How our Pastor’s Biblical Interpretation Can Affect Our Understanding of Scripture and God

***

This is a very insightful statement from C.J. Mahaney.

 

cj mahaney, spiritual abuse, chuck o'neal, beaverton grace bible churchWhen a pastor preaches,  he is leading his congregation in his interpretation of Scripture. It may or may not be correct. I know from reading many personal stories of those who were Mahaney’s church that his teachings caused spiritual harm. I don’t think he was referring to his own negative influence on his congregation when he composed his tweet.

It took me quite a while to figure it out, but at BGBC, I finally realized that my pastor did not fully preach about Jesus. The focus was on sin and law and getting saved. Jesus was primarily mentioned in reference to his death and resurrection. We weren’t encouraged spiritually, we were constantly reminded how sinful we were and how we had to repent and question our salvation. We were not built up in Christ. That part was left out. Instead, we were torn down, defeated, never rejoicing that His work was finished for us on the cross. 

How did I notice this? Because I found that I actually skimmed over verses that talked about being built up in Christ. As my pastor focused on his choice of key words and ideas and used verses to back up his teaching, he often failed to tell “the rest of my story.”  My eyes were focused on his words which were filled with doom and gloom. Since he didn’t highlight words of hope and assurance from Scripture, I placed those words at a lower precedence, too. His preaching influenced the way I read my Bible in a negative way, rather taking the whole passage in context and with thoughtful reading.

Oh, how my soul longed to hear words like this: 

“And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.” Acts 20:32

 

 

Janey The Small has it right above. I don’t think God wanted me to wallow in sin like my pastor was suggesting. It didn’t line up with what I believed Scripture was teaching me that I was a new creation in Christ once I became a Believer. 

Has your pastor’s interpretation of Scripture harmed you in your Christian walk?  

 

 

 

28 comments on “How our Pastor’s Biblical Interpretation Can Affect Our Understanding of Scripture and God

  1. Another insightful article, Julie Anne, about spiritually abusive churches.

    My ex-NeoCalvinist pastors/elders had too many Dark Ages beliefs to name that they added on to the “other Gospel” that they taught. Women as 2nd class citizens, shunning family/friends who were different, Young Earth Creation, Biblical Counseling in lieu of bona fide medical care.

    So much damage to so many lives.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Yes, slowly awakening from all of the scripture twisting I was raised with in a Calvinist church. My downward spiral began when I started asking pastors why a certain hermeneutical approach was justified with passage A when the same hermeneutical approach taken towards passage B would lead to an obviously erroneous conclusion. The response was generally, this has been worked out for centuries and is obviously right, so I shouldn’t have to explain this to a mere layperson. (aka: I don’t know, but not knowing does not fit with my office, so I’ll claim authority instead). When I left the church, I started hearing different perspectives that were more holistically approaching the Bible rather than preaching from one prooftext and then using that to reinterpret everything.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. I read the Bible by myself for over a year before I ever went to church. I think that is what saved me from a great deal, though I did spend years in painful confusion. There is so much that goes on and that is believed in church that you would never get from just reading the Bible, not in a million years!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. The most harmful interpretation I was subjected to was the whole submission to authority shtick. No matter what is said or done by the ‘leader’, we have to submit or we are being rebellious to God’s authority. And we all know that rebellion is witchcraft, and that witchcraft is an abomination (meaning that we seen as the abomination)!

    But in reality, this is all about control and power by those “in authority”.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I think Pastors have a grave responsibility to preach the truth as the Holy Spirit directs them. Some are not up to the task and should not be in the pulpit. I also think we in the pew have a responsibility to also search the scriptures on our own and not buy into group think. Some in the pews refuse to do their own homework. This is a main reason so many corrupt leaders stay in positions in power. They can easily manipulate the members with certain verses when those in the pew are not doing their own homework for TRUTH.

    Everyone has a responsibility and the Holy Spirit is really the one that teaches us all so we should not rely on one person to feed us. Congregations need to take more responsibility for their own spiritual food in my opinion. The celebrity status of certain leaders in our churches is predatory I believe. I can’t read anywhere in the Bible that a Pastor is suppose to drive the church or he is more important than other members. He has a certain gift to the church but the other gifts are just as important for the edifying of the saints. We need them all. Some of the church’s teaching is geared to bring in funds, or to provide a lavish lifestyle for those in church leadership. It more about money than the Bible I believe.

