The Necessity of Pastors Growing to Spiritual Maturity

Some years ago I read the following remarkable passage from Charles Finney’s Lectures on Revivals of Religion in a church staff meeting from the lecture entitled, “On Being Filled with the Spirit.” The whole passage still bears being quoted in full, and being known to each Bible college and seminary graduate. In it Finney was speaking of one of the effects of being filled with the Holy Spirit:

“You will be often grieved with the state of the ministry.”

“Some years since I met a woman belonging to one of the Churches in this city. I inquired of her the state of religion here. She seemed unwilling to say much about it, made some general remarks, and then choked, and her eyes filled, and she said: "Oh, our minister’s mind seems to be very dark!" Spiritual Christians often feel like this, and often weep over it. I have seen much of it, having often found Christians who wept and groaned in secret, to see the darkness in the minds of ministers in regard to religion, the earthliness, and fear of man; but they dared not speak of it lest they should be denounced and threatened, and perhaps turned out of the Church. I do not say these things censoriously, to reproach my brethren, but because they are true. And ministers ought to know that nothing is more common than for spiritual Christians to feel burdened and distressed at the state of the ministry. I would not wake up any wrong feelings towards ministers, but it is time it should be known that Christians do often get spiritual views of things, and their souls are kindled up, and then they find that their minister does not enter into their feelings, that he is far below the Standard of what he ought to be, and in spirituality is far below some of the members of his Church.”

“This is one of the most prominent and deeply-to-be-deplored evils of the present day. The piety of the ministry, though real, is so superficial, in many instances, that the spiritual people of the Church feel that ministers do not, cannot, sympathize with them, The preaching does not meet their wants; it does not feed them. The ministers have not depth enough of religious experience to know how to search and wake up the Church; how to help those under temptation, to support the weak, to direct the strong.”

When a minister has gone with a Church as far as his experience in spiritual exercises goes, there he stops; and until he has a renewed experience, until he is reconverted, his heart broken up afresh, and he set forward in the Divine life and Christian experience, he will help them no more. He may preach sound doctrine, and so may an unconverted minister; but, after all, his preaching will want that searching pungency, that practical bearing, that unction which alone will reach the case of a spiritually minded Christian. It is a fact over which the Church is groaning, that the piety of young men suffers so much in the course of their education, that when they enter the ministry, however much intellectual furniture they may possess, they are in a state of spiritual babyhood. They want nursing; they need rather to be fed, than to undertake to feed the Church of God.”

It’s my hope that Finney’s words will be taken seriously; they were not offered then nor now out of any sense of spiritual superiority to anyone, but as an incentive for anyone who is now serving, plans to serve or has served as a pastor to go forward with God, to spend time in his Word and prayer and make sure that each sermon has been preached to oneself first and foremost and each prayer is offered seriously in reverent conversation with the God who is there, that each request offered in prayer is asked with serious desire for it to be answered, and that each person who seeks the help of a pastor may find someone who has sufficient spiritual strength and love to help bear the burdens to Christ.

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The Joy of a Forgiving Heart

David Brainerd had a victory of forgiveness in his own life that preceded his life of prayer and his powerful ministry among the Indians. He had been expelled from Harvard for a fairly mild criticism of a professor that was needlessly repeated by others. One of the tremendous victories of his prayer life was the conquest of his own disappointment and bitterness at the experience. Here are his own words at the consequence: “O it is an emblem of heaven itself to love all the world with a love of kindness, forgiveness and benevolence; to fee our souls sedate, mild and meek; to be void of all evil surmisings and suspicions, and scarce able to think evil of any man upon any occasion; to find our hearts open, simple and fee, to those that look upon us with a different eye!”

The path of forgiveness is a path to the joy of Christ.

Two Things To Be Considered with Dealing with Men in the Church

There’s been some writing lately about why men hate going to church; I haven’t read the book yet. There’s been a thought in the back of my mind on why some men may hate going to church which has nothing to do with church being for sissies (see Mr. Shame in Pilgrim’s Progress) in the estimate of some men. Has anyone seriously considered the possibility that some of the men who resist church involvement simply have never been saved?

I was involved in several churches during the 1970’s and 1980’s which did have a number of men who were enthusiastic in their involvement in church leadership and teaching, and yet were no sissies by anyone’s evaluation. They were also leaders in business, ran their own successful businesses or were in professions that would never have been considered a job for wimps. Yet they would pray fervently, could discuss scripture at length, share their faith with love and concern, and even join in congregational singing of the joys of salvation with gusto. They all had this in common: they had a testimony of salvation which was their own, and not a family heirloom or acceptable words which turn out to be borrowed from someone else’s experience of salvation.

