Pugnacious Elders

I come from a long line of fighting fundamentalists, at least in terms of my spiritual genealogy. I remember a saying that hung on the wall of one of the pastors under which I sat for a number of years in my hometown. It was something along the lines of “I ain’t no limp-wristed, panty waist” something or other and seemed a motto by some fundamentalist leader to encourage pastors to fight for the faith. I had another pastor (KJV only) in my teen years who told all the youth kids about a Chuck Norris movie he loved where his favorite scene was Chuck Norris killing a rat and coming up out of a bag with it in his mouth. This pastor’s teenage sons ended up shooting a man in a drug deal gone bad, and I think they ended up in jail. I’m not citing that as cause and effect, by the way. Just noting some interesting facts.

Now a newer, more sophisticated version of the fighting fundamentalist has emerged. A friend recently recounted to me a counseling situation in which a husband admitted to the pastor counseling him that he was struggling with other religions, and the pastor replied that he just wanted to hit the guy. He, of course, didn’t hit the counselee. He just WANTED to, and he unleashed his anger on this guy verbally though not physically. These weren’t backwards, uneducated Christians either. The counselee left the church … and eventually the faith.

Even as a teenager in Chuck Norris Want-a-be’s church, I noted that the qualifications of an elder in I Timothy 3 in the NAS (which I used at the time even though I was in a KJV only church) said, “not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.” The ESV says “not violent, but gentle”. I get the feeling that as long you don’t actually make fist contact with face, this new version of the fighting fundamentalist thinks they no longer violate this standard for eldership. I would like to go on the record as very strongly disagreeing with that assumption. First and foremost, the Greek word translated pugnacious/violent can mean both the one who actually hits and the one who is just ready to hit. It also can mean a person who is contentious or quarrelsome. In other words, this standard includes verbal violence as well as physical. It includes a STANCE of violence (and an ATTITUDE of violence) as well as the actual act.

In my many years experience growing up under the spiritual authority of fighting fundamentalists, their consistent excuse for their stance of violence is that anything else represents a tolerance of sin and false belief. However, Scripture VERY CLEARLY presents a 3rd way. Scripture warns against subverting the truth AND verbal violence in defense of the truth. BOTH are sin.

Jesus is our model for this 3rd way. In the qualifications of an elder in I Tim. 3, it is called gentleness. The same word is used in 2 Tim. 2:24-26 when Paul instructs the Lord’s servants in how to handle conflict. Be GENTLE. I’ve never heard a fighting fundamentalist give a sermon on gentleness. It’s a limp wristed, panty waist word, right?! Be careful. In fact, be convicted! If the term gentle makes you think women are taking over the church, you need to repent. Gentleness isn’t a sign that women have taken over a church. Not at all!! For women have definitely reached equality with men on the issue of verbal violence. Gentleness is a sign that JESUS and His GOSPEL have taken over the church.

Matthew 11:29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.

Biblical gentleness isn’t weakness. I can prove it to you from Scripture multiple ways, and yet some hard-hearted people still won’t hear it. But it is the Scriptural truth. Gentleness is strength UNDER CONTROL. And in Scripture, it’s strength under God’s control. Verbal and physical violence are strength that has lost its submission to the Holy Spirit and has taken authority on itself. A baby is weak. It can’t hurt a fly. An adult is gentle because though they have the strength to crush the baby, they temper that strength for the baby’s protection. God’s good under shepherd is STRONG. But his strength is submitted to the Holy Spirit. He values the quality of gentleness. He does not assume a stance of violence.

For more on the SCRIPTURAL qualifications of elders/pastors, I recommend this post and the sermon to which it is linked.

23 Responses to Pugnacious Elders

  1. krissy November 11, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    Hi I'm not arguing with you one bit on the matter. I'm just wondering about your scenario with the husband dabbling with the other religions. My question is (and I don't know who you are talking about) but is it possible for an elder to have 'righteous' anger in that situation without sinning in his anger. For example could he look at the wife and children that lean on this man dabbling around in other religions and just ache for them. How can he have a righteous anger to the husband who is letting them down without sinning and indeed be Biblically Winsome? I think about Jesus and the temple. He did have a whip. I hear what you are saying loud and clear. And I agree. But I also wonder if not every situation is to be meek/gentle and in my limited experience it seems to me I've found more passive aggressive leadership. I'm curious if you would speak into the balance there and Biblically how we are encouraged to do that.

