Dealing with Disappointment with the Church

“The church let me down.” That’s probably true. Now what? Kevin DeYoung is addressing this question.

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  1. What about when a young man gets a call from the elders because his mother, (who belongs to a non-Reformed church and) who has done horrible things to him and his family turns the tables and charges him with violating the 5th commandment? And what about when the elders not only in that church, but in two other churches to which he flees believe his mother (not just “notitia” or “ascensus,” but “fiducia”!) and doubt everything he says? And what about when one of those bodies of elders suspends him from the table without due process?

    A guy who believes in the authority of the Church and the officers of the Church could get the idea that God hates him! The Reformed church officers really seem more like Gestapo-esque storm troopers than shepherds. At least the Lutherans (for all their faults) have taken us in without hesitation, and love nothing more than to give us the gospel.

    I love Reformed theology. I will continue to study it and write in its defense. I would die for it. But Reformed churches are another matter altogether.

    • Hi Chris,

      Sometimes things go horribly wrong but in a rightly ordered church there is always an avenue of appeal. Elders/presbyters/pastors do err. So do sessions/consistories and presbyteries. This is why most presbyterial (Presbyterian and Reformed) churches have a process for appeal to higher/broader assemblies/courts. So, if a local session errs, one can apppeal to presbytery. If they err, one can appeal to GA/synod. I’ve seen it and it works. It’s not infallible but it works.

      A responsible pastor/elder/session/consistory will explain avenues of appeal.

      The point is not to be right but to get it right.

  2. Horribly wrong, indeed. Pardon my cynicism or skepticism, but when church officers talk as if their office makes them nearly infallible, and when other officers begin to adopt the same kind of attitude about each other due to the nature of the office, I have my doubts.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe the Bible teaches Presbyterian polity. So the problem is not with God’s design, it is clearly with the wickedness of men’s hearts. I see this as a dark hour in the life of the Church.

    That said, it is entirely possible that I could have appealed my situation all the way up to a GA or a Synod only to have the nightmare get all that much worse. Add to the mix family members whose faith was being seriously rocked by the goings on at just the local level. I believed that my wedding vows took priority at that point. Other family members have never recovered.

    • Chris,

      I don’t know the providence of God and, I guess, you don’t either. We ought to be very careful about predicting what a deliberative body of the church will do. I’ve sat in hundreds of meetings and many times I thought I knew what would happen only to be delighted or surprised or disappointed by the outcome. God uses these bodies to accomplish his purposes. Popes and councils do err but the sinfulness of the church is not an excuse to avoid doing one’s duty nor is it grounds for fleeing the visible church altogether.

      God has a people. There are true churches. Take a look at Belgic Articles 28-29. If we’re talking about a true church (and not a sect or personality cult — I don’t know the particulars and this space is not the appropriate place to air them) then you should have been provided with counsel and guidance. If you were provided with counsel and guidance re an appeal then there was negligence.

      No session should be afraid to have its judgments reviewed on appeal. If they’ve erred, they should be glad to be reversed.

      I’m not saying that assemblies always get it right, but I’ve seen cases were godly laity appealed a case all the way to synod and were vindicated. It happens.

      Check out this story:

  3. Who fled the visible Church? And I don’t know what duty I was obligated to do that I didn’t do, but I would rather be married and at least raising my children in the Christian faith than to have your approval.

    You’re right that I don’t know the providence of God. Sometimes you just have to make a choice given the circumstances you’re in, and that’s what I did. If it was the wrong choice, I’m glad that I have Christ’s righteousness with which to stand before God.

  4. Scott – Chris

    I have also experienced “Spiritual Abuse” and “persecution” from “the Religious system.”
    Left the “System” in the early 90’s. Much pain and tears.
    Never left Jesus or the body of Christ, the Church.

    But, there is a benefit, it drives you to Jesus. He heals the broken hearted.

    When, “Dealing with disappointment in the church” isn’t the First challenge;
    What church are we talking about?

    1 – Is there disappointment in “The Church of God?” Where Jesus is the master?
    He is the head of the body, (the ekklesia, the called out one’s), the Church? Col 1:18

    2 – Or, Is the disappointment in “the church of baptist?” Where man is the master?
    (Or pick a “Title/Label.” Any “Religious Corporation” most call church?)

