Bruce wrote in response to a post (click here),
David, I have read most, if not all, of your articles regarding the Village Church situation, browsed many of the links you shared, including the gut-wrenching one in this article of other similar stories. I also listened to Pastor Matt’s sermon on May 31 as I worked out this week. It is more of an apology to the church and an explanation of Matt. 18 than an apology to Karen, which I trust they have done separately. I have labored all week knowing what or if any reply I might offer would be helpful. You give voice to the victim of adultery; thank you. I am reminded of the comment the wife of the senior pastor under whom I served for one year when I came here made to me after her husband failed and abandoned his marriage. She said, “Divorce is like an open wound that never heals. At least when the spouse dies there is a funeral, well wishes and closure, but not with a divorce.” For nearly 17 years those words have reminded me of the pain and shame of divorce.
There is no good way in this reply to offer some counter to your statements, but I want to try, as lovingly and graciously as I can, some with statements and some with questions to help you see that perhaps things are not as black and white as they appear since, as you said, we can’t know the true hearts of either the church leaders or the couples involved.
First, Hebrews 13:17 is an excellent guide but not to be used as control. But it is that middle part of the verse that has helped keep me in check as a pastor for these years. Referring to the need to obey and submit to leaders, the writer explains why: “…as those who will have to give an account.” Ultimately, I will stand before God as a pastor leader for the things I have said (as a teacher) and the things I have done (as a leader/shepherd) and God, who is the righteous judge and who knows all hearts, will judge fairly. That is both terrifying and liberating. I cast myself before him, confessing those times when I have tried to control and not loved and trusted him because he knows my heart as no one else does. My point here is that with so much written attacking the leaders of the Village Church, it may be fine to point out their apparent errors, but do we really know their hearts? The one particular leader looks to be a real villain in many of the stories but he does not ultimately answer to you or me but to God himself. This is why we are to pray for our national leaders and those in charge of our governments because they are to stand before a holy God one day, as do our pastors/leaders and also we who are husbands. All leadership at any level will stand to be judged by God one day. As such we can point out where they are going off track, so far as we see it, but we ultimately trust that he will judge fairly. Now don’t hear what I am not saying; I am not saying those who have been hurt deeply should remain silent. I am suggesting that blogs that judge and attack do not help as much as they also bring shame to the gospel and the name of Christ. You have said yourself that you do not wish to judge, but is it possible that you have been doing that very thing as you have again felt the shame from your own experience?
Second, our tone is crucial, again for gospel purposes and for honoring the name of Christ since the world is watching how we treat our own brothers and sisters in Christ. John 1:14 has been something I wish were true of me when it says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth.” How I wish that were true of me! I am a “truth” guy who uses truth like a weapon far too often but need to use the model of Christ who did not just hold both in balance but was full of both! David, are your written words full of both grace and truth? 1 Timothy 5:19 say that a charge against an elder should be on the evidence of two or three witnesses. And if they persist in their proven sin, they are to be rebuked in the presence of the congregation (that is how I understand “all”). I wonder if we who are on the outside looking in can allow this process to take place within their own local body. You might say, “Well, we can’t trust them! And Pastor Matt only gets involved when it’s big!” Well, do we actually know what they have done in light of 1 Tim. 5:19-20? Maybe that’s a better question to ask their leaders rather than skewer them in blogs. In other words, what are we accomplishing by sharing our vitriol in blogs? it does share our pain with others like us, but is that the best and most biblical approach? To let their leaders provide discipline of their leaders does take trust, in them and in God, and perhaps they do not have a great track record there; I don’t know their practice or their hearts. So again we are back to the righteous judge.
Finally, I have been in several of these type of situations in my tenure here as a pastor. They are never simple and they are always complicated. I have made mistakes and I have lost dear friends. I have not sat in your chair of pain and humiliation but I do still sit in the seat of pain and humiliation of trying to lead through enormous pressure and crisis. And frankly, by the time it gets to the pastor, they are already 95% gone. Usually getting involved means just getting beat up. Do you realize that those who do what we do often get beat up in the process too? I’m not asking for sympathy; this is a calling and one I gladly bear (most of the time). I have also come to realize why membership covenants like theirs are necessary. They are necessary because of the litigious society we live in and there are probably as many cases of lawsuits against churches as there are cases like Karen’s because loving church discipline, appropriately applied was seen as abuse and thus sued for it (sorry; I don’t have statistics, just the testimony of our church insurance agent who has binders of stories of how and why churches are sued, for this and other reasons). It is an impossible job we do but we do it because of the gospel of Christ and our pursuit of God for ourselves and those we shepherd inadequately. No story is best believed from only one vantage point. It seems that every time I hear the story of one of the two and believe the other person is completely wrong, then I hear the other side and get all confused. I wish I had the wisdom of Solomon. I do have the Holy Spirit and his Word, but I do mess up which is why I often consult with our elders. And then once again, I throw myself before the righteous judge who knows all hearts.
