Sometimes they send their stories by email. But often the hurting ones approach my husband and me after we speak. People who begin talking in whispers, first glancing around the church, restaurant, or hall to make sure no one’s listening. Then, emboldened, their stories of slaughter spill out. And they’re breaking our hearts.
It’s not a full-scale slaughter we’re hearing about. I’d call them “sniper in the church” tales. But the result is the same: moral, emotional, financial, even spiritual devastation, perpetrated by fellow church members against other church members, including pastors.
We know about the snipers, of course. We’ve experienced them ourselves, during our thirty-plus years of ministry life. But during our last three years of travelling to churches of many denominations across Western Canada we’ve become more aware of the problem within the Body.
That the Church has enemies is not news. We’re told to expect them. We’re told to arm ourselves against them. We know they operate on the orders of the devil, even though they wear human faces. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that Christ-followers don’t wrestle against flesh and blood—but against (among others) spiritual forces of evil.
Every time I read that classic spiritual warfare passage, I’m always jerked to attention by the next few words, for where does Paul place those spiritual forces of evil? In “the heavenly realms.” In heavenly places. In, even, the local bodies of the Church.
Many Christ-followers appreciate their churches because, in a world rotting in corruption, they are perceived to be refreshing corners of love, support, and sanity—a haven from the rest of the world that helps equip us to be salt and light to the rest of the world. We feel safe in laying our armour down around our fellow believers. After all, we’re loved by those people who are part of God’s family. That’s what Christ prayed, didn’t he? That we may be known for the way we love each other?
But according to scripture, the walls—figurative or literal—of our churches aren’t a guaranteed safe place from attacks of Satan. It’s the Church he seeks hardest to infiltrate. That means that even in our places of worship, just as in the clearly dark places, those who follow Jesus must make sure we’ve got our spiritual armour on, and hold tightly to the shield of faith, which is our only defense against sniper attacks.
I speak carefully here. I am a child of one arm of Christ’s Church. My husband and I have spent our adult lives in ministry. Without the friendships and connections God has allowed us within it, our lives would be impoverished. Not only that, Jesus founded the Church. Died and rose again for the Church. God has called out the Church as his very own Bride.
But the Bride, quite frankly, has some catty bridesmaids, and they’re spoiling the engagement.
Call them what you will—controllers, well-intentioned dragons, misguided ministry leaders—our conversations, experience, and email tells us that the devil’s ruinous agenda is (and always has been) furthered by well-placed people worshipping alongside us within our congregations.
In an article I wrote for a major newspaper several years ago, I spoke frankly about the things that puzzle me about the Church. About the gap between what the Bible calls us to, and what we’ve become.
Responses to that article dismayed me. I received a few long emails from people—including pastors, who had been deeply wounded by fellow “good Christian soldiers.” People who were their friends one week—fellow worshippers, parishioners, pastors, Sunday School teachers—and their enemy the next.
To my amazement, a large mainline church asked for permission to make the article into a bulletin insert and a handout tract. I agreed, though not without sorrow that such a bundle of words was so eagerly received.
Somewhere along their Christian walk, the snipers in our midst have allowed Satan to convince them that because of their _____________ (superior walk with Christ, long history in the church, inside knowledge, education, position of leadership—you fill in the blank), they have a God-given mandate to shape their local bodies after their own images.
Whether it means scheming for leadership positions, beginning a smear campaign, outright confrontations, withholding of salary or benefits, rallying sides, fomenting for change or indoctrinating newer attendees regarding correct behaviour, the snipers are determined to sing Frank Sinatra’s signature song… “I did it my way!” And in so doing they become tools of Satan in his mission to disrupt and destroy the message of the gospel and the work of Christ’s Church, just as surely as this week’s earthquake wrought destruction on Christchurch, New Zealand.
Perhaps understanding the motivation of the snipers in our midst may help us deal with them in mercy and love. It suspect that if most were able to articulate the reasons for their behavior, perhaps it would sound like this: “I’m afraid that if everyone doesn’t act/believe/speak like I do, I can’t live out my faith the way God would want me to, and, even worse, God can’t do what he wants to on earth!”
But regardless of what Satan uses to drive them, the problem is that along the way people get hurt—and worse. Shot by their own fellow Christian soldiers. The battlefield doesn’t look pretty. Congregations split. Churches close. People lose faith. Pastors’ good reputations are slaughtered. Church members drag each other into court. God’s name is slandered. And though we know God has already won the battle, in those sniper-generated skirmishes Satan folds his hands and chalks up another victory.
Last night I walked into the living room as my husband watched the news of the recent unrest in Libya. I stared in horror at a line of soldiers laying face down on the ground, their hands tied behind their backs. Blood, in wide dark pools, puddled around them.
“What happened?” I asked, when I could get my voice back under me.
“The government asked them to open fire on the protestors,” said my equally horrified husband, “but they wouldn’t shoot their fellow citizens.”
Another report, also from Libya, stated that two helicopter pilots bailed from their bombers rather than follow orders to bomb a city held by anti-government forces.
Fellow Christian soldiers, take note. If even faithless soldiers are willing to sacrifice their lives rather than submit to an evil leader who demands they shoot into crowds of their fellow citizens, how much more should we do the same? We follow the One who is Life and Love!
Leaders of districts and local bodies, stop closing your eyes to the sniping in the name of “keeping peace” and deal wisely with the known snipers in your congregations. God gets no glory from a peace that carries the stench of death.
In the spirit of the Apostle Paul…onward, Christian soldiers! Pray ceaselessly. Love mightily. Act fearlessly. And for goodness’ sake, keep your armour on.
Strength and hope to you.