“I know Ryan’s cheating on me!” Stella screamed at me.
I locked onto her angry expression. “How do you know that? Have you seen him with another woman at odd times or in romantic situations?’
Stella was momentarily stunned by my probing questions.
“No,” she answered softly. “But he’s gone a lot at night. And when he comes home he doesn’t say much. He’s not interested in me or our little boy. I know he’s cheating on me!” Her voice was rising again.
She could offer no proof because she had none. All Stella had were her vicious and marriage-destroying suspicions.
I talked to Ryan without letting him know Stella had visited me. When I asked him how he and Stella were getting along, he had little good to say. “She thinks I’m having an affair. But I’m not! Pastor, I’ve been faithful to her ever since we’ve been married. I don’t know how to convince her otherwise.”
Most of us find out at some point in our lives (often as a child) what it’s like to be falsely accused. Most accusations don’t stick. But if you’re called a racist, or a coward, or an adulterer, or any other fiercely negative name it’s hard to overcome it. Suspicions will hang over you like a flashing strobe light wherever you go.
I know what it’s like to be falsely accused by church members. If people don’t like a minister but can’t find a legitimate reason to oust their spiritual leader, they will invent the closest thing at hand.
Not too long after I’d begun a new ministry, a few people in the church realized that I didn’t share their lack of belief in Jesus Christ. Some didn’t believe in God. So they called an unscriptural meeting with just a few of them and the head church elder. A fellow minister, who, by the grace of God showed up a few minutes before the meeting started, joined my wife and myself in answering their allegations.
Several charges were made against me which were untrue—even ridiculous. It became clear that they were upset because I agreed with most of the church members regarding Christ and Christian doctrine, and not their unbelief.
But the worst charge of all was a letter written by one of them who said that I had in some unspecified way—perhaps criminally—harassed an employee of the church.
Whether it was merely his suspicions or an outright lie I am not sure to this day. However, the church elder had talked to the employee I was supposed to have harassed, and she firmly denied the charge.
The church elder abruptly closed the meeting, believing that no one had brought anything substantial against me and therefore no further action would be taken. The liberal group was angry and most of them left the church. By the grace of God and the honesty and spiritual insight of the church elder, who was a friend of everyone, including my accusers, the charges and suspicions went no further.
God blessed our efforts with a fruitful ministry while I was there.
Ryan and Stella were not so fortunate. She refused to back down on her evil suspicions. It wasn’t too long before she and Ryan were no longer speaking. Sadly, their marriage ended in divorce. Her false charges weren’t the only reason for their break-up, but they provided an impetus to head in that direction.
The real tragedy in these two stories is that everyone who made false charges against others claimed to be Christians. By voicing their suspicions they failed God, their fellow Christians, and, sadly, themselves. The apostle Paul warned about this in 1 Timothy 6:4. He wrote,
“If anyone . . . does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between people of corrupt mind . . . ” (TNIV).
On the world scene evil suspicions often lead to hatred, oppression, and wars. In the history of the Christian Church, evil suspicions have led to false accusations, hatreds, discord, jealousy, selfish ambition, dissensions, envy, and outright lies. Believers in Christ whose lives are filled with these negative attitudes and actions will have to answer to God for their sins.
Because the world is filled with evil people, it is no wonder that much hatred and killing and wars start with suspicions. We don’t need to look too far into history to realize this fact. Some of the Caesars of the Roman Empire had their own family members and close associates killed because they were suspicious that even their friends wanted to oust them from their thrones.
In WWII, every time Hitler got wind of suspicious activities by a group of his officers or troops, they were “purged” from Hitler’s military—no matter who they were. If a town or small village was suspected of aiding Hitler’s enemies, he would destroy the village and everyone in it. Hitler killed thousands of German people (including pastors) merely on the basis of suspicions.
Communists are no less guilty. It doesn’t matter what country is in view, even leaders and family members under suspicion are purged relentlessly.
And some Muslims are guilty of the same crime. In many Muslim countries Christians are jailed or killed on trumped-up charges. ISIS kills not only anyone non-Muslim, but also other Muslims they don’t like. And they even kill their own people if suspicions arise that they have been cowardly on the battle field or are sick of the wanton violence and try to leave this barbaric Muslim sect.
Although there was a time in the late Middle Ages when Christians resorted to killing one another, today various factions in the Church kill one another with suspicions, and often proudly, arrogantly, defiantly so.
Catholics are not the only target of evil suspicions, but they are still the number one target.
