I spent a decade in a church that taught that the greatest love we could show is when we set aside our rights for the good of others. I agreed with the principle of the statement, that sometimes a Christian is called upon to sacrifice time, resources, reputation, even life in order to advance the kingdom of God. In practice though, it isn’t always quite so cut and dry. In elder meetings, I started to bring up things that were troubling. Governments were getting their wires crossed and canceling church services, despite the first amendment to the US Constitution stating that the free exercise of religion was protected, citing the fact that Jesus is Lord of the Church. People were burning down their own neighborhoods and we were supposed to look the other way because they had a harder life than us, despite the biblical command to not show partiality to either the rich or the poor or the popular in any dispute. I brought this up because church members were taking sides and, as a shepherd, I thought that the Law of God ought to be proclaimed so the sheep would hear His voice and follow him while the goats would continue to identify themselves.
Exodus 23:1-3 ESV You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.
I was told that I shouldn’t bring politics into things and that we should submit to whatever some politician, or worse, bureaucrat, had to say so we could demonstrate our love for neighbor. I tried to explain that it was Jesus who said that love for neighbor was the second tablet of the law, second only to the first tablet love for God, and that if we want somebody to define what this love looks like it would be the one who never failed to love both God and neighbor perfectly. There was pushback based on emotional arguments, and I knew that this couldn’t end well.
This was all brought to a head when the mayor of the city sought legal assistance to find a loophole in state law, which “allowed” her emergency powers that included a punitive aspect to anyone who disagreed. As a church we were expected to obey Romans 13 even if this local politician could act as if Romans 13 didn’t apply to her. To make matters worse, she was a member of our church, and she made her bold proclamation in a public forum without giving any advance notice to the elders. I know this is true, because I was an elder and I would have known about it. I don’t want to go down the trail of whether or not the other elders excluded me from this discussion like they did… oh we’ll see if we have time toward the end of No Quarter November.
I spoke against this attempted action in the same forum where it was announced, and I did so factually and respectfully. Others in the same forum were quite disrespectful and their treatment toward this mayor was projected onto me. For what reason, I couldn’t say. I do have a copy of this entire thread for my own reputation defense should it ever be required. This led to the final incident that caused me to not only step away from my office as a church elder but to also pull my family out of this church entirely. I did not leave in disgrace. I left in protest. I did not try to divide the congregation. I kept my mouth shut even when some reached out to me. Should I have kept silent about the illegal power grab my church member was attempting until I could arrange a private meeting with her? Should I have allowed the neighbors all around me to be subject to her illegal actions? Would that have been loving toward them?
I was savaged at the next elder meeting. The mayor had called the pastor and he had gone to her home to read through the comments and they cried together. No, I am not making that up. That was how he described the evening. I asked if anything that caused such grief had my name attached to it and nothing could be recollected. It was just too painful. Either that, or it was just nonexistent. I’m going with the latter. Again, I saved the receipts of this conversation should my recounting of it ever come up. My punishment was that I was to seek her out to apologize. I agreed to make peace as much as she would accept, but I never promised to say that I had sinned against her, because the Law of God prohibits bearing false witness.
The next day was a Sunday, so I sought out the mayor. I knew this was a foolish thing to do, because she hadn’t been attending any indoor services, even though the rest of her family was. It is hard for me not to assume that this is more about political optics in light of her draconian actions than anything else. I did approach her husband and asked if she was going to attend that day and he gave me the evil eye of disfellowship.
“No, she doesn’t feel safe in this church.
You can contact City Hall to make an appointment.”
“No, this has more to do with restoring some of the “one anothers” that God calls us to do in His church.”
“I want to restore fellowship with her. Even if she thinks this isn’t an option, I am an elder in her church and I want to be available when she is hurting.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Will you at least tell her that I am wanting to speak with her whenever she is ready?”
He agreed to relay that message and then proceded to the stage in his capacity of leading the church in worship. Sorry, but I don’t recall his precise role that week, whether it was playing the guitar or adjusting the sound board. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t heard from her and it’s been over a year. I did report to another elder that I had done what was asked. Nobody but me was concerned that we had someone bitter leading the church in worship, but I had no political capital at that point to do anything. Yes, I said political. I was on the outs and I knew it.
