Acts 20.29-30 says, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
We live in a day when we enjoy the blessing of more spiritual communication than any other period in human history. By the same token, the tremendous freedom of religion and speech we enjoy to disseminate the Gospel is also enjoyed by those who teach false doctrine. These wolves have led many astray. I dare say that they made religion using Christian terminology acceptable in a social setting. In doing so, they have weakened the language of the Gospel so that the umbrella of redemption is so wide open that virtually anyone may fit under it.
We may be aware of doctrinal issues, and we may hold to purity of doctrine, but can we identify the specific ways in which our churches are being impacted by our society? What follows is an example of an issue that faces each of our churches and our respective children’s ministries. The illustration should provoke thought.
The Jerry Sandusky scandal has hit close to home in more ways than one. Before I continue, let me say in the strongest language that sexual abuse is abhorrent. It has no place in our society, much less our churches. Christ even said that a person who abused a child would be better off if he died a horrific death. The victims of abuse deserve justice and love, especially the love of Christ.
That being said, the response to the scandal has been strong, to say the least. One strong response has been a current effort to draft legislation which will remove the statute of limitations on sexual molestation cases. The implications are enormous. How could your church defend itself against an allegation (true or not) of an act(s) of sexual abuse at a church activity thirty years ago when you were not the pastor, when the primary people involved may be dead or long gone, and/or when people not directly involved in the activity may simply not remember the activity at all? The potential legislation requires us to weigh carefully how we obey both God’s and man’s laws. What do we do when human law requires that a report of abuse go directly to government authorities and not through proper channels of organizational authority? Let me rephrase the question in Biblical terms. How do we comply with the law while still obeying Matthew 18 and other texts that address dealing with sin in the church? Let me emphasize that the mentioned legislation has not yet passed. I use it simply as an illustration to provoke thought.
We as pastors must be aware of issues that affect our ministries. I have had more than one conversation with pastors who seem to dismiss summarily important issues with a sentiment to the following effect: “Well, that’s just the way our country is headed. Praise the Lord that Jesus coming soon!” Such an attitude just doesn’t cut the mustard, nor does it reflect a practical application of the grace of Christ to all of life. We must still occupy until the Lord comes, which means that the Gospel can and must be able to address issues that were unthinkable just a few years ago.
In defense of the pastors I just mentioned, they have seen many issues come and go. They have said as much. The thought has also been expressed that the most recent issue (whatever it may be) is just the latest but passing attack on the church. We dare not underestimate our opponent the Devil. He does not play by the rules. Satan hates believers with every fiber of his being, and he hates their shepherds. He will not withhold his malice from our churches. We must be serious and vigilant because our adversary stalks us and the people in our congregations. He would be more than delighted for a pastor to dismiss summarily an important issue just because its the latest thing to come down the pike, and, when all the bluster and fury is done, it will simply go away. He would love nothing more than to catch each of us unaware. Ministries and testimonies have been permanently destroyed when a few simple, preventative measures could have been taken as the result of education on the matter before the problem ever arose.
We exist as a fellowship to educate each other concerning the issues that impact our ministries. We dare not keep our heads in the sand, pretending that we won’t have to face these issues. The issues are already knocking on our doors if they aren’t already in our churches (eg., sexual abuse is far more common than many want to admit or even to consider). We must educate ourselves on such matters so that we may apply God’s laws to human requirements in a way that shows that the Gospel is indeed powerful. We must educate ourselves so that we are not unaware of how human laws will impact our churches.
We must not be afraid of human laws. Such fear of man brings a snare every time. Simply put, we as ministers of the Gospel must be students of our culture. We must not only know what is happening in our world; we must know why and how it is happening. We must have the courage that only the Gospel can give to confront our culture directly. We must consider uncomfortable and difficult realities that are more complex than a Gordian knot, and we must do so with all the wisdom of a serpent and all the harmlessness of a dove.
Just as food for thought, here are a few issues (in no particular order) that face our churches today. (If you have no idea what I mean with any of these issues, feel free to ask me by phone, email or in person, or do a simple search on any internet search engine.) Please consider your answers as if the problem or matter were the most important matter at your next deacons’ meeting as a real and identifiable issue that you must address together.
How would you address a lawsuit against your church for wrongful removal from church membership in a situation in which church discipline were rightly and graciously practiced?
Do you use filtering or accountability software for your internet use?
Are you familiar with mandatory reporter requirements?
Are you aware of how to report any sort of abuse?
What would your church do if a known child abuser desired membership in your church?
Are you aware of the ease of access people (not just teens!) in our churches have to designer drugs?
Have you contacted your local, state, and federal legislators about important laws, especially as they apply to churches? (Can you identify those individuals by name?)
Can you identify the signs of a cutter, an eating disorder, or substance abuse?
Are you aware that (statistically speaking) one in two men in your church have recently or are presently viewing pornography on a regular basis? (one survey revealed that 54% of pastors had viewed pornography within the last year)
Has your church considered formally adopting official statements of position on the family, human sexuality or the value of human life?
Have you addressed issues of human sexuality from your pulpit in ways that are more than decrying the sexual sins found in the Bible?
Do you have a general plan of action in place should a very public and devastating scandal come to light in your church?
(I do not pretend to have the answers to these questions, nor have I addressed each of these issues to my church leadership or in my church. I mention these things simply to raise awareness and provoke serious thought.)
Let me conclude with one more thought. The sobering reality is that these issues that face each of our churches are just the tip of the iceberg. Wolves are not just false teachers. They are also those who pretend to believe the same doctrines as we but whose lifestyles contradict the doctrine they profess with their mouths. I am not talking about the religiously apathetic. I am talking about those who intend to use the church to achieve their own self-serving purposes. A wolf in the church can be extremely destructive, ruining a church’s testimony and ministry effectiveness for decades. More than one church has split or simply ceased to exist because of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is one thing to say that they went out from among us because they were not one of us, and it is another thing to have to pick up the pieces of the shredded sheep in our congregation. We must be aware of the impact that wolves can have upon our churches so that we can know how to protect our flocks.
The links for the first seven articles are below:
Purpose #1 — The Encouragement of Unity
Purpose #2 — The Support of Connection
Purpose #3 — The Prevention of Isolation
Purpose #4 — The Cooperation of Ministry
Purpose #5 — The Preparation for Persecution
Purpose #6 — The Proclamation of the Gospel
Purpose #7 — The Defense of the Faith