DON’T LET THE CHURCH DESTROY YOUR FAITH
by Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
WHO’S FOLLOWING WHOM?
Now I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by members of Chloe’s household, that there is rivalry among you. What I am saying is this: Each of you says, “I’m with Paul,” or “I’m with Apollos,” or “I’m with Cephas,” or “I’m with Christ.” Is Christ divided?
— 1 Corinthians 1:10-13a
The church does not seem to know what to do with divorced people, let alone divorced pastors. Well into our second generation of no-fault divorce laws, even pastors can get divorced through no fault of their own. When it happened to me, the church I had served with honor and distinction hastily showed me the door. My father’s warnings were duly noted.
A few dear friends and my four precious daughters were there, however, to commiserate with me while I waited upon the Lord for a better and brighter future. God led us to a new home, where the girls and I would grow even closer. A church starting over gave me a chance to start over with them, small in number but large in heart. New opportunities were given to me to teach young Christians and pastors. The Lord even threw in new golf clubs and a used white Cadillac. Life was good again.
But the best part of my new life was prophesied to me by my oldest daughter not long after the lights went out. With no animosity towards her mother, she assured me that God had a better life and a better wife waiting for me out there somewhere. One evening, at the most marvelous wedding dinner I have ever attended, She looked at me and said in front of everyone there, “I told you so.”
Andrea had lived through the same sorrow I had experienced. A faithful wife in her third decade of marriage, she was shocked and socked on the day her husband told her he was filing for divorce. Her children and friends gave her comfort and encouragement, and the day came when she was open to a new relationship. An online service had been recommended to her by a pastor, the same service I have recommended over the years to singles and those who had become single again in our churches. We both entered at about the same time, became each other’s first match and meeting, and wound up getting married the following year.
My best friend who himself was cast out of the Baptist church, the fellow pastor I caught going through my library during our rookie year, officiated the ceremony. Our six children stood by our sides. We celebrated with more wine than the wedding at Cana. Thus we began our life together in a small, faithful church, facing a larger church world that wouldn’t touch people like us with a ten-foot pole.
Mistreatment and disfunction in the church is nothing new. Just read 1 Corinthians. That early church had quickly devolved into licentiousness, while the problem in Jesus’ day and ours more resembles legalism. Either way, when the twisted rules of men carry more weight that the trustworthy word of God, the church is hurt and the church hurts people.
Let me recount the ways in which the church has almost destroyed my faith at virtually every count because prejudiced traditions were prized more than Bible-based doctrines:
Because a church followed the dictates of revivalists and dimwitted clergy rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ, I was suckered into getting baptized and given false assurance of salvation.
Because I believed the Bible is the inspired word of God, liberal members of my church tried to ruin my reputation and run me off.
Because I preached salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, conservative members of the next church did ruin my reputation and run me off.
Because I became a victim of the divorce culture in our country, the next church put me and my daughters out with no home, no job, and no place to go, in spite of their previous promises to the contrary.
Because I don’t condemn drinking as an outright sin and abide by other fundamentalist quirks and quandaries, my home church and pastor have literally written me off after refusing to help me in my hour of need.
Because I am divorced and remarried, I am still shunned by many other pastors and churches who refuse to acknowledge my ability and credibility to serve the Lord as a leader in His church.
In spite of all of this, Dad, I’m still in the church! Thank God my present little congregation and the Bible college I work with are biblical exceptions to man-made rules. They acknowledge that I am a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. They know that my conscience is held captive by the word of God. They understand that I want to chain the church to the grace of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. What can these other people and churches say? Where do they get their doctrines of the gospel, the Bible, salvation, and the Christian life? Who’s following whom?
Who said the church must offer some kind of invitation hymn at the end of public worship and tell a person to walk an aisle and pray a prayer to be saved? Did Paul, Apollos, Simon Peter, or Jesus? This was used to manipulate me as a child and used against me as a pastor because I wouldn’t use it. But if we are following the Lord Jesus Christ, then the church must preach the gospel and offer salvation the way He did. He gave Himself, then demanded repentance and faith. No false promises, just the guarantee of the cross. No gimmicks or tricks, just the gospel and truth. People prove their faith by following.
Who said the Bible is full of myths and man-made rules? Did Paul, Apollos, Simon Peter, or Jesus? That’s what many of my first church members told me, then tried to fire me for rebuking them and defending the Bible as the word of God. If we are following the Lord Jesus Christ, we must preach the word, submit to Scripture, and govern our lives and our churches by it.
Who said salvation is an election run by man, where God votes for you, Satan votes against you, and you cast the deciding vote? Did Paul, Apollos, Simon Peter, or Jesus? Yet that’s what church members told me in response to the preaching and teaching of the doctrines of grace, as they tarred and feathered me and my family in the process. If we are following the Lord Jesus Christ, then our doctrine of salvation must be taken from His word, not some mutated form of democracy that turns it on its head.
Who said it is a sin to drink a little wine or other spirited beverage? Did Paul, Apollos, Simon Peter, or Jesus? They said just the opposite! Drunkenness is certainly a sin but enjoying a responsible drink with family and friends can be done to the glory of God. Prohibition is silly legalism, abstinence is an honorable personal choice, and imbibing is biblically acceptable. If we are following the Lord Jesus Christ, we will follow His lead, let the Spirit and the word be our guide, and refrain from judging others.
Who said divorced people cannot serve in leadership positions in the church? Did Paul, Apollos, Simon Peter, or Jesus? Divorce certainly is a sin on somebody’s part, but sins that are forgiven by God should be forgotten by the church. Divorce is forced on some who do not deserve or want one, through adultery and abandonment, and the Scripture says such people should be given love and freedom instead of judgment, yet the church judges onward. If we are following the Lord Jesus Christ, we will take people on a case by case basis and not throw a blanket over everyone who has suffered the scourge of divorce.
I could address other issues as well, like deacon boards and business meetings and beating drums in the church. These have been used to beat me over the head as well. Many are the extra-biblical traditions that have been used to try to destroy my faith, just like my father said. But I am still standing. I want you to stand, too, stand for Christ, stand for the gospel and the word of God, and stand in a church that acknowledges Gods’ authority, not that of some uneducated pastor, power hungry deacon, or numbers crunching denomination.
I have the most awesome wife in the world and I thank God for our lives in the church. Both of us were divorced before we were married. We went out this past weekend, with one of our plurality of elders and his wife, and shared drinks before dinner. Sunday we worshiped the Lord with the manners and means He has prescribed. This week we will pray and read our Bibles every day, witness whenever we can, and pray that our children, children’s children, and all people everywhere will be saved.
We are not following Paul, Apollos, Simon Peter, Calvin, Arminius, Spurgeon, or Billy Graham. We are following Jesus. What about you? Who’s following whom?
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org