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THE SILENT WAR IN THE CHURCH

A Winnable War We Must Not Ignore.

by Larry Cory

 

THE SILENT WAR IN THE CHURCH
PART 1b
HOW ARE WE TO RESPOND TO THIS SILENT WAR IN OUR CHURCHES  

     Certainly, many others have had similar experiences to what I have had over the years.  We can be very busy in ministry and believe that our fellow Christians are all working hard toward the same goals as we are working toward.  In short, we believe that we are all on the same team.  We are, then, blindsided and shocked when we discover that some of our fellow church members are also busy, but they are busy working against us in some significant way.  It turns out that they are not on the same team with us at all; instead, they are opposed to us.  We soon learn that accomplishing their goals for what they believe is their church is more important to them than treating us in a loving way—instead of being humble, gracious, kind, patient, and caring toward us; they are judgmental, harsh, impatient, and/or cold-hearted.  For, that is what is necessary to happen for their political goals to be accomplished in the shortest amount of time.
     When we are treated in this way by Christians, it is hard for us not to feel that this is how God also looks at us.  Also, when people in the church turn against us, it is hard not to have that affect how we look at ourselves.  "Who am I, when even church people turn against me?"  We seek God's help, seek to respond in love,  and we make it through these times.  Life goes on.  But, it should not be like this.  The church should not be like this.  But much too often this is what happens in our churches.  Instead of beautiful family life, we have ugly church politics.
     Does this happen on a regular basis in churches?  No, it does not happen regularly, but even one time is too much.  Normally, we can have tensions over decisions in a church family, just like we have tensions in any family.  The difference between normal tensions in church family life and ugly politics in the church is when it goes from "we" working through things together to being an "us against them" mentality.  The next step that can happen is that the "us against them" group develops their own "groupthink."  When there is this type of "groupthink," only their view is allowed.  Other viewpoints are on the outside looking in.  This is followed by a coordinated political strategy by the "us" group against the "them" group.  This leads to all kinds of ugliness as the "us" group seeks to carry out their plans. (see James 3:15-16)  This all reflects very poorly, to our world, on the One who desires that we be one.
     This type of thing can and does happen in churches.  Though we are indwelt by God's Spirit, we can still be ruled by fleshly motivations.   We can become so focused on our own selfish goals, that we can be insensitive to how it affects others.  That is what Paul was writing against in Philippians 2:3-4: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." 
     None of us are finished products—we are not in heaven yet.  So, we who are Christians can still be fleshly and not spiritual in the ways we treat each other.  We, then, should not be surprised (though we often are) when other Christians treat us in un-Christian ways (or when we treat others in selfish ways).  Worldly organizations can get their goals accomplished by trampling over people.  Sadly, we in the church can also resort, for the sake of expediency, to also get our goals accomplished at the expense of some of the people in the church.  Political goals can become more important to us than loving each other.  We can skip such things as listening to each other, trying to understand each other, seeking to allow others to make their decisions freely without being pressured, and being careful only to do that which is loving and caring.  All of this loving behavior takes time (but love is patient" I Cor. 13:4).  But when organizational goals take precedence over loving each other, what will take place will be ugly and unnecessarily destructive in the church.
     We also need to be careful, though, that we do not react in a fleshly way to those who wrong us.  For Satan can also use our own selfish human responses to them to also accomplish his devious and divisive purposes.  So, we need to be very careful that we are filled with the Spirit so that we will not retaliate against those who are working against us.  The Scriptures are clear that we are not to return evil with evil.

     How are we, then, to personally handle this silent war in the church?  I wish that I could say that I have always handled it well.  There has been more than one time in 50 years of ministry when I have been crushed to one degree or another when I learned about some political strategy that was taking place behind the scenes that was seeking to undermine my place of leadership in ministry or another's place of leadership.  In II Timothy 4:3, Paul gives Timothy these instructions: "keep your head in all situations, endure hardship."  I believe that Paul gave Timothy these instructions because this was a weak area for Timothy.  It is also a weak area for me.  I must admit that I have not kept my head in all situations.
     It appears that Timothy was timid by nature.  The following verses support that view.

