It’s somewhat of a long standing joke that when people ask me where I get all my teaching from my reply is usually that it is through a combination of reading the Bible and watching re-runs of Star Trek – but although obviously tongue in cheek, there is nevertheless a real element of truth there. Because the Lord created everything, the human imagination included, absolutely everything therefore reflects in some way that fact. Therefore, whether in nature, history, literature or art in general, the hand of God and the truth of what is, the reality of sin and depravity included, can be seen by anyone looking for it. And nowhere more so, I find, than in the genre of Science Fiction, and therefore Star Trek.
However, it is not the biblical symbolism to be found in Star Trek that I want to allude to here, but rather that found in the Star Wars epics. Not my favorite as far as Science Fiction in general goes, and certainly not up there with the Star Trek universe, but nonetheless the source of some profound and vital biblical truths. After all, once you have the presupposition of a mystical force that causes men to be drawn to either the Dark or Light side of it, a caste of Jedi Knights who use the Light Side to bring order into the chaos of an evil empire, plus a young protagonist who seems to be somehow chosen as the ultimate Jedi Knight who will combat the Dark Side so that the Light Side prevails once and for all, then it is obvious that there is going to be some good stuff to be had.
Although not the aspect I’m going to be majoring on here, it is nevertheless worth mentioning a scene of particular importance early on in Luke Skywalker’s (our young protagonist) Jedi training, and it must be seen in the context that it eventually transpires that the champion of the Dark Side, a traitorous masked Jedi Knight called Darth Vader, is actually, unbeknownst to him, his father. And immediately, Jesus’ comment to unbelievers that they were of their father, the devil, comes into play. And the scene in question is when Luke, during his training at the hands of Yoda, a Jedi Master, is confronted with Darth Vader in a dream-like sequence. A fight ensues in which Skywalker is the victor, but when he removes the vanquished Vader’s mask it is himself who is seen to be lying there dead. Thus does the truth of us having precisely been the children of Satan prior to conversion leap into our minds, as does the equally biblical theme that, before we can be effective in the Lord in spiritual warfare against the enemy, we must first put to death what remains of him, and his rule and kingdom in ourselves through our sinfulness. Thus are we confronted with the teaching of scripture that as believers we must die daily to ourselves, putting to death that old life of sin and self that is comprised of the world, the flesh and the devil.
But the primary biblical truth I want to home in on is depicted in the climactic scene when Skywalker gains eventual victory over his evil father in the presence of the ultimate practitioner of the Dark Side, the Emperor himself, leading not only to the death of Darth Vader, but the Emperor as well. The battle was, of course, with light sabers, and the duel between the two contestants, Vader and Skywalker, was long and hard fought. But a short while into this cosmic duel between our figureheads of good and evil, Vader does everything in his power to entice Skywalker to fight him out of hatred and anger. And the reason for this is that it was precisely those things that caused Vader to turn to the Dark Side in the first place; and what Skywalker realized is that even though he was truly fighting the enemy and doing so from the cause of righteousness, should he do so out of the same motivations as those serving the Dark Side, he would actually become a servant of it himself. So with that realization firmly in mind he puts out of his mind any thought of hatred or mere personal revenge, and thus fights from the pure motive of the service of the good and the conquering of evil. In so doing the battle is won and he emerges victorious. Herein is most wonderfully depicted one the single most important things that Christians need to understand, but which is so often completely overlooked.
The principle that Skywalker’s victory over Vader and the Emperor, and therefore over the Dark Side itself, depicts is the simple truth that to do the right thing from the wrong motive actually causes one to share in whatever evil one is seeking to combat. Or to put it another way, godly acts performed in an ungodly way merely produce yet more ungodliness. We must therefore understand that if we are to share the Lord’s mind, thinking and heart, as opposed to merely utilizing our own worldly wisdom and perceptions in His supposed service, we must fully embrace the simple fact that, for the Christian, the ends can never justifies the means. Holy and righteous ends accomplished in an unholy and unrighteous manner can actually be worse than whatever sin and evil the ‘ends’ were intended to overcome. Indeed, nothing more plays into Satan’s hands than when believers do the right things with a wrong heart, and he cares not what the deed is as long as the believer is doing whilst still embracing the sin and malice that precisely makes the devil who he is. Remember, before Luke Skywalker could even begin the fight, he had to put himself to death in the realization that he was himself the offspring of the very enemy he was sworn to defeat, and himself still subject to the very darkness against which he was fighting. And what we are actually seeing here a biblical principle that has been sadly ignored throughout a great deal of church history, and continues to be so still, and it is simply this: Godly ends pursued in an ungodly manner and/or by ungodly means is not only counter-productive, it can actually cause more harm than good, thereby completely dishonoring the Lord. Check out these verses:
“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3v18-19)
“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life…” (1Peter 3v7)
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6v1-4)
“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3v20-21)
“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, entering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” (Ephesians 6v5-9)
“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord…Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Col 3v22, 4v1)
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Tim 2v24-26)
“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood…Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (1 Pet 2v17, 3v8-9)
What these verses all have in common, and of course I could have quoted many more, is that they all describe the responsibility placed upon us as disciples to show forth holiness and godliness in regard to whatever task or duty is being described. A husband is the head of his wife and is in authority over her, but if he is not also a loving and self-sacrificial husband, putting the needs of his wife before his own and honouring her over himself, then not only is he failing completely in his headship, he is making it both ugly and ungodly, thereby dishonouring not only his wife, but the Lord as well.
Likewise, a father who exerts his legitimate authority over his children, but who does so selfishly with anger and lack of love and understanding, not only damages his children, but also brings the very idea of fatherhood into disrepute by making it ugly and ungodly. He not only dishonours his children, he completely dishonours the name of the Lord. Indeed, just as a selfish unloving husband is far worse than an un-submissive wife, a bad father is so much more of a culpable disgrace than disobedient children could ever be.
Further, masters may well have had authority over their slaves, but what mostly concerned the Lord regarding them was that they be fair-minded, just and kind as masters, and that in all their dealings with their slaves they show forth His love and graciousness toward them.
