1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Has this ever been the cry of your heart? Can you relate to the grief of the Psalmist? There are four passages in the Scriptures that have this tone—How long, O Lord? It is a question cried out to God at a time of great anguish of soul. In this case, David in Psalm 13 calls out to God at a time of great personal offense. Many have experienced this kind of soul-jarring suffering and cried out to God for relief and justice. I have felt this agony numerous times in recent months as I watch things unfold in our world. But time and again, I come back to the sovereignty of God. God knows and he cares, even when, it seems, that others do not.
I have also asked that question “How long, O Lord?” as it comes to the evangelical world in which we live. The chaos, the shame, the conflict, the acrimony, the scandal! No wonder unbelievers turn away from our message of hope and redemption. Lawsuits charging malfeasance of the worst sort (12 women from Liberty are suing the school for failing to protect them from sexual predators). How long, O Lord?
The fallout from the Ravi Zacharias wickedness continues to claim victims. So many good people who sought to serve the Lord with RZIM either missed the warning signs, willfully ignored them, or had no idea what the higher ups were doing. Now there is a lawsuit pending claiming that RZIM defrauded its donors by covering up Ravi’s sin. The legacy of his wickedness will cascade through the Christian world for decades. How long, O Lord?
More sexual predators are getting exposed in the church practically on a daily basis. A recent conviction was of a pastor of a church with multiple staff . . . he was the pastor for preaching. He molested a young girl for years . . . sometimes multiple times per day. Then he stood in the pulpit to preach. What wickedness! What depravity! What evil! How long, O Lord? It’s good that he was been caught but it’s tragic that this evil infests the church so deeply. Sometimes these accusations involve a cover up. This one was brought to the authorities’ attention immediately. Some cover-ups of the most egregious forms of wickedness have occurred. These scandals reach to all aspects of Christendom—from Roman Catholicism to Southern Baptists. None of our churches are immune. How can the Church speak out in the world of Andrew Cuomo, when we are plagued with such evil ourselves? “How long, O Lord?”
Churches are being led by abusive leaders that leave in their wake broken lives of those abused. A man can be at the center of the evangelical world one day, yet despite his egregious actions and being judged by fellow elders as unfit for ministry, he simply moves to another location and starts the process all over again, leaving more chaos in his wake. Mark Driscoll went through a very public scandal at Mars Hill church in Seattle, eventually resigning from the church that soon disbanded. Without going through a restoration process, he moved a few years later to Scottsdale, AZ to begin a new church, one, apparently without internal or biblical structure or oversight and then appears to have repeated what happened previously. Christianity Today has a very inciteful series of podcasts, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill on the downfall of Driscoll and Mars Hill. There is another scandal unfolding at his current church accusing Driscoll of abusive behavior, separating his children’s in-laws from their children over accusations of disloyalty. These accusations have prompted more than three dozen former elders and leaders at Mars Hill to issue a public statement declaring Driscoll unfit for ministry and calling on him to step down and seek reconciliation. Yet Driscoll remains committed to his path, despite this call. “How long, O Lord?” Update: Here is an important timeline on the last days of Mars Hill.
Struggles are also surfacing at McLean Bible Church located outside our nation’s capital where former International Mission Board president David Platt is currently the pastor, and at Bethlehem Baptist Church here in Minneapolis, long-time church where John Piper was pastor. At issue in both cases is a charge of “wokeness” and a disputation of these charges. Churches will certainly have to grapple with race issues until Jesus comes and the resolution may ultimately take divine intervention. Unfortunately, in the case of both churches, there seems to be a failure of leadership and leadership structure, with evidence of not following clearly defined biblical polity. Questions over congregationalism have surfaced at McLean. Was the will of the congregation followed in the election of elders? The church has a web page devoted to the controversy. The dissenting group has a Facebook page to post their grievances. “How long, O Lord?”
Elders lead the church. If one elder is charged with misconduct by a fellow elder, the elders as a group, have a duty to hear the grievance and adjudicate the issue, taking both sides into consideration. In the case of Bethlehem, the elder was exonerated. So why did the elder who brought the charge in the first place put his letter before the public? This appears to be what has happened at Bethlehem. I come from a world that had few churches with elders. I was introduced to this idea of elders through Mark Dever’s booklet Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (originally a booklet, now a larger book) and later through Polity and have moved to an elder-preferred model in my thinking, instructing my students in the importance of elder led-churches, although the churches to which I have belonged have had no elders. But having observed elder churches near and far, I have come to one studied conclusion—elders only work when elders work. Having them isn’t as important as actually using them properly. To have elders and simply ignore the process (as what may have been done at Bethlehem) defies the very reason for elders in the first place. The few are to yield to the many, cheerfully and lovingly. If an elder really cannot support the decision of the many, then a quiet withdrawal is the only Christian thing to do. Of course, if the elder process has been corrupted by placing unqualified and ungodly men on the board, the few could be in the right, but they should have protested the elder process long before a crisis came. To support the elder structure until a crisis occurs, and then abandon the process at the eleventh hour, leaves the church to upheaval. How long, O Lord?
Some Christians argue for peace at any price. No matter what has been done or who did it, we have to protect the church or the organization. This sadly results in devastation when the light of truth finally reveals the ugly realities. Sin gets covered over, error gets tolerated and people’s lives are wrecked. I’ve always found it remarkable that in the case of David’s sin with Bathsheba, when Nathan the prophet confronts him (2 Sam 12), David is charged with giving the enemies of the Lord an occasion to blaspheme (KJV and NASB95) or David, by his actions, caused the Word of the Lord to be despised. By whom? Why did God reveal David’s sin to the prophet in the first place? It seems that God could have kept the matter concealed to protect his name. However, God is more concerned about truth than he is about his own “reputation.” When sin is covered, we are not protecting God or his reputation, we are protecting ourselves or our organization or its flawed leaders. We are not following God’s example. Sin should be challenged and exposed, no matter what is at stake. “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Prov. 28:13).
Things in our evangelical world are ugly and getting uglier. How long, O Lord until you return, and we see truth and righteousness prevail? How long until your peace rules our earth and our experience? How long until we see a new heaven and a new earth? O Lord, how long? Maranatha!
Personal update: Readers of my blog may have noticed that I have been absent for several weeks. First, we went to a family reunion in Indianapolis, and I had a research trip scheduled for Nashville the following week. It is hard to blog and do research for other projects. Also, we are caregivers for our thirty-one-year-old son. For about four months, Rebecca and I have been his sole caregivers. This is due to a combination of COVID related issues and the government’s generosity in paying people not to work. While on our trip, we were exposed to COVID. No, we didn’t get it, likely because we were vaccinated several months ago, but my wife’s younger sister did get sick and she has been waging a battle with COVID pneumonia in a hospital in GA for two weeks, on a ventilator most of this time. My wife has been the point person in communicating between the hospital and the family. No one can visit in the hospital so talking to the doctors and nurses several times per day is the only way to keep abreast of things. She spends a lot of time updating the status and talking with various people about her sister. So, the short story is that we have been busy. Also, I recently completed a 2000-word follow-up essay for The Baptist Bulletin, which just published an article on the importance of teaching our congregations church history.
Finally, a brief comment on my research trip. I had the joy of spending time at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville. Taffey Hall and her staff made me feel welcome and were eager to help me locate material in their vast collection. I was working on two projects—Baptists and Slavery and Baptists and Freemasonry. The second topic will be a paper which I plan to read at ETS this fall.
As if this wasn’t enough, I have been dealing with some sort of infection this week and have had zero energy all week. But this is passing, so I can now finish what I started last week—this essay. Soli Deo Gloria!