The Five Fold Ministry And Spiritual Abuse: Part 4 of 4
by Rev. Rafael D. Martinez, Co-Director, Spiritwatch Ministries
In recent years, whenever a harsh and exposing light gets thrown upon a church crisis or controversy, the response of the church usually proceeds along one of two maddening extremes ranging from apathy to panic. When coming to the issue of spiritual abuse being inflicted by the farflung representatives of the fivefold Charismatic and Pentecostal ministry, the Church has opted for the former, simply looking the other way and speaking in subdued whispers as it wrings its hands about the situation. It may even issue a press statement expressing vague sentiments of concern and expressions of love and prayers. Pastors may review the details of scandal in staff meetings to draw some kind of conclusion. Some discussion over coffee after Sunday School may occur. But other than a collective yet scattered sigh of resignation, little else really seems to break the surface in the social circles of the church, let alone become an admission before itself and the world. The consequences of carnality in the church are usually more a source for juicy cuds of gossip to chew on rather than divine wake up calls of the Holy Ghost tapping on its shoulders reminding it to fast, mourn and pray.
The time is now for this apathetic little dance of evasion to end. Where it has experienced the sting and reproach of fivefold ministry abuses, the Body of Christ needs to step up and directly address the issue with a truly pastoral response that seeks to heal the broken and defend the defenseless. It needs to regain the classically prophetic voice it once had in regards to in-house controversies and speak directly to the members that have lost connection to the Head and are abusing others around them.
Before that's going to happen, however, there must be sensitivity and response to the divine convictions regarding fivefold abuse that the Word and Spirit would apply to the heart and mind of any willing to listen to it within the circles of fivefold leadership there. There would then need to be a willingness to lay aside its' infatuation with spiritual gifts, prophecies, conferences and "promotions" to hear anew what God's Word would say to them about the flocks of the Lord that are being fleeced by their hireling peers right under their very noses. The dire need here is for every single fivefold ministry leader to get really real and really honest about the issue. There will be a recognizing of the neglect and even judgment many victims have experienced, the offering of true pastoral ministry and care to the abused, an unflinching discerning of the nature of the abuses of power that have gone on, and finally personal commitments to the Biblical commission for all fivefold leaders to bring real accountability and discipline to the chaos that invisibly rends fivefold churches everywhere. This can only be done by directly applying the tough love of Biblical pastoral ministry that rebukes as well as restores, that demands accountability as well as delivers the anointments that heal wounds and set brokenness. It is time for the fivefold ministry, if it wants to call itself as such, to take a long hard look at itself and get back to the basics of ministry that serves not enslaves its people before it assays to be the voice of God to the world.
Unfortunately, such a profoundly uncomfortable reorganization of personal ministry vision and commitments is something that I don't see the fivefold ministry as it stands today being in any position to act upon. I'd like to prayerfully hope that a great grass roots wave of Spirit-led recovery would arise, but these are the last days when the love of many waxes cold and I know sadly what's really going on.
For all of their florid rhetoric about having lion hearted courage in times of spiritual and cultural warfare, most of the daring fivefold ministry are actually quite chicken livered. You see, most fivefold ministry men and women would quickly agree that something "needs to be done" about this horror, and will just as quickly absolve themselves from being part of the solution to the problem. This is because they have too many vested self-interests, ministerial allegiances, business partnerships, and church networks that would become quite unpleasantly colored by the messy hues of controversy should they become too vocal about what they would see within the fivefold circles within their own reach. There is also the issue of personal friendships and frankly, too much of the fear of man that effectively chills whatever visceral fortitude their consciences may briefly muster to take a stand.
Fivefold ministers reading this may indignantly howl over this statement but their caterwauling would quickly end once they consider just how involved they've been in withstanding Prophet Humptyscrunch or Apostle Dingleboulder the next time they hear of some whispers of a teenage girls's seduction or an offering that went to customize an SUV and not to plant a church in India. It happens daily in churches across the fivefold galaxy since the love of money, the desire for carnal self-indulgence and a degraded view of ministry that raises fivefold ministers into gods who do as they please is so widespread in fivefold circles that any other reaction would be politically incorrect and therefore, truly intolerable.
That's why fivefold renewal is going to be largely impossible in so many places. The fear of man and the love of power governs the "ministry" in these quarters - not the love of God or the power of love. As the song says, that's the way it is.
