When the axe handle was a branch of our own, we have come to the destruction of our home.Local Oral Tradition
This local proverb speaks of betrayal from a group member using the imagery of an axe cutting down a tree, when the handle of the axe is, in a perverse turn, shaped from a branch of that same tree. This is actually pretty good imagery for what betrayal feels like. This saying also acknowledges the great fear and destruction likely to come upon a family when betrayed by one of its own. It is one kind of danger to be attacked by outsiders. It is another thing altogether to have the attack come from within. Anyone in ministry who’s ever dealt with a wolf among the sheep knows this danger, and likely shudders when recalling it.
Tragically, our focus Central Asian people group has quite the history of betrayal and treachery. It is one of the besetting sins of the culture that will need to be weeded out by the new gospel culture established by the Church. In the meantime, it is one of the thorniest factors often preventing churches from taking root. It’s hard to keep a group going when group members are regularly tempted to sell one another out for money, influence, or other personal advantage. The presence of actual spies – regardless of who they are working for – really doesn’t help either.
I’m not a huge fan of the “Why didn’t I learn this in seminary?” complaint. Seminary isn’t designed to cover every specific problem that might crop up in ministry. However, I will say that those heading into ministry could certainly use more training in how to deal with betrayal of the church – a practical theology of wolves, as it were. At least as Westerners, we are so optimistic and believe-the-best in our bearing that we can get caught woefully unprepared when a divider and traitor emerges. Betrayal from within doesn’t have to mean “the destruction of our home” as the proverb says, but if we pretend it won’t happen to us we greatly increase the chances of this indeed being the outcome.
When faced with a traitor, we have the great advantage of having Jesus’ example as he was betrayed by one of his closest followers. The presence of Judas, and Jesus’ interesting toleration of him, helps us know that betrayal is not only to be expected, but can be overcome and even used in God’s glorious plans. The church in Ephesus is also a helpful case study of dealing with wolves (Acts 20, Rev 2). If we let these examples inform our expectations of ministry, that will help. They can steady us in the great fear and disorientation caused if a betrayal occurs. And keep hope alive that no matter the level of destruction caused, treachery will not have the last word. The tree, as it were, may be cut down by the axe, but its downed fruit may just plant an orchard.