Friday, June 14, 2019

A Fixation on Authority Is a Sign the Spirit Has Left

Attending the "For Such a Time As This" rally (6/11/19)
Photo: Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer
It's been my privilege this week to be a small part of the reform that is beginning to take place within the Southern Baptist Convention to help stop an epidemic of sexual abuse. 
Some of the stories I've heard shared this week, many for the first time, are fuel for my soul. It gives me the incentive to keep doing everything I can to bring down power bases built on fraudulent authority. 
Predators prey with power. Abusers are armed with authority. If one wishes to end abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, one has to strike at the root of the problem.
Many SBC men and leaders think that they are the "head" over women, that men "rule over" women and children, and that pastors "rule over people." 
It's the ugly disease of male patriarchalism.

Traveling home from the airport this week, my friend Jeff VanVonderen called me. Jeff is the author of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, Families Where Grace Is In Place, Good News for the Chemically Dependent, and a host of other superb books. Not to mention, Jeff is the star of the award-winning show Intervention.

He wanted to know how the Convention went. I explained to him the crisis of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. Then Jeff asked me this question:
"Do they understand that child sexual abuse and sexual assault crimes against adults all have at their root the sin of power, control, and "authority over."
I told Jeff I'm doing all I can to tear down the unbiblical doctrine of spiritual authoritarianism and bring back the biblical doctrine of humble servanthood in Christ's Kingdom to the leadership of the SBC.

What follows is the biblical antidote for any man infected with the venom of authoritarianism by the bite of the power viper.
Men and women are equal in Christ's Kingdom. Spirit-gifted men and women of humble character can both be servant Kingdom leaders. 
If you are able to prove the concepts of power, authority, and control OVER OTHERS is not biblical, then you stop abuse cold in its tracks in the Convention that says it believes the Bible. 
The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:27-28:
"All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Paul is emphatic that there is no room in the body of Jesus Christ for racial distinctions, no room for class distinctions, no room for gender distinctions. To forbid a woman to serve, read, lead, or teach (when men are present) is twisting the gospel of freedom in Christ into a gospel of bondage by gender. To restrict a Holy Spirit gifted and empowered woman from edifying other believers through the free exercise of her Spirit given gifts is to resist the Holy Spirit Himself--and qualifies as a very foolish act indeed.

An ancient Jewish prayer from the Hebrew Siddur (prayer book) went like this: "Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile. Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a slave. Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman." "Hashem" was a Jewish name for the one true God, a name used by Jews in the days of Christ.

The same spirit ancient Jews possessed that caused them to believe that only men were created to lead, rule and serve and that women were born to receive, follow, and help men who lead, is the same spirit now at work in more than a few evangelical leaders. Interestingly, the rise of the Siddur coincides with the glory of God departing the Temple of Jerusalem in the days of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 10).

Jewish Temple worship continued, but it was during this Spirit-less intertestamental time period that you have the rise of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other male-only Jewish orders that were constantly focusing on male "authority," male "leadership," and male "power."
A preoccupation and fixation on authority (whether it be conservative patriarchalism or liberal feminism), is a sign that the Spirit of God has departed. Jesus Christ explicitly forbids any one individual assuming authority over other adults in the Christian community (Matthew 20:20-28). In fact, after describing the imperialism of political rulers and the authority fixation of religious rulers, Jesus said to his disciples ... "It shall not be so among you" (Matthew 20:26).

I would propose that any portion of the body of Christ that is placing emphasis on male leadership to the exclusion of female leadership (or vice-versa) is void of the Spirit of God.

The New Testament covenant of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ totally turns the world's concept of authority on its ear. The world is concerned about position, power, authority, prestige, control, and ruling over others. Jesus Christ teaches His followers to serve, to love, to express their spiritual gifts to their fullest for the good of others, and to never fear what any person in so-called "authority" can do to them because "All authority ... has been given to Me" (Matthew 28:18). There is to be a mutual equality, respect, and submission within the home between husband and wife (Ephesians 5:21-33).

There is to be a mutual equality, respect and submission of men and women toward one another in the body of Christ based upon the gifts that the Spirit gives to each male and female believer who has been baptized into Christ (Acts 2:15-21Galatians 3:28). References to the churches' teaching ministry and other gifts are found in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 and not one of those passages excludes females from being recipients of any one of those gifts. Let me say that again in a different way. The gifts of the Spirit are never differentiated on the basis of gender in the New Testament -- ever.


Wade Burleson is a writer, avocational historian, and teaching pastor at Emmanuel Enid, Oklahoma. Burleson was twice elected President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and served as a trustee for the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board.


