Chapter 4: Authority and Power
Abusive Churches Misuse Spiritual Authority
- Chapter 1: A View From Within
- Chapter 2: Fringe and Fanaticism – Abusive Churches Can Go Over The Edge
- Chapter 3: Abusive Churches Are Not New
- Chapter 4: Abusive Churches Misuse Spiritual Authority
- Chapter 5: Abusive Churches Use Fear, Guilt, and Threats
- Chapter 6: Abusive Churches See Themselves As Special
- Chapter 7: Abusive Churches Foster Rigidity
- Chapter 8: Abusive Churches Discourage Questions
- Chapter 9: Abusive churches make leaving painful
- Chapter 10: Abusive Churches Present A Warning
- Chapter 11: Abusive Churches Will Always Exist
- Churches That Abuse: Introduction
- Notice & Disclaimer
- Contents / Audio Version
- Publishers Information
- Preface & Acknowledgements
“It took some time for me to adjust after leaving the Church of Bible Understanding. When I first began attending church again and meeting with Pastor Tom, I found it very difficult to relax around him. Sometimes I would cringe and freeze up when seeing him walk down the hall, and Pastor Tom is one of the kindest, most disarming people I know.
“It took a few months for me to relax. Even now, when attending a church service, I may feel like I should be participating in some way, or I may get extremely paranoid, start worrying about my true spiritual condition and dive into an intense self-examination. These experiences have lessened as time has gone by, and I have confidence in God’s Word and in my own relationship with the Lord.” Thus ends Betty Donald’s personal account of her fourteen-year experience with the Church of Bible Understanding (COBU).
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Started by Stewart Traill in 1972 as the “Forever Family,” the Church of Bible Understanding now numbers approximately one hundred members living in a number of properties in the northeast United States. Membership peaked in 1978, with several houses and nearly a thousand members. Betty, along with thirty other members, left COBU in April of 1989, after a March 4 meeting in which Stewart claimed he had been teaching in error for twenty-five years, and that he had totally omitted grace in all his teaching. He claimed that he was more a victim than those he had deceived. In what appears to be an attempt to control damages, Mr. Traill then went on, in June of the same year, to tell everyone to forget everything they had ever been taught on the topic that one must be perfect to be born again (using 1 John 3:9, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God”), and that he himself had just been born again in February 1989.
Betty, like all other COBD members, was afraid to do anything without Stewart Traill’s stamp of approval. As one of the “Gayle Helpers” (assistants/”slaves” to Traill’s second wife), she enjoyed certain privileges that others did not. Yet she was “scared to death of him.” A member never felt truly faithful to God “unless Stewart accepted you.” This acceptance evidently waxed and waned, depending on how useful one was to Traill’s business or how threatened Traill began to feel by the favored one.
Stewart was in complete control of the money in the communal organization. Betty never cashed one of her own paychecks. All money was turned in and no accounting was ever given of where it went. At one point, when appointed to the Board of Directors, she did see that as much money was spent on COBD telephone calls as on the group’s ministry in Haiti, where they had a missionary outreach. Traill made sure that all persons handling group accounts had no experience in financial matters. Any questioning of this policy brought immediate confrontation and public humiliation. Additionally, members were required to submit a special request to one of the Special Request Committees if they wanted to purchase a pair of shoes, pants, jacket, or other article of clothing. The committee would determine if the need was justified. During lunch hours and off times, members were expected to solicit donations from individuals and organizations for “the ministry in Haiti.”
