I started this series before the latest shooting spree in Connecticut, but the physical security of the church has been on my mind for years. When I attended seminary there were no classes on how to protect your people against an active shooter. Sadly, given the times in which we live, it must be on a pastor’s mind. It seems impossible to make a church totally secure … metal detectors and pat-downs at every entrance would hardly display the welcoming love of God. Still, we must be committed to do all we can that’s prudent to minimize the chances of people being harmed in our facility.
There’s another kind of Church Security that must be on the mind of a pastor. The potential villains behind this concern are not active shooters, but savage wolves. As a reminder, the context of Acts 20 is the Apostle Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. He stopped briefly in Miletus and asked for the elders of the Ephesian church to meet him there. Paul was convinced that he’d never see these men again. His few words of instruction and encouragement were carefully chosen. Every word mattered. Consider what he said about the security of the church:
I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)
When you compare Paul’s concern for the truth with the kind of violence that confronts us today perhaps the appellation “savage wolves” seems too strong. Surely a man with a gun and murderous intent is a more serious threat to the church than someone who twists the truth to fit their own purposes. If you think that … you’re dead wrong. That’s not a pun … it is a provocative statement to express the life-and-death seriousness of protecting the truth.
Distorters of the truth will “draw away disciples after them.” Paul was intent on making disciples of one person “Jesus Christ.” If a teacher distorts the plan of salvation to gather followers for himself, he is playing not with their physical lives, but with their souls! Disciples of a false teacher may have a false salvation. Protecting the truth of the Gospel was so important to Paul that he spent “three years … warning (the Ephesians) night and day with tears.” Listen to his same concern expressed to the Galatians:
Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:7-9)
People who play with the Gospel for their own glory are savage wolves worthy of eternal damnation! Sadly, there are “churches” where the leaders have so capitulated to the culture, so distorted the truth of God’s Word, that every sermon might as well be a spiritual shooting spree. Something is sold as the Gospel that cannot save and so men and women leave the building physically unscathed but spiritually dead. Salvage wolves have gotten in and have not spared the flock. Paul is not the one out of step with reality … we are … if we don’t care deeply about the veracity of the Church’s message.
I have always cared deeply for the people entrusted to my care. I care for them body and soul. One new church has already been planted in Panama City, Panama. With God’s help, Sue and I hope to launch another. We want to make disciples of Jesus Christ the Savior. Pray for LifeBridge International Church and the churches to follow. Intercede for their physical safety. Pray even more fervently that their leaders would follow Paul’s instruction to Timothy:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)