The Fear of the Lord

By Francis Frangipane

"The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks . . ." (Matt 13:41).

We often will hear messages on sin and lawlessness, but the idea that the Lord will not only remove sinners from His kingdom, but specifically people who willfully cause others to stumble, needs to be addressed. This is no small issue with the Lord. Just as "dead flies make a perfumer's ointment stink," so a few stumbling blocks in a local church can cause an otherwise loving congregation to repel the unsaved, rather than draw them.

To deepen your understanding of why I am concerned, I need to take you back to my days just prior to my surrender to Jesus Christ. I had an experience that caused me to know the terrible fear of the Lord in regard to causing sheep to stumble.

The date was November 24, 1970. I was living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in a farmhouse with about ten other people, most of whom were committed Christians. I would not have called myself a pagan, but that is how the others would have described me. Indeed, in my pre-Christian days, I prided myself as a seeker of God. I often felt the warm touch of the Holy Spirit's presence; God was reaching to where I was. In fact, during this wooing and drawing stage of my spirituality, I often referred to the Holy Spirit as my "Invisible Friend."

Yet, while I was seeking to know God, I started my quest by rejecting most of my Christian upbringing. Consequently, during this time I had also amassed a lot of false information from various religions, all of which had synthesized into my philosophical world view. I endorsed all religions, though I was not committed to any.

It was two days before Thanksgiving and cold outside. The farmhouse I lived in was heated by wood stoves strategically placed in various rooms. I was sitting in the dining room next to a stove on my right. I had pulled a chair from the end of a long oak table and turned it toward the three young Christians, sitting on a couch facing me. One by one, each passionately shared their testimony and then explained why I too needed to become a Christian. However, not only had I deftly defended my views, I countered successfully. My self-made philosophy was soon beginning to undermine their faith.

"At their essence, all religions are the same," I argued, "each in its own way calls us to love." I then used a clever play on words: "In Hinduism, there exists the "atman" or "oversoul," which is the source of all souls; in science, the "atom" sits at life's beginning; in Christianity, we all come from "Adam." Christian and Krishna even sound the same."

I spoke confidently. Not only had my words silenced these new believers, I bewildered them. I counter-witnessed and won. I was secure while their faith was shaken.

With the discussion over, I turned and scooted my chair back to the head of the table. On the placemat was a large, red-lettered Bible; it was opened to the eighteenth chapter of the book of Matthew. A previous reader left it at what now became my seat.

You should understand that, along with the canon of other religions, I esteemed the Bible as a book through which God spoke. As I aimlessly scanned the page, suddenly I felt arrested by the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead of me reading God's word, it was reading me. The wickedness of my heart, causing these young Christians to doubt, was suddenly exposed for the vileness that it was. However, it was the sixth verse which penetrated my soul like a laser. Jesus said,

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea."

Remember, just a moment earlier I had been thinking fairly well of myself. I felt I had just "enlightened" three naive young Christians, delivering them from their narrow minded focus on Jesus. Yet now, God's word, like a flaming sword, had pieced deep into the darkness of my soul. Instantly I realized my "Invisible Friend" had an unfriendly side. God was very angry with me.

I had just caused these little ones who believed in Him to stumble!

All the philosophers and sages whose books I devoured came and went, but Jesus Christ was actually with these young Christians! He was not a mere religion. He was their living Shepherd and He was protecting these kids from me!

The impact of His anger was like a violent punch in my chest. It knocked the breathe from my lungs. I felt physically wounded.

The color drained from my face. My palms sweat. I may have just won the debate, but I was suddenly, unconditionally losing the war. I was overrun with guilt. I was utterly vulnerable. I couldn't talk, but did mumble a faint, "I'm sorry," as I stumbled toward the bathroom, which was the only place in the crowded house where I could be alone.

"I'll never do that again. Lord, please forgive me."

As I sat literally trembling on the bathroom floor, I remembered that there was an eastern religion called the "yoga of devotion." It was something I was only slightly familiar with, but it was where a disciple completely surrenders himself to a spiritual master. I saw that, even though He was invisible, Jesus Christ was indeed their spiritual Master. I could ask Him to accept me as His disciple too.

I also realized that, as easily as He scared me, He could have instantly killed me. He didn't, of course. In fact, in my repentance, I felt the return of His friendship. His fierce rebuke was really His mercy, protecting those youngsters from my deception. Two days later, on Thanksgiving, I would give my life to Christ. Yet now, in a frightening way, I knew Jesus Christ was real. I also knew, indelibly, that the way to quickly rouse His fierce displeasure was to cause one of His little ones to stumble.

