Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reflections on the Fall of a Pastor



Tullian Tchividjian, the well known pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, has resigned his position.  According to his own statement both he and his wife committed adultery.  This disqualifies him from the pastoral office.  He has willingly acknowledged his affair and peacefully stepped aside.

It is a sad day when a pastor must resign his call for any reason, but especially for living an immoral life.  Tchividjian's case gives a great deal of pause for Lutherans in particular since he was highly influenced by Luther's writings and those of contemporary Lutheran scholars such as Robert Kolb.  Tullian, in recent years, has sought to clarify the proper distinction of Law and Gospel in his own preaching as well as to spread that teaching to a wider audience.

As Lutherans we have a high view of God's Word in general and of the Gospel in particular.  When a Lutheran pastor falls into temptation does he really need to resign?  Can he not simply be forgiven and reinstated?

Yes, it is proper for pastors in this situation to resign.  The reason for this, though, may not be what you think.

Tullian broke the 6th commandment.  He committed adultery.  He failed to live up to the expectation that an overseer (pastor) would be "above reproach, the husband of one wife". (I Timothy 3:2)

His sin, on the one hand, is no different than any other.  It is just as damning as murder, theft, and idolatry.  It is just as forgivable as well.  The blood of Jesus atones for all sins.  Tullian has expressed his regret over this sin and, as far as I am concerned, stands forgiven for the sake of Christ Jesus.

One the other hand, his sin is worse than others because it places a stumbling block before the people of God's church.  Not only is he a megachurch pastor, but he is a well known author and conference speaker.  His sin has a ripple effect that spreads through the people of God and causes damaging shock waves.  People's faith will be shaken.  They will be hurt by what he has done.

(Please do not take my words here to be harsh criticism of this fallen pastor.  My heart breaks for his family and his congregation.  I am awakened by this scandal knowing that this could easily be me.  I am not a perfect man, not by a long shot.  It is only by God's grace that I have not scandalized His Church yet.  So I am not, in any way, suggesting my own moral or spiritual superiority.)

So what is a pastor to do when he has scandalized not only his congregation, but a large piece of the body of Christ?

He should resign.

And then what?

He should keep silent.  He should simply fade into the background, joyfully participating in the body of Christ and serving as an average layman.  No comeback, no book deals, no speaking tours, no theological blogs.

But wait.  Isn't that a bit extreme?  Surely he could take some time off and then be reinstated, or called to a different congregation.  At the very least he could go around speaking and writing for the church, using his God-given gifts as a communicator.

There is, of course, a certain appeal for fallen pastors in the idea of becoming a popular layman, speaking and writing without the checks and balances of a congregation to hold you back.  He has all manner of credentials that would look impressive on a book jacket: former pastor and seminary chancellor, grandson of Billy Graham, etc.

Someday in the near future Tullian my find himself teaching Speech 101 at a southern Florida community college.  He will be under the radar, attending church, hopefully with his family still in tact.  And no one will be asking him theological questions. No one will be coming to hear him preach this Sunday.  He will sit in the pew, receive the Word of God, and then head back into the world just like everyone else.

He may begin to feel obscure, lost, unused.  And he will be tempted to jump back in, to start a new church, to write a new theological treatise, to reopen his blog and make a contribution to the spiritual lives of God's people.  A noble goal indeed.

Yet Tullian should resist that urge, that temptation.  For he has scandalized the church, and his coming back to the lime light only runs the risk of placing more and bigger stumbling blocks along an already treacherous path.

We do not ask fallen pastors to remain quiet because their sin was too great to forgive.  We ask for their silence out of true thankfulness for God's grace in Christ and deep love for His Church.

The real test for Tullian's faith in the days ahead, in the days of teaching community college or building homes or plunging toilets, will be this: Is God's grace sufficient for you, even in obscurity?  Can you accept that God does not need your talents and gifts, that He is simply happy to keep you in His fold?  I pray so.

Obscurity will be your cross to bear.

It is to the doctrine of vocation that the fallen pastor must turn to for comfort.  The plumber, carpenter, or teacher is no less precious in the sight of God than is the pastor, author, and speaker.  To feel that we must run back to the office from which we have been removed is to deny this truth.

Tullian Tchividjian, you will likely never read this.  But I pray that you never seek to re-enter the pastoral ministry.  I pray that God gives you peace beyond that office, that you may be assured of His great love for you for the sake of Jesus.  Go home.  Call to your wife.  Forgive her.  Confess to her.  Rebuild your family.  Joyfully receive God's gifts.  Teach those college freshmen how to give a dynamite speech.  Be at peace.  

        

23 comments:

  1. I can't say amen to this enough. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Pastor.

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  2. Thanks be to God for your words. Thank you.

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  3. Thanks be to God for your words. Thank you.

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  4. Joshua thank you for your wise words that also strike the proper tone of grace and forgiveness.

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  5. What's the issue with "fallen pastors" writing blogs or books? Does sin disqualify their theological knowledge?

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    1. Having theological knowledge is not what gives a man the right to teach the church. Having a call from God does, something defrocked men no longer have.

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    2. Then don't read blog posts or books by those men. But don't deny others the opportunity to read what they have to say. When I read a book or a blog post that proclaims the Gospel, I don't think of that person as my pastor. I'm just grateful that I got to hear the Gospel. What about women or laymen? Are they not allowed to tell others about God's forgiveness because they aren't pastors?