So therefore, this article is being written to those of conscience who would refuse to be a cloak to evil by keeping silent about the issue. I am writing to those scattered fivefold ministers and Christians who want to see their own worlds change and want to see the springs of the Spirit loosed of the foul debris of aberrant fivefold influence they've suffered too long. I will offer several Scriptural principles that will help us arrest the slide of the fivefold ministry into authoritarian anarchy as well as offer healing to the wounded and a vision for reclaiming fivefold ministry back to the Biblical dimension it was to be founded upon to touch a world with the Gospel of Christ. It is to this renewing remnant that may yet be abroad in the fivefold world that I now speak - and how deeply painful it is to have to speak of "the New wave" in these terms.
Discerning Fivefold Ministry Authority: Two Foundational Principles
There are two fundamental principles of discernment we have to establish once and for all that authorize this kind of radical, yet vital revisioning of five fold ministry: they are found in the teachings of Christ and the apostle Paul: these are Biblical teachings you don't often hear rightly divided in many churches today in these last days:
John 7:24 – Do not judge according to appearance but judge with righteous judgment. (NKJV)
Here, the Lord Jesus Christ commands that any kind of judgment be done with a high standard of truth and he forbids the kind of shallow and superficial judgment in which “image is everything” and the appearances are deceiving, yet so readily accepted, promoted and eagerly looked for.
2 Co. 13:5 – Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified. (see Galatians 6:4)
In his second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul commands that all believers regularly test and examine not only their personal doctrinal knowledge but their personal integrity as grounded upon their walk with Christ – issues in which disqualification from being considered being in the faith are a real possibility.
The implications are sobering yet unmistakable. The Bible's mandate to carefully discern, and judge isn't a suggestion but a clear command given by the direct authority of the Savior Himself and amplified by Biblical apostolic authority. There is no way to opt out from this divine command, no convenient dodge to fall back upon to avoid being seen as too "judgmental." We are to try and examine both the claims and the testimonies of those making the claims out of a righteous, holy and God-fearing devotion to truth, wherever it may lead the examination.
Objections about "judging" anyone's relationship to God arise at this point from both fivefold ministers and their flocks, usually when the fires of examination begin to smolder within their long anesthetized consciences. These are based upon misinterpretations of what Jesus said about judgment. The verse they will usually cite is found in Luke 6:37:
"Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned."
Out of sincerity (and as often, out of a desire to cover something) many of these Christian people will loudly protest "Who are we to judge? We're not to judge anyone because if you do, we'll be judged!" Somehow this is the emotional loincloth they clutch to themselves to cover an shockingly exposed self when called to examination. This grotesque girding of the loins of the fivefold mind usually works well enough to silence objections to discernment, so we have to ask again what did Jesus mean here in Luke 6:37? Was he outright forbidding anyone to practice the Biblically based kind of discernment as we have just described it?
Look at John 7:24 for the answer: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." Here, Jesus commands His followers to not make snap judgments based solely upon a shallow acceptance of what one sees "on the surface" or the image being projected by the subject being considered! This is the very mistake that virtually all those who criticize discernment as "heresy hunting" commit when demanding that we "not judge". Indeed, this is a direct command by Jesus Christ Himself phrased as a nonnegotiable imperative that would be an actual sin to disobey! What Jesus is demanding here is that we don't do the sloppy and superficial "checking out" of questionable things that we have for too many years done; rather, he goes on to command that godly judgment be actually done in a holy and sober manner.
As we've seen in Revelation 2:2, we actually find Jesus commending the Ephesian church for trying impostors who posed as apostles and were found to be "liars." Such an examination couldn't take place without a) a Scriptural mandate to "test all things", b) moral courage, and c) just plain obedience for the sake of the truth. Righteous judgment was done, and the Ephesian church was preserved from one deadly aspect of error, if not all. In this case, Jesus showed how "questioning authority" was a right thing to do. This was a church that "judged" but "judged" correctly, to the glory of God. So it is superficial judgment based upon shallow decision-making that is actually forbidden by Christ, not the process of sound judgment itself!
Believe it or not, just the consideration of these two verses alone often have seemed like revelations of lost truth to far too many Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians who have never known of the Biblical call to discernment and therefore have been long strangers to the freedom of Christian conscience and liberty. This lamentable state of affairs has been perpetuated by the virtual ignorance of these precious Christian freedoms as fostered by too many fivefold ministries and churches for the sake of "unity," "present truth," and "revelation knowledge." Long taught to not trust their own ability to question or reason and to meekly subjugate it to the groupthink dynamic of their chosen church circle, millions of Charismatics and Pentecostals languish in a blindness inflicted by bad fivefold teaching and practice to their spiritual detriment.
