Jesus and His disciples had arrived at Capernaum where they were greeted by collectors of the temple tax. They asked Peter if his teacher (Jesus) paid it. After a bit of discussion about the paying of taxes and who was responsible, who would be the greatest in the kingdom and such, Jesus taught a powerful lesson whose meaning, I believe, has been lost on the mainstream Church culture.
When asked who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus pulled a child front and center and told them, disciples and pharisees alike, in soft, gentle tones, that unless one becomes like a child, they cannot even enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now, I wish I were a 2000 year old fly that was on the wall that day. The Bible doesn’t go into too much detail about what exactly transpired, but I can see it vividly in my mind’s eye. I can see Jesus’ soft, warm facial expressions and tones flipping like a switch as His eyes light up with a fiery indignation, as He says, (as worded in the Message Bible) “But if you give them a hard time, bullying them, taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone tied around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time!” (you can find the full story in Matthew chapter 18)
Other versions and translations report Jesus saying something to the effect of, “If you cause any of these little ones to fall away…” or “If you cause any of these little ones to sin…” (in light of the bullying and mistreatment.)
After this discourse, Jesus launches into the parable of the lost sheep. For a very long time in many denominations, it is believed that the parable of the lost sheep speaks of the sinner or the unbeliever becoming saved, and it is used as a solemn invitation to conversion to the faith. It is here, I wish to contend the misuse and misunderstanding of this passage.
In the context of Matthew chapter 18, Jesus is discussing spiritual abuse. He is discussing religious leaders bullying young, naïve, trusting believers and the consequences. After that He says defiantly, by use of the parable, that even if one falls away, He will leave the flock and go to find that one. Their worst is still no match for Jesus’ resolve to unite all of His sheep to Himself.
In short, lost sheep, in this parable are those who were harassed, bullied, lied to and intimidated by religious leaders who were corrupted by the money system. So it is with this parable I attempt to discuss an overwhelming epidemic of spiritual and religious abuse that plagues our church today.
We live in a world where there is not just one lost sheep but thousands. They are the people who have been hurt and scarred by the religious institution of Christianity and have been swept under the carpet and cast aside, falling through the cracks. Some retain some semblance of their faith in Christ, but refuse to go back to church. Others have left the faith altogether, becoming an atheist, pagan, or involved in occult practices.
Herein is the purpose of the book. In this book I discuss my own journey through spiritual and psychological abuse, exploitation and manipulation by authoritarian and controlling churches and Christian schools. In this book I relate my own account of a religious system and family filled with anger, confusion, fear, intimidation and insanity. I relate my own journey to discovering God, His love, and His restorative grace and my own wholeness.
This book is a light to shine in the dark, closed places of the hearts of believers and non believers alike, and to offer a beacon to a lost sheep generation, in hopes of exposing the deep treasures of Christ’s love, grace, and redemption, blowing off the settling dust of hype, exploitation, abuse and a poisonous “gospel” which runs rampant in many major denominations and sects, in the Christian world today.
Finally this book is written for those who may be unaware of what takes place in the name of their own religion. Perhaps you are someone who has never experienced religious abuse. Perhaps you are someone who is comfortable and happy in your faith and your church. This book is for you too, in hopes to bring a very real awareness to the body of Christ of the horrific abuses going on in the dark underbelly of the religious institution that calls itself Christianity today.
Finally, I hope that this book gives courage to others who have suffered and inspires them to speak out with their own voice concerning the atrocities done in the name of Christ. When the people speak out, the abuser and the tyrant no longer have power.
Ransom Backus currently lives with his wife in the Pacific Northwest and is an aspiring writer of Christian speculative fiction. He also hosts a weekly podcast show called “The Church Underground.” It can be found at ransomscave.podomatic.com.