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.