While driving around this morning, I listened to the Michael Youssef radio broadcast. It was primarily from the book of Jude, and was on the subject of how apathy on the part of Christians allow abominable heresies and sins to gain creeping acceptance first into the church and then in the culture. (Though he did not mention it explicitly, the subtext of Youssef’s presentation had to do with homosexuality.) However, something that Youssef stated as an illustrative point in his larger presentation captured my attention because it reminded me of the long string of ecclesiastical scandals that are occurring both locally and nationally.
Dr. Youssef recalled the story of the children of Israel’s first – and abortive – attempt to enter into Canaan, the land that God had promised to them. The pastor put an interesting spin on this narrative that highlighted the importance of leadership of God’s people, and the exceedingly negative consequences that are borne not only by the leaders themselves but also the flock, the ekklesia, those being led, when the leaders of God’s people fail to live up to their responsibilities. According to his exposition of events, Israel could have – and should have – marched right on in and possessed the land, but instead, according to his words “first they had a planning meeting, appointed a committee, and conducted a feasibility study.” Now I won’t get into the larger issues raised by his somewhat creative exposition, for instance whether Moses himself was at least partly to blame for this failure, or whether contemporary Christians should simply “go by faith” instead of relying on prudent human planning and such; instead I treated his remarks as being “self-contained” within the sermon with no further or wider application. But even in that limited scope of reference, one thing can be drawn from it that does have a wider application: that the twelve spies appointed by Moses (the pastor) were placed in positions of leadership (let us call them deacons) over Israel (the church).
And keep in mind, deacons and other spiritual leaders are supposed to be chosen because of their qualifications and fitness. They are supposed to have a knowledge of the word of God, faith in God, spiritual maturity, stable lives, good families, well-run households, and excellent reputations all maintained over a long period of time. Why? Because if someone is placed into spiritual leadership unqualified, that greatly increases the chance of their failure, and as the failure of the spies, or deacons, in this matter of the people of God standing at the crossroads between receiving fulfillment of the promise and reaping death because of their faithless forbearance in the desert, illustrates, the failure of such leaders has very negative consequences for the church, God’s elect.
How? Because TEN OF THE TWELVE SPIES FAILED. They rejected their knowledge of God that had been given to their people and handed down through the generations. They doubted the witness of this same God after He crushed Egypt and delivered them. They suppressed the belief in this God that gave them water and manna in the desert. They abrogated the covenant that God had made with them at Sinai, and they despised the very same God who showed them mercy and spared them at the intercession of Moses after their sin with the golden calf. These ten spies came back with a false, lying report that the promise of God was a lie, the word of God was to no effect, and that they should turn and go back from the promise of salvation and return the way that they had come back into sin lest they be destroyed by the obstacles and trials in their way! And that is the irony. Egypt and Babylon in the Bible are often used to represent sin. And the wilderness that they were wandering in? It was called the wilderness of Sin, named after the very same moon god that Muslims worship to this day. Israel appropriated the name of this false deity and made it into a generic term that applies to all acts of rebellion against God’s word, or “sin”. So, these ten deacons told Israel that the way to safety was to go back into sin! They came back with the common thinking of our time, which is to choose “the devil we know” to the unknown, to stick with the distorted sense of happiness in the past and the false sense of security in the present to pressing on to what God has promised us in the future!
So, these ten failed deacons, in a very real way, were among the first false teachers or false preachers dispensing spiritual error. Like worldly wise man in Pilgrim’s Progress, they were telling the faithful to depart from the path that God has commanded and to turn aside to another one, one that according to human thinking is preferable, more easy, more rational, more sensible. It is the path that allows us to reject the promise of a better eternity in favor of riches and other pleasures or desires now. Or maybe it is the path that encourages us to reject salvation by faith in a God that we cannot see or comprehend in favor of some system of false faith plus works that we can tangibly grasp, count and measure. Or perhaps it is a path that teaches us that we have to be part of the world so that we can influence it, change it for the better, and be more effective ministers and evangelists in it instead of accepting the consistent commandment of Scripture that we are to be holy, that is separate from the world and its evil and carnal things, as our God is holy. Or maybe it is yet another path that teaches us that the way to be holy is to be monastics and thereby reject Jesus Christ’s commandments that we are to be IN the world but not of it.