COBD members staffed a number of businesses, including S & G Cameras, one of Traill’s enterprises, and Christian Brothers Carpet Company, a carpet-cleaning business run by nearly all COBD men. Betty, as a Gayle Helper, had signed a Gayle-Helper Contract, and worked in the camera shop. Everything from purchasing stock to attending trade shows to cleaning dishes and bathrooms was done by the Gayle Helpers, usually on a full-time basis with no compensation. Although privileged to live at Traill’s $900,000 estate in Princeton, New Jersey, the Gayle Helpers on the camera-show circuit were expected to sleep in their vans. According to Betty, “These women were called gypsies. They would wash their hair in sinks at gas stations, use the pools at hotels they didn’t stay at, and change clothes in bathrooms in restaurants where they wouldn’t think of eating. They would pack food to take along and would eat in the van. Everything was written off to the church.” In addition, Traill would use COBD’s Christian Brothers Carpet Company accounts as a personal bank, using funds freely.
The plan was for COBD members to live as in the days of the apostles, with “all things in common.” According to Betty, members believed that they had a “higher calling” because of their deep knowledge, especially the deep knowledge of human nature and the Bible. They considered their understanding of human nature unmatched, giving them spiritual eyes to see into others’ consciences and thoughts. As a result, COBD members were, as Betty describes them, “extremely self-righteous and puffed up.” Stewart would continuously speak to them of his great expectations for them and their future plans.
Although he was unable to reconcile a drop in membership of nearly nine hundred in twelve years, he did claim that his new teaching was very near to the true apostles’ teaching. “Jesus showed me the secret behind everything.” Highly critical of other churches, Traill would call ex-members “enemies of the Cross,” or “losers trying to throw stones at a winner.” According to Betty, whenever COBD was in the news, they considered it persecution because “we were truly following the right way and the devil was angry.”
Looking back at it now, Betty believes that the communal-living arrangement was one of the main ways that their lives were controlled. Living on one’s own was considered less spiritual as well as dangerous-you were asking for trouble by leaving the “sheepfold walls.” Not only were members expected to live together, but all men were expected to quit their outside jobs and work in the group’s carpet-cleaning business. Failure to do so resulted in a person being mocked, publicly humiliated, and looked down upon. Normal office jobs were seen as “working for Pharaoh.” Working for Stewart or COBD, on the other hand, was seen as doing God’s will so that members could make the most of their talents rather than helping their employers get rich. Thus, even one’s working life was controlled and regimented. Betty reports that males who leave the church have a harder time reentering and adjusting to the outside world because so much of their daily life was sheltered and controlled. Not all “sisters” were expected to work in COBD or Traill-related businesses.
As is often the case in abusive churches, family ties were severed. When members were notified that relatives had died, they were told to “let the dead bury their own dead.” Members needed approval to visit family. Betty remembers, “There was always an uneasiness after going to visit your family because of the scrutiny you were put through when you returned.” It was expected that COBD members would consider one another as family, and Stewart would often ask, “What would have become of you if Jesus hadn’t brought you to this fellowship?” The expected response was, “We’d probably be dead.”
Implied guilt and Scripture twisting were often used to manipulate members. Mr. Traill would take Scripture out of context in order to make members do what he wanted. “In the abundance of counselors there is safety,” and “He who trusts in his own mind is a fool,” were two verses that were often directed at a person who didn’t agree with others’ opinions of what should be done.
Marriage was discouraged to such an extent that no weddings have been held since 1978. However, Traill divorced his first wife and married Gayle in 1977. Betty recalls that Gayle was set up as the example for all women in the church to follow. “She would walk around in the slinkiest outfits that sometimes made many people blush. Stewart would flaunt her in front of the brothers and tell them, ‘Look what you could have.'”
It was Traill’s custom to hold late-night meetings that would end anywhere from 1:00 A.M. to 5:00 A.M. Members were then expected to work and function normally the next day. Leaving these meetings for any reason whatsoever, including the use of the rest room, was highly discouraged. During these meetings, “catching and pointing out someone else’s wrong behavior was how we proved our desire to be with Jesus, because Jesus hated the wrong, but, of course, not the sinner. This always ended up in public verbal executions that would lead to standoffs and long silences until late in the night.” Since women, according to Traill, were naturally manipulative, devious, and maneuvering, they were often the targets for these late-night confrontations. Each woman would then, according to Betty, “have the task of apologizing so that everyone would believe her, so that she could be forgiven for whatever horrible crime she had been accused of and keep from being lynched.” A ritual was begun in 1988 in which members who needed to “make their behavior right” in front of the group, were required to have four to five witnesses who would vouch for their sincerity. Insincerity led to repeated humiliation and/or being put “out of fellowship.”
