“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Let me tell you about my preacher friend, Edwin. He’s been struggling personally since his wife left him. He made some mistakes along the way, I suppose. Allegations. Investigations. Dismissal.
Edwin was a great pastor. He had the most unique church building, a structure truly built for his congregation. It was small but fabulous. He was a visionary within his field, creating different ways of approaching music and worship, incorporating it into his sermons in fresh ways. He planted satellite churches and outreach groups. He led mission trips and built churches. He worked with similar Great Commission Christian groups, developing partnerships in order to reach as many people as possible.
But then he blew it, it seems.
I heard recently about a gathering where most people knew Edwin, and many were aware of his recent departure. The comments were quite harsh. Other words one might use would be hypercritical, uncompassionate, and unmerciful.
What the group failed to realize is exactly what Donne was describing: there are no islands in humanity, much less within the church. There is no such thing as a ministerial vacuum. When a pastor falls, we are all lessened. We all take the blow, in some fashion. Just as the loss of a single clod lessens Europe without the continent’s knowledge, so, too, the moral failure of a far-off pastor hurts our own ministries.
Edwin’s failures will influence this group of detractors far more than they realize.
Consider the impact of Edwin’s departure: his church is leaderless. The usual lowered attendance that follows the loss of a pastor, worsened by the implied moral failure, will depress morale. Giving will drop. Church members will be torn between defending their beloved leader and lambasting him for his failures, especially at state meetings. The satellite churches must figure out whether they want to remain a part of a headless system. Someone will lose their pastor in order to fill Edwin’s shoes. Younger pastors who looked up to Edwin are stunned into immobility.
Mission teams are on hold for now. Missionaries in two different countries will lose the volunteers who were supposed to help with summer camps and building projects. Some nationals will not receive the gospel. Partnerships with mission agencies fall apart in the interim.
My point is not that Edwin should have recalled his connections to others before making his mistakes. I think we can see that without question. Instead, the emphasis here is on our realization of loss. No one falls by the wayside without an impact, especially not in Christendom.
No Arminian pastor escapes a Calvinist’s fall unscathed. No African-American church burns without leaving a trace of smoke in white churches. Out of fashion congregations crumble to the detriment of house churches. No member disappears without consequence. No missionary stumbles into heresy without impact on locals. Ever. Even if we don’t see it, the damage is there.
The recent verbal stumbles by Richard Land spring to mind. He’s said (and apologized for) some things that at the very least were a little unwise. We should cooperatively mourn his mistake, and and just as cooperatively celebrate his attempts at reparation.
Consider the death of Saul. He died rejected by God, ignored by Samuel, and hated by segments of society. He had anger issues and murderous intentions. His death set the stage for God’s chosen successor to rise to the throne. And yet, consider David’s response: he mourned. He sang about the death of the Lord’s anointed. He executed a man who claimed to have given the final blow to the evil king. Despite the relief of personal peace and the hope of personal gain, David saw that Saul’s loss hurt the nation as much as it helped.
I would never claim that sometimes addition by subtraction is totally wrong. Sometimes, losing our own bad King Saul can only benefit the body eventually. Even so, addition by subtraction is subtraction. By definition, something is being lost.
So in times of loss, there are no Christian islands. How then should this alter our thinking and our behavior?
(to be continued…)