And what happened? The children of Israel LISTENED to the ten deacons. They rejected the two faithful deacons who gave the good report and urged them to believe God’s promise, to stay obedient to God’s word, and that though the way may be dangerous and difficult and require many sacrifices and much hard work, that ultimately their God would prevail on their behalf. Instead, they went after the bad deacons who gave them information that sounded logical, rational and sensible to their human thinking and conformed to their own experience of failure before sin, of failing to live up to God’s standard and pretending that there is saving virtue in compromising with “second best.” They convinced themselves that God’s way was too hard, and that God would understand. After all, “we tried.” We “gave it our best shot.” They were utterly convinced that either God would give them some sort of accommodation for their weakness, or that they would find a new, better “god” who would! And that is precisely what the false teachers and preachers are offering today: a more accommodating deity that is utterly false, the invention of man’s wicked hands and corrupt faithless hearts.
And you know the result of their listening to the ten deacons. Not only was the receipt of the promise given to God’s people delayed by 40 more years, but every single one of those people – or at least the adult people – who listened to those failed deacons perished in the desert of Sin. Realize this: in a true, explicit and real sense, not merely in a spiritualized metaphorical or allegorical one, THE PEOPLE WHO LISTENED TO THE BAD SPIRITUAL LEADERS DIED IN SIN! And as those who listened to false teachers died in sin in that time, so will happen to those who listen to false teachers today. But that is the warning to the followers. What about the responsibility of the leaders?
Now I do not wish to acquit the followers of their responsibility. They too had been handed down the oracles of God by their forefathers. They too had seen the might of God in Egypt and His provision in the desert, and they too had been made God’s covenant people at Sinai. And also, they too had heard the report of the two good spies, the two faithful deacons! So what of them? I suppose that the free will Christian will say that the assembly made a free will choice to disobey God. I suppose that the Calvinist will say that the assembly made such a choice because they did not receive the necessary faith from God that was required to obey His Word. Whichever option (or any other) that suits your theological system, it begs the question: WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED HAD THE BAD DEACONS INSTEAD BEEN GOOD SPIRITUAL LEADERS AND DELIVERED A GOOD REPORT AS DID THE OTHER TWO?
The answer: we really do not know. It is easy to presume that the children of Israel would have at least made a foray into Canaan (but even that is not definite) but who knows what would have happened when these faithless, stiff-necked people encountered the first bit of difficulty. It is possible, and indeed likely, that the national failure caused by these ten wicked leaders only delayed an inevitable later failure. (The Exodus narrative does hint at this, incidentally, as when the children of Israel first left Egypt, God was careful not to lead them into battle against other nations because He knew their hearts and didn’t want them to give up.)
But this is what we do know: if nothing more than on an external, superficial and surface level, the assembly stumbled because the failure of the ten deacons who gave the bad report. The ten deacons, appointed in their positions as they were, failed in their positions, and as a result caused people to stumble. And what does Jesus Christ say about those who cause people to stumble? “It would be better for them if a millstone were hung around their necks and they were thrown into the sea!” And keep in mind: Jesus Christ in His statement did not make any equivocations. There were no allowances for the Calvinist who says “well, that person who stumbled wasn’t predestined anyway.” There are no allowances for the Arminian who says “well, that person had a free will choice between right and wrong and chose to follow that false teacher.” Instead, regardless of the individual responsibility of the person who follows the Christian leader into error and falls, the Christian leader who fails is still responsible for his failure, and for leading others into failure!
And that should be a sobering thought, for we know the great punishments that the Bible declares for Christians who lead other Christians into error. (For those who know not of what I write, please first familiarize yourself with the dire judgments of Jesus Christ in the gospels against the Pharisees and scribes, and then please familiarize yourself with the pastoral epistles: 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.) And because of this, Christians not yet in leadership should be careful and faithful. Do not offer yourself for positions of leadership – or accept any leadership offer made – if you do not meet the requirements set forth in the Bible (said requirements can be found in the pastoral epistles). If you are already in a position of leadership but do not fit the requirements, resign immediately. Do not view it as a failure, but instead as a spiritual success: evidence that you love the commandments of God more than you love the power and privileges of your position. Instead of being satisfied with your rewards on earth for serving in a position for which you do not merit, you are setting your sights on your rewards in heaven for obeying God’s word, and will prosper in your way and works all the more!