  2. Matthias November 11, 2009 at 2:18 pm #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Anonymous November 11, 2009 at 2:20 pm #

    Sorry, the above account was from Andrea not Matthias. I was signed into the wrong account!

  4. Andrea November 11, 2009 at 2:25 pm #

    There is a place for righteous anger. I think pastors must intensely long for their people to be so in love with Jesus that they hate sin just as much as they do. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. I can think of a couple of situations where Matthias, my husband and pastor, was angry about sin that people were engaging in. In one time particularly, Matthias definitely was furious. This guy's actions were affecting not only himself but others and the body. When he had a talk with the guy he didn't let him see his anger but he did, strongly, call out his sin and call him to repentance. This hatred of the sin and his longing for the guy to be restored fueled his pleading for the man to see his sin and repent. This issue is still in process and time will tell if he responds in the right way. If not, he will be asked to leave the church with the hope of future repentance. We really do need to hate the sin but love the sinner and see him through the loving eyes of Jesus. It's not up to us to repent for people and visible anger, without grace, oftentimes turns people away.

    I think the example of Jesus and the whip is a bit different because Jesus wasn't mad at his followers but at those profiting off of the church. This does show us the love and intense desire Jesus has for his beloved church to be pure. We too should be willing to go to great lengths to keep the church pure and undefiled from sin. This takes courage and calling out those who refuse to repent.

    Redeemed anger is a gift of God. It causes us to see sin the way God sees it. However, if not used alongside redeemed grace it can go terribly wrong and cause people to leave the church.

  5. Jessi November 11, 2009 at 3:39 pm #

    I absolutely see your point and also see that it is a biblical qualification of an elder. I also agree with Krissy that biblical, righteous anger is going to be apart of repentance situations often. I think it's just natural, especially when a pastor becomes passionate about his people loving Jesus.

    However, here is my main question: How do we handle this as WOMEN? A) What if a pastor deals with one of his male sheep in a way that exhibits righteous anger because that situation calls for it. I believe my Pastor would do this for men, but I know he wouldn't do it with women. He would absolutely call them to repentance and in a passionate manner, but not in a rough or demeaning way. I also believe he teaches humility and gentleness in a fervent manner.

    Secondly, I see this argument can be beneficial in deciding what church is best suited for your family based on how a pastor handles sin but it feels difficult for a woman to handle. We certainly shouldn't be rebuking our pastors – that doesn't seem the most quiet and gentle response from us as women.

    Lastly, I think using a Chuck Norris scare tactic and the act using very clear and righteous anger when addressing sin of someone you love are two very different things.

    Thanks for writing this – it's certainly good to sort out. Specifically if it would cause some to stumble or some to avoid repentance.

  6. Wendy November 11, 2009 at 5:12 pm #

    What great discussion!! You are all bringing up important points.

    I think the important thing that helps keep perspective is asking the question, “What is the final goal?” It's always (as Paul says in 2 Tim. 3:24-26) “the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” The problem with righteous anger is when we aim that anger at God's beloved children. The anger is at sin and Satan. The real opponent is Satan. And the goal has to be that this person would be freed from his deception by Satan and be reconciled to God. So we must pursue them with the gospel without stumblingblocks that would be barriers instead of helps to their repentance. Our words and stance can minister grace to the hearer (Eph. 4) that would draw someone to repentance. Our words and stance can also put a millstone about someone's neck, and woe to us who do so.

    In the case of the guy struggling with other religions, HE was seeking counsel for his family. He wasn't dragged in by his wife with an attitude of pride and defiance. He was struggling and he needed to be pursued with gospel grace.

    Hope some of that is helpful. I really like the questions and thoughts presented here.

