“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20, ESV
Before we can respond Biblically to power-players in the church, we must be able to recognize power-play for what it is, and we must be able to resist the temptations of reacting to it in an unbiblical manner. In one sense, recognition and resistance is passive response. However, responding Biblically to sin in the church requires more than discerning recognition and passive resistance, it also calls for loving confrontation.
Not every situation in the church is going to warrant confrontation, and in some circumstances, we are not able to confront the problem as directly as we would like. However, when we can, we will do well to help a brother or sister in the Lord turn away from behavior that harms the church and grieves the Holy Spirit. The following are four steps to responding Biblically to power-play in the church.
- Take responsibility personally and corporately to deal with sin. The Word admonishes us, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1 ESV). Of course, we must mind our own ‘p’s and ‘q’s first, but then we must be willing to make efforts to restore a brother or sister caught in sin. This takes prayerful confession of personal sin, humble vulnerability, and genuine love for the person that we are confronting.
- Reason frankly with your brother. Leviticus 19:17 says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.” This verse goes right along with the New Testament admonitions for conflict resolution among believers (See Matthew 18:15-20; Luke 17:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:15). I choose the Leviticus reference for this point because it emphasizes the truth that reasoning frankly with an offending party is a means to preventing bitterness from taking root in our hearts. We really do need to reason with our brothers and sisters when we are attempting to deal with issues of sin. We need to have concrete examples of sin patterns that the Scripture clearly identifies as sin, and then we must be willing to explain our concerns in a logical, sensible CALM manner. The New Testament teaches that ‘reasoning frankly’ with a brother should first be attempted privately and always in a spirit of meekness.
- Allow time for the seed of frank reasoning to germinate in the soul of your brother or sister. If after a reasonable amount of time, you see no change of behavior or attitude, the command of Christ requires that we attempt to confront the professing brother or sister again. The second confrontation should be handled as the first, except we are to take another believer with us (See Matthew 18:15-20). This step, of course, will require that we speak to another believer in the congregation about what we are seeing. In and of itself, it is not gossip or slander to talk about this sort of situation with another believer, but we should be careful that we do not use the necessity to share the details of the circumstance with another believer as an opportunity to sin.
- If still, the power-broker is unrepentant then we have no choice but to bring the offense to the church. The way in which we do this will differ from church to church. However, it will likely require bringing the situation to the attention of the leadership of the church and following their lead in the specifics of dealing with the situation from this point forward. Lord willing, all of this will ultimately result in the repentance of the erring brother and the return of harmony to the fellowship (Matthew 18:15-20).
It may be that the power-play is an issue within the leadership of the church. That is tacky and complicated. This is not a situation with which I am, personally, unfamiliar. If this is your situation, I want to encourage you – you are not without recourse. There is yet a higher court to which you can appeal. When Abraham appealed to the Lord on behalf of his nephew Lot, he asked, “…Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25 ESV). The obvious answer to his rhetorical question is, “Yes! He certainly will, in His own time and in His way.” Until then, we wait. We wait prayerfully, hopefully, humbly, and with wisdom (Luke 18:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:13; James 3:13-18; 1 Peter 5:10).
I close this post series with a quote from the 1689 London Baptist Confession. This passage was of great consolation to me when over a three-year period my family was tried in the fires of dealing with power-play in church leadership structures. At the height of our difficulty, my husband and I were counseled by our denominational pastor to read Psalm 55, 56, and 57 together each night. For several months we prayerfully read those Psalms, and they were of great comfort to our souls. But it was this quote from the 1689 that God used most to keep us committed to our church family, despite the very real temptation to throw in the towel and give up on the organized church.
“No church members, upon any offence taken by them, having performed their duty required of them towards the person they are offended at, ought to disturb any church-order, or absent themselves from the assemblies of the church, or administration of any ordinances, upon the account of such offence at any of their fellow members, but are to wait upon Christ, in the further proceeding of the church.” (1689 LBC, Chapter 26, Article 13)
This is the last article in a four post series.
Part 3: Responding Biblically to Power-Players