AN EXHORTATION TO MY READERS TO ACT WISELY IN THE CHURCHES
The following are some truths that I consider very important and that I would like for all of my readers to take to heart. Please keep in mind the fact that I am not your pastor. I hope to be a helper in Christ, but I am not your pastor. And I want to give an exhortation about how to act wisely in the churches.
The vast majority of you knows and lives these things, but sometimes I hear things from pastors and others that cause me to realize that some of my readers might need this exhortation. At the same time, I don’t have any particular case in mind, so there is no need to write and try to explain yourself to me. Rather, let us be doers of the word and not hearers only.
I DO NOT SUPPORT THOSE WHO SEPARATE FROM ALL CHURCHES TODAY.
Let me make this very clear: I do not support those who separate themselves from all churches today. While I believe that God’s people must be discerning and cautious and not overlook error, at the same time we are to be patient and faithful to God’s ordained institution, the church, and to God-ordained pastoral authority, and I believe we should strive as much as possible for unity and not disunity among true believers. Both things are emphasized in Scripture, though it is not always a simple matter to obey both of them at any one time and place.
If you think that you are justified to separate from all churches today because of David Cloud’s writings, you are mistaken. I do not preach that and I am not pleased when people do that. There are hundreds of churches that I support.
In some cases there might not be a sound, spiritually-healthy, Bible-believing church within commuting distance, and I do not expect God’s people to attend a church that would undermine their faith or hinder their spiritual lives or that of their children.
But my recommendation in such cases has always been to find a way either to help start a good church in that particular location or to move to a place where there is one. It has been said that “where there is a will there is a way,” and that is usually true. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). When God tells us to do something, He provides a way, and the church is God’s program for this age. It is mentioned more than 100 times in Scripture. Most of the New Testament is written to churches. We are commanded not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25) and to obey them that have the rule over us (Heb. 13:17). Those Scriptures take for granted that we will be in a church. The first believers continued steadfastly in the doctrine, fellowship, prayers, and breaking of bread in the church (Acts 2:42). Paul commended Phebe to the church at Rome, and reminded them that she was a servant of the church at Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1). That is the example that is put before us in Scripture.
I have been saved for 35 years and I have always found a way to be faithful to a sound New Testament church. There have been times when I have had to attend a church that I wasn’t very excited about, but in light of the Bible’s emphasis on the church, I am not going to neglect God’s program, and I exhort all of my readers to follow this example!
Folks, sheep need sheepfolds and shepherds, and that is what God has provided in the church.
BE WISE AND CAUTIOUS AND PATIENT IN DEALING WITH PROBLEMS AND ERRORS IN CHURCHES.
It grieves me when I hear that readers of Way of Life materials are causing trouble UNWISELY in good Bible-believing churches and are doing it in my name!
Please observe that I DID NOT say that it grieves me to hear that readers of Way of Life materials are causing trouble in churches. Sometimes trouble is godly. There are churches that urgently need some of the members to step up the plate and try to bring godly change. IN NO WAY DO I WANT TO DISCOURAGE THE HEARTS OF GOD’S PEOPLE WHO ARE TRYING TO STAND UNCOMPROMISINGLY FOR TRUTH AND RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THIS EVIL GENERATION, BUT THERE IS A RIGHT AND WRONG WAY TO DO THINGS.
One man wrote to me and said, “Your medicine is strong and needful; it just needs to be administered carefully.” I agree with that 100%.
That man told me about some people he has known who have tried to change the soul winning program in some churches to bring in an emphasis on repentance and to turn the churches away from what I call “quick prayerism” (quick to lead people in a sinner’s prayer even when there is any obvious conviction or repentance, quick to pronounce people saved even when there is no evidence thereof, quick to announce “salvation” statistics even when a large percentage of them are bogus). This man claimed that these people just ended up causing trouble for the churches and not accomplishing anything good. Since I am not personally familiar with that situation, I don’t know if he is giving an accurate picture, but I asked him what exactly was wrong in those particular cases, in his estimation. He answered as follows:
“They were not working from the top down and were being too strong/dogmatic. I’m right; you’re wrong. One can be right and not be righteous about it and thus make of none effect the desired change. This one talks to that one and causes a division prior to the matter getting to the pastor. Now he has a compounded problem with division in the church. We need to work from the top down with humility and grace, knowing that it takes time to change the course of a ship. With the strong medicine we need to also teach the tact to administer it so that it gives the greatest benefit and least harm. Hopefully we won’t look back and say, ‘The operation was a success; we cut out all the cancer; too bad the patient died’! Your well done biblical work has shaped many of the things I do and believe. It is profitable and needful. We just need it at the right dosages to be the most effective.”
