the Hope of Survivors

Doing Nothing Still Counts!—Steve Nelson

Pastor Steve Nelson(From the April 2012 edition of HopeSpeak)

The headlines are bursting with stories about persons in positions of authority who have turned a blind eye when it comes to protecting someone under their care—failing to do the right thing—the very thing their occupation demands. Does looking the other way, or pleading ignorance, really exonerate someone who could do something to stop abuse yet, for political, or personal gain, does nothing? 

Certainly, as members of the church, we struggle with the reality that everywhere we turn there seems to be a moral battle raging and, at times, we seem helpless to stem the tide of evil. With such an onslaught of moral corruption pervading our planet, it’s little wonder we have become desensitized and almost ambivalent to the moral failures of those who are appointed as spiritual leaders in the very churches we attend. But, can we adequately plead “not guilty” if we do nothing?  

Someone, long ago, took the easy way out defense too. He was at the pinnacle of leadership in his church. As the high priest, he was the only one who was permitted to meet yearly at the mercy seat with God. His sole ministry was to represent Christ—who intercedes for the sins of his people. Yet, within Eli’s own family, a dark secret was lurking. He heard the rumors but, somehow, he failed to muster the courage to eradicate the evil. Why? What could he possibly offer as an adequate excuse for allowing such heinous sins to be committed on his watch, within his own church, and by his own sons? He had a choice to make and he chose to do nothing. 

Years pass by and God appears to be silent. He has sent a warning message and now He waits to see what His servant will do. I’m sure the Spirit was pleading for this reluctant father to correct the evil course of his sons, but to no avail.  Finally, in a very unexpected manner, the message comes. When Eli has procrastinated long enough, God speaks. His mouthpiece, a four-year-old boy—young, harmless, and undefiled by the associations of Eli’s own sons—newly dedicated to assist the aged high priest, is to whom God unveils Eli’s downfall and foretells his final doom. 

The Bible account tells us, “The Lord came and stood there, calling... “Samuel, Samuel.” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10 (NIV)) There is an extremely important message within this verse that we would do well to heed. The message God spoke to Samuel that night long ago has similar implications for His church today! Are we listening? If so, are we willing to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening”?

As we probe a little deeper, we find the reason God has chosen to bypass the high priest and speak to his young protégé. The Lord says of Eli, “You honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel.” (1 Samuel 2:29 (NIV)) For personal reasons, some leaders today still choose not to deal strictly when difficult problems arise within the church. Is there something for us to gain by keeping silent?

God had previously warned Eli about the prevailing iniquity of his sons and what would happen if he failed to check their sins. “The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house, …you will see distress in my dwelling.” (1 Samuel 2:31-32 (NIV))  Do we stand firm in protest of evil or, like Eli, do our sympathetic actions toward a fallen minister counteract our ability to adequately protest their iniquitous deeds?  

What could possibly be so wicked that it forced God to deal with Eli and his sons so harshly? It was the same sin that is destroying many in positions of spiritual leadership today. “Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.” (1 Samuel 2:22 (NIV)) Not only was the sacrifice disgraced and polluted, the personal lives of the priests—the very ones who were to be godly examples of holiness—were defiled with sexual immorality and abuse.

Can a minister who willfully chooses to destroy precious lives under his care simply excuse his actions as “a fall from grace”? Obviously, we know people make serious mistakes. But why is a moral failure from a minister so different than anyone else?

For a victim, the church is a haven of refuge—a harbor of safety—and when abuse is perpetrated from a spiritual leader, that abuse is directly connected to Christ. It appears as if God Himself approved the terrible pain and suffering they experienced by His representative. For this reason, God had to act to preserve the sacredness of His holy character. For the sake of His people, justice demanded that judgment be served.

God says, “I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them.” (1 Samuel 3:13 (NIV)) God holds Eli personally responsible for the wicked actions his sons have committed. Why? His office as high priest demanded he compel his sons, who were also priests, to vigilantly maintain a model example of holiness and purity. Eli had the sacred obligation, and authority, to correct their evil course but he did nothing.

The people of Israel had a right to unquestionably believe the priests would always exemplify God’s character of moral purity to everyone they served. Yet, even when Eli knew of his sons’ total disregard for God—of the abuse of their sacred positions and the heinousness of their moral failures—“he failed to restrain them.”

And today, thousands of years later, there are those who still fail in their responsibility to protect the vulnerable sheep from the devastating effects of abuse by a spiritual leader. When a transgression of this nature takes place, those who refuse to correct the evil done by a fallen minister are guilty of the same sinful neglect to God’s heritage as was Eli.

Because of the corruption that had taken hold of Eli’s sons and the people, the Spirit of God had been restrained from His people. The book of Samuel tells us, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” (1 Samuel 3:14 (NIV)) Sin, whether secret or openly practiced, prevents us from receiving the fullness of God’s Spirit. We will never accomplish the work God has entrusted to us if we refuse to bring our lives into harmony with His will. When sexual immorality takes place in the life of one who stands as an ambassador of Christ, our worship, adoration and respect of God’s highly exalted character become tainted—people fail to see the beauty and holiness of Christ’s nature through the actions of His fallen representative.