For their deliverance, they need to dwell upon these verses and meditate upon them wholly (1 Timothy 4:15) to give entrance to the Holy Spirit's enlightenment, an unfolding of divine truth that can jolt them with a holy defibrillation charge out of their sleep to once again regain their critical thinking and clearly see what they've been subjected to. Just this visitation of these portions of truth found in God's Word will transform lives in ways scarcely thought possible.
Four Action Plans To Right The Fivefold Ship
In my opening essay I offered on this site, I alluded to the word picture of the Charismatic and Pentecostal worlds as being part of a "full gospel ship" badly listing to one side, in dire danger of foundering and sinking beneath the stormy waves of a dangerous sea that batters and floods. Such a ship gives passage to the fivefold ministry also. With the crisis of fivefold spiritual abuse at hand and so readily overlooked by the passengers berthing in the fivefold decks, we can see that their evasion of the problem is a major part of the serious damage within the full gospel ship that has compromised the watertight integrity of the vessel itself. A ship filled with such gaping holes and hull cracks will not stay afloat long, let alone stand upright in a stormy hour.
These four action plans I offer will be the basis for the damage control the fivefold ministry needs to immediately engage in to save the full gospel ship it sails aboard. It will repair the hull, seek those washed overboard, bail out a swamping ship, set a better course through the storms of life, batten the hatches and bring it slowly into recovery from the disasters looming ahead.
An important caveat: The chief areas of concern we will cover in this article specifically relate to the dire issue of spiritually abusive group dynamics as beheld in errant fivefold ministries. We will not be covering issues like Bible prophecy, dream interpretation, differing views on sanctification or modes of baptism, headcoverings or how the distinctives of each of the fivefold ministry roles are to be executed in the fivefold church. As vitally important and relevant as these hot button issues are within the fivefold ministry culture, we simply cannot tarry on them.
Our entire objective in this article series and this final one specifically is aimed at equipping Christians to recognize and respond to spiritually abusive situations that arise in fivefold circles which coerce Christians into illegitimate postures of abject submission to unscrupulous fivefold ministers. Limited references to select issues may be recognized as we go through these action plans. An article on what the Scriptures teach about fivefold ministry will be forthcoming and will be linked here when completed.
Action Plan #1 - With Clarity Discern Between Truth And Error - Christians who accept the fivefold ministry as a viable ministry model for their chosen fellowship in the Faith need to develop a passion for discerning truth and error. We've already seen where Christ commanded this and Paul simply expanded upon it. The foundations for truth are Biblical precepts developed into sound doctrine and such doctrinal essentials are non-negotiables here. False teaching has for too long been tolerated in the church and undermined whatever personal discipling in the Christian faith that so many in the fivefold world struggle to attain. With that said and where they do not contradict sound Biblical teaching, the approach to practical commitments on how doctrinal essentials are to be taught and put into practice would then be flexible. Out of Christian liberty, we can respect differences over how and what others might teach about the Christian way as long as the core Biblical truths of the Faith are not compromised ethically, morally or spiritually.
Doctrinal matters regarding the nature of the Triune Godhead, man, sin, salvation and the Church should be firmly grasped so as to bring the fivefold ministry and laity on one page. Once again, Bibles should be opened and Scriptural truth examined just as thoroughly as the Berean Jews of Acts 17:11 did "with all readiness of mind", a God-fearing people who "searched the scriptures daily" to discern and test the apostolic preaching of Paul. And an ongoing dialogue on the specifics of fivefold doctrine and practice that line up with these foundational essentials that is engaged in by both minister and congregation is one of the top priorities that should be addressed in the discerning of what is true and what is in error - what a Christian should stand for and what they should positively avoid or even reject. Such church authority, however, must be firmly balanced by Biblical authority that establishes the Word of God as the basis for the discerning of truth from error, as the final authority for the direction of the church:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is inspired of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work
In his writing to the young pastor Timothy, Paul minces no words and they speak to us today: contrary to any lofty teaching by the Roman Catholic papacy or the new apostles and prophets of some "new apostolic reformation", he firmly establishes that Bible is the one source for Christian truth and understanding that fully purifies, prepares and plants all Christians on solid ground, where they may blossom and flourish in a life of meaningful faith that can change the world they live in. Paul's additional admonition in his first epistle to the Corinthians definitely speaks to the fivefold minister who prides himself on his freedom from doctrinal boundaries
1 Cor. 14:37-40 – If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.
True fivefold ministers, especially the prophets who "come back from another world" to tell people what they've seen, will readily submit to this divine landmark of ancient truth. The Bible still is the final authority for all true Christian faith, not any of the so-called "present truth" taken from "revelation knowledge" they might hear in some ecstatic state or from the shining face of an angel that visits them in a hotel room between meetings.
