By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC
I don’t need to go into details supporting my claim that Christians beat up their own, do I? I don’t nee
d to recall stories of those who have been shamed and cast out, fired, marginalized, verbally attacked, labeled, badgered, scolded, pressured, or rejected more ways that can be counted. Because you know the stories. Many of you have lived the stories yourselves or watched them unfold. And most of the time we are just dumbfounded, aren’t we? How could this happen? That didn’t make sense, or that was just plain wrong. What is going on?
Although this is certainly not an easy question to get to the bottom of, let me propose a few things to consider. The first is a concept that Jesus presented in his parable of the net, in which he said the kingdom of God is like a net that has good fish and bad. The point of the parable, I believe, is to say that the church is not the same as the body of Christ. The church is all inclusive, meaning everyone is invited, the believer, the non-believer and everyone in between. The body of Christ is made up of those who have made Jesus their Savior and committed themselves to him as their Lord. The point is that we don’t know for sure about those we fellowship with if they are in or not. Okay, so put this idea together with Jesus’ and the New Testament’s presentation of false teachers. Jesus said that if anyone would cause those who believe in me to stumble, (in the Amplified Bible it adds – by leading him away from my teaching) it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the sea. Paul has to deal with false teachers a few times in his epistles to the churches he planted. And he writes to his protégé Timothy and warns him about false teachers as well. In 1 Timothy 4 he says that some will abandon the faith and then says “such teachings come through hypocritical liars”. In 2 Timothy3 he says that “evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” In 2 Peter 2, Peter says, “there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies…” So, do you believe that these verses don’t apply to today? Or do you believe that they only apply to cults?
Now, I am not trying to cause a panic, and I am not suggesting we go on a witch hunt or look under every rock for false teachers. But I am proposing that they are out there and that I don’t know who is even looking for them? We were warned to look out for them. So, let me apply this before I lose you altogether. I believe one reason why Christians get mistreated is because some Christian entities are being led by false teachers. There, I said it. And I am not just referring to the odd outlier groups. I mean that there are likely false teachers among the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Non-demons, the Charismatics, etc. I doubt that the evil one has not infiltrated them all. So, if we are talking about false teachers, who by the way, may be confused, but honestly, when I read the New Testament passages don’t seem to be merely confused but are specifically bent towards being destructive, then why would we be surprised by the chaos that goes on in our churches and ministries? Why, because we have forgotten the warnings and have stopped looking for the enemy.
It goes well beyond the scope of this article to address this problem. Besides I can’t pretend that I know what to do about it anyways. The point I am addressing is how can so many Christians get beat up by others Christians and by churches and ministries. And one answer is because some of those doing the beating up are not actually our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let’s move on. Another huge reason for all the wounding that goes on from Christian leadership in churches and ministries has to do with a corporate perspective. What I mean is that nowadays Churches and ministries often think like a corporation and they are guided just as much if not more so by principles that are about protecting their interests – meaning protecting themselves legally, financially and in the public eye. Now, I am not claiming that there is no need for churches and organizations to protect themselves in these ways. For the evil one surely does want to topple or embarrass or undermine the Gospel and the progress of the Kingdom of God. However, can Christians resort to protecting good things in worldly ways and with worldly fears driving them? Ah, yeah! The result seems to me to be an approach that throws some people under the bus, while the leaders shrug and say, well, it’s what needed to be done.
My third idea is more messy and less clear cut. There are also plenty of times that when someone is wounded by the church or ministry, that there is error and poor conduct on both sides. A lot of times this gets started because someone made a poor choice or violated a policy. And the organization is trying to figure out how to handle it. And even when they are not led by a false teacher and even when they aren’t trying to just protect the interests of the ministry, things may be handled wrongly or poorly. Does this surprise you? Or did you not know that after one becomes a Christian that it doesn’t mean that he or she becomes incapable of being a jerk, or stupid, or lazy, or misguided, or jealous, or fearful or arrogant? Geez I hope it’s not just me! No, I’ve experienced other Christians, so I don’t think it’s just me.
These are of course issues that are not simple to solve. But it seems like there are too many good people getting thrown out with the bath water. Most of the time they have no advocate. And that feels really wrong, because the core of the Gospel is that we all needed an advocate. Maybe churches and ministries need to consider some kind of advocate ministry for situations like these? That a third party be brought in to look at both sides more objectively. Churches and ministries can do this better, if they would acknowledge that they are made up of fallible people who may need outside input, or who may need to step back from a situation. That, by the way, is also something that even the corporate world acknowledges needs to be done at times. If they are aware that people can be biased or petty or have ulterior motives or whatever, then why are we unwilling? That’s my thought on beginning to plan to take care of people better “and not just look to your own interests”.
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Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.