So what we are seeing is this: it is never enough to merely just do what scripture teaches and to fulfil whatever various tasks and responsibilities are laid upon us by it; it is equally as vital that we do these things in a godly way, and with the kindness, love and graciousness that characterises the Lord Himself. Let me put it like this: if as Christians we are not the kindest, most gracious, courteous and delightful people anyone has ever met, then we are, frankly, worse than unbelievers, who at least don’t know the One Whom scripture describes as the God of all grace (1 Peter 5v10) and the very personification of love itself. (1 John 4v8) Nothing is sadder or more disgraceful than Christians who have non-Christian friends and neighbours who are nicer, friendlier, kindlier, more generous and gracious than they are; yet I have sadly known many Christians down the years of who such can be said.
But what I want to especially emphasise here is the ultimate tragedy that so many church leaders, house church ones included, also fail severely on this score, and whilst obviously being Mr Nice Guy to friends and cohorts (who isn’t), act both maliciously and disrespectfully towards those they want, for whatever reason, to censure. Instead of correcting or exposing perceived error or wrongdoing purely on the basis of objective proof and biblical argument, they rather use the tactic of slander, smearing people, and misrepresenting them and the like. In other words, they go for character assassination as opposed to biblical methods of correction.
Let me make clear though that I fully accept the need, where absolutely necessary, for both personal correction and the public exposing of Christians – and of church leaders especially – who are in serious error, sin and ministerial malpractice.
“But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.” (1 Timothy 5v19)
I have blown the whistle regarding such on occasions in the past, and don’t intend to shrink from doing so in the future should it ever prove necessary. But the point is that the Bible shows both how one should proceed in such circumstances, plus the attitude in which one should do so. So there are two aspects here: Firstly, the correct procedure; and secondly, the correct attitude. We will briefly look at each.
Regarding procedure, the only set order of events given us an instance of a sinning brother is in Matthew 18v15-17:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Here, however, the context is between believers in the same church, the order of procedural events being therefore only really directly applicable to that scenario. We are not given any set order of events for necessary correction in scenarios that are wider than being just between folk who are in the same church, but rather just the overall principles that must to be applied. Firstly, before one sets about any correction, whether in the context of brothers in the same church or one that is wider in scope, it must first be established that there is actually something to correct. Paul writes, “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13v1) and of course it goes without saying that such must be true and genuine witnesses as opposed to just some little coterie of folk with a common resentment who are getting together in order to falsely accuse and stitch up someone who is innocent. So the first principle is that correction can only be on the basis of clear evidence, with demonstrable proof concerning precisely what correction is needed. In other words, neither rumour nor hearsay must play any part in such a procedure. It is sadly the case that Christians are notoriously bad in this regard, church leaders included (who often depend on doing this very thing in order to reach certain ends), and it often takes just the merest whisper on the Christian grapevine to completely discredit someone without anyone doing anything at all to establish whether or not there is any truth in what is being said.
And of course a big part of this is actually first going to the person(s) concerned whom you want to correct in order to make sure you haven’t just got the wrong end of the stick, and whether there is actually nothing to confront after all. Imagine, for example, the impact on a man’s life when, having been seen out and about with a woman other than his wife, and even giving her a kiss on the cheek, the rumour machine lurches into action, yet without having first established that the woman is, in fact, the man’s biological sister. Or, of course, it could be the other way round, with a wife out and about with her biological brother. In such an instance it is true that you are out and about with a member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse, but if it is your sibling then nothing is amiss. But of course Christians who rumour monger don’t tend to let actual facts stand in the way of a good gossip and put about unsubstantiated rumours that have absolutely no element of fact in them at all. Indeed, some of the things I have been accused of over the years, by Christian leaders too, have been just laughable. How easy would it have been for them to establish that I wasn’t, as once publicly stated, dealing drugs? Or when it went round that I was an occultist? Or when I was accused of being a Gnostic? These sorts of accusations are so ridiculous it’s laughable, but of course the reason they persist is that those making them want bad things to be true of whomever it is they are slandering, and the last thing they can afford to do is to establish the facts. It must also be borne in mind that, for example, the Nazis were able to do what they did because they realised that, if handled and packaged properly, the bigger the lie the more people who would believe it. Along with many other Christians down the years I have been accused of things that, if only the accusers had come to me before making the accusations, would have been shown to be nothing more that simple misunderstanding. After all, how long would someone need to spend with me, or any other Christian, in order to establish I am not an occultist, or a Gnostic, or that I don’t distribute drugs? But of course if they did, then where would be their slander?
I have become sadly accustomed to finding out that I am yet again being accused of this, that and the other in both websites and from public platforms, usually by church leaders who actually know me, yet who didn’t breathe a word to me about what they were planning to do, or come to me in order to establish whether or not their accusations were actually founded. Indeed, I have read articles on websites castigating me for believing and teaching things that I have never even believed, let alone publicly taught. But of course anyone who teaches the actual Word of God, as opposed to merely what the itching ears of doting Christian audiences want to hear, is going to be subject to this kind of thing. I am obviously not the only Bible teacher who experiences this, and as long as there are unscrupulous Christians, and in particular, unscrupulous church leaders, who have resentments and jealousies concerning those they feel threatened by, then such behaviour will continue. There was plenty of it going in the New Testament churches, as even a cursory reading of the epistles will show, and it is still going on today even in biblical churches.
So having established beyond all doubt that the thing you want to correct someone for is actually the case, and then determining that you will go directly to the person(s) concerned, then what? Well, I would suggest you then have a good old think and pray about whether or not they are actually in need of correction regarding whatever it is. By which I mean; having established the brother in question is indeed, for instance, a Calvinist, then does that actually matter? Conversely, should it matter to you, should you be a Calvinist, that someone is an Arminian? The world-wide-web is literally littered with websites, put up by those who are clearly genuine Christians, with the clear purpose of exposing, berating and insulting other genuine Christians simply for holding to differing secondary doctrinal positions. Believe it or not there is a website put up by a group of Calvinists exposing the heresies of non-Calvinist Christians, both past and present. That Spurgeon is denounced by them as not being enough of a Calvinist is laughable enough, but what really made me smile, and then made me want to cry in both sadness and sheer despair, was that they denounced Calvin himself for not being clear enough in his teaching regarding certain tenets of the very theological system that bears his name.