At this point in our discussion, it must be noted that there are several distinctive doctrines found among fivefold ministry circles that need to be reexamined since they either negate or confuse Biblical authority and sound church order. They also contribute to the abuse of power that errant fivefold ministers engage in when trying to consolidate and magnify their questionable authority and dubious practices. These include but aren't limited to:
- the "now word rhema" as superior to Biblical revelation: "present truth" now comes from dream/omen interpretation, prophetic oracle and angel visitation
- need to establish the authority of the fivefold ministry as a condition for the return of Christ to create a "perfect church"
- testing of prophetic utterances can only be done by other "prophets"
- the supremacy of apostles and prophets over pastors, evangelists and teachers - the belief that the "fivefold ministry" is governed by them
- personal callings and mantles of spiritual authority can be "imparted" by fivefold ministers to believers as a matter of routine course
- drama-filled deliverance services in which the discerning of demonic possession/oppression of Christians is the diagnosis to solve their problems
- spiritual warfare sessions involving extended worship services, fastings and prayer walks to "bind the strong man" and pull down "principalities"
Each of these doctrines are problematic, drawn from the wells of the Latter Rain revival and have been upgraded, repolished and reintroduced globally by thousands of fivefold ministers who don't recognize their unbiblical nature and aren't aware of how they inflame and instigate the power tripping that their carnal ambition and lust for power can lead them easily into. Whatever truth they seem based upon needs to be carefully discerned by Bible-studying Christians who earnestly desire only the word of the Lord and not the words of men whose carnal nature emboldens them to say "thus saith the Lord" when He has not spoken to them.
So therefore, out of that same passion for truth, Christians must also adopt Body-wide discernment of ministry maturity. The character of the fivefold minister should blameless but all too often, is found to have a checkered past that routinely violates whatever grace has been extended to them as they "work through issues." This toleration of questionable personal testimony has to be ended. Not only is Scriptural integrity to be pursued in the pursuit of truth but also the personal spiritual maturity of the fivefold minister as well. As we've seen in the book of Revelation, Christ commends the church that tests those who claim to be apostles and finds them liars and the author of Hebrews reminds us that the “anointed” (any who “rule”) aren’t above scrutiny. It is important to realize what the contexts of these verses are: they inescapably and directly focus upon the personal conduct and character of the spiritual leader as a critical point of contention when it comes to gauging their suitability for leadership
Hebrews 13:7 – Remember those who have the rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct
We once again must visit Revelation 2 for Christ's own commendation of the Ephesian church's discernment:
Revelation 2:2 – .. and you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.
It would seem obvious that anyone claiming to wear the mantle of a fivefold minister would be someone who is not only answering a divine call but has been properly mentored, trained and tested and found to be "thoroughly equipped" and of impeccable character and spirit. That is, to put it most lightly, most definitely not the case in too many instances. The gross carnality that many "Spirit-filled" fivefold ministers walk in routinely surfaces in their bad temper, love of money, sexual immorality, contempt for authority and inability to even treat other people properly. We could fill a website full of tales here alone on how twisted some fivefold ministers have been on this point alone. And yet, fivefold churches and other ministers tolerate the nasty behavior of these "ministers" on the grounds that "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven" and how dare we judge those "over us in the Lord"?