I agree with these thoughts and I have written about this type of thing many times. The articles “Keys to Fruitful Church Membership” and “The Pastor’s Authority and the Church Member’s Responsibility” deal with this, for example. I have written a lot about the importance of the church and how to conduct oneself as a member.
One suggestion I would make is this: it is important that we not just criticize what is in place in the church, but that we have a positive plan for something better. Consider, again, the soul winning issue. I believe an example of the right way to try to bring this type of change to a church is contained in the following e-mail:
“Right now, my wife and I are in a church where we have seen a pastor shift his thinking on this important issue. A good friend and I are regulars on Thursday night, and just through gentle conversation and asking innocent questions, there’s been a total turnaround in soulwinning methodology here.
“Instead of merely inviting lost people to ‘worship’ with us, our entire Thursday night soulwinning is Gospel-focused. It has been a singular joy to see everyone come to life on the doorstep! We now seek to present the Gospel at every door, and plow the soil on sin, judgment, and repentance. Instead of slammed doors, we find that a compassionate explanation of sin in concrete terms makes judgment seem reasonable, opening the door for the Gospel. Following with repentance and faith just feels biblical and powerful. Number of ‘prayers’ is down, but we can all see that we're reaching a much deeper sense of clarity with each contact.
“No longer are we stuck with nowhere to go when someone says, ‘Oh, I asked Jesus into my heart when I was little.’ Many have, but never repented. With that person, it is so important to have an understanding of biblical soteriology -- that it’s not enough to pray the prayer. They may still be lost, and we find it’s typically easy to uncover that with only a few more questions. By our unscientific numbers, maybe 60% of people have made some commitment to Jesus, but 90% of those have no convincing evidence that the Author of faith is finishing anything in them. The easy-prayerist checks these off their list and implicitly endorses false conversions!
“Thanks for advancing these very biblical ideas in our fundamental Baptist culture. We are nearly overrun with people who say, ‘Well, at least they’ll be in heaven, even if they won't have any fruit.’ Enough of that!”
To that I say amen! In this case the problem was approached in a wise manner and the fruit has been good.
There is no simple one-two-three list of suggestions I could give that would solve the problem of how to correct errors in churches. It is never easy, and it is largely a matter of spiritual maturity and attaining and applying godly wisdom under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Paul said to the church at Rome: “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14).
Thus, to be able to admonish others in a fruitful manner requires that we be filled with goodness and filled with knowledge. This refers to spiritual maturity and a solid foundation of Bible knowledge. If I try to “straighten out a church” without these two things, I will not only fail, I will cause more harm than good.
New Christians, in particular, must be very cautious about trying to exhort others, especially their spiritual leaders. New Christians are often very zealous, and I don’t want to dampen that zeal, but zeal must be tempered with godly wisdom and new believers simply don’t have much of that. They are called babes in Christ in God’s Word, and they are exhorted to drink milk and grow to maturity (1 Pet. 2:2). That is what a babe in Christ needs to focus his attention on, rather than trying to straighten out other people!
Once I almost split a church, and it is one of the things that I regret the most in my Christian life. It was a long time ago, and I was young in the Lord. I was zealous, as I have always been by God’s grace, but I was lacking in experience and maturity. It got into my mind that my pastor was unqualified, because he didn’t study enough, to my way of thinking, and his preaching ministry wasn’t strong and solid enough, to my way of thinking. I was measuring him by myself as much as by God’s Word. My strong suit is study and prophetic reproof, so why shouldn’t every preacher be just like me! The church wasn’t very old and the dear pastor was a personal friend who had done a lot for me, but I unwisely talked to a couple of the key church members about the matter. I talked to him, too, but I was dead wrong in trying to stir up the people against him. He was deeply offended at my action, of course, and though I was sorrowful and realized that I had been wrong, the damage was done. Our friendship was ruined (he wasn’t very forgiving!) and I moved my membership to another church. The problem was that I was just too young and immature and inexperienced in the Lord to have tried to bring change to that particular situation. It’s true that the pastor wasn’t a great student, but he had other important qualifications that I was overlooking.
