Two years ago, our family suffered a huge loss. We left the church that we had come to love and cherish. I had been a part of the worship team, our kids loved participating in Awana, my husband and I had grown to care deeply about our fellow members. I can honestly say that it was the best church experience that I had ever had. Everyone was genuine, authentic, and really loved God. We felt welcome and very at home, a family of believers.
The last two years we spent in this church consisted of a slow, gradual questioning. The pastor, who was an excellent teacher, probably one of the best I have ever heard, had been exposed to some new teaching on deliverance. He had felt greatly impacted by this ministry and methodically began to try and integrate some of his new beliefs into the church. It didn't begin with a lightning bolt or a thundering voice; it merely crept into things in the same way that water slowly seeps into every empty crevice it finds.
As a result of the teaching, the congregation was split into several groups: those who agreed with all of it, those who disagreed and felt there was no biblical basis for it, and those who were of a non-confrontational nature, unwilling to think too much about it either way.
Through a series of congregational meetings, that were set up as Q&A sessions, the church was informed that any new elders would be required to assent to this new doctrinal twist in order to be accepted as elders. Agreement on this teaching was compulsory. This agreement was also compulsory for those who wished to "officially" be a part of the prayer team that would be praying for people on Sunday mornings and during Wednesday night intercessory prayer meetings. All of this was couched in lengthy reassurances that anybody could pray for anyone else, and those who were in disagreement would not be looked down upon in any way. Whenever the pastor was questioned about the biblical basis for these new beliefs, he would avoid answering the questions, and instead suggest that the questioner stop by his office to go over it in more detail. He responded that way at least three or four times, refusing to give an answer in front of everybody.
Unease spread through the congregation as people began to watch what they said and to whom they said it, unsure if those they spoke with were in the "accepting" or "rejecting" group. Those who were non-confrontational made coffee and chatted about the weather.
Such tense, unspoken currents could only last so long before erupting.
Things culminated in the "discipline" of a church member who was asked to leave and not come back. He and the pastor had had many run-ins over the years. Most could be chalked up to completely opposite personalities and lack of insight into the other person's motivations. J. had been a vocal opponent to this new teaching, but he had not been rude or outwardly hostile.
We found out about his "ex-communication" the Saturday before it was to happen from other church members. Uncertain if something so outrageous could be true, I called the elder I knew best, who led the worship team I was a part of, and asked him if it was true.
"Yes," he said. "It is."
After a beat of shock and surprise swept over me, I went into full questioning mode. Why? How? What did this mean?
If he had said, J. is an adulterer....an embezzler...an abuser, or anything else that would allow for the biblical steps of church discipline, there could have been a chance that we might still be at our old church. The Bible allows for casting out a member who is in unrepentant sin, with the qualification that they would be welcomed back if they chose to repent. However, there was no sin that they could provide for justification. He and the pastor simply did not get along, and the pastor had become so focused on his love for this new teaching, that he was willing to take this drastic step to remove J. as an obstacle. He was never offered any return of reconciliation.
I asked my elder friend, in a very frustrated, panicked voice, "Do you realize that families will leave over this?" I thought, "Surely, they just haven't thought this through. They'll change their minds if they think about it."
His response was that they were OK with that. WHAT??!! They were OK with splitting the church over the unbiblical removal of a member.
We knew we couldn't stay. We got up the next morning and somberly dressed and ate breakfast. We prayed that by the time the service was over, they would have realized the folly of this decision and decided against removing him. They didn't.
At the end of the service, one of the elders stood up and read a prepared statement from our pastor. It was very diplomatic and went on and on about how the relationship between these two men was beyond repair, and yet they wished him well....yada, yada, yada. It was disingenuous and untruthful. We stood up and walked out the doors, never to pass through them again.
It was like a brutal divorce, one you didn't want, but couldn't prevent. I cried for months as we visited churches, singing songs with strangers that I once sang in worship with people we knew and loved. I went over and over everything in my mind, wondering if we made the right choice. Time and time again I would come to the same depressing conclusion, that we couldn't have made any other.
The church had veered into some dubious teachings, but we could have worked through that. After all, no church has a congregation that is in 100% agreement about every doctrinal tenet. But this decision to remove a man with no defense, no just cause, and the willingness to sacrifice the loss of many other people for it, was more than we could bear. We had lost trust in the leadership; these men who we knew so well. If they were willing to assent to our pastor's wish on this issue--to further his agenda--then where would it stop?
The church split. Many of the members who left wound up at another church, simply by chance. It was larger and easy to hide in as we licked the wounds of our heart.
I turned inward and withdrew from God; not really God, so much as trying to discern His hand in the mess we had landed in. I was having difficulty understanding how someone I had known and trusted, someone who was an incredible teacher, could have deviated so far from God's Word and taken such drastic action to achieve the effect that he wanted. It messed with my head.
All I could remember was the parable of the wheat and the tares.
God sowed good seed. His adversary sowed bad seed. They grew together until it became evident what had happened, but it was too late to fix. The good and bad were intertwined. Removing one would kill the other. The fate of the wheat was bound up with the tares; intricately tangled roots, offering a loving embrace from one, a death grip from the other.