I’ve just finished reading an account of spiritual abuse at the hands of the leadership of a large church. Written with a level of grace, biblical-accountability, and a desire for reconciliation that can only be a product of supernatural love, the story made me indignant, then sorrowful and, at times, just bawling my eyes out.
Through all of the mess that this wife of a sacked pastor-elder endured, there barely seemed a moment when they stopped pursuing unity in the Body of Christ. Never a moment when they didn’t pursue peace as much as it depended on them. And a continued desire to honour the Body of Christ and submit themselves to genuine, biblical scrutiny for the purpose of repentance, correction, reconciliation and restoration.
What they received was nasty. Excommunication without cause. Shunning for the apparent misdemeanor of (maybe) questioning authority in what should have been a collaborative eldership working together to equip the saints. What played out was an absolute authority that could not be questioned without dismissal.
If there’s a kind of story to set the fear of God in a church leader, it’s stories such as this. It should do. That’s healthy. No church should deal with people in this way.
Amidst this heart wrenching trauma, the father of the woman (Jonna) writing the account—a man who was enjoying a tentative foray back into a community of faith for the first time in 40 years—said “Honey, this is just a good reminder that we cannot put our eyes on a man, but only on Jesus”. Everything in me was crying out for someone in leadership, in membership, someone somewhere to speak up. To man up (or woman up).
When all this is your prelude to reading Psalm 83, you read it very differently.
‘God, don’t stay silent,’ cries Asaph, ‘do something about all this evil.’
Do something about the the closed door meetings, the crafty plans, the ill will. Deal with them. Deal retribution. Deal consequences. Render impotent this sham authority.
That’s not where Jonna headed. She headed to Jesus. The only one who doesn’t disappoint. It didn’t remove the pain; it didn’t make the healing instant but, amidst the silence, she ran to the only one who never leaves or forsakes.
I often awake, as I did this morning, with some verses from Psalm 139 praying away: ‘Investigate my life and make me clean. Get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book before you‘.
It’s not prayed with self-righteousness but with a stark awareness of my sinfulness. It’s brought before the God who has dealt with my sin in Jesus. A safe place for transparency and honesty: the one who knows me better than I know me, and loves me outrageously.
Romans 5:3-5 is an antidote for Asaph’s Psalm 83 cry. It seems it’s the hope that Jonna clung to as well.
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
There are enough stories at the end of Jonna’s account to suggest that there are containers being gathered right now. There’s a beautiful healing work going on.
If you’re in a place where you’re crying out for God to stop the mess going on and speak up, run to Jesus. Seek Him first. Seek other brothers and sisters in Christ as well, but seek Him first.
(Originally published, May 2014)