Van Rue from Mars Hill in Seattle writes a guest post where he gives a Biblical rebuttal to the evangelical Christian shepherding movement. This is part of an ongoing series from Van Rue here at The Wondering Eagle.
“I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.”
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
Hebrews 12: 1 NLT
Kansas City, Missouri skyline
This is a continued series that was written up by Van Rue in the Seattle, Washington area. Van Rue is formerly of Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church. If you want to read his prior posts you can do so in, “Guest Post: Van Rue, Former Member of Mars Hill Seattle Writes About Shepherding Theology” and “Guest Post: Van Rue Formerly of Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill in Seattle on Shepherding Theology. Looking at Membership Covenants and Church Discipline.” In today’s post Van Rue uses the Bible and from his perspective explains the problems that exist with shepherding theology. With that I will turn this post over to Van Rue.
The Bible refutes the tenants of Shepherding at multiple points. “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so among you…” (Matt 20:25-26a). Church leaders are to specifically contrast the world system of authority by not LORDING authority OVER those in Christ, which makes any type of even implied hierarchy unbiblical. An Authoritarian style of leadership is taken from worldly philosophies and does not reflect the heart and gentleness of Christ. A Pastor centered church, ministry or relationship is really not Christian at all as Christ is quietly dethroned, and stands as a hindrance to those who would seek Jesus. It robs both God and his Bride of their rightful place.
Shepherds and those who abuse believers often rail against their critics claiming they are above reproach and citing “do not touch God’s anointed” (Psalm 20:6-7) out of context, as an excuse to continue their ungodly behavior unchecked and unrestrained. They totally ignorant to the biblical fact that the people they have abused are ALSO God’s anointed. “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth…. the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you” (1 John 2”20-27). Interestingly Paul, who could make that claim more than living person and still faced a mountain of critics, never once responds to his them using that verse. For abusers who would attempt to hide behind this scripture only judgement awaits.
Jesus is our Chief Shepherd, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (see also Ps 23). Jesus is our only intercessor “Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Rom 8:34).
Jesus is our High Priest “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (Heb 4:14). All believers have direct access to God. “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Eph 2:18. “… We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand…. God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:1-5)
And this Holy Spirit which has been given to all of us helps us (John 14:26), seals us as a guarantee of what is to come, (2 Cor 1:22), regenerates and renews us (Titus 3:5, John 3:5-8) teaches us (John 14:26), helps our us in praying (Rom 8:26-27) and comforts us (John 14:16, 1 Thess 1:6, 2 Cor :13:14) and all of these promises are irreversible and inescapable (Eph 1:13, 4:30) for ALL followers of Christ!
The biblical requirements of an Apostle list they must be a first-hand witness to Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:2) so the office of Apostles, Prophet and Church King passed with John and the closing of scripture (even if the gifts is still expressed by missionaries today the offices are closed). I refute PPAK heresy in more detail at another time. Prophet, Priest, Apostle and King Heresy, Part 1
Compulsory Tithing is covered well in a previous section, so I won’t repeat those scriptures here.
Additionally, Shepherding will often combine Anointed Authoritarianism with a hierarchal or pyramid like structure of Church Governance that quietly reduces the role and ministry of Elders, and in some cases eliminates it entirely. This is creates a church governance structure that is not biblical, and can eliminate the biblical mandate of submitting to one another. It also opens the door to all sorts of other shenanigans, often financial in nature. When 2007 Mars Hill secretly changed the by-laws to eliminate Elders, give Mark Driscoll full control, and stepped so far outside of biblical model of church governance it effectively ceased to be a Christian church at all.
We are warned against adding new non-biblical practices like Membership Covenants and Exit Interviews in “Do not go beyond what is written.” (1 Cor 4:6). The concept of Local Church Membership never once occurs in the Bible so adding “good” and “healthy” labels are extremely dangerous. By making “membership” conditional and transactional it demeans the relationship every believer has with Christ directly, and subjecting that to the will of the Pastor/Shepherd. Additionally, the commentary they all contain is elevated to a level above Scripture and often much of it either contextually flawed, no mentioned is scripture at all, or even directly contradicted by other passages. Even though individually these issues seem small, in concert the damage is often spectacular.
Shepherding Today, Part 5: Wider Theological Issues
A non-biblical hierarchy and Anointed Authoritarianism found in Prophet, Priest, Apostle and King heresy, (PPAK) heresy, was plucked from Shepherding of the 1970s. But the idea of a non-biblical hierarchy was originally introduced in the heresy of Manichaeism Dualism of 270 AD to 700 AD …as such you will also find Dualism an increasingly common side-effect Shepherding Church. This type of Dualism is the perception we are locked in an epic battle of won a complete victory at the Cross and Calvary, over sin, death, Satan his demons, and all Evil, for ALL eternity. The battle is already won! ”And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” Col 2:15. “ …by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb 2:14b-15). “…now the prince of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31b). (see also Rom 3:22 & 8:38-9 & 16:20,, Rev 1:18 & 3:21, 20:13, Hebrews 2:14-15., John 12:31-33 & 16:11, Col 2:15, 1 John 2:13-4, 1 Cor 15:26, et al).
Besides being Manicheanism with its hierarchy, Shepherding is also obviously Gnostic in its dependence on the anointed leader, who has a closer relationship with God, and receives “special knowledge or blessing” of his will both for our lives or the Church, and increasingly special revelations in Pentecostal verions of this heresy. Additionally Shepherding beliefs, especially “Membership” are often defended their proponents by claiming “the elders have studied the issue and believe we have the support of scripture”, without actually quoting scripture. This becomes the Gnostic element of “secret knowledge”, because it’s a simple claim of we know better than you, and don’t have to prove anything… but it’s simply because they can’t.
Additionally, by replacing what we receive directly from God by a strong anointed leader, its strongly Deistic in nature, and likely to open the door to other Deistic beliefs. A “greater” man, always leads to a lesser God.
As mentioned previously, whether its individual one-one-one, a small group, or corporately from a distance, the role of the “Shepherd” can begin to eat away at the role Christ, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit are intended to have in a believers life. It will foster Pastor worship which is idolatry, and destroy true spiritual growth in Christ.
There is also a strong current of both Pharisitical (misspelling intentional) and Galatian Legalism in the Neo-Calvinist/Neo-Puritan version expressed today, which is what Paul warned the Galatians 2:21, except the “law” is obfuscated under “authority” because it becomes an arbitrary moving target and subject to the whims of the authoritarian Pastor/Shepherd. It’s much harder to spot because you won’t see a written bullet list of do’s and don’ts, it’s at the weekly whims and might frequently change, but the heretical value is the same. It’s an implied righteousness apart from Christ just as the Galatian’s added non-biblical spiritual value to circumcision, MCCD are adding false spiritual value to membership, membership covenants and church discipline. They think “strong” leadership and frequent Church Discipline make the church healthier and more righteous but in reality, leave damaged lives and deeply wounded people who often flee the faith to flee the abuse. The only thing the Church needs more of to be healthy is… Jesus.