I haven’t always liked articles from Joe Carter or the Gospel Coalition, but his recent article, Beware of Broken Wolves, is great.
The Church has forgotten the age old adage, “hurt people hurt people”. The victim becomes the victimizer. The abused becomes the abuser. The bullied becomes the bully. The sinned against becomes the sinner. Of course, we must never deny the power of the Cross. No amount of abuse or trauma will necessitate this vicious cycle, but there is a real danger when these broken, authentic, and wholly uncorrectable individuals are given special licence to devour others because they were once devoured by a different wolf. Carter reminds us of this in this article.
Joe hit on many great points in his article. Carter offers three reasons for why these Broken Wolves are dangerous to local congregations.
- Broken Wolves Are Authentic
- Broken Wolves Are Beyond Criticism
- Broken Wolves Are Appealing
Carter offers some great thoughts and his points are good points, but the problem is far deeper and far broader. The feelings of brokenness, victimization, and disenfranchisement can be harmful to the christian and church leader, but in a very real way, most of Evangelical church culture has adopted a very similar view of the world and the Church. Yes, beware of the Broken Wolves in the Church, but be equally wary of a culture of brokenness.
One way hurt and broken men become wolves is encouraging the least able sort of men to do the job of leading Christ’s Church.
“The ministry” is a very common “calling” for exactly the wrong kind of man. Of course there are many exceptions, but our churches are being led by far too many young men (or old men) who were the sweet, insecure, bullied, choir-boy types. They grew up being socially awkward, bullied, feeling disenfranchised, and feeling belittled. These types can move beyond this, of course, but too many drag that identity along with them their whole lives.
They’re not good at much other than reading so they naturally thrive in the ivory tower of Reformed academia. When given a pastorate, their past incompetencies are a plague upon the community. The immature, wimpy, nerd that was once bullied now has functionally all control and all power. Sometimes the most petty, spiteful, and controlling individuals are the ones that never had the ability to have control over others until they’re handed essentially all the control. It is very often a dangerous mixture of general social incompetence, a lack of leadership skills, fear of losing the control, and a twisted pride in some book smarts. There is no biblical leadership, but rather a sort of leadership that relies fully on bylaws and bureaucracy. Discipleship is replaced with checking the boxes off in the Book of Church Order; making sure to do things in the “proper” way.
I don’t know if Joe Carter had that situation in mind, but I’ve personally seen this dynamic in more than one church. On one hand the man “in charge” will not deal plainly with controversy and will be quite spineless when directly confronted in person, while on the other hand he will act in spiteful and vindictive ways while implementing every bureaucratic method in the book to marginalize and demonize those who have had the audacity to question the regime. Of course this looks different in different communities. I call it a “Prince John Complex”. Not the true king, but rather an usurper. Utterly petty, incompetent, and weak, while also being abusive, tyrannical, and dangerous. A princeling that hates the King while pretending to give honor to the Crown. The Prince John of the marvelous Robin Hood cartoon paints a vivid picture of the sort of “leader” I am talking about. And the Church is filled with them.
The danger of broken, victimized, and damaged individuals having influence and leading others can be seen in many different contexts. Nearly any sin perpetrated against a man can be leveraged in unrighteous ways in order to protect himself from criticism, gain influence, sympathy, attention, or in order to prey upon others. The disenfranchised, bitter, bullied, newly graduated seminarian is just one example, albeit an important example. This dynamic could apply to any damaged individual, and it is important to understand that we’ve all been sinned against and we all have some sort of damage. This damage can be extreme or relatively insignificant. It is very easy to cling onto sins in order to justify ourselves. From small slights to radically painful traumas, we are affected by how we have been treated. But we need not sin because we have been sinned against. It is not whether or not we have been hurt, it is how we choose to deal with that hurt that is a mark of maturity.
