10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.—The words of the Apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 1:10
As the Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post implies, the standard mode of behavior for believers in Christ, in their interactions with fellow believers, must be one of “agreement.” Agreement requires a common foundation—a common view of the “Truth.” I use a capital “T” because I’m intending to reference the immutable, unmoving, unwavering Truth that springs forth from God through His written Word. This is the Truth that the Holy Spirit communicates to our hearts when we read the Bible.
So, agreement comes about as a result of a common foundation of Truth. But, it also arises only when genuine trust is present. A lack of trust guarantees that no agreement can exist between believers. We simply cannot “agree” with people we don’t trust.
A very insightful blog post crossed my desk yesterday:
Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And suspicion?
The fruits of the Spirit included on this list should look pretty familiar to anyone who has spent time in a church. So should the final item—even though it’s certainly not a fruit of the Spirit.
It doesn’t take a new Christian long to discover that the church is full of damaged people, healthy wheat and toxic tares growing side by side. If a church leader is of the toxic tare variety, those affected by the leader’s poisonous words or deeds have to find a way to reconcile the sinless life of the Christ they follow with the hurt and confusion they’ve experienced as members of His body. To move forward, many of us re-brand our innocence as naïveté and our newly minted sense of suspicion as wisdom.
With these words, Michelle Van Loon begins her most recent blog post for Christianity Today magazine on-line. Ms. Van Loon has zeroed in on a significant problem in many churches among many parishoners: a lack of trust.
Unfortunately, as Ms. Van Loon carefully explains in her blog post:
Those who stumble while representing or leading us from the platform inject visible new reasons for creating a culture of suspicion in and about the church...
My own leaning toward suspicion was honed after more than a decade where it seemed that my family and I went from one disastrous church situation to the next, including a porn-addicted, adulterous pastor whose secrets were known and safeguarded by his leadership team, a church that split in the wake of a wicked firestorm of unchecked gossip, and a congregation paralyzed by the effects of staff nepotism...
My damaged trust was a perfect breeding ground for suspicion. I relied on that suspicion to shelter me from further possible hurt from church leaders, and called my cynicism wisdom. The patient example of some faithful friends and family members helped me discover that godly wisdom leads to greater trust in Christ and the courage to again trust his people. This trust continues to heal those old wounds in ways that suspicion never could...
Ms. Van Loon’s blog post has brought conviction to my own heart and mind. For some time now, I have stated that “I will never trust any pastor ever again!” And, I have also stated: “I will never again trust any church leaders—especially church leaders who do not meet the Apostle Paul’s criteria for leadership listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:5-9.”
Like Ms. Van Loon, I have very solid reasons for making these statements. My dedicated and self-sacrificing involvement in a church—and being forced out of my volunteer position after five-and-a-half years of faithful service—has subsequently led to three-and-a-half years of intense emotional pain. Not only have I experienced abusive treatment, but I have watched dear friends receive abusive treatment from the pastor and leadership of this church, as well.
I have hardened my heart toward ever again trusting pastors and church leaders. But now, the gently sharp point of Ms. Van Loon’s blog post has disturbed the deeply layered shell of self-protection I have built around my heart:
Increased trust does not mean we turn a blind eye to sin, mute the Spirit’s discernment, or clobber common sense. When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, heal and deliver, he told them, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).
We’re left with a choice when we’re hurt and disappointed. We can set up camp in suspicion’s cul-de-sac, convincing ourselves that we’re still on that narrow path. Or we can exercise the trust that says to God, “Yes, I will continue to follow you” and takes a leap of faith in the form of a single step forward, toward restored relationships and believing the best about our siblings in Christ.
Will you pray with me?
Thank You, God, for loving us. Thank You for sending Jesus to be our Savior. Thank You for sending us Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us.
We acknowledge that worshipping among brothers and sisters in Christ who have fallen in sin—even as we have fallen in sin—makes us part of a family that needs to always strive toward the wholeness and release from dysfunction that You so generously long to give us. A part of that wholeness must come from trust in You that will, in turn, breed trust in our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We turn to You for help, Precious Father, knowing that You can heal the hurt that binds our hearts. Even while we continue to take a strong, unwavering stand against sin within the Body of Christ, we also ask You to release us from any sin in our own lives that stands as a barrier against fellowship with other believers.
We ask You to work a miracle of Your grace within us. Help us rebuild a healthy trust for those who have proven worthy of that trust. Make us unshakeable in our spirit by securing us to the foundation of Your perfect love. Urge us along the path of obedience You have laid out before us. Help us to act toward others in the same way that Jesus would act toward them.
Thank You for Your watchful care for us. And, thank You for hearing our prayer in and through the precious Name of Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.