Such doctrinal bigotry is not, of course, the preserve of Calvinists alone, and in such cases the problem is the bigotry itself and not whatever the bigotry is focussing in on. There are Arminian Christian bigots, charismatic Christian bigots, dispensational Christian bigots, just as there are many wonderful and godly believers who hold to each of those positions. The problem here is the failure to properly discern between that which needs correction, and what are merely legitimate and honourable alternative biblical positions.
Likewise with various practices! By all means, argue the case, for instance, for not sending your children to school. No one does so more passionately than me. But such is merely the legitimate expressing of an opinion and conviction, and not a correction from scripture that implies any wrongdoing. I obviously speak primarily for biblical churches because that is the arena in which most of my efforts are focused, and I continue to be amazed at some of the more unfortunate attitudes I encounter amongst some of the Christians who are in such churches. For example, I was saddened in the extreme when a delegation from a biblical church attended a conference I was doing and informed me, as I was getting to know them a bit, that they had actually excommunicated a family because they didn’t want to home-school their children. If ever there was an outrageously erroneous rebuke issued for something that is merely a matter for freedom of conscience, then that was it. It is pure folly, to say nothing of being both hurtful and greatly damaging to entirely innocent people. So yes, think long and hard before you correct anyone for anything at all. In many instances it could actually be me who is in the wrong for even wanting to correct someone for something.
But assuming you have got past these stages of thought and prayer and are concluding it is right and appropriate for you to correct a matter, then let me suggest you then run your thoughts past other brothers who can have some input regarding whether they think you are on track or not. After all, some people are what I call serial correctors. They correct people at the drop of a hat and just don’t seem to know when to stop. Such Christians are a positive menace because they fail to understand that correction of any kind should be the last resort and not the first. My advice to such is that they take a few years off and just leave it to others. And of course it’s sadly the case that the worst offenders in this regard are often church leaders, and the harm they do is immense. I am not here suggesting that you go to third parties in a personal Matthew 18 context type correction, because the whole idea of that is that it is precisely initially between just you and the brother you think to be in sin; but when it comes to correction on a wider level, such as writing articles exposing wrong teaching, or even highlighting a public sin in a church leader, then make sure you are accountable to others before proceeding who can make a judgement concerning both your research concerning the matter and your attitude.
And that leads us nicely into the next aspect of things, and it is precisely the attitude and manner in which one proceeds to correct or expose a matter. Two things: Firstly, although with any public sin a Christian might guilty of, or with any serious doctrinal error they might be perpetrating, there is the element of protecting others from the results of such, the primary reason for correction or discipline of any kind is for the good of the one being corrected, and in order to win him back so that all is well, and with the past forgotten. Secondly, the manner of the correction must be humble, gentle, with great awareness of one’s own sinfulness and propensity for evil, and without any personal animosity, anger or malice. And of course this is where things so often go wrong, and why there are so many Christians, church leaders included – biblical church leaders too, I am sad to say – who are fighting what are merely personal campaigns against those they either resent or are jealous of – it is often both – but under the guise of it being the legitimate public exposure and correction of error. It is, of course, no such thing, but rather a display of pride, malice jealousy and self-aggrandisement. How terrible it is when we try to make ourselves look good by trying to make someone else look bad.
What characterises genuine and legitimate biblical correction therefore is, firstly, the objective and accurate establishing of the facts of the matter before doing anything at all, and then, secondly, moving heaven and earth in order to ensure you don’t in any way misrepresent those you are wanting to correct or warn against, or twist what they have either said or done. You then go to them personally so there is nothing you eventually make public that hasn’t been put to them in order for them to make a response to you, followed, should they not be willing to be corrected, by a clear demonstration of what is amiss and what is needing to be corrected, along with an equally clear demonstration from scripture as to why it is error and in need of correction in the first place. This must further all be done in an attitude and spirit that, whilst not shrinking from calling a spade a spade, does so without causing any unnecessary pain or embarrassment to the one being corrected. In other words, the process will be patently objective, fair, just, completely transparent without any hidden agenda, and fully open to challenge and dialogue from others.
What, therefore, in contrast, characterises illegitimate unbiblical correction? Basically the following: denouncing someone to others without having first gone to them personally with your concerns, thus allowing them opportunity to sort out any potential misunderstanding; correcting disrespectfully and unkindly with the intention of actually demeaning the person(s) in question, aiming to assassinate their character as opposed to just dealing with the issues; denouncing them in such a way as to prevent them from having any comeback to, or audience with, those to whom you have denounced them, thereby ensuring they are not able to present their side of the matter to whatever audience you are trying to reach, plus the refusal to enter into discussion with any who present a challenge to your denunciation and who may wish to present conflicting evidence. In other words, unbiblical correction will be akin to a kangaroo court against someone when the only evidence allowed is that of the accusers, leading to a mob-lynching in the sense of their reputation being unjustifiably destroyed.
I think that every Christian who is willing to be honest knows full well that this kind of behaviour is commonplace, and especially amongst church leaders – even biblical church ones – who feel, for whatever reason, that their position, standing or doctrine is being threatened in some way. Even worse is the fact that so few challenge them concerning it; but of course that is precisely why they know they have such a good chance of getting away with it and of avoiding any accountability to others regarding their wrongdoing. It is actually nothing short of scandalous that so many Christians, church leaders included, behave maliciously and unkindly toward those they think need to be corrected; but of course the truth of the matter is that when such goes on it’s nothing to do with engaging in legitimate biblical correction, but merely the instigation of character assassination against folk who have in some way upset or annoyed them, or whose influence threatens them in some way. It is slander, pure and simple, a sin that the New Testament considers to be so serious that it actually lists it as being an excommunicable offence. (1 Corinthians 5v11)
I have been saddened beyond words over the years by the bad behaviour of various biblical church leaders I have known personally who employ these kinds of tactics against those they disagree without a second thought, and whose manner and attitude as they go about things in such regard is just awful. Indeed, some of them tried to embroil me in their campaigns against various folk, and I had no choice but to make it clear to them what I thought about it and how wrong they were. So they then, but of course they did, proceeded to do to me the very same thing I was trying to stop them doing to others…and so it goes on! They are like bent cops who stitch up anyone, even fellow cops, who try to blow the whistle on them. Sadly, they will plant evidence and spread untruths without, it would seem, the slightest conscience, and of course we are back where we started – that is, addressing this terrible deception that so many Christians seem to be taken in by; that it is legitimate to reach what one considers to be biblical ends through the use of unbiblical and ungodly means.
