Where Is the Church in light of Romans 13?

People who grew up in or attend a Bible-preaching church have most likely heard at least one sermon series on Romans in their lives. Romans is one of those go-to books of the Bible for pastors, Bible teachers, and theology professors alike. Analytical books have researched Romans, studies (with workbooks for an extra fee) have dissected it, and evangelism courses and pamphlets have encouraged memorizing chunks of it. There’s the well-known “Romans Road” through it that is supposed to help Christians tell others how to become saved. Over all, out of all the New Testament books, the Christian world can say that Romans is one of the biggies for the modern church — to study, to use, and to pattern itself after. Everyone knows Romans.

But recent events with the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have sent me digging through the Scriptures to see what God thinks about all of this. Big-name pastors and ministries who say they speak God’s word have been caught with their pants down (ahem…) in their own egregious sin as well as in dealing with (or more likely keeping silent about) flagrant and abhorrent sin in their midst. As one example, video has been out there for a while of Pastor Chris Conlee of Highpoint Church in Memphis, TN praising and blessing and holding up as meritorious his co-Pastor Andy Savage — the man who admitted to sexually assaulting a teenage girl in his care when he was a youth pastor years ago. The pastor Chris Conlee prays for Andy in front of the congregation, lays hands on him(!), and prays for Andy’s wife and family. Then, like a commentary video about this situation points out, the pastor back-handedly shames the victim Jules Woodsen (who has bravely made her name and story public) to the crowd, sneaking it under cover of “prayer for her.” Pastor Conlee also shames her publicly for bravely telling what that youth pastor did to her by saying that she “has not been on the same road to healing.” The “same road to healing” that pastor Andy Savage has been on is keeping quiet, not reporting it, the perpetrator avoiding consequences, and hoping it all goes away. That is the “road” his victim has decided not to walk anymore, and that’s the road she is being shamed for not being on. The Con of Chris Conlee and Andy Savage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3bdqkmEbFs

Fresh examples wash over the watching public day after day. Pastors or church leaders either personally preying sexually on members of their congregations, even children in their congregation, or pastors knowingly covering up for other perpetrators’ egregious sins. Just in the past few days, an article, which is a three-part series, details the Southern Baptist Convention and its moral failure. The reporters have found over seven hundred victims who have reported being attacked, raped, or molested in their churches or by leaders of their churches! https://www.chron.com/news/investigations/article/Investigation-reveals-700-victims-of-Southern-13591612.php

Their second article details how churches hired pastors who had been fired because they molested children or had sexually assaulted adult congregation members. They hired them either unknowingly, through a lack of research or diligence; or horrifyingly, they hired these pastors-predators knowingly. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/investigations/article/Southern-Baptist-churches-hired-ministers-accused-13588233.php

If perpetrators are finally reported to authorities and are prosecuted, appallingly, over and over again pastors and church leaders sit in court with the perpetrators, giving character testimony for them, and shame the wounded. And what would Jesus have to say about all this? I believe that this cartoon sums it up nicely. It’s been out there a while, but it’s still so touching and so true.

So, how do church leaders that do such evil deeds preach Romans 13, a passage that leapt out at me recently? Romans 13 is about submitting to the authority of the land. This should be a cold glass of water in the face — a shock to the system — if they actually thought through applying Scripture to their own lives and not just preaching to puff themselves up or preaching for those others in the congregation who they think need it. Romans 13:1 says, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” The governing authorities say that all public institutions MUST report incidents of sexual misconduct, especially where minors are concerned. They should help authorities in their investigations. They should help to have perpetrators removed from their midst and brought to justice. The church leaders esteem themselves above the law. However, if they are preaching Romans in their churches, then they must deal with Romans 13:2, “Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” How can they preach this verse bold-faced while resisting the authority put in place by the God they claim to represent?

Romans 13:3 says “Rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.” So… if church leaders are not molesting children, not sexually assaulting people, or are not aiding and abetting perpetrators, then they would have nothing to fear from authorities. If they do what is good — turn in the predatory wolves among them, confess their own sin to authorities and accept the consequences of their actions — they would have praise from the same. Victim advocates, people in the legal system, and other people who deal with abusers hiding in churches all say to never go to a church for help if you’re being abused and need help. The church’s reputation with the legal and victim advocate community has been ruined by their history of arrogantly hiding perpetrators or themselves from the law. Even in my own case, I told my lawyer that my church was disciplining me for leaving my abuser. He asked me if I went to the local women’s shelter for help. I told him that I had. He said that was good because they would be the ones to help. He said the local church wouldn’t do anything. Even he knew the worthless reputation of local churches, and he is not in the church community.

Do churches not heed the warning of Romans 13, verse 4? Do they think they are safe because they throw the name of Jesus around? Do they think God is only concerned with the evil in the secular world? Do they think God is not watching what’s going on inside the walls of His church? Verse four warns, “…If you do what is evil, be afraid; for it (the government) does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” God is moving to root out the evil from his true church. We who are watching and praying for God to move are starting to see the “cleansing of the temple.” And just like last time (when Jesus was physically in His temple), the leaders are blaming the workings of God on the devil. John MacArthur and James McDonald are both quoted as saying that their recent woes are because of Satan moving against the church. But John MacArthur’s Master’s University is under investigation because of the conscious decision by John MacArthur et. al. not to report sexual assault, for standing with the perpetrator, for piling on, blaming, and crushing the victim. Seems like Romans 13:2 is coming home to roost. Again, “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” That doesn’t sound like Satan attacking the church. It sounds like what God said would happen is happening because of their wickedness.

Even those pastor-perpetrators that got off on a technicality in court as discussed in the Houston Chronicle articles will not get off on a technicality with God as judge. God does not have technicalities. God does not have loopholes. God saw what they’ve done. God saw why. God saw their hearts, their minds, their arrogance, their depravity. Eventually, unless they seriously repent, they will hear the words they thought would only apply to “those other guys.” When they smugly say, “Lord, Lord,” look at all we’ve done in Your name! See the YouTube video sermons we uploaded in Your name. Lord, hear the endless verses of worship music we sang in Your name. Then they will hear, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.” (Matt 7:23)

All verses are from the NASB, except the last verse which was NIV.

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