The Loss of Joy

Having grown up in an abusive home, in which fighting, antagonism, hatred, strife, and sometimes violence were typical companions, I feel like I have a particular insight into what an abusive church looks like.

In a family environment, abuse is not always noticeable. Many times the family takes on a dual personality: acting one way in public so no one suspects them of having dysfunctional issues while acting at home in a different, perhaps even completely opposite way, where the gloves can come off and the members of the family, especially the authority figures (i.e. the parents) can be themselves, bad and unfortunate as that may be.

Abuse in a church is often not noticeable, either (unless one knows to look for it, or rather, for symptoms indicative of abuse). Members in a local church, for the most part, have come together in love, for God and Christ, each other, and the community at large, and so, it can be almost impossible, from such a vantage point, to see abuse when it’s happening. There’s no perspective.

And yet, many are the saints who can tell a story of how, over time, they just began to feel like something at their local assembly was “off”. They couldn’t put their finger on it, there wasn’t a very good way of describing it; they just felt like something wasn’t right.

They couldn’t point to a particular sin in the camp. Sometimes, they assumed something must be wrong with them. Others just chalked it up to a slump or some other kind of seasonal, spiritual depression, a funk, if you will, that they thought they’d bounce out of, when God decided it was time. And some just left, for parts known or unknown, never to find out the true cause of why they wanted to leave in the first place.

Very few of these people ever called it like it was, back when that nagging feeling first started nipping at the back of their minds. But something interesting occurred. They began to feel like they couldn’t talk about it with anyone from their local church. They became afraid that speaking up and attempting to name the nameless specter would get them in trouble.

So they sat on it, held it in, maybe only talking with their spouse, or a brother or sister far removed and/or in a different assembly.

And over time, something began sapping them of a most important fruit of the Spirit, that is to say, something began sapping them of their joy.

Rejoicing and celebrating with the brethren became more of a chore and a duty, rather than a natural response to God’s grace and mercy.

Others in the assembly, oblivious to what was really going on, if they noticed a change in them, began making unfounded assumptions: they were struggling, they were battling temptation, they were falling away, they had an offense, they were backslidden in heart, et cetera and et cetera.

I want you to know, dear brother or sister, that if you’ve ever experienced what I’ve written above, but have yet to realize what’s really going on, that what you’re going through is the first symptom of spiritual abuse.

Before love, before peace, even before goodness, which is kindness, before any other fruit of the Spirit, the joy of the Lord quickly disappears in those sensitive souls who truly love and appreciate God and His salvation, if and when, abuse is present (even if under wraps or unnoticeable) in the local church—when they, themselves are being abused.

It’s tricky. In a family, if a person is being beaten, molested, taunted, or terrorized physically or emotionally, they know right away, or at least by the time they’re old enough to know such treatment is wrong, that they are, or have been, abused.

And abuse is always about the same thing: personal inadequacy on the part of the abuser resulting in an unrighteous desire to control others and make them pay for how they themselves were abused.

Hurt people hurt people, right?

So, what does spiritual abuse look like? In an abusive church, it may not be (and pray it isn’t so) that anyone is being physically hurt or violated. It may be that no one is being tormented emotionally. And so, it may seem impossible to discern abuse.

But remember what abuse it: unrighteous control of others.

God grants us all authority. Some may have more than others. However much authority God gives to one person or another, the moment a person oversteps their bounds, abuse occurs. Firstly, it’s an abuse of their authority, what we might call an abuse of power.

When one’s power in the Gospel is being abused, it never fails: God’s people are the ones who suffer.

If I was authorized to a certain extent in Christ, to reprove or rebuke (for example) and instead of holding that power in reserve for only severe, absolutely necessary occasions, and instead, just began reproving and rebuking anyone and everyone for what I perceived to be even the smallest slight, then I would be abusing my power/authority in the Gospel.

If I was authorized to expect financial remuneration from the Body of Christ for my ministry (See 1 Corinthians 9), but instead of simply being content with “food and raiment” (1 Timothy 6:8), I began to badger and bemoan the Bride of Christ, expecting Her to take care of many, most, or all of my financial needs, even my unnecessary whims (all the way up to my necessary house payment, car payment, student loans, and/or any other major expense), then I have, AS PAUL REFUSED TO DO, abused my authority in the Gospel (See 1 Corinthians 9:12-19[1]).