    1 – In “The Church of God” “His Disciples” are “Servants.”
    NOT “exercising authority” or “lording it over” God’s heritage.
    (Mat 20:25, Mark 10:42, Luke 22:25,) (2Cor 1:24, 1Pet 5:3, 3 John 9)

    2 – In “the church of man” most so-called “Servant-Leaders” act
    like they are called to be “Leaders” of the “Servants.”
    They teach a lot about “Obey your Leaders” but, NOT much teaching
    or “examples to the flock” of submitting one to another, or
    esteeming others better then themselves. Eph 5:21, Php 2:3,

    My experience with “Servant-Leaders” and being in “leadership” shows me…

    Everyone who assumes the position of “Servant-Leader”

    No matter how loving, eventually…
    No matter how humble, eventually…
    No matter how much a servant, eventually…

    Will “exercise authority” and “lord it over” God’s sheep.
    Thus – disqualifying themselves from the position.
    But will they remove themselves? Hmmm?

    That’s always the beginning of “disappointment” and “spiritual abuse.”

    “Servant-Leader” = exercise authority = lord it over = abuse = always.

    1 – In “The Church of God” Jesus calls them, “My Sheep.”

    2 – In “the church of man” the leader thinks they are his sheep.
    The leader uses terms like, My church, my sheep, my people. 🙁

    1 – In “The Church of God” “His Disciples” do NOT take “Titles.” Only “Servant.”
    “His Disciples” are NOT called rabbi/teacher, master/leader/teacher. Mat 23:10 KJV

    2 – In “the church of man” there are many “Titles” taken NOT even in the Bible.
    Pope, Cardinal, Senior Pastor, Youth Pastor, Reverend, Right Reverend,
    Most Holy Right Reverend, Clergy, Vicar, Head Elder, and the list goes on.

    Did anyone have the “Title” “pastor/reverend” in the Bible?
    Were any congregations led by a “pastor/reverend” in the Bible?

    Seems to me the disappointment is found within “the church of man.” 🙁

    Jesus, and “His Ekklesia” is doing just fine. Thank you Jesus. 😉

  5. What Christian hasn’t experienced feeling unloved or ignored in any local body at one time or another?

    Many, many Christians experience all manner of abuse, both by elders and laity. Statistically speaking, victims of ‘severe’ church abuse often absent themselves from the church (Enroth: Churches that Abuse).

    However: there is a joy in suffering: the growth, the patience and the ultimate peace one may find as they continue to seek God’s Face. A sinned-against member, whom the Lord is sanctifying, might just be able to minister to someone else who has been feeling unloved, because ‘they have been there’ themself. A child of God who realizes that leadership (and others) are fallen, sinful and fallable men may learn to appreciate the good ones and their good works and exhibit longsuffering when they do see them occasionally stumble. More than that, how many of us blunder on in our day-to-day walk, not looking inside and not truly knowing the depth of ours sins, yet how, on some particular day, when we do discover a deep defect and feel the onslaught of shame and horror, immediately ask for forgiveness and quick-as-a-wink ‘take it for granted’ we will be shown mercy by God? When we recall our depravity and God’s forbearance, how can we help but plead to have love and forgiveness for the ‘other’? Yet, often we don’t rush to forgive but mosey along, if you will!

    I don’t want to say that a church should not care how it treats members, but a feeding church, where the sheep are eating WELL, can help new or immature members endure and develop God’s gifts of wisdom, mercy, patience and a more tender heart.

    Lastly, I would hope that elders and members would take an honest look at theirselves: we can all do better, reach out more, think of others, etc. When is a program more important than a person? Never! And: Although a church may not seem friendly for various reasons, trust that God will keep His elect no matter what.

    It is a hard lesson but one well worth learning. Look to Christ. His goal is to produce the refined gold of your faith. Seek to forgive and seek to love those who have hurt you.

    It is a lesson I would NOT trade for anything else in this world. If only for Christ’s sake and the purity and peace of the Church I wish I could do this one thing well.

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