I would not be considered a natural doctrinal or theological bedfellow of someone like Jack Van Impe, him being, though obviously a genuine brother who loves the Lord, of a somewhat different persuasion to myself concerning various things, church life and leadership included. But I nevertheless respect him immensely as a man of integrity, and I take my hat off to him for the part he has played in exposing the bad behaviour amongst church leaders that I am here addressing. In 1984 he wrote a book called, ‘Heart Disease in Christ’s Body’ in which he outlined the way he had been encouraged as a young Minister, and actually instructed how, to utilize character assassination, slander and smear campaigns against other Christian leaders and Ministers of whom his denominational hierarchy disapproved. For years he complied with this approach, being informed by the powers that be, as were his fellow-Ministers, by whenever someone had been designated for such treatment, then spreading abroad, without any further corroboration, whatever accusations his denominational leaders were making against the person in question. He eventually repented of having ever gone along with it (I so respect anyone who repents of sin as publicly as they committed it), blew the whistle and went public with what was going on. And wow, what a whistle-blower he was too; and I for one think it wonderful that he had the courage and integrity to be so. We need such whistleblowers in the kingdom of God, otherwise unscrupulous leaders will just go on and on and on with their personal vendettas and campaigns against those of whose ministry and influence they are jealous, and who make them feel insecure and threatened. Listen to this from Van Impe, just to get the overall flavour:
“…my heart began to be deeply troubled at the inconsistencies and injustices I saw. Often, for example, the basic values of honesty and integrity seemed to be lacking in those who thought themselves to be the most committed to righteousness. Threats of death I could take…Dishonesty and hypocrisy I could not.” (Page 20.)
“It begins as leaders turn brothers against one another by mislabelling them…There is a sort of unofficial K.G.B. system…The suspicion is based on misinformation or misinterpretation…Justice is meaningless.” (Page 27)
“ My Holy Spirit-directed conscience would not allow me to continue under such unscriptural practices…The attitudes held by many people we met seemed to be senseless in the light of the Saviour’s command to love one another.” (Page 30)
“I soon discovered how fleeting friendship is and how quickly one becomes an object of scorn among those he thought loved him…” (Page 33)
“Their problem was usually jealousy, not doctrinal purity…” (Page 36)
“What was behind my actions in former days? To be truthful the ‘fighting spirit’ was considered essential…and I often ended up tearing people to shreds in ungracious tones and with unkind words…Forgive me, dear Lord, for all those I hurt with my cursory ways.” (Page 40)
Writings that “…tear good Christians to shreds through articles by little men with big, jealous hearts.” (Page 69)
“Beloved, don’t follow this type of leadership…Don’t accept the man-made labels placed upon good and godly men simply because an envious leader misbrands them.” (Pages 70 and 71)
“Multitudes within the ranks of fundamentalism feel there is something drastically wrong with the attitude of many present-day leaders.” (Page 77)
“…our ranks are filled with rude, crude, deceitful and even lying leaders.” (Page 81)
Some “…take to the printed page with barbs, innuendo and castigations of their brethren without even checking privately whether they have their facts straight.” (Page 83)
“The silent majority within our ranks must not allow one small but vocal segment to speak so derogatively of others on our behalf.” (Page 112)
“It’s a sad day when men are judged on the leadership’s likes and dislikes. This produces inconsistencies as “compromises” are overlooked among friends but vehemently condemned among adversaries. This double standard is wrong.” (Page 137)
“I stated that I would no longer exclude good brothers just because they had been mislabelled by those who disliked them. I also said that all this name-calling and character assassination is part of a “hate movement”…Within weeks I was bombarded with mail which called me every unkind name imaginable…The wounds inflicted by former friends are deep…I stated that there was a hate movement…what would you call it?” (Page 208 and 209)
I think that rather speaks for itself, but having been in a full-time teaching ministry for coming up to four decades, plus having functioned as a recognised elder in a biblical church for thirty years, I have more than a few experiences myself. And the reason I’m going to give some examples is because, tragically, it confirms that exactly the same sort of bad behaviour is to be found amongst leaders in biblically based house churches as well as in traditional ones. It is vital that those of us with a heart for a return to biblical church life, which depends so much on having actual biblical church leadership, realise that we are not immune from such error, and that bad leadership can, if we are not vigilant, arise amongst us just as in other types of church.
Example Number One:
One of the organisers of a house church conference at which I regularly taught had a church gathering in his home that eventually failed and which ceased to exist. Upon discovering a group of believers local to him who had left a traditional church and who were meeting together in homes, he not only joined up with them with his family, but introduced me to them as well. As a result of a weekend spent with them doing some teaching and just hanging out, they embraced what the Bible teaches concerning church life and immediately began considering themselves as a church rather than just a group of folk meeting in their homes in order to have fellowship together. Upon their invitation my family and I became regular visitors to them, and over the next few years spent time with them twice a year. Eventually it became clear that the conference organiser who had introduced me to them was having some issues with them as a church, and things had apparently become a bit awkward. Feeling they faced deadlock, and because they had come to know my family and I so well and looked to me as an outside itinerant ministry to them, various folk in the church approached me and asked if I would act as a mediator, to which I agreed. However, having spoken with both sides it became clear that, whilst those who had approached me concerning the difficulties were clearly trying to do the right thing and were working for reconciliation, the conference organiser, in contrast, expressed such anger and resentment to me against the church that I had to inform him that he had actually made me a first-hand witness to the very things the other folk in the church had said they were hitting up against in him, and that were causing the problems.
As soon as he realised that I wasn’t going to stand with him against the church, and that I thought him to be in the wrong and no one else, and definitely as far as his attitude was concerned, he duly turned his anger on me. But it’s what happened next that made the whole situation so awful, and it’s a classic example of the very thing we are addressing.