What leads me to consider this possibility much more seriously is the memory of a number of unbelieving men in my college years and the years afterwards who were romantic impostors: they would use the words of Christian experience and make claims of involvement in a church or Christian ministry to win the heart of a Christian woman (usually quite attractive physically). Some of these relationships broke up, but some did not. Sometimes these couples began to drift away from church attendance and involvement. I would not be surprised, though, that some of these men might have well continued in that deceit for long afterwards, especially where their wives were strong enough spiritually to avoid drifting away from Christ and remained faithful to Christ and involved in his church. The professions of faith and church involvement by these men may have remained simply as a concession to keep their wives happy long after they had won the object of their desires. Maybe the call to them needs to be to come to Christ for themselves and develop an adult faith of their own rather than going through the motions to humor their wives.

I think that in these cases a pastor and church leaders need to build a relationship with the man so that they can be able to question him gently on his experience of salvation and his scriptural convictions. It may well be that they find that the man simply is a modern version of Mr. Ignorance or Mr. Talkative from Pilgrim’s Progress. The preaching and teaching of the church should likewise not assume that someone who is in attendance is actually a believer; showing up is not a scriptural indication of salvation.

Some of these men may nevertheless have a fear for what little religious reputation they may have; they may have played the game for so long that they could not face the exposure of their true state before the fellowship of believers. They may even fear the wrath of their wives if their deceit and the reasons for their deceit become known to them. They may even fear that if they let someone will gossip or crow about his being unregenerate and playing the game for so long – but after all, Christians never gossip about these situations or crow about it when they think they’re right do they? (Of course they do!) Perhaps what they need is an assurance that the responsibility for coming to Christ, confessing him openly without falsehood or deceit, and following him wholeheartedly is theirs and theirs alone. Certainly a wife who really cared for her husband’s salvation would be grieved at this deceit but glad if he truly came to Christ; her reaction – and the reaction of the church as a whole — should ultimately be joy and not wrath. Coming clean and truly coming to Christ in these situations should result in temporary shock and surprise giving way to overwhelming love and joy.

There is a second possibility beyond a man hating to come to church simply because he has never really been saved. The second possibility is that the man is leading a double life – one person at church and when with his wife and family, and another person when not there. Being in the church for more than a short time may seem too overwhelmingly convicting. I’ve been providing by my needs through secular employment for nearly two decades now, and had several jobs in secular employment in the years since then. It’s my observation that many men in the church can be very different people when they are at the church, with their wives and families, with other men and in the place of their employment. They may be clean spoken, charming and gentle in the first two instances, but hard, aggressive, deceitful and even profane and obscene in the next two environments. They may stand with believers in the church but on their job they may ridicule, exploit and slander them, and refuse to stand with them in situations which call for stands of honesty, integrity and compassion. My own impression is that their wives and churches would be quite astonished, ashamed and embarrassed if they knew the words and behavior of these men when they were with other men and on their jobs.

The Hateful Heart

Updated!

In reading I John this morning, it’s striking how much the aged apostle warned not only against false doctrine, but against false lifestyle. He defined false lifestyle not only as habitual disobedience but also as persistent and habitual hatred of another believer – another brother or sister – in Christ. See further such passages as I John 2:9-11, 3:11-15, and 4:19-21. Upon reflection, if I were again to be in the position of having to be the pastor of a small, struggling church, I would preach on at least one of these passages at the beginning of my ministry. I think now that one of the reasons that these churches become these small, struggling congregations is that there is at least one person with a persistently hateful heart toward other believers that is poisoning the fellowship.

It’s also striking to me how little preaching and teaching I can remember in the North American church that warns against the hateful heart. Yet there is abundant apostolic warning about it. In fact, the apostle Paul in Titus 3:3 describes the unregenerate life as one of living in “malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” Moreover, he places it among the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20. Yet, as far as I can tell, the average evangelical believer has probably heard more preaching and teaching that contain warnings about lust (that usually start with David’s midnight glance at Bathsheba) than even one on the terrible danger of the hateful heart. Unfortunately, this is normal when sin is treated as simply a matter of outward conduct, as not doing something which is socially embarrassing in modern evangelical circles. Unfortunately, the hateful heart is not something that can be overcome with the usual prescriptions of the modern evangelical self help tendencies. And I think that the abuse of others which has often gone unrecognized and unrebuked in the modern church may well be because of a failure to recognize this reality: the hateful heart is the malicious heart which is the abusive personality.