Stewart, however, was above scrutiny. According to Betty, “Stewart will only accept ‘corrective criticism’ coming from a ‘right spirit.’ Of course, he is the judge of ‘right spirits’ and whether any criticism is truly constructive.” Stewart has also complained at meetings that no one ever tells him what they think of him; yet he makes sure no one has such an opportunity. In a classic double bind, Stewart tells his members that rebellion is the ultimate sin so that if you question him, you are charged with rebelling against the truth and that means rebelling against Jesus!
After leaving COBD, Betty described herself as a “basket case.” She found herself in a totally new and strange environment with a few friends who had left with her, and filled with feelings of paranoia. “Here you are, thirty years old, single, alone, and ashamed of the way you have been taken advantage of. After having spent fourteen years with COBD, I felt stupid telling my parents that they had been right.
“Trying to adjust, even opening a checking account, was hard. It was like dropping off the moon. After quitting my job without notice, and because of the way I had quit my jobs before, I knew it would be very difficult to get established. I hadn’t held a job for more than a year at anyone place in the past seven years. I had virtually no stability-physically, emotionally, and barely mentally. I had an interest in going to a church, but I was very suspicious and didn’t think they’d ever understand. Unfortunately, due to the lack of understanding on the part of most members of the church and their inability to deal with someone like me, I received what amounted to a pat on the head and a well-intentioned ‘that’s nice, but now you’re out and you have to go on with your life.’ After ten years of isolation and indoctrination in which you think, live, eat, and breathe COBU, it doesn’t just go away.”
Betty’s experience with authoritarian leadership is, unfortunately, not unusual for people who have been a part of spiritually abusive groups. Control-oriented leadership is at the core of all such churches. These spiritual power holders become strong role models, and their dogmatic teaching, bold confidence, and arrogant assertiveness become powerful forces of influence. They use their spiritual authority to intimidate the weak and those who consider leaving their flock, as the following letter demonstrates. It was written by Don Barnett to several members of Community Chapel who were contemplating leaving. Not only did the pastor warn the members that they would lose all their friends in the congregation, but he threatened that demons would harass them and that they would lack power with God.
“As your pastor, I warn you that you are headed for the bottom of the sea â€¦. God has called you to this assembly to furnish you with that which you need. Do you have His permission to leave this assembly? When you take yourself out of this move of God â€¦ you are going to go downhill spiritually â€¦ When you run from God, you go to the bottom of the sea â€¦ You could lose your souls through this. The Devil can take you down, down, down.
I ask you to repent before God â€¦ follow your pastor, stick with him, stay in the boat and God will forgive you. You are following emotions and reasoning that has been infiltrated by the Devil â€¦ you are going to lose eternal rewards. You will not be the same â€¦ you cannot just walk into any church and think you are safe. God won’t honor that. He called you here and I am your pastor, no one else. You must follow me or you will answer to God.”
A former associate of Don Barnett describes his style of leadership: “He’s ousted everyone who has taken exception to his teaching. He’s been a very autocratic leader. Even though he says he allows differences of thought on issues, it’s very difficult for him, really, to allow his leaders to view things differently than he does. He’ll say from the pulpit that he does, but he’ll tell you in person that it’s his God-given duty to revise your thinking.”
