The fellowship was started by three of us guys who were friends and started a fellowship every other week in a home. It grew when we included more friends, invited others, and they invited others. We outgrew the home and ended up meeting in a rented room at a recreation center in Raleigh.
Over the course of several years, the man who claimed leadership and took the role upon himself, arranged for me and the other founding member to both be kicked out within a year of the other. He left a high body count of wounded saints in his wake. I talked with one within the past few weeks and keep in touch with three others at least semi-regularly. A fourth, whom I love dearly, I used to have fellowship with regularly, but have not spoken with in a while. It is not because I don't care for him, it is because I just haven't and should.
What reminded me of this man, whom I will call "William", is an email newsletter I got today. I don't even know how I got on this list, but I have been getting their newsletters for a few years now. Once in a while, there is a great column or food for thought. The minister who puts out this newsletter has "a lot on the ball", to borrow a cliche. I don't agree with everything, but for the most part, I can stomach what I read.
Today's newsletter had an article on Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas. Their story takes place around the time before and after the birth of Samuel the prophet, and can be found in the Bible in 1 Samuel chapters 1 through 4.
"William" made a declaration before he started wielding his axe to chop me that God told him that there were Hophnis and Phinehases in the fellowship and they had to be dealt with. What a great irony I found in this statement. He apparently viewed me as either a Hophni or a Phinehas.
The irony is that either that made him Eli, who was doomed and lost favor with God; or he accused myself and possibly others of the very thing he was guilty of. Hophni and Phinehas were guilty of sexual sin and ill gotten materialistic gain by manipulating the people of God for offerings improperly.
"William" had a problem with money. He solicited offerings from the brethren and sometimes failed to use the money for the intended purpose. He manipulated men into loaning him money for ministry trips or business ventures and then claimed that they were donations. I have heard several stories of men getting hosed by this same guy for money. He defrauded me of a day's wages then had the audacity to have someone ask me to come help him for a project for a day. He owed back wages to a man (who was unfortunately introduced to "William" by me personally), promised him that when he got the money that he would pay him (in my presence) and then decided to never pay him (also in my presence). Hophni and Phinehas had a problem with disrespectful and improper monetary gain from the people of God. So did "William". It may still be the case.
Hophni and Phinehas had problems with sex. They were fornicating with temple servants. As I found out, not long before I met "William", he had an affair and cheated on his wife. When he was single, he would minister to single young women then seduce them. He often ministered in our fellowship about sexual sin. He would denounce pornography, fornication, masturbation, etc. The problem was that he would do this incessantly. I often wondered why this was the case. With hindsight, I have figured a few things out, but it may be speculation.
During the incessant sexual purity lectures, I wondered why he hammered on this stuff. He often claimed that others had a sexual sin problem. Yes, one person we both knew did have a BAD problem with sexual sin, but he was not always there. Actually, he was only there for a short season. I knew that I was clean. Sure, I am a male with two eyeballs and two testes. I enjoy naked women as much as any normal man. I was also a married man who loves his wife and wanted to stay pure. He often accused any man (especially pastors) who were on the internet of partaking of online pornography. He readily levied that accusation. Not every person who is online is into porn. As a matter of fact, for a long time after being online, I had never encountered any online porn. Sure, I got solicitations via junk email, but I had not been to such sites. During that entire time he rambled on about internet porn, I had not touched it. In the years following and in decade that I have been online, I have stumbled across my share since. It is pretty hard NOT to find it now, it is so darn pervasive. I also work in the cable TV business. Cable TV providers are huge purveyors of pornographic video, and I do run across it from time to time during the course of my job. That does not mean that I have to sit and enjoy it, though.
Looking back, I also recall times when just walking down the aisle at a store with "William", he would grab me and duck down another aisle when an attractive or scantily clad woman would be approaching. Though I understand avoiding the temptation of drinking in the scenery, I found it awkward. I wasn't dealing with that sort of temptation with the eyeballs sufficiently to have the need to duck down an aisle. That tells me where he was. That, however, is no reason to ascribe that same struggle to others. Other times, he would share with me how he believed that certain women were sexually attracted to him. I can recall several times that he related this belief as certainty in his mind. Sure, whatever.
The whole thing about the article I linked you to is about confronting sin in the House of God. Ministers are not above rebuke. They must be held accountable. Just because they have a measure of authority does not make them above reproach.
The key here is that little three letter word. SIN. It is not a matter of a difference of opinion. Men can disagree on doctrine, on conducting the affairs of life, and on many issues. However, because one disagrees on some things does not mean that one is in sin. False holiness is applying your own personal convictions to others as a standard of personal holiness and measure of relationship with God. That was the basis for my "dismissal" from that fellowship. It was a difference of opinion, not holiness or sin. You do not cut off someone, consider them anathema, or treat them as a heathen and a publican because they refuse to go along with your opinion of how things should be. Church discipline is about sin, not personal preferences.
For years, I have recommended the book, "False Holiness Exposed" by Bob Hellman. God's grace is amazing. Before the fallout with "William", I was walking through a bookstore and I was intrigued by the book's title. The Holy Spirit was dealing with me on that very topic. That book reinforced exactly what the Spirit was teaching me and helped guide me through that turmoil.
Anyway, the article reminded me of the ponderings I have had over the years. I have mused about the Hophni and Phinehas accusation made by this so called "prophet". The absolute irony of the accusation does not escape me. To call someone the very thing that he himself was is either blindness or hypocrisy. I am not sure which it was, or maybe both.
I have shed many tears over this man, his family, the fellowship of brothers I left, and the situation. I have prayed for them often. I know why God says in
Matthew 5:44 "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you"
It is not just for their benefit. It is for your OWN benefit. Trust me. I have lived it. Another helpful book that I found that coincides with and reinforces this principle is John Bevere's "The Bait of Satan". That is one book I recommend for those who have been done wrong by others, especially so called ministers. That book really helped me in my time of anguish.
When you hear a message from the Lord, I have found that it is usually for yourself FIRST. Upon receiving a message from God, I have learned that unless there is a specific intended recipient, to examine myself first. Maybe that lesson is lost on others. I am all too aware of my flaws. I deal with them and weep over them at times.
To be honest, since my parting of ways with "William", I have fellowshipped with many different people, learned a lot about God's ways rather than his acts. There are several relationships I miss. Others, not so much. I do know that I have seriously stepped back away from ministry and changed my beliefs on what I once believed to be ministry. I sometimes feel guilty about this and other aspects of my life.
In all fairness, though, I have had more opportunities to share the love of Christ with others by my actions and in a tangible way than at any other time in my life. At the same time, because of my stepping back and being in a place of seclusion in the wilderness, I feel distant from Him and have for years. I also know that this is not necessarily contrary to the will of the Lord.
I have felt more freedom in resting in the Lord's grace than I have ever had before. Along with that has come more temptation and trial than before, too. If you only knew the amount of temptations I have been facing in different areas. As one grows in grace, there will also grow the level of temptation by the enemy. At the same time, I have seen material blessings that I have never experienced previously. Along with that have come opportunities for giving and ministering grace then ever before.
I have learned a lot about forgiveness and grace. I have become far less condemning towards others, though I still have my own opinions. I have had plenty of opportunities to share the forgiveness of the Lord rather than condemnation to others in their time of need of grace. I have had to learn to allow some of that same grace for myself.
I remember back to the days of Noah, Moses, and Paul with years of nothing but desert or toil. I am trying to work on that patience in the desert. I want to remember
Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I am thankful for the grace of God. He has been better to me than I have been to myself. Lord, help me.