Ross Kronenbitter Fourth Presbyterian Church Abuser
. . . this is a continuation of My Church Abuse Story.
What do I mean by Church Abuse?
I consider church abuse to be a subcategory of spiritual abuse—a spiritual abuse that occurs within the context of the church.
What is Spiritual Abuse?
I believe spiritual abuse is the most potentially devastating form of abuse that can ever come against a person—for it is a sacred violation against the soul. When the spirit is crushed and broken, the entire person is affected—mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually.
Although extreme forms of spiritual abuse have been likened to “the raping of the soul,” please know, just a mere jot or tittle of spiritual abuse is seen by God as an inappropriate touching or tampering with the identity and desires that belong exclusively to that person and God alone.
One of the reasons we spiritual teachers will be held to a stricter judgement is that the Word of God is sharper and more piercing than any two-edged sword—when wielding it with divine authority we had better make sure we are cutting straight!
Here is a good baseline definition of spiritual abuse from Jeff VanVonderen’s book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse:
Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority—the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people more free—misuses that authority by placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly godly purposes which are really their own.
With this post I’d like to offer into evidence a series of encounters centered around my attempt to confront and correct just one recurring matter of Spiritual Abuse at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. Even after going through a Matthew Eighteen process, Ross Kronenbitter still—against what I shared with him from Scripture—continued to pray publicly for God to discipline us.
During a Thursday evening gathering at Fourth Presbyterian on September 2, 2010, as I was due to preach on Sunday, Ross felt compelled to lay his hands on me and pray that God would discipline me. Some days later when Ross called me on the phone I took that opportunity to broach with him my concerns. It didn’t go well. Then on September 17, 2010, Ross called me back and wanted to have a face-to-face discussion with me regarding godly discipline. That afternoon in preparation for a possible meeting I took the time to write an email detailing my thoughts. So now I enter into evidence this email and his response to me [only slightly redacted to cover privacy concerns] as a thin slice of Ruling Elder Ross Kronenbitter’s spiritually blind and abusive bearing.
After I was voted out I challenged the Three Elders to examine these two emails for the spiritual abuse leveraged against me. Their unanimous response was: We—see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
At that time I asked myself—Am I out of my mind? I knew I wasn’t.
Sincerely, I would like to hear from any elders within the EPC (or elsewhere) who believe that what Elder Ross Kronenbitter wrote to me was not spiritually abusive.
Also, I’d love to hear from any children of light who might be willing to share any words of encouragement toward helping us discern the rightness and wrongness in all of this.
Yet before I personally detail both the subtle and blatant spiritual abuses inherent in Ross’ language, please read this exchange between us with these critical questions in mind:
As Ruling Elder Paul Metzger used the words “contention” and “judging” to describe my disqualifying lack of maturity, I ask: Who was improperly “judging” who here?
And regarding Paul’s other descriptor, I ask: Where and with Whom was the real “contention”?
In other words: According to the Word of Truth—who was in or out of line with the heart and mind of Christ in this?From: David
Date: Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 2:36 PM
Subject: re: Godly discipline..
you stated in your phone call this morning that you wanted to get together for lunch or coffee to discuss the issue of Godly ‘discipline’ that was brought up in one of our last conversations.
I had asked you if ‘When you pray, do you ask the Lord to discipline you?’ You said, ‘yes.’ You then asked me if I did. I said, ‘no,’ and shared with you my personal understanding of what the discipline of the Lord means to me. I explained how I thought it was inappropriate for you to pray for me in public for the Lord to discipline me. Allow me to reiterate this with some additional thoughts.
The idea of Godly discipline is perhaps most prominently displayed in Hebrews 12. The Greek word behind the English word ‘discipline’ is paideia which carries with it a certain breadth of meaning. It is for both the Biblical and the contemporary English understanding of this word that I have my concern.
Biblically, this word ‘discipline,’ as it relates to our relationship with God as His children, involves a loving and nurturing type of training and admonition. Yet, it’s the type of training that ‘has teeth to it’ as Tim Keller puts it. It’s an unpleasant chastening—so much so that the writer of Hebrews likens the discipline of God to a scourging. There’s a kindred verb, paideuo, that signifies the act of flogging (cf. Luke 23:16,22).
