“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”
Several years ago a long standing member of God’s Church met with his pastor who had just been assigned to his congregation. Although not ordained, the member was highly respected in the congregation and assumed a prominent role in it. During their meeting the member informed his new pastor that he had been counseling with another minister (in a different congregation) regarding a very sensitive issue. His prior pastor was aware of this and did not object. The member was simply advising his new pastor that he was going to continue to counsel with this man and wanted him to be aware of it.
When his pastor sought to identify the details of the counseling the member indicated that he was not prepared to disclose any of the particulars. He did however, invite his pastor to contact the minister he was counseling with in an effort to assure him that the sessions were of a proprietary nature. Unfortunately, his pastor was not satisfied with that explanation. He informed the member that in all his years serving in the ministry no one had ever questioned his ability to provide sound Biblically based advice on anything—and he saw no reason to begin now. He even suggested that the member’s action might be symptomatic of a problem with Church government. When the member refused to acquiesce, the pastor became so agitated that he stripped him of all his congregational duties, including speaking assignments (Sermonettes and Sermons). However, when the member accepted these sanctions without any argument the pastor became more frustrated.
This incident only served to ignite other conflicts between these two men. Even in the most benign Biblical discussions the pastor construed any disagreement as an expression of disloyalty to the Church as well as a challenge to his authority as a minister—although he acknowledged that the member was always civil in his manner. Add to that the member was hugely popular in the congregation and was never inclined to speak pejoratively about his minister or any other leader. It just wasn’t his way.
The Sparks Ignite
In one particular exchange regarding the Church’s position on a specific doctrine, the pastor asked the member if he was in agreement with the Church. The member indicated that he had studied the issue extensively and as a result did not concur with their opinion, although he understood why they arrived at it. The pastor then attempted to convince his congregant to change his view—but to no avail. Frustrated at his inability to do so he remarked, “[Name], you just think too much.” The member then responded, “Mister [Name] I thought this was a thinking man’s Church.” The reaction of the pastor was predictable—he went ballistic—and at one point declared. “The Church will tell you what to think!” A couple of weeks later he even gave a sermon on rebellion against God’s government and cited specific examples from the member’s behavior, without mentioning him by name, of course. To no surprise, the message was not well received—in part, because the member’s reputation in the congregation was extraordinarily positive and his approach toward the Church simply did not comport itself with the accusations leveled by the pastor.
Furthermore, because of the member’s positive relationship with his prior pastor(s) it was difficult for his new pastor to impose more severe sanctions such as suspension or even worse. However, he did have one option available and he seized it. He had the member assigned to a different congregation. That’s right!—the member was actually directed to attend another congregation of the same group twenty miles away.
What Can Be Learned
The reaction of this pastor illustrates why Church members are reluctant to speak candidly with ministers. The simple truth is that they are afraid of provoking them to anger. Therefore, they simply placate the men placed over them—men who are actually charged by God to cultivate an atmosphere of love and respect among the brethren. Sadly, this is an all too frequent reality in God’s Church today. There are countless stories were members simply stay quiet in order to avoid conflict with those in power.
As a result, there are literally scores of leaders believing that their members are in total agreement with them. To illustrate this point, a few years ago a very prominent leader in the Church gave a sermon regarding dining out on the Sabbath. He defended this activity and proudly announced that no one in his congregation had “fallen for” the teaching that God forbids such a practice. However, unbeknownst to him approximately one third of his congregation (including the song leader, the persons giving the opening prayer, the sermonette, the special music and the closing prayer at that service) did not concur with his view at all. They simply wouldn’t express their opposition when asked about it. The risk of being labeled as one who causes division was simply too great.
Although thousands of God’s people live their Church lives in an atmosphere of timidity, this shouldn’t be the case. In truth, ministers should never be afraid of respectful doctrinal disagreements among the brethren. As a matter of fact, God Himself isn’t the slightest bit reticent to engage and even debate with His people on a variety of issues and the scriptures bear this out. Consider just a few examples:
Abraham Contends with God over Sodom
One of the greatest champions of faith in all the Bible was a man named Abraham. Most practicing Jews identify more with him than any other character in the scriptures—even more than Moses or Elijah. Abraham’s relationship with the Almighty was truly unique. There was an intimacy between them that ran deep. God even referred to him as His friend.
