Friday, March 18, 2005

Church under seige

For the past two years I served on an Administrative Commission for a church in my area. An Administrative Commission is formed by the presbytery to take over as the governing body of a church when that church's own session is not able to function--usually because divisiveness and controversy have immobilised it. This situation was one of the worst ever, because it was provoked and sustained by an attorney who filed multiple lawsuits against members of the church, the session, the presbytery and the Administrative Commission alleging every possible type of malfeasance and wrongdoing. Extensive investigation and a financial review by independent auditors proved all of this untrue.

The man's license to practice law was revoked by the state, not for his actions involving the church, but for embezzlement and fraud of his private clients. Subsequently the court found him in comtempt of court for continuing to practice law and ordered him to serve time in jail. He is still out on bond pending the resolution of his appeal--but he has ratcheted up his attacks on this church.

This week the session of the church, which is now united in purpose, voted to ban him and his entourage from the church premises for continuing to violate the ban on videotaping church services recently passed by the congregation. None of these people are members of the church. Appeals to him to cease, desist, repent etc have fallen on deaf ears. His actions bear all the earmarks of several serious emotional disorders.

Tuesday night he attempted to break into the session meeting. The session had consulted the General Council's office in Louisville and the District Attorney's office in the County and so were prepared with armed police officers who had to call for backup to remove him and his group from the premises.

He has publicly stated his intention to return Sunday to disrupt services again. The church and its interim pastor are prepared and have the support of the local police to prevent his trespass. All of us are very concerned about this volatile situation and ask for prayers for this embattled congregation.

No one likes the idea of banning people from a church. I ask myself: What else could have been done to avoid this? Here is a man who really needs the saving grace of Jesus Christ because he is lost in a delusional and bitter world of his own making.

We were guided by Christ's instructions to his disciples about confronting conflicts among followers and had several intentional "Matthew 18:15" meetings:

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or more witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one tbe to you as a Gentile and tax collector.
Matthew 18: 15-17

After many attempts to satisfy his demands or persuade him not to continue his disruptions, those of us on the administrative commission concluded that he was beyond our power to reach. He continues to threaten to "ruin" another Presbyterian church when he is through with this one. At least our efforts have helped to heal the division in the congregation as they are no longer divided in their desire to keep him away from them.

Where is God's grace in this situation? At this point I see it in the reunion of the congregation as the members have recognized this man as being a deceiver and now have the courage to confront him.

Please pray for them and pray that God will change the heart of the man determined to ruin them.

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