I recently read an article about a pastor of a church who didn’t believe in God. Yes, she remained in the position in spite of her belief. Yes, the church and denomination learned of this but continued to keep her as their pastor.
Other than shock and the questions at this story (see article) it makes you wonder what the church is supposed to be about. Perhaps, there is an indignation that rises up at this pastor who openly denies even the existence of God. If the church service were to be watched with the volume level down, I wonder if you could tell the difference of the gathering. I suppose you have to give a bit of credit for her being honest; but to continue on with the motions, the teaching, the counseling and the singing is so startling and repugnant.
I recently listened to a sermon from Ravi Zacharias about the barriers to belief. He cited the story of Elisha and the Aramite General, Naaman. Naaman had leprosy and so his king sent him to the prophet Elisha. So Naaman traveled with a caravan to go see Elisha but before he even got to Elisha’s house, Elisha sent a messenger to tell Naaman to go and dunk himself in the Jordan river seven times and he would be healed. Naaman is angered by this culturally rude interaction (for Elisha did not even come to meet Naaman fact to face) but also the seemingly senseless act of going to a river and dunking in the water was not what he was expecting. Yet, one of Naaman’s servants was able to talk Naaman out of his disagreement, saying, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’”
Well, Naaman goes to the Jordan river and dunks himself in the river seven times and is healed. Overcome with gratitude he does the only thing he could think of and that is to offer gifts to Elisha. Elisha, however, refuses all gifts and sends him in peace. After Naaman leaves, however, the servant of Elisha, Gehazi, chases down Naaman and tells him that, actually, his master really did want some gifts as he now must host and care for some new prophets who have unexpectedly come to his house. Gehazi was lying, however, and wanted to keep the gifts and gold for himself. Naaman eagerly gave Gehazi the gifts. When Gehazi returns Elisha confronts Gehazi who denies that he had done anything wrong. Elisha then rebukes Gehazi who then contracts leprosy on the spot (2 Kings 5).
Ravi Zacharias points out that the man who looked nothing like a man of God ended up working out real faith and the man who looked very much like a man of God turned out to be completely false.
I think stories like this should be a warning to us, who may look like “men and women of God.” Is there a substantial faith? Or are we just going along with the motions like an atheist pastor or a prophet’s assistant. On the hand, are we too quick to judge someone (like a Naaman) by their past or appearance or political allegiance as one who would never have real faith.
This is essentially Jesus’ warning: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in (Matthew 23:13). Lest we keep others away who look and act different from us, may we have a true and growing faith. May we also not settle for mere motions and perfuntery religion. If not, dare I say, it would be better to just have done with it by taking God out of the whole church experience. Then, at least, people know what they are getting.