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Beware of Abusive Pastors
Updated November 12, 2003 (first published February 26, 2000) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org)
In recent years I have become increasingly shocked by the widespread abuse of pastoral authority that is found in the fundamental Baptist movement. Following is an excerpt from a recent e-mail that describes an example of such abuse. Let me say something first, though, about the fact that this particular pastor is apparently a follower of Peter Ruckman. We must hasten to note that there are many abusive pastors who do not follow Peter Ruckman, and there are men who appreciate Ruckman in some ways who are not abusive. (For more information about Peter Ruckman see the booklet “What About Ruckman” from Way of Life Literature; this material is also at the Way of Life web site under the Bible Version section of the End Times Apostasy Database.)

Now to the letter describing an abusive church situation:

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Hi! I enjoy your e-mails of O Timothy very much! Thanks! My husband and I have left (or should I say ran away) from a Ruckmanite church. The pastor pointing his finger at me in front of the congregation “corrected” me i.e. told me what to do on a certain issue. The issue was this: my parents live ------ miles away from me. My father is very ill with heart problems and the Lord could take him tomorrow or let him live a few more years. Whatever. Point is I see them only at the most a month a year. I have been ministering to them and praise the Lord they got saved last year! So, they came to visit me in ---------. My husband and I went to church FOUR times a week and were in the music ministry. When my parents came there was a revival and I couldn’t attend all the sessions. I went THREE times that week. First this pastor tells me whatever you do, do unto the Lord! So I’m cool and miss a few of the revival meetings because my parents absorbed all my time and I wanted to be with them. My husband went to all the meetings.

First Sunday after my parents leave, I go to church. The pastor says yelling in front of everyone: “This time it was OK that you didn’t attend every service but next time to show your parents your faith in God you HAVE TO come ALL THE TIME.” RED FLAG RED FLAG: CULT ON SIGHT!! Excuse me but “forsake not the assembly” does not mean GO EVERY DAY!!!!!!! Especially considering that I get to see my parents not very often and they spend $3,000 to fly to see me, sick and all!!!! He also told my husband that he did great because he didn't follow his wife but followed God by going to all the meetings! WHAT????? Where does the Bible say that our faith is demonstrated by how often we go to our local church???????? And this man (divorced , ex-convict, ex junkie who in my own humble opinion should NOT be a pastor!) tells us four-time-a-week-goers that!!??? Is he the Holy Ghost? How can I explain that my husband was OK with me being with my parents and after seeking the Lord He gave me peace to be with my parents and minister to them that way???

I smell cult...the Ruckman cult! No wonder when I went to his church I was SICK and my husband was uncomfortable!! The women were lifeless and oppressed!!!! No black people (I wonder why? have you ever read how Ruckman talks about women being stupid and blacks being the dumbest beings on earth?) If you read “Art & Artists” by Ruckman you get disgusted by his white male supremacy agenda!!!! Not in a godly way but it almost sounds nazi!

So no wonder this Ruckmanite pastor thinks he can tell me what to do and “correct” me impromptu in public. (Aren’t we supposed to do it first in private?)

I called him and told him we were looking for another church because since he made that comment my spiritual life had suffered and I believed it to be very cultish. Also told him that the correction would have been more appropriate in private and that he had acted like the Holy Spirit. Then I proceeded to tell him I thought Ruckman wrote some good stuff but he sounded very nazi (I should know, I am from Argentina!)

So this man writes me a letter that made my husband, my best Christian friend, my parents and myself sick. He talks about my mom 60% of the letter saying that I am like her (he met her for 5 seconds). He compared her and I to Jezebel and my dad and my wonderful, loving husband with Ahab. It was truly a cheap example of psychological manipulation. . . . He says I have pride, rebellion and independence BECAUSE I LEFT THE CHURCH, REFUSING TO SUBMIT AND OBEY THE PASTOR IN HOW I SHOULD BEHAVE NEXT TIME MY PARENTS VISITED.

I read your article about pastors not telling people what to do and that if you don't agree with them they would fight ya. No kidding!!! One church member asked the pastor if he could call me and he said not to. . . .

We are now trying to attend a NON-Ruckmanite church. However, I feel psychological, emotional, spiritual and even physical BAD fruits from this awful pastor’s comment and letter.

I guess what I am trying to ask is: HELP!! I ask you to please give me a truthful answer of what is wrong with this picture. Even what’s wrong with me...please!!

God bless you!!

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REPLY FROM BROTHER CLOUD:

Hello, ---------. Thanks for the note. I am very sorry to hear about your experiences in a church that has an abusive man for a pastor. It is never easy to understand things from afar, but from what you have described to me I have no hesitancy to call that pastor abusive.