    There is plenty of blame to go around in our churches in my opinion. However, I am NOT minimizing the great harm those in leadership positions do. Please don’t think I am letting them off the hook. I do think those of us in the pews need to look at why we let them do this and learn to spot it then stop it. I can only change myself. Sometimes changing myself has a ripple effect.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “There is plenty of blame to go around in our churches in my opinion. However, I am NOT minimizing the great harm those in leadership positions do. Please don’t think I am letting them off the hook. I do think those of us in the pews need to look at why we let them do this and learn to spot it then stop it. I can only change myself. Sometimes changing myself has a ripple effect.” – kay

    I was naive. I didn’t know that finding a healthy church involved more research than buying a car. I didn’t know that a future member had to scour the church’s website, affiliations/links, what those links believe, understand church governance (elder-led or congregational vote, etc.), bylaws, membership covenants, and on and on. I found my ex-church through Mark Dever’s 9Marks organization. It said it was a return to Biblical basics that “had been lost”. Other posters, including conservative Christians, have pointed out over on The Wartburg Watch that there is only ONE healthy “mark” of a “Biblical” church in the Bible…and that’s “LOVE” and that LOVE didn’t even make it on to Mark Dever’s list!

    I simply wanted to go to a church that was small enough to know people, be known, have a reverent Sunday worship, hear the Word of God taught, grow as a Christian, and serve.

    Instead I, like other people, ended up in an abusive church, complete with excommunications and shunnings for the slightest dissent, authoritarianism,
    mind-control (like Julie Anne’s last article) and like therapist/cult expert Steve Hassan talks about in his books and videos: basically Communist Chinese
    Thought Reform techniques are used to strip people of their identities and get them to conform. I guess authoritarians everywhere practice it.
    https://www.freedomofmind.com/Info/BITE/bitemodel.php

    So yes, people have to do their research about churches. But plenty of smart people, engineers, Stanford University graduates, executives, U.C.L.A. graduates, got suckered and abused at my ex-church.

    I’m making a “ripple”, sharing what I’ve learned from the blogs and books dealing with spiritual abuse. I’ve gotten calls and emails from members at my church who know that I’m the “safe” person…and they want out.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My point exactly. This blog and people like you are helping to spare others from the pain. We can only change ourselves and do a better job of taking care of ourselves. WE can do our own Bible research to find out exactly what scriptures teach us rather than reading some person’s view of scripture in a book that they make loads of money off of.

    I have tried to warn many people in my circles and frankly they don’t want to hear. They don’t want to peek under the covers and then they turn on me. They will stand by these corrupt celebrity leaders regardless. It is sad, sad and more sad to see them suckered in but I can’t control them. I travel a lot and this happens the world over. I agree that Pastors/leaders bare a major responsibility, but what happens when I warn and provide facts to others in the pew yet they ignore it? Can’t tell you how many times I have heard, no one is perfect, no one is without sin, etc… Think of all the people that read these blogs and then ignore the facts.

    Seriously, I am getting tired of banging my head against the floor sometimes. I am tired of the problem, not denying the problem at all. I want a solution and the best one I see out there is changing what I can control. What can each of us individually do about this situation?? This blog is a good start in that direction.

    You might take my view as blaming the victim but I see it as empowering. The system is broke. We can throw it out or learn new systems to repair it, make it better. The choices we have are there for us and I think we owe the next generation a better system in our churches. I don’t think we are without choices in this mixed up, crazy dysfunction. Do you? I would like to know if others see solutions in this or we are just doomed to live with it? Maybe I have rose colored glasses on. Maybe I am just being unrealistic? Tell me if I am wrong and wasting time thinking like this.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “You might take my view as blaming the victim but I see it as empowering. The system is broke. We can throw it out or learn new systems to repair it, make it better. The choices we have are there for us and I think we owe the next generation a better system in our churches. I don’t think we are without choices in this mixed up, crazy dysfunction. Do you? I would like to know if others see solutions in this or we are just doomed to live with it? Maybe I have rose colored glasses on. Maybe I am just being unrealistic? Tell me if I am wrong and wasting time thinking like this.”-kay

    Hi Kay,

    Thanks so much for you prompt reply.

    First, I don’t have any easy answers to the problems of bad churches any the people in them. I agree that we can throw out the broken systems and do something else. Perhaps sit with our Bibles and pray to the Lord.

