When The Leadership of the Church Fails: The Sin of Silence

(Pastor Joe Staniforth) – Reposted from June, 2011

[This post by Pastor Joe Staniforth is more relevant now than it was eleven years ago]

[On June 6, 2011] I awoke to hear some tragic news. The Reverend David Wilkerson had been killed in a car accident in our own state of Texas. Although I had never met Wilkerson, you could say that I had grown up with him. At about the age of 12, I was absorbed by his ministry in the slums of New York, when I read “The Cross and the Switchblade.” In more recent years, I have been particularly inspired by his boldness to stand for truth. No matter how popular the questioning of truth may have been, he would not be silent. He spoke as one crying in a wilderness of heresy, and served to prepare us for the second coming of Christ. His dying words to the church are recorded in his final blog entry, “When All Means Fail.”: “Beloved, God has never failed to act but in goodness and love. When all means fail—his love prevails. Hold fast to your faith. Stand fast in his Word. There is no other hope in this world.”

In this first essay, I would like to focus on the title of Brother David’s last words, “When all Means Fail.” Though the contents of this essay may be dire, I assure the reader that there is great reason for hope. In the next essay, I will be focusing on the hope that we have if we “stand fast in His Word.”

Injustice has become common place in the 21st Century. Wherever we look, to the courthouse, the Whitehouse or the workhouse – your place of employment – we see such injustice. Systems designed by man to assure man that justice will be served have fallen short of expectations. Criminals go unpunished and the innocent are unrewarded for crimes against them. Men whom we have elected as Justices of the Peace have failed to uphold the promises that their title demands. All means of justice seemed to have failed us.

Many have turned to a denomination or a parachurch for solace. Like boats in a dark and dangerous harbor, cast about by the wickedness of the age, they have expected to see a lighthouse that would “hold fast” to the rock that is Christ – “the Holy One and the Just” (Acts 3:14). Instead, they have only found a “church” made by men out of mirrors. There is no light of divine justice going out, only a dark reflection of an unfair world. The lighthouse has become just like the courthouse, the Whitehouse or the workhouse. In the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness” (Isaiah 59:9). My dear friends, please understand, I take no delight in judgment. My heart weeps with prophets such as David Wilkerson who spoke these words with tear-stained eyes: “The hour is getting late and its getting serious. Does it matter to you at all that God’s spiritual Jerusalem, the Church, is now married to the world?” (“A Call to Anguish” by David Wilkerson)

Many false teachers have risen among us, and have served to corrupt souls, as criminals corrupt society. No one denomination or parachurch is immune. Christian universities, colleges and houses of worship have become contaminated with professors and pastors who simply will not “hold fast” to the authority of scripture. They would rather pump a humanistic gospel* into the minds of the young and unaware student, as the insubordinate serpent perverted the mind of Eve with his venom. They have no regard for God’s condemnation of humanism: “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man” (Jeremiah 17:5). I can only think of the abominable practice of sacrificing a child to the god, Moloch (Lev. 20:2) when a young student enters into one of these institutions. What is worse? A child that burns as a sacrifice to a foreign god, or a soul that burns in hell because he was deceived in a so-called “Christian” college? Are they not both the outcome of false teaching?

However, I do not believe that my grief is due to false teaching or false teachers. If you buy a dog, there is a certainty that it will bark. If you hire a false teacher, or invite one to a conference, you can be sure that he will bark his heresy. Furthermore, a dog will do other things that you will regard as revolting: “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly” (II Peter 2:22). The failure within the church lies at the feet of the leader who knows better, yet says nothing when a heretic howls or heaves his teaching. The man of God is not a Justice of the Peace who has been elected by man. He has been elected by the Just Judge to stand firm against foul doctrine.

When God warned the Israelites about sacrificing their children to Molech, there was a death sentence pronounced for those who did nothing, as well as those that committed this foul deed:

“And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not: Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people.” (Leviticus 20:4,5)

According to the law, “the people of the land” had a duty to ensure that justice was done when heresy reared its ugly head. Instead, many would “hide their eyes” like an ostrich with his head in the sand, and the demands of the law were not met. They knew better, but refused to act, and the justice of God was not served.

This justice must now be served by the leadership within the church. They are God’s chosen means through which justice must come – “to judge them that are within”! (I Corinthians 5:12). The Apostle Paul did not to put his head in the sand when he stood before the elders of Ephesus. He didn’t count his life dear to himself (Acts 20:24). He declared to all who would 3 dare to stand behind a pulpit to “take heed.” There would be two types of wolves – false teachers – that would prey on their flocks: Those that would enter the church from the outside (Acts 20:29), and, the most dangerous of all, those that would rise up among them from the inside (Acts 20:30) – the ones with sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). His word of command for all shepherds to heed – “watch”!