  7. Wendy November 11, 2009 at 6:26 pm #

    Two more thoughts–

    1) On Jesus and the whip. I have several observations about this interaction. First, Jesus does many things that we either shouldn't or can't attempt because we're not God. He forgave sins. He accurately discerned that the woman at the well had 5 husbands and was living with one who wasn't her husband. He told Peter to walk on water to Him. We tend to fairly accurately discern which things He did that we are not called to attempt to emulate (I have never been tempted to feed a batch of homeless with 5 loves and 2 fishes). But His taking of the whip in His father's house is one I think we stumble on. If His stance is one for us to emulate today, then we need to note that His actions were not with the glutton/drunk/adulterers but with the religious elite. And His stance with the religious elite on an individual basis was VERY gracious compared to His stance with them in a group setting. There is no way to apply His example as justification for reigning down righteous anger on an individual caught in sin. I admire the guy in my Bible college who stood up during a sermon to 3000 and yelled at the speaker, “This is not the Word of God.” Because the guy preaching was mishandling the Word of God and presenting a skewed view of the gospel. But if the guy had entered the preacher's office privately and done the same thing, I see NO justification biblically for that stance. If you want someone to repent, you woo them to repentance the way God woos us–by His grace.

    2) What do you do if you are sitting under the authority of a pugnacious elder? I'm a big believer in the power of grace to handle sin. You need to be a woman of gentleness–very strong, but controlled. It's ok to submit in unrighteous situations. We all have had to submit to imperfect authorities. However, we don't submit to the point that we ourselves are called to sin. I think it's ok to gently point out Scripture to an authority. I think it's also ok to live it out without a word believing in the power of grace by example to call others to repentance.

  8. Jessi November 11, 2009 at 6:54 pm #

    Regarding how long we are called to submit (even if being led in sin), I've lately been holding strong to 1 Peter 3 where he encourages us to be like Sarah who obeyed her husband (even into sin – adultery), also to not be afraid, but to win them over with our gentle and quiet spirits.

    Granted, these are pastors and not husbands we're talking about but do we not expect the Holy Spirit (as well as the Holy Spirit in the men around our pastor) to correct better than we would?

  9. Wendy November 11, 2009 at 7:05 pm #

    I disagree (graciously so, Lord willing) with one thing you said. I don't think we are to submit when being led into sin. The husband who wants the wife to participate in a threesome–well, no honey, I have a conviction against that and must choose submission to God over submission to you. Abraham didn't lead Sarah into his adultery with Hagar. Sarah led Abraham in it. It was Sarah's manipulation and distrust of God that set up that situation. Abraham's sin was not recognizing it as a manipulation out of distrust of God's promises and standing up for faith and trust in God as he later did with the sacrifice of Isaac.

  10. krissy November 11, 2009 at 7:09 pm #

    Thank you for diving deeper with this! Knowing the context of the man seeking help changes the way I viewed what your were saying! Thank you!

    I also hear you about the Jesus and whip… maybe John the Baptizer and the Pharisees would have been a better example 🙂

    I have another question. So are you saying we should never be angry at someone just angry at Satan? I do see how we need to be slow to anger, but if God Himself is angry (just not sinning in His anger) than it has to be a 'Godly emotion' right? Are you saying we can avoid 'sinning in our anger' by being Angry at Satan/Sinner (our war is not against flesh and blood) and jut not letting the sun go down on our anger?

    Sorry this is a WHOLE new concept for me if you are indeed saying this.

    My understanding is that the Love the sinner hate the sin isn't a Biblical Concept at all. But it's actually something said by Gandhi. Are you saying there is a separation between the sinner and the sin?

  11. Jessi November 11, 2009 at 7:11 pm #

    You are being very gracious and truly, this is helpful for me! I always thought 1 peter 3 was referring to Genesis 12 when Abraham makes Sarah say she is his sister. And sure – practically if my husband asked me of that, I don't think I'd comply. Wait – I DEFINITELY wouldn't. But the word is there, for sure.

    Anyhow, I think my main thought is this: I don't worry about my pastor's problem with anger, I think he uses it in a redeemed way but I'm sure at some point, there will be something he will say or do that I don't think is biblical.

    I just don't think at any point I'd ever rebuke him for it. To him or publicly. Because I'm not his overseer – he is mine.