There’s a question that I have from all of this: Who left hatred off our list of sins?

For myself, I would say that the most serious and striking warning apart from the clear teaching of scripture to avoid hate another came from the account of Betsie ten Boom’s warning to her sister Corrie not to let her heart given in to hate, even as they lived through the horrors of Ravensbruck. It’s worthwhile to continue to read the book and show the movie of the Hiding Place even if only for that one warning. Warnings about letting hatred infect the heart also have come from Dr. Martin Luther King and John Perkins. Dale Galloway’s 1970’s book, Dream a New Dream, also contained a tremendous warning against hatred. And these warnings highlight one of the ways that hatred is spread, as a reaction to the hatred and abuse of another person.

I think that one big reason why there is so little warning about the hateful heart given in current preaching and teaching is that there is simply too much credit given to ‘good intentions’ among modern evangelicals. Yet this is the camouflage of choice for someone who is acting in persistent hatred: the claim to have ‘good intentions.’ So, here is what Solomon had to say about ‘good intentions’:

“He who conceals his hatred has lying lips,
and whoever spreads slander is a fool”

(Proverbs 10:18).

“A malicious man disguises himself with his lips,
but in his heart he harbors deceit.
Though his speech is charming, do not believe him,
for seven abominations fill his heart.
His malice may be concealed by deception,
but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly

(Proverbs 26:24-26).

So, in other words, scripture does not command believers to take someone at his or her word whose conduct demonstrates malice, envy and hatred, even if that person sometimes acts cuddly and charming, and claims to have ‘good intentions’ for the target of this kind of conduct. Rather, scripture here explicitly says not to believe the claim of good intentions. Rather, it’s reasonable to observe that genuinely good intentions most often result in  mistakes that can easily be repaired with a simple apology and clarification of a misunderstanding, not in long term, habitual malicious and slanderous conduct.

One of the reasons why hatred can infect a church is simply a failure and often a refusal to recognize the symptoms of the hateful heart. These are simply the persistent habits of hateful treatment of other people. Recognition of these patterns of conduct isn’t acting as the final judge on what is in someone’s heart, but rather recognizing what Jesus said about, “Out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). How can anyone make a credible claim to ‘good intentions’ for another person when they persistently subject that person to and instigate others to subject that person to:

  • Constant ridicule and mockery (what does scripture say about ridicule and mockery?)
  • Constant deceitful and malicious contradiction (what does scripture say about deceit, subterfuge, dissembling and lying?)
  • Constant spitefulness (what does scripture say about malicious conduct?)
  • Consistent display of disdain and contempt toward the target
  • Malicious stalking of the target to gather information, disrupt life and legitimate pleasures, and recruiting of other people to monitor the target and report on his or her contacts with other people and activities (this kind of stalking and spying is evident throughout the Psalms, and was characteristic of Saul’s hateful treatment of David and Tobiah’s attempts to outmaneuver Nehemiah)
  • Constant demeaning of the actual character and achievements of that person
  • Exploitation of life tragedies and known disappointments for further sadistic abuse (how often does this happen throughout the Psalms, that someone gloats over and attempts to exploit the afflictions of the Psalmist – to deliver cowardly kicks to a person when he is down?)
  • Slander of the person’s character and personality – (in this day and age, this may include slanderous attribution of mental illness or trumped up difficulties – malicious embellishment, exaggeration and fabrication — to give a false justification that the target deserves the hateful treatment – or it may include blaming the target – projection — for the actual sins of the person with the hateful heart).

Moreover, genuine Christlike love does not consist in words but in deeds (I John 3:18). In these cases of claims of ‘good intentions,’ the words are camouflage. The other words and deeds demonstrate the presence of a hateful heart, for “Love does no harm to its neighbor” (Romans 13:10).

