The recent death of Pastor Fred Phelps and the resignation of Bill Gothard while being investigated on charges of sexual harassment brought to my mind Charles Swindoll's definition of a "grace killer" in his classic book Grace Awakening.
Swindoll doesn't mince words in his book, as he sounded the alarm in Grace Awakening, "There are killers on the loose today. The problem is that you can't tell by looking. They don't wear little buttons that give away their identity, nor do they carry signs warning everybody to stay away. On the contrary, a lot of them carry Bibles and appear to be clean-living, nice-looking, law-abiding citizens. Most of them spend a lot of time in churches, some in places of religious leadership. Many are so respected in the community, their neighbors would never guess they are living next-door to killers.
They kill freedom, spontaneity, and creativity; they kill joy as well as productivity. They kill with their words and their pens and their looks. They kill with their attitudes far more often than their behavior. There is hardly a church or Christian organization, school or missionary group or media ministry where such danger does not lurk. The amazing thing is that they get away with it, day in and day out, without being confronted or exposed. Strangely, the same ministries that would not tolerate heresy for ten minutes will step aside and allow these killers all the space they need to maneuver and manipulate others in the most insidious manner imaginable. Their intolerance is tolerated. Their judgmental spirits remain un-judged. Their bullying tactics continue unchecked, and their narrow-mindedness is explained away or quickly defended. The bondage that results would be criminal were it not so subtle and wrapped in such spiritual-sounding garb.
This day - this very moment - millions who should be free, productive individuals are living in shame, fear, and intimidation. The tragedy is they think it is the way they should be. They have never known the truth that could set them free. They are victimized, existing as if they are living on death row instead of enjoying the beauty and fresh air of the abundant life Christ modeled and made possible for all of his followers to claim. Unfortunately, most don't have a clue about what they are missing."
Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, is easily identified as a grace killer among other things, because of his church's protests and picketing at funeral services including those of the military. His anger was usually directed at homosexuals preaching that the deaths of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan was God's punishment for society's tolerance of homosexuality.
Gothard's focus on the law over grace set him up as a "grace killer". He developed a program with a lengthy set of strict rules and hierarchy in which to live by. Thousands of people followed Gothard and his extremely rigid code of conduct for marriage and raising children which he claimed was taken from the Bible. It was ironic that someone who never married and never had children could be such an expert on marriage and raising children. While many swore by the school of Gothard, many others couldn't handle the control, manipulation, guilt and weight that was the result of his ordered life.
These two are obvious targets but there are probably grace killers in your church as well that are not as easy to spot. Your pastor may even be one. Heck, you and I could be grace-killers without even realizing it.
We need to first recognize when we personally begin to slide into the grace killing mindset. Only by dying to self and letting go of the need to control others for our own personal gain will we avoid becoming grace-killers.
What other actions do you find to be characteristic of grace killers? If you are a pastor, how do you deal with those grace killers in your church? How did Paul and Peter handle the grace killers in the early church?