Bob Cleveland said...

IT sure seems that the more authority is exercised over people, the less authority is exercised over evil spirits, illnesses and the like.

I'm going to print this out and read excerpts to our Sunday School class this week.

Rex Ray said...


I really appreciate the dedication and persistence you’ve tackled the problem of ‘man power makes right’. Some in our church could learn a thing or two.

I don’t know if the “King James Bible group” is still around or not, but that translation has been the foundation for many years by many Baptists.

In King James can you see the ‘IMPORTANCE” of man in John 16:21?

Where NLT states: “…she has brought a new baby into the world.”

King James states: “…for joy that a man is born into the world.”

David said...


Thanks for making this point - it needs to be made again and again.

You've brought up Matthew 20 before, and it was that passage that was so instrumental in changing my views - once I realized that "authority" had no place in the body of Christ, it immediately became apparent that all of the male-authority interpretations were on incredibly shaky ground.

I'm sure you will get the usual slew of angry comments loudly spouting I Timothy 2:12 out of context, but thanks for persisting.

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks Bob, Rex, David.

I persist because of stories from victims - some told, some not yet told.

Until we change the structure of leadership (humble service and no authority over) we will never get a handle on the systemic nature of the problem.

I'm like a faucet...

Drip. Drip. Drip.

By the way, I made the promise to not quit back in 2005 when I saw the abuse first hand.

Anonymous said...

I once had a pastor state in a Sunday sermon (there seems be something sacrosanct about this context) that the main theme of all scripture is God's authority. The cognitive dissonance was overwhelming for me. I had always (and still do) approached scripture as having "love's redeeming work" through Christ as the main them.

I would posit that if you approach scripture assuming God's authority as the meta-theme you start to read authority into the microcosms of church life, marriage, family, etc. If, however, you see redemption as the theme then you believe that these contexts should be working toward reclaiming the harmony of Eden.

Disclaimer: The pastor in question, never seemed as I recall, to overemphasise authority and did not to my knowledge attempt to exercise undo authority in the church, I am just using his statement to point to how certain assumptions inform our interpretation and understanding of scripture.

Thank you, Wade, for all you do to speak out against fraudulent authority.

Bob Cleveland said...

Another (what seems to me to be REALLY) ironic point: Hershel Hobbs said the fundamental Baptist distinctive is the competence of the soul in religious matters. It'll be nice when we SBCers start acting like that.

Rex Ray said...


Wonder if some Baptists would have a different view if the Lord ‘zapped’ them into women for a few days? :)

Wade Burleson said...


That's funny. Somebody ought to make a movie about it.

Mercy and Truth said...

Thank you Wade Burleson for your efforts to turn back the tide of abuse, and to set things in decent order within the organization that historically has pulled so many Churches together for cooperative ministry; and continues to do an unparalleled work all across the globe. Maybe it's time for an SBC Convention INTERVENTION. Would your author friend be available to speak next year ? :-D

I share the view that the fall/curse led to a separation of Adam from Eve. From creation God called THEM Adam, he saw them as one. Gen. 5:2 "Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created."

After the fall in Gen. 3:20, Adam gives Eve her name, "Mother of all living"; essentially separating her from himself and defining her role - sex, and child-bearing. The results of the Fall were: sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and it severed the relationship between God and man, and between mankind and mankind, and the Creation was cursed, whereby it groans beneath the judgement.

From the foundation of the earth Christ would come- in the fullness of time - to reverse the curse and restore mankind (Adam, male and female, marriage) to a garden existence. However, His work was as good as accomplished from the time Adam and Eve were driven from the garden. The scarlet thread of redemption, Christ's blood, began immediately to restore the severed relationships and break the power of sin. Faith in His work on the cross has continued to reverse the curse. Victorious Christians embrace the Cross, not the curse.

A call has gone out to restore Adam to the garden through the scarlet thread of redemption. We are careful to not remove the old landmarks when it comes to male pastors, but there is a precedent for a plurality of leadership that includes both genders. The history of abusive practices toward women and children is the precedent.

All power is given to Christ's church on Earth. #MySuper-powerIsLoveWhat'sYours?

Wade Burleson said...


Jeff VanVonderen would love to speak, and he'd knock it out of the park.

The question is more the invitation than the acceptance. :)

Anonymous said...


You are the enemy....we will win this war because God who is with us.

Robert I Masters

Mercy and Truth said...

Matthew 18:19: "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven."

