Warning those in the Church

I have the privilege each month of investing in other pastors. The concerns they share with me remind me of many things I’ve experienced and learned over 30 years of ministry.

A common theme I hear from other leaders is how often critics attack pastors and their Churches. I often encourage pastors to warn people about the consequences of standing against God’s work and servants.

There is an obvious difference between humble people who genuinely desire positive solutions to challenges in a Church and antagonistic individuals who take pleasure in causing strife and dividing people. I am not talking about necessary stands for truth but causing strife and divisions in unnecessary and destructive ways.

Sober words of warning

Consider these sober words to Church members who are behaving as antagonists: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (I Corinthians 3:17).

Wherever God’s work is flourishing, critics will be there to attack it — often from within the Church. These people feed on negativity and display a narcissistic need to find things wrong with God’s work and His servants. But I’ve repeatedly witnessed the ways God protects His work and servants.

But it sometimes seems like God waits until the hearts of the critics are entrenched before He stands against them – destroying them for trying to destroy His work. Scripture emphasizes God’s patience but also warns against taking it lightly (Romans 2:1-5; II Peter 3:9; Revelation 2:21).

Many of these people deceive themselves into thinking they’re defending righteous causes and they love to take others with them. These are individuals who use deceitful tactics to alienate people from each other — especially from leading pastors. They take strange pleasure in dividing people to draw a following for themselves or make themselves look better.

They use subtle accusations, ask questions with raised eyebrows, or resort to deceitful innuendo. They draw attention to the faults of others by subtlety joking about perceived weaknesses in them.

These are usually insecure people who look for ways to bring attention to the faults of others to make themselves look better. The will even lie (or, lightly shade the truth) to advance their cause or to make themselves look better. They tend to view leadership as competition for recognition.

Be warned!

Avoid the people Jude exposed as “grumblers and faultfinders” (Jude 16), especially those who “who cause divisions” (Romans 16:17) and promote “accusations against an elder” (I Timothy 4:19).

The apostle Paul ordered an early congregation to, “Do all things without complaining and arguing” (Philippians 2:14). To another Church, he wrote, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

    • “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud,… Do not be conceited (Romans 12:16).
    • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
    • “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel (Proverbs 20:3).
    • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

Be especially careful in your criticisms to make sure you are not promoting your own agenda and actually standing against God’s work and servants. God will dismantle you or take you apart if you try to destroy His work and servants.

Steve Cornell

Restoring dignity to Church membership

When people trust in Jesus Christ as the one who died for their sins and was raised for their justification, they are forgiven and pass from death to life.

Jesus stated it this way, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

At the very moment a person places faith in the Lord Jesus as personal Savior, he is united with Christ — by God— and made spiritually alive by God’s Spirit. Referring to this work of God, 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus…” and II Corinthians 1:21-22 says, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

This life and salvation is what we share in common when we come together as a Church. It’s the basis for our “fellowship of the Spirit” (Philippians 2:1-2). We share a common life in Christ! We belong to the same family as sons and daughters of Almighty God. We are the body of Christ in one local expressions of it on earth when we assemble. We belong to one another spiritually. Romans 12:5 says, “…we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

When we assemble as Church, we are the temple of the living God. This is one reason why those who disregard or treat lightly God’s assembly invite His judgment on their lives (see: 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 11).

Scripture does not entertain a sharp distinction between God and His people. What you do to them, for them, or against them—you do to, for or against God. (See: Luke 10:2; Acts 2:47; 9:4; I Cor. 3:6; Eph. 5:25,29; Heb. 6:10; Matthew 16:18, 25:40). 

What is true spiritually about our union with Christ must be demonstrated functionally in committed relationships of mutual ministry, interdependence and accountability among God’s people.

The idea of a Christian who operates independently of other believers is foreign to Scripture. It is God’s will that all His children be deeply committed, functioning parts of an assembly of believers who exist under the pastoral oversight of elders. This is the undeniable pattern and expectation in the New Testament.

Scripture requires that all who have been united with Christ be united with others who are united with Christ. Yet I am really convinced of far more! The church, of all places, should be a “congregation of the committed.” And her membership should be based upon commitment.

The deficiency in many churches is the casual procedure of adding new members without any challenge to commitment. Integrity in the membership process is the place to begin in restoring a high view of the Church. 

Most believers recognize the need for Christian fellowship. But the deciding issue is how we define the character of that fellowship. What should it be according to the New Testament?