But the author of Hebrews makes clear that consideration of personal conduct is part of the discernment that all ministers are to be subject to. It makes respect for their authority as leaders conditional - we follow the leader as they follow and emulate Christ since it is this kind of modeling faith that the Scriptures teach (1 Corinthians 11:1 with Ephesians 5:1). In another admonition to Timothy, Paul plainly states in his classic job description of the character of the bishop (minister) that they are not to be novices in the faith but that they are to be "..blameless..pure conscience..nourished in words of faith.." (1 Timothy 2:2,8; 4:6)
Fivefold ministers who keep a church on edge whenever their dictates aren't followed, who talk about nothing but their authority and one's need to submit to it, and who engage in verbal abuse and dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships exhibit behavior that is to be watched and noted and responded to, as Paul further warned Timothy:
1 Timothy 6:3-5 - If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
It is the fallen and carnal human nature exhibited from the preacher throughout history that has given many a novelist, screenwriter and atheistic skeptic so much raw and juicy detail to pull from to create their award winning fictions that bring so much reproach on the Body of Christ. For the fivefold ministry to reestablish itself as a legitimate institution worthy of attention, those claiming a calling and burden for being a visionary seer or an anointed Bible teacher simply have to submit to a fair and yet thorough examination of their personal life. The argument that we have to allow for the errant fivefold minister to learn from his mistakes can only be stretched so far when the evangelist or apostle in question makes the same mistake again and again for years. Once again, pointing this out will raise a chorus of indignant objection from fivefold ministers still clutching their "judge not" mantra about themselves.
At this point, this fivefold minister responds that the Bible allows for no such room. We must face the plain fact that character that proceeds from personal morality based on spiritual maturity is the bedrock of Christian ministry. Upon this true fivefold calling and fivefold burden must be borne! If there is any one precept I would hope you walk away from this article with, this would be it. Fivefold ministers who cannot treat fellow Christians with civility and patience, let alone the love of God, need to be admonished for their behavior as well as marked and shunned if necessary. It is from the carnal human nature, we've seen, that spiritual abuse proceeds and if the fivefold minister has not mastered this, his claim to mastery over the house of God is an empty one. Those who remain submitted to such twisted fivefold ministers only endanger themselves spiritually, socially and psychologically by accepting such ignoble indenturing. They simply serve as enablers of abusive dynamics in the same way codependent women will cover for their abusive husbands.
Abusive fivefold ministers when weighed and found wanting should do the right thing and speedily repent of their sinful ways, leave the ministry, publicly apologize and offer restitution to those they've abused and thereafter seek a program of restorative counseling from spiritual elders who will accept firm oversight over them. Such elders will not allow him to rationalize his sinful ways as regrettable slights a good vacation would help him forget - they will apply loving, yet firm discipline to them in an environment that will help them get their bearings again as believers and will help them make a decision as to whether they get back into the ministry or not.
It is time for the "anointed" to understand that their "anointing" is not above accountability by fellow members of the Body of Christ. If fivefold ministers and laity fail to heed this most basic of action plans, it is fruitless to seek change in the spiritually abusive fivefold church. The faculty of spiritual discernment must be intentionally cultivated to establish what is true and what is false in both the doctrine and the person of the fivefold minister and upon this the fivefold house stands or falls, and with it the full-gospel ship.
Action Plan #2 - Out Of Humility Proclaim The Differences On Authority
- The second action plan directly addresses the twisted taproot of fivefold authoritarianism, this being the belief that fivefold ministers walk on an exalted level of authority that reckons Christians to be mere subjects who are to meekly submit to their authority for their spiritual good. This is the basis for the belief that unquestioned submission to fivefold ministry authority is the "covering" their spiritual destiny depend upon. As mentioned in the past article, this doctrine reinforces the manipulative grip of abusively controlling fivefold ministers to an obscene level that has been used to unscrupulously dominate Christian lives.
In a humble yet firm manner, emboldened by what the Bible actually teaches about this, all fivefold ministers and laity need to engage in a serious "check up from the neck up" about this pet doctrine of authoritarian origin. They need to reconsider this unbiblical position and then courageously share what they find with one another - again, in a right spirit that encourages open willingness to grapple with this teaching. This is because such a doctrine is unknown to Biblical fivefold ministry: the apostles Peter and Paul provide for us a glimpse into the Biblical balance that underlies Biblical authority. Listen to Peter's exhortation to the elders of the church in ancient Asia Minor:
1 Peter 5:2 – The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock.
If Christians are to exist under the reality of a "covering" from which they are not to deviate, then Peter missed a great opportunity to make that clear. Here, Peter the apostle who denied Christ three times and yet was restored and set back into his apostolic place by Him, is reminding the elders of these ancient churches of his relationship to them. And what does Peter say of himself? "I who am a fellow elder" .. There is a complete absence of the kind of attention to spiritual hierarchy that "covering" teachings so obsess over. There is no rigid or implicit compulsion for the elders of the churches of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia and Bithynia to acknowledge Peter's apostolic authority or covering whatsoever. The verse contains a charge for godly shepherds to serve as leaders among the scattered bands of believers willingly, out of a pure and godly zeal to serve the Body of Christ as examples of Jesus and not to dominate them as Peter the elder - Peter the fellow elder - writes.