     The timid Timothy was like many of us.  We also can feel overwhelmed and helpless and find it difficult to stay composed and confident when we see that some have united to accomplish their political goals and it becomes obvious that they see us as an obstacle to those goals and aspirations being accomplished.  The political train is coming down the tracks and we can believe that we are helpless to stop it!  We can feel that we cannot do anything but make it worse, and so we freeze or react emotionally to the hurt that we feel; when we should be responding calmly, strongly, and gently.  It is a rare Christian, though, who can remain calm and composed when he or she is attacked by a group that is united in opposition to him or her, whom he or she once thought were his or her friends (see II Cor. 1:8-9).  Paul's instructions to the timid Timothy give us guidelines on the proper way to respond to these types of situations.
     We Christians have been given clear guidelines in the Bible about how we who are Christians are to treat each other.  We, while being filled by the Spirit, are to love and build up each other; we are to be kind and gentle with each other; we are to be patient with each other; we are to support each other; we are to be compassionate to each other, we are to confess our sins to each other; we are not to slander each other; we are to forgive each other; we are to encourage each other; we are to not force our views and opinions on each other; we are to be fair with each other; and we are not to be deceptive with each other.  There is no question that when we act in other ways than these ways, we are not acting in a Christian way.  How are we to act when our fellow Christians are fleshly and off-track from the way that they should be acting toward us?  We are to keep our heads and follow the guidelines that Paul gave to Timothy.
     Paul does not instruct Timothy to just take it and do nothing.  Nor does Paul instruct Timothy to let nature take its course.  Our normal response when we are up against strong opposition is fight or flight.  Listen, though, to the instructions that Paul gave to Timothy in II Timothy 4:2: "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction."  Here, we learn that keeping our head does not always mean being silent, it can also mean rebuking and correcting.  But, when we do it, we are to exercise "great patience."
     This can be difficult, particularly when we are in the minority or when we are opposed by a group.  Bullying does not just take place in the schoolyard, it can also happen in our churches.  I recently watched a video of a man teaching at a high school auditorium on how to respond to bullying.  He was referring to emotional bullying, not physical bullying.  He used two demonstrations to get his point across.  In the first demonstration, he allowed himself to be emotionally bullied by a young lady.  She attacked him verbally by putting him down heartlessly and in a number of different ways.  He said he was hurt by what she was saying, but she kept pouring it on.  In the second demonstration with the same young lady, he did not allow the sharp and attacking words to affect him.  He responded unemotionally to the caustic words, making unaffected responses to her.  He also changed the focus from her attacks unto something unthreatening to him or her.  In a short time, the young lady had nothing more to say.  
     Jesus did something similar when He was attacked by the Jewish religious leaders.  In Luke 20, the religious leaders of Israel challenged Jesus' authority.  He kept His head and asked them a question.  In Luke 20:2-8, Jesus demonstrates how to not allow bullying to work on us.  "'Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,' they said. 'Who gave you this authority?'  He replied, 'I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or from men?' They discussed it among themselves and said, 'If we say, “From heaven,” he will ask, “Why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say, “From men,” all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.' So they answered, 'We don’t know where it was from.' Jesus said, 'Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.'" (Luke 20:6-8)  He was ganged up on, but He kept His head and came out on top.
     How does this apply to us and to the church?  Jesus was totally secure in who He is.  The religious leaders were not a threat to take away His identity as the Son of God.  Few if any of us, when we find ourselves ganged up on, are as secure and calm as Jesus was then.  How do we handle a similar situation in the same type of way that He handled it?  How do we handle it when we are outnumbered by those we once thought were our friends; but who now see us as little more than an obstacle in the way of their political agenda?  How can we respond to these type of situations more like the way Jesus responded to them?
     The truth is that we can also be totally secure in who we are as Christians—we are in Christ and Christ is in us.  Our relationship as a child of God is not in jeopardy, the truth of God is not in jeopardy, and our eternal life is not in jeopardy.  The trouble is that we often do not really have a heart belief in who we are as Christians.  We need to grow in our own awareness and belief in our identity with Christ until we can so identify with Him, that we can share in His security as we face those who are attacking us. 
     What, then, are we insecure about?  We can let people determine our identity—we are secure and confident when we are liked by people and insecure and not confident when we are not liked.  For example, we can be insecure about where we stand with the person that is bullying us or the persons that are bullying us (or those that can be influenced by that person or persons).  We may also be insecure about a number of other earthly concerns.  In the time of Queen Mary of England in the 1500s, Christians were fearful for their lives.  Yet, many are recorded in Foxe's Book of Martyrs who went to their death standing up against error with both love and courage.  Consider Stephen's words as he was being stoned shortly before his death.  "While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell on his knees and cried out, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' When he had said this, he fell asleep." (Acts 7:59-60)
     We, then, must also choose what is most important to us.  Do we want to do what is right in front of God or are we most fearful of earthly concerns and of people and their opinions of us?
     This is an area where it is much easier to talk about than it is to do.  But there obviously is a need for those who will choose to do the right thing even when they face strong opposition.  Also, I believe it is easier for some temperaments to do this type of thing.  Some are more likely to do the bullying than to be bullied. Furthermore, some are more likely to take these type of attacks to heart than others.  But even those of us who are like Timothy are to keep our heads and do what is right in spite of the opposition.  None of us are to first test the wind of popularity and then only do that which is currently the popular thing to do.  We are to obey our Lord with great patience, even when it is unpopular with others.
     Can we be secure when we recognize that a strong person or a strong group are leading a church toward error; are acting in an unloving way; are being divisive; or are seeking to force their views on others?  Bible heroes and Christian heroes are those who stood for truth and love even when they felt all alone.  We think of people like Jeremiah, Stephen, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, and Abraham Lincoln.  By God's grace, we can be enabled to also strongly and in a controlled way take a stand when we believe a group or a strong individual is taking the church in the wrong direction.
     It is an area that we probably all need to grow in—keeping our heads in all situations!  We will not always succeed.  Paul himself failed. (see Acts 23:1-5)  David also failed in this area. (see Psalm 39:1-3)We need to grow in being successful in this area for at least two reasons: (1) If we are silent, evil and error will grow in the church without any opposition to it.  (2) If we correct what is wrong, but do it in an uncontrolled way, we will make things worse rather than make things better.  The disunity will increase rather than decrease.
     On the bigger question of how all of us in the church should respond to the Silent War in the Church, there is a need for leadership who recognize what is acceptable, loving, and right—those who respond to fleshly and un-Christian behavior in a united and Spirit-empowered way.  Often, in my past, when this type of un-Christian type of church politics started to take place, it was stopped before it had gone very far.  A strong leader or strong leaders recognized it for what it is and took a stand.  So, what could have become very ugly was stopped before it had gone very far.  One of the purposes of this book is to help Christians and church leaders to recognize it when a church war is just getting started.  As I mentioned, there have been a number of times in my experience where this type of intervention has happened (at times, I was a part of the intervention). When there is un-Christian bullying taking place in the church, there is a need for Christian leaders who will courageously take a united stand.  But we must do it in a Christian way.
     Paul's words to Timothy in II Timothy 2:24-26 describes the way that Christians are to act toward those who show by their actions that they are opposed to God's ways: "And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."