Note: the Biblical idea of discipline has both an instructive and a punitive meaning (see 2 Cor. 6:9 where paideuo is rendered ‘punished’ in the ESV). The contemporary understanding of the word also conveys a punitive sense. Here’s an English dictionary definition—‘discipline: punishment inflicted by way of correction and training.’
Godly discipline is an inevitable part of our process of sanctification. Not a single child of God escapes from the loving and often unpleasant discipline of the Lord. The Lord Jesus (as an imperative in Rev. 3:19) commands us to conform ourselves to holy living. He says, ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.’ This corrective action of personal repentance is to be zealously undertaken in order to avoid the disciplining correction of God. We are called to repent of sin in our lives so that we might escape His judgment. It is only after we refuse to obey God’s will that he resorts to punishment (see Lev. 26:18).
In understanding the concept of discipline it may be helpful to ask, When is it appropriate to employ church discipline? I believe part of the answer involves a situation where a member of the body is unrepentant or unable or unwilling to affect a change in their sinful behavior. Initially, the sinning member is to be approached privately. An emphasis on privacy is part of the thrust of my concern. If you feel someone is in need of correction or discipline—by God or themselves or the church—the initial approach should be a private one; it shouldn’t be addressed in a public setting.
Another consideration: If I in prayer were to ask the Lord to discipline me it would be out of a recognition that I, personally, haven’t the self–discipline to correct myself. Perhaps some people are beyond the sort of self–discipline that is needed to conform their lives to the will of God. In fact, in a significant way, all of God’s children—by nature of still being in the flesh—inevitably sin against Him. But after giving ourselves over to sinful behavior it’s imperative for us to confess and conform ourselves to God’s righteous standard. A life long process.
I sincerely fear the loving discipline of God. That is why I endeavor to live a life of self–discipline—to avoid God’s corrective measures. For instance, when I recognize the sin of pride in my life I don’t—as the means of correction—ask the Lord to discipline me. Neither do I ask the Lord to humble me. I correct myself and do all I can to assume a posture of humility. For Scripture tells us to humble ourselves (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6). It’s a heavy thing to be humbled by God, a fearful thing to fall into His hands.
Also, we, personally, are to judge ourselves so that we might not be judged by God. In 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 the Apostle Paul entreats us to examine ourselves with proper discernment, for ‘if we judge ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.’ It is for the sake of righteousness and holiness that we are both self-disciplined and experience the discipline of God (Heb. 12:10-11).
When you openly pray for the Lord to discipline others—according to the understanding I have just laid out from Scripture—you are making a judgment concerning them. If your discernment is correct, that they are in danger of being subject to the correction of God, then your prayer for them should be private, and perhaps offered only after you have confronted them personally as to the sin in their lives.
I don’t believe you necessarily share my understanding of God‘s discipline—at least not according to our last conversation on this. However, I would want you to be sensitive as to how other people appreciate the discipline of the Lord. It’s a last resort measure. It’s only employed when the children of God lack the self–discipline to conform themselves to the righteous and holy life we are called to live.
Ross, do you see where I’m coming from, and what are your thoughts in return?
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Prov. 27:17
Here’s Ross Kronenbitter’s response:From: Ross
Date: Tue, Sep 21, 2010 at 10:23 AM
Subject: Re: Godly discipline..
Thank you, David for your explanation. I will not pray for discipline for you publicly.
I prefer not to claim I understand where people are coming from but I do appreciate the effort of your explanation.
My concern is for you and also for the church as a body. What I came away with from our conversation was a distinct sense of struggle and I felt it was my duty as an elder and fellow christian and responsibility as a friend to respond. This came to light when I called you to inform you of [a Fourth concern] and the conversation turned into the issue of public prayer for discipline. My concerns are three-fold.
1) The accusations towards me and the righteous attitude. My concern is about what is working in you to accuse me (of having some agenda in praying for you?). This didn’t really sink in until I reflected on the
(2) “self-discipline” effort you described by phone. I’m not sure anyone can do it themselves. We are instructed to be sanctified in Christ and to be perfect. However, I sensed some sort of deception, either self or outward, which may only become clear over time by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why I’m trying to help.
