Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, made the news yesterday by resigning from his role as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL. He publicly announced that his wife had been involved in an affair and his response was to seek comfort in the arms of another woman and had his own affair. It is sad that this story is all-too-familiar. We have all been either in, or are friends with someone who attended a church whose pastor or someone from the leadership fell because of sexual immorality. We have almost grown accustomed to hearing about infidelity and adultery in the political and secular world, and more and more the Church is giving in to the same temptations.
There are a few things that we must keep in mind when we walk through such a tragedy in our own church or lives. The first and primary truth to which we must always cling is the fact that our hope and our assurance is in Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches us that we should have mentors, we should have heroes, and we should even imitate the fore fathers of the faith. But Paul warns the Corinthian church about the dangers of aligning one’s self too closely to a teacher or preacher, and his fundamental argument is this:
“Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
– 1 Cor 1.13
Paul’s entire mission was to point people to Jesus. He was confident enough in His faith, in His convictions and in His obedience that He told people to imitate him, but only to the extent that they glorified God and worshiped Jesus.
“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”
– 1 Cor 11.1
Jesus is God. He will not fail. He cannot fail. He has already completed the work of atonement and everyone who is found in Jesus will find redemption and have eternal life. Jesus alone is our life. He alone is the way. He alone can save, and He will not disappoint.
The second thing that we need to remember and consider as we process such a situation is that even fallen pastors cannot hurt Jesus’ reputation. Have you ever heard someone bemoan circumstances saying, “[this situation] is hurting the church’s reputation”? The reality is that Jesus never failed and never will fail, and thus His reputation is spotless. We cannot bring shame upon Him. We certainly can grieve the Holy Spirit by our disobedience and selfishness (Eph 4.30), but His reputation and glory is not contingent upon us. And we, as Christians, whether we live perfect lives or utterly depraved lives, will not cause salvation in another. Sometimes we deceive ourselves to think that if we are holy enough, if we love the world enough, if we this right or if we never do that, we will attract people to God and the Church.
Sure, we might attract them to Church, but being attracted to Church does not in any way equate to salvation. A person is saved by getting face to face with Jesus, confessing their sins, trusting Jesus for salvation and walking with Jesus in His power and by His Spirit – leaving sin behind. My success or my failure cannot and will not take someone to that encounter with Jesus, and my success or failure cannot usurp that encounter with Jesus. This is why Paul said,
“Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice…”
– Phil 1.18
People can, according to the Bible, preach the Gospel with wrong motives and not to the glory of God. But this is a good thing, because even if the messenger is wicked, the message is still of God.
In short, we will all have seasons of success and we will all have seasons of temptations. Some of us will fall into private, not-world-shattering sins, and some of us will be the proverbial bull in a china shop. Some of us, who are teaching and preaching, are Christians and some are not. But God uses people in all seasons and in all circumstances to get His news out and to draw people to Himself. Paul (or your favorite pastor or teacher) was not crucified for you, and if a man’s failure causes you to doubt or abandon your faith, you had faith in the wrong person.
The third truth to which we must be true is the terrifying teaching that those who take positions of leadership within the Church 1) will be held to a higher standard, 2) will have to give an account for the sheep over whom they have been appointed as leaders, and 3) will be attacked more intentionally by the enemy.
“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”
– James 3.1
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
– Heb 13.17
This is why Scripture gives us clear guidelines to consider when deciding if one should be appointed to leadership within the Church.
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
– 1 Tim 3.1-7
Almost all of these points are aspects of character. He must be of good reputation within and without the Church. He must not be a new convert. Maturity comes with time and understanding. If someone has not had the time to learn how to fight sin and apply Scripture to his own life, he cannot teach another how to fight sin and apply Scripture to his life. If someone has not learned the Scriptures and understands doctrine, theology, and how the Bible fits together, how can he teach another? He must also be able to teach. This is often an overlooked qualification, but it is included in Scripture that we should intentionally test and approve our leaders by their ability to teach.
We, as the church, are not able to see the depths of another’s heart, but we are instructed to inspect the fruit and examine to see if someone has proven himself worthy, capable and called to the ministry. And even still, a man is still a man, and even if he has a good reputation, is not a recent convert, and has most of the Bible memorized, he can still fail. He can still prove to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He can still be proven a false prophet.
God gives us instructions and qualifications to help weed out some of would-be teachers and leaders who have wrong motives or would lead the Church astray. God also gives us warnings that would sober anyone who has a grasp on eternity to enter into a leadership position carefully and with much caution. Are you ready to give an account to God for how you led and taught another? Are you prepared to give an account of another’s soul and Spiritual growth? If not, then you better not step into a leadership role. But even if you do take that role, and fall – or even if your pastor or church leader falls, we should remember our foundation and our hope, and that is the cross.
People screw up. Pastors are not perfect. But Jesus is. We should have heroes, we should have pastors, we should have mentors, but let’s keep them in their rightful spot. Only Jesus was crucified for us. Only Jesus saves us. And only Jesus saves others. So when we invite people to Church, when we invite people to the faith, let’s no invite them to hear a pastor, let’s invite them to meet Jesus. Sin happens. And when it happens, let’s restore those who have fallen with a spirit of humility and gentleness, because we should be concerned about one another’s souls and eternity.
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”
– Gal 6.1