    Yes, people can have all of the evidence in front of them but still do nothing. (“You can drag a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”) I’ve had the same conversations with people, “Warning. Danger ahead.” And I have felt like I’m watching a Hitchhock horror film as they proceed straight to danger.

    I agree with you that we have to take responsibility and it is empowering. But at the same time, I also want to be gentle with folks. People stuck in the system. Deceived. Having the best of intentions. Having relationships in even a bad church.

    I think it’s like domestic violence in some respects. A person has to be ready to leave at their own timing, when they are strong enough, not when someone else says so.

    Out of my bad church experience, I learned that I know more than I thought I did and that I will not listen to authoritarian men again. All of the big names who espoused doctrines, books, programs that were shoved down our throats…all had an agenda. Money, power, cultural, political, and social beliefs. And what I’ve learned about many of them is that they are the most dishonest, unethical people. So I tossed the books in the recycling container. I felt better.

    What do you think are some solutions, Kay?

    Like

  9. I agree that it is violence in our churches. I am coming to the point where I don’t think our churches are safe anymore and that goes for many men as well as women. At least spouses of domestic violence get help and they learn how they got lured into the situation so it doesn’t repeat. How can we do the same? What are we learning? Seems to me that these things are happening to vulnerable people. They are not stupid, or weak, just at a point of vulnerable in their walk which leads to exploitation. How can you and I help the vulnerable in our ranks?

    My friend had a small problem with something her Pastor did. She talked to him about it with her husband present. She was well versed in scripture and gave point by point verses as to why she felt what he was doing was off base. He equally tried to defend his position. Was not a shouting match but a coming together for dialog. Bottom line he told her she had to submit because he was the Pastor. She point blank told him, no I submit to the authority of God and his Word. What you are doing doesn’t line up with Scripture. You have not proven from the Bible that you are in line with God so I won’t submit to your decision. Pastor didn’t like it but she knew she was doing the right thing. She knew the truth. She is still at that church but she told others why she did what she did. Didn’t create a me versus him atmosphere but was rather a standing on God’s Word versus not standing on God’s Word. Keep in mind this was not major abuse. I would tell people to get out of a situation like that.

    I firmly believe when a Pastor is the guy or gal driving things, like God speaks to them only, we are in trouble in the church. Somewhere we got this idea rammed in our heads that Pastors are above us and accountability. Somewhere along the line money, Church buildings, books, conferences and retirements became more important than people. Am I off base? You can level with me. I am so tired of seeing folks getting hurt over and over again in our churches. I really want to help plug up the holes as much as possible. Maybe this is only wishful thinking on my part? I think many people on this site know more than I do and why I am pushing for answers.

    How can we all get to this point like my friend? How can I help other people get to this point? I need tools. Where can I get them to help myself and other people? How can people start on this road? Someone here said they studied the Bible first before joining a church. I think that is a great idea. There is a solution in my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    THEIR shepherds have caused them to go astray,

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as sheep going astray;
    BUT are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    I’m Blest…
    ALL the screwy-louie pastors who led me astray… and abused…
    Drove me into the arms of The ONE Shepherd

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I am just not seeing the need for one guy to preach week after week, year after year. It is stifling growth and maturity. I think a better venue is a sort of facilitated group discussion. But preachers would lose the stage, the big audience hanging on his words, the income and control if people ask questions and provide different interpretive understandings. And such a venue is more about iron sharpening iron.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I firmly believe when a Pastor is the guy or gal driving things, like God speaks to them only, we are in trouble in the church. Somewhere we got this idea rammed in our heads that Pastors are above us and accountability.”

    Kay, this thinking seems to be related to what we used to call the “white coat” syndrome. People are impressed with titles and such. They put authority with the title.. add in God and it is quite a recipe for disaster. Most people think they need help to understand God. But look at the damage!

    The Milgram experiment shows us How far this “white coat with title” thinking can go and it should scare us how easily deceived we can be by frauds. They are clever. And they prey on our trust.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. the longer I am out of Christian circles the clearer it is to see that Jesus is IN none of it.

    He is IN His people (the Ekklesia) as He is Spirit and He dwells not in temples made with hands (what people call Church but it is not the Ekklesia).

    This word Pastor is great.

    it comes from the transliteration POIMEN.