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  6. Respectfully, I disagree. Sin does not disqualify us from service, nor from leadership. What of King David, who continued to lead the people of Israel after repenting of his adultery and murderer? Or of St. Paul, who was called to preach, teach, and write of Christ and Him crucified after persecuting and killing Christians? Certainly, celebrity has its dangers and those who lead a flock, famous our not, should be vigilant and guard against temptation—as should we all. But if past sins made men forever unfit for preaching, we would have no pastors. If a shepherd having committed, confessed and repented of adultery is forever a stumbling block to his flock, we must have many congregations hung up on deceit, pride, slander, blasphemy, idolatry and more. Surely we all know pastors who have been as guilty of these sins as we have ourselves. But for myself, I have found that often the most compelling stories of grace come from those who have fallen hard and found redemption and restoration in Christ.

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  7. Joshua, you make some excellent points here. However, I must disagree that he must remain and in the shadows the rest of his earthly days. As songbird_db indicated, King David is an excellent example. And what of Moses who drunken state promulgated incest? Or Peter, who outright denied Christ? Or other leaders who stumbled, but whom God used greatly? Forgiveness means a clean slate. Grace still pursues. Tullian would be a mighty voice of experience to other leaders/pastors about temptation and the subtle, slippery slope of sin. Yes, he needs to remain silent for a while, because hearts need to heal and His family needs his full attention. But the hardest lessons are learned in the waiting as we walk through the valley. In listening to God's whispers once again. God isn't finished with him. And I pray he has the fortitude and humble teaching heart to share with us those hard-earned lessons in God's perfect timing.

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  8. Making the case that St. Paul serves as an example of how a pastor who disqualifies himself from the office is an example of how such a man ought to be restored is pretty hilarious...especially since the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write down the qualifications of the pastoral office.

    It's also quite presumptuous for one to compare himself to King David or the Apostle.

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    1. And let's not forget that it was BEFORE Paul was a pastor.

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  9. What do these passages mean:

    Titus 1:
    5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

    10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

    I Tim. 3:
    he saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

    Qualifications for Deacons
    8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

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  10. Even if you bring up the examples of David or Paul, I don't think we can get around the very specific command of the Lord that the pastor should be blameless or above reproach. This means that if he has brought shame to the Church through sin, he has removed himself from the office. God's Word is very clear. We can't bring up the examples of David and Paul to silence what God's Word says.

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  11. Everyone bringing up Paul realizes that Paul wasn't even a Christian yet when he did those things, right? So that's about as far as you can get from a pastor who while in office commits adultery, murders, etc.

    If Paul had done those things while in office then according to what Paul himself wrote he would have had to be removed.

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  12. Thank you, Pastor. A sobering but hopeful response.

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  14. At the end of the day, only one thing maes you beyond reproach, the blood of Christ. I think he could be restored, but I think there should be great caution and thought that goes into it.. I don't thing it should be anytime soon..

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  15. Good thoughts, Josh. Reading the canons of Nicea gives us some needed perspective on the disruptive nature of open, manifest sin in the church. And if those canons seem too stiff, like the pendulum was too far one way, I think that only highlights that in our day the pendulum is too far the other way. My heart breaks for this family and every pastor's family that has fallen prey to the enemy's snares. But the NT could not be more clear in the qualifications for the Office.

    +HRC

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  16. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I know that it can seem confusing as to why one should be required to remain silent after confessing and being forgiven, especially when King David was used by God after his adultery and murder. I think, however, that the Lutheran Confessions help clear this up for us when they say that we can imitate the example of the saints according to our callings. I am not an anointed king. David's vocation is much different than that of pastor. And even though he remained in the office he suffered greatly due to his sin. One son raped his sister. He was then murdered by another son who subsequently started a deadly civil war. When faced with the two options, I think David would have rather abdicated the throne, but that option was not given him. Also, let us remember that David committed murder too. I have a hard time believing that we would be so quick to allow a man back into the public office is he had killed someone in cold blood.

    As to a man taking time out and coming back slowly into the pastoral office, it is helpful for us to place ourselves into the shoes of those who have been sinned against. I am thinking particularly of the family members of the woman with whom Tullian committed adultery. Could you ever not be scandalized the the sight of the man your wife had an extra-marital affair with in the pulpit, or on the internet, or on a book jacket? It is difficult enough to forgive as we are commanded by Christ. Fallen pastors should ease that burden by remaining in the background.

    Again, my chief concern is the Church. Does it need to be a hard and fast rule to keep silent, one enforced by synodical higher-ups? Perhaps not. But should a fallen pastor, out of thankfulness and love, restrain himself and keep silent? Yes.

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  17. Thank you, Pastor. A very well balanced assessment and good advice to everyone who disgraces an official office.

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  18. The distinction of law and gospel here is as important as the distinction of vocation and salvation.

    Vocation (holy callings), be they pastor, husband, father, son, worker, wife, mother, daughter, etc., though they are gifts from God, are in the realm of the law, and the law is always good. They are also temporal offices...callings for this life only. They are given or not given, taken away or not taken away, by God. Any one or more of these offices can be lost in this life because of manifest sin. That is one of the temporal and ongoing consequences of the law in this life.

    Eternal consequences are removed through the forgiveness of sins, by virtue of Christ's blood-bought redemption. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1). This is the doctrine of salvation, i.e., the gospel. In the midst of this temporal life and the shame and consequences that come because of manifest sin, it is the only comfort and certainty for those who are in Christ Jesus.

    Joshua, thank you for the good, wise words, which demonstrate a right distinction of law and gospel.

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  19. So, should he not encourage a brother, or given an answer, a reason for the hope that lies within him, when asked? perhaps he should just, along with his wife, go into a monastery, so that the name of Jesus will never go from his lips to someone else's ears? After all, we don't want anyone to bring up his past ANY TIME that he happens to show up at a worship service.

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