1 Peter 2:19-21 (NASB): “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”
I began our current series with reference to a seminar I had presented at the Moody Bible Institute’s Mission Conference titled “Do Pastors in North America Experience Persecution?” Peter implies in the above passage that we need to examine ourselves to determine if we have sinned and thus deserve harsh treatment.
In humility, we pastors must always recognize the possibility that we have caused our own problems! This is especially important in light of how God views the group of people we are leading. According to 1 Timothy 3:15, that group of people we face every Sunday is “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
In spite of the rank carnality existing in the Corinthian Community Church, they still were a “temple of God” (1 Cor. 2:16). The warning Paul gives in the next verse about messing with a local congregation is about as severe as it can be. He writes, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Cor. 3:17). It may require great faith on our part to believe what the Bible says about our local congregation, yet the Bible clearly teaches the importance of the local body of Christ.
Handle God’s church (not your church) with loving care! Yet, churches often unjustly persecute their pastors. In preparing for the seminar, I asked Village Missionaries to send some examples of such treatment. When I began the series, I mentioned that Duane Waite was once told to preach out of the Reader’s Digest! Other instances of persecution were much less amusing. One missionary refused to allow a couple who was living together to participate in the music ministry of the church. The missionaries had befriended this couple and were meeting with them for Bible study but the Village Missionary rightfully drew the line at allowing them to have a public ministry in the church. Family members became incensed and we finally stopped serving that church, reassigning the couple to a church that appreciated their stand for the Word of God. The son of a woman in the church tried to break in to the parsonage and attack the Village Missionary. Why?
The Village Missionary, at the request of many others in the church, had addressed in a loving way extremely negative, long-term behavior on the part of this woman. Our missionaries have experienced opposition in cases where there is an extreme form of elder rule. A group of extreme homeschoolers began to control one church, opposing the Village Missionary, because he was reaching people for Christ and they were coming to church. They did not want their kids mingling with other kids from the community. In another church, the elders restricted membership to only a select few and wanted to dictate to the Village Missionary the subjects of his sermons. Self-perpetuating elder rule forms of government can easily become dictatorial boards that answer to no one.
I received several more stories from missionaries that I won’t mention. Interestingly, I only received one story of opposition from a non-Christian. This fellow has made life miserable for the Village Missionary couple in the small community they serve. We might become disheartened when we reflect on the reality that most of the opposition pastors experience today comes from within the body of Christ and not without. Into what kind of sorry state has the church fallen in the United States and Canada that such opposition exists?
Shouldn’t we expect the church to be more united behind its pastor? Do not these stories of opposition furnish ample proof that the church in our two countries is backslidden and carnal? No wonder many pastors leave the ministry! Yet, is this a realistic view in light of early church reality? Problems within the church generated the writing of many of the New Testament letters. What pastor would want to serve the Corinthian Community Church? A four-way split consumed the church and some within the church even rejected the authority of the Apostle Paul. The church comfortably tolerated immorality, refusing to deal with a member openly committing incest. Church members were taking other church members to court. Many in the church were insensitive to weak, new believers, exercising their liberty oblivious to the consequences to others.
Then there’s the matter of the Lord’s Supper which had degenerated to a drunken, me first affair that bore little resemblance to the celebration our Lord intended in His Supper. I know of no church in the present century that would have such a catalogue of serious problems and problem people. Problems in the Galatian Community Church prompted Paul to write a strong letter. A large body within the church had departed from grace in favor of law. Paul felt that he needed to start all over with them and had doubts about them (Gal. 4:19-20). They as a church were in danger of leaving the true faith. Jude wanted to write wonderful things to believers about “our common salvation” (Jude 1:3). Instead, he had to exhort his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith” because “certain men have crept in unnoticed” (Jude 1:3-4).
Diotrephes took over the church and refused to allow contact with believers outside the fellowship. He not only did this but also even rejected the Apostle John, who was coming soon to straighten up the mess (3 John 9-10). Diotrephes makes some modern day church patriarchs and matriarchs seem like wimps! An accurate and balanced view of ministry recognizes that ministry will always be tough. The battle for men’s souls rages just as fiercely inside the walls of the church as outside the walls. Satan has just as much interest in defeating the cause of Christ among believers as he has in defeating the cause of Christ among nonbelievers. It has always been so. It will always be so until Christ comes for His bride and it may get much worse as His coming draws near (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
Ultimately, our enemies are Satan, the world, and the flesh and we battle with those enemies both in our life and in the life of the body of Christ. A Village Missionary couple may expect a congregation to treat them fairly and act christianly in all cases, but if they do not, they must handle the opposition Biblically. More on how to do this next time.