An instructive comparison…
On August 22, 2021, Midway Senior Pastor Hall brought a message on problem solving in the church as part of a sermon series exploring the early portions of the Book of Acts. Just as at Midway today, the early church struggled under the weight of many problems. Pastor Hall made the following observation about how the problems were handled:
“Note first of all, that the problem solving method was made by the elders. You should notice to whom the problem is brought. These elders became aware of this and initiated action… the problem was not brought to the city council, the problem was not brought to a congregational meeting, it was not spread along the gossip chain. No it was brought to the apostles, and since the apostles are no longer a continuing office, and the elders have taken their place, it was brought to the ordained elders who were serving in the church. And they hear the matter. These elders in the new testament and in all times, are required at times to sit as judges and make difficult decisions. And God has elders, not each member, to handle matters for the church for a reason.”David Hall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XujU1o3T3RI
Hall continued by recounting a story from another pastor, who paraphrased the particular passage in Acts saying:
“We could take this passage if we wanted to and slightly paraphrase this into a C.S. Lewis Screwtape Letter from the senior devil to the junior apprentice devil… The first thing he would do as the senior devil to counsel the junior devil on this passage is to call the church to capitalize on the natural cultural and linguistic affinities and exclude minorities.
Secondly, ‘make sure you sewed division everywhere you can’ the senior devil says. ‘Play on the fears, historic prejudice.’ Step three would be to nurture those complaints and let them grow, let the grumbling spread as the senior devil even quotes the Bible from Philippians 2 that tells Christians to do all things without grumbling or complaining that you may be blameless and innocent children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. ‘So junior devil, if you can make them grumble and complain, if we can make the church sound just as entitled and selfish as the rest of the world, then maybe we can snuff out their bright little lights once and for all.
Fifthly, take those who are complaining and as all complainers in the Bible that these Christians read, don’t let them know that they are truly puffed up and conceited and proud; that’s why they are complaining, because think they are better than others. And then sixth and finally, if we can make the leadership panic enough about the complaining, and the division, if we can get the leaders to lose their nerve, and to forget their primary task and responsibility; you know if we can get them so scared of some of the angry widows beating down their doors or if we could consume them with logistics and pragmatic and administrative matters, ya know it may not be too much to hope’ the senior devil says ‘that they will give up praying and preaching entirely.’“David Hall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XujU1o3T3RI
It is hard to separate theses sentiments from the complaints and judicial actions known to be ongoing at Midway Presbyterian Church. Hall further stated “when there’s a problem, take it to the right leaders who meet Godly qualifications. Taking problems to the wrong people will seldom help your church.”
This begs an important question: What if those leaders themselves are the perceived source of the problem?
About a week after David Hall’s sermon at Midway, former Midway Associate Pastor Mic Knox addressed this question on the August 30, 2021 edition of the Spiritual Fitness Show. The episode was titled “Division in Church Leadership: Damned Diotrephes“.
A viewer submitted the following question to Pastor Knox, prompting the episode’s topic: “We have pastors and elders at our church who cause division and are only concerned with having authority and power. Will you please give us Biblical counsel?”
Pastor Knox anchored on 3 John to provide his answer, drawing attention to prideful individuals in leadership who have put themselves first over the interests of their church as the source of such division. He said, “Unfortunately this happens in a lot of churches” and that there can be multiple people “all on the same team working together to try to get their way. Because it is always about their way. It’s all about winning for them, win at all costs, make sure you slit their throat; it’s all about winning. Winning! Power! Gotta have power! Even if it divides the church, I’ve gotta have the power! I need the power!” (14:00)
PRIDE AND AUTHORITY
Pastor Knox expounded further saying:
“Don’t you love it when people pull the authority card? It happens all the time. Leaders in the church, pastors in the church, elders in the church, ‘You need to submit to me. You need to submit to the brethren.’ Like a bunch of four year olds in a sandbox… ‘and we wanna put ourselves first, and we wanna have all power, all authority, all control because it’s all about us. But I am doing it for the church’ – You ain’t doing it for the church, get over yourself. Who are you doing it for? You, yourself, and you.” (15:20-17:20)Mic Knox: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEKGJtYCvAo
In contrast to Pastor Hall’s exposition which seems to place a heavy burden of condemnation on the complainer as the source of problems at the request of devils, Pastor Knox placed a burden on prideful leaders who put themselves first citing Proverbs 16: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
He said “Any time pride takes a hold of someone. It’s only a matter of time before they fall. it’s guaranteed.” Knox reminded viewers that “control freaks” are drawn to church leadership positions (Senior Pastor roles in particular), and that a haughty spirit won’t listen to others but rather call the complainers out as the problem.
Pastor Knox outlined 6 characteristics found in 3 John 10 of prideful controllers in church leadership:
- They love to be first and “use politics instead of a Bible” to lead the church.
- They refuse the authority of others (using the rejection of decisions from General Assembly or the local Presbytery as examples).
- They gossip about men of God.
- They withhold hospitality from other believers.
- They require others to follow their example.
- And finally, they excommunicate anyone who crosses them.
Midway readers may find the aforementioned list all too familiar as Midway’s Session has threatened to discipline officers who express opposition to Session policy, indicted, convicted, and condemned sitting ruling elders for exposing alleged error, apparently used politics to avoid apologies owed, and even considered motions to strip elders from office without process for expressing opposing viewpoints.
Pastor Knox, like Pastor Hall, wound down the message with a C.S. Lewis reference by actually quoting the source text. Citing chapter 8 of Lewis’s Mere Christianity on “The Great Sin,” Knox reminded viewers that the sin of pride finds itself quite compatible with dictatorship:
“It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all. It comes direct from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly.
For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity—that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride—just as he would be quite content to see your chilbains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 8 “The Great Sin”
VIEWPOINT FROM A SECOND FORMER MIDWAY PASTOR
Another former Midway Pastor, Michael Brock, recently offered solid application for those struggling with difficult people in a message titled “How to Live Well with Difficult People” given June 13, 2021 at Third Presbyterian Church PCA.
In it, rather than condemn the “complainer” (the difficult person) as the source of division, he offered a different perspective. Speaking of the Christian’s life being filled with difficult people, he reminded listeners that they can expect (among other things) mistreatment, dishonesty, and hypocrisy, but that Christians can also expect a “happy ending.” He said:
“God is gonna use difficult people in your life. He turns things around of our good. First of all God will use difficult people to expose our sin. God uses the sin of difficult people to confront me with my own sin….as Christians we long to make progress over our sin and that begins with seeing it, with having it exposed, with feeling its weight… it is a blessing to have our sin exposed.”Michael Brock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iz-yE8l-aA8
Rather than seeing opponents among the covenant family, should not church leaders be thankful for brothers and sisters who attempt to expose error so that it can be corrected?
Midway readers – will you rejoice that while there are difficult people among you, and while you may disagree sharply with them or with your church’s leadership — know that as Pastor Brock exhorted, there is something beautiful in having our sin revealed through interactions and disagreements with difficult people so that members and church leaders alike can see their sin and feel its weight in their lives.
Whether church leaders or church members – do not allow yourselves to be blinded by pride so that you reject an opportunity for sanctification. Join in the prayer of RC Sproul Jr. saying “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Lord, I pray for humility. And if it takes humiliation, send that. Do what You know to be best, O Lord, God of my salvation.”
Is not such a prayer the proper prescription for solving the church’s problems?