I jokingly said to my wife, Cheryl, recently that we could divide our 25 years in ministry not by calendar years but by the people who left our churches during those years. I said it as a joke. But it wasn't a joke. It was rueful truth. If I wanted to--and at times I do--I could mark eras in my life by the betrayals of those years.
There were betrayals that alienated me from Evangelicalism, betrayals I felt as the son of my father: InterVarsity's decline from biblicism--represented vividly in my mind by an IV board member saying to me several years after Dad's resignation from InverVarsity's board, "David, I never did understand why your dad resigned," despite my Dad's letter of resignation clearly reiterating specific concerns he had stated in person for years while on the board; the emerging greed of Evangelical authors and speakers, including close family friends, in the late 70s and early 80s when Christian leaders began seeking four and five-figure fees for speaking engagements.
The betrayals I felt as a Reformed pastor: realizing that leaders of an organization I respected weren't as selflessly committed to Evangelical truth as I had considered them; the departure of a whole group of men I regarded as co-belligerents, even brothers, from my life through the Federal Vision movement.
Betrayals in the Church: men leaving in anger, women gossiping. Perhaps most difficult of all, friendships lost by my dear wife.
No pastor escapes such scars. But the cumulative effect of such disappointments can be a life of fear rather than faith. And the dangers of living in fear are greater than the dangers of betrayal.
Living in fear of betrayal inevitably leads to a failure to love. We have to trust to love. Refuse to trust and we cannot love.
Living in fear produces defensiveness, and if there is one thing the work of the Church is not, it's defensive. The army of Christ lives on offense. Individual Christians may put on shields and breastplates, but never the Church. Kierkegaard wrote of the common view that the Church exists primarily to put out fires:
". . . strictly speaking it is not I who am ringing the (fire)bell, it is I who am starting the fire in order to smoke out illusions and knavish tricks; it is a police raid, and a Christian police raid for, according the New Testament, Christianity is incendiarism, Christ Himself says, 'I am come to set fire upon the earth,' and it is already burning."
The Church lives to prevail over the gates of Hell, to cast Satan down from heaven. It does not live to preserve. Defensiveness is the way of the one who hides his talent. We are not victims. We are more than conquerors.
Fearing betrayal keeps us from appreciating faithful men. I'm grateful for the faithfulness of my brother Tim. I don't know a more faithful brother, friend or pastor. I'm grateful for men like Paul Sailhamer, R.C. Sproul, Chuck Swindoll, Doug Wilson and James Dobson--Christian rocks who could and can be counted on to do what is right. And not just prominent men, brothers like Matt Miklovic, Mike Ahrendt, Jordan Daugherty, Jeff Schriner, Mario Dominguez, Kevin Clark... at this point I stop because there are just too many to list.
God is faithful. No sling of betrayal can penetrate the shield of His faithful love. God forgive me for shutting my heart to Him by failing to trust others. It is a good life to serve in His vineyard, a precious calling.
Finally, it must be said that concentrating on the betrayals of others blinds us to our own failures. I have betrayed even as I have been betrayed. Forgive me, Lord.