Maybe we could begin to agree in prayer that God would bring it to pass.


Anonymous said...

Wade you are a Wicked Enabler or Platformer,

Why do enable Dee Parsons wickedness against my brother.

This report still up on her blog is totally false.
If you read the comment section you will find false and vulgar charges against my brother!
Persons such as Lydia, Max , Scott Hendrixson

My brother has received multiple death.

This is not Christian love.

I actually do not have a problem with much of what Dee does at Wartburg Watch
but this is sinful, and evil and she needs to be called on it.

Here is a testimony that is true concerning my brother.

Wade Burleson said...


I keep my comment feed open. You might consider reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People." I know nothing about your brother or what's been said about him, but calling someone "Wicked Enabler" and "The Enemy" does not engender sympathy for your cause.

I can assure you that I would never condone "death threats" - nor would I condone anyone calling a brother in Christ wicked or the enemy.

Anonymous said...


I Do Not consider you Brother in Christ!

BTW-the issue is not really about my brother but your vision for the SBC which is


Your an Apostate!

Wade Burleson said...

Well, I'm not sure if apostate is in the same category as glutton, winebibber, drunkard, or Beelzebub. But I'll gladly be considered an apostate if my writing efforts save one child from sexual abuse, one woman from spiritual, emotional, sexual or physical assault, and one church from thinking institutional patriarchal religion is more important than Christ's Kingdom.

Callie M said...


I read Fraudulent last spring and it was so incredibly eye opening! I also did my own exegesis on tall the greek words translated "authority" and came to the same conclusion! We are given authority over demonic spirits and illness, and the authority to bring the Holy Spirit, but we are never charged with scripture to "exercise authority" over people. :) Its a beautiful worldview shift when you really get that to lead means to serve! Keep "dripping". Eventually the cup will runneth over!

Also, maybe its on your blog and I haven't found it, but if not, could you do some writing about this idea in patriarchy and strict complimentarianism that women are more easily deceived than men? I've been studying this after a conversation with a friend from a conservative homeschool movement said as much to me about women being more spiritually sensitive so more easily deceived. She's 41, not married, and is afraid to work on degree. In her mind she has to choose marriage or school, and neither has happened. She even said she was afraid. I see how adopting that worldview has put fear into her heart. I met my husband while in grad school and finished a Master of Architecture with a baby, so I think the Lord has this friendship blooming for a very real purpose!

Wade Burleson said...


I have not written on the foolish notion that "women are more easily deceived than men" but once you finish your research, I'd be honored to allow you a "Guest Post" on my Istoria blog!

Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

As I read read and understand Scripture I am convinced that God considers you an Apostate....and that is the only thing that matters. I would urge to repent and return to Christ Kingdom not your fake kingdom!

Anonymous said...


Wade Burleson said...


Have a great weekend.

Kathi said...

Thank you, Wade, for being a voice of reason and a voice for change in the SBC. I appreciate your tireless work and advocacy for women and victims.

Wade Burleson said...

Thanks, Kathi.

Christiane said...

"But I'll gladly be considered an apostate if my writing efforts save one child from sexual abuse, one woman from spiritual, emotional, sexual or physical assault, and one church from thinking institutional patriarchal religion is more important than Christ's Kingdom."

well-said, WADE

the Good Lord can and will bless the work of those who seek to protect and care for abused and wounded people in this world . . . your humility does you credit

God Bless!

Rex Ray said...

Robert Masters,

Let’s see, you’ve called Wade, enemy, Apostate (heretic), and wicked.

Sounds like you’re angry with him which would put you in the classification of Jesus saying in Matthew 5:22: “If you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgement!”

I believe you should repent, not just because you’re angry, but because you’re DEAD WRONG!

Is your head feeling hot? That may because coals of shame should be there by Wade telling you to have a great weekend. (Proverbs 25:22 and Romans 12:19-20)

Christiane said...

this man suffers terribly from the poison of 'authoritarianism' and needs healing:

Joe Misek said...

Robert Masters,

Have you ever had any success going onto the internet and yelling at anyone, let alone other men and women who worship Jesus, calling them an apostate and demanding repentance? Has anyone ever actually responded to your angry rants? Wade and many, many others have studied these issues for years, every bit as deeply if not more so than you, and have come to different conclusions. Wade pastors and shepherds good, faithful Christians and he's an apostate? Really?

Christiane said...

