In the movie the Wizard of Oz, the great and powerful wizard turns out to be a little man behind a curtain. Pulling levers, pushing buttons, magnifying words with a microphone, and broadcasting a distorted and intimidating image on a screen… the wizard of Oz is revealed as a fraud. He is just an ordinary man who, through unusual circumstances, finds himself in a magical land where others eagerly proclaimed him “leader.”
As a Christian conciliator working in church conflict, I occasionally encounter “wizards.”
“Wizards” are church leaders who control, intimidate, and manipulate others. Just like the wizard in Oz who sent Dorothy and her friends on a hazardous journey to retrieve the witch’s broomstick, a ploy designed to relieve himself of the responsibility of loving leadership, these real-life wizards can contribute to others finding themselves in spiritual, emotional, and relational danger. How? Through fear.
At a time when the news and the blogosphere is filled with painful stories of church conflict, believers are not left without clear direction from Scripture. A God-honoring response will always be a loving one.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
Every “wizard” I have ever encountered in church conflict has had a heart stricken with fear. Fear as a heart condition is not always easy to spot. A fear-stricken heart often resides in a person who does not appear afraid, and in fact may seem overly confident. Yet, the heart condition of fear is a refusal to believe and trust God. A heart condition of fear reveals itself in a lack of love for God and others. “The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
The word “heart” in Scripture is a big word and includes human emotions, thoughts, motives, attitudes, and beliefs. When fear saturates a heart, all that a person is and does is impacted. Fear-stricken people invite others to fear rather than love. Fear-stricken leaders, especially those willing to punish others who threaten their desires and goals, all but demand fear from others. Fear is dangerous territory because fear has the power to drive out love. A believer’s fundamental calling is to love God and others.
Driving Out Fear
Church goers and church leaders are not doomed to fear when faced with lovelessness and punishment. Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are free to do the unexpected. Spirit-filled Christians can opt to love rather than fear the “great and powerful” in their midst.
We cannot read the word “perfect” in 1 John 4:18 and mistake the meaning to be “uncontaminated, blemish free, or without flaws.” The meaning of the word translated as “perfect” actually means “whole or complete.” What is love that is perfect, whole, and complete?
All love begins with God’s love as expressed by God who “sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Yet, perfect love includes a loving response from the human being who has been loved by God in such an eternity changing way. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The fullest and most complete expression of love is when those loved by God love God in return, and also love one another. Against this kind of perfect love, fear has little chance.
Who Makes a “Wizard?”
Everyone. A “wizard” allows himself or herself to be elevated, praised, and feared. Both the church leader and those who surround him are complicit in creating a scenario in which the wrong person is feared, trusted, and worshipped. Whenever a created being receives what the Creator alone deserves, fear drives out love and lovelessness abounds.
When serving a church in conflict, I often encourage those who are spiritually, emotionally, and relationally struggling to ask themselves this question: “Who have you been fearing the most?” If the answer is not “God,” then repentance means forsaking their false god and returning to their First Love.
Fear-stricken people, leaders, and followers alike, are comforted by the truth that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Join the Conversation
Do you believe and live according to the promises of 1 John 4:18-19 and Romans 8:38-39?