It’s been my observation that churches which have a long term, stable ministry develop a way of dealing with people who demonstrate hateful conduct over a period of time. Hateful conduct has a way of spreading among naive and immature believers and hateful people tend to try to recruit others to their wicked schemes. Simple rebuke and correction, though, can often bring a genuine believer to his or her senses – something like, “I’ve been hearing a tone of contempt and disdain for this brother or sister in Christ when you talk about his or her ‘problems,’ and it seems like you are trying to darken his or her reputation more than be of genuine help. I think that you should spend some time praying for this person, and apologize for the way you’ve been talking about him or her behind his or her back” – though it takes some scriptural nerve and Spirit led conviction to do this. Sometimes, though, the hateful person and his or her henchpersons end up leaving of their own accord if over a period of time their conduct is rebuked and they end up not getting their own way – these are cases where their disappointments are well deserved, and the body of believers may charitably hope that they eventually learn from their disappointments. Sometimes – and thankfully, few times – it takes strong discipline and expulsion from membership by the elders, upon the basis that this hateful conduct is divisive and falls under the directions of Paul in Titus 3:10-11. Note also these scriptural directions of the fellowship of believers on how to avoid hateful conduct when it seeps into and poisons a fellowship:

Hebrews 3:13: “ . . . encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Hebrews 10:23-24: “ . . . let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

Hebrews 12:15: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Note that the bitter root or root of bitterness, as in the King James Version, is a person who leads others astray and away from the path of godliness; the term is pulled from Deuteronomy 29:18.)

Ephesians 5:6,11: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them . . . Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, who who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also will be tempted.”

The apostle Paul’s description of the hateful nature of the unregenerate person in Titus 3:3 describes two of the reasons that people find for hatred of others. Here are those two, with some others:

  • Dislike of something about that person. This can sometimes open admission of hatred for that person, that kind or class of person. This would include any kind of class or racial prejudice. In many cases someone may openly admit this in a milder form: he or she is a person or type of person “ . . . that I have problems with” – that expression should be a red flag and should not be glossed over if it is freely admitted, especially if it’s in a setting like a small group where others can counsel and pray about the problem of dislike and potential and probable hatred for another believer in Christ. The reaction of other believers to these kinds of statements should be in accord with Galatians 6:1 rather than a blithe tolerance.
  • Envy of something that the other person has in some way that the person with the hateful heart may feel deprived of. Again, Galatians 6:1 gives the appropriate reaction.
  • Vengeance for some perceived wrong done against oneself or someone that a person wants to protect, such as a friend or family member. The scriptural reaction is not to take vengeance!
  • Exposure of the sin of the hateful person by correction or simply by the consistent Christian life of someone who is following Christ with all his or her heart. The convicting words and sinless life of Jesus was the reason that he gave for the undeserved hatred dealt to him (John 15:18-25), and it can be behind the hateful treatment of a believer who is following Christ with integrity and love (I John 3:12-13).  If this is the reason why when a believer known for his or her consistent Christian life becomes the target of hatred, the presumption cannot be that he or she deserves the treatment – particularly if the treatment contains such insinuations such as he or she being such a ‘goody two shoes.’ While some believers may well be self righteous and ‘holier than thou,’ the presumption cannot be, in the light of scripture, that that kind of epithet is always justified. Moreover, a believer in Christ can expect this treatment from the backslidden in a church fellowship and the world without Christ in general.

Another of the characteristics of the hateful heart is overkill: the malicious behavior against the target becomes more pronounced, exaggerated and persistent than any of the excuses or justifications would warrant, and eventually it becomes evident that the hatred is all that there is behind the malicious behavior. It’s been my observation that this deep, persistent and self justifying kind of hatefulness is especially characteristic where the hateful person actually knows that there is no justification for the malicious behavior than his or her own hatred.

Here are some scriptural ways to dealing with hatred and the roots of hatred:

  • Forgiveness and refusal to retaliate (‘get even’) for genuine and perceived slights, hurts and injuries
  • Refusal to judge, especially in the sense of the unfair application of one’s own likes and dislikes, preconceptions and prejudices to another person
  • Contentment in what God has given, can give and may yet give as a barrier against envy
  • Prayer for the supernatural, Holy Spirit power to love as Christ has loved us (Ephesians 3:16-17)
  • Commitment to the way of loving others at all costs
  • Redirection of one’s hatred to its true purpose, to a hatred of sin, and the sin in one’s own heart first of all and most of all.

