[Edited 6/30/2022 due to updates in legal situation and to add a link]
So far we’ve discussed the generational gap between many of today’s leaders and those affected most by the deficiencies of our churches, the “cycle” of movements in Christianity at large, the Bible issue and the rotten attitudes often displayed, a blame assessment for what went wrong, and then a bleak look at the end result of the most recent manifestation of the aforementioned cycle. Things are not looking very positive for our “Recovering” series, and it’s only going to get more bleak, I’m afraid. This time we’re going to see what the Bible says is the proper approach to “cleaning house.”
What does God expect of Us?
The Bible makes it very clear that God’s expectations of His people are far greater than anything He expects from the world around them. From Israel being a “peculiar people” (special and unique, not just “weird” in modern parlance) to the church being a “called out assembly” and that judgment must begin at the house of God, we, the people of God, are called to a much higher standard than anyone else. God doesn’t expect holiness from the lost world; He simply calls them to repent. The church on the other hand, is commanded to be holy, as without holiness, no man shall see God. Doctrinally, for us, that is of course Christ’s imputed holiness, but the practical command of 2 Corinthians 7:1 is still applicable: we are supposed to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” That command exists for the already saved: it is to affect and direct our walk as Christians.
Perfecting holiness is much the same as “working out” your salvation: Philippians 2:12 is talking about the external practice of an interior reality, not a process of working for salvation. Obedience to God’s word requires us to perform in the body the good works to which we have been predestinated (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 2:10), which is the only way that a believer can be sure to bear fruit (Titus 3:14), but of course that fruit-bearing stems from the unity of believers in Christ (John 17). When it is not only normal but expected that disunity, discord, division, dissension, and dissimulation define our fellowship, it’s no wonder that God is not made manifest in this world. The “Ruckmanites” can point fingers at the “Baptist Briders” and the BJU crowd can point fingers at the “Hyles” crowd while the “Recovering Fundamentalists” can mock all of them (while banning, blocking, and booting people, hosting Israel trips and camp meetings just like all the other Fundamentalists), but in the end it is the devil that benefits from our refusal to work together to glorify God. Scoff all you want, and I have seen the scoffing, but the reality of the world in which we live is all the proof we need to understand that our direct disobedience to Christ’s command to His church is responsible for the condition of individual believers, the church, and the lost world around us.
When faced with the reality of our situation, the understandable human reaction is to jump ship. No one wants to be associated with a bunch of ungodly, disobedient people. Unfortunately, in both a doctrinal and practical sense, that’s both impossible (1 Corinthians 12:12-14) and forbidden (Acts 27:31). We are all part of Christ’s body and there is no escaping that. The minute one begins to identify himself as separate from other believers, no matter how disgusting they may be, is the moment that division has entered the body. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for identifying themselves with various preachers, including Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 1:12-13), not because those preachers were in disagreement with one another or because it is wrong to follow Christ (or Paul, for that matter: 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Ephesians 5:1; Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14), but because it is sin to identify oneself apart from the rest of the body of Christ.
Division in Christ’s body is sin (1 Corinthians 1:10; 3:3). Yet at the same time, sin in the body is a reason for division (1 Corinthians 5-6). But the difference is that biblical division over sin is always intended to prompt repentance and reconciliation. Perhaps, then, we should look at Fundamentalism’s squeamishness regarding “repentance,” whether it is in the realm of “soul winning” (expecting a biblical change in behavior is counterproductive when one’s goal is to “pump up those rookie numbers”) or with regards to sin being dealt with in the church; after all, it’s much easier to send the pregnant teen off to Colorado or accuse her of being a seductress than actually call the cops on the CHILD MOLESTING pastor/youth pastor/deacon/church member. Of course we wouldn’t want “the ministry” to suffer from a biblical approach to dealing with criminal behavior in the church (Romans 13:1-5).
The cops only get called when nosy church members try confront the pastor over his voyeurism: he secretly recorded women getting undressed in his office. Thanks to a lax statute of limitations in Florida for voyeurism, Greg Neal was never prosecuted. Yet Neal is still invited to preach at various “Fundamental” meetings and conferences. And we haven’t even touched the sordid story of Cameron Giovanelli, who was hired by Neal after being accused of child sexual assault while pastoring in Maryland, prior to becoming the president of Golden State Baptist College, and after an embarrassingly short stint in jail was taken in by Harvest Baptist Church in Fort Dodge, Iowa where he played host to missionary Jordan Webb who is currently being investigated (charges were dropped) for sexual abuse, incest, and child endangerment. Harvest is paying for Webb’s attorney fees despite claiming that he is not employed by or sent out of the church.
