Recently, my husband and I had a major shock. We left our church where we had been members for over seven years because of a serious disagreement over the handling (or should I say mishandling) of a pedophile incident. The former pastor, who supposedly cared for our eternal souls, reportedly told the pastor of the church we planned to join that we were “troublemakers” (his words) and that we were not in good standing with the church we were leaving. How strange! We were not informed of this while we were attending and leading an adult Sunday school class, which we last taught on the day we submitted our written resignation. How could we be teaching in our church and not be in good standing? Is there such a thing as stealth church discipline?
Our prospective pastor denied membership to us until we could reconcile with our previous pastor and receive his hearty recommendation that we were now “compliant” former members. When we asked for clarification from the pastor of the prospective church (who had just dropped this bombshell in a face-to-face meeting), we were told that he couldn’t elaborate due to pastor-to-pastor confidentiality. I asked this pastor why someone would just want to cause “trouble” for no reason. He sternly said that some people “just cause trouble.”
My husband is a busy professional, and I lead an interesting and full life. Why would we want to “just cause trouble?” Did we awaken one morning, perhaps bored and say, “Hey, let’s cause us a ruckus!”? There was a legitimate reason for the conflict at our former church, and the new pastor obviously didn't want to go there. It would be uncomfortable… Little did we know that our former pastor and the prospective pastor are good friends…
Now that I have moved past the hurt from being denied church membership, I see God's hand throughout the process. It might surprise my former pastor to learn that I consider that painful experience to be a clear example of "divine providence". God is sovereign, and He used that circumstance to motivate me to become an active participant in the blogosphere. Incredibly, this forum has enabled me to get to know people from all over the country who have experienced similar abuse. Those who have been labeled “troublemakers” by their pastors are contacting us and sharing their unfortunate experiences. My personal experience leads me to believe and to understand what they have endured. Unless I had lived through that incredulous experience, I would never have believed such a thing could happen. In an effort to purify the church, these "troublemakers" have been crucified with Christ. We plan to share their stories in the coming weeks.
Please understand my point. If a member of a congregation sacrifices his reputation in order to expose, rectify, or bring justice to an issue, he is rarely “just a troublemaker.” Why would someone ruin relationships just for the “heck of it?” I contend that, in general, pastors who call members of their church “troublemakers” are doing so because the church leaders have something to lose (money, membership, societal standing, respect, control, etc) if these “pests” are deemed truthful in their accusations.
With that in mind, I'd like to describe someone to you and let you be the judge of whether the pastor who turned us down for membership would have denied this guy membership as well.
This individual came from a middle class background and decided to devote himself to God’s service. He was somewhat depressed and lonely because he couldn’t find peace in his life due to his overwhelming sense of sin and guilt. He exhibited signs of obsessive-compulsive behavior, often physically torturing himself to demonstrate profound regret for his sins.
One day he had a “divine” revelation that he was saved by faith and not by works. He decided to share this revelation with everyone. He wrote a list of things he found wrong with his church and left it in a public place for many to read. This made a lot of people really mad, especially those "in charge". “Why didn’t he follow Matthew 18?” they protested. Others accused him of gossip and rank disobedience. The head of his denomination demanded he attend an important meeting. There, in the presence of many witnesses (they didn’t follow Matthew 18 either), he was accused of teaching heresy and causing dissension within the ranks. He was told that he was disobeying “authority” and causing great harm to the church. He was now under “church discipline.”
He refused to back down from his accusations or apologize for being a "troublemaker" . As a result, he was summarily thrown out of his denomination. Rumors circulated that “hit men” were being sent out to “kill” him. However, this "troublemaker" was never intimidated! He went into hiding and published a “new” translation of the Bible completely on his own without any input from church leaders or seminary professors. How's that for arrogance? Then, he had the unmitigated gall to publish this Bible on the newfangled printing press so that people outside of church leadership and all over Europe could read it.
The irate denominational head told people to burn this “unauthorized” translation of the Bible or they would be thrown out of the church, too. Guess what? Instead of trying to make peace and/or beg forgiveness, this man continued to publish his own commentaries on the Bible, along with his disagreements with the denomination.
