The other day, I wrote about the most atrocious thing you can possibly do in any given job. It wasn’t stealing artefacts from a museum as a curator, it wasn’t even killing children as a nurse (heinous and awful as that is). The very worst thing a person could do is actively lead them away from the Lord Jesus and cause them to face eternal punishment in Hell under God’s wrath. Anyone might potentially do that, but I think teachers of scripture – pastors and theologians in particular – are especially well placed to do so. They are so plausible and we (rightly) trust them. Those who take us away from Jesus, the pursuit of his glory and the holiness to which he calls us are – according to Christ himself – truly the most despicable of all.
Whilst on that cheery note, I got to thinking a bit about Romans 1. Particularly to the Lord giving people over to their sinful desires. I have long been of the view that one way the Lord gives people over to sin in the church is to give them what they want.
For congregations who will not wear sound teaching, the Lord often gives them over to those who will gladly please them and tickle their ears. For many, that might not seem like much of a judgement but we have several hundred years now of seeing what happens when churches depart the gospel. Their people fall away because, per 1 John 2:19, they never really belonged to Jesus. Those calling for teaching that will take them away from Jesus, and it is so obvious when you say it out loud, clearly do not belong to Jesus because they agitate for what will necessarily takes them away from him. What they want is evidently not him which suggests they never belonged to him. So, their people fall away.
As those churches limp on for a while, largely operating as social services doling out the feel-goods to whoever happens to rock up, affirming everyone in every sin because God is love, love is love and therefore love must be whatever you want it to be, they eventually peter out. When the church ends up merely parroting back what you can get anywhere and everywhere else in the world, people rightly begin to ask what purpose it serves. When they offer social services you can get anywhere else, often better, and teaching that you hear all the time all around you, it is hardly surprising when people no longer get any value from the church and soon drift away.
For people who will wear sound teaching, sin can rear its head in the church in many different ways. But I know many – despite the words of James who says ‘not many of you should’ – wish to become elders and pastors and teachers. For various reasons, those things may not happen. And yet, it is not unheard of for people to push and push and push until they get what they want. For the record, I don’t think it is wrong for an individual to explore the possibility of entering ministry nor do I think it wrong to push doors, test whether that is right, seek confirmation and all that. But I do think there can be a sinful tendency for some to push continually for such things, in the face of affirmation or calling from any church, and to insist their sense of inner call is right. I think this, on balance, is often more to do with sin than anything godly.
The thing about pushing and pushing for what is sinful is that God may well decide in the end to give us over to it. Our sin may be pushing us towards something that, of itself, is good but for ungodly reasons. Our sin may be pushing us toward something ungodly for ungodly reasons. But God’s judgement will come when he eventually gives us over to our sinful desire.
What does that mean for entering ministry? Well, I think those who push hard for it will soon discover it is not the fulfilling, contentment-inducing non-stop thrill ride they have often assumed it to be. Sometimes, God gives us over to what we want and we discover it is not what we thought it would be. Pastor’s have high rates of mental health breakdown for a reason. Churches, it turns out, do not always hang on our every word and treat us like all-knowing gurus. People do not always fawn at everything we do and, imagine the impertinence, sometimes think our great ideas are unhelpful or down right wrong. Some people do not suddenly grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus but continually seem to push against it. Some agitate against our leadership and stir up unkind and often nasty, pernicious divisions in the church. Whilst I don’t fully agree with the application of how people use it, it is for these reasons that Spurgeon basically said if you can find anything else to do with which you are happy, go and do it! Being a pastor is hard and often feels extremely unrewarding. There is a reason the Bible has commands about grumbling against leaders – people have done it since time immemorial.
But if you have pushed and pushed towards it, God may give you over to your sin. You want to be pastor, fine! Here is your pastorate. That pastorate may well break you because you refused to heed the collective view of the church (or, in many cases, churches) you continually pushed. You may well have gone around many different churches until one would affirm what you, and you alone, know in your heart of hearts to be true. I can think of very little godly about such moves and God may, in the end, just give you what you want and you will find just what a judgement that might be.
Of course, Romans 1 deals with all manner of sin that might exist within a society. These things exists within and without the church in myriad ways. God’s judgement is often swift and immediate, not by refusing to give us what we want, but by ultimately giving us over to it. In his grace he may keep us from it and its severest consequences for a time, we may be given opportunity to repent without major damage, but insist on pressing down that line and God may give us over to our sin and the damaging consequences that inevitably follow with it. We must be careful what we wish for lest God, rendering judgement on us, gives us just what we want.