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“If anyone destroys God’s temple…”

A while back I lamented the state of unhealthy churches, including those within self-identified fundamentalism. That post touched a nerve, apparently saying what many others are thinking. I grieve that some assemblies have no vision for evangelism, no passion for worship, or no heart for genuine spiritual transformation. Often these fatal flaws reveal themselves in a preaching ministry that is focused less on the exposition of Scripture than on the reinforcement of standards or the entertainment of saints. Though it’s a strange term, I think there is an “Ecclesiastical Darwinism” at work. Churches that aren’t spiritually healthy (philosophically, corporately, and individually) will dwindle, even as the more “fit” advance. Part of that’s just reality: sheep will eventually migrate to shepherds who care for them. But part of it’s more “top down”: Christ threatens churches that don’t honor him with the extinguishing of their light (Rev 2:5).

That said, it also grieves me when the body is hurt by its own members. Christians young and old are far too willing to cause trouble in the local church. Some make phone campaigns against the pastor. Some depart loudly, pulling others with them. I’ve even known of a former member seeking vengeance by sending a letter to a potential donor urging him not to support a church. I’d be scared to death to do such a thing. Literally.

Yes, there are times when you must work with established leadership (within the bounds of Scripture and the church’s Constitution) urging spiritual reformation. And yes, there are times when the only feasible answer is departure for a more likeminded church. However, before dropping a bomb on your way out the door and before urging others to join you in your exodus, remember that the local churches which the New Testament addressed as the treasured possession of our Savior were shockingly flawed. Despite the church’s many shortcomings, Paul still condemned divisiveness as a sin worthy of discipline (Titus 3:10-11).

Nowhere is Scripture’s warning against hurting even a flawed church more evident than in 1 Corinthians 3. The problems in the Corinthian church are well known to us in the twenty-first century and were scandalous even to unbelievers in the first century. Nevertheless, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 gives a warning which I urge you to consider. Having reminded believers that they are “God’s temple” (corporately, since “you” in verses 16-17 is plural), Paul warns them against “destroying God’s temple” (v. 17). What’s that about? Essentially, he says that hurting even a flawed Christian assembly—in context, especially by schism—is like spraying graffiti on the Old Testament temple. Attacking the local church is like taking a sledge hammer to the holy place. Sowing discord in the flock is desecrating the Holy Spirit’s home. It’s unthinkable, and God will destroy the one who does it (v. 17). These are hard words, but they are necessary. We need to be too scandalized—and even too scared—to lift our hands or voices against Christ’s church.

Again, there are times when you need to leave a church, whether you’re a member or a pastor. Be slow to do so. Be prayerful. Be humble. Be helpful, especially if the leadership of the church desires to move in a biblical direction. But if you eventually need to leave, do so graciously and quietly. If others need to arrive at the same decision, allow the Lord to bring that about. He’s certainly capable. Don’t have the splitting or splintering of a church on your record and conscience. Even one like Corinth.

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10 Responses

  1. Good post, Chris. It is a good reminder that even the “best” churches have flaws because they are made up of flawed people. There is no perfect church because there are no perfect parishioners or perfect pastors. Perhaps you could develop the “ecclesiastical darwinism” concept a bit further. I have heard it said that “fed sheep don’t stray.” That would seem to fit with what you are saying.

    Discord among the brethren, division within the body, or however you want to term it is devastating to a church. People are out to build coalitions against someone else, being Satanic in their intentions (remember Satan is described as taking with him 1/3 of the angels), dragging people with them into discontent, discord, and division, and perhaps even their destruction (sorry, i know how you feel about alliteration :-) ).

    I take refuge in the truth that Christ said he would build his church. My role is to be faithful in my preaching/teaching and to love the sheep. May God help the sheep to follow the Undershepherd, and may God help the undershepherd to faithfully feed the flock of God among him.

  2. Great article Chris. I have been thinking about this very subject for a year; we had an attack on our church both from within and without at that time. Simply put, you can’t mess with the bride and expect the groom to be happy about it.

  3. Well spoken.

  4. Chris,

    Thanks for an excellent post. And Matt, thanks for a memorable summary!

  5. Good article, Chris. It was a good reminder for me. I believe many churches are facing “defections” from church members who become too easily disgruntled with things. Church has become about them rather than the Lord. I know that many in churches have difficult dealing with people who leave their assembly. Do you have any recommendations on how to treat individuals who have left a church in the wrong way or for a wrong reason (in my opinion)? It is easy to feel betrayed and hurt by individuals who were once close to you and now seem to stab you in the back (or at least your church’s leadership in the back), especially those who try to take church members with them. I think it is important to be biblical here, too. I know how I want to treat these individuals and I also know what I think to be the biblical way of handling them. I guess I am just looking for confirmation of what I believe to be right.
    Thanks,
    Kevin

  6. How do you as a pastor deal with people who come to your church after having left another church in the area because they’re disgruntled about something? I know this kind of thing happens a lot, and I wonder how pastors deal with it, amongst themselves and with the people who are switching churches.

  7. hmm . . . Corinthian heart issues.

    I just worked our way through I Corinthians 1:10-17 last Sunday morning.

    We will be in this book for a while.

  8. Excellent point. My wife and I once had to leave a church and we did it in the manner you wrote about.
    We as Christians have to remember that it is not all about us. It’s All for Jesus. We must decrease so He can increase.

  9. Of course, we all have self-serving propensities…but do you think churches have also shot themselves in the foot via the whole “seeker sensitive” movement? In some ways, isn’t it communicating and encouraging “It’s all about me”? KWIM?

  10. […] “If Anyone Destroys God’s Temple…” Very convicting, not the usual take you see on this passage. […]

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