I have stated my view on that in the article “Unquestioning Loyalty to Pastoral Leadership Is the Sign of a Cult.” (This is available at the Way of Life web site under the Church section of the End Times Apostasy Database -- http://www.wayoflife.org) A truly God-called, biblically-qualified pastor has great authority in the church, but it is not a worldly, lording-type authority; it is a gracious, humble, compassionate shepherd-type authority. 1 Peter 5:2 is plain about that. “Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” The Fundamental Baptist movement, sadly, has produced a great number of churches that are pastored by ungodly men who exercise worldly authority and who operate in the flesh rather than the Spirit.

Ungodly pastors have hurt many people. It is extremely dangerous to stay in a church that has a pastor who is abusive and does not follow the Biblical pattern for pastoral leadership. The problem is that they are often very clever and manipulative, and they can manipulate people into staying in situations that they know are not right. The solution is to stand upon the clear teaching of the Word of God (such as 1 Peter 5:2) and stay away from them and not feel guilty about rejecting their unscriptural authority; and to get into a good church that is pastored by a compassionate man of God.

Not only is it crucial to get out of such a church for the sake of you and your husband, but for your children as well. One of two things often happen when children are raised in a church environment that is controlled by an unspiritual pastor. First, there is a danger that they will reject the Word of God because of the carnality that they witness. Second, there is a danger they will fall under the control of the abusive pastoral authority and they will become addicted to having a man control their lives rather than develop the proper relationship directly with the Lord Jesus Christ. Some people like to be mistreated and abused! That is why cults are often so successful. A godly pastor friend told me recently about a family who left his church to attend another fundamental Baptist church in his town. The other church is pastored by a man who rules over the flock like a feudal lord over his territory. The woman of the family told my pastor friend that she likes the other church “because the pastor tells us what to do.” Now, the pastor friend in question is a strong leader and takes a bold stand for the Word of God in all areas, but he does not believe he can take the place of Jesus Christ in the lives of his people and he wants the Lord to be the head of the church and the Chief Shepherd of that flock rather than himself. He knows that to allow the Lord to work in peoples’ lives requires patience and humility and compassion, and that if people do things externally merely because he demands that they do so, there is no eternal fruit that is pleasing to the Lord, who “looketh upon the heart.” The difference between these two pastors is chiefly a difference between their ATTITUDE toward the Lord and toward the people. A Diotrephes is proud, carnal, demanding, overbearing, impatient, uncompassionate, “loving” only toward those who submit to him, but mean-spirited toward those who do not agree with him. A God-called, scripturally-qualified pastor is the opposite of this.

It is important also to understand that when a pastor tries to become the head of the home, he has exceeded his authority. He is an undershepherd in the church, and though he has the obligation and authority to watch over every soul in the church, he is not the head of the home. The father is the one and only earthly head of the home under the Lord. The father, as the priest of the home, makes the decisions pertaining to the home, in harmony with his wife (Eph. 5: 22-31; 1 Pet. 3:7). The priesthood of the believers teaches us that the “clergy-laity” concept is wrong. The father and mother stand directly before the Lord together in all matters pertaining to their family, and they do not have to go to a “clergyman” or an earthly priest for direction. (This is not to discount the importance of obtaining counsel from a godly pastor; counsel is one thing; domination is another.) I have seen pastors that intervene dramatically in the affairs of the church families, by DEMANDING, for example, that the families put their kids in the church school and by forcing them to forsake home schooling and other such things that are not contrary to the Word of God. If something is not contrary to the Word of God, a pastor cannot demand that people not do it, because his authority is the Bible alone. (In fact, if anything, home schooling is more scriptural than church schools. But I digress.) I have seen situations in which pastors have caused mothers to go out of the home to get a secular job in order to pay to send the kids to a church school, even though the mothers were doing a great job in educating their children in the home under the oversight of godly fathers. This is wrong. Such decisions affecting the home are to be made by the father and mother, not by a pastor. It is the father who has the responsibility before God to raise up the children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). It is the mothers who have the responsibility to be the keepers of the home (Titus 2:4-5). Decisions pertaining to these matters obviously fall squarely upon the shoulders of the mother and the father. The pastor has no authority to usurp this. For him to attempt to do so is a great error and confusion. Of course, if a wife or a young person is in an unbelieving home situation, there sometimes arises a situation in which he or she must obey the Lord and follow a godly pastor’s counsel rather than that of an unsaved father or husband. But that is far different than a situation in which a pastor attempts to become God in the homes under his watchcare. I heard one Independent Baptist pastor say, “You would do better to come to the man of God about your decisions than to pray about them.” Those are the words of a cult leader and not a New Testament pastor. A truly godly pastor wants his people to learn to be dependent upon the Lord, not upon a weak human being like himself.

