Julie Martinez: Dealing with Congregational Antagonists
After my own congregation went through the devastating destruction and prolonged aftermath of an unconscionable attack on our pastor, I found that the many books and other resources available indicate that this antagonistic behavior is not new to the Christian Church, and is endemic in the LC-MS at this time. Why would this be?
The LC-MS is experiencing its own crisis at the Synodical level with those at the highest levels compromising, in the guise of tolerance and societal acceptance, many of the doctrines that Lutherans throughout the centuries have held to be true; such as closed communion, for only one example. Because of this, there is continual friction between those who want to change the practices of the Synod and those who believe that to compromise these doctrines is tantamount to betraying Christ.
This tension at the Synodical level filters down into congregations in which antagonistic members are given impetus in causing strife and turmoil over those same issues. These individuals are then able to grasp an opportunity to cause a great deal of harm, claiming that they are only advocating the changes that the Synod itself is pursuing.
Our congregational leaders are generally not trained to deal with antagonism, and tend to err on the side of tolerance and acceptance of their behavior in a misguided attempt to keep the peace. By doing this, however, they enable the antagonistic individuals to continue their attacks, causing great harm not only to the pastor and his ministry, but also to faithful members who suffer with him.
It is interesting to note that this kind of antagonistic behavior is rarely tolerated in the secular world. People exhibiting these kinds of attacks against the leadership of a corporation, or volunteer organization, are quickly shown the door.
Yet, our Lord has given us specific guidelines in dealing with sinful behavior in Matthew 18. These guidelines are given to us in order to confront an errant brother with his sinful behavior, bring him to repentance, and restore him to fellowship. There are increasingly severe measures, up to and including excommunication. Paul also addresses this issue in many of his epistles (Romans 16:17, 2 Cor.11:13-14, Titus 3:10). Unfortunately, when these steps are not taken, the antagonist remains unrepentant, and he continues in his unrepentant sin, raining destruction upon his congregation.
One excellent resource is a book by Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk(1) , a psychologist and pastor who offers many poignant insights into antagonistic behavior. He states that antagonists are antagonistic by nature. They want to be the center of attention, and will find ways to keep themselves in the spotlight. They find some practice to complain about, yet they do not particularly care about that practice one way or another. If they get their way, they will quickly move to another practice, in order to remain the center of attention and controversy. He writes,
“There is a reluctance on the part of pastors, lay leaders, and the entire congregation to apply Christian discipline. In the case of antagonists, this reluctance is extremely unfortunate and inappropriate. Once you have determined that you are dealing with an antagonist, you no longer need to be so cautious; indeed, you must not be!”(2)
When antagonists rise up in the congregation, all members need to know the steps of Matthew 18, and the purpose of church discipline. It is essential that they support their pastor and leaders in those steps, up to and including excommunication of the offenders. By doing so, not only will there be true peace and unity in the congregation, but the antagonists will be shown, in all kindness, the seriousness of their offense, and may, by God’s grace, be brought to repentance and restoration.
1 Haugk, Kenneth C., Antagonists in the Church, Augsburg Publishing, ©1988,
2 Ibid, pp 153-155
This article written by Julie Martinez, Pagosa Springs, CO. Permission to reproduce is granted ONLY without changes.