In his book On Christian Teaching, St. Augustine outlines seven steps to wisdom, based on Isaiah 11.2-3. They are:
1. Fear of God.
2. Holiness; not contradicting Holy Scripture.
5. The resolve of compassion.
6. Purify the eye by which God may be seen.
7. Ascent to wisdom.
“These are the stages by which we progress from the one to the other.”
This week I listened to a sermon given by a former pastor of mine. This man has unresolved issues which not many people know about, and which are not massive, but need to be dealt with. He resigned as pastor several years ago and destroyed the church that I was a part of. Now, he is an assistant pastor at a different church, preaching again.
He illustrates a larger truth about most churches, which is that they seem to do no investigation of the past for leaders. I know more formal churches might have you submit papers if you’re going to be the head pastor; they might run a background check on you and have you submit a questionnaire. But non-denominational churches seem to typically do no research on non-pastoral leaders: elders, deacons, teachers, etc.
You can probably walk into most churches and within a year be teaching or leading in some way. Do they ever say, “give us a list of the churches you’ve attended before” and then call people there? Do they contact former pastors, teachers, friends and ask about how you parted? Or do they simply take your word for it, because after all, you’re such a nice, normal guy? In other words, does the past matter at all to us, or do we live in the eternal now where the past is beyond finding out and we can only deal with what we see right in front of our eyes?
If past problems are doctrinal or related to praxis, how we live, do they get short-shrift? Do we only worry about stealing money, adultery or other “big” sins? Do we care about things like “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”
This is another part of the broader breakdown of church discipline. Churches don’t communicate, don’t care and don’t function well in this area. And by the way, all the baptized are brothers and sisters. There isn’t “that church” or “our church.” The problems of the church ordaining gays or whatever are your problems, their bishops are your bishops, because we all share the same baptism. We’re not isolated in our denomination just because we say so.