What would Jesus do if a church leader was found in a “major” sin? Would He give the person the old pink slip? Would He ban them from every doing ministry again? Would He expect them to step down and then jump through a lot of hoops to return?
Given what happened recently with preacher Ted Haggard in Colorado, I have wondered what is the best way to do deal with sin in the pulpit. Now, I am not making a case for taking sin lightly. If allowed to go unchecked, sin can destroy a fellowship or the individuals in it. But at the same time, no Christian leader is perfect. Even the godliest men in the Bible had their issues. Moses, David and Paul were all murderers. Abraham was a liar. Noah couldn’t handle his booze. Samuel had unruly children. Peter was always ready for a fight. These guys were definitely rough around the edges. Yet, they were all tremendous men of faith. I have never been tested or proven myself like these men did.
When should a leader be restored? And how can a leader be restored if we are so quick to remember their sin and not give a repentant man a new start? Given how churches run from fallen leaders, no wonder pastors are reluctant to admit any weakness at all.
Jay Bakker, the son of former televangelist James Bakker of PTL fame, wrote in Stories of Emergence, “Dad had given millions of dollars to other ministries and had helped countless Christians get their starts in ministry. He’d championed the cause of many pastors and Christian musicians. But as soon as the trouble started, Dad was a leper to all of those he had helped.”
Jay Bakker commented that the working world is not as harsh as the church business. The world is more understanding than the church. He said that he found that sad. I agree.
Now, I know that James Bakker committed sexual sin and was convicted of fraud. I know he is far from perfect. And I believe he should pay for any crimes that he committed. But I do wonder if we in the Church show anywhere near the same amount of grace and mercy to each other as God has given us. Sadly, I search in my own heart and find the answer is “No” most of the time.
Christians especially tend to hold their leaders up on pedestals. That is why so many are hurt when these ministry giants fall. Deep down inside many of us still want an earthly king. We want flesh and blood leaders who are near perfect. While the Bible does make it clear that leaders are held to a higher standard, the Scriptures also warn about expecting too much of any one man because we are all fallible. None of us are righteous on our own merits.
Jay went on to say some really great things. He said, “Over the last seven years, I have realized that grace is the vital element the church is missing…It is any wonder why celebrities like Marilyn Manson, who grew up in Christian homes, often rebel the way they do? When they hit their 20s, 30s and 40s, they conclude, ‘The church is fake. I don’t want anything to do with it.'”
Finding the way to love the sinner and hate the sin is truly one of the toughest aspects of being a Christian. We have to give judgement to God while handling discipline within the body of believers. Grace and mercy is stronger than all of the sin in the entire world. That is the beauty of the Good News. That is why Jesus came, died and rose again.
Jay Bakker explained it this way, “The sad thing is that we, the church, have the only thing that’s real, but we’ve cloaked it with tradition and our own ideas. We’ve watered it down until the gospel we’re preaching is a humanistic gospel.”
I couldn’t agree more. Long live grace and mercy for it is the key to God’s life. Than God that He saves sinners. Or else we would all be in trouble.