It’s normal to want to wash our hands of the situation, falling back on the “we’re independent” excuse and hoping that no one associates us with this vile, putrid stain on the holiness of our Saviour. However, this has never been God’s way. In the New Testament, “legal sin” (adultery, heresy, etc.) in the church is to be dealt with according to the principles of Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5: expulsion and disfellowship until repentance and restoration is achieved. However, illegal or criminal behavior must be vigorously denounced and immediately reported to the civil authorities; it matters not how much we may love the offender: he must face the legal penalties for his crimes. Furthermore, 1 Timothy 5 is crystal clear on sin among church leadership:
19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
21 I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.
Of course the context isn’t specifically about sexual impropriety, abuse, or criminal behavior: that’s covered under “blameless” in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6-7. However, since we’ve come to the point in modern churchianity where a man can plead guilty to sex offense and assault against a minor and be almost immediately welcomed back into church ministry (quietly and under the radar, of course), we find ourself in a place where we must dig through the sordid details of ghastly accusations and try to determine what to do about such revolting situations. If a Christian is accused of criminal behavior, he is no longer blameless. Until he is cleared of suspicion, he has no biblical right to continue in any ministry position in any capacity whatsoever. This is doubly so for an elder (“pastor” for those that get squeamish about biblical terminology). In fact, in the Bible, there is to be no “sweeping things under the rug”: the man, when guilty, is to be PUBLICLY REBUKED (“before all”) and openly shamed about his sin. THAT is how God is to be glorified in the midst of a terrible situation: open rebuke and purification of the body by expelling the offending member.
But no, in today’s churches, the victims almost inevitably get shunned and excommunicated while the offenders get a slap on the wrist, if anything. At worst, unless the police get involved, the pervert pastor quietly resigns and moves across the country to get a job at a different church, where he will repeat the cycle of abuse. And we, through our silence, are complicit enablers of this behavior.
We should take a page out of the Old Testament though in a conceptual sense and (unfortunately) not a literal one: when God’s people were engaged in fornication and direct rebellion against God’s orders, Moses asked the people “Who is on the LORD’S side?” The subsequent “consecration” (Exodus 32:29) entailed slaughtering 3,000 people. There was no “restoration” for those actively engaged in blaspheming God through their idolatrous (Colossians 3:5), naked (Revelation 3:17) fornication (1 Corinthians 6:18). All that was left, and what was required by God, was to run a sword through their guts. That was “consecration” before God, for a people that were involved in grotesque sin. We’re not going to be able to take swords and start chopping off heads of child abusers, as much as it would probably help, but we can publicly shame, denounce, and rebuke those that commit such sins, those that cover up those sins, and those that enable them. Until it becomes uncomfortable for “good, godly men” to harbor and defend these vile criminals or commit the crimes themselves and get away with it, the name of our Saviour will continue to be besmirched by their heinous crimes.
For this very purpose we have recently implemented a process by which abuse can be reported for every listing on KJV Churches. Of course the hope is that it will never be necessary, but in the event that it is, we will research the case and if warranted, add a warning to the church’s listing. However, it’s telling that almost all of the responses to our announcement of this feature were about how to get that badge of shame removed from a listing, and no one was interested in looking for ways to help the victims. Clearly IFB churches have developed a culture of cover-ups and victim shaming to such a degree that they don’t even realize when they’re doing it.
I would hazard to say that there is nothing in New Testament Scripture that can guide us as a church (each local church or the body of Christ as a whole, take your pick based on your own idiosyncratic ecclesiological position) out of the unbelievable condition in which we find ourselves. The reason is that the Holy Spirit simply didn’t include specific instructions for dealing with child rapists in the pulpit in the New Testament church. Dealing with that kind of behavior seems to require looking back to the Old Testament and the “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38) to see how God dealt with such depravity. Swords, serpents, and scathing sermons from God’s prophets were the LORD’s approach to sin in the nation, and it’s foolhardy to think that it can be dealt with in any other way (the “swords” and “serpents” being metaphorical in our situation). With few exceptions, the prophets were sent to preach to Israel and Judah, not typically to the Gentiles, and even then it was a simple message of general repentance, not a specific rebuke for direct disobedience against God’s commands.
The condition of the church today should give every Christian ulcers. The idea that Christ’s bride, the “chaste virgin” for whom God’s own blood was shed (Acts 20:28), is being ravaged by the very people that are supposed to be caring for her, is cause for widespread sackcloth and ashes and indefinite periods of fasting and mourning. Yet, people who claim to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God go about their liturgical procedures nonchalantly, as if the very representation of Jesus Christ on this earth were not the absolute laughingstock of the entire world.
“Old Paths” types love to point to Jeremiah 5, especially verse 5, where Jeremiah says that he will go and seek the advice of the “great men.” Ironically they ignore the context: “but these have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds.” God was looking for ONE man, any that sought truth and judgment. The end result is Ezekiel 22:30-31; “but I found none.” But the end of the Jeremiah passage is so applicable to our situation today:
30 ¶A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land;
31 The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?
The prophets (preachers) and priests (pastors, since they assume the right to the tithe and all) preach lies and rule forcibly over the people, but it’s because that’s what the people want. The only thing left is the response of the few, or maybe even the one. We’ll talk about Revelation 3:14-22 next time, if you can stomach it.