ... when my husband's father passed away, he drove roughly 100 miles round trip to attend the funeral, though he'd never met my husband's father. He did it to be there for my husband and our family.

    So please know that there are good men who serve God. I pray that their numbers increase.

  2. Lewis,

    Part C was my favorite. As Hebrews explains, why would we stay in the Old Testament shadows when we have the real light?! Why would we worship on Mount Sinai when we can approach Mount Zion?! (Hebrews 12)

    I survived my first fifteen years as a Calvary Chapel kid. My parents were in the first "crop" of Chuck Smith's church, then they helped plant Calvary Chapel of Chino Hills (David Rosales) and then, after moving out of the state, they literally and spiritually helped build a Calvary Chapel here in our small town. As a teen, I left of my own accord. Want to know what was the catalyst to my leaving? Serving in the kitchen with my mom at the Calvary Chapel Pastors Retreat! After one weekend serving these "small servants," I was DONE! (Although I must say, some of the Calvary Chapel pastors were humble, tender, kind servants) My parents followed soon after, mostly because my father was AGAIN asked to step down from the board of elders because he was asking for more accountability for the chief - I mean, pastor.

    I'm with TXMom though, in that we have been wonderfully equipped as a family to serve after being in a church for seventeen years - the pastor is humble (and goes by his first name!), the teaching is expository and not flashy at all (much to some attendants chagrin), and children are welcomed!

    This family of God is a goofy bunch - we've got weeds among the wheat, after all. But I think that while we gently prod some towards love and away from legalism, we do it as to a family member - carefully, firmly, lovingly.

    Thanks for this great post, as always. Defending those that need defending (1 Peter 2) as always.

    Resting in Him,

  3. Wow Lewis, keep deconstructing, [two post reply due to word count]

    this correlates to a question I've been wrestling with, for some time now, What is the Image of the Beast?

    In deconstructing [and shredding apart Christianity included, though I have returned or hung onto rather, belief in Jesus, just see things way different but couldn't explain it If I tried], and tearing apart to sort/grasp the harms of RA in my life [and all the paranormal connections that I can't deny, such as, all the electricians in life or electrical paranormal things I've seen That I found are connected to the secret societies and worship of Baal in OT, possibly, though I am not sure how all that works and don't care to go exploring there],

    the thing about t.v. and computer started really bugging me, you know because it IS media, which is Medium. Oh yes, and the 'images' of the gods/goddesses [and the powers of sorcery heavily wrapped up in] made me to question,

    why it is such a powerful influence/lure but also, though a tool, it is the power of Image,

    and then, Why was it, that God said, do not carve Any image of man, animal, etc., unto yourselves.

    There is a psychic [soul] connection/power here that I don't think has been really investigated as to Why this command was So important,

    and then as we see the ancient society progress we see the cults flourish and the gods of prostitution and gods of war/slavery and the Images made and you know,

    they are no different than the barbie doll today [or Hannah Montana] or the media image of People today, that we gloss over, model over, and want to BE LIKE,

    Paul included 'emulation' in works of flesh, emulate means to copy.

    So question is, is it the Image of itself or the fact that we, humans, see images and then Compare to those images and then worship/emulate them,

    rather than being in the likeness of God?

    And what about the image of Jesus on the Cross [and in the day they Did war over the icons in the churches]and you know, remember, in one part of OT they did tear down the serpent on pole Because the people were 'worshiping it and paying homage/sacrifices to it', I remember that,

    but now Take this further, CAN we humans, also do this by creating an IMAGE in our MINDS? and I do believe, that one of the huge influences that are occult in our church today IS the image of the Authority/Female Fertility and Dominionist, etc etc etc.,

    both in church, culture, and mind.

    Worship of the image of the beast...the beast that does what?


    This question bothers me because I think more and more it's allegorical, that the mind, what the mind adheres to, is really the mark, per se,

    now Not to say there won't actually Be an image [due to the breathing life into it, which Could be the image of the human 'god' and 'goddess' on t.v., it is a breathing image [scary when you think of it, because there is few humans that have not watched t.v.],

    though we aren't killed for not watching t.v. Yet [I do think somehow it's all going to be connected], but anyway,

    it Has got me to thinking, Who and What do I really worship-Love and How has my worship of Jesus or following/adhering been influenced by the mind control of society around me, especially through mediums [media]?


  4. Another way I came to come upon this, was in struggling with the mental illness of RA, the effects of PTSD and all, I often shut myself in the bathroom with lights out, in the dark talking to God, for me this was healing but I realized,

    why, it cuts out distractions...then I thought of Paul and the blindness, wondered how, if I blindfold myself, what happens? Here's what I found out, WE've been So disconnected from our inner voice due to the constant bombardment of mediums and images, that I am now wondering,

    how Deceived are we?

    And we are bombarded, with noise and image pollution, and what has been the mind damage as a result of? But it's not just t.v. folks,

    it's internet, it's church, the amount of electronics in church, the image worship of the all authority Pastor, books, tapes, dvd's,

    it's no doubt in my mind, wrapped up in enchantments and occult.

    Anyway, not to get fanatical here, but this is something more and more I am pondering, a lot,

    and I really believe, for our spiritual and mental health, not only do we need to reconnect to nature,

    we need to turn the lights out, and put the blindfold back on, and learn, to


    to what the Spirit, is saying



  5. I think you have hit upon the answer to why I meet so many Christians who say they are leery of churches, or refuse to go to a church. Somewhere along the line they were damaged by something that happened in, or by someone in a church. Many then dismiss the need for church or Christian fellowship, which leaves them wide open to the world's influence, feeling isolated, lacking in maturing in the Word, a lack of loving accountability, etc. I love pastors who challenge their flocks to keep their eyes on Him, not him, and to study the Word and double-check his teachings/sermons in It. And who live an open and transparent life that welcomes or even seeks interaction and communication. Who ever heard of a shepherd tending a flock from the top of a distant hill once a week, who wouldn't know his own sheep if it stood in front of him, or know whether one was injured or not, or in danger of wandering off and being eaten by wolves?

  6. I do agree that power corrupts. After coming out of a charismatic shepherding cult in the 1980s, we found a church where the senior pastor is hired by, and accountable to, the elders. He makes no secret of the fact that he "works for" the board of elders and that they have the power to dismiss him. But at the same time, they let him and the other pastors lead, and they follow that leadership-- so the model is one of plural leadership and mutual submission. It works very well. Shared power is limited power.

  7. I say this everywhere, about how people seem to think Jesus only came to pay for sin and changed nothing else. But it largely falls on deaf ears. I point out the misuses of titles, the upside down nature of the Kingdom, the fact that no one has "authority" to boss anyone else, but they cannot hear it. I think it's far easier to reason with the lost, because they have not been inoculated against the truth the way churchians have been.

  8. "When the least of these needs someone to stand with them, they often have to stand alone."

    I think you need to repeat that quite a few times.

  9. Thank you, thats very interesting information. I need to share with my friends.