What is it then, brethren? The issue is abuse in the church, albeit, abuse of the spiritual variety, which almost never looks like abuse in the regular world. While abuse in the church often, and sometimes, almost exclusively comes from those who have been given a level of authority by God (just as in the secular world with parents, for example), the manner in which that authority is abused is significantly different.

It is expected of an authorized person in Christ to reprove and rebuke (See 2 Timothy 4:1-2). So when a line gets crossed, it’s hard to know.

It is expected of an authorized person in Christ to expect financial support for their ministry (See 1 Timothy 5:17). So when a line gets crossed, it’s hard to know.

BUT GOD KNOWS. And those who know God will begin to feel what He feels: discontent, even sorrow (that is, lack and loss of joy) at and for the abuse. God is an emotional being; He feels things. God can become distressed and upset at how things in His church are going, even at the local level. It’s true. That distress and sorrow can be, and often is, experienced by those who share true communion with Him. He expresses and emotes His feelings to those willing to listen, feel, and understand, as much as any husband is willing to express and emote how he feels to his wife (See and consider Ephesians 5:22-33). One person I know calls it “pillow talk”.

Here’s what it comes down to:

If a husband is being mistreated, even abused at his job, what’s the first thing that happens?

He loses his joy for the job and wants to quit.

If a wife is being mistreated, even abused in her marriage, what’s the first thing that happens?

She loses her joy for her husband and wants to leave.

If children are being mistreated, even abused at home, what’s the first thing that happens?

They lose their joy for their family and want to run away.

When a student is being mistreated, even abused at school, what’s the first thing that happens?

They lose their joy for learning and want to stop attending.

If a saint is being mistreated, even abused at their church, what’s the first thing that happens?

They lose their __________ for __________ and want to __________.

Can you fill in the blanks? If you’re suffering abuse at your church, I bet you can.

________________________________________________________________________________

[1] I recommend reading from a translation other than the King James Version since some of the words in the King James don’t make as much sense to our modern understanding, e.g. power and reward. Try instead the English Standard Version or even the New Living Translation to get the fullest sense of the passage (and how it applies here).

Link to ESV:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+cor+9%3A12-19&version=ESV

Link to NLT:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+cor+9%3A12-19&version=NLT

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~ by votivesoul on 05/23/2015.

2 Responses to “The Loss of Joy”

  1. Excellent post. You are addressing an issue many, many people have dealt with in a multitude of different ways. I am glad you are addressing this very difficult issue. I think within the church that spiritual abuse is very likely to occur because of the way the ministry is set up with little to no accountability, and a position that renders them authority almost like a god. It is the system that promotes this kind of spiritual abuse, in my opinion. We have seen wonderful men with pure hearts enter the ministry, only later to find them corrupted by the system they became a part of, and the demands of the system drug them down. No human being can be invincible to the kind of hero worship that goes on in most churches. The entire system of ministry needs to change, to a plural form, with accountability, and with acknowledging that Jesus is the true head of the church, and no man should seek to take that position in a believer’s life. May the Lord continue to bless your writing Bro! 🙂

    • Hi, MM.

      Thanks for the reply and kind comments. You know, I’ve been realizing that it’s not so much about attitude or even fruit of the Spirit. Many ministers, elders, pastors, and etc. are nice guys, godly in demeanor and treatment of others, saint and sinner alike.

      It’s about the system Christ implemented. No matter how kind-hearted, generous, or faithful a man is, if he (or she) is not following the Lord’s implemented plan for church polity and government, abuses automatically occur, even if the man or woman in question isn’t authoritarian in nature/action.

      It is as you say. The system in place, an adopted and adapted Catholic system, wrecks otherwise holy men with good intentions.

      We must see the system change before the Lord will bring about the next great move of His Spirit. The church can’t be(come) what it’s supposed to be while competition for headship continues to take place. People will never learn to follow the Spirit when another voice, the voice of man, keeps telling them to follow and submit to them, even if what they say contradicts the leading of the Spirit.

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