My Experience as a Pastor With Evil in its Favorite Nesting Place – The Visible Church

Gal 1:14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

Php 3:4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:

2Co 11:16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.

In the first part of this article, it is going to sound like I am boasting. I assure you that I am not, and so I ask you as did Paul, to bear with me a bit while I talk about myself. It is necessary in order to make my main point, as you will see.

Not far from where we now live is the small town of Monmouth, Oregon where you will find Western Oregon State University. That is the universtiy (college at the time I attended) which my wife and I receive our Bachelor’s degrees from way back in 1973.  I was thinking about those days recently and the realization struck me that in my pre-pastorate life, things went quite well for me. I was a Christian then, but not very strong in the faith yet. Here are some of my experiences from that era:

  • I won the freshman outstanding chemistry student award
  • I was regularly recognized by my science, math, and history professors as their “best student.” regularly posting the highest exam scores of the class
  • Both my wife and I graduated with honors
  • My senior year I was chosen out of a large group of applicants for a deputy sheriff’s position in Benton County, Oregon
  • I attended the Oregon Police Academy (Camp Withycombe as it was known back then) and placed second in the class academically, and I won the shooting trophy for scoring the best target with my .38 revolver
  • Two years later I once again was hired out of a large number of applicants as a deputy sheriff in Multnomah County (Portland), Oregon. I would have the same experience some 8 years later when I was hired as a police officer in Gresham, Oregon, having competed for the position with over 200 applicants.
  • In seminary I won the biblical languages award and was also given the honor of preaching at the graduate class/faculty chapel.

And then, in 1983, I was a police officer on a Friday, and a pastor of my first church on Monday.

Alright then, that’s is the end of the boasting. It was also the end of my advancement in the eyes of man.

What has been my experience these 35 years as a pastor in the local, visible church? Oh sure, there were some tough times as a police officer. I was hated by criminals I arrested, but almost always we enjoyed real comradery with fellow officers. But in the vast majority of my experience in the church, I have found that the enemy sits in the pews. Police officer and comrade on Friday. Hated and targeted by false christians on Monday. The change was that real, and that fast.

We now enjoy a very small church of genuine believers here in Tillamook, but this came only after years and years of attacks from counterfeits who had, as Jude puts it, crept in among us. They professed Christ but they hated His truth and anyone to spoke it to them. And as a result, as a whole over these three plus decades of pastoral ministry, I have been hated. There have been no accolades. No awards. Just hatred from those who claim they serve the same Lord I do.

The Lord has been very faithful to us. He raised up the A Cry for Justice ministry in which He used us to expose evil hiding in the church in the form of domestic abusers. He has continued to circulate the books he impelled me to write and we regularly receive the thanks of abuse victims who have been greatly helped by them. But, I say again, as a whole, the mass of what claims to be the Christian Church has hated me.

When I was a police officer, I apprehended wicked people so they could receive what was coming to them. I loved it. In fact the reason I was hired over all the other applicants at the Gresham Police department was that in my application interview one older, experienced Lieutenant asked me, “Jeff, why do you want to be a police officer?” My answer was, “because I love to throw bad guys in jail.” He stood up and said “THAT is the answer I was looking for!”

I still love to throw bad guys in jail by exposing them whenever I can, and that means exposing hypocrites in local churches parading as Christians among the flock.

But my point is, I received a slap on the back for doing this as a police officer. “Good job nailing that armed robber, Crippen! That was great police work!” We were a team. We backed each other up.

That all ended when I became a pastor. Why? Because local churches are filled with people who are fake christians. Or with people who might be Christians but who have been so brainwashed by false teaching that they have been told that it is unloving to throw bad guys in jail! The former class is far more common however.

What is my point in all this? My point is that this is the very same experience the Apostle Paul had. When he was called by Christ, he left all behind. And what was he greeted with in the church? Well, he met some genuine believers. He had the faithful Timothy and Epaphroditus. There were a handful of other faithful brothers and sisters standing with him. But largely, his experience in the visible church is that wicked people would creep in and before long they would have the whole place turned against him. Peter found it to be the same, as did Jude, and of course as did the Lord Jesus Himself.