And Paul's closing admonitions to the church in Ephesus contain a simple yet subversive call to a dimension of Christian community that has been sorely missing in the fivefold culture: along with an exhortation to joyous ministry to one another of encouraging words, spiritual songs and hymns that exalts and praises God, he defines the context this kind of ministry is to be done in:
Eph 5:21 – Submitting to one another in the fear of God ..
When's the last time this was explained in a typical fivefold meeting about the "new breed"? We see that Paul clearly intends Christians to be in submission to one another in a godly and pure way - so therefore, the fivefold ministry is to be as submitted to the fivefold laity as they are to one another. As the old saying states, then, in the Biblical fivefold community "there are no big I's and little U's." The great as well as the small are to enjoy a level of fellowship, respect and commitment to one another as equals in the sight of God, with only enough deference to the leadership role given as needed. The well worn and often overlooked spiritual relational analogy used in the church which teaches Christians to call each other brother and sister then takes a new urgency and reality. Submission to one another in that context and out of a Spirit-impressed fear of God would transform a church overnight and revolutionize its direction to an unimaginable degree.
Submission in the Body of Christ works both ways between fivefold ministry and laity. We are joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:1), we are fellow servants (Col. 4:7), and even those who watch over our souls - the fivefold ministry - are subject to admonition of others (Col. 3:12-16). As a person follows Christ, so we then follow them. When they fail to do so, their offenses are to be dealt with per Matthew 18:15-17, the classic instruction of Christ on how to deal with personal conflict and spiritual offense in the Church. Tragically, this is news to far too many Christians who have been persuaded by generations of unbiblical tradition that reinforce the ungodly notion that Christian humility is the equivalent of passive silence in the face of exploitation at the hands of "brethren" who cite "covering" to get off the hook.
By encouraging this Biblical recovery of what true submission is in the context of Christian relationships to others as spiritual family members who should be cherished, loved and even patiently withstood at times, the sharp contrasts between unbiblical fivefold ministry traditions and Biblical ones will be made abundantly clear. Such an encounter with balanced Biblical truth will help pull the teeth off of the unbalanced and unbiblical falsehoods that abusive fivefold teaching has established as veritable Asherahs in the houses of God.
Action Plan # 3 - In Charity Admonish The Errant - I must hasten to reemphasize anew that in the correction of the errant fivefold minister or layperson, that the very motivation for why engage in correction has to be above question. Many of them fear, reject and despise the objections of those they too quickly demonize as critics, Pharisees, dead dogs, and wet blankets out to quench the "work of God" when they sneer any corrective truth out of a spirit of prideful and smug superiority. Sadly, this kind of "truth telling" effectively undermines whatever truth they may actually be sharing, reinforces the biases each party has against the other and in the end no one wins. Truth is chilled and divisive walls just got higher.
When endeavoring to speak to an errant fivefold minister or layperson, it should go without saying that you do so because you deeply care about them and only want the glory of God and the welfare of souls to be your primary motivation. It is out of love for the Body of Christ and compassionate concern for the spiritual well being of the souls of Christians as well as the lost that should compel anyone to take a position and stand against those errors that endanger and wound them.
Although it probably would not be believed by many of them who take offense to my positions on fivefold abuses, I do what I do because I ardently love in Christ my fellow brothers and sisters who call themselves fivefold ministers, as much as those whom they shepherd. I share the same passion they do in reaching the world for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom and am grateful they are doing what they feel led to do if they truly are Spirit-led.
Simply because I am a Church of God minister doesn't make me a denominational lackey wanting to tear down their work. Far from it! I do indeed want them to be mightily blessed, to walk in the peace of God and used of His Spirit to truly challenge the spiritual darkness of our day, to preach the Gospel of our common Savior Jesus Christ and to teach the nation to fear, obey and give themselves to Him.
