Eli’s Sin Will Be The Death of Your Church

preistGod despises bad pastors.

In the book of 1 Samuel, three corrupt priests receive a large amount of screen time. Eli and his worthless sons are condemned in 1 Samuel 2:12-16, and again in 1 Samuel 2:17-36, and again in 1 Samuel 3:11-24. And all of 1 Samuel 4 is dedicated to their destruction. They are mentioned more than Hannah, Jesse, and many other names that we are familiar with. Yet, we talk about them very little. I too was unaware of how much screen time they received until I started preaching though 1 Samuel.

Let’s talk about them.

What is their great sin? Eli’s sons stole God’s sacrifices. They picked the choicest meats. When God fearing people refused to defer to the priest, Eli’s sons threatened their church members with physical violence. They would say, “No you must give it to me now, and it not, I will take it by force (1 Sam. 2:16).” Taking note of their abuses, God declared that the “sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt (1 Sam. 2:17).” And God deems these men beyond hope and kills them (1 Sam. 3:14; 4:11).

And though Eli’s sons experience the wrath of God, Eli received the majority of the blame. The prophet in 1 Samuel 2 was sent to Eli and asked Eli bluntly, “Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I command for my dwelling, and honor your sons above my by fatting yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel (1 Sam. 2:29)?”  God kills Eli, wipes out his family, and takes the Ark of God away from the tabernacle because Eli loves his sons more than God.

However, we should not write off Eli has some super-villain who always had it out for righteousness, love, and mercy. He was not going around pouring pepper in people’s coffee, slapping babies, and getting drunk every night. He blessed Hannah (1 Sam 1:17). He trained Samuel. He was not all bad. But when pushed came to shove, he chose to honor his sons instead of God. Instead of condemning his sons and overseeing their execution, Eli joined them. Consequently, he doomed himself, his family, and his ministry to destruction.

The Scottish theolog Alexander Maclaren noted:

But all was marred by a fatal lack of strong, stern resolve to tolerate no evil which he ought to suppress. Good, weak men, especially when they let foolish tenderness hinder righteous severity, bring terrible evils on themselves, their families, and their nation.

I fear many of our churches are dying for just this reason. These men are not all bad. These pastors preach some decent sermons. They show up at the hospital from time to time. But when sin arises in their midst, they look the other way. They lack the resolve to meaningfully apply what they preach.

Sure, they may encourage people to try to fix their marriage instead of divorcing; they may encourage the drunk to stop drinking; and, they may encourage the abuser to stop being angry. But if their light advise is rejected by the congregant, they back off like Eli did (1 Sam. 2:22-25). They refuse to discipline the man who is leaving his wife to pursue the sexier more understanding girl down the street. They refuse to bring a second witness to the drunk’s house to call him to change. They refuse to put out the sexual immoral, the covetous, the angry, the thieving ,the arrogant, and the prideful.

After all, won’t people talk? Won’t people get angry and leave? Won’t people in the community think our church is harsh, unkind, and unloving? Won’t people stop attending and stop giving? If we value the worship and holiness of God more than the feelings of men and women, we will lose the buts in our seats and dollar in our bank account. We can’t risk offending their people.

Thinking the above, many pastors refuse to address the unchecked sin in their congregation. They refuse to talk about sin outside of Sunday morning. They refuse to meaningfully counsel with those overcome with sin. They refuse to bring unrepentant sinners before the church, acting as if Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 7 did not exist. They refuse to honor God in heaven more than the people in their pews. And though God is gracious, he will eventually crush those who lead his church to make much of the emotions of men and women. God will not let Christian leaders mock his name forever. God will act; he will depose pastors and remove churches.

Brothers and sisters, I believe most of our SBC churches are in decline for this very reason. Many of the pastors in our convention are more concerned about not offending Susie, Sally, and Jim Bob than they are about worshiping God. And sadly, most of these pastors and their hand-selected leaders have no plans to change course. After all, they deem their failure to address sin to be mark of spiritual maturity. Ah how peaceful their dead churches seem to be.

“Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6)?”

Because these pastors do not address sin, their congregations become more and more sinful. People like Eli’s son begin to dominate business meetings, Sunday school classes, and benevolence ministries. Soon, the whole church is driven by man-centered goals and the gospel fades into the background. Those who love Jesus are shown the door.

Admittedly, most pastors will not stand idly-bye as their churches slide into decline. They will launch a new small group ministry. They will rebrand an existing program. And, they will seek to update the music ministry, calling the choir director their “Creativity Team Leader.” (Goosebumps anyone?)

But will these pastors make the glory of God the primary thing? Will they recover their first love? Will they risk all to obey and honor God? Sadly, the answer is no. As a result of their leadership, their church will be obliterated. God does not honor those who mock his word.

Brothers and sisters until we care about the glory of God, we have no reason to hope for change. We have no reason to expect our dying churches will once again breathe the life of the gospel. Evangelism programs won’t save us. As James MacDonaled noted,

Placing evangelistic ministries above the mission of the God’s glory is the single most destructive error in the church today.”

Cooperation with other SBC entities at the state and national level won’t save us. And updated contextualization strategies won’t save us. Repentance will save us. Once again honoring God above all else will save us!