And so sometimes I find myself reminiscing about those “good ol’ days” when Jeff was advancing, when people would say “you have a great career ahead of you,” when outstanding performance was recognized and rewarded. Those were the days. And then I have to talk to myself and remind myself that following Christ looks exactly what my experience as a pastor has been. That my reward, my “atta boys” need to come from Christ, not from man. Because if all the world slaps you on the back, flatters you, praises you….well, you had better take a hard look at yourself and see if you know Jesus at all.

That “Most Holy Guy in the Church” is often an Agent of the Enemy

[I originally wrote this article on my Facebook page but I am publishing it here as well so everyone can see it]

Beware of people who are too “religious.”

I have been a pastor now for going on 35 years. And I can tell you that the people who have caused the most grief and trouble in the churches I have served as a pastor are the people who APPEAR to be the most “holy.” Let me explain.

Christ came into this world to set all who believe in Him right with God. We don’t enter this life righteous. We all know this. No one had to teach us to throw a tantrum or to be selfish or to curse someone who gets in our way, even using God’s own holy name in that curse. Nope. We all know how to do this even in our earliest years. But Christ came to 1) Pay for our sin by dying on the cross, and 2) live a perfect life in perfect obedience to His Father – FOR US. So that when we simply believe this good news, embrace by faith Christ as our Savior and in fact the ONLY Savior who can make us right with God, HIS perfect life and HIS redeeming sacrifice on the cross become OURS. It is all by Christ alone through faith alone by God’s grace alone. NOT by anything we do or don’t do. That is the gospel.

Ok, so what about these “holy” religious people. Well there is nothing wrong with holiness or with religion, as long as it is true holiness and true religion. The problem comes in when “holy” people base their holiness on works – on things THEY do or things THEY do not do. And then they start telling us that we have to keep the same code as them or God will have nothing to do with us. In other words, they teach by example and by word that getting right with God (salvation) requires not only faith in Christ but “doings and not-doings” on our part. The Bible calls all of this “works of the law” – the Old Testament requirement of keeping perfectly the ten commandments. If that is your idea of what God requires of you, well, let me ask you – “how’s that working out for you?” I can give you the answer. It’s not. Because God requires total and complete, perfect, flawless obedience to His Law, and only Christ could ever pull that one off.

But back to these “holy” people I have known and perhaps who you have run into. Listen to what Martin Luther said about these kind:

“Note carefully that every teacher of works and of the righteousness of the law is a troubler of the church and of people’s conscience. The more holy the heretics seem to be outwardly, the more mischief they do.” (Commentary on Galatians)

Man, I have to tell you, it’s true! Luther is right on. I could write books about the grief and false guilt and misery these kind have brought my way over the years. They come into the local church, they look OUTWARDLY like the best most holy Christians you have ever known. People start listening to them and imitating them, thinking this is Christ. It’s not. These people are phonies. As Luther said and as the Bible says, their “holiness” is barely skin deep. Their hearts are evil and unchanged. They crave to be worshiped themselves and they despise real Christians and the real truths of the Bible.

Let me suggest to you that the most holy, perfectly sinless, purest Man who ever lived, the Lord Jesus Christ, at times would cause people like Peter to say, “depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” And yet very frequently and even typically, “tax-gatherers and sinners,” the outcasts of Jewish society in His day, would flock to Him, invite Him into their homes, and listen to Him. He didn’t ever of course enter into their sin, and He told them exactly what they needed to hear. But people who really were “heavy-laden” with the weight and sense of their sin, craved to be with Him. In other words, the Holy One was not “holier than thou” as we say today.

Beware then of people who display great “outward” holiness. They don’t drink alcohol. They never say a bad word (so you can hear them that is). They are all the time quoting Bible verses. All they do, it seems, is religious. Don’t trouble them with “frivolous” talk about daily things. Oh no. They are too “deep” for that. They say long prayers. They are at every single meeting of the church.

And by their counterfeit holiness, they preach in word and in action a false gospel that can never set us free and give us a clean conscience that no longer condemns. In fact, their “law-keeping” actually promotes and energizes sin. That is why you so often read or hear about these kind being “found out.” Turns out what Jesus said about them was true all along:

You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Mat 23:24-28)