A Church Bully Transformed

America is at war — not just with ISIS but with itself. Civility vaporized during last year’s presidential campaign, and since then our nation has become even nastier. Campuses are convulsed with hate disguised as tolerance. Politics is polarizing friends and even families. What an opportunity for the church to shine the light of Jesus throughout this dark world.

Instead, Adventists themselves are divided, as never before in our lifetime. Sensing the need for unity, global church leaders are earnestly seeking compliance over important issues. It’s not working. Policies designed to bring us all together are in some cases driving us further apart.

Amid the turmoil, your local church can be a haven of “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Indeed, many Northwest Adventist congregations are like that. You feel the love the moment you walk into the foyer. Unfortunately, other churches are like the Christians in first-century Corinth, riven with disunity and dysfunction. Back then it was circumcision and ceremonies; today it’s women’s ordination and the role of Ellen White.

In this perilous hour, faithful pastors and elders courageously minister grace and healing to God’s flock. They don’t flee from bullying wolves in sheep’s clothing who resist God’s purpose: “Let all be fully convinced in their own minds” (Rom. 14:5). Terrorists of the Testimonies aspire to become your conscience — and if they can’t control you, they condemn you.

What to do with them? The New Testament prescribes congregational discipline (e.g., 1 Tim. 5:19–20). This seldom happens, since leaders often flinch before well-funded bullies.

Every veteran pastor has stories about cruel and unusual ministry. I recall an epic event as a young pastor in 1978 — the “Battle of Millie.”

Millie was a committed Christian who aspired to become an Adventist. But Blanche, her neighbor and our longtime member, decided Millie wasn’t ready. Although Millie had studied for months, Blanche insisted she must first read through Ellen White’s Testimonies for the Church.

Now, Millie already believed in Ellen White's gift of prophecy, but that wasn't enough for Blanche. Every day she phoned to quiz her about church standards (and traditions). Blanche's relentless inquisition became too much for Millie. Discouraged, she doubted her own fitness for baptism.

As pastor, I couldn't stand by while Satan “the accuser” (Rev. 12:10) destroyed Millie through Blanche. The church’s jihadist must be silenced, not just for Millie’s baptism but for the sake of the whole congregation — even for Blanche's own salvation. After much prayer, I decided to employ a radical tactic not found in the Church Manual.

Dropping by unannounced at Blanche's house, I found her eating a bowl of ice cream. She wiped her mouth and launched into a screed on why Millie couldn't be baptized.

"Wait a minute," I interrupted. "We've talked enough about Millie. Let's talk about you. So you’re eating ice cream! Don't you know the Testimonies condemn the combination of milk and sugar?"

Blanche flinched. I had only just begun.

"Not only that, I'm sure you've read in the Testimonies about overeating. How then have you gotten so overweight?"

Blanche's jaw dropped in shock. How dare this young pastor expose her inconsistencies! I pressed on with my desperate intervention.

"Now, you've been an Adventist 50 years. How faithfully do you obey the ‘straight testimony’? I see your TV turned on over there. Do you spend your days watching the soaps and game shows? How long has it been since you read through the Testimonies?”

"It's been awhile,” she grudgingly admitted.

"Well, bless your heart," I concluded. “We all have much room to grow. So I guess you can stop condemning Millie and let God lead her in His own time and way."

Well, Blanche was so angry it seemed she wanted to spit nails at me. But for the first time, she was speechless, with nothing more to say to Millie — just as I had hoped would happen. I took advantage of her ceasefire to rescue Millie for baptism.

The next Sabbath, as Millie dressed for baptism, Blanche sat in the back row, arms crossed. When I smiled at her she looked away. So I went over and gave her a big hug.

"I love you, Blanche. You're not going to stay mad at me, are you?" I winked and saw the hint of a smile.

From that day forward, Blanche was a kinder and gentler Seventh-day Adventist. She became best friends with Millie. They rode together to church every week until Blanche finally died, resting in the grace of God.

What God did for Blanche, He can do for Adventist members, leaders and congregations around the world. So “let the peace of God rule” in our hearts (Col 3:15).

September 26, 2017 / Perspective
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