He quite understandably spoke about this with the house church leaders who organised the conferences with him, and who were obviously his friends – as indeed I considered myself to be also. However, rather than deciding to just stay out of it or, should they have felt the need to get involved, gone to the church in question to ensure they had all sides of the story on which to base a judgment, they just took his side without question and proceeded to use their influence as house church leaders to rubbish that church as publicly and as widely as they could. Their preferred terminology in this instance was that the people in the church were ‘a bunch of jokers’ and that it was just a rogue church. Further, because they couldn’t get me to fall in line with what they were doing, and because I insisted that they meet with the church and talk to everyone else who was involved before making any judgment, which they refused to do, they spread the story that it was me who had turned the church against the person in question, and that it was actually my fault, and that I was a dangerous divider of churches. Even when the church put out an actual public statement stating that it was the conference organiser who had been causing the problems, and that I had merely been brought in as a peacemaker to try and help, these house church leaders just continued in their slander against both the church and myself, embellishing their ever developing and changing version of events with whatever untruths made the church, and me, look guilty, and the guy they were protecting entirely innocent.
Particularly sad is the fact that, having worked closely with these guys over a number of years, I thought that they were my friends, yet I was very quickly informed by two of them that they considered me dis-fellowshipped, and that they were going to do whatever they could to ‘destroy’ (their word) my ministry. The third person involved in this who stood with his conference co-organiser against the church dis-fellowshipped me sometime later having, as I eventually found out from various folk he had talked with, blatantly lied about what happened. Indeed, when asked by a close friend of mine, who had also known him pretty well for years, whether or not he had spoken with the church before making judgment, he said that he had, which was completely untrue. My friend who had been told this by him immediately contacted the church and they confirmed that he had never come to them about it, and had never asked for their account of what had happened. Indeed, so angry did these guys become with me that they eventually got together with a few others who appeared to have various axes to grind and proceeded to post various articles and letters about me on the internet. Containing numerous untruths and misrepresentations, including concerning the situation I have just outlined, they have even posted a letter containing some quite daft accusations against me sent to them by a guy they don’t even know personally and who was excommunicated from the church I am part of precisely because he was, amongst other things, found to be a slanderer who told lies about people he was angry with.
Even when multiple first-hand witnesses sent these men written statements testifying to the fact that much of what they saying was incorrect, untrue and non-factual, they nonetheless just completely ignored them, refusing to enter into any communication with anyone trying to present testimony on my behalf. Indeed, the church of which I am part sent a statement signed by everyone who is part of it confirming that the letter they posted by the brother who had been excommunicated was full of accusations that were entirely false; but again, they were completely ignored, these men refusing to hear them out in any way. It is unbelievable that they should spread slander received from someone they don’t know personally, even though an entire church has officially informed them that the contents of the letter in question written by him are entirely untrue. Such is the hypocrisy we are up against amongst leaders of even biblical churches who have the temerity to claim to be men who can lead others into biblical truth and godly living.
Example Number Two:
I was invited to do regular teaching in a fairly large area where there were quite a few house churches already in existence, the leaders of some of them eventually making clear to the organisers that they didn’t want an outsider coming in and having influence over the churches they, presumably, considered their sole responsibility. However, because other of the churches concerned felt very differently, I continued to accept the invitations over the years and regular teaching events duly occurred. But eventually articles started to appear about me, sent out to churches and folk in the area via email, which were clearly designed to raise alarm and to cause suspicion concerning me. A sort of convocation concerning me was eventually arranged by these leaders to which just about everyone but me was invited, and judgment was duly pronounced against this dangerous outsider.
Now of course all this could, arguably, have been considered acceptable (except for the fact that none of these folk ever came to me personally to verify anything they were accusing me of) were it not for the fact that the incriminating things being said weren’t actually true. Indeed, not only were the things being said not true, they were not even vaguely true, being as laughable as they were demonstrably false. The story these people had put out was that I worked for an organisation that was gathering house churches all over America under it’s auspices (where on earth did that one come from?), and that I taught a formula for church practise, and in particular concerning the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a full meal that, should a church not fully subscribe to, then I didn’t believe it to be a real church.
Now as far as accusations go, this was hardly the worst thing that had ever been levelled against me – and definitely tamer than all the stuff about me being a Gnostic, or an occultist or a divider of churches – but it was nonetheless designed to have maximum effect in a situation where the churches concerned were avidly resistant, and quite rightly so in my view, to any idea of house church organisations, networks or official associations. In other words, the accusations were carefully designed to do the maximum damage, and to raise maximum suspicion, in that particular situation. Yet even after I wrote to these men to assure them that I had never worked for an organisation, and that I never would, and that I accept churches as churches quite irrespective of their views concerning the Lord’s Supper or, indeed, any other aspect of church life, none of them took a blind bit of notice, or in any way acknowledged that their accusations had been ill-founded. Neither, of course, did they do anything to set the record straight, or to allay the false fears they had sought to induce in people. But of course they didn’t, because the point is that when things like this happen it’s not about whatever the particular issue the people involved claim it to be about, it is rather about church leaders who, for whatever reason, feel threatened, spreading whatever slander and untruths they consider necessary in order to dispose of whatever, or whoever, the perceived threat is thought to be.
And so it goes on; and, sadly, even in biblical church circles! And just as Jack Van Impe was subsequently slandered by those he had blown the whistle on (but of course he was, it was inevitable) so too with anyone doing the same in house church circles. I have no choice but to concur with Van Impe! There is indeed heart disease in the Body of Christ at large; but of course my concern is somewhat specific, and that is to blow the whistle on it as it pertains to biblical church life. It obviously makes one even more unpopular than one already is, and there’s no untruth, slander or misrepresentation that those guilty of it will hold back from spreading against those who know what they are up to and who expose them to the light; but it’s something you just have to take on the chin and then roll with the punches. If there is any truth at all in the saying that all it takes for evil to prosper is that good men do nothing, then we do indeed have our work cut out for us, and it is time for us to overcome the faintheartedness that prevents us from doing our duty in such regard, and from exposing such sin and holding those committing it to account. I am, however, of course, delighted to say that the majority of folk in biblical churches, leaders included, amongst and with whom I minister, would no more act in the way I am here describing than they would shoot heroin or commit adultery. But there are nevertheless bad apples amongst us, and we do well to both note their presence and remove ourselves from their polluting influence.