So if this kind of love underlies our motivations when we speak to those we see in error, then whether it is acknowledged or not, we can be assured we are doing the will of God in admonishing those who need it. Such a ministry has never been popular, never been readily accepted and usually results in the fires of tribulation at the hands of those who would resist correction. There is always the probability that you will be misunderstood and rejected regardless what you say, and this is part of what comes with the territory when you want to become a herald of truth (cf. Ezekiel 2:1-7). After years of dealing with controversial teaching fervently embraced by people who are members of controversial groups, I've learned that this also is the way it is and the Bible brings a helpful, if not sobering, perspective on this issue. The underlying tension in these verses below that relate to corrective dialogue with those who are in error plainly shows that Spirit-bestowed love, patience and wisdom is the tone to be set in our admonitions:
2 Timothy 2:24-26 - A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance so that they may know the truth and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will
When sharing Scriptural truth that kicks every sacred cow an errant fivefold minister might be driving through one's church, one should fully expect the temperature of the conversation to rise quite alarmingly. Those who are in error do not easily accept correction, especially if they claim to be anointed, cutting edge leaders on a mission from God. Dialogue will be heated, faces darkened and manners sharper then one might like.
We cannot change their reaction but what we can change is how we respond to it. Gentle, patient discussion should temper our own approach according to the counsel Paul offers here in 2 Timothy 2:24-26. We speak and teach and reflect and discuss so that those with opposing views can come "to their senses", recognize truth and escape the bonds that they are struggling with, some of which may be actually demonic in nature (remember the warning of Paul in 1 Timothy 4:1 about this sobering reality). This is when the fullness of the Spirit that should reside in every believer, manifest in their exhibited fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22 and Ephesians 5:29), must arise within the believer as they take a stand for truth in "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, (and) temperance." This is a work of the Spirit of God we must allow Him to do within us as we share the Word of God to those whose understanding is deficient and even unbiblical.
Paul then points out that if there are those who persist in error and who continue to indulge in unbiblical doctrine and practice that contradicts Biblical teaching, there is only one recourse:
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 - And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him that he be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother.
The errant fivefold minister who has embraced false doctrine and practice should be publicly noted as someone who has gone into error and should not be fellowshipped with (Titus 3:10). Once again, this is politically incorrect territory but all Christians passionately concerned for God's truth, the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ won't worry what the consequences will be. The Word of God is clear. We are to admonish and then reject the presence of the "believer" who himself rejects God's Word and truth. This isn't a license to heap scorn, abuse or shame upon them whatsoever as if they are degenerate enemies to be hated and vilified. They are still men and women who we are to love as if they were still brethren in Christ. But accepting their leadership, let alone fellowship, in the Body of Christ is clearly out of the question according to the Bible. This undercuts the trend of the fivefold culture to rally behind and make excuses for disorderly fivefold ministers but perpetuation of their culture of denial and evasion is not our concern. We are to follow God's truth wherever it leads us.
The only limited exchanges we are to have with such marked ministers should be aimed at doing one thing - admonishing them to acknowledge and submit to the truth they plainly have rejected. The tone of these discussions is to be no less loving then as if these sadly misguided men and women were our very own family members: once again, Paul exhorts that the tone is not one of scathing rebuke and railing but one of tender and yet firm, entreaty "with all purity" that begins first with a careful examination of one's own motivations before they speak a single word (1 Timothy 4:16, 5:1-2).
The closing of the ranks of the fivefold community of faith to bring to bear this public admonition upon its disorderly leaders is the Biblical response that more often than not is completely absent from too many quarters where it is needed. When dialogue and admonition fails, and the fallen nature of the carnal fivefold minister continues to self-defend and justify their bad fruit, public reproval that involves identification of them as fallen and a breaking of fellowship with them is plainly the last resort, but it must be done for their sake as well as the spiritual survival of the fivefold fellowships. During the entire process, the love of God and the Church must be the foundation for the dialogues, the disagreements and if necessary, the discipline.
Action Plan # 4 - Without Partiality Rebuke The Devourers - As we've just said, when necessary, the rebuke and even censure of those who persist in plainly unbiblical, unethical and immoral practices must be pointedly delivered, yet with restraint, in love and Biblical wisdom - to withstand the tides of end time apostasy that they have tragically become a part of.
In Malachi 3:11, Yahweh promises that he will "rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts." While the context of the promise is in regards to tithes and offerings, what we should see is that Israel's fortunes were utterly reliant upon how well their crops and herds did. Long and hard were the days in the fields and pastures to sow seed and lead flocks. After all of this arduous labor, however, in the midst of growth, many destructive forces could yet come and destroy all they had worked for, such as blights, predators and insects. Storms and droughts were very real dangers also.
