We Don’t Need to Save the Church

Chantal & Gerald Klingbeil

He had given his best for more than 40 years. He had served without considering his own needs. He had handled dozens of difficult issues wisely, stood by when there seemed to be no way out, had come to the defense of those who could not defend themselves, and had never taken the positions favored by the majority. And now, all this didn’t count for anything and he was told he should retire, just like that? It felt wrong—and it hurt.

Those familiar with constituency meetings, nominating committees, and denominational service may have heard different versions of this refrain again and again. We seldom find the right moment or the appropriate words when we are faced with leadership transitions or structural changes. But this is not about constituency meetings, nominating committees or denominational service.


Moses had faithfully served God and his people for close to 40 years. When God had called he had left his family behind (Ex. 18:1, 2), had faced life-and-death situations confronting an irate and angry Pharaoh (Ex. 7-11), had stood with his people facing a sea, with battle-hardened Egyptian troops bearing down on them in their chariots (Ex. 14:1-30), had experienced numerous divine miracles—and now God just told him that he would not enter the Promised Land because he had lost control only once (Num. 20:11, 12)?

Our sense of justice feels a bit ruffled when we reflect on this situation. Is God just a fussy and pernickety sheriff who pounces on our every misstep and knows little mercy when we mess up? Obviously not! God’s forbearance, compassion, patience, and grace is illustrated again and again in the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the conquest of the Promised Land and is explicitly expressed in key passages such as Exodus 34:6, 7, Numbers 14:18 and Deuteronomy 4:31. God specializes in forgiveness and new beginnings in Israel’s later history as well during the ups and downs of the 400 years of the monarchy.

But if that’s so, why this harsh reaction to Moses’ misstep? “And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them’” (Num. 20:12, ESV). Can’t God wink a bit or look—just briefly—the other way?

He can’t—and He won’t. A first clue to understand this situation can be found in Moses’ statement to the people in Numbers 20:10: “And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them: ‘Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock? (NKJV).” Do we need to take care of this issue because you are incapable of trusting God? Pay attention to the keyword “we”! It seems that he felt that they were the only ones who could save the people and offer a solution. Yes, it was based on God’s direction, but—at least in their language—it had to be brought forth by “them.”

God’s word of judgment in verse 12 explains this even further, for God confronts both leaders with lack of faith. “Because you did not believe in me!” is a stark statement that is totally unexpected. I usually don’t link “lack of faith” with worthies like Moses or Aaron. Their faith had often been proven. Yet the divine evaluation points us specifically into that direction. Could it be that we, too, exhibit lack of faith when we doubt that God is really at the helm of this faith community and consider our own important part of “saving” God’s church? After all, we have given conflict-tested service over many decades—and now God tells us that He can also do it differently?

That realization can hurt. When we see the challenges and problems in our Church (with capital C), when we hear the discussions and conversations around us, we may be tempted to say—with Moses—“Let me set you straight and sort this out!” Could it be that God doesn’t need me (or us) to save His church?

Homeward Bound

Moses must have been terribly hurt when he heard the divine verdict. No Promised Land for him—just a faraway glance from a mountain top. But while God doesn’t need us to save His church, He is eager to save us and give us “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think“ (Gal. 3:20, NKJV). In Moses’s case he was given a panoramic view of salvation history, was resurrected, and more than 1,400 years later finally stood in the Promised Land to encourage the God-Man Jesus as He prepared for the final run against Satan’s stronghold (Matt. 17:1-13) to win entry rights into the heavenly Promised Land for all of God’s children throughout all generations. Transitions can be hurtful. Transitions can be disorientating. Transitions with God, however, always help us see God’s ultimate goodness and grace in our lives.

Chantal & Gerald Klingbeil

Chantal J. Klingbeil, Ph.D., and Gerald A. Klingbeil, D.Litt., have served the Adventist Church for nearly three decades internationally as professors, TV host, editor, and associate director. They now live close to the beautiful city of Hamburg, Germany, and serve in the Hanseatic Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.