Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Life of Christ, Our Identity in Christ, The Priesthood of All Believers, Submission and Humility

Dear friends,

These are some thoughts I wrote down in 2010 after contemplating the over-reaction that some Christian leaders have to current trends in evangelical churches and concerns from their congregations.  Specifically, it was a point by point response to a particular sermon based on Philippians 2 in the church we had been attending for several years.  After e-mailing these thoughts to the pastor, I had the opportunity to talk with him for two hours and he was quite gracious.  We did leave the church several months later when we realized we no longer fit in there.  ~~ Virginia Knowles

The life of Christ (earthly and eternal)

I agree that the Emergent Church is off course when it teaches that Jesus is our missional example rather than our substitutionary atonement. However, I think we should heartily commend a deeper study of his earthly life, his words, and his actions. The perfect earthly life of Christ uniquely qualified him to sacrifice himself vicariously on our behalf and provides us the only pure example of how to live. I have been studying all four of the Gospels concurrently and find this quite refreshing. You might be interested to read a little about this here: Disillusioned and Disappointed? Take It to Jesus!  

Likewise, those who want more emphasis on the resurrection power of Christ are in no way diminishing the necessity or the preeminence of his finished work on the cross. They are, however, responding to the tendency to "leave him hanging there" -- to focus so much on the indwelling sin in our lives that they unwittingly miss out on the true victory that enables us to overcome it. In baptism, you don't dunk the person and leave him down in the water. You raise him up again, just as Christ was raised -- as in Romans 6. Just as his sinless earthly life was the prerequisite, the resurrection is the proof of the crucifixion's efficacy. The resurrection does not compete with the crucifixion -- it completes it! The "empty grave" is not a mere postscript to the story of the gospel, and believers should not be chided for proclaiming its significance. 

Our identity in Christ

I understand concerns about those who claim to be Christians yet make no effort to walk worthy of the gospel, but believers should never be warned against clinging to our status of our identity in Christ. We should always cherish the truth that Christ in us is our hope of glory. Though we should not be conceited about our faith or think that we are better than unbelievers, I don't believe we should ever be "ambivalent" about who we are. Loving it so much that we want others to have it too makes much more sense to me. 

I believe that it was the assurance of his identity that caused Jesus to humbly serve. John 15:3-5 says, "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him." It is knowing that in Christ we are beloved, chosen, and cherished that we can face the taunts and ridicule of those who have not yet chosen to follow him -- and it is our hope that they can see the risen and reigning Christ in us so that too they will be convicted to repent and become disciples themselves. So we should be taught to fully immerse ourselves in who we are in Christ, to abide in the vine in close communion so that we might truly bear fruit. Apart from him we are nothing, but with him we are more than conquerors by his grace.  
The priesthood of all believers

I would disagree with those who say that "the priesthood of all believers" means we can ditch the institutional church and just do our own thing like a Lone Ranger. However, I think the majority of people who teach the concept of the priesthood of all believers are trying to communicate the gospel truth that each person stands before God with only one mediator, Jesus.  Each saint has the Word of God to teach them, the Holy Spirit to guide them, and an entire spiritual family of believers -- local and universal, pastors and common parishioners -- to nurture and support them. We each have the responsibility to meet regularly with other Christians and hear the Word preached by faithful pastors, which is why we have local churches. Yet we, like the Bereans, need to be able to discern whatever we hear and see to be sure that it is Biblical. We cannot blindly assume that whatever we hear from the pulpit is completely true and worthy of unquestioning obedience.   

Submission to spiritual authority  

Here is a gem from John Stott that a friend shared in her Facebook status: "Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve."  In the past couple of years, and particularly the last several months, I have researched extensively on the problem of spiritual/emotional abuse in churches and families. It is heartrending to read the stories of people who have become sucked into cultic and aberrant religious behavior because of an inadequate or twisted view of spiritual authority. Examples of this include the Maranatha campus ministry movement, the Boston Church of Christ movement, Jesus People USA, and Tony Alamo Ministries. However, even in many otherwise orthodox Christian churches, the misuse of spiritual authority is a continuing problem.  Ironically, the sheep in the pews are admonished to lay aside the status of their identity in Christ, "take the plunge of humility" and submit without a squeak. Wouldn't it be so much more relevant and timely to affirm the continual need for leaders to take the plunge of humility themselves and loosen their grasp on their own status as spiritual authority, instead of exhorting everyone else to honor it? 

Wouldn't it also be more humble to acknowledge the very real and valid concerns that cause people to lose trust and respect for their pastors in the first place?  I think it would be unfair to paint them as being rebellious or even unsubmissive. They want to be heard and taken seriously.  No wonder the thought of submitting to spiritual authority is a struggle -- because they realize that it has only brought more anxiety, depression, relational conflicts, and "fear of man" instead of victory and liberty in Christ. At that point, they are wise to move on to a congregation where they can rebuild a healthy confidence in spiritual authority -- or to at least, if they want to stay on, firmly gird themselves with a broader perspective and learn to speak truth into the situation.  