My point is simply this: the fivefold ministry's noble Christian idealism and accomplishments have been, for too long, exploited by too many greedy, rapacious false teachers and leaders who have literally become devourers themselves, whose "ministry" is little more than a pandering to their own empire building at the expense of the faithful sacrifices offered by many Christians. The longed-for establishment of the Kingdom of God, the fruit of the labors of these precious believers, has been too easily spoiled and torn by the arrogant self-gratification and self-aggrandizement of these false leaders. Such people become the wolves in sheep's clothing who have made the flocks of God their prey.
So when needed, they are to be directly rebuked and withstood face to face publicly. Once again, the Bible establishes that those who are bound by such carnality are to be approached and dealt loving and gently, yet with a backbone of steel that leaves no doubt as to what has been said to them:
Galatians 6:1 - Brethren, if a man is overtaken in ANY trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
1 Timothy 5:20 - Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
Titus 2:15 - Speak these things, exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.
2 Timothy 4:2-4 - Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers and they will turn their ears from the truth and be turned aside to fables.
I have had to do this with false teachers and false prophets on several occasions. It is not easy. It is never easy. But their destructive ways have to be confronted when necessary for the sake of the souls they could easily influence adversely due to their self-anointed status as mouthpieces for God. They should be rebuked firmly, directly, with a minimum of public controversy when possible. But if it cannot be helped, they are to be, as Paul commands, be rebuked "before all, that others also may fear."
Most people take the easy way out and excuse themselves from engaging in this challenging of false authority. Those who want to be obedient to the direction of divine truth and not become part of the problem that silence on fivefold spiritual abuse brings won't submit to such thinking. This kind of ministry, this service to the wayward soul, should be something all Christian leaders should be ready to engage into, although I've been in Christian leadership long enough not to entertain a starry eyed idealism that thinks all Christian leaders have such spine.
Those who must engage in Biblical rebuke will be confronted with two pathways of discourse, neither one easy to walk through. They can either engage themselves in the easier path of fivefold cultural accommodation and simply let things slide with only the most pathetic of weak protests or they can embrace the cross of leadership and take the rockier path of legitimate, intentional rebuke of the leader they find in gross rebellious sin. Reaching into such thorny places is part of the calling of Christian leadership, one that should be entered into only when absolutely necessary.
In Conclusion: Judgment Has Already Begun - Where Do You Stand?
In short, the recovery from fivefold spiritual abuse can only begin when the voices of the people of God begin to call for and observe change, transformation and accountability in the fivefold culture. That is what this final article has essentially been about. It would be good to remember that the shepherd's staff was used to also defend their flocks to beating off the attacks of wolves: in this context, Proverbs 27:6 powerfully reminds us that "faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful."
It is time for the fivefold ministry to cease its casting about for revivals, fresh words, deliverances and glory clouds and to stand still long enough to hear the cries of those wounded by it who have been left far behind them in their headlong rush to the next New Thing. Only when it begins to come clean about its own failures to properly disciple and mature the Body of Christ it was entrusted with can the fivefold ministry hope to regain real relevancy as well as legitimacy once again. It may roll along loudly and substantially, but it is a vehicle on a journey to nowhere, stuck in a spiritual Moebius loop that it's failures have locked it into.
We will end this article with a final meditation on this most unsettling of Bible verses:
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God:
and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them
that obey not the gospel of God?
1 Peter 4:17
The end of all things is at hand and judgment has indeed begun in the household of God. Frankly, I feel that the degenerate nature of too many Christian ministries today that has come under national media scrutiny is very likely a part of the judgment of God upon a corrupt "ministry" out to fleece the flocks of God. Scandal on top of scandal continues to pile up in the arenas of media exposure and directly contribute to the ridicule of the church by irreverent comics who have portrayed it as a haven for spiritual suckers. Yet in the midst of their mockery, they do make a good point as the Saturday Night Live Church Lady said in a comedy sketch done right in the midst of the PTL fiasco in 1987:
These are trying times. Everybody's trying something and getting caught.
While we can still turn aside from evil, we dare not shrink from doing so, at penalty of our own ruin! The fivefold ministry can either become the glorious blessing it was ordained to be by God or degenerate into one of a sectarian curse as spiritually toxic as any cult today. Only God alone knows where we stand .. but I'm hoping and praying that the fivefold ministry can purge itself of its errors yet.
At the same time, sadly, I'm not going to hold my breath. These are still the last days. May God grant a visitation of redeeming grace once more to save ourselves from ourselves.
6.1.08 Sola Deo Gloria
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