Are Christians called to blind obedience?

                                                                Ecclesial Disobedience

As I sat in the circle, I anxiously awaited the start of the meeting which I hoped would bring healing not only to Nicole and I but to all those that met with us and were under a cloud of hurt which had lingered for the past several months. 

It was to be the meeting to end all meetings

We would all voice our feelings and in the end we would all surely be more united under the bond of brotherly love.  The pastor was excited for the meeting to begin and stated, "This could be the start of a beautiful story". Before anyone spoke, the pastor said a short prayer and gave the rules of the evening.  He explained that each person in the room would take turns and speak to someone else in the room about their concern. He stated that when talking to someone else you may voice your concern and the person on the receiving end would then summarize what you have said and then state, "I am sorry"....

The meeting was a disaster.

It did not bring healing but only served to make tensions even higher. One by one each person went around the room and stated their concern in front of the crowd of 12 people. Although everyone was invited to state their case for why they were upset to anyone in the room, it was clear the majority of the complaints were directed at one person, Nicole. Different people went around the room and used vivid, descriptive language to state the reasons why Nicole caused them pain.  At one moment when Nicole tried to ask further questions to clarify the reason for the stated concern and to explain her heart in that situation, she was promptly stopped by the pastor who vehemently replied, "Nicole, you are being defensive. You need to simply repeat what has been told to you and state, I am sorry". The rest of the meeting proceeded that way.  It was clear truth was not being sought as gossip fueled attacks were the theme of the evening. I attempted with everything I could to deflect the oncoming arrows by taking blame upon myself and stating that I was sorry however, it was not successful. It was a full on assault.  Not only did the pastors standby and witness the assault, each of them took part in administering their own blows. 

My heart was torn apart as I sat next to Nicole and watched tears flow as she was trying to make it through and follow the rules of the game.  I desperately wanted to stop the attack, however I felt that I was obligated to be obedient to the pastors by allowing them to go along with the plan they felt would be best. On another note I wanted to allow Nicole to stand on her own feet because I believe in her strength. 

I failed miserably. 

After this meeting it was clear that no progress was made and the pain ran even deeper. Nicole was devastated by the words of our friends and pastors.  That night she did not sleep all night long as she fought the claims of the enemy of her soul who continued to tell her that she was worthless. She clung to the sheets the entire night and used all her strength to restrain herself from taking my gun and ending her life. 

What have I done?  I have sworn to protect her.  I love her to the core of my being and seeing her in pain produces the most agony and grief I have ever faced.  She is the bride of my youth and I would do anything to keep her from any danger or suffering but I have failed.  

Does the Bible really instruct us to have such blind obedience to church leaders to allow such an injustice to take place? 

Does the Bible give such liberty to pastors to allow them to speak words into your life that are devastating and contrary to the truth of the Bible?

Before I could answer any of these questions, I had to examine myself and evaluate what I had done wrong. I knew what I had to do to make things right.  I repented before God and Nicole for my failure.  In that moment I did not fulfill my vow to protect her.  I could have stopped that meeting and I didn't.  I am married to an incredibly beautiful woman that I love deeply.  God is a father who loves her even more than I do and I didn't protect his daughter.  By grace, which I don't deserve, Nicole forgave me and I know God has forgiven me as well.

Where do I go from here?  

Needless to say, attending church after that meeting was a struggle.  After our experience it was so difficult to hear a message of love from the pulpit after being subject to the opposite behind closed doors.  Knowing my past failures, how do I make it right in the future and protect my bride and family?  

Should we even go to this church?  

The questions were endless and the answers were few.  We felt that God did not want us to leave for some purpose that is far beyond our imagination or understanding.  We planned to abide by the rules that were communicated.  In the meeting, the pastor told us that our Facebook posts were causing much more harm than good. 

He reiterated a statement he made in the past when he said, "Nicole, the woman of God you think you are, is not the woman people see on Facebook".  He went on to say that no one he has ever talked to has ever felt her posts were encouraging.  He told us that if we would "go dark" on Facebook for 6 months, it would prove to the pastor's that we really wanted to stay at the church.

Although I did not fully understand the benefit of being off Facebook for six months, overall I did not feel this was a completely unreasonable request.  

In my mind I wondered why they want to have this much control of our actions but I believe scripture and Hebrews 13:17a says, "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority".  I have submitted myself to authority figures multiple times in the past and I am not too proud to let them have their way. 

As we were silent on Facebook, our lives continued as usual. 

Life happens and when life happens we share it with those around us. 

We continued to do that apart from Facebook however our friends and family which we are able to stay in contact with apart from Facebook is only a handful.  During that time we found out Nicole was pregnant despite using the Mirena IUD which is 99.8% effective at preventing pregnancy.  We were so excited and overjoyed that God would bless us with another little one however, less than 1 week after hearing this wonderful news, our hearts broke when Nicole had symptoms of a threatened miscarriage. 

At the same time we realized how powerful our stories can be.  

All the signs, symptoms and scientific knowledge regarding the symptoms Nicole had pointed to a miscarriage, yet God has power to change the outcome for His purpose.  Our eyes opened when we realized that whether we lost the baby or by God's miraculous grace the baby survived, there was power in our story.  