  12. Wendy November 11, 2009 at 7:19 pm #

    Here's my quick answer. I will continue to think on this. The greatest command is to love God and the 2nd is to love our neighbor. Jesus says this unequivocally and goes on to say that ALL other laws and every other instruction by the prophets hangs on these 2 as its foundation. The Bible clearly says that God loved the world so much that even in the moment when we were dead in our filth and unrighteousness, He pored His wrath on Christ.

    Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

  13. Jessica November 11, 2009 at 8:23 pm #

    Here Here! I heartily agree- I have been among those kinds of fundamentalists- especially have seen it with elders/deacons (some situations actually did become violent- and these are the “spiritual” among us) . . . So grateful to have found a place and people of genuine gentleness (there is nothing so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as true strength).

  14. Jessi November 11, 2009 at 9:26 pm #

    Thanks for writing this, Wendy, and talking through it. Really, really helpful.

    It has definitely spurred me to do more reading and researching and I'm excited to ask my husband more about it.

    Moreover, thanks for writing this whole blog! I find it super encouraging.

  15. Andrea November 11, 2009 at 9:41 pm #

    It is true that Satan is the enemy! Another thought-the first chapter of James speaks of OUR lust being conceived and giving birth to sin. Although Satan is alive and well, I, as a child of God, need to be rebuked for sinning, not Satan. I am no longer owned by Satan and need to be reminded of this in times of sin. It's in this place that I can accept responsibility for my sin, see how gross it is to God, repent, and move on with my sanctification. I know this is not what you meant Wendy but-If I am always blaming satan it can become an excuse for my sinful habits. I am to blame and need to be called out.

    What I meant when I said “hate the sin, not the sinner” is that we are called to love people regardless of what they have done. We aren't to shun or avoid people that are sinning, but love them in the hopes that they would see Jesus in us. If they are believers and not repenting then we should gently rebuke if we have that relationship with them. If they are non-christians, they are in need of a Savior and his forgiveness, not my rebuke.

    One more thought-You mentioned 2Tim 2:24-26. Paul is speaking to Timothy about unbelievers that need to be corrected in gentleness. He isn't talking about pointing out their sin but their false beliefs. Do you think that gentleness is even more important in this case?
    The church, at large, is so well known for what it is against, rather than what it is FOR. This only pushes people away as they see us as hypocritical and/or moralistic. For example, Atheists in downtown Austin need to see that we love them and God loves them. Their beliefs are secondary. Yelling at them and telling them how stupid their belief system is would only push them away. We have one guy in our church that was raised by communist, atheist parents. He has lovingly been show the gospel and is inching his way towards it. He has never encountered love, grace, and acceptance as he is and also been shown the gospel in a graceful manor. Thanks for the good discussion y'all!

  16. jennifer November 11, 2009 at 10:09 pm #

    I agree and I think this is an area where we need to hear this warning as a church urgently.

    Recently my pastor was preaching a sermon on the Holy Spirit. He recounted a story where a pastor finished preaching a sermon and a woman came up and said “that was a good sermon for someone who isn't filled with the Spirit”. To which the Pastor responded – I feel like punching you in the face – but I haven't – that's being filled with the Spirit.

    There was much laughter. I initially thought it was somewhat funny. Then I went home and said to my husband – if our pastor at church told a woman he felt like punching her in the face I wouldn't think it was funny. I would be horrified.

    Last week we were doing Hebrews and 5:2 really stood out to me “He (the earthly high priest) is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness”. As the verses you pointed to show, this is also to be seen in those who lead the church.

    And to those who think this means not standing up for the truth – I think it is possible to do so strongly without being verbally violent. That pastor could have counselled this man with seriousness and warning, without telling him he felt like punching him!

    Anyway – this is an area that I'm passionate about – as I was in a church for 15 years where the leadership was abusive and I have seen firsthand the damage and the Christians who took years to recover their spiritual equilibrium. I listened to the talk you linked to about pastors, and found it so balanced and helpful. I pray more pastors would be such shepherds to the sheep.

