I am not sure where he heard it, but my father used to like to remind us boys, from time to time, of one simple fact: he brought us into this world, and he could just as easily take us out.
That’s probably not as true today as it was when I was five, but back then it was a powerful incentive to keep my nose clean. I am not sure my dad ever would have gone through with “taking me out,” but the possibility was on the table. And I kind of remember a couple times, probably in high school, when he offered to help me pack my things.
I don’t think the church talks like this very often. We’re way more concerned with keeping people around than with taking them out. After all there is a mortgage to pay and how can we tell if we are ‘healthy’ if we are giving people reasons to leave?
I am be facetious, of course. Healthy churches, in my opinion, remind people all the time, that they can be taken out. Which is one of the primary reasons, I think, Jude is writing to the church. I find his ‘reminder’ fascinating:
I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home–these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day (Jude 5-6).
Yeah, God rescues us and His grace abounds, but just don’t forget, he brought us into the world–just like he rescued Israel from slavery and gave all those angels their own homes–and just like them, he can take us out.
I am especially struck by the fact that Jude’s reminder comes in the context of a discussion about church leadership. Certain men with bad motives are sneaking in, taking control of the church, leveraging it for their own selfish gain and apparently, most of the people seem ok with this. So Jude needs to remind them that this is not how God sees the situation. God rescued the Israelites and then he took some of them out. He made the angels and then had to lock some of them up.
The way I see it, there are two possible explanations for this in today’s church: first, we are afraid (or just don’t care enough) to remove a pastor because the church might collapse, or two, we have no idea how to do it. The pastor is unassailable because he (or she) holds all the power. I think Jude is concerned about both scenarios.
With regards to the first issue of fear, let me just say this: the church is not going to fail. You read all the time about people decrying the decline of the church and the fact is it just isn’t true. Jesus is building it; it will prevail. Now you’re little formalized and institutionalized version of it might collapse, but that probably for the best because it will serve to build Jesus’ church in some way that none of us will understand. God destroyed some of his own people right after he rescued them and things turned out ok. If your church folds because you have to remove a pastor or elder, it’ll be ok, too. I promise.
The church is not going to be healthy if there is no process for discipline and even for removing someone altogether and I think this is doubly true when it comes to the leadership.
Here is my recommendation: every member of a particular church should examine and understand how that church (and really, the Bible, read Matthew 18 as a primer) handles discipline and not just for the congregants, but especially for the pastor. Is there a process for rebuke? Can he be fired? If not, then I think there are some serious problems and some adjustments to the church governance and leadership needs to be enacted.
If we don’t know how to discipline and remove people, especially our pastors, who often hold disproportionate power and influence, then I don’t think we have much hope for a healthy, local church.