There are two final observations that I’ve found from I John.  The first is that the hateful are spiritually blinded (I John 2:11). Usually others will find that whatever comes from their lips that sounds spiritual and Biblical is second hand; it comes from listening to and stealing the words of another’s spiritual experience and Biblical diligence. In fact, reading the Bible for themselves and spending time in prayer alone with God is usually something repulsive to believers who have become enmeshed in hatefulness. Even more, pastors who become hateful grieve the Holy Spirit and usually end up destroying their own ministries, even if they don’t end up in scandalous sexual sin. Their preaching becomes a litany of mockery, ridicule and controversy, that entertains some and grieves away many others. What they have done is descended from being someone for whom the Word of the Lord is his delight to standing in the way of the sinner and sitting in the seat of the mocker (Psalm 1). Rather,scripture itself calls for turning away from all that is hateful to be able to receive the Word of God profitably into one’s heart and soul: “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (I Peter 2:1-3).

Finally, the most important observation and most serious for every professed believer in Christ: a hateful heart is eternal evidence against the reality of one’s conversion and a spiritual disease which testifies against the genuineness of a person’s regeneration (I John 3:14-15, 4:20). I would not mention this at all if it had not come with scriptural justification and apostolic authority. It’s one of the realities which the apostle John warned against, and it’s something that someone who takes the Word of God seriously in its plain sense must take seriously as well. This is something that I write with no pleasure and with all the seriousness that I can. It’s something against which a believer needs to fight with all that is within him or her through the power of Christ in the Holy Spirit, so that he or she does not allow hell to have an earthly outpost in his or her hateful heart.

This, then, will be one sign that genuine revival has come to a believer, a church or a number of churches: the purification of hateful hearts to the loving holiness and clarity of Christ.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Internships Gone Bad

In a previous post, I gave some ideas about seminary and ministry internships. I’ve since come across a good article in the Wall Street Journal entitled When Mentoring Goes Bad, which deals with situations that have gone sour due to both the mentor and the intern. There’s also a decent article entitled Benefits and Pitfalls of Mentoring.

While the subject matter in business schools and other venues which result in internships and other kinds of mentoring relationships are different than those in seminary and ministry internships, the problems which are described can happen in seminary and ministry internships as well. My counsel is that seminaries and Bible colleges do need to be involved more effectively if the internship runs into problems. It was little noticed during the mid 1990’s that two prominent corporate executives lost their jobs due to sexual exploitation of an intern about the same time as the Bill Clinton / Monica Lewinsky scandal. Certainly any kind of comparable sexual exploitation of an intern would call for intervention and discipline by the church elders, the denominational leaders and the appropriate faculty members of the seminary. But there are problems which the articles mention which are of a different nature than sexual exploitation. It would be advisable for denominational and educational leaders who are involved with promoting, arranging and overseeing ministry internships to be aware of these as well, and intervene where there is inappropriate conduct of the types described.

The Contemporary North American Church and Middle Eastern Customs

I live in an area with a large Arab population, and I’ve seen two customs that they have which are also reflected in the New Testament.

The first custom which also existed in the world of the New Testament was the head scarf. This is mentioned in I Corinthians 11:2-16, and long ago, when investigating this custom, I came to the conclusion that this was a common sign of a married woman and a sign of modest dress. This was why Rebekah put on the veil when she first saw Isaac, since it signified her acceptance of him as her husband (Genesis 24:64-65 – I think that the explanatory note in the NIV Study Bible is opposite to what the true meaning of the custom was). In other words, it seems to have been the cultural equivalent of a wedding ring in New Testament times. This custom should seem less strange to us in the West when we realize that the same kind of custom was commonplace in Biblical times.

The second custom is that men may show physical affection to other men by a kiss on the cheek or holding the hand of another man. For instance, General Norman Schwarzkopf, a man’s man if there ever was one, wrote how in his dealings with US allies in the Middle East he had to get over his discomfort to befriend the men that he had to get to know to fulfill his mission. And yet we may forget that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Matthew 26:49), a false sign of affection that was not wrong in itself, and that believers were admonished to greet each other with a holy kiss (I Thessalonians 5:26).

There are two lessons that I can find here. The first is that Jesus and the apostles would probably have been more comfortable and effective in sharing the Word of God with those from a Middle Eastern background than many of us may have been. The Old and New Testaments are largely set in a Middle Eastern milieu, after all. The second point is for us to know the Old and New Testament as thoroughly as we can, so that we can deal with the world around us as it is and get beyond our cultural blinders to deal with non-Western cultures and people. Maybe if we looked at those from a Middle Eastern background more from the point of how Jesus and the apostles lived and ministered, we would find more understanding, opportunities and effectiveness in ministry to them.