  17. Wendy November 11, 2009 at 10:21 pm #

    Thanks for these comments. My big time burden is that people think that keeping your strength under control will facilitate, encourage, or excuse sin. But God's answer to sin was condescending grace, and I believe God's plan is the ONLY answer for sin. I've said it before but will repeat it here. Grace is meaningless without truth. Grace gets the heinous nature of sin and the sinner. Grace has a stark understanding of the reality of our sin and never sweeps sin under the carpet. But truth will KILL you without grace. There is no millstone that will undermine repentance like rebuke of sin apart from a simultaneous offering of God's lavish free grace as the answer to it.

    Thank you all for your gospel-centered participation in this discussion.

  18. gloryrevealed November 12, 2009 at 9:04 pm #

    I really appreciate your thoughts on this. I agree that gentleness is important, especially when dealing with unbelievers or Christians who are broken, struggling to grow in their faith and stop sinning. Jesus generally was not angry with the lost and the broken, while he was angry with proud Religious types.

    I think leaders need to be careful examine their own hearts first. Is their anger over a situation a result of bitterness? Pride? Are they offended because the person they are angry with does not agree with them on a secondary issue? Likewise, leaders need to be careful to fully examine the situation. Are they angry about something without knowing the whole story? What is the truth? Even more importantly, leaders need to have a Biblical goal for the confrontation.

    I think righteous anger may be appropriate in the case of a false teacher who needs to be kicked out of the church, but even that situation, anger should be overshadowed by love that desires repentence.

    I think it's also worth noting that gentleness is not the same thing as passiveness. If we see a brother or sister in sin, the appropriate response is a gentle rebuke. If we do nothing, we are passively hating the person which is just as bad as lashing out in anger against them.

  19. Anonymous November 12, 2009 at 9:39 pm #

    I just went through something a little like the situation with the husband struggling with other religions. My husband and I were struggling in our marriage, arguing and trying to figure out how to be more kind. We are both Christians. We have a daughter who can be rude to adults and who has sometimes hurt other kids. We've tried really hard to figure out how to discipline her, but she still has some hard days. A leader from our church totally lashed out at us. He said that because we argued sometimes, we were a bad example to newly married couples. He accused us of lies, like saying we were giving faithfully which isnt true. He said that we were bad parents and basically told us to get our act together before we brought our daughter back to church. This doesn't seem right to me. I've been a Christian for a while, but I don't know if I want to go back to church. At least not that church.

  20. janet August 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    There are definitely better churches. I know people who have moved to a whole different city and job to be near a church that uplifts and glorifies Jesus Christ more clearly. This sound like a very controlling church. I hope things have worked out with your little girl since that's been a couple of years ago. The threats from this so-called leader shows the church itself is out of control and full of pride. That guy thinks he has his act together, but he doesn't.

  21. Mark February 27, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

    Came to this from your book review post. I wonder if the change from pugnacious to violent has as much to do with a recognition of lost vocabulary, and understanding that few will go to the dictionary anymore, than a real intended change in meaning. Not that the effect changes, or the fact that it's unfortunate. Thanks for pointing that out in the context of this post. I'm most thankful for a church session that is made of strong but gentle men (and one of our RE's was an AF fighter pilot!).

  22. Weary Traveler December 19, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

    I attend a conservative presbyterian church. when i separated from my abusive (now ex) husband they wouldn't let us tell anyone we were separated. i had no support and lived a lie for over 10 months. even when i went to a domestic violence shelter they wouldn't let me tell people where i was and that we were separated. they were a controlling bunch of leaders and my faith has severely struggled. my children and i pay the price every day – as there was no one to be a witness for me sicne i wasn't allowed to be open about the marriage difficulties. we have joint custody and it hurts every time i pass my kids over to him. if it wasn't for a former pastor counseling me i would have walked away from the church and God forever…actually i still might. I'll go check out your other post.


  23. Lisa Hart May 28, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    I will assume that it was the husband who approached the pastor for help concerning his interest in other religions. In that case, the pastor had NO right to get angry! This man went on his own. If this man was spreading heresy in the church, then yes the pastor could and should get upset.
    Patience, gentleness, and respect are fruits of the spirit for a reason.
    Jesus got angry at the religious people of his day more than he did the “sinners”.
    I wouldn't have gone back either!
    No wonder there is so much secret sin in the church. Everyone is afraid to confess and get help.