People were told to shun him or be in danger of going to hell. After all, unity always trumps truth, doesn’t it? Some of his friends actually destroyed the inside of churches and caused riots that even he couldn’t fully contain. See what trouble he caused?
He spoke out against the Jews calling them “devils.” He even supported his rich friends who were persecuting the poor people that worked for them. He actually disliked the book of James in the Bible and refused to teach from it. Rumor had it that he could be somewhat rude on occasion. The church leaders didn’t like his “tone” or body language and thought he was quite arrogant.
He even imbibed alcohol. He learned songs at the local taverns that he used to write Christian music. Bawdy bar songs were now being sung in the churches albeit with new lyrics. He broke a nun out of house arrest in her nunnery and then married her, shocking those around him. Lots of people refused to go back to that old denomination and instead only wanted to hear him teach the Bible. Talk about dissension!
Imagine if that "troublemaker" tried to join the same church that my husband and I wanted to join! I bet they would have barricaded their doors, grabbed the babies, and headed for the hills before they would have allowed him to become a member! Except, this guy was Martin Luther, the revered leader of the Reformation! Funny how just a few hundred years changes perspectives.
Luther was in a very legalistic, entrenched religious system that believed in sacraments that would lead to salvation and the forgiveness of sins. The Pope was revered by all. Daring to question him was equivalent to questioning God Himself.
Luther tried to reason with his superiors, to no avail. He even posted a very public letter of his disagreements. Have you ever read the 95 Theses? They are not subtle or couched in sweet, “make nice” terminology. The Gutenberg Press printed many copies that circulated far and wide throughout Europe. Can you imagine that? Airing the church’s dirty laundry to the international public! Luther was accused of causing disunity, and, if truth be told, he was…
He was told to obey authority, and if he refused, he would be excommunicated, be executed, and sent directly to hell. This stubborn man said, “No.” In fact, he defied his superiors and would continue to publish lists of grievances with those in power. He actually wrote embarrassing things about his church leaders and caused a revolt amongst a lot of churchgoers. That would be labeled "unbiblical" today, right?
Yet, today, this man is revered precisely because he caused disunity, disobeyed authority, and held to a then, heretical view of Scriptural interpretation and church polity.
To make matters worse, he actually published his thoughts for popular consumption. Surely, that’s unbiblical! Remarkably, when Luther finished his German translation of the Bible, the Gutenberg Press was in full swing. Almost 85% of the press’s publications at that time were Luther’s works.
Can you imagine the Pope's position? How embarrassing! He was caught in the cross hairs of this reformer and found that he had little to no control over the ensuing events. He was used to being the only voice for the church. Surely, that’s the orderly way to do things! The Pope commanded that Luther’s books be burned, but that only caused more of Luther's writings to be printed. He excommunicated Luther, but Luther refused to go away… In fact, many people decided Luther made a heckuva lot more sense than the Pope.
The Pope refused to work things out with Luther. Why? Because he was the de facto head of the church and Christ’s Vicar on earth and, gosh darn it, everyone was supposed to do what he said! He was THE AUTHORITY, and people needed to obey him. You know, he was the dad and Luther was the kid in the chain of command. However, the more the Pope denounced Martin Luther, the more Luther’s cause grew until a break was made from Rome. You can’t get anymore disunified than that! They called these folks the Protestants: note the word 'protest'. Isn’t protesting against church leaders something the Bible forbids?
The Gutenberg Press was essential to the dissemination of Luther’s ideas. An argument could be made that he was the original blogger. The Catholic Church had virtually no checks and balances. The Pope controlled the mass, the writings, the salvation, the doctrine and the pulpit. He lived high on the hog. Lots of wine, women, and song were de riguer. The Gutenberg Press changed all of that forever.
Here's a quote from Wikipedia: “Printing was also a factor in the Reformation: Martin Luther found that the 95 Theses, which he posted on the door of his church, were printed and circulated widely; subsequently he also issued broadsheets outlining his anti-indulgences position (ironically, indulgences were one of the first items Gutenberg had printed).”
Tomorrow we'll move into the 21st century and compare the Internet to the printing press and see if there is a new sort of “reformation” afoot.