It does need to be asked though why Christians in general, biblical church folk included, seem to consider such terrible sin to be low-level and acceptable, the perpetrators being thus far able to pretty much count on not being challenged (which is, of course, why they get so mad when they are), even though scripture totally condemns what they are doing. After all, we wouldn’t, I hope, stand for church leaders who were drunks, or who commit adultery (although with the way things are going amongst a lot of Christians nowadays that might not be too long in coming) or who embezzle money or who steal from people. So why do we accept and tolerate church leaders who slander and stitch up anyone they consider to be a threat, and who tell lies about them and misrepresent them, and who are generally rude, disrespectful, discourteous and demeaning, and who would rather assassinate peoples characters rather than dealing openly and honestly with them regarding whatever issues it is that they are concerned about? In order to answer that question we need, I think, to do a bit of church history, but I’m afraid it isn’t going to be very comfortable.
The only sanction the New Testament gives the Lord’s Church against those who are in wilful unrepentant sin, or who are deemed to be heretics, is that of church discipline; in other words, ex-communication. However, this soon wasn’t good enough for church leaders – in fact, a good deal of what the New Testament taught wasn’t good enough for them – and things started to take a sinister turn. And when the Roman Emperor Constantine claimed to have become a Christian as a result of as spurious a conversion as you’ll ever come across, the fate of the visible face of Christianity was sealed as it’s leaders embraced the political backing Constantine offered. Now, rather than excommunication, far more satisfactory methods of dealing with detractors; indeed, with anyone seen to be a threat to the spiritual and doctrinal status quo, were found, and political exile was soon in use. Indeed, the outcome of the supposedly godly Council of Nicea in 325AD was that when Arius disagreed with the emerging consensus regarding the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, though a heretic who should have been excommunicated, he was rather forced into political exile with the backing of Constantine. But why, one has to ask, was such a blatant contravention of the teaching of the New Testament regarding church discipline endorsed by the church leaders of the time? Answer, because they were too busy enjoying their newly found power and influence to worry about what the New Testament said, and as a result were corrupted by it. By 381AD, with the backing and endorsement of the Christian church leaders of the day, Emperor Theodosius I officialised persecution against those who did not embrace Christianity, and criminalized any religious practises such as were not endorsed by church leaders. Then, in 385AD, perhaps one of the most significant dates in church history, two things happened. Firstly, an unfortunate by the name Priscillian was put to death by Theodosius I for being a heretic with, of course, the backing of the church leaders of the day, an incident which, if you go by the teaching of the New Testament, was an act of cold-blooded murder in which church leaders willingly colluded. He became the first of countless thousands of innocent people throughout church history to be murdered by deceived and corrupt church leaders, and in colluding in his murder as they did, an evil came to rest at the heart of the Christian Church that has never been truly, thoroughly or properly recognised. Secondly, a baby was born who was to become one the most influential theologians and thinkers the church has ever known, Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.
It could, I think, possibly be argued that the official persecution of pagans by Theodosius I might, had it not been for Augustine’s rise to power a generation later, have turned out to be a mere, though horrific, blip in the pages of church history that church leaders ensured would never happen again, but with the coming of Augustine, brilliant theologian though he was, the death knell for any such hope was sounded, and the integrity of the Christian Church squandered. For Augustine taught, quite blatantly, that not only should the Christian Church be thought of as the spiritual and religious foundation of a reinvigorated Roman Empire, but that it was actually God’s will that political power and State violence be used in both evangelistic and pastoral matters. In an effort to give biblical credence to such an evil and pernicious false teaching he argued that just as God used violence in blinding Paul the Apostle, thus causing his conversion, the Christian Church should therefore use violence likewise. He further cited the parable of the King whose guests weren’t available to come to his dinner party, and who therefore sent his servants into the highways and byways in order to bring others, compelling them to come, arguing that such compulsion could include violence. Thus was born the doctrinal evil that gave eventual rise to such historical horrors as the holocaust of the Inquisition. It is Augustinianism, pure and simple!
But what does this have to do with us? How does this pertain to the subject at hand? Well, the answer is that, although many Christians don’t realize it, the Reformers, just like the Catholics, were influenced in their thinking and doctrine as much by Augustine as they were the scripture. I know that the official version of the Reformation is that it was all about ‘sola scriptura’ (scripture alone), but the reality was that it was actually ‘sola scriptura’ plus Augustine.
This is why the Reformers used persecution against their detractors, the Anabaptists in particular, just as the Catholic Church used persecution against them. This wasn’t an issue for them because, being Augustinian in their thinking they actually approved of it. The issue for them was that they were using it to propagate biblical truth, as opposed to the Catholics who were using it to spread and maintain the false gospel of Popery. So whereas the Reformation genuinely countered the false gospel of Catholicism, it didn’t counter other elements of Augustinianism, and in particular his doctrine of the justification of the use of political power and State violence in the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. So whereas it is accurate to say that the Reformers were the heroes of the rediscovery of the true Gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus through the grace of God alone, they nevertheless retained and utilized the equally evil Catholic belief in the use of violence and murder.
But we need to develop this further because of course not only did such persecution by Christians (one of the dishonesties of the Protestant version of church history is that it acknowledges the persecution of genuine Christians by Catholics, but not the persecution of others by them) continue throughout the time of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin, but long after them. Indeed, I find it ironic that the Pilgrim Fathers travelled to the New World in order to escape persecution at the hands of the Protestant churches in England, only to immediately utilize it themselves against any others who came along who weren’t considered to be proper Reformed Calvinists, and therefore orthodox Christians. Some of them even proceeded to kill off the indigenous population of American Indians because they were seen to be pagan. I obviously exempt the killing of such Indians, indeed, of anyone, as were murderously attacking innocent people; that, after all, is merely self-defense, but the same Augustinianism that fuelled both the Catholic Church and the Reformers now sought to justify the killing of Indians, not because they were murderers, a great many of them were no such thing, but merely because they were pagans. And so history repeats itself as once again Christians escape persecution from other Christians and then themselves persecute those they consider to not be Christian enough. The infamous Salem witch trials would be another such example.
Speaking of which, let me now introduce to you one of my heroes. I don’t have many, and of course my favorites are obviously Captain James T Kirk and Science Officer Spock (and yes, I know they’re just pretend really), but I do have a very great respect and affection for one Roger Williams. I am thrilled to actually live just 7 miles from the little Essex village of High Laver where he once lived, and where can be found the centuries old Anglican building in which he was married. (The same Anglican edifice, in fact, in which, 70 years later, was buried one John Locke, who lived with the family of Sir William Masham, the very gentleman to whom Williams had been personal Chaplain. Locke’s political philosophy was, of course, absolutely foundational to the America’s eventual Declaration of Independence. But of course that’s another story entirely!)
