Doctrinal Silence and Spiritual Abuse


There are times when I think Jesus’ spitting on the ground and smearing the resulting mud over the blind man’s eyes gave too many Christians a supposed license to be weirdos in church on Sunday.

I’m not saying Jesus was out of bounds (He enjoyed perfect communion with the Father, remember), only that I wish more Christians showed wisdom in how they dealt with others.

So a guy comes up for healing prayer and is told to lie down while the people stack Bibles on him and then walk around him seven times while chanting. Did the Holy Spirit really direct the people praying to do this? REALLY? And was that direction verified, not only beforehand by checking with the elders but also by noting whether such an odd means of dealing with the problem actually resulted in a positive outcome?

Spiritual abuse has many forms. From bizarre charismania passed off as ministry to the cult of personality favored by some church leader “celebrities,” one can find some type of spiritual abuse in nearly every church. It’s just that most churches and the people in them are often too timid to point out their own failings. And the beat goes on…

While it may be easy for outsiders to walk into a church and immediately notice what might be “off,” people are far better at noticing a present problem than recognizing what is absent.

The issue for us as Christians today is what might be absent may form a more egregious example of spiritual abuse than the presence of any obviously bizarre practice.

Over at Church A, everyone talks about finding freedom in Christ (present) but no one ever talks about the perseverance of the saints (absent). Likewise, at the Church B, the talk is always that the shed blood of Christ on the cross bought healing from sin (present), but no one ever hears the blood and cross bought us healing from physical illness and disease (absent).

At Church A, the people there live in constant fear of losing their salvation. At Church B, people wrongly make peace with their physical sufferings and never take hold of the healing Christ bought them.

When we do not preach the whole Gospel to the whole man, are we not perpetrating spiritual abuse?

I’ve long been a fan of Leonard Ravenhill, the British revivalist. One of his consistent jabs was to call denominations “abominations” and then “correct” himself, as if he’d made a slip of the tongue. Let the nervous tittering commence.

When you get to the heart of this issue, though, the truth hurts, and I think that Ravenhill was closer to the truth regarding denominations than some think.

I enjoy musical theater, and one of my favorite musicals is South Pacific. The theme of that musical concerns racism and its devastating warping of people’s thoughts. The highlight song of that theme is “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” (see video).

The problem with denominationalism and the conformance to one ingrained “brand” of Christianity over another is that such adherence not only teaches through the presence of ideas, it also teaches by absence. You’ve got to be carefully taught, and in many cases what is not taught is as important as what is. And it is the absent teaching that most often rattles people when they encounter other Christians who are content with a valid, present theological concept the “lackees” have never heard (or have been told doesn’t matter). More divisiveness enters the Church for this reason than any other.

If we are not preaching and teaching the entirety of the Gospel, if we pick and choose our theology so as to create doctrinal silence here and there, then it is likely that we are spiritually abusing those charged to our care.

Stuff I Don’t Get: Is Left Right?


We all know this passage from the OT:

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.
—Deuteronomy 31:8

The NT frames it this way:

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
—Matthew 28:20b

But not as many people know this passage, one that makes for a series of puzzling questions:

And Hezekiah himself stopped the upper water courses of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah was blessed in all his works. But, in regard to the ambassadors of the rulers of Babylon who sent to him to ask about the wonder that was done in the land, God left him in order to try him, to know all that was in his heart. And the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, behold, they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, and in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.
—2 Chronicles 32:30-32

So, when this righteous king, one of the few bright lights to sit upon the throne, Hezekiah and the Babylonian Envoysneeded God’s wisdom to know how to deal with Babylonian envoys, God leaves Hezekiah in order to test him?

The Hebrew word for left is pretty strong: ‘ âzab. One of its connotations is to forsake.

Hezekiah was a pillar of virtue. Sin was not the reason God left him at that point.

The passage said that God did this to see what was in Hezekiah’s heart. Didn’t He already know?

If Hezekiah had responded in some odd way, would this have surprised God?

Why test a king who had consistently proven himself good?

This is Babylon Hezekiah’s dealing with, not some podunk nation. Wouldn’t God’s presence and help be essential?

If nothing good can come out of a man apart from God, what’s going on here?

And sure, the Holy Spirit always indwells believers, but did God do this personal test with one of His own just this one time in 2 Chronicles? Or does He do something akin to this “leave in order to test” with believers today?

Nearly all the commentaries I have note that 2 Kings 20:13-21 expands what happens, as Hezekiah shows the envoys everything in his kingdom. Some commentators say that this proves that Hezekiah loved earthly riches and did not value God as much as he should. Or that he did not point the envoys to God by explaining the miraculous retrogression of the sun (Isaiah 38:4-8) or his own deathbed recovery (earlier in Isaiah 38). Yet this is what the Bible says elsewhere about Hezekiah:

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.
—2 Kings 18:1-8

So this is a man who doesn’t really love God as he ought? And God left him?

For me, 2 Chronicles 32:31 is one of the oddest verses in the entire Bible. I just can’t make any sense of it. If you can, please clue me in!