God spent a lot of time discussing Eli and his sons, because he is deeply concerned about his glory and hates those who love people more than God. Are you willing to make the glory of God your main concern? Are you wiling to call you pastor or pastors to do that? Or are you content to wait for the coming judgment? God despises bad pastors.  Do you? Their churches will die. Will yours?

The Pastoral Plan for Amissville Baptist Church

pastorFor all its vast complexities, Church ministry consists of two essential elements, preaching and love.

The church should preach the Word even when society opposes the Bible’s sexual ethic, even when the local community deems the Bible’s view of depravity outdated, and even when church members and pastors do not like hearing that God commands us to put the needs of others before our own. God’s Word is often unpopular. But it is also gracious, joyous, and life giving. Paul encourages Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13-16 with the following advice:

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.  Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Salvation, hope, joy, kindness, and life are found in the Word of God. If the church loses the Scriptures or minimizes the presence of the Word in worship, in Bible Studies, and in the youth group, the church will die. Her building may expand, but her people will drift far from the God of the universe into eternal despair. Rather, the church must continue in the Word. If the people of God devote themselves to the preaching and the reading of the Word, they will save themselves and others. The church will grow, succeed, and survive.

As your pastor, I come to preach the Scriptures. During my first year at Amissville Baptist Church, I want to regularly and faithfully preach, teach, and share the Word in all that I do.

But great preaching cannot thrive on its own. The preacher’s devotion to the Word must be matched by his commitment to love others. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:2:

 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Though many associate 1 Corinthians 13 with romantic love that they have commemorated via the artwork hung on their living room wall, Paul is addressing the love of the believer. He is detailing how Christians should conduct themselves. Paul says believers should be known as those who love each other. A man can preach greatest sermons, fill row after row of pews with tech, savvy youth, and break into the conference circuit and still fail to love his family and his congregation well. Such a man is nothing more than a clanging cymbal. He is one who proclaims the majesty of God and then slinks into a hole because he cannot in good conscience encourage others follow his loveless lifestyle. His family knows he never has time to hear about their struggles or complaints or to attend their basketball games. His church members know not to call him because he has little time for talking, counseling, or prayer. And the advice he does give seldom goes beyond, “Read your Bible and pray more.” Lacking love, the preacher proclaims a gospel that he has not experienced. All people who have been deeply touched by the love of Christ cannot help but love their brothers and sisters.  The apostle John affirms Paul’s teaching and writes:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20).

When preaching is combined with love, the Gospel goes forward with incredible power. When men and women know their pastor calling them to change is himself being changed by the love of God, their hearts fill with joy and encouragement. I have been blessed to experience this joy first hand. Both at the Bible Church of Little Rock and at Fairdale Baptist Church, godly men regularly preached the Word in love and kindly confronted me when they saw sin in my life. God used their love for the Word and for me to shape and grow my faith.

Though I am definitely an imperfect man with many faults who daily repents, I desire to love the people of Amissville well. I hope to love you as I have been loved.

When I think about all that has happened over the last several months, my heart leaps for joy! April and I our counting down the days till our arrival! We look forward to introducing two (soon to be three) little kiddos to our Amissville family and to getting settled into Northern Virginia!

I cannot wait to worship with you on April 22! To Preach and to love! May God bless us all!

Witkowski Memo: Amissville Start Date

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I will preach my first sermon as the Senior Pastor of Amissville Baptist Church on April 22, 2018. On that day, I will kick off our study in 2 Timothy, working through each phrase and verse found in the text to expand and deepen our knowledge of the one true God. I look forward to seeing all my ABC family that day and warmly welcome all in the area to come worship with us!

As we continue to pack boxes, to switch around official documents, and to ready for the arrival of our baby, we want to thank both our First Baptist Church Eastman family and our ABC family for all that they have done.

April and I have been deeply blessed by the multitude of compliments, encouragements, and hugs that are being showered upon us and upon our kids by our FBCE family. You have loved us well through this transition, doing above and beyond what we could have anticipated. We thank God for you and for all the many memories that we have formed together while doing Easter Egg hunts, watching toddlers, leading VBS, fellowshipping together, and teaching together. God is good!

fcb64785-f132-497f-b1ae-4d58b1ad9535While April and I leave our FBCE family with full hearts, we enter into this transition period with great excitement, looking forward to developing bonds with our ABC church family. We are especially thankful for Dr. John L. Lindsay Sadler and for the Elders of ABC. They have diligently worked and sacrificed to lay down the foundation for ABCs future, a future full of gospel hope and godly expectation! April and I look forward to working with the Elders, Deacons, and members of ABC to build up and to expand upon their fruitful labors.

When April and I look around our house and see that our living room resembles a storage unit, our hearts fill with joy. We know that God is leading us to ABC. He led each member of the search team to my resume before they met to discuss potential candidates. He made April’s and my path to ABC clear and direct, including the unanimous call. God has been good, gracious, and faithful throughout this process. He had done far more than we could have ever hoped for! And April and I know he will do far more than we could ever anticipate or hope for when we arrive in Amissville.

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As we wait for that day, we find our hearts increasingly encouraged by and drawn to our new church family. The leaders of ABC and many, many others have been faithfully loving us from afar. They have helped us find doctors, places to rent, office furniture, phone numbers, and so much more. We praise God for you and cannot wait see you face-to-face!

Counting Down The Days,

Peter and April Witkowski