Pastor Phil Aguilar of Set Free Christian Fellowship has been known to say, “You need to trust God through me; I know what’s best for you.” That same attitude was communicated in one of his sermons when he was discussing his own responsibility as shepherd of Set Free: “People in this church, don’t you say anything about each other. I can say anything I want. I can call you anything I want because I have the responsibility and the accountability according to God’s Word for each and everyone of you. I can say what I want. ‘Well, if you can say it, I can say it.’ Well, no, you don’t know the scriptures. You don’t have that responsibility and accountability; I do. So when I get in your face, receive it from the Lord or let your tail wag and go home and cry. Go try and find a TV pastor so that you can turn him on and off anytime you want.”
Unhealthy, authoritarian leadership encourages people to place their pastors on pedestals. This is illustrated by the comments of one ex-member of a church located in a major mid-western city. “Little by little this man became the standard by which we all sought to live. The wisdom that poured forth from his lips left us in awe.” An ex-member of an east-coast fringe group commented that her tiny church was believed to be the full expression of God and had the mind of Christ. “When the leadership said something, it was taken very seriously as the absolute truth. I was part of what I totally believed was a sold out, godly, and committed church. However, after I left the church, my life was totally shattered.”
Evan and his family had a shattering experience as members of the Church of the Great Shepherd, a largely Asian-American congregation located in the greater Los Angeles area. Here is their story.
In a scene reminiscent of a spy thriller, Evan agreed to take his two children to meet with his estranged wife, Stacy, at a neutral location, hopefully secure against any attempts by her to kidnap the children. Evan was to be accompanied by Doug, one of the brothers from the Shepherd’s Training Center. Stacy was to be accompanied by Doug’s ex-wife, Sandy, and the two Tong brothers, Dirk and Denny, all of whom had been kidnapped and deprogrammed by the mysterious Hill Spaniels within the past three months. Evan was worried about a kidnapping attempt and the inevitable tortuous and abusive deprogramming process of which he had been repeatedly warned by the leader of the Church of the Great Shepherd and the Shepherd’s Training Center’s (STC), Mrs. Jean Chao Liang. They agreed that Evan’s parents’ house, three hours from Los Angeles, would be the meeting spot the next day.
Evan, with his two children Kelsey and Janna, and Doug, left at 2:00 A.M. the next morning in order to have the opportunity to scout the area of Evan’s parents’ home for signs of Mr. Spaniel’s white panel van. They were armed with anointed prayer, on guard against evil spirits of deception and lust, and under instructions to manipulate their wives with specific songs during a time of worship in order to bring them back and into submission to the “Body.”
The meeting took place during the late morning. Evan’s parents watched the children, whom they had only been able to meet briefly twice before. The two women were not swayed by the manipulative “worship,” but began speaking to their husbands about what they had all experienced in the Shepherd’s Training Center in light of the Scripture: would Jesus ever force a couple to divorce because one partner was against communal living? Would Jesus send a brother out onto the streets of East Los Angeles, or drug-ridden Northwest Pasadena, for weeks without money or even a jacket in order to teach him to repent of alleged sins? Is there any sin in the Bible called “reaction” or “identity”? Would Jesus use a spatula to force food down a six-month-old’s throat in order to teach her submission to authority? Would Jesus ever berate a follower into performing lewd acts in front of him in order to show that individual how depraved he is and to “free” him from a lustful or homosexual spirit? Would Jesus ever tell a married couple how and when to have sex?
After discussing the bare facts, looking at the Scriptures (not someone else’s interpretations in light of “context”), and having a few hours away from the thought-reforming influence of the communal group, Evan and Doug realized the deception they had been under and the fact that the Scriptures had been twisted in order to get them and the other members of the STC to submit to Jean Liang’s wishes. The anger and horror over lost years, and, in the case of Doug and Sandy, lost marriage, did not set in for a couple of days.