What a tragic legacy we have on record of Eli’s downfall and final end. Through Eli’s own miserable example, God is still warning us today. Like Eli, there are some who hold high positions of leadership and need to take a stand against the wrong decisions that have been made to protect fallen ministers—those who, like Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas, are destroying the sacredness of God’s church today.

Some may question, “How, then, are those in responsible positions required to deal with sexual immorality in the church?” The apostle Paul was forced to face a similar predicament in his ministry. In his letter to the church in Corinth he openly rebukes the church, and a member, who has taken his father’s wife. Paul directly confronts the situation and openly condemns his actions. He says, “Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.” (1 Corinthians 5:3 (NIV))

Paul was compelled to act decidedly in order to abate a moral meltdown. The effect of this sexual sin was so serious that many persons were becoming desensitized by its leavening effect—precious souls were in danger of losing their ability to clearly discern the vileness of such licentious behavior.

Leadership must always take a difficult but decisive stand when moral issues threaten to destroy the spiritual lives of its members and moral fabric of the church! Paul’s admonishment was, “put out of your fellowship the man who did this.” (1 Corinthians 5:2 (NIV)) Paul knew the church must do something, and the same holds true today.

Recently in Papillion, Nebraska, a high school band teacher, Mike Pollock, was accused of sending inappropriate text messages to a former student. After his resignation, a spokesperson for the school stated that what Mr. Pollock had done was  “…not just a violation by that one teacher, but it's a violation of the entire profession.” If the secular community can see how important the reputation of all teachers are, and that such actions committed by one destroy the reputation of everyone in that profession, certainly the church is in desperate need of true reformation when it comes to how we deal with a fallen minister of the gospel.

One author, long ago, clearly set forth the responsibility of the church to deal with licentiousness when it becomes known. The author wrote we must, “Cleanse the camp of this moral corruption, if it takes the highest men in the highest positions. God will not be trifled with. Fornication is in our ranks. I know it, for it has been shown me to be strengthening and extending its pollutions. There is much we will never know, but that which is revealed makes the church responsible and guilty unless they show a determined effort to eradicate the evil. Cleanse the camp, for there is an accursed thing in it.”[Emphasis added.] (Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery, and Divorce, page, 237) 

In no other profession can an individual exhibit such a blatant dereliction of duty and still expect to maintain their position and be held in good standing among their peers. Many believe all that is necessary to restore the fallen leader is for them to confess—say they’re sorry and admit they made a mistake. Does the Bible support this view? Or does God hold leaders to a much higher standard than we have become accustomed too accept? 

If we continue to turn a blind eye to what is undermining the effectiveness of the church’s mission, and destroying the purity of the gospel message, God will ultimately be forced to take action and deal out justice where men have failed to do their duty. His Word tells us, “Judgment must begin at the house of God.” (1 Peter 4:17 (JKV)) Judgment is a serious time. But, before God passes judgment, He always sends a message of mercy—a plea to return to Him and receive pardon and forgiveness. Sadly, Eli does not heed the warning. He neglects God’s urgent plea and, because his sons also reject the warning message, “…it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.” (1 Samuel 2:25 (NIV))

That same day, both Eli and his sons perish in battle, the Ark of God was taken into captivity, and the presence of God was removed from the people. Phinehas’ wife also died that day and the son she bore forever declared the sin of his father. She named him Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel.” (1 Samuel 4:21 (NIV)) The hand that is stretched out to protect His people will also withdraw that protection when mercy no longer pleads.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, tells us, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” (Romans 1:18 (NIV)) What suppresses the truth? It is the wicked deeds of men that bring the gospel of Jesus Christ into ill repute. God does not lightly regard the sins of those who hinder the work of church—the instrument through which He desires to bring all men to a knowledge of His character, love and saving truth.

From the pen of an author who wrote clearly and forcibly upon this subject we are told, “In Eli’s reproof to his sons are words of solemn and fearful import, words which all who minister in sacred things would do well to ponder.  …Let those whose hearts are given to the service of sin and Satan, beware how they pollute the sacred office of the ministry. Let them beware how, while at heart agents of Satan, they dare to stand before the people as ambassadors for Christ. In the day of Judgment the doom of Hophni and Phinehas will be theirs.” (Signs of the Times, December 8, 1881.) 

All who hold positions of sacred trust and, like Eli, knowingly fail to take a stand against the abusive actions of leaders under their charge, will have to face serious consequences for neglecting their responsibility to guard the flock under their care.

Thankfully, there is still time and mercy still pleads with our hearts. The signs around us loudly proclaim judgment is soon to be executed upon this earth. We, like Eli, have been given a message of warning. God is still waiting to see if we will correct our errors, retrace our steps, and implement justice before He executes judgment. If we fail to heed Heaven’s admonition, we too will pass beyond the line where mercy will no longer be able to reach our ears. Sadly, God will ultimately say to us what He said to Eli, “…I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’” (1 Samuel 3:14 (NIV))

Are you a spiritual leader? If so, I pray you are doing all God requires of you as a shepherd of His people. Now is the time to do what is right, before disregarding your duty counts against you.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18