But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. (Isa. 41: 8)
Clearly, God was very real to Abraham and as such he (Abraham) was willing to engage Him—even if it involved attempting to persuade Him to change His mind. The eighteenth chapter of Genesis describes him doing just that.
The story centers around the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and how God would dispense His judgment on them. Because Abraham’s nephew lived in Sodom he was understandably concerned for him. As a result, he attempted to reason with God regarding the impact His judgment would have on some of its citizens (the righteous)—he did so because the Almighty is a righteous God. Notice what transpires.
And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD. And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Gen. 18:20-25)
At this point God had several options: first, He could have simply ignored Abraham. He could also have rebuked him for being insolent. After all, who is Abraham to think he can give God a lesson about righteousness. But God’s approach was quite different. He engaged His friend allowing him to pursue his argument. Furthermore, He actually allowed him to modify it several times.
And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes. And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD, which am but dust and ashes:
Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty's sake.
And he said unto him, Oh let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.
And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty's sake.
And he said, Oh let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake.
And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place. (Gen. 18: 27-33)
On the surface it may appear that Abraham was unsuccessful in his argument. After all, we know what happened to these cities. However, upon closer examination this was not the case at all. In truth, his desire was that God spare Lot from the devastation that was going to come—and God did just that. As a matter of fact, the scriptures indicate that Lot actually owed his life to his uncle because it was for Abraham’s sake that his life was spared.
And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt. (Gen. 19:29)
Abraham was not the only champion of faith to contend with God. Moses did as well—and like Abraham, it was over a matter of life and death.
Moses Contends over the fate of Israel
Less than two months after leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, God gave them His Great Moral Law. It was presented to Moses on Mt Sinai and was written with His own hand (Ex.31:18). However, while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites became impatient—leading them to make an outrageous demand of Aaron. Because they had become so entrenched in the religion of their former slave masters in Egypt, they demanded that he fashion a pagan idol for them to worship.
And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. (Ex. 32:1)
In one of the most profoundly reckless acts in the history of God’s people, Aaron acquiesced to their demands and fashioned a graven image just as they required.
And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. (verses 2-4)
Like so many contemporary professing Christians do with pagan festivals like Christmas and Easter, Aaron then made a proclamation assigning this act as a tribute to God Himself.
And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD. (verse 5)
Imagine what is taking place at this precise moment. While the very God who delivered Israel from a horrible oppression, and in doing so brought the mightiest nation on earth to its knees, was giving Moses His law, Aaron and these emancipated slaves were attributing their freedom to a baby cow made with their own hands. This is how they expressed their gratitude to God for delivering them from the bondage of Pharaoh and Egypt. And as pathetic as this was, they weren’t finished.
And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. (verse 6)
God’s reaction to the debauchery of Israel was predictable—and He made it clear to Moses that He was aware of every sordid detail of what had taken place.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou brought out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: (verses 7-9)
The Almighty then informs Moses how He intended to deal with them—and the news is NOT good
Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. (verse10)
At this moment, the only thing standing between Israel and annihilation was one man—Moses. As you consider his reaction, imagine how the various COG leaders today would respond if God made the same pronouncement about the countless splinters—other than theirs, of course. Fortunately, Israel had Moses. This great man tenaciously defended people who had committed all manner of evil. What he was saying in effect was that God’s decision to wipe out Israel was a HORRIBLE idea. Here is how he made his case.
And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why does your wrath wax hot against your people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by thine own self, and said unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. (verses 11-13)
Imagine how a leader in God’s Church would react if a loyal member of his congregation spoke to him like this. It is doubtful that the current atmosphere cultivated in the Body of Christ would tolerate such boldness. However, God’s reaction was quite different. Moses entreated Him on behalf of a sinful nation—more importantly, he prevailed.
And the LORD repented of the evil (calamity) which he thought to do unto his people. (Verse 14)
The scriptures tell us that Moses was so committed to the deliverance of Israel that he declared that he would rather have his own name expunged from the book of life than for Israel to be condemned.
Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. (Ex. 32:32)
Paul made a similar declaration when speaking about unconverted Jews of his day.
