Several churches, denominations, and church leaders have been in the news lately as they took a stand forbidding guns in church. They took this action in response to a recent law passed in the state of Georgia.
Regardless of what you may think about this particular legislation, let’s not forget about even more dangerous weapons which can harm churches. Although there have been a few incidents of shootings in places of worship which have injured or killed people, I dare say that the use of these other weapons has caused the destruction of many more congregations and the downfall of countless individual souls.
One example is selfish ambition. How many churches have been harmed by people seeking to rise to the top of the ladder within a religious organization regardless of the cost? There are pastors who are simply using their current congregations as stepping stones to bigger churches and more prestigious positions. There are lay leaders whose main concern is being the one in charge, aspiring to be officially or unofficially the “church boss.”
Those involved in ministry can easily become more focused on who gets to sing the solo part, or who gets to do which job, or who gets the credit, rather than focusing on serving people and doing the work of the Lord. The aftermath of such displays of selfish ambition have left congregations discouraged and divided, and individual members nursing deep wounds.
Pride itself is another such powerful weapon. People insist on having their own way no matter whom it hurts, even in such secondary matters as deciding on the color of the carpet or where the flowers in the church are placed. Churches are full of the ghosts of people who no longer attend there because of the proud who ran over them or because their own pride was hurt.
Then there’s gossip and its relatives. Uncaring and inappropriate words have killed too many souls. We try to hide it under the guise of “sharing our concerns” or “so you’ll know better how to pray for that person,” but people still harm others by unnecessarily spreading tales about them, whether true or not.
There are so many other harmful attitudes and actions people have brought into churches which have caused chaos and destruction — sexual immorality, envy, hatred, and hypocrisy. It’s nothing new. Jesus dealt with it in His day too. He condemned the scribes and Pharisees not only because of their own pride, hypocrisy, and desire for man’s praise, but also because of the harm they were doing to others with that deadly arsenal of attitudes.
Maybe we need to focus more on banning those types of weapons from our congregations. Or maybe church is just the place where people carrying those attitudes need to come for a different sort of weapon-exchange program.
We can encourage people who enter our doors toting such dangerous artillery to put it on the altar and let Jesus rid them of it. He is able to exchange those harmful attitudes and actions for better ones. Selfish ambition can be replaced with a desire to glorify God. Pride can be exchanged for unselfishness. Gossip can be replaced with words of encouragement. Hypocrisy can be exchanged for sincerity and integrity.
So whether you like or dislike this new gun legislation, let’s keep in mind that guns are less a threat to churches than some of these other weapons Satan can use against us. They can do far more damage than simply hurting our physical bodies — they can destroy people’s souls. And hopefully we can all agree that we don’t need those kinds of weapons in our churches.
The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.