Thus began the end of over five years of what was sincerely believed to be “ministry” in the name of God. When Doug and Evan did not return to the STC, and when outside pressures became too intense, Mrs. Liang began sending individuals back to their parents’ homes for a cooling off period in order to placate parents and minimize damages to the group. According to former members, they were supposed to return to the STC when the situation was not so volatile. Meanwhile, Hill Spaniels was working with the recent former members, meeting them as they arrived at their parents’ home. Each, in turn, was freed from the effects of the thought-reform process by a discussion of the facts and Scripture. Within the month, the Shepherd’s Training Center had been reduced to little more than Jean Liang’s family of seven.
The Church of the Great Shepherd began in 1985 under the leadership of Stephen Liang, Jean’s husband, Doug Yasui, and Roy Chan, all graduates of a well-known evangelical seminary. It began under the name of Asian American Grace and Faith Church, a non-denominational, independent church with an emphasis on worship, an openness to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and an increased recognition of the place of women in the church. Within a year, Sunday attendance rose to one hundred and fifty, and the church enjoyed a growing reputation as an exciting, charismatic outreach to young adult and college-aged Asian-American Christians.
The next year the name was changed to Asian American Christ Church and Mrs. Liang began preaching occasionally as well as directing the high-school fellowship. The tone began to change, with greater and greater emphasis on absolute obedience to God (through obedience to the leaders God has placed over his sheep). A new emphasis was also placed on the importance of spiritual authority, tithing, and ministry to the poor. Attendance began falling. Mrs. Liang, after facing much opposition, was successful in having herself ordained in a formal service officiated by her father and a local Vineyard pastor.
By this time, an “unintentional community” had begun at the Liang’s household, composed of the Liang family and persons interested in communal living (based upon Acts chapters 2 and 4) or doing seminary internships through the church, or simply needing a place to stay. The active life of the church was moved to the Liang household, with Jean taking greater and greater part in the ongoing work of the ministry.
During this time, Stephen Liang began undergoing a period of “spiritual discipline”; God was supposedly bringing him to account for his lack of love and concern for his wife and five children. This discipline, administered by Jean and another “shepherd,” consisted of removal from all ministry, public humiliation, and a separation of Stephen from any relationship with his family, particularly Jean. By the time this period was over, Jean was the effective head of the church and the community. Stephen, reportedly by his own choice, no longer slept with his wife, nor was he involved in any outward ministry of preaching, counseling, or teaching. He was relegated to administrative duties. Stephen also began Shepherd’s Services, a carpet-cleaning and home-repair business.
By 1988, the church had been reduced to approximately thirty-five persons and services were held at the communal house, rather than at a rented church building. The group’s name was changed to Church of the Great Shepherd, and the community had become a legal entity as the Shepherd’s Training Center. Jean Liang was now the single shepherd of the STC, having either forced out or disciplined all other potential leaders in the group.
As the head of the STC, Mrs. Liang dictated every aspect of life, whether spiritual, physical, or relational. Doug and Sandy’s divorce came about through a twisting of Matthew 5:27-30. Although neither had committed adultery, because of Sandy’s reticence to move into the STC, Doug was told that she was causing him to stumble. He must cut her off as he would cut off his hand, so that he might at least enter heaven maimed. Even after they moved into the commune, they were forced to divorce. Doug spent months on the street and was labeled a “pervert” by the leadership. He would be brought back periodically to see if he was sufficiently “repentant.” If not, he was turned out again.
Members shared a common purse, with Stephen Liang as head treasurer under Jean’s direction. Numerous questionable expenses for the community, and especially for the Liangs, were considered “ministry” write-offs and attached to the tax-exempt church account. Monies were regularly shifted from one account to another. Jean reviewed the accounts and set financial goals for the STC. No money was released without a voucher.
Evan and Stacy’s two daughters almost died as a result of Jean Liang’s influence, the oldest from being force-fed at six months and routinely beaten, the youngest because of premature birth due to Stacy’s being overworked in the communal house. In addition, Roy and Mandy Chan’s young son and daughter were severely abused, being regularly beaten or shaken for such offenses as wetting, crying, not keeping their eyes closed, or falling asleep. After a severe shaking of their three-month-old daughter, Jean said that it would be better for her to grow up submissive and retarded than intelligent and rebellious. At the time of this writing, the oldest child is approaching his third birthday.
