17 Like one who takes a dog by the ears Is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him. . . . 20 For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down. 21 Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife. 22 The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body. (Proverbs 26:17-22 NAU)While working full-time as a church planter, evangelist, and apologist for the faith, it has never ceased to amaze me how much slander and gossip fueled by a cold and calloused spirit is prevalent in some local churches that claim to be committed to the doctrines of grace. You would think that with the plethora of doctrinal heresies available to Reformed churches, most people would struggle with the doctrinal garbage; but my own experience working in Reformed Baptist circles proves exactly the opposite. Wouldn't it make sense to think that those who have drunk deeply from the doctrines of God's sovereign grace would be some of the most godly, gracious, loving, and giving people on the face of the earth? I mean, didn't Paul say this?
For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1Co 4:7 NAU)I have found that in general, blatant heretics will not hang around our churches very long because they simply can't stand to hear the clear proclamation of verse-by-verse truth from week to week since it directly contradicts their views. Not only that, but they know they will get weeded out sooner than later as the elders are ready to rebuke them with an open Bible in hand so as to protect the flock from such wolves (Acts 20:28-31). We have had to do this a few times, but overall, it has been few and far between (Titus 1:9).
However, many professing Christians who are thick on good doctrine but thin on Christian love will hang on for years, and years, and years with very little substantive change evidenced by a softened, more pliable, teachable, and humble heart. You would think that the more a person understands grace, the more they would become like a humble beggar: receptive, grateful, and always waiting for more spiritual food to come from their Abba Father. We Reformed folk seem to have done a great job prepping our people to recognize and avoid blatant doctrinal heresy in evangelicalism, but when it comes to dealing with sins associated with body life (i.e., the sins associated with how we treat, interact, and minister to each other), it seems as if God's people in Calvinistic churches are also plagued with some of the same sins that the rest of evangelicalism struggles with, though hopefully, to a lesser degree.
As an elder, I often ask myself questions like these: "How is it possible that people who have been shown so much love by God and His people could be so backbiting and devouring of the very brothers and sisters who have loved them in difficult circumstances?"
Indeed, it has been repeated by many great thinkers, "the church is the only army that shoots its own wounded."
My own view is that in Calvinistic churches, much of this is multifaceted, as it is in other evangelical traditions. Here are a few suggestions as to why professing evangelicals in Calvinistic churches tend to engage in the plague and stench of a backbiting whisperer:
1. The False Convert
Problem: Evangelical churches are loaded with these people, and their kind is not limited to non-Calvinistic churches. They might enjoy listening to hymns, CCM, gospel music, and other Christian genres. They may be able to quote John 3:16 and other popular passages with ease. They know how to speak "Christianese" and can often do so with flowery phrases. They regularly attend church and may even frequently say, "Amen!" to the preaching of the word when all the while they are dying and going to Hell with Bibles in their hands. They have an outward appearance of righteousness and if you were to look at them for a while you would say that they were true believers (Matthew 13:20-22). However, given their lack of fruit bearing, they are silently screaming to you that they are full of dead-men's bones and lost in their sins. They are slaves to corruption and by their fruits will know them. One of those fruits is speaking the language of Satan through slander and gossip that can lead to division, deceit, and destruction in the lives of those within the local church body.
2. The Pastor-Centered Church
Approach: Depend on a personable, dynamic super-pastor to attract and minister to people in the church.
Problem: The ministry of the church is built around a man and his abilities. The pastor plans and leads most or many of the programs. People tend to be involved only in those programs the pastor leads and some in the congregation become like rock-star groupies of this particular pastor. In some cases, this type of pastor eventually can get weary and burned out from all the writing, speaking, traveling, and prepping. See When Your Preacher is Not John Piper by Steve Burchett. When people follow a man rather than Jesus, they will look to what the man has said rather than looking to what God has said in his word. In my experience, this can result in people pitting their pastor (or a pastor) against the Bible when they are confronted with their sins by fellow Christians. When they are confronted in a sermon or in private, they say, "Yeah but, MacArthur says this . . . or Piper wouldn't have said it that way". They say these things in effort to remove the sting of their sin. Of course, I'm not disparaging good teachers; quite the contrary! However, I have seen this phenomenon in the church and it tends to produce followers of men who look to men rather than to God for their reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. It's true that the connection between a dynamic, orthodox Bible teacher/preacher and a backbiting whisperer doesn't make any sense, but it exists. I have seen it one too many times. This is just another example of how sin in all of its irrationality produces foolish and ungodly behavior in those who should know better.
3. The Preaching Centered Church
Approach: Preach the Bible from the pulpit and expect everything else to fall in place and people to grow as disciples.
Problem: Proclamation alone is not adequate to make disciples. This tends to build a church full of Sunday morning only attendees who come for what they can get out of it. Mutual ministry in the body is weak or non-existent. Professing Christians in this environment can become hearers of the word and not doers of the word (orthodox, yet spiritually dead hypocrites, like the Pharisees of the New Testament). This brings us to the next brief point.
The Danger of Self-Deception
The sad thing is that many professing Christians I have encountered in my ministry do not think that they are being hateful, backbiting, and devouring with their divisive talk. Quite the contrary, they think they are serving the cause of God and truth by stabbing others in the back with their mouths. They don't even recognize that we can deceive ourselves, hence the Scriptural warnings from the apostle James,
22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. (Jam. 1:22-26 NAU)The Solution: Repentance in the Context of a Disciple-making Church
Yes, I realize that the above title might sound overly simplistic. Conceptually, it is simple. Practically it's usually not that cut and dried. It is simplistic because whether false professor or gossiping believer, both parties should repent and do works befitting of repentance. However, because God grants repentance to the former and oftentimes uses disobedience to chasten the latter, things are not as cut and dried practically speaking (2 Timothy 2:25; Hebrews 12:5-11). God must do a work of grace in both hearts, and apart from some dramatic road to Damascus type of experience, discerning whether God's work of conversion or sanctification has or is taking place takes some time. Sure, we follow the Scriptural protocol for church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:6). But that takes time too, and people need to be given space for repentance. Either way, false professors usually leave a disciple-making church (1 John 2:19) and sinning Christians repent soon or don't repent soon and get spanked by their loving Heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:5-11). In other words, God takes care of these things in His own way, but these things take time to deal with. Personal discipleship in the Scriptures with the foundational presuppositions of a high view of God and a low view of man is the ticket to taming the tongue. This discipleship is best done in a one-on-one or small group context where untamed tongues can be lovingly domesticated by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Scriptures and God blessed teachers and mentors who can exemplify what it means to have a controlled mouth (James 3:1).
May God bless our churches in these efforts beginning with our own repentance as leaders if necessary, and may the fruits of that repentance show itself in our people who must allow their souls to be cleansed from the plague and stench of a backbiting whisperer.