Earlier this week in the Scripture Union daily devotional, the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, was the scripture reading for the day. In the commentary section of the devotional, the author wrote the following:
“This passage, then, shows us the role of wisdom and discernment in protecting the church. Christians can find it hard to challenge others because we do not want to appear negative or judgmental, and it is always difficult to go against the crowd. How can we make it easier, then, for people to express hard truths in our churches? Do we know who among us has gifts of discernment and wisdom (1 Cor 12:8,10) – and are they given a voice? As we are in a spiritual battle, can we really afford to be lacking such a vital part of our defense?”
Wisdom and discernment.
These gifts should be operational in every church. Discernment is needed to determine if what is being thought and taught in the church is in accordance with Scripture. Wisdom is needed to take the principles of Scripture and apply them to the church in a particular culture at a particular time.
But, sadly, I have been in churches where these gifts are not allowed to be exercised. I have experienced sitting under pastors who felt that they were the final authority and were, by nature of their position, entitled to “cast a vision” for the church.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira illustrates the need for correction to take place in the church. If we believe what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4 concerning church leaders, we understand that God will arrange for elders to function as shepherds and teachers to keep the body of Christ on track.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”Ephesians 4:11–16, ESV
So, I suggest some questions for my readers can ask when evaluating a church.
- How does the elder board respond where there is disagreement on an issue?
- Do they allow wisdom and discernment to be practiced?
- Do they let the one with the concern voice it and then search the Scriptures to speak to the issue?
- Is the elder board seeking God together in prayer over the issue?
- Are they waiting on God to bring unity over the issue?
Or, does the pastor or some minority group of elders browbeat and harass the one with the concern until he either resigns from office or simply acquiesces? For a church to be healthy, the pastor must (this is not optional) allow all the gifts to be operational. Even the ones that challenge him.
If we believe Jeremiah when he writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV), we then understand that we are all in need of correction at times. Because we have the tendency to go wrong, we have a seemingly infinite capacity to misinterpret Scripture to fit what we want it to say. Pastors and elders are not an exception and those of us in leadership need to allow our fellow elders to regularly challenge us to examine our opinions in light of Scripture.
Unfortunately, a seminary education can make us better at convincing ourselves and others that we are right, even when we’re wrong.