    Here is a list of all the New Testament verses featuring the word Poimen (Pastor/Shepherd).

    https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4166&t=KJV

    Just for fun, scroll down the list and try to find a salaried religious professional called The Pastor.

    😊

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I have also thought this about Bible memorization as well. Do people really just memorize the Bible or is one memorizing the Bible with the interpretation of that passage that they have been taught? So not only does one’s Pastor affect how one reads the Bible and view God but their teaching becomes ingrained if one is big in Bible memorization. This is more troubling than one may think because it takes more undoing because the Bible passage is memorized.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Thank you, Rob, for explaining that about Bible verse memorization. I’ve always hated it, never been good at it, and none of the methods I tried to use worked.
    My heart wasn’t in it.

    And that’s it for me. Heart.

    I know tons of people at my ex-church who can spout off Bible verses but they are the most hateful, unloving people. It’s meaningless when you don’t LOVE people more.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. If we have difficulty understanding how what the preacher preaches fits with what the Bible says, we may be inclined to think that the problem is with our understanding of the Bible. It is more likely that the pastor is preaching from a perverted point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Velour,
    no one should make you or anyone else feel like they are a second class Christian because they “didn’t memorize” the Bible front and back, right and left. Memorization of the Bible is usually heavily promoted by some (Bill Gothard in particular) as some kind of magical formula for guaranteed success, so one is suppose to commit to rote memorization for God in order for God to supposedly blessing them with “success”. It is a bogus lie. It is abuse of scripture and memorization and even meditation. If one memorizes anything from the Bible, they should focus on any passage or verse that has deep meaning to them. It’s not what they are going to get out of it, but what God will comfort or encourage you with. The Bible is a love letter of God’s salvation, not a magic book of tricks. Just because someone can quote the Bible like a machine gun doesn’t make that person a better Christian or even closer to God. The devil can quote the Bible too just as he did to Jesus when he tempted Jesus. You are absolutely correct about the heart and since your heart wasn’t in this, it wasn’t going to work for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Amen! Bible verses are much more than positive affirmations. Rote memorization is a lower level thinking skill. Being able to memorize along with other critical thinking skills is what is needed in our churches. Being able to memorize without applying that scripture to one’s life is useless. I believe the Bible talks about it as a person looking in a mirror, realizing their sad reflection, then walking away forgetting what they saw and basically doing nothing about it. Business as usual. So, if a Pastor has memorized a whole bunch of scripture ask him to show you how he applies it to his life. He needs to provide proof of his own practice of it in order to be in the pulpit. Not saying he has to be perfect but am saying he needs to practice what he preaches. Or at least be aware of the fact he is falling short and needs help in this area of his life.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Rob, Velour,

     The idea of Bible memorization came from the fact that many of the ancient cultures had oral tradition. So, scholars would say that the Bible was designed to be understood passed down that way. For example, the book of Genesis was probably that oral tradition passed down and finally written by Moses.
    
     It's an interesting argument. I'm sure that scripture memorization is good, as long as it is done in context - not select prooftexts we have on hand to solve everyone's problems, but passages that we see have special meaning for us.
    
     For me, taking a myopic view of the Bible, which is going to be more common for those who memorize verses or passages, often leads one into problems when it comes to understanding theology. As I've said, I find that a hermeneutical approach to one passage might seem to be good, but if that approach is taken on another passage, it leads to bad results. Christians who spend time reading books and listening to sermons in the echo chamber are often unaware that there is all this unresolved hermeneutical inconsistency, and even counterarguments.
    

    Like

  20. “Christians who spend time reading books and listening to sermons in the echo chamber are often unaware that there is all this unresolved hermeneutical inconsistency, and even counterarguments”

    So you’re telling me that the fundamental baptists don’t have all the answers?

    (Just kidding)

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Bible memorization has been a blessing to me but I’ve not done it because it was demanded or a rule. I’ve memorized some of the Psalms that are most meaningful to me, for instance. When I’ve been sick, I can recite them to myself and it’s comforting to me. It’s amazing when you start to memorize, you realize there are a lot of connecting words you weren’t aware of. Since you have to concentrate on each word, sometimes you realize you weren’t reading it right to begin with. Is the word ‘for’ or ‘because’ and why that particular word?

    The Christian life is one of seeking to know God, not one of following rules, though. If memorizing scripture helps you draw closer to God, then great. If not, there’s no reason you should have to.

    Liked by 2 people

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