Inappropriate control, 4-6
(27 minutes)

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4) Abuse of authority

  • Leaders have authority, but not to create their own rules, or in the language of Jeremiah, “to rule by their own authority” (Jer 5:30-31).
    • "Giving up everything" is not unlimited, but should be interpreted in the light of apostolic teaching, as found in the epistles and in Acts.
    • Again, we mustn't fail to distinguish between principle and practical (implementation). These rules may only be called “guidelines,” but you can tell whether they have been elevated to near-biblical status by the reaction when they are violated.
  • Violation of confidentiality
    • Discussing others’ personal lives in a leadership or staff meeting
    • Manipulation in discipling based on a leader's knowledge of people's weaknesses / sins.
  • Definition: "Spiritual abuse is the mistreatment of a person by someone in a position of spiritual authority, diminishing that person's spiritual vitality and growth. At the core of spiritual abuse is excessive control of others, such as religious leaders who use manipulation to compel attendance, use guilt to get people to give more money, take emotional or sexual advantage in the name of comfort or compassion, accuse those who disagree with them of being rebellious against God, or demand absolute, unquestioning obedience regardless of whether it is reasonable or biblical." (June Hunt, "Abuse," in Clinton & Hawkins, The Popular Encyclopedia of Christian Counseling, 177).

5) Controlling words = abuse

  • “It’s God’s will… that you move / stay / give up____ / etc.”
  • “You need to obey me.”
  • “I prayed about it and I sense God wants you to…”
  • “Lord put this on my heart…” (no comeback)
  • “You have a bad heart” or “You’re proud” (in cases of disagreement) or “You’re independent” (could that be a good thing?).
  • “You are my disciples.” We are his disciples. Only once in the NT do we read of a person (other than Jesus) with personal disciples) — Acts 9:25. Yet even there, “his disciples” doesn’t appear in all manuscripts.
  • “You’re being divisive.”

6) Misused scriptures

  • 1 Cor 11:1—imitation in context
  • Heb 13:17—elders—What do elders do in the NT?
    • What is emphasized in the letters (meeting the needs):
    • Not about programs! About character.
  • Luke 5:5—Because you say so—arbitrary!
  • Exodus 18—discipling hierarchy
  • Luke 14:33—give up everything—for Christ, not for another person
  • Psalm 105:15—Don’t “touch” (criticize) my “holy ones” (leaders).

No one likes to be controlled, handled, managed, threatened, or manipulated.

  • Relevant here in Atlanta as we discuss moving forward with one-another relationships
  • What we do on the individual level, we may do on the political level. E.g., one nation invades in order to control—put its stamp on that country—the imperialistic “We know best.”
  • Jesus is our Lord, no earthly human being or church leader.
  • Yet there is a good sort of control often mentioned in scriptures: Self-control. internal, not external.

Adults want to be trusted.

  • I am grateful to be in a culture of “high trust, low control”—as opposed to “low trust, high control.”
  • See1 Kings 12 for a study in leadership styles: harsh / controlling vs. permissive / ungodly.
  • Of course, even if we’ve added no rules to those of Scripture, we may still promote / personally fall into legalism.

Type 1 Legalism:
Attempting to power one’s way into God’s grace by good works. These works don't necessarily mean requirements outside scripture. This may entail an unhealthy attitude towards obedience / acceptance by God, usually accompanied by anxiety over one’s spiritual status before God.

Type 2 Legalism: Following or enforcing extrabiblical rules — laws that, however well intended, are not explicitly found in Scripture. (Extra, Latin = outside; extrabiblical = outside Scripture.)

  • Examples: evangelistic quotas; insistence on perfect living or perfect cognition before baptism; mandated minutes of prayer; compulsory attendance at various church events. Now these may be good things, in principle. We appreciate evangelism, knowledge, prayer, devotional strategy, and church attendance. The question is, what does the gospel require?
  • Legalism is a universal human temptation.
  • Spirituality—one's own and others'—is constantly monitored, evaluated by adherence to rule-keeping. This erodes the security + confidence we should have in the Lord (1 John 5:13; Matt 11:28-30). The need: mature leaders, not neophytes! Scope of ministry should be in proportion to the biological and spiritual maturity of the brother or sister in leadership.
  • We may be critical of the Pharisees (Matt 15; 23) and the Circumcision Party (Ti 1; see Acts 15)—and rightly so -- but what about us?


We have covered a lot of ground:

  1. Burdensome requirements
  2. Prohibitions that go beyond the scriptures
  3. Manmade rules and traditions
  4. Abuse of authority
  5. Controlling words
  6. Misused scriptures

.Have we added to the demands and commands of Scripture? How to tell? What gets people into trouble?

  • Violating guidelines? – often for the sake of “unity”—or failing to building Christlike character?
  • Integrity at work, or just earning money and giving a %age to the church
  • Are we reinforcing a culture of legalism?

Some fear the gospel alone is too gracious and might tempt (or even empower) us to slack off. Yet grace is empowering, and those who don’t experience it don’t endure long in the marathon of faith.

In Control part 3: 6 ways to eradicate a culture of control and build a culture of trust.