The bonding of mothers and children was seen as a great sin. Jean regularly separated nursing mothers and their infants, even going so far as to take them from the breast, saying, “You are tying your child to yourself and not to the Lord.” This “tying” supposedly endangered the child’s salvation. However, former members state that Mrs. Liang’s five children are strongly bonded to their mother, but have little respect for their father. Husbands and wives were also separated for long periods. Their relationships supposedly were impure and ungodly, based upon lust and manipulation.
Public times of confrontation, confession, and repentance were common, lasting anywhere from four to twenty hours. These sessions usually took place at night. The airing of the most intimate details of one’s life was seen as opening the way for God to take one deeper into the spiritual life. All participants were victimized because of their idealism and desire to more fully serve and love God. These intimate details, including those related to one’s sexual behavior, were brought up over and over again to produce feelings of deep guilt. “It amounted to spiritual blackmail,” states Evan. Many persons were labeled as homosexuals and were required to write letters to old associates confessing this “sin.” Old “sins” were never forgotten nor forgiven.
Also branded as sin was “introspection”-a term given negative connotations by the group, but that in reality meant using one’s mind to think critically and being open to the warnings of the Holy Spirit. Members were required to put aside all that they had ever been taught, seek a new salvation experience, and receive the “truth” in one’s “gut” (spirit) without the impure filterings of intellect and reflection.
Ties with family and outside friends were severed or severely limited and monitored. It was said that “spirit is thicker than blood.” In other words, one’s spiritual family, with whom one shared the same calling and vision, was more important than one’s natural or biological family.
Eventually, Mrs. Liang was successful in nearly erasing every member’s sense of autonomy and personal identity. Members dressed alike, carried the same Bible, the same bag, wore the same glasses, and had the same hairstyles-all for the sake of the “unity of the Body.” Any personal belongings of sentimental value were labeled as idolatrous and either thrown away (as in the case of Doug and Sandy’s wedding rings), sold very cheaply, or given to the “poor.” Interestingly, Mrs. Liang retained many of her personal belongings, and unlike other members, carried a leather bound Bible, a leather organizer, and wore jewelry. It was believed that she was no longer subject to vanity and pride and thus such things were not “idols” in her life. Her children also retained their personal belongings, their own hairstyles, and they received the best clothing and privileges. They were rarely disciplined or required to participate in the work of maintaining the household, a task that was seen as “learning servanthood” and regularly took till 1:00 A.M. every day.
These and many other inequities and atrocities, so easily recognized by the uninitiated, seemed completely justified behaviors to the members of STC because of the influence of Mrs. Liang’s spiritual thought-reform program. In obedience to what they presumed was God’s will, they obeyed their shepherd without question.
Evan and Stacy are slowly getting their lives back in order. They started with $23.00 in the bank, thousands of dollars of debt to the hospital for Janna’s premature birth, and two toddlers whom they barely knew. Nearly everything else was lost to the STC and Jean Liang. They have repeatedly asked themselves, “How could we have gotten involved in such a fiasco?”
Both are college educated, Evan only one year away from a Ph.D. degree. Both had been heavily involved in evangelical campus and camp ministries.
As is the case with most former members of abusive churches, they have had to deal with guilt over leaving the group. People who left were said to have committed the sin of blasphemy. Compounding that is the guilt over having joined in the first place and allowing themselves and their children to be so terribly abused.