Relying on God to make it through such a devastating loss encourages those who face loss and struggle.  Rejoicing in victory if the baby survives brings hope and joy as we are thankful for God's goodness.  No matter the outcome there is power in our story when it demonstrates what it looks like to be completely dependent on Christ.

I felt such a strong sense of the importance of sharing our lives with others that I started to be convicted that being obedient to the pastors of our church meant we were not being obedient to Christ.  The more I prayed and sought truth, the more I knew that if God has called Nicole and I to share our lives and the love of Christ on Facebook, it was more important to be obedient to that call than it was to continue to stay off Facebook to please the pastors. I sent a letter to the pastor to lovingly state my purpose for sharing our life on Facebook and the sense of calling we felt from God.  In the letter I assured him that I would shepherd my wife and family and that I will be personally responsible before God for any post they make. I asked him to address me personally for any concerns regarding any post made by any of my family. With that declaration, knowing we may be viewed as being in opposition to the leadership we started to share our lives again on Facebook.  

I most assuredly did not make this decision lightly as I have a high respect for those placed in leadership.

To me this declaration to the leadership of the church and responsibility I claimed in protecting my family seemed like a small act of obedience to God.  Indeed it was very small however, the freedom Nicole started to experience was tremendous.  I did not allow her to go to any more meetings in which there would be risk that she would be attacked like she was before. Despite the struggle we still faced at church she was able to attend and worship with joy.

I am thankful that God has answered some of the questions I posed previously.  

Blind obedience is not only unsupported by scripture it is terrifyingly dangerous.  

It was blind obedience that led to the holocaust of the Jews, the Jonestown massacre, the Salem Witch Trials and numerous other historical atrocities.  Deeper inquisition into the meaning of Hebrews 13:17 does not support blind adherence to the instruction of church leaders.  The two key greek words in Hebrews 13:17 are the greek words for obey, peithesthe, and the word for submit, hypeikete.  Peithesthe (obey) when translated from greek actually means be persuaded about or as other scholars have translated, allow yourselves to be persuaded by.  The greek for hypeikete (submit) means yield to.  

The large majority of commentators translate the meaning of Hebrews 13:17 to mean that we are to allow our church leaders to persuade us and to yield to their instruction on matters of indifference.  This means we are to respect them and give them the final say for grey areas however, we are responsible to adhere to truth and obey God first.

To answer the other major question I have posed, does the Bible give liberty to pastors to allow them to speak words into your life that are devastating and contrary to the truth of the Bible?  

There is no question from scripture, the answer is no.  James 3:1 states, "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly".  Church leaders and teachers of the bible are held to a higher standard than lay Christians. 

Hebrews 13:17b states,  "they [leaders] watch over you as those who must give an account".  This truth is damning for those who live as though they are not accountable to God and for those leaders in full submission to God it is the reason we must give them respect.

You may wonder the outcome of standing up to protect my family and claim my right to be obedient to God as I felt him lead me.  In a private meeting of myself and the executive pastors, my family was asked to leave the church.  

What reason was I given?  I was told that my actions demonstrate distrust for the leaders and I should find a church in which I can trust the leaders completely. 

There is no doubt the course of my entire family will change as the pastors used an unscriptural reason as well as an unscriptural procedure to remove us from this church body.  My household numbers 10 people with myself, my wife, my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law (who is like a son to me and Nicole) and my six children.  

The kingdom of God was not strengthened by this act of cowardice and pride.  

My only hope is in the God of Romans 8:28 who works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  This experience has been exquisitely painful to my entire household.  Although I have some regrets along the way, I do not regret standing for truth and being obedient to God despite the appearance of disobedience to the church leaders.

Please consider carefully the instructions given by those in leadership over you.  

In prayer consider whether by being obedient to your leaders you are being disobedient to God.  We are directed in scripture to respect our church leaders and yield to them and this is a directive that should be taken seriously.  

The bible does not instruct us to disobey God or scripture to please church leaders.  

I challenge you to not only examine the teaching but the actions of the leaders over you.  If you realize you are in a spiritually abusive church, I challenge you to relentlessly pursue God’s call and purpose for you and to be obedient to Him even if it causes you pain.  God’s purpose for you may be entirely different than His purpose for me and He wants to use you to accomplish His plan.  I hope no one faces the pain I have walked through but at the same time I hope all who read this are able to experience the peace and joy that comes from being obedient to God.  I hope God blesses you tremendously on your journey to please Him.  Go in peace.

-Tim Howes

1 comment:

  1. Oh my gosh brother this spoke to me more than you'll ever imagine. I'm so sorry for the hurt and pain that you and your family have experienced for so long. I promise to pray for all of you and I agree 100% with what you have written. God has givien each of us a proportion of discernment. And when we see that something is wrong with in the church we attend it is our rightful duty to try to set it straight, as you've done . I love each of you I pray that God will place you in a church that appreciate the beauty and Quality In you and Nicole and the children. As Joseph there's no need to defend yourself God will prevail and your family will be vindicated. Keep the faith and continue to pursue truth at all times. Never cover the truth, for God never told us to have blind obedience to authorities over us. It is true as you stated you don't have to be another atrocity...