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Courage in the Church: A Tale of Four Cities


BY DAVID BOVENMYER

Personal holiness always pays off. So does collective holiness, which is actually no more than the individual holiness of many. Of all the tests of holiness, perhaps the hardest, is the test of disciplining those within the church who are divisive and slanderous. The following are four real-life exarnples of collective holiness — testimonies of the remarkable dividends discovered by four churches who faced the test of dealing with division and slander and as a result were blessed by God.

In 1973, a new church was started in Columbus, OH by two Christian leaders. It grew steadily the first year, but, before the year was over, a “mature” brother arrived on the scene and quickly became involved in leadership.

According to one of the original leaders: “Indeed, he had some good qualities. But the quality of peace-loving, yieldable wisdom described in James 3 13-18 was certhinly foreign to him. This became increasingly obvious to us.

“In time, it became apparent that the problem was not just a lack of maturity, but an unrighteous character. In private and in public, he sharply attacked another spiritual leader associated with us We privately approached him for his unrighteousness time and again, but he only increased in his subtle and eventually blatant attacks against this brother and finally against us.

“Because of the strong division this brother was causing, we attempted to discipline him, but he so confused and intimidated us that we backed off. But the division only worsened. Finally, we did carry out to the best of our ability the scriptural injunction against an unrepentant slanderer and divider of God’s people. We admonished the flock not to listen to or associate with this unrighteous brother until he repented and stopped this kind of sinning.

“However, another of our fellow leaders, whom we had recently appointed, continued to talk with the disciplined person. He failed to obey the scripture that he himself had admonished the flock to follow—to ‘reject’ and ‘avoid’ the divisive person. He soon became confused and eventually left the church.”

The two leaders who had originally started the church wondered if all would be lost. One of their fellow leaders had been disciplined and had not repented, and the other had been led astray by the unrighteous.

“There was strife and division,” the pastor continues. “Many were confused. We only had His Word to trust. Circumstantially, things looked pretty bad. God was testing us. Would we listen to the voice of men or the voice of God, and trust His Word? We knew we could be misunderstood. Our courage was being tested. But we decided that God did not want us to overlook sin, even if it involved our fellow leader. What was the result? A few that were affected did leave, but the majority saw the Word and remained. Had we not executed righteousness, the whole church would have been lost. However, within a year of rooting out the sin, the church doubled; it grew faster than it ever had before.”

Now, over a decade later, this church is still thriving and three times bigger than it was. Not only that, but over the last few years it has sent out over a dozen missionary teams with over a hundred men and women to start new churches…five in the last six months.

Did holiness pay off? You bet it did! The little church in Columbus has now become a mighty church in Columbus. The Lord will always bless the righteous. He will never cease! Jesus said “by their fruit you will know them.” And “wisdom is vindicated by her children.”

Another church in Ames, Iowa, encountered a similar situation. A deacon in the church, who had previously admired and loved his pastors, started to become critical, argumentative, and accusative. Many in the church were starting to be affected and the leaders knew that something had to be done.

According to a pastor in the Ames church, the main mistake they made was being too slow to carry out discipline: “We did much talking, listening, appealing, and pleading. All the while the sin was destroying the church. Ecclesiastes 8:11 says: ‘Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.’ Ephesians 4:27 says: ‘Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.’ Because we were slow, hearts grew harder and the sun set many times, giving the devil many footholds of opportunity, before we finally resorted to church discipline.

“We finally brought the matter to the church, which unanimously agreed that we should discipline the brother and not associate with him. Several weeks later the disciplined brother happened to meet some of his best friends from the church. He said hello, but his friends refused to talk to him. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The next day the brother, who for some time had been wondering if he was wrong, decided to call up his elders and repent.

“We had faced a test. Would we obey God and His Word, or worry about what men would think? We decided to obey God no matter what, and in this case the disciplined brother eventually repented.