Your comment about how the pastor treats women was very interesting but very sad. I have personally seen this in other situations. I know one pastor who often refers to the women in his congregation as “dumb as rocks.” In what way is that edifying? What message is that pastor sending not only to the women, but to the men and to the children! By talking down to the women like that, by ridiculing them, he is also discouraging the women themselves, and he is lowering the women in the eyes of the men and the children and the young people. Of course, that is probably his goal. This same pastor often calls the mothers in the church who do not accept every jot and tittle of his authority and who do not look at things like he does “sissies.” What does he think a woman is supposed to be but a sissy! God made women feminine and different than men, and praise the Lord that He did. The Bible says the woman is the “weaker vessel.” One of the Lord’s purposes for the woman is to bear children, and for that task she has a completely different makeup than a man. A man sometimes has to raise children without a woman alongside, but he is at a great handicap because no matter how much he loves his children he simply is not a mother. It is a “mother’s love,” that God-given touch of feminine tenderness and gentleness and kindness, that is so frequently glorified even in this sin-cursed world. On the other hand, though, godly women are stronger than men in some ways. I have been married for 27 years, and I am always amazed at my wife’s strength in the Lord in spite of her weakness physically. The church of God needs both godly women and godly men, and they are not the same and they are not supposed to be the same, and a pastor who ridicules women is a foolish man.

The bottom line is the Lord has never given a man the authority to usurp His own position in the lives of His people. Pastors are helpers of God’s people; they are shepherds; but they can never try to take the place of God Himself in their lives, and when he does he is no better than the Pope of Rome, that great granddaddy of all spiritual usurpers and abusers of pastoral authority. The bishop has the authority to pastor the Lord’s sheep, but not to abuse them or to demand the unquestioning loyalty that belongs to Jesus Christ alone.

Even the Apostle Paul did not see himself as having dominion over people’s faith. “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand” (2 Cor. 1:24). The Lord Jesus Christ taught the same thing: “But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:42-44).

Let me conclude with a word of counsel to you personally. First and foremost, draw near to the Lord like Mary did (Luke 10:39). Put the Lord in the right priority and men in this world will, in turn, be found in their correct priority. Even the best of men (and women) will sometimes offend and disappoint you, because, alas, we are but sinners saved by grace. There are probably many good things in the life even of Pastor Diotrephes (though that in no wise excuses his great and hurtful error of exceeding his authority under God).

Second, I would counsel you that it might have been better had you attended the church meetings in question. I do believe Hebrews 10:25 is a commandment from the Lord that church members should not dismiss themselves from called church meetings. A church is a body, and it cannot function properly unless the members are faithful. Obviously there are times when one must miss a service due to sickness or whatever, but I do not believe we should take it upon ourselves to miss a service when we could attend. If the meetings were scriptural and godly, your parents should have been there, too, unless their health prevented it. You said they are new Christians. They need the preaching of the Word of God and the fellowship of the saints in order to grow in Christ. When people stay home from scheduled church meetings for the sake of visiting family members (unless there are mitigating circumstances, and in your case there were), they give the example before those family members that church meetings are not very important and that the Lord is not first in that home. I do not know the whole story, of course, so I am not trying to say that you were right or wrong. You said your husband agreed with you about the decision to stay home with your parents. That certainly is a decision that you and he must make together. If your parents were unable to attend because of their health, and if you decided before the Lord to stay home with them under the circumstance, that is certainly reasonable. You asked, though, “Where does the Bible say that our faith is demonstrated by how often we go to our local church?” While it is obvious that our faith is demonstrated in hundreds of ways, the Bible DOES emphasize the importance of the church in the life of believers. It calls the church the house of God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). The example of the Christians in the first church at Jerusalem and in the church at Antioch do not give us the idea that we can treat the church casually in any sense and be pleasing to the Lord (Acts 2;13). I would also hasten to say that I understand completely that you are writing from the context of an abusive church situation, and I know that in such situations pastors are insensitive to the families of the church and often try to control every part of their lives. A godly pastor is not going to ramrod his people like a cattle driver. Obviously I am not counseling anyone to submit to abuse, and you are right in resisting it. What I am referring to in regard to being committed to a church is being committed and submissive to a godly New Testament church that is operating scripturally, and I wanted to sound a word of warning for the sake of balancing out this counsel. As I said, in the final analysis, these are things you and your husband must decide before the Lord.

Finally, I will also warn that your anger at all of this is no more glorifying to the Lord than your pastor’s errors are. Your angry spirit can ruin your family just as quickly as pastoral abuse can. “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Peter 3:4). “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:17,18).

Let me know how things go. I would particularly love to hear that you have found a good church and that you are submitting to a godly pastor who is exercising scriptural authority in a healthy spiritual environment. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).


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