Those who have been broken, abused, and have suffered greatly need to find peace and fulfillment in Christ. Whether it is a church leader or a member in the fellowship, the person that has a chip on his shoulder, the person that is forever the victim, the person that cannot forgive, the person that sees everything through a lense of pain, is a person that does not need to be leading anybody else. He or she should not be seen as a person able to give wise counsel or lead a fellowship. They’re broken and we should grieve with those who are broken and those who have unjustly suffered, but faith in Christ means healing. When there has never been healing, has there been faith? These individuals need love, and part of loving them is not letting them trample upon others even in the midst of their own pain.
This dangerous obsession with suffering and victimization, however, effects far more than individuals. This is what Joe Carter misses. The very nature of what it means to be In Christ means a Christianity that rejects feeding off of victimization. Being faithful does not mean refusing to see and know the wrong done to us, but it does mean never letting that wrong become our focus and our identity. This attitude of persecution and victimization affects far more than our church leaders. This attitude infects Church traditions, denominations, and entire theological communities. This attitude affects the whole Church. When the Church is seen as only ever playing the role of the victim by the hands of “the world”, it can greatly affect how we see the Church, its mission, and its polity.
The Church props up these cultural defeats as if they’re victories. This makes the Church as a whole fully ineffective. It is a glamorization of defeat that only leads to defeat. Like a churchman who constantly rambles about all the hurt he’s gone through in order to conjure some sort of gnostic and pietistic peace, the Church is obsessed with defeat. Popular pastors and podcasters regularly moan and groan about all the defeat we are going through without giving any shred of an idea of a solution. In fact, their point is often that these defeats don’t really matter and that we should mystically “rest” in Christ while the Church’s lampstand is slowly dimmed. An obsession with victimization always goes hand in hand with pessimism and therefore defeat. This defeatist brokenness does not come with the trauma that many individuals face, but it is a brokenness.
Because of the view that the Church cannot affect the world and does not believe they should even attempt to affect the world, those who are in leadership within the Church have a very strong psychological desire, a need really, to control what they can. They are utterly powerless in the Culture Kingdom, so they have the natural (and sinful) desire to be as powerful as possible within their Church Kingdom. That means controlling those within their communities. The world outside of their Christian ghettos are outside of their control and this leads to a sense of helplessness. Controlling what they can and controlling who they can works as a sort of balm to lessen the sting of cultural impotence. They are a joke to the tyrants of the world, but by golly, they WILL have order in their own little fiefdoms. Their jurisdiction of expected influence is tiny, so the corrupt man must make the most of their power.
A Church that expects defeat, prepares for defeat, and glories in defeat, will inevitably be inward focused. This inward focus is often a cause of abuses and tyranny. When the work outside of the institutions is cut off or truncated, the busybodies are left to writing bylaws and circling their church-authority wagons.
Much like the lone Broken Wolf, a Church culture of brokenness squalors in pietistic abstractions that can very aptly be described as gnostic. You can expect endless sermons on personal inward holiness. Every text of Scripture is made to be as abstract as possible. Much like the lone Broken Wolf, a Church culture of brokenness is beyond criticism. Dare to bring a criticism against an elder session, and you’ll be quickly accused of contumacy or insubordination. The justification for this uncorrectable spirit is that the Church is attacked by so many enemies, that it is better for Christians to fall in line and “love” the Church by turning a blind eye to her errors. Much like the lone Broken Wolf, a Church culture of brokenness is appealing because self-absorbed broken people are attracted to a culture of abstractions and pietistic ramblings. There is no outward call to disciple the nations. There is no insistence for true and undefiled religion. The focus is on understanding theological ideas divorced from action.
We should beware of those who dwell on their own personal angst, personal struggles, personal hardships. Yes, Broken Wolves should be looked out for. But in addition to this deeply painful personal hurt, the Church of Jesus Christ suffers from an ecclesiological and eschatological angst. Carter hit on something useful in regards to personal psychology, but the covenantal psychology of the Church needs to be addressed. Our theology of history and our theology of the church teaches us that we will always be the remnant, that we will always be the persecuted, that we will always be defeated. We must not pretend as is if generations of pessimism do not affect cultures. Yes, Broken Wolves are a danger to local churches, but far too many local churches play the role of Broken Wolf. Always the victim. Always defeated. Always broken.