Wisdom for Pastors Series – Introduction

I have now been a pastor for nearly 36 years. There have been many times in this stretch of over 3 decades that I though I should “move on” to another career, or at least times of deep regret that I ever left my job as a police officer. I have missed the camaraderie of the uniform and to some degree still do.

I was a police officer on a Friday (after 14 years in law enforcement) and a pastor in the mountains of Montana just two days later. My family and I packed up our goods and headed out on the new adventure after I finished up my theological studies in graduate school.

I loved Montana. Hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, firewood cutting, the mountains and the lakes. Step out our door and fish in the stream. Oh sure, we didn’t have hardly any money, but this place felt like home – for a short time.

The problem wasn’t Montana. Nope. The problem was the church. Or more specifically, the majority of the people who made up that church. As I look back, I now realize that only a handful of them were genuine believers. Over the next 8 years I experienced constant friction, constant tension, repeated blowups, efforts to destroy the church by evil people, and more.

It would be the same in two more churches for the next 20 plus years.

Continue reading “Wisdom for Pastors Series – Introduction”

A Common and Surprising Ally of Abusers – Christians Who Grew up in Church

2 Co 11:13-15 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. (14) And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (15) So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

I have known many people who grew up in a Christian family, attending a Christian church. And not only attending that church, but attending it diligently. Sunday School, morning worship, Sunday evening worship, Wednesday evening prayer meeting, mid-week children’s ministry, vacation Bible school, summer camp…the whole package. In other words, the church was their life. Their friends were in the church. They may even have eventually married someone they met in their church, after going to the Bible college that most young people from church chose.

It all sounds so wonderful, doesn’t it? And I bet some of you can identify with this description – or at least you once did. But let me tell you something that I think most likely most of you already know –

Your church world was a fantasyland. At least your idea of your church was a fantasyland.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I love Christ’s church. I am not one of these ticked off ex-Christian, ex-Church people who had something bad happen to them and so they reject Christ and His Church in their entirety. Nope. I have been a pastor of Christ’s church for going on 36 years now. But the church I love is Christ’s true church – not the counterfeit.

So when I say that your “church” was in all probability a fantasyland, or at least that what you think it was is a fantasy, I am talking about the visible local church that you lived so much of your life in, and what it really was in comparison to what you thought it was. And if anyone reading this post is still in such a church, leading that same kind of church life, then what I am saying to you is that most likely your view of what your church is, is a fantasy. Let me talk, in fact, to you.

All of this produces a surprising ally to evil – you. The church kid. The church youth group member. The young adults group leader. The person, in short, who loves their church, who lives their church, who pours out their life’s energy in their church. Many of the enemy’s allies come from these very ranks. Let me explain.

The Bible never, ever portrays the Christian life and the local church in terms of a fantasyland. It never tells us that our enemy is only “out there.” In fact, what Scripture (like the one quoted above) does tell us is that creeps creep in among us in the church (see Jude on this). Wolves in sheep’s clothing, in other words, do not do their wickedness “out there.” If they did, they wouldn’t need the woolly disguise. No, they do it in the church. Among us. Do you think that your church was or is immune? I think not.

But, reinforced by false teaching in the church, the fantasyland mentality so often gets rooted in our minds. The pastor is what he appears to be. The elders and deacons are surely holy men. Mrs. Jones the choir director, Jim the youth leader, and other “pillars” in your church – surely they are the apples of the Lord’s eye.

Is that image of the visible church what we see in the Bible? Of course not –

3 Jn 1:9-10 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. (10) So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.

If you cut out all the parts of the Bible that were written to deal with evil inside the local church, how much would you have left? Not much. Even Jesus’ battles with the Pharisees come under this heading because the Pharisees were the leaders in “the church” of that day.

Somehow, because of sinful willful blindness, foolishness, simplistic naivete, or selfishness, people who grew up in church, who never (at least knowingly) were the direct target-victim of a wicked counterfeit, whose very life was their church, simply cannot and will not process the suggestion that their idea of their church is a false one. They cannot or will not entertain the notion that Mrs. Anderson’s husband the deacon is not who he disguises himself as at church. They cannot or will not even consider that the pastor is an adulterer or that Mrs. Simpson lusts for power and control and is willing to use the most devious and cruel schemes to get it.

Now remember, I am not saying that Christ’s true church is like this. We call that true church the “invisible” church because we cannot actually see it. The invisible church consists of ALL genuine believers from all time, both in heaven and on earth. This church is the real body of Christ and to the extent that a local church here on earth consists of genuine believers, to that extent it is a true church. While we still would not want to embrace a perfectionistic fantasyland view of such a church, we can be blessed in such a church because evil is simply not at home there. It generally moves on. “They went out from us because they were not of us” as the Apostle John puts it.

But what I am saying is that many (if not most nowadays) local churches are nowhere near the fantastical idea that the person I am addressing in this post thinks it is. Not only are they not places where evil does not dwell, they are in fact incubators of evil where, behind the scenes and unmolested, these sons of the devil that Paul tells us appear to be sons of righteousness, operate.

Now, over the years, if our life-long fantasyland thinking church member would be honest, there have been some clear indicators that all was not as it appeared to be in their church Disneyworld. The rate of pastoral turnover for instance. “Why did the pastor leave?” “Well, I’m not sure but apparently the Lord called him to a new ministry.” “Ok, I just won’t think about that anymore.”

Or there was that time that Mrs. Gray took the kids and moved out, leaving Mr. Gray so sadly grieving in the church pews. She was not faithful to her marriage vows, you know. Poor Mr. Gray. Yes, you had heard those occasional rumors that Mr. Gray battled a “drinking problem,” but then, none of us are perfect, are we?”

And then there was that unpleasantness of the terrible church split ten years ago. You weren’t ever sure what it really was about, but the associate pastor took a group of families out and started a new church across town. In the end, everyone said we are all Christians and we need to look past, and love one another.

Then there was that time when Mr. and Mrs. Snyder suddenly were gone. They had been such wonderful leaders in the outreach ministry, but now – it’s just terrible – Mr. Snyder is in jail. Surely he was falsely accused. There was some talk about the charges but you never wanted to hear the details. Someone said that Mr. Snyder had drowned their infant in the bathtub! No, it can’t be. Surely if anything like that happened it was an accident. Mrs. Snyder has taken the rest of the children and moved away to no one knows where. [This example is based on a true event by the way that I myself experienced in a local church when I was only in my early 20’s].

Yes, there had been all these rocks in the road. But your fantasyland stood unmoved in your mind. You put these things out of your thinking, until….

And I will now let our readers finish the story. How do you think it ends? Or perhaps it just continues? What do you think?

 

How to Turn a Local Church into a Den of Vipers

Mat 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Jesus told the Jews that they had turned His Father’s house, the temple, into a den of robbers. Here, John the Baptist confronts and exposes the religious leaders in that temple system. He addresses them as a pack of snakes.

Many local churches are robbers’ dens and a gang of snakes. Many of you have experienced such places. Domestic abusers love those kind of hangouts. They find the leaders willing allies and the pews a comfortable place to practice their hypocrisy. Just think of trying to get justice from poisonous snakes or greedy thieves. Not gonna happen.

So how does a local Christian church become such a place? Let me show you one primary way. It is a plague today that infects most all of evangelicalism. Here it is, stated by a prominent theologian in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel [Daniel Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, Vol 1 p. 378]

The church is a society of sinners.

Continue reading “How to Turn a Local Church into a Den of Vipers”