Jesus warned us that there would be people in our churches with improper motives for being there. For example, I point you to the parable of the wheat and tares.
Since the Reformation, we make a distinction between the visible church and the true church. The visible church is all those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. The true church is those who have actually responded to Jesus by placing their faith in him.
We cannot see the heart of our fellow church members and it is not our job to determine who is a tare and who is wheat. The point of this distinction is to be aware that not everyone in the church is a true follower of Jesus.
I have been in churches where someone has great influence in the church but at the same time has less than pure motives for how they use that influence. This can be rather disconcerting to both leaders and members of the church.
There have been problems in the church from the beginning 2000 years ago. Many of the letters of Paul were prompted by the need to address disruptions in the church which were caused by those who are likely in the category of tares.
If you are seeing someone cause disruption in your church, I would like to share a few thoughts that might encourage you through the process.
We see the problems addressed in 1 Corinthians played out over and over again through church history. I believe it was Malcolm Muggeridge who said that new news is old news happening to new people.
Keep in mind that none of this takes God by surprise. I believe that God allows disrupters in our lives to show us our need for continued regeneration. In other words, the disrupters tend to bring out our worst which we can then bring to God for healing and change.
Along these lines, some verses in Ecclesiastes were in the scripture reading this morning at the church I attend. I found that they encouraged me and seem to speak to this issue:
“In such circumstances, I saw the wicked buried. They came and went from the holy place, and they were praised in the city where they did those things. This too is futile. Because the sentence against an evil act is not carried out quickly, the heart of people is filled with the desire to commit evil. Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, I also know that it will go well with God-fearing people, for they are reverent before him. However, it will not go well with the wicked, and they will not lengthen their days like a shadow, for they are not reverent before God.”(Ecclesiastes 8:10–13, CSB)
The writer of Ecclesiastes laments the fact that wicked people come and go from the holy place as if God somehow is OK with their wickedness. Along the same lines, I am often surprised by the boldness of those who promote error in the church.
But we also are reminded in this passage that the people that cause problems in the church will ultimately have to face their creator to give an answer for their behavior. Jesus told us that there are dire consequences for those who lead others astray. We can be confident that by leaving the disruptors in God’s hands, they will ultimately either be changed in their opinions and behavior or be condemned if they persist in their error.
But I also feel that I should issue a challenge to church leaders. I have witnessed the damage that occurs when the leadership of a church does not step in to place limits on the disruptors.
While it may seem gracious to allow those with unbiblical views to continue in their error, it is ultimately damaging to the people we are called to lead and protect. Those who promote error tend to prey on the weakest among us. For the sake of the weakest, the error must be addressed.
I feel the need to point out that the best way to prevent the spread of bad theology is to teach good theology.
The passage about the millstone also applies to leaders who do not protect those over which they have been given charge.