Again, I want to emphasize that I am not trying to discourage God’s people who are trying to take a stand against error in a godly manner. I know many people who have tried to do this in the right manner and they were wrongly branded as trouble-makers and treated with a great lack of respect by the pastors and churches in question. It is never an easy matter to challenge the church leaders, and it is a sad fact that leaders who have chosen a path of error rarely turn back from it.
There is a great problem among fundamental Baptist and fundamentalist Bible churches today, in that so many that were once sound are moving in the direction of New Evangelicalism and the contemporary church growth philosophies. They are bringing in the modern Bibles and modern music and modern dress standards. They are allowing women to lead in ways the Bible forbids. They are creating worldly youth ministries that pamper and entertain the flesh rather than challenge the young people to true biblical discipleship. When God’s people rise up against these things, more often than not they are despised and discarded.
So please do not misunderstand what I am trying to say in this article. I DO NOT want to discourage or hinder God’s people in taking a scriptural and wise stand for truth in this wicked day. I am just trying to urge wisdom.
IT IS SCRIPTURAL AND RIGHT TO QUESTION ONE’S PASTOR ABOUT ISSUES IN THE CHURCH, BUT THERE IS ALSO A RIGHT WAY TO DO IT.
If the pastor won’t listen and doesn’t want to be challenged about things, and if he requires “unquestioning loyalty,” I would strongly suggest that you leave that church. Such a man is a Diotrephes, and staying in that church will cripple your spiritual life and turn you into something like a cult member. (At the Way of Life web site see the articles “Unquestioning Loyalty to Pastoral Leadership the Mark of a Cult” and “Another Warning about Unquestioning Loyalty.”)
If, on the other hand, you have godly, humble pastor(s) who are qualified by God’s standards and open to challenges from their people, be very patient with them. You must always remember that you are not the pastor. He, not you, will be held accountable for the church before God. He, not you, has to bear the burden of the ministry, and I can assure you that there is probably not a more difficult job in the world than leading a church and dealing with PEOPLE! He, not you, has the call of God to make the major decisions about the church’s ministry.
I advise that you always give pastors the benefit of the doubt. Not every issue that comes up in the church is as black and white as we might think. God gives pastors wisdom. They know and understand the overall picture in a way that you do not. At the same time, pastors are just sinners saved (hopefully) by grace. They are learning and growing like the rest of God’s people. God lets us make mistakes to teach us lessons; shouldn’t we give the same freedom to pastors to some wise degree? I am not talking here about clear biblical error and heresy or the type of sin that calls for church discipline. I am talking about things like allowing music that you think might be borderline, and perhaps being too “patient” with new converts about cleaning up their lives, and not dealing with issues as much as I think he should, and bringing in preachers that I don’t like, and having or not having a youth ministry, and assigning people to jobs that I don’t think they should be assigned to, and not having the soul winning program exactly to my suiting, and doing things at Christmas that I wish the church would not do or not doing things I wish they would do, and not emphasizing enough about the King James Bible and maybe even giving a “better or different” rendering once in a while, etc.
A qualification for the pastor is that he not be self-willed (Titus 1:7). This means that he is to rule the church by God’s will and not his own will, by God’s Word not by his own thinking. The self-willed man wants to run over other people and control them. It is a matter of the heart’s attitude. It is a matter of pride and lack of compassion and godly patience.
At the same time, the church members also should not be self-willed. If God has not called me to be a pastor, I should not try to rule the church! I am not saying that the church member should not have complete liberty to express his opinion about things. I am not saying that the church is not a body and that each member should not be treated with godly consideration. I am simply saying that the church member needs to check himself and make sure that he is not trying to be something in the church that God has not called him to be.
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).
Women must be doubly careful about this matter, because God’s Word forbids them to teach or to usurp authority over the man (1 Timothy 2:12). The woman might be more spiritual than the men and might know more, but God has not given her the liberty to teach men. She thus has to be patient and submissive and be a great prayer warrior in order to move the heart of God to intervene THROUGH THE MEN when there are errors and problems.
This does not mean that a woman cannot go to her pastor and other church leaders if she has questions and issues, but she simply is not allowed by God to become their teacher. She can recommend materials so that the men can learn from other men, if they are willing to look into the issue, but she cannot become their teacher.
I realize this is a very sensitive matter, and many women have written to exhort and teach and rebuke me, but they are out of bounds, regardless of how much they think they know and how right and how close to God they think they are.