So back to Roger Williams. Although an Anglican Priest he nevertheless refused a parish of his own, considering the Anglican Church just too corrupt. He therefore became a separatist becoming personal Chaplain to the household of the aforementioned Sir William Masham. An ardent advocate for both the separation of Church and State, plus the (then) novel conviction of freedom of conscience in all matters, religion included, now married he eventually set out for the New World. Turning down Pastorates in both Boston and Plymouth, he ended up an assistant to Rev Samuel Skelton in, ironically, Salem – where just a half a century later the infamous witch trials were to be held – where he preached not only against Christians persecuting those they disapproved of, but also the stealing (everyone else called it Acquisition) of land from the Indians.
Would you like to hazard a guess as to what the Christian Church leaders in the supposedly free New World did to him as a result of him preaching against, amongst other things, Christians persecuting people? Yes, you’ve got it in one! They persecuted him! They found him guilty of sedition and heresy, declaring that he was spreading, “…diverse, new and dangerous opinions…” (Oh, it could be me! It could be me!) He was duly removed from his Church position and detained until such time as they could arrange for him to be banished, but as God’s providence would have it (back to that in a moment), he managed to escape their clutches and walked the 105 miles, through deep snow, from Salem to the head of Narragansett Bay, where the local Wampanoag Indians offered him shelter for the rest of the winter. In 1636 he founded a settlement which he called Providence, in recognition of the Lord’s leading and protection, wanting it to be known as a haven for those ‘distressed of conscience’ who were also being persecuted for their beliefs. Thus was founded, by my hero Roger Williams, the first place in modern history where citizenship and religion became separate, and which provided true religious liberty through the separation of Church and State. Thus also came into eventual being the State of Rhode Island, being the first American State to be founded on the principal of the right of the individual to freedom of conscience. Thus, too, was at last, struck what would become the eventual final death blow to the evil of the Augustinianism, procreated by both the Catholics and the Reformers, that had deceived the Christian Church for so very many centuries.
Christians now take it for granted that it is wrong to use violence against, or to murder, people merely for not being as Christian, or as doctrinally orthodox as one would like. But let us be very clear that such is a recent historical development, and that throughout the biggest part of church history, the Reformation included, Christians, and especially church leaders, believed it to be acceptable. It is unbelievable, to be sure, but nevertheless the simple fact of the matter. And I am proud that it was a fellow believer, and especially an English one (but of course), who was willing to suffer what he did, and to risk death, in order to champion such a noble and godly cause. We laud the Reformers as great men of God, and I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not, in the light of actual history, as opposed and to the whitewashed romanticized version of it Protestant Christianity has circulated, whether such is actually justified. But what I think no one can dispute is that in Williams we have an truly undoubted Christian hero, by which I mean a man who was not only true to His Master as a disciple in general, but one who, in contrast to the Reformers, and to virtually the whole of church history, knew that to hold and propagate mere doctrine, without also living out the love and graciousness that actually respects others in practical terms is, according to 1 Corinthians 13, worth absolutely nothing, and that only by actually standing against, and exposing, such Christian leaders who were engaged in said evil, as the Anabaptist had done a century earlier, can one be truly faithful as a believer.
So is it truly over? Has this Constantinianism that has so plagued and corrupted the Christian Church been vanquished entirely from our spiritual mindset and thinking? Sadly, I fear not! And precisely because of what I have highlighted concerning the slanderous behavior of all too many church leaders that we are here considering. Whereas it is obviously the case that Christians would no longer think in terms of actual violence and murder – though I have certainly seen Christians, church leaders included, so angry towards others that they no doubt would if they could, just like the Reformers did – something else has taken it’s place. It’s second best, to be sure, but it still gets the job done, and it is precisely the slander and character assassination we are considering. It is the process whereby one says, “I can’t shut you up and prevent you from saying what you are saying by killing you, or by having you locked up, so I will spread lies and rumors about you instead that will have the effect of people not taking you seriously. Instead of murdering you I will murder your reputation. I cannot have you killed physically, so I will assassinate your character instead in the hope that no one will listen to you or take you seriously.” Politicians do it, a lot of journalists do it, lawyers do it (it’s practically part of their job description) and, sadly, Christians do it too, including a great many church leaders.
When the church of which I am part started one of the challenges we faced quite early on was the necessity of implementing church discipline when appropriate. But in so doing one of the things the Lord made us very aware of was the need to proceed with respect, courteousness and kindness towards those who needed to be so dealt with, and not to proceed with any kind of malice or desire to just completely rubbish them. Precisely because any discipline is for the direct purpose of the winning back of the culprit, how does it help someone to repent and come back if they have been treated as sinfully by those excommunicating them as they had actually been themselves, hence needing to be disciplined in the first place? It is monumental folly to correct people out of a wrong attitude, or in a wrong manner, because it turns a process that is meant by the Lord to be merciful, rehabilitating and, therefore, ultimately reconciliatory, into mere combative retaliation and vengeance. There are church leaders who seek to so demean and destroy the people they seek to expose that, even if the people in question were in the wrong, how could they be reasonably expected to put things right and reconcile with accusers who have treated them even more sinfully than whatever it is they were wrong about that needed to be corrected in the first place? Keep bearing in mind the biblical principle we are dealing with here: To seek to accomplish biblical ends through unbiblical means is not only itself sinful, it is entirely counter-productive and completely dishonors both the Lord Himself and His written Word.
When the Bible admonishes believers to put away such things as malice, lying and slander, it applies as much to church leaders dealing with what they consider to be error just as much as it applies to any other Christian in any other circumstance. Indeed, it is far worse when it is church leaders who are guilty because, as James points out in his letter, such are to be judged with greater strictness than non-leaders. (James 3v1) Paul wrote, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Eph 5v11) The Greek word for expose there is elencho and it means to rebuke or tell off, and what Paul is saying is that when things like this are going on, or any other seriously wrong things, then it’s not good enough to merely not be guilty of whatever it is yourself, you need to actually expose and correct it, and that includes when it is one’s own church leaders who are the ones misbehaving. Indeed, it’s even more important that church leaders are rebuked when necessary than non-leaders, precisely because scripture teaches they are to be judged with greater strictness than them. Indeed, it is time for the silent majority to stand up and do something about the scandal of slanderous church leaders, and especially those in biblical churches. All it takes for evil to prosper is, indeed, that good men simply do nothing.