What do you think?  Please leave a comment!  

Virginia Knowles

Sunday, August 7, 2011

On Walking by Grace Instead of a Focus on Mortifying Indwelling Sin

On Walking by Grace Instead of a Focus on Mortifying Indwelling Sin

Dear friends,

I wrote these thoughts a couple of years ago as I was contemplating issues in our old church.  


I am rather distressed by the continual heavy emphasis on sin, confession, correction, and confrontation. I know there is a place for it, but I think it's being overdone to the point where some people could get quite neurotic if they aren't very mature and very proactive about seeing the big picture and getting a healthy balance.   

Two analogies on the necessary balance:  

1) If I only put the effort into correcting the errors in my kids' schoolwork, then that is all I will get to do.  That is because if I don't spend the time to teach them well in the first place, I will by necessity have to spend all of my time pointing out where they messed up.  It would be better to be proactive and teach it right from the start than have to go and react to the mistakes.  I need to enthusiastically equip and nurture them for success, not set them up for the disabling, de-motivating discouragement of always being told how wrong they are.  

2) A gardener has to spend time weeding a plot of ground, but the point is so that she can plant a lovely and fruitful garden, not so that she can have barren land.  (See Mother's Seeds.) Yes, we have to correct one another at times, but if we aren't doing something beautiful, too, it's just plain empty.

I would love to see more focus on the good things God has called us to do, and in his power not just to wipe out our sins, but to equip us for fulfilling the Great Commandment (love one another in tangible ways) and the Great Commission (reach the whole world with the GOOD news of GRACE.)  Jesus is no longer on the cross suffering for our sins, but he is sitting triumphantly at the right hand of the Father in Heaven interceding for us.  Since we are his body on earth (see Corpus Christi), he is preparing amazing things for us to do here on earth while he also prepares an amazing eternal home for us. Not only that, he has made us new creations and is giving us victory in the Holy Spirit.  Far from being hampered by my failures, he makes his power perfect in my weakness, even weaving my sins into his sovereignty.  

What a hope and comfort!  We have not only been saved "from" something horrible, but saved "to" something so infinitely and eternally magnificent.  Who is this God that I'm going to worship and serve now (while "my body is weak") and forever (when I will never again be troubled by transgressions)?  What is his grace-filled plan for me now that he has rescued me from sin?  He is our Creator just as much as our Redeemer. Seeing his beauty and embarking anew on grand adventure of "kingdom life" have become a wellspring of worship for me in the past few years. 

I could waste all my time chasing the gophers of sin through the hole-pocked prairie, when I just need to climb on the wagon, join the caravan of fellow travelers, and keep moving onward to my new destiny, while merrily waving bye-bye to the pesky varmints.  (Hasta la vista, baby!)  I think Gary Thomas speaks so eloquently about this whole concept in his books, especially Holy Available: What if Holiness Is About More Than What We Don't Do?  Here is just one tiny quote: 

"God didn’t create you not to do something; if that had been his goal, he never would have formed you, because if you never existed, you never would have sinned. God made each of us in his image, and he wants us to recapture that image, to surrender to his work in our lives, so that we “will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3)."     
Gary Thomas’s books have been manna to me.  In one of his books, Seeking the Face of God, he included an amazing quote from Francis De Sales about not getting stuck with battling sin:

"As to these smaller temptations… as it is impossible to be altogether freed from them, the best defense that we can make is not to give ourselves much trouble about them; for although they may tease us, yet they can never hurt us, so long as we continue firmly resolved to dedicate ourselves in earnest to the service of God…. Content yourself with quietly removing them, not by contending or disputing with them, but by performing some actions of a contrary nature to the temptation, especially acts of the love of God… This grand remedy is so terrible to the enemy of our souls, that as soon as he perceives that his temptation incites us to form acts of divine love he ceases to tempt us… He who would wish to contend with them in particular would give himself much trouble to little or no purpose.” (Quoted by Gary Thomas on page 76-77 of Seeking the Face of God.)

Here is a similar one by Francis Fenelon:  

"Bear with yourself in your involuntary frailties as God bears, wait patiently for His appointed time of complete deliverance, and meanwhile go on quietly and according to your strength in the path before you, without losing time in looking back; always "reaching forth unto those things which are before," not dwelling unprofitably upon depressing falls and hindrances; sorrowing over them, indeed, with humility, but putting them aside to press onwards; not looking upon God as a spy watching to surprise you, or an enemy laying snares for you, but as a Father who loves, and would fain save you; full of trust in His goodness, continually invoking His mercy, and perfectly free from all vain dependence upon yourself or any other creature. Such you will find to be the path towards true liberty."


