1Jn 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
There is nothing “Christian” or “loving” about naively welcoming a person in among Christ’s flock, knowing nothing more about them than what they tell you. And yet this is the common practice in the local churches. Some years ago, for example, a young couple I know visited a church and subsequently continued to attend it. Within just a very short time, they were asked to take a turn on a regular basis in the church nursery. That church really knew nothing about them at all. I knew another man who also began attending another local church and in just two months he was asked to be a deacon!
Now, I want to ask you – what is Christlike and “loving” about this? About putting people who we don’t really know at all into such positions of trust? Of entrusting them even with our children? And yet when I tell people that in our church we do not receive people into formal membership until they have been with us for a year, and that we perform background checks – particularly if a person is going to be working in some capacity with children – when I tell people this, they recoil! They can’t believe it. Furthermore, we contact the church or churches that a person has attended before coming to our church. And guess what? Same reaction. Surprise. Amazement. And accusations of being “unloving” because we don’t just take the person’s word for it, superstitiously maintaining that Christian love means some kind of spiritual free-for-all.
Our old friend Matthew Henry says this about the scripture quoted above:
God has given of his Spirit in these latter ages of the world, but not to all who profess to come furnished therewith; to the disciples is allowed a judgment of discretion, in reference to the spirits that would be believed and trusted in the affairs of religion.
You all know enough about the wicked, about sociopaths and psychopaths and narcissists, to know that they are masters of disguise. I have piles of letters and emails from victims of this kind telling about how their abuser is a chief figure in a local church, regarded as an eminently godly saint, a quoter of masses of Bible verses, holding various leadership positions in the church, and so on. And yet they are servants of the devil.
Now, I have had people object to any kind of background checks being done. They say, for instance, that such an investigation is not going to do any good. It won’t expose the wicked consistently because not all of these people have ever been arrested. I know that. But what I also know is by merely making it known that we will perform a background check on anyone who comes to our church and intends to join us, weeds out many evil people. We never have to do the check because they leave.
But more than an official background check through one of the many online services, there is the exercise of common sense in contacting the previous church or churches a person has attended. Now, once again, I know full well that taking this step will not always provide truthful information. In fact, I have found that most pastors will lie to me about the person. They will give a glowing report and we find out later after going through much grief caused by the person, that this pastoral recommendation was false. But once again, merely telling a person that we will contact their previous church serves a purpose. NOTE: I am also wise to the fact that a pastor or church may give a negative report regarding an abuse victim who they themselves have further abused and oppressed or even put out of their church. But such a report will tell me that the victim’s account of what happened to him/her is true.
Think about this some more. Do you realize that local churches will very often appoint a man, for example, to the office of elder, to a position of overseeing and teaching the church, without ever looking into that person’s background! They will not even contact the pastor of the person’s former church. Is it really then any wonder that predators just love churches as their chosen arena for evil?
Rev 2:2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
Rom 16:18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Pro 14:15 The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.
Most churches, if they even go this far, assume that the only thing they need to examine is a person’s statement of doctrine. They will ask a potential member, for instance, if they accept the doctrinal statement of the church and if the person affirms that they do, well then case closed – the person has been examined and into the flock he or she comes. Even common sense however tells us that even the devil himself could swear that he believes in Christ! He knows Christ is the Son of God. He knows God is a Trinity. He knows what the gospel is. And yet he is the devil! Therefore, if we are wise –
Mat 7:15-20 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (16) You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (17) So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. (18) A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Understand? This “fruit” is not just what they claim with their mouth. No, it is the fruit of their life. Of their person. Of the heart of who they really are. Outwardly – a sheep. But inwardly are ravenous wolves. In other words, we are to examine the very heart of who a person is and we are able to do so by looking at what their life has been producing. Is it the fruit of the Spirit? Or the deeds of the flesh? And you are never going to get to the heart of the matter by merely taking a person’s word for it or looking at the whitewashed tomb exterior they wear. You must be wise about evil You must know about how the enemy’s agents operate and what are the telltale signs of wickedness. Sometimes you can spot the facade quickly. Other times it can take much longer.
1Ti 5:22-25 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (23) (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) (24) The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. (25) So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.
I’m not sure that drinking a little wine enables us to better spot evil! But you see Paul’s main point here – if we naively and foolishly and carelessly welcome people among us and even appoint them to church offices or other positions, and they are a wolf in disguise, then we share in their sins. We contribute to the abuse of the flock. And this discernment takes time.
When I was a police officer and a new person came in among us, in uniform just like ours, fresh out of the academy, he/she was not immediately embraced and trusted. You had to prove yourself. We had to see if this person was someone we could trust. Who would stand with us against lawbreakers. Who showed a willingness to learn. But when I became a pastor, I came into a setting where all such caution was rejected. “Everyone Welcome Here” is the sign most churches post. I suppose that means they would welcome the devil himself?!
Act 15:22-23 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, (23) with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.
1Co 16:3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.
2Th 3:17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.
See it? Letters. References. And even those had to be regarded with caution because some deceivers would forge Paul’s signature!!
We have a duty before the Lord to be very careful and diligent in regard to watching over His church. And one chief responsibility is that of guarding against evildoers who would creep in and abuse the sheep. Any so-called shepherd in a local church who lazily and with cowardice exercises the “why can’t we all just love one another and get along” philosophy is going to give an account one day to the Chief Shepherd.