Let me ask a question: Who are non-leaders in a church accountable to? Answer: Everyone in that church! Next question: Who are leaders of a church accountable to? Answer: Everyone in that church! However, there are leaders of even biblical churches who don’t like to hear that one bit. Indeed, leaders who have even targeted me precisely because I taught such in the churches of which they are part. We just noted that Paul admonished, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Eph 5v11), and putting that together with what we saw James write in the New Testament about leaders having to be judged with greater strictness than others, then this principle obviously applies to them all the more. It is therefore especially important that non-leaders are willing to confront those they have recognized as elders, should they be seen to be doing wrong, and especially if they are slandering people. I am not, however, aware of a counter verse in the Bible that reads, “Just keep your head down when there’s trouble. Go for the quiet life, and especially if it’s a leader in your church who is doing wrong. Leave it to others and let them take the flak. Best you just say and do nothing. It’s really not worth the upset or the potential repercussions.”
I have never hidden the fact that I feel very strongly that men who have had their marriages fail whilst in ministry should step down and resign, being simply no longer biblically qualified for the task of Christian leadership. I have personally come across several such men on the house church scene and have made it clear to them that not only should they step down, but that I will actively warn others against them if they don’t and ensure that they know they have failed marriages behind them since being in ministry. It is especially the case that those who are in this position, but who have remarried, are easily able to conceal what others need to be aware of concerning them, and only by informing people can the unwary be given the facts they need in order to ascertain which leaders are safe, and which ones are hypocritical in not applying the clear teaching of scripture to themselves. However, a while back I was approached by someone at a house church conference who wanted confirmation concerning the divorce of one of these leaders he wanted to test against scripture, but he had also heard some other extremely damaging things said about him which I believed to be patently untrue. And I was delighted to be able to defend that brother in regards to the allegations I considered to be false, whilst nevertheless confirming that he had indeed been divorced since being in ministry – even worse, had actually remarried and was doing everything he could to conceal his past marital history – and should be therefore rejected as a church leader and Bible teacher. What I didn’t do, though, was to use that opportunity to support accusations concerning him beyond the facts, which would have been the very slander I am here seeking to both expose and rebuke, and which would have maligned him beyond what he deserved. Indeed, it is as vital that we defend the guilty where they are innocent as it is to expose them where they are guilty. It is called, fairness, justice, truth, equanimity, and every Christian, and especially church leaders, should be blameless in regard to such, and ready to repent quickly should they ever fail.
“Love must be sincere….Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12v9-14)
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5v9-13)
“If I…do not have love…I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13v1-7)
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5v13-15)
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6v1)
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4 v25, 31-32)
“…in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2v3)
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature… you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices…” (Colossians 3v5, 8-9)
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2v24-26)
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3v17-18)
“Brothers, do not slander one another.” (James 4v11)
“So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.” (1 Peter 2v1)
“ There are six things which the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6v16-19)
All these verses were in Augustine’s Bible, but he simply chose to disobey them. So too with Luther, Zwingli and Calvin, and many other church leaders since! And, sadly, so also with the house church leaders, currently alive and kicking, to whom I have drawn attention in this article. They have all read these verses, and they have all decided to disobey them, pure and simple.
The sad truth is that a lot of Christians don’t live in repentance of pride and anger, but rather act out of it whist kidding themselves that it is righteous indignation, as opposed to the sheer malice it actually is. We can all get angry, of course, and all of us are proud beyond words, but the issue is whether or not we repent of such and refuse to act out of it, or whether we give in to it trying to disguise it as something spiritual. If there is one thing I observed above all else concerning the brothers I have so sadly referred to, it is that they get angry. I have, for instance, witnessed two of them arguing so sharply with each other that I actually feared they would come to blows. One of them even told me once that he was so angry with someone in their church he wanted to punch them, and even tried to get me to join his vendetta against the brother in question. On another occasion he became so angry when I disagreed with him about something that he stormed out of the room slamming the door behind him. But the thing to note, and this is the real problem, is that on none of these occasions was there any repentance, appropriate apologies or the slightest acknowledgement that wrong had been committed. Indeed, in getting to know these guys I was taken aback, again and again, at the lack of spiritual maturity they exhibited, and the unpleasant way they reacted whenever they felt themselves to have been crossed or gainsaid, and I was also positively shaken to witness their proclivity to dishonesty and to telling lies. I should have doubtless been bolder with them sooner, and I see now just how inevitable it was that they would do what they did by way of blackening me when I wasn’t prepared to go along with them in things that were wrong. They were, after all, just following in the footsteps of many centuries of church leaders who have gone before, the Reformers among them. One more verse:
“Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” (James 1 v19-20)
Now listen to this:
“It is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and a third time, till at length it becomes habitual…This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good disposition.” – Thomas Jefferson
Let us indeed ensure we understand that for the Christian the ends can never justify the means, and that the spirit, attitude and manner in which we do things is just as important to the Lord as whatever it is we are actually doing. If we have not love, then quite irrespective of whatever we do in the Lord’s service; it is indeed as nothing. It is, in fact, completely worthless!
I end with a twofold appeal: Firstly, that all those who behave in such a way, and especially leaders, the sad brothers of whom I have spoken included, be honest about what they are doing, just like Jack Van Impe eventually was, and repent and come clean, and put things right with both the Lord, and their victims, as publicly as they have committed their slander and malicious dishonesty; and secondly, that those believers in their various churches who know what has gone on, but who have opted instead to just let them get away with it so they can have a quiet life, stand up to them, expose what they are doing and hold them accountable. Slander and lying are terrible, terrible sins, and especially when committed by church leaders who are supposed to be examples of love, kindness, gentleness, fairness, honesty, integrity and godliness. It is time we put a stop to it! It is time for action!
Wow! Isn’t it amazing what we can learn from Star Wars just by getting to know Luke Skywalker a bit? Man, what a blessing! So what, I hear you ask, can we learn from my absolute all time favourite? How can we be blessed by watching re-runs of Star Trek?
Watch this space!