What I am trying to say here, and what I am trying to exhort my readers to do, is to be very wise and godly and patient in dealing with church leaders.
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:14-16).
God has given pastors authority (Heb. 13:7, 17). Some of them have abused their authority, but pastoral authority is God-ordained, nonetheless. Not everyone in the church has the same authority. This does not mean that we overlook things that we believe are wrong. Pastors are not popes and do not have unlimited authority; their authority is limited by the Bible; and churches must not follow pastors into error. But as a church member, I must always remember that the pastor has authority that I do not have and that he, not me, will give an answer to God for pastoral decisions.
THERE IS A TIME TO LEAVE A CHURCH WHEN IT IS COMMITTED TO A PATH OF SERIOUS ERROR, BUT THERE IS ALSO A RIGHT WAY TO LEAVE.
There is a proper time to leave a church, if it is not following God’s Word, but there is a proper way to leave and many times people leave churches for carnal reasons and in a carnal manner.
If someone leaves a church for biblical and spiritual reasons, the fruit will be characterized by the description in James 3:17-18--purity, peaceableness, gentleness, easy to be entreated, mercy, without partiality, without hypocrisy. Someone leaving in this mode will speak the truth in love. He leaves because he is convinced it is God’s will, but he does so in a peaceable and godly manner. He is respectful of the leaders even if he doesn’t agree with them, and he harbors no ill will toward them.
But if someone leaves a church for carnal reasons the fruit will be characterized by the description in James 3:14-16--bitterness, envy, strife, confusion, and other evil works. This is not of God! Many times I have observed this. People get upset at something and they leave a church, but they do not do so in a godly manner. They cause all sorts of trouble and try to hurt the church, both before they leave and after. Many times they won’t even talk about the matter with the leaders in a gracious, open manner. They are not “easy to be entreated.” All of the love they once had for the church and its leaders disappears. They deal deceitfully. They go behind the pastor’s back and despise his position.
I realize that compromised Christians can be quite vicious and can tell lies about men and women who try to correct error. They have told lies about me countless times, but we must be careful that we do not give occasion to the flesh and fight error in an unspiritual and unwise manner.
If you have to leave a church, do so in a godly manner and leave a good testimony “as much as lieth in you.”
And if you feel that you have to leave and join another church, join a better one. It makes no sense when people claim they are leaving a church because of error, but then they join a worse church!
DO NOT THINK THAT THE CHURCH SHOULD BE LIKE WAY OF LIFE LITERATURE.
A part of my ministry, the warning part, is somewhat unbalanced of necessity. That is the nature of the Fundamental Baptist Information Service and of O Timothy magazine. I have no intention of trying to be completely “balanced” with that part of my ministry. Those are voices of warning and exhortation. There are plenty of “positive, encouraging” ministries out there. That part of the equation is very well taken care of today. But there is little by way of serious and pointed warning.
As I say in the footer to each Fundamental Baptist Information Service article: “Our goal in this particular aspect of our ministry is not devotional but is to provide information to assist preachers in the protection of the churches in this apostate hour.”
O Timothy magazine, which we began publishing 26 years ago, has the same objective. The magazine’s title, taken from 1 Timothy 6:20, describes the burden of the magazine, which is urging men in these last days to keep the faith once delivered to the saints and to avoid the error which is on every hand. “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.” Paul’s burden for Timothy was that he keep the old paths and avoid error. That is our burden through O Timothy magazine. The aim is to help protect churches from end-time apostasy through doctrinal preaching and carefully researched and well-documented reports.
Therefore, the Fundamental Baptist Information Service and O Timothy magazine are geared for PREACHERS and for WARNING. These are not Christian family publications. They are not devotionals. They are not general interest materials. They are primarily geared to providing information that preachers can use to protect their churches in an hour of deep apostasy and subtle compromise.
The name of Way of Life Literature came from my Bible reading one day about 32 years ago, when I read the words in Proverbs 6:23: “For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” I thought, that is what we need more of today; we need more reproofs of instruction, and, praise God, such reproofs are the way of life. If done in a godly manner, reproof is not destructive but is edifying and life giving. To warn people of danger is to help them, if they will receive it.
Thus, a part of my ministry is quite “negative” and focuses on pointing out error, exhorting to separation, and such things.
At the same time, I would not want to be in a church that focused only on these things. And I would not want to see anyone try to make the Fundamental Baptist Information Service their “church.” Please understand, I am not your pastor!