(3) Is the issue of public/private character assassination that you’ve demonstrated regarding me personally, [name withheld] and George Scipione. Reflecting on it added to the sense of need.
I feel God gave us this conversation to forward his purposes. In my response I am trying to be as true to scripture and the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ as possible. I love you in Christ and am hopefully dying to myself in him and in this effort. Whatever is at issue here for us, God is in charge. If we truly desire his refinement, he will. He is sure to complete his work in us. If we resist, scales will grow thicker and walls will be built higher. He is the one that can transform and reconcile. He is the one that builds us into a Holy temple. God Be Praised.
David, I send this with my prayer for the Holy Spirit to work in this and God’s will be done. Please seek the other elders and Pastor Eric on this. I would rather not discuss it further until you have spoken and prayed with them. I insist on this as our history demonstrates that working through these issues privately has not been healthy for me or the church. I also believe that the root issues are bigger than what we can or should handle privately. Thank you.
With my love and appreciation and all blessings in Christ Jesus, Ross
So then at my place on Saturday, October 2, 2010, I confronted Ross (in Matthew Eighteen fashion) about the inappropriateness of his public prayer for discipline, with Carl Schartner and (the man I affectionately call) the MOB as witness.
The meeting ended with Ross only committing himself to not praying God’s discipline for me, but continuing to follow his conscience on praying God’s discipline for others. He saw nothing wrong with it.
My question now is pointed to Ruling Elder Carl Schartner:
Carl, as the only other recognized Elder in attendance, it fell on you to make a determination on the biblical legitimacy or illegitimacy of what Ross was doing. But you spoke few words, and did not correct him. Why not? Did you believe this was just a matter of “interpretation,” or a “personal issue” between Ross and I? Do you believe as Ross does that praying for God to discipline the Body of Fourth is spiritually sound?
On my last Sunday there, March 20, 2011, Elder Ross Kronenbitter stood before the congregation of Fourth and prayed that God would discipline us.
On doing this did he not realize that he was breaking his personal promise not to pray such a thing for me when he prayed for God’s discipline for us?
There’s a lot of fuzzy, contradictory logic operating in the minds of these Ruling Elders. And it’s for this reason that I’m wanting everything out in the open and on the record—so their rank duplicity might be apparent to all.
For me, this is their most egregious act of duplicity:
Session gave me their word on April 21, 2010, that as a member of Fourth I would be entering into a complementarian church. I made a point of securing this reality. I would not have become a member otherwise. Then weeks later, from out of the blue, they bring in—against my protests—an egalitarian pastor who displaced me exactly at the point of my complementarianism.
You Elders not only betrayed me and the rest of the Body of Fourth in this—You betrayed the generation of your children!
Now here’s precisely how Elder Ross Kronenbitter spiritually abused me:
First, in front of my brothers and sisters at Fourth Presbyterian, he laid his hands on me and prayed for God to discipline me.
Then, when I privately challenged him as to the biblical illegitimacy of such a prayer, instead of persuading me from Scriptures that what he did was proper, he—with an air of condescension—assigned sin to my person; accused me of being deceived and self-righteous; intruded into my personal life in areas he was NEVER invited; misconstrued all sorts of things; suggested that I was resisting the work of the Holy Spirit and if I continued to do so “scales will grow thicker”; dismissed his personal accountability to me by insisting that I “get help” from the other elders and Pastor Eric; then summed up all of his belittling madness in the most flowery of biblical language. “God Be Praised.”
In other words: After I confronted Elder Ross Kronenbitter on his spiritual abuse, his answer back to me—straight from his misguided heart—was an exponential magnification of the very thing I was attempting to check and correct.
[[ see Obey your leaders and submit to them ]]
In a May 11, 2011 email, I challenged the Three Elders to discern for themselves the abusive contours of several encounters between Ross and myself involving “an ongoing pattern of accusations and attacks that occur after I have attempted to challenge Ross—in his position as elder—with something to be considered in light of Scripture.” I included these two emails as evidence. As mentioned above, their unanimous response to me was: We—see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
Elder Carl Schartner responded with this logic: “In my judgment, Ross prefacing with ‘I sense’ takes it out of the abusive category. If the language had been something like, ‘The Lord has revealed that …’, then I would consider this abusive.”