God's Anger Over Church Splits
Those of you who know me, know that I travel throughout the world bringing Christians together. Yet, in spite of the growing unity among pastors, church splits have proliferated. In fact, I cannot remember a time when I entered a city that did not have a recent church split. There seems to be no conscience, no restraint concerning the dividing of the body of Christ. Beloved, this must change.

We have had an erroneous idea that God is a little like Santa Claus: always jovial, always kind and always busy working on a new gift or way to bless us. However, there are certain things the Almighty abhors; things which activate His wrath.

The Book of Proverbs presents a list of attitudes that will surely and quickly invoke God's displeasure; the very worst sin He mentions last. It reads,

"There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness {who} utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers" (Prov 6:16-19).

Without fail, each of these things manifest during a church split. The worst effect is the increase of strife among brothers. God hates it. It is an abomination to Him.

A church is not some intangible concept; it is a spiritual community united by a common relationship with the Father and, through Christ, one another. From heaven's view, the Spirit of God actually dwells in the harmony of these community relationships. In other words, our unity becomes a "dwelling of God in the Spirit"; our disunity and strife repels God's presence and not only affects us, but offends Him.

Eternal life is defined not by the quality of things we own, but the quality of our relationships. However, during a church split these unions between people are brutalized and many stumble. Old friends become new enemies. People who once prayed for each other now prey on each other. Worse, new believers stumble badly. How could mature, spiritual leaders divide over what usually seems like such inconsequential issues?

Meanwhile, "pre-believers," those close to coming to salvation, decide they will have none of this strife. They retreat both from church and God. They know what is happening is not right. They sense a spiritual atmosphere charged with negativity.

Indeed, the church should be a stream bed for "rivers of living water" to flow out. Instead, during a split, a deep, churning nausea rolls in the pit of every stomach. The whole church feels it, even the unsaved. This is so serious, so opposite the essence of God's kingdom, that Jesus tells us, if we are at the altar and there remember someone has something against us, we are to leave our offering and seek reconciliation. How contrary a church split is to the heart of God! He hates that which causes "strife among brothers." It is an abomination to Him.

What Is More Important Than Winning Souls?
The usual conflicts that divide churches are minor compared to the terrible issue of causing sheep to stumble. Jesus said, "Woe to him." 'Woe' means "expect a God-initiated, terrible disaster." Dear ones, listen: If you are following a man willing to split a church to fulfill a ministry call, that person is deceived. How can one who is willing to tear apart relationships be genuinely concerned about relationships? How can such a one be truly concerned about the Lord's sheep, while he is wounding other sheep to fulfill his ambitions?

I have told you the story of how I came to Christ so you would, perhaps, understand my fear about causing people to stumble. If we desire to start a church, we must find a creative, honorable way that releases God's blessing upon our actions and minimizes strife. There are protocols that should be followed. Imperfections in your current church do not justify a church split. If there is serious moral failure in the church leadership, a committee of leaders should be formed that seeks help, even going to other local pastors or denominational leaders in that community. Actions taken should be humble, prayerful and all involved should stand with Christ on the side of a redemptive conclusion. Short of serious and continuous sin in a leader, the option of being part of a church split should be abandoned.

I know there are often no easy answers. Yet, if our course of action is going to cause new believers to stumble, then we are going in the wrong direction. We are headed straight into the Lord's displeasure.

Let me also say that, as leaders, we ought to have a church growth strategy, one that creates positive, redemptive opportunities for people to be released, at the proper time, into ministry functions and church plants. We should expect that, if we have done our equipping job well, people will desire to rise to their ministry calling. To deny opportunity is to frustrate the very purpose we have been called to serve.

Personally, I have never recovered from that first terrifying encounter with God. It has become a living, holy fear within me. I am concerned for new believers. I know that the Lord Himself will personally fight for His sheep. I cannot bear the thought of rousing the Lord's anger against me. So, in defense of the Lord's sheep and in service to the Lord's heart, I repeat to you the warning of the Lord Jesus Christ:

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt 18:6).

Let's pray: Lord, forgive us for causing strife between people. Help us to be uniters, not dividers. Lord release us from the heat of Your anger and restore Your people to Your tender mercies. In Jesus' name. Amen.