In our previous posts (part one and part two), we suggested that it might be good for a Christian to remain at their local churches even when the pastor(s) preach a false gospel or there’s been moral failure in the leadership. Those are good reasons to leave a church when it appears you’re in a significant minority as one who sees and opposes the problem. But those can also be reasons to remain in the church to seek change.
In this final post, we want to consider another excellent reason to leave a church that could also be a reason to stay: spiritual abuse.
This is a tricky issue because in most cases the absolute right thing to do is flee the abuse. But as we’ve seen in our previous posts, nowhere does the New Testament assume that the congregation belongs to the pastor. Instead, the pastor owes an account to the people. When things go wrong, the people have a responsibility to call the pastor to account—publicly and effectively. The same is true when “leaders” become spiritually abusive of the sheep.
Let’s consider a couple of passages in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.
2 Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. 4 I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.
14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?
20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.
In the first passage we see Paul’s Christ-like heart toward the Corinthians. As a pastor and apostle, his heart is open to them. He’s ride or die with the Corinthians. And in no way has he wronged, corrupted or taken advantage of them. That’s a true pastor’s heart.
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SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition