Holding A Church Hostage
by Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.
“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the
preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call
to mind his deeds which h does, prating against us with malicious words. And
not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids
those who wish do, putting them out of the church.” —
3 John 9,10.
During the Iranian hostage crisis, a TV news series was called: “America held hostage”. It showed how a few fanatics with a few weapons were virtually holding the most powerful nation in the world hostage. It was a trying time for our government’s officials. If the nation gave into their demands, it would encourage them to more such actions. If it acted against them without meeting their demands, someone was bound to get hurt ¬maybe innocent people. There seemed to be no good solution.
The daily news tells us of new instances. Some at home. Some abroad. A few zealots demanding that the world dance to their tune – or else. One shutters at what might happen if such ones rose to the top in some powerful nation. Perish the thought.
Diotrephes was a spiritual terrorist who held the church where he was a member hostage. He loved preeminence. Somehow he gained the control of the church. The results are well known. He opposed the apostles. He refused to receive those sent by them. He used malicious words against them. He was not content with not receiving faithful brethren, he forbad others from doing so. If they did he put them out of the church. Can you imagine what it must have been like to have been a member of that church? Can you imagine the tension that must have existed? Brethren would almost be afraid to breath for fear of crossing Diotrephes.
Not everyone who loves preeminence has the ability to gain control of the church like Diotrephes. One may not have enough power and support to put anyone out of the chinch. He is not qualified for real leadership or scriptural oversight. (If he were he would not love preeminence or be self-willed nor would he want the kind of power he now desires). He or she can still, to a great degree control the church by holding it hostage with an ungodly temperament. Other members live with the constant threat of trouble or embarrassment if his demands are not met. Often brethren will meet his demands to avoid the scene he can create.
In a business meeting several options (authorized under generic Scriptural authority) for doing the Lord’s work may be discussed. Brethren try to decide which option is the most expedient for this time and place. It is obvious to all present that one method is likely the best choice for them. Obvious to all, that is, except Diotrephes, Jr. He must exercise his power of objection. If the method is not the one he suggested, no telling what he might do or say. He might threaten to go elsewhere. He knows no church likes losing a member. He might just sit back and take verbal pot shots at those who are working the option adopted by the brethren. He might just pout and dare anyone to try to involve him in the work.
A brother may unilaterally decide on a course of action for the church. He may be unable and/or unwilling to reasonably try to persuade the church of the validity of his judgment. He simply tells them what he thinks they ought to do or not do. He usually couples his demand with a threat – either stated or implied.
If something is his idea, then he will work his head off for it. If not, then he finds ways to hinder the work. If brethren want his cooperation and/or avoid trouble, then they had best follow his recommendations. All too often, brethren will give into his demands to avoid the hassle.
A favorite sport a few brethren is nit-picking. Legitimate constructive criticism, properly discussed with those who can help and be helped it, is good. This is not what I am talking about. Capable, but sensitive brethren are discouraged from preaching, teaching, leading singing or some other work that needs doing because of such nit pickers. They know the price they will have to pay. If one does accept a work, he is constantly aware that anything he says or does could be a target for the nitpicker. So, the work of the church is held hostage out a real fear of being picked apart by such characters.
Let us have more “fellow workers for the truth” (v. 8) and fewer like Diotrephes who seek attention and power – even if it means controlling the church by pettiness. The Bible does not teach that a congregation should be ruled by majority vote – nor, does it teach that it should be ruled the whims of some sorehead.