“Fellowship is more than unconditional love that wraps its arms around someone who is hurting. It is also tough love that holds one fast to the truth and the pursuit of righteousness. For most Christians, the support side of the equation comes more easily than accountability and the subsequent discipline involved. Which is one reason the behavior of Christians is often little different from the behavior of non-Christians. Maybe it’s because we simply haven’t taught accountability. Or maybe it’s because, in today’s fiercely individualistic culture, people resent being told what to do, and since we don’t want to “scare them off,” we succumb to cultural pressures.”

“But too often we confuse love with permissiveness. It is not love to fail to dissuade another believer from sin any more than it is love to fail to take a drink away from an alcoholic or matches away from a baby. True fellowship out of love for one another demands accountability.” (Chuck Colson, The Body, p. 130)

“Christian community starts at the point of commitment and covenant. There is no genuine Christian community without a covenant… Christian community cannot exist without commitment to Jesus as Lord and to each other as sister and brother. And this must be more than a general mental commitment. It must be specific and explicit, involving our time, energy, and resources. Covenant is not just a nebulous commitment to each other; it takes specific shape in history.”(Howard Snyder, “Liberating the Church,” p. 127)

Integrity of membership process is the place to begin in restoring a high view of the Church. This should not be done with legalistic attitudes nor to have an assembly of the spiritual elite, but to approach Church in a way that is faithful to God’s plan for it.

“The refusal to grapple with the issue of entrance into the Christian church is not toleration: it is betrayal of the gospel which we preach…a surrender to Christ is a surrender to His people—total involvement in the life of the church.”

“The church’s determination to make membership genuine — even difficult — rather than nominal, is shocking and even resented by Christians of a softer inclination.” (Colson)

We live in a day when people take covenants lightly and take a far more causal approach to commitments.  So at Millersville Bible Church, we have made it our effort to approach membership consistent with what Scripture reveals about God’s assembled people. We view membership as a means for discipleship not just a hoop one must jump through to join the Church. 

Steve Cornell

Resolving conflicts among Christians

We must be realistic about our expectations of life in a fallen world. While conducting our relationships with humble integrity, we must not be unrealistic about differences and difficulties that threaten peace between people — even among those who care deeply about each other. This is a truth that must be taught more clearly in the Church.

Jesus clearly anticipated fractures in Christian fellowship and taught us how to resolve them (Matthew 5:23-24;Matthew 18:15ff). We should not be surprised by them but ready to seek reconciliation.

These fractures are very different from the many minor grievances that should be immediately covered in love (I Peter 4:8) or from non-essential matters that should never be permitted to cause conflict in the Church (Romans 14:1-3). Believers must be mature on such matters.

But when sin divides Christian fellowship, a Church must understand the difference between personal forgiveness and reconciling a broken relationship. It’s possible to forgive someone without offering immediate reconciliation. It’s possible for forgiveness to occur in the context of one’s relationship with God apart from contact with an offender (Joseph being a great example). Reconciliation is about restoring broken relationships.

Forgiveness itself is not whitewashing or pretending a wrong never happened when the offense has driven a wedge between people. Forgiveness doesn’t require us to neutralize our sense of justice. The very act itself takes seriously the offense. But forgiveness does involve a surrender of desires for revenge. As such, it is an act of worship in the presence of the God who forgives our sins because it acknowledges God’s sole right to punish the offender (see: Genesis 5:15-20Romans 12:17-21). Forgiveness thus frees us from grudge-bearing vindictiveness and conversely empowers us to love our enemies as God loved us (Romans 5:8).

Priority Scripture places on pursuing peace

  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace …” (Romans 14:19).
  • “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy …” (Hebrews 12:14).

What to do when peace does not seem possible

This depends on the nature of the situation. If the person is part of a fellowship of believers, we must follow Biblical mandates for protecting the unity of believers. The steps Jesus taught begin with private confrontation (after the personal preparation of removing logs from our own eyes, Matthew 7:3-5). If private confrontation does not remove the wedge, we move to private conference involving the offender brother and two or three others (enlisting those who are spiritually prepared (Matthew 7:3-5), spiritually mature (Galatians 6:1), and entrusted with spiritual oversight (I Peter 5:1-4Acts 20:28).

This only becomes necessary, if the one confronted has as obstinate attitude (Matthew 18:16). When a sinning member of the church refuses to heed the confrontation of a fellow believer, thus refusing to be restored to proper fellowship, the circle of confrontation must broaden to include one or two others.

Those called to be part of the confrontation do not need to be eyewitnesses of the sin (If they had been, they should have gone to confront the member themselves). Ideally, it would be good to include people who are known and respected by the erring member but this is not always possible.

The one or two witnesses are involved “so that every fact may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (v.16). Their purpose is not to threaten or intimidate, but to help the erring brother to understand the seriousness of the matter. Their main purpose is not really to evaluate the truthfulness of the charge, but to strengthen the rebuke and the call to restoration. After private conference, if the erring member remains obstinate and unwilling to acknowledge and repent of the sin, Jesus teaches a fourth step.