Robert Masters' brother is one of those mentioned on another blog for not addressing a report of rape at a Christian school, so Robert Masters is by casting aspersions on Wade, attempting to support his brother. My opinion.
Seems a poor defense, doesn't it?
This blog does not support the 'secrecy' and 'cover-ups' that have allowed sexual offenders to prey on innocents in the Church. But if all Robert has to throw at Wade is aspersions, then Robert may know he has no real argument in support of his brother. Robert's 'style' of communication does not allow for any other evaluation than he is very limited in ways to defend his brother publicly. That he is concerned for his brother is what drives him to lash out now.

Christiane said...

Currently, Wade's post is up on Wartburg Watchers' blog (Dee Parsons) and the comment section makes for some interesting reading.

Anonymous said...


Iam neither angry nor do I need to defend my brother. The truth always sets people.

Justice has been served in the court and will continue to be received from the courts.

My larger point is best understand in the context of theonomy. Justice is for those who are abused by anyone but Bearing False Witness is injustice whether practiced by Dee Parsons against my brother or by Russell Moore against Roy Moore . Remember that God HATES those who bear false witness.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I read The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse many years ago. It helped us decide to take our children and leave the local church we were attending (my husband had been a member since he was saved during VBS at the age of 9- it was the most difficult decision of our marriage at that point), not because of child abuse issues but due to a narcissistic pastor who was unable to show love to those who disagreed with him and who stated that anyone who disagreed with him on a certain point was being led by the devil.

Christiane said...

Hello Mr. Masters,

I am sorry that you feel I misunderstood you. I did take your attack on Wade's character as resulting primarily from a natural familial upset over your brother's situation. Otherwise, your attack on Wade wouldn't have made any sense to me.

Samuel Conner said...

For a number of years I have been intrigued by the possibility that modern interpretation of Paul's "en humin" ("in you") language about the "location" of the Holy Spirit may be overly individualized. The "en" preposition does in some contexts mean "among" (an obvious example is Jn 1:14). Many (though not all) of Paul's "en humin" ("in you") Holy Spirit texts could reasonably be interpreted as "among you." This also makes good sense of the idea that the Holy Spirit is the presence of God among the people of God, dwelling in their midst as God dwelt in the midst of Old Israel in the Tabernacle and Temple. It also makes good sense of the idea that individual believers are "living stones" being "built together into a spiritual house [which surely means "temple"]".

In view of Paul's declaration that "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His", it seems very plausible to me that if Wade's proposal that 'the Spirit is departed from authoritarian assemblies of believers', then those assemblies may on the same principle be "none of Christ's". They are assemblies of Christians, but not "Christian assemblies"; rather they are something closer to secular aggregations of people who happen to be, individually, followers of Jesus.

That's a controversial speculation, but it helps me to make sense of the present disorders of the churches.

Samuel Conner said...

that should have been "if Wade's proposal ... is valid, ..."

That there could be assemblies of people who are genuine believers (regenerate, "once saved, always saved") that think of themselves as properly constituted congregations of Christ and that have thoroughly sound doctrine but are, in God's eyes, not true churches seems apparent from warning in the Rev 2 letter to the church at Ephesus. In parallel with my reflections on "the location of the Holy Spirit", I have wondered whether chapter 4 of Paul's letter to Ephesus might be something of a "first warning" that things were not well within that congregation and that there was danger that the Spirit might become sufficiently grieved to "depart." Perhaps Revelation 2 was a "second warning."

Lamar Wadsworth said...

Wade, thank you for this excellent word. I have come to the conclusion that one of the first places we need to demonstrate the full equality of male and female in Christ is at the Lord's table. Back in 1992, when our oldest daughter was 18, I took our oldest daughter from our home in Baltimore to Campbellsville KY to move into the dorm at Campbellsville University. Somewhere driving across West Virginia, we got into a conversation about the Lord's Supper. Linda held preacher-daddy's feet to the fire and told me exactly how it made her feel to see only men serve the Lord's Supper. With tears running down my face, I had to tell her that she was right. Since then, I will not lead a Lord's Supper observance where only men are allowed to serve the bread and the cup.
Lamar Wadsworth

Rex Ray said...

Lamar Wadsworth,

Let me tell you that one time ONLY men were capable in serving the Lord’s Supper to a small number of people.

Things went well when four of us men distributed the bread (crackers).

But a guy couldn’t get the metal cover of the grape juice off. A second guy held the bottom down while he tried to pull it off. A third joined them. I also joined in the tug of war. After five minutes the cover came off.

I’m afraid the worshipful spirit was broken. I even heard some giggling.

But I agree wholehearted that women should be included in serving the Lord’s supper. After all, more than half the congregation is usually women.