I had written these thoughts as part of a longer letter to my pastors, but didn't send it.  I like to sit on things like this before I fire them off.  Just a week later, one of them preached an amazing sermon on grace, which prompted me to write a poem called "Grace Will Lead Me Home."  They followed up with a whole series on that theme, too, early in 2010.  Though we ended up leaving the church later that year, I still commend them for that series and for the changes they have implemented in the years we've been gone.  So I am not sharing this article to criticize that church, but because it is what I want to communicate to others who may be thinking about these things, too. Since I already wrote it, there didn't seem to be any sense in reinventing the wheel.  

I would love to hear your comments. 

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What is Watch the Shepherd?

Dear friends,

I've got a new blog called Watch the Shepherd!  The tag line for it is, "Looking to the Good Shepherd Jesus for the example of how to care for others... Keeping a discerning eye on those who claim to be shepherds of God's people... Learning to recognize, heal from, and speak out against abuse -- spiritual, emotional, verbal, and physical -- in churches, organizations, and families."

I am not an expert.  I am an observer.  This is not a comprehensive site.  It is whatever I have to offer at the moment.  That is my disclaimer.

Right now, all of the posts on this blog are duplicated from two of my other blogs, and  I had been running two series on spiritual abuse on this blogs -- the first mainly about Sovereign Grace  Ministries, and the other about the home schooling and full quiver movements, particularly that patriarchal or patriocentristic edge.  I haven't had a chance to change the links to the articles, so if you click on something, you might end up on one of the other blogs, even if the same article is on this blog.  (And is that just about clear as mud now?)

I am hoping to add more posts as time allows, but I'm a busy mom of 10 and a grandma, too.  What I would really like to do is link to other sites that have broader research on abuse and religion.  If you have any that you would like for me to consider, please send them my way!  What I have so far is here: Links

Let us watch the Good Shepherd, who will never lead us astray...

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.

Virginia Knowles

My Favorite Posts on Watch the Shepherd

Dear friends,

Here is the list of links for my favorite posts on this blog.  It is a duplicate of the page "My Favorite Posts" which you can find linked at the top of the blog, but I include it for those who are scrolling down and not noticing the page bar. :-)  Please remember that as of August 4, these articles first appeared on either (my personal blog) or (my blog of inspiration and practical tips for mothers).

Sovereign Grace Ministries 

    These two posts were written while we were still members of an SGM church…

Family Life 

   Book Reviews on Family Life 

Spiritual Growth and Healing 

Links to Other Sites about Recognizing and Recovering from Spiritual Abuse

Dear friends,

This post is actually a duplicate of the Links page that is listed at the top of the screen.   I will be updating the Links page there periodically, so bookmark it and check back if you are interested!

This is a loosely organized list of links about abuse in churches, organizations and families, as well as some with general theology.  I do not endorse everything you will find on these sites, and trust you will read with appropriate discernment.  If you see a problem or if you would like to suggest more sites, please e-mail me at  Thank you!

All of the links on this page are to outside sites.  Links to my top posts on this blog here: My Favorite Posts.

Recognizing and Recovering from Abuse or Legalism
  • Spiritual Abuse Recovery Resources  This site by Jeff VanVonderen (author of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse and Soul Repair) is full of articles and links to other sites.
  • What is Spiritual Abuse? (site is mainly addresses United Pentecostal Church abuses, but this page is good general info and includes a video interview with Stephen Arterburn about Toxic Faith: Surviving Spiritual Abuse)
  • Church Abuse -- another good general site with plenty of links and articles

Sovereign Grace Ministries

These blogs are dedicated to addressing the issues of abuse, authoritarian leadership, and legalism in  in Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Just to warn you, there are also stories of grossly mishandled sexual molestation and domestic violence cases.  It is not pretty.
  • Sovereign Grace Refuge and Reform has less traffic and tends to be more restrained.  You can have followup comments e-mailed to you.
  • Sovereign Grace Survivors is an active board and can be a little heated at times.
  • Brent Detwiler -- Brent is a former SGM pastor who has leveled serious charges against CJ Mahaney
Family, Child Discipline, Home Schooling, and Patriarchy/Patriocentricity

  • That Mom by Karen Campbell: -- the most complete source for information on the negative influences of legalistic or patriocentristic family dynamics and home schooling.  Specific posts and series:
  • Submission Is Not Silence by Elisabeth Pent Julin: (for wives)
  • Recovering Grace - for families who have been involved in or negatively affected by Bill Gothard's IBLP and/or ATI organizations
  • Quivering Daughters by Hilary McFarland - -- for young adult women (and people who care about them) who have struggled growing up in full quiver, legalistic and/or patriocentristic families
  • Tulip Girl's Ezzo Posts and Ezzo.Info address problems with the Growing Kids God's Way and Babywise programs by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo.
  • Tulip Girl's Pearl/To Train Up a Child Posts series on the serious problems in Michael and Debi Pearl's To Train Up a Child and No Greater Joy resources.  

Theology (Orthodox and Otherwise)