Each of the four steps has as its primary aim the restoration of the brother to proper fellowship. The fourth step is public announcement (Matthew 18:17a). Jesus said, “Tell it to the church (the assembly).”

This step is a sobering reminder that sin is not merely a private and personal matter for Christians. Sin that separates and alienates believers, must be dealt with and resolved. But how do we take this step of public announcement? In our church (due to size), we’ve sometimes handled this in the adult fellowship group the member participates in. Other times, we’ve communicated to all the covenant members through a special meeting of the membership. Some churches make these announcements during communion. Others will use a letter to the membership.

All churches should clearly spell out the process in their documents and seek agreement from the membership to follow it. This step also involves the fellowship in some kind of public confrontation. In Matthew 18:17b, Jesus implies that the church (as an assembly) has made an appeal to the erring member.

When the church is informed, (which reasonably implies that the pastors will be involved) warnings should be made about the need for the whole assembly to avoid gossip, slander and a proud or critical spirit (Matthew 7:3-5Galatians 6:1). Members should not play spiritual detective or allow either a lenient or a punitive attitude. They should be encouraged to pray for repentance and restoration, and to appeal to their fellow member to submit to the leadership of the Church. In such an appeal, one might humbly say, “I don’t know all the details, nor is it my place to know them, but I do want to encourage you to make things right with the church.”

No one should give the erring member the feeling that he is in good fellowship with the Church (cf. II Thessalonians 3:12-14). Never act in cross-purpose with the church. We should not do anything that would cause disrespect for the leadership. Remember the goal: “Win your brother.” It is redemptive!

The final step Jesus taught is public exclusion: removal from membership. The primary aim of this step is to protect the purity of the assembly (see: I Corinthians 5:1-11). Failure to practice these steps invites God’s discipline on the entire assembly (see:I Corinthians 11:30-32Revelation 2:5,1620-233:3-19).”

Steve Cornell

Listen. Learn. Live.

8 short clips from my daily programs on WJTL 90.3 FM

  1. What do you want your Church to be (Or, what does God say the Church is?)
  2. Antagonistic people (Warning about dangerous people)
  3. Loving another (A word from the wedding season)
  4. Leaving Your Church (Some guidelines to help you)
  5. Worldview: Can you explain a Christian worldview to others? Where would you start?
  6. Young Leaders: I am a little nervous for younger leaders going into full-time ministry.
  7. Attitude Check: Words to repeat before entering your Church.
  8. Elders: Counsel for Church leaders.

Steve Cornell

3 motivations for protecting unity

1. The prayer of Jesus

John 17:23 -Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

2. The passion of God

Proverbs 6:16,19 – “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: …. a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

3. The duty of the Church

Romans 16:17-18 – “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

Philippians 2:14-16a – “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…”

Jude 4, 16-  “Watch out for those who have secretly slipped in among you. These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.”

Steve Cornell

Don’t be alarmed by conflict

Mature perspective on conflict

The key to unity in a marriage, family or Church is not the removal of all conflict (that happens in heaven).

So instead of being unrealistically alarmed by differences and disagreements or dancing around them, we should view them as opportunities to mature in deeper and stronger love for one another (I Peter 4:8). When we avoid conflict or just enable others, we often postpone trouble for the future. God provides many opportunities (through conflicts) for us to practice the kind of love He demonstrated to us (Romans 5:6-8).

The key to unity is a deeply shared commitment to work through differences and pursue reconciliation based on God’s love for us in Christ (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1; Titus 3:3-7)

Make every effort….. (memorize these verses)

  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Romans 14:19).
  • Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy” (Hebrews 12:14).
  • Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
  • “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (offenses)” (I Peter 4:8).
  • “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).

 Love is anti-rivalry and peace-building 

  • “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Balancing truths

Short audio clips

Steve Cornell

Questions for Church leaders

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Are current and future Church leaders aware that professional opinion on the sources behind human behaviors and emotions has undergone a significant and relatively recent change? The authoritative voice on these matters has shifted from nurture (social context) as the primary source to nature (genes and brain chemistry).

The therapist or counselor now takes a back seat to the medical doctor. Therapeutic psychology has been unseated by bio-psychiatry and pharmacology as the reigning narrative for resolving emotional and behavioral challenges. Ministry training centers must equip students to understand and respond to this change.

How should pastoral counseling respond? How does the average person in the church understand life-change and spiritual transformation in relation to bio-psychiatry, pharmacology and medicine? 

To learn more about these changes, see my postPsychology, big business and theology.

Steve Cornell