Other sagacious writers have echoed this prophet’s [Jeremiah’s] bleak comment on human nature. Nietzsche observed, “Lying is a necessity of life, a part of the terrifying and problematic character of existence,” while Goethe asserted that truth is “contrary to our nature because it demands that we recognize ourselves as limited.” If the main thrust of religious enterprise is to teach people how to restrain this base human instinct, then it all too often fails.
Consider a committee choosing people to serve as elders in the church.
A woman on the committee has an agenda. Her strong personal dislike for one of those nominated to return as an elder propels her to push herself forward as Chair of the committee. If you’ve been a member long enough, you know that those who insist on being in leadership generally get elected.
Anyway, the woman then brings her “prayer concerns” and meets privately and confidentially with the Board of Elders, as they must approve all nominees, and uses innuendos, unspecified charges, and many tears to discredit the nominated candidate. The elders ask her, “What exactly did he do?” She answers, “I can’t tell you, but I can say that he did the same things to others.” They ask, “Who are these others?” She answers, “I can’t reveal their names either. But please keep all this confidential.”
The “prayer concerns” and “confidential” cards—hallmarks of a seasoned puppet-master!
Some elders are easy prey to the women’s tears and skillful manipulation. New elders on the Board, not familiar with the former elder in question, are naturally a little nervous about what this elder must have done. So on her word alone, the elders agree not to permit the person to be accepted as a nominee. And everybody more or less agrees to keep it confidential.
So what’s happened here?
Well, in the first place, the Board of Elders has functioned as accomplices to the sin of defamation. They have now become accountable for their actions before God by failing to hold the woman accountable, allowing her to make non-specific charges, and by not requiring any evidence of wrongdoing. Nor did they ever allow the accused to confront his accusers. His reputation was permanently damaged and he never even knew why people in the church were avoiding him. And the woman continued to dwell peacefully in her sin happily ever after.
So does bad behavior in the church deliver?
Why shouldn’t it? If it works everywhere else (take a look at what’s happening around you, around the USA, and around the world), it happens to work much better in the church and used by “Christians.”
Beginning with Adam and Eve and onward, we humans have a history of lying, cheating, manipulating, and murder. It is only when we follow Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s exhortation to expose the works of darkness that we will move towards growing a healthy, vibrant church.
It seems the ill-advised roads taken early in life are mostly one-way. Ian Colman, an epidemiologist in the School of Public Health, has determined that people who exhibited bad behaviour in their early teenage years were far more likely than their well-behaved classmates to leave school early and experience problems as adults such [as] mental illness, family conflict and financial troubles.
People who were never taught boundaries, never held accountable for their bad behavior, who got away with lying and cheating when they were young, will repeat the same patterns as adults—whether in society, in a relationship, or in church. They will blame others for their failures and bad behaviour, and run over anyone who gets in their way. If society continues to accept such behaviour it will reap anarchy. If the church continues to tolerate or even reward this kind of behaviour, it will dull its witness, drive honest people from its midst, fade away, and die—which it is doing in many places today.
Dr. James Dobson once shared a parenting principle that changed the way I looked at parenting. He said, “Rewarded behavior is repeated behavior.”
Think about that. It’s simple, but so true. In every part of life, for children and adults too, we tend to repeat those behaviors that bring rewards and affirmations and we tend to stop doing the behaviors that bring negative results.
If our kids are screaming to get their way and we “reward” their behavior by giving in to their demands, they’ll keep doing it. If our kids display positive character traits and we reward them for it, they’re more likely to repeat those behaviors, too.
We need to take a second look at discipline for our churches and communities. Discipline comes from the Latin word disciplinare, meaning to teach (i.e., disciple). It is intended to teach people to become responsible, honest, contributing adults with self-control and loving, acceptable behavior. If understood and communicated correctly, it is not about punishment, but putting things in order.
If the church is earnest about communicating the truth of the Gospel message, the Great Commission, and intentional about making disciples, it should be serious enough about discipline to make some changes in how it deals with bad behaviour. If all we get in a church are the same lies that we expect in the local bar, then, by all means, let’s skip church and go have a drink.
Pastor's Wife 2020 is actively involved in all aspects of ministry in the church. A writer and editor, she received her Honours Degree in political science, with minors in English Literature, Philosophy, and History. She also works with social media. Follow her at @pastorswife2020.