A church should most definitely preach against error plainly and warn about things, and most churches today fall short of doing what they should in this area. I am convinced that each church should make literature such as O Timothy and the Way of Life books available to their people so they will be properly educated and protected. But dealing with such things is certainly not all that a church should be doing or even mostly what it should be doing. Ecclesiastical separation is a necessity, but separation in and of itself is nothing. Separation is merely the wall of protection that we put around the Lord’s work, but having separated, we must busy ourselves with that work itself, which is described particularly in Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8, but also in all the rest of the New Testament Scriptures!
When I preach in the churches we have started in South Asia, I don’t preach very often on the type of things that appear in the Fundamental Baptist Information Service. Only rarely do I preach on “issue” type things, such as the charismatic movement or contemporary Christian music or the ecumenical movement or Roman Catholicism or the emerging church or contemplative mysticism or the New Age movement, though I do sometimes intermingle brief warnings about some of these things into the messages by way of application.
The overwhelming majority of my week-by-week preaching in our churches involves exegesis of books of the Bible. I am just finishing up a series of about 30 messages from the book of Ephesians, for example. And the topical messages are about such things as prayer, love for Christ, communion with Christ, holiness, separation from the world, evangelism, church planting, faithfulness to the Lord’s work, and sound Bible doctrine.
Even in my writing ministry, I do not focus exclusively on warning. The Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity and Things Hard to Be Understood and the Way of Life Advanced Bible Studies Series, for example, took more time to produce than probably all of the other things I have written combined, and they are tools for Bible study and general Christian living. Thus, even my writing ministry is by no means strictly a warning ministry.
The 20 Advanced Bible Studies Series courses deal with such things as “How to Study the Bible,” “Bible Prophecy,” “Bible Doctrine,” “Church History,” and “The History and Geography of the Bible.” These courses have been written over the past five years and total over 5,300 pages.
It should be obvious that as a preacher a large percentage of my time is spent on things other than exposing and warning of error.
Do you see what I am saying? Every church should warn plainly about error, but a church is not merely a warning station. Please don’t measure your church by the Fundamental Baptist Information Service or O Timothy magazine in the sense of thinking that your pastor should be like Brother Cloud. In that particular aspect of my ministry I am not a pastor; rather, I am exercising, I believe, a “prophetic” type ministry (not referring to prophecy as fore-telling, of course, but as forth-telling).
My aim and desire is to be a help and blessing to pastors in providing them well-researched information to assist their ministries, knowing at the same time that there is much more to their ministries than warning about error.
LASTLY, I do not want my readers to think that I am anything.
I have no desire to create a following of any sort. I hope there are no Cloudites! I do not consider myself better than anyone. In fact, I am confident that some of the people that I warn about are better Christians than I am in some areas of their lives and ministries. I am a big failure in many ways. I own no Christian perfection of any sort except positionally in Christ. I am just a man who was saved by God’s undeserving grace and called to preach His Word.
When some people from Africa wrote to me years ago and said they were going to start a David Cloud church, I was not impressed, to say the least!
I am convinced that God called me to this difficult ministry and I intend to accomplish it by His grace and I do think that I have exercised some zeal for it and am biblically qualified for it, but I was a nothing when God called me and I am a nothing today apart from His grace.
I do not preach myself and I have no intention of doing so; I preach God’s Word. I do not measure things by my puny standard, but by that of God’s Word. At least that is my desire and intention. I want to measure myself by the same standard, and I invite my readers to measure me and other men by that same rule. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). John the Baptist was wise and godly when he said, “I must decrease.” That is what every preacher needs to say and mean from the bottom of his heart.
The apostle Paul said, “Follow me as I also follow Christ,” and we can and should say that; but we must also acknowledge that we are not apostles today. The only infallible authority is the Scriptures. There is no infallible preacher.
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Goal:Distributed by Way of Life Literature Inc., the Fundamental Baptist Information Service is an e-mail posting for Bible-believing Christians. Established in 1974, Way of Life Literature is a fundamental Baptist preaching and publishing ministry based in Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, of which Wilbert Unger is the founding Pastor. Brother Cloud lives in South Asia where he has been a church planting missionary since 1979. Our primary goal with the FBIS is to provide material to assist preachers in the edification and protection of the churches.
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Way of Life Literature
Publisher of Bible Study Materials