On looking back, both Evan and Stacy understand the vulnerable position they were in upon joining the STC. They had lost much of the connectedness they had known during their college-ministry years, and were looking for significant relationships. Unfortunately, they and their closest friends were sucked into the group. They were also at major crossroads in terms of career and family. Evan’s career was just beginning to take off; they had been married three years and were struggling through normal marriage adjustments, as well as considering having a family; they had just bought their first home and were having major difficulties with the builder; and they were beginning to learn that their early idealism and zeal for God were not easily reconciled in a world full of conflict and doubt. The STC offered a place of definite black-and-white answers, a haven from doubt, a place where idealism for God could flourish, an opportunity for relationships deeper than they had ever known, and an outlet where their desire to love and serve God could be fully expressed. Unfortunately, such an ideal place does not exist in the real world.
As of this writing, only one young man remains under Jean Chao Liang’s influence in the Shepherd’s Training Center. Other former members have either gone back to their parents’ homes or set out on their own to reestablish their lives. Mrs. Liang’s promise to reestablish members upon dissolution of the group by selling the communal house has yet to be realized.
Speaking of Jean Liang, Evan says: “She never claimed to be God, only that she had a special calling and relationship with him. She never claimed to be a prophet or apostle, yet acted with that authority and rarely expressed doubt.” According to former members, Jean Chao Liang has yet to acknowledge the devastation she has brought to their lives, and may even believe that she is being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. On chance meetings with ex-members on the street, she exhorts them to “Go on with the Lord.”
Jesus Christ is to be our ultimate role model and our only Shepherd. Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). A good shepherd leads rather than controls his flock. I have talked to many former members of what is commonly referred to as “the shepherding movement,” and they all share the opinion of one man who said, “If your shepherd said jump, your only response was, ‘how high?'” It is indeed ironic that an honorable biblical concept like shepherding has taken on such distorted and abusive meanings in some Christian circles.
Pastor Phil Aguilar views himself as the unquestioned leader of his Set Free flock. Sometimes “shepherds” see their umbrella of oversight extending to the most mundane of life experiences. Such was the case when Pastor Phil was watching a high-school football game one evening in Anaheim, California. An ex-member recalls that Aguilar, his assistant pastor, and a rather large number of men were sitting together near the top of the stadium. The game ended and several of the men, along with the assistant pastor, started casually walking down the stadium steps toward the exit. Pastor Phil suddenly called out to them, “Don’t follow Aaron, follow Moses!” The little group had to return to where Phil was sitting and stand there for about fifteen minutes before he led them out.
Authoritarian pastors frequently use militaristic imagery to illustrate their strict systems of authority and discipline. In 1986 Pastor Don Barnett sermonized about his spiritual soldiers doing the will of the heavenly commander. He made it clear, however, that he was their earthly commander-in-chief.
“I have always wanted an army under me that would do what I ask–just like that. Not for me. A general never fights for himself; he fights for his nation. He fights for the commander of the state â€¦ don’t want to be eulogized. I don’t want to be lifted up. â€¦ But I am the commander of this army.
“I’m willing to lay on the ground in my sleeping roll with the rest of the troops; I don’t need an officer’s tent. But I’m telling you-and I want you to hear me-and I know I speak not just after the manner of men, but I know that I speak from the Spirit of the Lord when I say, even as Jesus wanted those to imitate him and follow him carefully, and the Apostle Paul also, that I am not wrong in asking that of this congregation.
“We’re going through a battle, and you’re going to see that those who have brought themselves to the place of discipline and submission, who are really and truly behind their pastor, are going to be the people who are behind God. â€¦ Those who will not submit will be on the second team, and they probably will be split off eventually. â€¦ I am asking for a new submission to your pastor. â€¦ I’m asking that you hear what he’s saying and do it. â€¦ I know that God wants you to do what I ask you to do, and I know that if you don’t, you are going against God himself.”
Abuse of the shepherding or discipleship principle is certainly not new. It began in the first century church. In Acts 20:30, 31, Paul the apostle warns that “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!”
© Copyright 1992 by Ronald M. Enroth.
While this book is no longer in print, second-hand copies can often still be obtained via booksellers such as Amazon.com.