The Silent War In The Church

Table of Contents and Brief Intro Table of Contents
Introduction Introduction
The Silent War Inside our Churches - Part 1 Part 1a
The Silent War Inside our Churches - Part 2 Part 1b
The Silent War between Churches Part 2
The Silent War with Satan and his Angels Coming Sept 24
The Silent War can be Won by God's Love in us Coming Oct 1
The Silent War can be like the Wars in the World Coming Oct 8
The Silent War between a False and Coerced Unity and a True Unity Coming Oct 15
An Essential Requirement Needed for Ending the Silent War Between Christians Coming Oct 22
The Silent War Caused by Turning the Church into the Kingdom of Man and not the Kingdom of God Coming Oct 29
The Silent War within Each Christian Coming Nov 5
The Silent War in the Church with the World Coming Nov 12
The Silent War Over Divisive Issues Coming Nov 19
The Silent War caused by a Mysterious Invading Army Coming Nov 26
The Silent War Caused by Seeking Worldly Success Coming Dec 3
The Silent War Always Results in Persecution Coming Dec 10
The Silent War Caused when Godly People Divide Coming Dec 17
The Silent War Caused when Godly People Cause Divisions Coming Dec 24
The Silent War Caused by the Church or a Church Dividing over an Important Issue Coming Dec 31
When the Church is Winning Coming Jan 7
The Bible's Description of Victorious Soldiers in the Silent War - Part 1 Coming Jan 14
The Bible's Description of Victorious Soldiers in the Silent War - Part 2 Coming Jan 21
How Victory in the Silent War can Lead to Revival in the Church Coming Jan 28
Conclusion Coming Feb 4
Addendum: The Silent War caused by "the onlys" Coming Feb 11
Addendum: A Pastor's Authority by Ray Stedman Coming Feb 18
Addendum: Galatians 6:1-3 (my commentary on these verses) Coming Feb 25
Addendum: John Wesley's sermon at George Whitefield's funeral Coming Mar 4