3Jn 1:9-10 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. (10) So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
This is the fourth installment in this series. It may have many, many parts because I have 36 years worth of stories to tell about evil in the local church. I say “local” church because in Christ’s true church which consists only of His genuine, regenerate people, such evil does not exist. In this present world, sure, there will be flaws and sin in the lives of the saints – but these we confess and repent of. The things I speak of here however are a different beast entirely.
In every single local church that I have served as pastor, Diotrephes has always shown up. It is in yielding to the offspring of Diotrephes that churches typically become enslaved to evil. It is this kind of thing:
2Co 11:20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.
There is something in the typical professing Christian that clings to a false idea of “greatness.” A worldly concept of it, you see. Greatness is power and exaltation. Greatness is authority. Greatness is the guy or gal who just seems to be the one who tells others what to do and “strikes them in the face” if they balk at obedience.
So here is what it looks like.
When I came to our present church 26 years ago there was actually an entire hornets’ nest of Diotrephes types. They didn’t get along with one another of course, but they each one dominated their own little realm. I will just tell you about one of them in this post. Let’s begin with Bob.
Bob presented himself as the finest Christian man you could ever meet. I had other church members tell me, “Bob is the most saintly Christian I have ever known.” And Bob worked hard at proving to everyone that he was just that. He was:
- A Sunday School class teacher
- Chairman of the church board
- Present anytime the church doors were open
- Mover and shaker during the building project
- Hand shaker at the door
- Member of numerous committees in the church
- Active in all kinds of community groups
Out in the workplace world however, people who knew Bob saw him as anything but “a wonderful man.” He was demanding, controlling, and just generally unpleasant.
However, as these kind do, Bob had created an image and position for himself so that he was “first citizen” of the church. People would find themselves asking “well, we had better check with Bob on that.” No matter what the issue was, even the smallest decision – everyone knew that it required the Bob-stamp of approval.
But Bob was no saint. He was no Christian at all. Bob was Diotrephes. Bob lusted to be first. Bob lusted to be praised. And just like the Diotrephes of 3 John, Bob was a terror to anyone, especially an “outsider,” who he perceived as a threat to his position.
And a new pastor, make no mistake, is a real threat to Bob and his kind. Oh, as long as Bob could whip the new guy into shape and make it clear to him that this church is the “Bobshow,” all would proceed relatively without incident. Strangely though, the records of the church back then showed a repeated pattern of pastoral departures. “Called by the Lord to a new church,” was what they usually said.
Bob sensed early on that I was not going to be a pastor who he could control. Now PLEASE don’t take this as boasting on my part. I was actually still pretty oblivious to what Bob truly was. After all, this is the very kind of thing I had experienced in two church before I came to this one. That, I figured, is how it is in the local church. No one is perfect, you know. We are all sinners….yada, yada, yada. So it was largely without realizing it initially that I became a real worry to Bob. Bob had been the informal “pastor” of this church for a year (that is how long it took for the church to find a new pastor) and Bob had really enjoyed that pastoral vacuum. Now he had to deal with Jeff.
I could go on and on telling you stories about Bob in action, but let me just tell you how it all came out into the open, at least for people with eyes to see. One Sunday, about a year or so into our time here, I knew that there was no way my wife and I would be able to continue in this church under the existing state of affairs. Not only was Bob a tyrant (and I had confronted him privately and with the church board about his domineering), but sin was rampant in the church members. The vast majority of them were not even converted at all. They lived consistently worldly, sinful lives. It was a mess to the highest power. Such are the “converts” of churches where Bobs reign.
So one Sunday morning I was honest and genuine with the congregation. I did not name Bob (or the other power brokers in their various kingdoms), but I told everyone that the spirit of this church was not of Christ. I told them that we would not be able to continue to minister here with such widespread sin and evil constantly opposing Christ and His Word.
At the end of that sermon, Bob came storming up the aisle. I suppose this was one of my more successful “altar calls”! Ha! But Bob wasn’t coming to repent. Oh no. He came up to the pulpit, stood right by me, and began to denounce me to the congregation – men, women, children, visitors were present. No matter to Bob. Nope. Bob’s true spirit was spewing out. And after he made his reviling attacks, he said “I guess it is just time for me to leave this church.” With that, he did the reverse altar call and went out the door, never to return. I don’t think Bob planned on never returning. I think he believed that if he left, this church just could not go on without him and the people (after I was forced to leave) would plead with him to return. Bob would love that, you know, like a glutton loves pot roast and potatoes.
That battle continued for some years. A lot of years. Bob had allies, as all abusers do. Some left earlier, some left later. In some ways it took nearly 20 years for the church to become whole. There are 30 people left. But the Lord is blessing us, and we are free from Bob’s tyranny and his kind.
The point? This is still another way that local churches become enslaved to evil. Bob, you see, was not just a “difficult man.” Bob was evil. Bob did not know the Lord at all. Not for all his Bible classes. Not for all his prayers. Not for all his service. And yet Bob took that entire church into bondage for many, many years – because someone was not wise as serpents about evil. Someone let it happen. And Bob? Well, Bob just went down the road a ways, plugged into another church, and soon established himself as a remarkable servant of the Lord.” Did anyone from that church call us to do some kind of background check. Nope. They almost never do.
Years later, one real Christian man who had known Bob for many years outside the church in the community, confided to me. He said that when he was saved, he came to this church and the first time he was there, he saw Bob up front in the service. And he saw several other people he knew in the workplace there as well. And he said to me, “Jeff, I was aghast. I was confused as a new Christian. I thought ‘what in the world are these people doing here?'”
And that would be our Lord’s question of any local church members or pastors who have allowed themselves to be enslaved to a Diotrephes. “What is he doing here? Did I not warn you in my Word about such men, and did I not tell you how to deal with them? Why have you allowed this?”