“It has always amazed me that around the time we disciplined this brother, the church began to grow faster than it ever had before. In fact, in the next year, the church doubled.”

Since that time, a decade ago, the Ames church has sent trained teams and pastors out, starting new churches on an average of more than one a year. Most of these have started other churches as well. In the last 12 months alone, the Ames church has started over a half dozen new churches in the nation.

How ironic that churches which have had to exercise church discipline have grown so much. Ironic? No, holiness. “The righteous will flourish like a green tree” (Psalm 92:12). Every time.

Often it may take a good period of time before a church sees the blessing of righteousness, but this is not always the case. In a church in Kansas City, “The punishment inflicted … by the majority” (2 Corinthians 2:6) as they disciplined the unrighteous has proven how quickly the Lord will reward the courageously righteous. In this church all the pastors, as they each later confessed to the flock, were slow in dealing with sin in their church. But when they did, God’s grace and blessing immediately came!

Here is what one of the pastors said: “As we watched the church slowly begin to disintegrate around us, God made it apparent that we had missed one basic and vital lesson: He protects His people with His justice. We saw that we had been much too timid and slow in confronting sin head on.

“But since we carried out the discipline, we’ve really seen the fruit of righteousness. We are experiencing the joy of new found fruitfulness. More people have been saved in the last six weeks, since the discipline, than in the whole past year put together! Now, new ones are coming to our Bible discussion groups and our focus has turned from self to others.

“Why? The discipline has increased the unity of the church because people know that the authority of the church is going to be used righteously and in a way that unites the believers. And there’s an increase in zeal because men have been freed from controversy and strife. So they’re able to devote themselves to the things that are important.

“One brother, for example, said it has freed him from dwelling on controversy so that now he can dwell on the gospel, serving others, and the Lord. In the last few weeks he himself has seen several people saved and is influencing everyone he is around. Like the whole church, his zeal and joy have really increased.”

Holiness pays. Let others take the beans, as Esau did; we will take the birthright. Let others take the forbidden treasures, as Achan did; we will take Ai! We must be those who conquer with Him for “the cause of truth, humility and righteousness” (Psalm 45:3-4).

Another church in West Lafayette, Ind., almost totally disintegrated because of a lack of zeal in confronting open sin. But the majority of leaders were repentant for their lack of zeal in holiness, and disciplined the divisive person.

According to one of the leaders, “For me, it’s cemented in my mind the importance of holiness and purity of life. And not taking a back seat, so to speak, but being very quick to confront sin and handle it God’s way. I need to accurately know the Word of God and obey it, no matter what.

“I’m more convinced than ever that we need strong convictions from the Word of God. We can’t be doing things because of peer pressure or because other people think it’s neat or we think it’s neat. When something like this occurs, there has to be that conviction and fear of God that drives us on.
“That’s been the biggest reason why some didn’t come out of this situation in a positive way — they lacked conviction in their lives and were easily persuaded. Some of those had second thoughts, repented, and realized, ‘I got sucked into it. I just really didn’t take the time to think it through.’

“People have got to develop a set of convictions that they can run by. The convictions have to run deep because when it boils down to it, if you’re the only one left, and you know that’s what is right, you have to stand by it.

“The results of the discipline have already been real positive, real good. Last week there were 23 that indicated they got saved. Now we’re following them up, so we’re really working hard.

“Not only have there been new ones saved, but after it was all over, another church in the area that watched the whole thing was very impressed with the holy and humble spirit that was restored in the church, and with the righteous process that finally came about. In fact, the leaders of this church asked if they could unite with us and work together in reaching the whole state of Indiana. I think that many of God’s people today are longing for a Biblical standard of justice and mercy.”

Does holiness pay? You bet it does. Three weeks after the discipline, this little church saw more people profess to receive Christ than the size of the whole church put together. Instead of losing, the church is growing like it never has before. Plus, a whole new church was united with them to labor together for the cause of the gospel. Does holiness really pay? You bet it does! Every time. Now and forever.

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