Here’s a portion of my reply:
Carl, your answer disturbs me, and let me try to explain why. The perceived abuse here isn’t contingent upon whether Ross said what he said by prefacing his discernment as if coming directly from the Lord or directly from his own heart. This distinction of source you are making is entirely irrelevant to the fact that Ross is expressing to me how I am self-righteous and operating with self-deception.
Now, since you do not consider this abusive, I have to ask you then—Are you supporting Ross’ claim that there was “some sort of deception [in my life], either self or outward, which may only become clear over time by the power of the Holy Spirit”?
Our reality is this: Either I was practicing self-deception or I was not. I know myself a lot better than session does, and I’m telling you that I am a true and honest man in my relationships with God, with others, and with myself.
If, as I claim, I was not operating with self deception, then what Ross leveled against me was spiritual abuse—assigning sin to me that I am, in truth, free of. Now, my question again to you—Are you, also, ascribing sin to my life as Ross has done? This, in my eyes, is the only way you can consider what Ross did to me as not abusive.
Note: the very conversation and email that Ross is responding to involves my calling him on something that involves the presumption of sin upon my life.
I also felt the need to answer some of Ross’ accusations—lest they take his word as their final determination—against me.
I’m a fairly open and honest man, but there is much of my life that I guard as private. When Ross had called me on September 17, 2010, I was wrestling with a decision to leave my girlfriend. Ross’ sense of duty and perverse desire to help me in my struggle with some assumed sin in my life—a hidden sin, at that—was both blindly intrusive and spiritually abusive! And exists as an example of Ross behaving as a sin-sniffing, sin-projecting wolf.
Also, I never accused Ross “of having some agenda in praying” for me. I recognized his intentions as being good, I was not addressing his heart, but how our minds should be informed by the Word of God on this. His email response to me all by itself should be proof enough of the “lack of discernment and understanding which makes Ross acting in the office of elder a highly dangerous situation,” as I told the Elders.
Above I characterized Ross’ heart as misguided, in part for the dark counsel he’s been getting from Persons over at the Reformed Pittsburgh Theological Seminary—a very graceless, legalistic institution (RPTS). Their version of being Reformed is Reconstructionist (for those in the know). Which brings me to the final thing (for the moment) that I’d like to share:
My alleged “character assassination” of George Scipione (a Professor at RPTS and Director of the Biblical Counseling Institute) involved, as far as I’m aware, this singular remark I made during Sunday School: “I would never take anyone to see him!” Spoken after our brother had just described his recent encounter with a biblical counselor who had made him feel small and worthless and faithless and hopeless and utterly beat-up (our brother punctuated his wording with the pantomiming of a man beating someone up with a baseball bat).
I asked, “Was this George Scipione?” He said, “Yes.” Then I said what I said sharply —as both a rebuke to Ross, who was sitting to my right, and as a warning to the rest of the class. But not everyone was warned, and Ross still referred others to Dr Scipione. Later, as I talked to our brother about his encounter—I received the vivid impression of a professor practicing a most crushing form of spiritual abuse in the name of Biblical Counseling. Ross was not only blind to it, he was being mentored to practice it too.
As Mr Ross Kronenbitter apparently thinks this sort of shepherding and discipleship “to be as true to scripture and the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ as possible,” I will tell you this: Ross is a spiritually blind and sick bully who has made himself an enemy of Christ and His Sheep.
Ross, as you may or may not know, our brother was in counseling with me. . . except we didn’t call it counseling, we called it getting together for lunch. What I can attest to concerning our brother was that every time he and I got together to encourage each other and pray for each other and cover those issues of concern in his life—he left my place refreshed in the Spirit full of peace and joy and hope and confidence! Does this register with you? Can you distinguish the good fruit from the bad? Are you able to discern the difference between faithful shepherds and ferocious wolves? I know you to be someone who can not. And for that reason we have a bloody WAR on our hands!
Please know, You spiritually blind Elders, what I’ve exposed so far is but the tip of the Fourth Church Abuse ice-burg—which means this is but the tip of my SWORD against you.
“As for those elders who persist in sin, [I, David Johnson] rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Timothy 5:20).
[[ more to come ]]