Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Here we go again

I heard some really discouraging and sobering news the other day, and I wanted to take a break from Greek instruction to share it with you.

A friend of mine just left the ministry. This is a young man who felt the call of the Lord, and committed his undergraduate education to Biblical Studies. His wife and he made an additional commitment to go to seminary, a decision that involved major sacrifice on their part. It was interesting, they said, to live with all the hookers in their town. But the rent was cheap.

And when his young wife's health continued to deteriorate, they move to another seminary to finish his education.

The point of all this is that we are looking at about six years of significant sacrifice. Six years. Perhaps more.

And then the time comes; they graduate, and move to their first pastorate. He lasted about four years, and when he and his wife couldn't take it any longer, he resigned and is going into some other area of work, and the church is robbed of a bright and passionate young man who deeply loves the Lord and wants to serve the people.

And what was the cause of this man's and woman's loss of a dream? Gossip.

They just couldn't take it any longer. The slander. The criticism. The backbiting. He concluded that the only people who can make it in the church must have thick skin. Gossip is surely the native tongue of the church.

Was my friend perfect? Of course not. Were there areas of growth needed? No doubt. But I know his passion. His commitment. His sacrifice (and his wife's). These are years and years sacrificed by two promising young people. Whatever happened to walking with someone? Encouraging? Challenging? Teaching? Modeling? Sharing burdens? Loving?

When are we going to learn? When are we going to preach Ephesians 4:29-5:5 and hold people to account? When will we view gossip and slander and criticalness as the dark and ugly sins that they are? While we do hold a few sins as really bad — I will let you fill in the blanks — I suspect that the sins of the mouth have done infinitely more damage to the cause of Christ than, say, adultery.

More and more I am going to the doctrine of the Remnant in order to understand the church. The true lovers of God are always a subgroup of the visible church. It was true for Elijah and Daniel. I strongly suspect it is still the norm.

Do I sound bitter and sarcastic? I don't think so. Realistic? Yes. Theological? Yes.

It would not surprise me to hear you agree that this is the problem somewhere else, but not your church. The people in my church, you might respond, are not like this.

My guess is that is what the Ephesian church thought. After all, they were the favored ones. Paul spent more time there (as far as we know) than with any other church. They were the beachhead for evangelistic outreach into Asia Minor. And yet they too fell prey to the wolves in sheep's clothing.

I am totally convinced that the church visible it its greatest enemy. I am confident that the prophecy of Acts 20:29-30 is paradigmatic of how Satan works.

And what is at stake? The lives of our young ministers? Much more than that. The very mission of the church is that we are to so love each other that those outside the church will see our love and be convinced that God the Father sent his Son into the world to make for himself a people of his own possession. It was Jesus' one prayer for you and for me (John 17).

And yet the evil and the sin persists. The critical backbiting and slander just don't stop. The sin is relentless.

When will we learn?


Hello brother, Having pastored for the better part of 2 decades I can concur entirely with your deeply held concerns here. I still pastor a church and this past year has been one of the worst for gossip and its ugly cousins. To paraphrase your final sentence, "When will I learn?" Well, I hope I am. We're growing spiritually as a result. But I'd like to offer another perspective that might help. For one thing, we moved to a system of eldership years ago in which i am only one of many men who now get gossiped about. Delegation, right? We love each other and can often do much to protect not only each other but our wives as well - who often suffer the worst. By protecting I mean first, mutually bearing each other's burdens. But second I also mean being aggressive - we ourselves confront those sinning, or help those in the church who are listening to slander to do the same. But for another thing - and this is my main point: your young friend is well-trained and likely qualified for eldership. But he is not yet able to love the church as Christ does and was in a position above his spiritual strength. And i just want to say that's fine - so long as he doesn't now take the role of the one who brings God's holy word week after week. If he steps into that spiritual role - well - there are many who want to tear him down and will be the tools of the evil one to try to do it. Encourage him to find a church where he might use all of his gifts and training in a support role. Help him to be a part of a group of men who understand that major aspects of ministry are battle with sin but who are jointly committed to loving the church as Christ does. And so in answer to your question, there is so, so much we can learn from his situation. Far more than we might at first imagine. In addition to leanring how to handle the sins of gossip, we can learn what makes for a servant qualfied to bring God's word, and also what qualfies as biblical polity and what is disobedeint to that which has been clearly revealed. I hope I don't minimize what I should learn here.

Hi Bill.  Curious about the dates:  this post was published within the last few days but has another date (May 1 2011) listed. My almost baseless guess is that you are showing discretion and delayed blogging about this matter for 18 or so months. I'm going to follow that guess up with this comment:  discretion and taking our time to publish (verbally or in some form of writing) is part of the opposite approach to this illness and sin of gossip/critical backbiting. From the Scriptural examples of how the apostles and elders met together to consider the question (Acts 15:6) to what I recently read about the story of the Synod of Dort (how the controversy with the Arminians took several years to be dealt with in an official capacity) -- and there are many other good instances I'm sure -- I think we can see that moving carefully and deliberately through steps (especially those the Lord himself gave for communicating with a brother about his fault Matt 18:15) is an important counterweight of our volition painstakingly submitting to Scripture, patiently following a godly procedure, a spirit of reconciliation and seeking harmony etc., compared to the temptation to savour our emotions and fleshy desires towards evil, exciting conflict, immediate gratification, doing what is right in our own eyes and so on, by shooting from the hip with gossip and critical behaviour. May I clarify:  the 4th last paragraph seems to suggest that the church visible is the greatest enemy of the church invisible.  Is this what you're getting at?  I'm not certain I agree it is the absolute greatest, but I think you've got a pretty strong point there that is worth taking seriously.