Unfolding My Story: Twisting Scripture

By Tim Butler | Posted at 17:05

In my encounter with those using Peacemaker materials at my old church (part 1 and part 2) , a large part of the church abuse that came forth arose through the misapplication and misinterpretation of Scripture. That the misapplication of the Bible intermingled with Peacemaker teachings was key to my experience is part of what makes Peacemaker Ministries' own use of Scripture all the more troubling.

Consider when Peacemaker asks , “Why a Peacemaking Team?” Here is part of their answer:

Because God calls his children to serve their leaders and to advance their vision to build his church. (Emphasis is Peacemaker's.)

Really? The article goes on to explain how pastors should teach this emphasis to their leadership, and particularly their peacemaking team, which can then “remind” the congregation of “core values.” Leaders being served by those they lead fits our normal worldly logic, but does it fit the Bible's view of leadership? Is that how Christ taught by example?

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 13.12-14 ESV)

This passage is not the definitive answer to leadership in the Bible, but it does highlight an important principle we see consistently: servant leadership. If Christ served those around him, how is it that pastors ought to demand they should be served? I am not arguing congregations should not work with their pastors and, yes, even serve them — as each part of the body ought to serve the others. But the argument by Peacemaker is far more top-down in implication, like a corporate structure not the body of Christ.

By the end of my own story, the implications of what Peacemaker teaches were chilling. Even when it was admitted the initial problem was caused by the pastor, even when some of the leadership was willing to concede that the pastor and those working with him had committed actions that had the “appearance” of harassment, even when Scripture seemed to explicitly be contradicted by what they were telling me to do, I was still found guilty for not “obeying” the very people committing the harassment and ordering me to do the unscriptural.

It did not matter if they had asked me to violate Scripture or conscience; as one of those who is suppose to “serve [my] leaders,” I should have done what they commanded anyway. The church leadership's demands included cloaking the abuse in the darkness of non-disclosure agreements, agreeing to granting shockingly broad legal powers over me to the church leadership and ignoring Matthew 18.15's clear emphasis that we should do one-on-one conflict resolution before escalating to something more (ironically, in an early part of the conflict, the Peacemaking team members involved attempted to force me to falsely confess having done this very thing I was now being ordered to do by the same people).

In that case, I was told in not so many words that I had to ignore parts of Scripture (Mt. 18.15) because, to use Peacemaker's words, “God calls his children to serve their leaders and to advance their vision to build his church.” Not all of the twisting of Scripture was so blatant, however. A more subtle and dangerous form comes from trying to convince people passages say things they do not.

Returning again to Matthew 18, which is the primary source of Peacemaker's teachings, one can see a demonstration of what I am referring to:

When you have a conflict with another person, Jesus says that you should go to that person and try to work out your differences personally and privately (see Matt. 5:23-24; 18:15). You can do this by applying biblical principles of confession, confrontation, forgiveness, and negotiation (for a detailed description of these principles, click Foundational Principles).

If repeated efforts to resolve a dispute in private do not succeed, the Bible teaches that you should seek assistance from other Christians in resolving the matter through biblical conflict coaching, mediation, or arbitration. (Emphasis mine.)

Notice the part I have emphasized. Now, the initial principle of individual conflict resolution is great. But, when we move to the emphasized portion, a subtle shift occurs. Instead of noting how Jesus talks about bringing one or two others along (Mt. 18.16), they say the Bible teaches you should resolve the conflict through “biblical conflict coaching, mediation, or arbitration.”

While these categories of services may work as practical attempts to do what the Bible prescribes, it is important to recognize that they are just that: attempts. They are modern categories — they are not referred to in the text. Nevertheless, a reader who assumes he or she can trust what Peacemaker writes would get the distinct impression that to be biblical goes hand in hand with using the particular methods of conflict resolution that Peacemaker advocates. This is what is known as eisigesis; instead of drawing meaning out of the text, Peacemaker has brought their own categories and injected them into the text.

The two examples I have given above from Peacemaker's site show a disturbing trend — a willingness to state “the Bible says” before what can be called, at best, tentative outworkings of biblical instruction. The attempt to use the authority of the Bible to insist on views that are not necessary shared by the Bible ought to be a clear warning sign to those looking at “the Peacemaking Church.”

If misapplication of Scripture was limited to my experience and not Peacemaker Ministries own materials, it would be easier to say what happened to me and my family was purely misuse of that program and not something more. However, when you see that the national organization uses some of the same dangerous rhetorical and interpretive strategies my local church and its affiliated “Christian conciliation” organization used to attack my family, it deeply troubles me about what the program itself is encouraging in those who adopt it.

These sorts of issues are why I basically begged my church's “Spiritual Council” (elder board) to allow us to resolve the conflict by returning to Scripture alone. I have no problem with using commentaries on Scripture, but when those commentaries seem to become confused on the difference between their own applications of Scripture and God's Word itself, huge problems can occur. I remember during one of those conversations last summer about this, I asked the councilman I was talking to that very request of returning to Scripture instead of using Ken Sande's materials. “That is Scripture,” he said.

I am reminded of the wise view the Westminster Divines took concerning all extra-Biblical statements and teachings. While the Westminster Confession of Faith 31.2 says we should “receive with reverence and submission” the decisions of “synods and councils,” it qualifies that with a big if: “if consonant to the Word of God.” The reason why is stated in 31.3:

All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.

Yes, a proper respect for wise teachers, leaders and councils is critical. But we must also remember that all of them can err. Had “the Peacemaking Church” been only a “help” to Scripture in my old church, we could have set it aside when its teachings did not seem to flow with the gist of Scripture — instead the conflict only grew as the leadership insisted I had to sign legal clauses, I had to go into secret mediation meetings, I had to confess things I had not done.

Twisting Scripture was not the sum of how the abuse happened, but it was a significant part.

Re: Unfolding My Story: Twisting Scripture

Regarding what Peacemakers said about obeying rules, we must consider Hebrews 13:7, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” (NASB)

'Nuff said, IMHO.

Posted by Eduardo - Jan 28, 2010 | 23:48

Re: Unfolding My Story: Twisting Scripture

Unfortunately, we live in/among a “Powerbroker” society. We know that as followers of Jesus, we are supposed to be Peacemakers, but we (the church in America as a whole) have become so intertwined with the culture of our mission field that we've lost our ability to be counter-culturally incarnational. We have adopted the structures of our society and deified them. Hence, we call ourselves Peacemakers and apply a whitewash of Scripture so we can sleep at night, without ever dealing with the reality of our nature as Powerbrokers.

In recovery circles, we call this “denial.” Before we can begin to move past our old ways of life, we have to admit we are powerless to them.

Posted by Caedmon - Jan 29, 2010 | 0:17

Re: Unfolding My Story: Twisting Scripture

Eduardo: Very true!

Caedmon: I think that basically hits the nail on the head.

Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Jan 31, 2010 | 20:28

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