While on a cruise ship to Hawaii in the summer of 2014, I was able to meet many Christians and enjoyed several Bible studies with some individuals. After returning home I sent free gospel material to those who were interested. One gentleman who received several of my books took the time to write a letter of appreciation this past week. I received his letter on May 2, 2015.
While sharing appreciation for the material received, the gentleman from Michigan also shared something that I had to smile at, though the situation he wrote about does contain an element of tragedy. “Since we last met I was excommunicated from my UCC church (United Church of Christ). They said I ask too many questions that embarrassed them.”
I had to smile because his experience in a denominational church is not unusual, in that often, anyone who has a dissenting thought, or an inquiring mind, is not welcome to remain. The state of many local churches is such that it is rare to find a religious leader who can defend their faith from Scripture, and allow the Word of God to be the final arbitrator in a religious discussion. Sola Scriptura, the Scriptures alone, was a guiding principle of the Protestant Reformation, but it is not valued today by many. It is easier for church leadership to show individuals the door marked Exit, than to show someone from the Scriptures the faith to be contented for according to gospel terms. “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
Because it is easier to silence the voice of inquiry, or a different point of view than to engage in honest discussion, the local church is weakened. The Bible teaches that, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17).
Notice why the gentleman was asked to leave the church. “They said I ask too many questions that embarrassed them.” The spiritual leaders of the church were embarrassed, and they did not like being embarrassed. That is understandable. No one likes to be made to look bad. The issue was not the truth, or being able to give an answer to every man as the Word of God commands (1 Peter 3:15). No, the issue became all about someone being personally embarrassed in a religious discussion.
Self-centeredness is usually the essence of a situation once the focus of attention is taken away from the Lord and His Word. Spiritual leadership says in essence, “I do not like to be embarrassed so I will tolerate no dissent. Nor will I allow to be entertained any deeper thought than what I am saying. I will do this so that the mind of Christ will be manifested in this place. After all, my mind is the mind of Christ. This is obvious, for God has put me in the pulpit. End of discussion. End of dissent.” To the spiritual leadership of this man in the United Church of Christ, he was not in harmony with what the Lord was doing in that place.
I think the gentleman who was told to leave the local church could have asked another question on his way out of the door. “Dear people, is the Lord really in this place when such a spirit of self-centeredness, and lack of understanding of God’s Word, and will, is manifested?” It would be a good question for him to have asked, but it would have been embarrassing.
While those who have experienced what the gentleman experienced might smile together, it is tragic when these situations occur for the Lord would have His people study His Word together (2 Tim. 2:15). The Lord would have the brethren dwell together in unity (Psalm 133). The Lord would have a plurality of godly leadership to protect the sheep from discord on one hand, and dictatorial behavior on the other (1 Tim. 5:17). One truth is certain. The local assemblies within the United Church of Christ are in serious trouble if the attitude prevails that no dissenting thought is to be allowed. One can hope that this gentleman’s experience reflects an anomaly in a local assembly. Realistically, there is abundant evidence that his experience is not unique in Christendom.
There will be more tolerance in the church, and less embarrassment, when the Biblical counsel is followed. “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” (Rom. 14:1 ESV) An inquiry is not a quarrel. An honest difference of opinion in the journey in grace may be just that, a different perspective. By appealing to sound doctrine, controversy can usually be resolved.