"I could not put this book down. It is compulsive reading. But it is more than that: it is essential reading for every person who professes to be a charismatic Christian ... this book could be a turning point for the charismatic movement".
What caught my attention the most in flicking through the book in the bookshop was how J Lee Grady is drawing on the experiences of the Third World for US here in the Westernised world to learn from. I am tired of the concept of the Western world sending "missionaries" to the Third World. Like the risen and glorified Christ said to the church in Revelation 3:17;
"You think you are rich - but you are poor".
We have wasted our glorious inheritance of various movements of the Holy Spirit and have allowed theological pride and snobbery to quench the power of the Spirit. The fact that Dr John Piper has to even answer the question; "Do you believe we should cast out demons today?" - suggests a complete blindness on the part of the Western church in ignoring the gospel.
Anyway one chapter that stood out to me straight away was dealing with the issues of spiritual authoritarianism. Grady writes; "How can we know when a particular church or church leader is crossing into the danger zone of authoritarianism? Here are seven warning signs I have detected in my own experience".
1. Lack of accountability.
Grady writes: "If a pastor or a church leader is not open to correction from his colleagues, he has set himself up for failure and displayed a blatant form of pride".
2. Lack of acceptance of other denominations, churches or ministries.
Grady writes: "We need to expect our leaders to display an attitude of humility towards the rest of the Body of Christ".
3. An atmosphere of control.
Grady says; "Authoritarian church leaders are masters at using Scripture to manipulate people. They often quote 1 Chronicles 16:22; "Do not touch My anointed ones". Another favourite is Hebrews 13:17; "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority" ... such passages can be used to intimidate people and keep them from challenging wrong. Some pastors don't recognise the difference between valid criticism and slander".
4. Dominating attitudes in leaders, usually manifested by haughtiness and anger.
"Tyrants are surprisingly similar. Because they want to control their surroundings, they often blow up when people do not conform to their demands or don't do so as quickly as they wish. We might expect bullying in the corporate world but we should not tolerate it among church leaders".
5. Emphasis on leaders hearing God for the people, rather than encouraging them to hear God for themselves.
I should add that one of my major concerns with Sovereign Grace Ministries recently came from Jeff Purswell's well publicized comment; "You" (speaking to SGM preachers) "are standing in the very stead of God". That scares me because surely it puts SGM church members in a difficult position. If your SGM leader preaches something that worries you - you are not just disagreeing with man. You are disagreeing with someone "standing in for God".
Grady writes; "In authoritarian church situations, members are not encouraged to seek God's guidance for themselves. Rather they are urged to conform to their leader's preferences ... thus the church members develop an unhealthy dependence on man in order to function spiritually and a diminished ability to trust God".
6. Leaders assuming ownership of their people and churches.
Grady says; "In authoritarian churches ... the church is governed once again like a dictatorship ... pastor's salaries remain undisclosed and the pastor maintains control of the church board if there is one ... such a system is a far cry from the biblical view of the church as a living organism, kept vibrant as each member plays a part. All church members should share a sense of ownership in the local church".
7. Women viewed as inferior.
This is one that I am particularly fierce about. I've got one mother and seven sisters and have grown up in two churches that do have the tendency to treat women as inferior. I'll never forget one experience sitting in a home group and seeing the pastor turn to his heavily pregnant wife and say; "Dear - will you go and make the coffee?". What?!?!?! Why can't you get up off your backside and go and make it!?
Grady writes; "In most (authoritarian churches) women are viewed as important only in their function as wives and mothers and they are not encouraged to step beyond these confines to pursue ministry opportunities ... women eager to be used by God or to share their spiritual insights with church leaders are branded rebels or "Jezebels"".