The Christian church has gone through many phases in its growth. Each phase represents a death of one phase and the birth of another. The death is not pretty. It is usually the result of conflict and internal strife which in the end after much literal or symbolic blood, a newer version appears that attempts to get back to the original church. What causes this turmoil and death? What are the ultimate killers of the church? The answer is quite simply the tongue, complacency, and tradition.
The Force of the Tongue
The tongue is one of the most powerful and destructive forces on earth. With it, a person’s entire self-esteem can crumble and take years to rebuild. Complete relationships can be destroyed. Trust can be decimated. The tongue is not a passive muscle.
One of my favorite books of the Bible is James. It is very direct and cuts right to the bone. While I enjoy reading it, I also always smart afterwards from the loving discipline it administers. There is not one person who can read these words and not be called on something in their lives. You do not have to proclaim to be a Christian either. Many of James’ words are simple, full of wisdom, and widely applicable.
Chapter 3 in James begins with this:
“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you now that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. When the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (NIV)
Wow! These are powerful words. Have you ever thought of how powerful the tongue really is? From personal experience I have wounds in my heart and soul that are still not healed all because of someone’s thoughtless comment. The tongue is deadly. Where do rumors begin? With the tongue. Where does slander and lies come from? The tongue. Where does deception reveal itself and cause death? With the tongue. This is true in your family, your job, your social activities, the school, and sadly even in the church. The church is one of the breeding grounds for the loose and deadly tongue.
I was visiting family once and we were talking about this very topic. The matriarch of the family was commenting on how bad gossiping was getting and how damaging it was. Not one minute after saying those words, the same woman turned to her daughter and said, “Did you hear about what happened at Arnie’s funeral?” She proceeded to tell about something scandalous that had occurred. The tongue loose again.
How many times we have watched churches torn apart because of the wild tongue! One church had a flood in a large part of its buildings. All night long volunteers came in and helped move items out and salvaged as much as they could. Fans were brought in to help speed up the drying process. Because of the force of the fans, one of the volunteers took down all papers from the bulletin boards so that they would not be ripped off. One of the items must have been missed in being put back up. That Sunday a woman was walking through the halls and came upon one of the exhausted volunteers and began to complain. Her notice was not on the board and she knew exactly who had removed it. She was going to confront her right now. The volunteer stopped her and explained how the woman was being falsely accused and the situation around the missing piece. If the tongue had continued on its destructive path, an innocent woman would have been slandered and many relationships ruined. All because of a loose tongue and the lack of desire to control it.
James says that we can tame so many things in this world, but the tongue is one that gets missed. King Solomon said in Proverbs 10:19 that “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” The tongue is a very important part of the survival of mankind, yet is a large part in its destruction. The church is being killed by the loose tongue. Too many men and women are talking about what this person wore and how this person acted. There are too many discussions on who was seen where with who. There are discussions about others’ pasts and current activities that are personal and of no concern to anyone else.
Don’t Give Up Hope
I live in a small town and gossip is part of daily life. We began to see it infiltrate the church. One woman began to ask personal questions about another’s pending divorce. The divorce was not even public knowledge yet until she opened her mouth and announced it to about thirty people. The family could not resolve the issue in private anymore. One family expressed a desire not to come back because a woman had a loose tongue and repeated everything she heard and saw and always added her twist to things. One woman almost had social services at her door because of a misconstrued statement.
One church had two marriages torn apart because someone assumed something and used the force of the tongue to spread it. There was no affair as they assumed, but two divorces occurred because everyone began to talk of the alleged affair as fact. The innocently accused pair had to leave town. What destruction! What ignorance!
Who can argue that the tongue is not destroying the church and every other entity in our world? The fact that others want to talk about personal issues in other people’s lives is ripping the church apart. It has many times over the centuries and so far has not eased. Many problems that occurred during the Reformation were a direct result of gossiping and the misunderstanding of what the original speaker actually said. The twisting of another’s words have led to death, war, and destruction. While many could argue that the Reformation was needed, the method and many of the results could have been avoided.
What can we do about it? We first have to recognize that the tongue is a huge problem in our world today. Facing the issue is always the first step toward recovery. But nothing will come out of it if it is not taken to the next level. Each person has to consciously watch how their tongues work. They have to commit their lives to improvement and be willing to change their ways. Within the church, each person should also be held accountable and confronted when the tongue is loosed and destroys. This does not mean that people should be humiliated or ridiculed because they have talked too much but lovingly have the issue brought to their attention and worked with to improve.
Make the decision to stop the destructive force of the tongue. Only when we are humble enough to realize that and work on an issue will it be resolved. We can stop the carousel of the destructive tongue if we really want to. In the process we can save the church.