When Our Shepherds Go Wrong, We are in Big Trouble
Malachi 2:7-9, “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. (8) But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts, (9) and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.”
If I have preached this sermon to you before, my apologies. I know these verses have been leaping out at me for some time.
God had a case with the priests. The people had returned to the land, rebuilt under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, spurred on by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Now they were stumbling again. And God hammers the spiritual leaders for it. I have no doubt that His words apply directly to our condition today.
What SHOULD be happening in our churches under the ministry of godly leaders?
- They should be teaching the Lord’s truth – knowledge,
- The people should be able to go to their shepherds and know that the instruction they receive will be the message of the Lord
What IS the far-to-common case in our churches however?
- The shepherds have turned aside from the way
- Their instruction causes the people to stumble under a heavy load
- They show partiality in their ministry
God sees it and knows it. He has a case against those who are doing this to His people.
Now, I know full well that there are some, here and there, faithful pastors ministering for Christ. And I am not trying to sit back and be the self-righteous “I am the only one left” kind of Elijah. I do not enjoy having to say these things, believe it or not. Frankly it frightens me to have to say it because if what I am saying is true, then the evangelical church of our day is in one huge, terrible mess. And yet story after story after story comes to us every week now it seems, describing the treatment that the weak and oppressed are receiving at the hands of their churches. I would have to be willfully blind to claim it isn’t happening. Story after story after story of sexual abuse. Of domestic abuse. And of cover-up. Of church leaders rendering judgment in favor of the wicked. Arguing that this is mostly caused by ignorance will only get us off the hook so far. But it cannot explain what is happening completely. What does explain this sorry state of affairs is Malachi’s description of the sinning priests of his day. They had turned aside from Christ to their own way. They teach things that cause Christ’s sheep to stumble. They side with those who can benefit them the most rather than being impartial in their judgments.
Yes, I know very well that to the average church member it doesn’t look this way. People who talk like I am talking here are going to be labeled as paranoid, self-glorifying, dooms-dayers. But I challenge – no, I double and triple-dog dare anyone, to sit down and read and listen to the victims of this terrible injustice that I read every week, and still maintain that I am overstating the case. The rising tide of the outcry is growing and growing and I do not think that the church is going to be able to continue to ignore it. At least I pray not. The cat is out of the bag and that cat has no intention of crawling back inside it. Victims of abuse who have come into the light and now understand what has happened to them, both at the hands of their abuser and at the hands of their church, are just not the kind of folks who tend to shut up about it.
What is the solution? Guess what, it isn’t really very complicated at all. “Return to Me, and I will return to you.” But keep refusing, keep turning a deaf ear and blind eye to the plight of the weak and oppressed, well, here it is in the Lord’s own words:
Malachi 2:1-2, “And now, O priests, this command is for you. (2) If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the LORD of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.”