This is VERY long and I don’t know if anyone will read it. I wrote because I want you to consider that the Village Church pastors and pastors like me and every other gospel-centered guy out there is not trying to hurt people in situations like this. Sometimes we get it right and no one writes blogs for us when we do. But when we get it wrong… All I invite you to do, David, is consider whether your posts have exhibited grace and truth. It occurred to me last week in an application portion of my Sunday sermon on spiritual warfare, using Ephesians 6 and the armor of God, that truth is not a weapon (the Word is) but the thing that holds all the other pieces together. it was something I needed to hear. Is that helpful for you? Thanks for hearing me out. I do pray for you as you do have a wonderful platform with many readers and do have a good deal of influence.
I appreciate that you would spend the time reading what I have written plus writing to me here. Clearly, these matters are dear to your heart and you care about the folks you shepherd. This is no surprise to me knowing you as both a brother minister and blood relation.
As to your comments, I stand by what I have written. You have noted me writing that I do not know the hearts of these men. I agree. It is futile trying to figure out what is in the heart of man as that is between them and God. We do not see hearts. That said, I have been clear in my posts that my comments are about ACTIONS and WORDS. We can–and are in fact exhorted by Scripture–to judge these in fellow Christians (see I Thess. 5:21, I Corinthians 5:12, etc.) So, I see no problem with passing judgment on such matters as I am simply carrying out what I am convinced Scripture tells us to do; albeit in a blog format.
As to the two witnesses concern (I Timothy 5:19), I have written about matters involving emails and a sermon that are very public. Certainly, in a church with 6,000 members such is far more than two witnesses. The actions taken and words said have not been retracted. At best, a vague apology was offered in the case of Karen Hinkley. Hopefully, they are more direct later in follow up. However, it strikes me as a bit of a lame excuse that they can blast emails to 6,000 people with specifics about Karen being under discipline but cannot be specific in preaching on Sunday or follow that sermon up with a corrective to an email if they thought it needed correcting (e.g. saying they were wrong to put her under church discipline).
Ultimately, I do not know the heart of Matt Chandler and these leaders. They may very well have intended to do good. However, that does not change the words and actions that they did and wrote. As the saying goes, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” I have experienced enough religious people in my life who have professed good intentions then proceeded to be abusive. So, I no longer act like a child in giving religious leaders carte blanche on such matters. I look at actions and pay attention to actual words used.
As to delivery with grace and truth:
Was Jesus being full of grace and truth rebuking the Pharisees as devil spawn and whitewashed tombs? Was John the Baptist full of grace and truth calling Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers? Was Paul being full of grace and truth confronting Peter to his face when he was doing something wrong and harmful to the sheep? And I could go on to share Old Testament examples as well.
Sometimes, it is necessary to be direct and blunt. I think this is especially so when dealing with religious individuals entrenched in destructive behavior/positions as the Biblical examples I just cited suggest. We may disagree about when the time to be direct needs to happen (as we may disagree over the substance of what went wrong in the handling of Karen’s case). It is okay to disagree. But please do not take my disagreement as meaning I care not about those who perpetrate such hurtful things. I do care. But I am intolerant of spiritual abuse continuing or a bad example remaining without corrective comment.
Once again, thank you for reading the blog and engaging with the material. I would like to close by just pointing out that I have lifted up good examples in the past on this blog. I am not merely negatively critical here. In fact, Karen and Jordan’s situation was handled well–in my opinion–by SIM, which is in stark contrast to how TVC handled it. My point in saying this is that I do give credit where I think credit is merited.
PS Exposing spiritual abuse on the internet is far less shameful or damaging to the Gospel-witness than the actual perpetration of spiritual abuse, in my opinion. We may disagree with this. But I consider blogging as another way to shed light where those in power may prefer the cover of “darkness.” Regardless, we are talking about these matters now–likely–because bloggers have brought these abusive situations to light. I think that is good. It provides us an opportunity to take corrective action and walk in the light.