I mentioned earlier that this led to the last straw of my family leaving a church that had been my lifeline for a decade. When I met this church, I was an abused husband who was going through a divorce. I came to faith in the middle of my marriage and had been trying desperately to bring God into the family. I was discipling my son and trying to engage my wife in conversations. The abuse that followed was emotionally shattering and I spent long months with the elders at that time, struggling to forgive.
As a single dad and a devoted Christian I was trying to be the best disciple I could be, now with an ex-wife and a son who had rejected me. It’s hard to know where your priorities truly are when life is good. When the pressure rises, though, what is unseen becomes apparent. The Christianity was not buffeted out of me. My resolve to seek after God’s face was magnified and my study of His word intensified. In the coming years, I sought every opportunity to interact with the people of this church. Life Groups, volunteering options, smaller discipleship opportunities, I did it all. This church was my family when I had nobody else. And when I met my wife who I adore now, I made sure that the church approved of her before I proposed. I even waited “another week” before the proposal at their request.
I began to lead groups. Discipleship groups, life groups, classes. My input was included along with other trusted voices when the pastor was putting together future sermons. This wasn’t just the church I went to once a week. This was the church that I had integrated into. I was a part of it and it was a part of me. The final year of my membership, while an elder, was a living hell that rivaled being married to my abusive ex-wife. I told one story in this post, and this is the only stab I received that involved any of the laity of the church. Every other wound came from the elders that I was sharing a ministry with. Well, one and a half of them, at least. If it helps, there were four of us in total and the other man was kept out of the loop for reasons I don’t care to pursue right now. The elders dealt this blow, but it was ultimately directed by our downtrodden mayor, who was using the “popular” opinion of the oppressor vs the oppressed in order to build a case against me in a church court that was, somehow, unfamiliar with the law of God handed down to Moses. Nothing to see here, folks!
I say all this to demonstrate that I am not church hopping here, even now. I take the role of the bride of Christ quite seriously, and one ought not leave a church that still has its lampstand in place without severe reservation. I don’t want this month to be all about my final year there. I really don’t. But there is so much material available to me!
I did give the pastor a chance to restore our relationship. Reconciliation was at the root of my journey with this church from the very first day. Quite literally. Repentance takes one person to act. Forgiveness takes one person to act. Both parties are required to act for there to be reconciliation. That is what I was taught in this church from, again quite literally, day one. When the pastor balked that I might be needing some reconciliation between myself and him he communicated to me quite clearly that I was no longer in sync with whatever was going on in that church. I don’t know why he was surprised when I informed him that my family would no longer be attending a church where the head of the elder board was using partiality to push out his “rivals” (his word, not mine) and the pastor was either too busy to step in or perhaps he agreed with the action. Those are the only two options available and the first one was his initial claim.
The first sermon after my departure was off-schedule and it was about loyalty within the body. I know this because some concerned church members told me, and they did not hold back their disgust. I still did not reveal the many incidents that informed me that it had become time to break fellowship. It has now been long enough for any damage control within this church to take place and my blog is not at the same level of prominence it once held. And I still am not using any names of either the church or any of the people within it. While libel is only libel if it is untrue, I still do not want to point too decisively at any church, especially one filled with people who I both love and miss.
Setting aside your rights for the good of others makes for a flowery statement. It really sounds attractive to a Christian. After all, we worship a God who set aside His rights in order to come to us. But it is a woefully inadequate standard for us to live by in that it discounts so many realities in a fallen world, not to mention so many examples shown in scripture when affirmed rights were exactly what was the right move to make, approved by the council of God.
So some of what you see here in No Quarter November will be a discussion, strangely enough, on the love OF God revealed through us by our love FOR God and by our demonstrated love for neighbors. Two loves that encompass the entirety of the law handed down to Moses. See Matthew 22:34-40 for the context of that statement. That’s right. Love=Law. So Law cannot be divorced from Gospel, for Gospel covers a multitude of sins, aka a lack of Love. I hope you have some Dramamine. It may get a bit bumpy this month.
What’s my schedule this month, nobody asked? How long will these posts be? I promise nothing! But I do intend to speak truth into a post-truth world that just so happens to be flammable. I don’t have to light any fires. All I need to do is expose the post-truth wherever I see it.
Tell your friends! Just as importantly, tell your enemies.