In his book Getting the Gospel Right (Baker Books, 1999, p. 22), R.C. Sproul claims that the Roman Catholic Church “is not a valid visible church.” He’s not the only one who believes this. The problem is that he is still living in the Middle Ages. The Reformation forced the Catholic Church to introspection and make some changes. The Council of Trent (A.D. 1545-1564) did reform many abuses, especially by bishops and priests, some of whom were appointed by kings and princes and had no interest in or knowledge of being a servant of Jesus Christ. Their only games were money and power.
Trent, however, made few doctrinal changes, and that wouldn’t happen until Vatican II in the 1960s. The vast majority of Catholic Church critics, like Sproul, believe that Catholics still preach and practice salvation by works—that they don’t believe in sola fide, salvation by faith alone. That’s not true, but the subject of faith and works in the Catholic Church will have to be saved for another blog.
Strangely, even though Sproul claims that Catholics don’t believe in faith in Christ alone for salvation, he still maintains that it is “highly likely” that multitudes within the Catholic Church really do belong to Christ (Getting the Gospel Right, pp. 22 and 171).
It is obvious from his writings that Sproul, a Calvinist, is an archenemy of Catholicism just like John Calvin was in his day. Like Calvin, Sproul has a vitriolic, unchristian attitude toward the Catholic Church and can’t say much good about it.
Suspicions cloud his mind. Truth is not allowed to penetrate it.
Yet he is forced to admit that there are real Christians in the RCC, perhaps because he has a number of good friends who are Catholics!
And don’t we all have friends who are Catholics and good Christians?
My wife and I knew two Catholic ladies who were, in the words of a neighbor across the street, “Better Christians than people in my church,” which was an evangelical church. Yet he had his suspicions that they weren’t really saved for no other reason than that they were Catholics.
Even though they did anything for this man—even taking him to a doctor or the hospital—he was always badgering them about accepting Christ. “I don’t know what more we can do,” one of the ladies said to me. “We accepted Christ years ago, and we have always served him.”
I wouldn’t be writing the truth, however, if I didn’t say that Catholics also have their suspicions about Protestants, evangelical or otherwise. I worked with a number of ministers, both Catholic and Protestant, to put on a joint New Year’s service. More Catholics than Protestants participated in the planning stages, however, and it soon became apparent that the Catholic group was suspicious that us Protestants were trying to ramrod our ways down their throats. It wasn’t true, but the joint service idea fell apart.
Our experience was a microcosm of Protestant-Catholic suspicions of each other nearly 500 years after Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
Sadly, Protestants and evangelicals also have their suspicions about each other.
“We have our suspicions that YOU are not really Christian because:
–You don’t agree with all our beliefs.
–You are too judgmental.
–You read from a modern version of the Bible.
–You aren’t a member of our group.” (The most common charge.)
Some Christians are more eager to argue and accuse and hurl insults at other believers than they are in living a Christian life and sharing the gospel with fallen humanity. They just can’t wait to run into so-and-so and tell him or her what a non-believer he or she is!
“Come to our fellowship and you will find real salvation in Christ.”
Paul called them evil, and he added these thoughts in his second letter to Timothy:
“Avoid disputing about words, which does no good but only ruins the hearers” (2:14).
Much of R.C. Sproul’s decades-long diatribe against the Catholic Church is a dispute about the meaning of words and phrases, some of which are not even in the Bible. (Try finding “imputed” or “faith alone” in the way Sproul uses them.)
Suspicious people disturb the joy and peace of knowing Christ, not only among others, but especially in their own spirits. They think they are the only ones right in their beliefs and practices—the only people approved by God–and they relentlessly pursue others to get them to conform.
Did Jesus ever say we all had to agree on all points of doctrine or practice? Did Paul or Peter or John demand that we believe everything they wrote? The answer to both questions is a resounding “NO.”
We do need to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior to be counted in God’s Kingdom and receive eternal life. Our own righteousness (our works) will never save us because we are all sinners needing to be saved by God’s grace through our own faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Works will automatically follow real faith in Christ, both Paul and James tell us (Eph. 2:10 and James 2:14-26).
But never does the New Testament (or the Old) tell us that we have to all believe alike, look alike, worship alike or conform to any other human belief or institution to be a part of God’s kingdom as believers in Jesus Christ.
It’s well past time to stop the church-shattering, evil suspicions in Christ’s Church.
All around the world persecution of Christians by guns and swords and clubs are closing in on our brothers and sisters in Christ. Here in America atheists and liberals demand that we change our Christian beliefs—forsake the very God who saved us from our sins by his Son, Jesus Christ—and accept unchristian attitudes and actions.
How can we resist these things if we don’t stand together as Christians? If we don’t do what Jesus told us: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).
Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
Giving voice to church-shattering, evil suspicions brings death to Christ’s church.
But speaking love to all our brothers and sisters in Christ brings power and life to Christ’s Church and a witness to the world of God’s love for everyone.
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Bonsall, CA 92003