For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, July 7, 2017

What I Wish I Said

Photo by meredith hunter on Unsplash
Do you ever have one of those moments when you walk away from a conversation with and then think of what you should have said? I had one of those moments last Sunday. 

Occasionally at the end of a sermon I give time for questions. I will do this often if an issue is controversial, or if I think that clarification may be helpful. Our church is full of people from various nationalities and we often have discussions about how to apply Scripture to our lives. I usually enjoy these moments of interaction, but sometimes my spur of the moment answer is not the best answer. That’s what happened last Sunday. Let me explain.

The passage we were looking at was 1 Peter 5:1-5. It’s a passage about church leadership. I had talked about the role and risks of being and elder in the previous week’s sermon and now we were focusing on the fact that believers were to submit to the elders of the church. Here’s a link to the sermon. And some study notes from my preparation. 

When we become Christians, we are placed into the body Christ around the world. We are also called to be a part of a local church. It is within this local church that we are to develop deep relationships with other believers. It is primarily where all of the “one another” commands of Bible take place. Too often, we do not take these commands lightly and do not work through relationship difficulties: we simply change churches. The result is that we are stunted in our own spiritual growth, and each local church is made weaker and less effective.

Any group of people needs to have leaders. In the NT, this leadership is placed in the hands of the elders. They are responsible for governing, doctrine and shepherding the church. They are to lead primarily by example. The importance of their leadership, and the importance of their leading by example can be seen in that the primary qualifications for the position are character qualities, not a certain set of skills.

1 Peter 5:1-5 includes one instruction for non-elders: Submission. The sermon described what that looks like, but also what the limits of submission are. What do you when you disagree with the leadership of the church? What if there is sin or spiritual abuse happening? What do you do then? It made for a challenging message, and one which I thought would bring up many issues, so I asked for questions.

"What if an elder persists in flagrant sin, but nothing is done about it?" 

One person asked me what do in a situation where an elder is in persistent sin, does not repent, and other leaders do nothing about it. In my response I pointed to the process outlined in Matthew 18, but I realized afterward that I did not get to the heart of the question. The person wanted to know what to do if the leadership did not follow that process!

Let’s imagine a scenario where there is an elder/pastor who is sexually immoral. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 tells us what we are to do. It largely follows the steps of Matthew 18. If the man persists in sexual immorality he is to be rebuked in front of the entire church. But what if that does not happen? What if the elder is living in open sexual immorality and the elders or denominational leaders do nothing about it?

In this case, 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 comes into play. In this passage, we are told not to associate with believers “who are guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not to even eat with such a one.” If we are not to even eat with such a person, how much less should we sit under their ministry! In such situations we should find another local church to belong to.

What about domineering or spiritually abusive leaders?

The second question that I gave a little more thought to had to do with domineering or spiritually abusive leadership. Such systems are often legalistic and insist on unquestioning obedience to church leadership. Leaders in these systems are not good shepherds. They are like the shepherds of Ezekiel 34 who are motivated by their own ego and gratification rather than the health of either the sheep or the flock. In these churches, the leader does not tolerate disagreement, choosing instead to call it rebellion, spiritual immaturity, or the result of someone listening to the devil. According to them, anyone who leaves is backsliding or following Satan.

In the sermon I said that people who find themselves in a situation like this are usually better off leaving and finding a different church to attend. If they stay and work to bring about change, they will be in for an incredible battle.

In the question time, I was asked for a specific passage that dealt with that situation…that “authorized” leaving under these circumstances. None came to my mind at the moment. In fact, I hesitated to say what I really thought because I am always reluctant to criticize other churches. So I said something about the body of Christ being bigger than the local church. It was a pretty bland answer.

Upon further reflection, however, I think that I should have something like this: Legalistic and spiritually abusive churches are not preaching the gospel. They are preaching a religion of works. They are law-based rather than grace-based. Yes, Christ calls us to obedience, but it is always a response to grace, not law. We are called to live holy lives, and elders are to set an example and encourage us toward holiness in our lifestyle. But this holiness must flow from a deep relationship with Jesus. It is based on his death and resurrection. Spiritually abusive and legalistic churches measure people by their performance in meeting their peculiar set of rules. They produce Pharisees, not saints. These legalistic churches fall under the condemnation of Galatians 1:6-9. Those that do not have the teaching of Christ do not have God and we should not sit under their spiritual authority (2 John 1:9-10). 

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