Faithful pastors and elders suffer with Christ...
Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. (Hebrews 13:12-14)
Saturday, I wrote about my gratitude for the unity and peace of our own congregation, Church of the Good Shepherd. Since then, I've been thinking about how our unity came to be and I realize how central the battles a number of us went through in another prior congregation were for the development of this unity. In our prior congregation, the central issue was the refusal of a small group of influential leaders to allow any exercise of correction or rebuke by the congregation's elders. They considered anathema even the most private forms of church discipline.
It was a painful ordeal, but the Holy Spirit used it to produce the unity and peace of Church of the Good Shepherd we presently enjoy--including, now, ten years of loving and peaceful congregational meetings.
This comes to mind as I read of attacks other pastors are suffering, particularly our dear brother, Pastor Doug Wilson. David and I are not surprised Doug is under attack. He's a strong leader with biblical convictions, and he's at his greatest precision and boldness in preaching those convictions where the Evil One has focused his attack and there's a breach in the wall. But instead of other church officers giving thanks to God for raising up such a warrior, Pastor Wilson is the object of much envy and resentment. Like all of us, Pastor Wilson is a sinner in both his conduct and doctrine and we are confident he appreciates the licks he takes for his sin.
But taking his licks from fellow presbyters, his children, or his wife is a far cry from having any Tom, Dick, or Harry set himself up as a judge over every word of his pastoral conversations and session meetings extending years into the past and posting those judgments on this gabfest and gossip-pool known as the internet. Need I point out that Doug Wilson is not the only one suffering such persecution?
In both the church and secular world, leaders have lost the manly traits and pander to their constituency. Church officers are given to mollycoddling, equivocation, and self-doubt. One of my favorite cartoons shows a consultant meeting with a pastor in his office. The wall holds a graph of the congregation's attendance trends and they're down, down, down. Pointing to the graph the consultant says, "I'm no expert in these things, but I think it might help if you didn't end every sermon with, 'But then again what do I know, anyhow?'"
Pastor Wilson preaches, teaches, and leads as if he has received the good deposit and intends, come hell or high water, to pass it on to reliable men...
He has a mission and he's missional about his mission--you know, sort of like Bruce Willis. Moderns love these traits in movies, the Super Bowl, and on Wall Street, but they hate them in the church. The church is supposed to be all about me, my tastes and preferences and insecurities and felt needs. And when I leave church each Lord's Day, I'm supposed to feel uplifted--passionately uplifted.
No surprise, then, that the leadership methods of the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and Jonathan Edwards are despised even while we continue to claim that we honor their doctrine. Men today bitterly resent any strength they don't have and fasten upon a leader's weaknesses, proclaiming them to the world in the hope of hiding or justifying their own rebellion, or of dragging them down to their own level--the principle apparently being that effeminacy loves company.
Yet which has done more harm to the souls of Christ's church today? Church officers who have been angry and sarcastic while correcting their sheep? Or church officers who have been timid and silent, and have failed to correct their sheep? Given a choice, I'd rather my children were pastored by a red-blooded man who would err in the direction of the Apostle Paul who, you remember, wrote:
Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offence of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:11, 12)
It's sad how glib believers can be, pulling texts out of Galatians to condemn whatever they want to condemn as "legalism," while never considering the Apostle Paul's affect, his rhetorical method, nor what application that method ought to have to the methods used by pastors and elders today. Similarly, we speak of Jesus sweet and tender but forget His scorched-earth method with the pastors, elders, and seminary professors of His time. Remember all those "Woe to you" warnings He gave them?
The solution to the weakness of our leadership today is not to become chest-thumping, fire-breathing, macho megalomaniacs, but to imitate Edwards and Knox and Calvin and Luther as they imitate the Apostle Paul and His Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Then we will correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience, understanding that we live in a time when men will not put up with sound doctrine but will surround themselves with preachers who say what their itching ears want to hear.
With that burned into our brains and consciences, we'll not take up the cudgel against other men superior to us in zeal and courage, but will praise God for them and pray for their sanctification and continued boldness. And yes, we may have to rebuke them (or, more likely, be rebuked by them) publicly every now and then--just as the Apostle Paul publicly rebuked the Apostle Peter in front of the Galatians. But such is the stuff of the life of the godly. Our Father loves and, therefore, chastens us.
Speaking of chastening, I've been preaching through Galatians and our text, recently, was Galatians 5:13: "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." In his commentary on this text, Martin Luther acknowledges his own weariness of fighting against the antinomian, libertine, "sin that grace may abound" souls in the church of his time. He writes:
All boast themselves to be professors of the Gospel, and all brag of Christian liberty, and yet serving their own lusts they give themselves to covetousness, pleasures, pride, envy, and such other vices. No man does his duty faithfully, no man charitably serves the necessity of his brother. The grief of this makes me sometimes so impatient, that many times I wish such swine which tread precious pearls under their feet, were yet still remaining under the tyranny of the Pope; for it is impossible that this people of Gomorrah should be governed by the Gospel of peace.
But then Luther goes on and acknowledges that pastors are equally tempted by this error and that God has designed His own scheme of protection for us, particularly persecutions, contempt, and ingratitude:
Moreover, even we which teach the Word, do not do our duty with so great zeal and diligence in the light of the Gospel, as we did before in the darkness of ignorance. For the more certain we be of the freedom purchased unto us by Christ, so much the more cold and negligent we be in handling the Word, in prayer, in well-doing, and in suffering adversities.
And if Satan did not vex us inwardly with spiritual temptations, and outwardly with the persecutions of our adversaries, and moreover with the contempt and ingratitude of our own fellows, we should become utterly careless, negligent, and untoward to all good works; and so in time we should lose the knowledge and faith of Christ, forsake the ministry of the Word, and seek an easier kind of life for the flesh.
I don't know about you, but he's got my number.
So then, praise God for men like Pastor Doug Wilson. Praise God, also, for the discipline He places faithful shepherds under in order to keep them faithful. Luther ends the section:
Let every man therefore endeavor to do his duty diligently in his calling, and to help his neighbor to the uttermost of his power. This is what Paul here requires of us: "Serve one another through love." These works do not set the Christians at liberty, but shut them under bondage, as touching the flesh.