(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.