Welcome, New Believer! In our last post, we talked about recognizing spiritual abuse that is happening all too often in our churches. It is certainly easy when you've been wounded in this way by a spiritual leader whether that is a Pastor, a Bible Study leader, a mentor, or an older Christian you once greatly respected, to become hyper-critical of all spiritual authorities in your life. Being watchful of your leaders is by no means a bad thing, let's just not forget that we too as Christians have been given a role of spiritual leadership to those around us and we ought to hold ourselves accountable to the same standards we set for others.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Matthew 7:1-5
Since this particular passage is so often quoted out of context, I'd like you to picture this word of "judgment" perhaps differently from how you've heard it used in the recent past. God is not telling you to suspend your discernment or "good judgment" of a person's teaching and character when He commands us not to judge, lest we be judged. We need to have that discernment in order to know when we're being led astray or have fallen into sin ourselves. Therefore, I would ask you to exchange the word "judgment" for the word "condemnation". In other words, we are to be very careful when we look at the sin in someone's life and declare them to be worthy of condemnation without recognizing the acts and attitudes in our own life that without the grace of God and the sacrifice of His Son we would absolutely be worthy of condemnation for. For this reason, we should come to our churches in a spirit of grace and understanding rather than one of condemnation.
If you see evil being said and done you should confront it, but looking for things to be wrong can lead us down a dangerous path. We don't want to be splitting the church over disagreements about the color of the carpet or whether the Worship Pastor's jeans are too tight. These things do not cause you spiritual harm... now if you're struggling with lust after the Worship Pastor then maybe that's a different conversation you need to be having with someone you can trust to help hold you accountable and pray that you wouldn't be falling prey to lustful desires, but you're not being abused by his or her wardrobe choices.
However, if someone comes to you to address a situation like this where your behavior is causing them to fall into sin and be distraught in their own conscience over something, then cease that behavior to the best of your ability around that person. Drinking alcohol in and of itself is not sinful, however, continuing to drink alcohol around a person who is trying to recover from alcoholism is absolutely sinful because you are not acting in love toward that person and you are causing them to fall back into sin when you should be building them up.
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Romans 14:13-19
Another great example of this that I experienced recently was with a new movie that came out based upon a Bible story but produced by a secular film company. The movie showed a few more sexual scenes and little more skin than many Christians were comfortable with and all over the internet you could find Christian women (some who I respect greatly) advising other Christians not to see this movie. Now I didn't witness any of the controversies until after going to see this movie and to be honest I did not have the same problems with the film that they did because of the context of the story -- a woman being redeemed out of prostitution because of the faithful love of her husband living out the Gospel message for her in her life so that she did finally turn to God to save her from the horrific life she had been forced into in childhood. The friends I went with also seem to share this perspective and I'm grateful for them. However, with the light of this understanding that some women are going to find this film and the book it's based on to be more than they wish personally to consume I would probably be a little wiser next time with consuming the content for myself first and being transparent with anyone I invited to see the movie with me so that they don't inadvertently fall into sin that I led them to.
The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14:22-23
Now in Paul's day he was speaking to Christians who were comfortable eating the food sold in their markets that had been butchered on altars as sacrifices to idols. Some Christians saw no power in the false sacrifice and were not convicted in their spirit about eating the meat, on the other end of things were Christians who had struggled deep in idolatry and could not separate the meat and the sacrifice in their conscience. Over this, there was great division in the church, so Paul advised them as you've read above not to let what they were consuming lead them into condemnation.
How then do we keep ourselves and our leaders accountable so we don't fall into spiritually abusing others and we don't allow abuse to continue in our churches?
Be in God's Word (pick up your sword) and face the challenges in your life and church with the Shield of faith that Christ demonstrated for us with His trust and obedience to God's Word. Maybe it sounds repetitive at this point, but that is the entire point of armor. You're going out to face an enemy that wants to destroy you and all the good that is being done to build the Kingdom! You wouldn't go without body armor, a weapon, and backup to a battlefield here on earth so why would you approach the battlefield for your soul any differently?!
Being in the Word of God won't just keep you aware of what it actually says in there so that you know when someone is adding their own spin to it or telling something is there that is not, but it will also lift you up and convict you in your own life. You will be amazed at the difference it makes when you begin handing over the temptations and struggles you face to God with the trust and obedience that Christ showed us in the wilderness and continued to model all the way to death on the cross.
Then there is your backup we're not going into this fight alone, there are thousands of Christians who came before us and faced these same questions along with many other challenges like the possibility of becoming a torch for one of Roman Emporer Nero's garden parties, yikes! As Christians, we are to build one another up and encourage one another. We are to do life together and fight these battles side by side.
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
Whether it is the leaders of your church or a member of your church, it's not about catching each other in one sin or another. It is about fighting these battles together so that we all grow more like Christ and finish the race well. For those times when we fail, God has laid out a way in His Word for us to approach those situations with grace and understanding. We're going to go over that process in the next post. In the meantime, remember that the world outside is watching how we behave toward one another as members of the church and how we behave toward our visitors. If you're a baby Christian, I'm sure you can remember a time when you looked at church-goers as some of the most judgey people on the planet. I'm willing to bet those weren't the people that eventually led you to faith... it was probably someone who didn't judge you for your sin and wouldn't be caught dead judging others for theirs. Remember the impact that witness of grace had on your life because now it's your turn to share that with others!
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35
Perhaps, most importantly of all as we love one another, we should be praying for one another especially our leaders that they would speak with wisdom and clarity and that they would be able to overcome temptation in their own lives. Right after we are instructed by Paul to put on the full armor of God in the very same sentence he tells us to pray for all the saints (the Church) and for him.
..., praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:18-20
May this prayer for wisdom, truth, perseverance, and boldness be the prayer we still pray today for all our brothers and sisters in Christ especially those who have been appointed in authority over us as ambassadors to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.
If you have more questions about what it means to hold yourself and your leaders accountable in the Church please place those in the comments. We would also love to hear from you in the chatbox if you're needing prayer about one of these situations in your church. I also highly recommend, as always, that you find a mentor in the faith that will help to walk you through these issues as you grow in your faith. This one journey you were never meant to take alone!