For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: (Rom. 9:3)
While all too many in the Church today condemn those who see things SLIGHTLY different than they do, great CHAMPIONS, such as Moses and Paul, saw things much differently. They weren’t the slightest bit concerned with petty differences or their personal “turf,” To them the focus was on God’s PEOPLE and their deliverance.
Debating the Messiah
We now come to one of the greatest examples of engagement ever recorded in scripture. It involved a debate between the Messiah and a gentile woman. And as surprising as it may seem, the woman won!
A Syro-Phoenician Woman Contends with
Christ over the fate of her daughter
The gospel of Matthew describes an event in which a Canaanite woman implores the Messiah to exorcise a demon out of her daughter. However, Jesus uncharacteristically, appears to ignore her appeal.
And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word... (Mt.15:22-23)
Jesus’ apparent indifference did not deter this woman. Thus, she conveyed her desperation to His disciples—leading them to entreat their Master to do something.
And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she cries after us. (verse 23)
Scholars are divided concerning what the disciples meant with these words. Some believe they were appealing to Jesus to admonish the woman to go away and leave them alone. Others believe they were making an appeal on her behalf for Jesus to grant her petition. Either way, the Savior of the world is about to engage in a classic “Point-Counter-Point” debate. He advances His first point by arguing that He cannot accommodate her petition on jurisdictional grounds.
But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (verse 24)
Just when it looked like her case was lost, this heartbroken mother responds by appealing to the Messiah’s mercy. It was obvious she was devastated. Certainly Jesus would have pity on her. Notice the desperation in her words.
Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. (verse 25)
Although Jesus has made it clear that He would not grant the woman’s request she is relentless. He then becomes more direct in his rebuttal.
But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. (verse 26)
At this point Jesus makes it perfectly clear that His primary duty is to the house of Israel—NOT to gentiles (dogs). This should have put to rest any hope the woman had of prevailing with Him. However, what would happen next was BOLD beyond measure. This gentile was now going to courageously challenge the Messiah’s point. Her counter-point was nothing short of masterful.
And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. (verse 27)
Upon hearing the woman’s rebuttal, Jesus had several options. First, He could have simply walked away, bringing the dialogue to an end. He could also have chastised her. For example He could have said: “Who do you think you are (a gentile and a woman, no less) giving me a lesson on my duties as a Rabbi (Jn, 1:38, 49)? I am God’s Son and you have the temerity to talk to me like that? Lady, you have a problem.” However, The Messiah took a much different approach. He was genuinely moved by the woman’s steadfast conviction that He not only had the power to cast out the demon tormenting her daughter, but the obligation to do so. As a result He consented.
Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (verse 28)
The power of faith is truly extraordinary. Jesus said as much—and in so doing made a very interesting pronouncement.
And Jesus said unto them, for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. (Mt. 17:20)
It is interesting that the prophet Daniel once likened the Messiah as a stone that became a great mountain (Dan. 2:34-35). This being the case the faith demonstrated by a gentile woman near the borders of Tyre and Sidon did just that—it moved a mountain.
A great tragedy in the Church today is that its leaders are so consumed with pride that any expression of opposition is viewed as discord and an assault on God. They, of course, will deny it, claiming that they are always willing to change if shown they are wrong. However, it is almost impossible for that to happen. A major player in a prominent COG group was once asked why the leader of his fellowship would not adopt a particular position on a doctrine being discussed. He responded, “Because he didn’t come up with the idea himself.”
A Happy Ending
The story at the beginning of this chapter did not end with a Church member being transferred to a different congregation. A few years later the pastor found himself being accused of emotional abuse by several members of his congregation. The issue was actually adjudicated by the headquarters of the Church. During the course of their investigation only one person spoke in defense of the pastor. The member he had exiled spoke eloquently on behalf of a man that only saw him as a threat just a few years earlier. The member even prevailed in persuading friends who had leveled the charges to reconsider. The pastor was stunned as he listened to a man he thought was his enemy stand as his advocate. In the end the pastor’s job was saved and a friendship was born.
Approximately ten years later the member passed away. The pastor delivered the eulogy and at one point began to sob as he apologized to his dear friend and his congregation for the way he treated them.
P.S. This story was provided by the pastor.
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