And for those who are legitimately in leadership: stay vigilant. Resist temptation so that Satan will flee from you. You must both be faithful and true in exercising the duties of your leadership position so that you do not cause people to stumble AND remain vigilant so that you will continue to remain qualified to be a leader. The evil one attacks both and does not care whether he is able to undermine one or the other. By taking a discerning look at the Christian landscape today, it is self-evident that as much confusion and harm results from sound teaching and good works emanating from Christians occupying leadership positions that they are Biblically unqualified for as it does from Christians purveying false teachings. Also, it should be said that the unqualified Christian leader who initially adheres from the truth will – as a result of the combination of his lack of fitness for his office and the increased temptations that come as a result of his inhabiting the office – will at some point succumb to error.
Also, if you are a pastor or head pastor: be careful who you put into positions of leadership. Through prayer first and then with all other resources you have at your disposal, only fill offices for people that are fit for them. Also, do not hesitate to remove people from their positions once they prove unfit. Again, go back to Moses in this example. While being careful not to draw firm or deep conclusions – for instance something that would firmly or specifically accuse Moses with error in this matter when the Bible itself does not – what would have happened if Moses had appointed 12 good deacons in this matter? Or what if he had sent only the 2 good deacons and not elevated the other 10? (Yes, it is better to be “understaffed” with fit people only than it is to be “adequately staffed” with a mixture of fit and unfit church officers, as the narrative of Gideon, specifically when his tiny band defeated a large army of Midianites, demonstrates … compare Gideon’s victory in that matter to the defeat of Israel’s army due the sin of ONE MAN, Achan!) Please recall: as a result of the failure of the ten bad spies that Moses sent, that Moses had to spend 40 years in the desert with those wicked people. And as a result of the provocations of those wicked people, Moses himself sinned, and himself never entered the land of promise. Though his not being allowed to enter the Promised Land should not be viewed in the same context as those who perished in the wilderness, we can still take from the example of Moses that when Christian pastors appoint unfit people, or when they allow unfit people to remain in their positions, it is not without consequences!
Be not deceived: God holds His pastors accountable for the leadership that they provide. It is impossible for a pastor to try to distance himself from or “pass the buck” concerning an unfit leader that he either appointed or refused to remove from office: far be it from a pastor to attempt the same sort of “buck passing” that Adam attempted when confronted by God for Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden.
In conclusion, being in a position of leadership in the church is no light matter. One only needs to take a look at our Christian landscape, and then refer back to the warnings to several of the churches given by Jesus Christ in Revelation 2 and 3, to see what happens when the issue of church leadership is taken in such a trifling manner. Christian leaders – and followers – should take the corrective measures given by Jesus Christ in Revelation 2 and 3 and also given elsewhere in scripture to heart and also apply them in our own practice. In this matter, we are not to deceive ourselves in being hearers of the Word of God only and thinking that our hearing is suffice, but instead we must be doers of the Word of God, keepers of what the Word of God says. For God’s judgment begins not in the world but in the church, and in the awesome, terrible day of God’s judgment, who will be able to stand? Let us take heed of what God’s Word commands concerning what He requires of His leaders so that when the day of God’s judgment comes, we will not be found wanting with regards to this matter.
Prayer point 1: Please pray that our pastors are called by God, that they execute their own offices and affairs wisely and Biblically, and that they appoint and retain deacons that are fit to serve.
Prayer point 2: Please pray that our brothers and sisters who receive offers to serve would pray, examine themselves according to the Bible, and only accept if they meet God’s standard. Please pray that those who are presently serving while unfit would obey God and cease serving. Please pray that those who are serving while fit will continue in their fitness and their faithful service, and that God would protect them from the snares and devices of the evil one.
Prayer point 3: Please pray that our brothers and sisters in Christ that are not leaders will – in a Godly, Biblically faithful manner – reject and refuse to follow leaders that are unfit, and pastors who knowingly appoint unfit leaders, and refuse to remove unfit leaders from their posts.