The word “watch” is not an inactive verb, indicating that the shepherd merely serves as the casual observer of wolves, as these four-legged heretics enter the fold to devour the sheep. A shepherd was called upon to put his life at risk when danger came. This was an indication that he loved the Church, “as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus told Peter, the first elder in the Christian church, that the love of God resulted in taking care of the sheep (John 21:16).

The young shepherd, David, served as an Old Testament type of the New Testament pastor. When the bear and the lion came and took a lamb from the flock, he did more than hide his eyes. He defended the sheep. This was his calling and his command. Also, these were his credentials (I Samuel 17:34) when he stood before the giant wolf, Goliath, on the battle field and rebuked him publically: “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom thou hast defied” (I Samuel 17:45). With his sling in hand and the faith of a true warrior of the Lord, he was used by the Almighty to bring about justice.

Nevertheless, there are elders who have failed the church. Their office walls are crowded with paper credentials, but they lack the courage to “watch” when the wolves come prowling. They would rather “hide their eyes” in the sand of meaningless duties, as the devil mocks the armies of the living God and lambs become open season for his pack of softly-spoken deceivers. This is not a time for faint-heartedness, in this age of great apostasy. The faint-hearted were removed from the ranks of Israel before captains were chosen to lead them. Such leaders were dangerous because they caused others to be faint-hearted (Deuteronomy 20:8.9). A faint-hearted pastor causes the flock to be faint-hearted when the wolf prowls!

The Scriptures have demanded that the leaders in the church, like Timothy, respond with personal and public rebuke (I Timothy 5:19,20; 2 Timothy 4:14; 2 Peter 2:15-16a; 3 John:9-10). This is the sling of justice that must be used on the battlefield, against the subtleties of the serpent, to bring his giants of academia to the ground. We cannot be in fear of their intellects, as the human mind can do nothing against the weapons of God that are not carnal. The “weapons of our warfare” are for “casting down imagination** and every high thing that exalteth itself against God” (II Corinthians 10:4-5). No matter how big and impressive “the fruits of their thoughts” and books may appear, the Lord will bring evil upon them, because they have rejected the wisdom of God (Jeremiah 6:19). Like Goliath, they have openly “defied” the Almighty! (I Samuel 17:45).

If such rebuke is not heeded, then there remains only one option – removal! False teaching is a spiritual harlotry that will corrupt the body of Christ, just as the human body is defiled by a promiscuous lifestyle. The prophet Hosea defined the harlotry of Israel as a “departing from the Lord” (Hosea 1:2). This “departing” was instigated by false teaching (Hosea 4). Paul was grieved by the church in Corinth because they kept company with fornicators (I Corinthians 5:11). To ensure that justice was done within the church, God breathed His command through the pen of the apostle: “put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (I Corinthians 5:13; see also Romans 16:17). As the head of Goliath left his body because his mouth had offended the Lord, so must the false teachers and their teaching be cut from the bride of Christ, lest she become defiled.

Many brothers and sisters, who have been grieved by the state of the church or have had loved ones deceived by false teachers, have pleaded with leadership.  Their cry for justice has been in vain.  Instead of rebuke and removal, they have received nothing but silence from those who have been called to watch.     

As a member of a group called “Concerned Nazarenes”, a group that is united by a common grief over false teaching, I have heard many heart-breaking stories from men and women who have been faithful to both Christ and His church.  This was the first story to capture my attention. 

Several years ago, a young man attended a Bible study in Southern California where I presided as a youth pastor.  He was excited about the teaching of the Word, and wanted to stay.    He had to return to a school known as Point Loma Nazarene University to complete his theological training.  After two years of liberal teaching he joined an emergent church with a gay pastor.  His grandparents were broken-hearted.  People pleaded with the administration for answers, but received only silence.  There was the usual politeness, but no one was held accountable for the soul of this young student. 

The stories are many, but the answer still remains the same – silence.  This epidemic of “hush-hush” has worked its way, like leaven, through the lump of entire denominations.   Anywhere from the local church to these academic institutions that train future shepherds, leaders who are supposed to be “separated unto the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1) have chosen silence instead of scripture.      

To the Silent Elder

Paul opened his mouth to warn the church, so that the blood of the bride would not be upon his hands.  He warned the church before the wolves came, but you have heard the wolves howl from lecterns and pulpits and said nothing!  Do you believe you will be acquitted with the blood of souls on your hands when you stand before Christ?  Do not neglect the warning of James: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is a sin” (James 4:17)

*The purpose of this essay is not to expose false teaching.  There are many fine apologists who have done this time and time again.  Just understand for now that in the heart of every false teacher there is a desire to elevate man to a status of a god.  This is accomplished by making God look more human, or man more divine.  The father of all false teachers first fed mankind this lie in the garden – “ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5) – and many have fallen prey over the centuries.

** Reasoning that is contrary to the Christian faith.