Last week yet another evangelical scandal spread over the Internet. It was even a trending topic on Twitter where I am. Eddie Long, the head pastor for New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, has been accused of engaging in sexual activity with three young men in his congregation. In fact he is accused of coercing them into sex.
It remains unclear, at the time of writing this, whether these allegations are true or not. Several blogs and news sites have posted stories about this but I want to focus on just one. I was appalled at this article in the Gospel Coalition blog. It sickened me that such a harsh burden was placed on a Pastor with apparently no real concern to help him carry it and in fact the command to beat him when he falls under it! If a Pastor cannot carry a burden that, apparently, no one else is expected to then he should be thrown out of the ministry? Really?
So, the first point I wish to address is this: The high expectations of the Church.
Reading the New Testament with remarkably selective skill, the Gospel Coalition post demands Pastors to have extraordinary levels of personal holiness. Whilst that is scripturally true (I Tim. 3:1-8; Tit. 1:5-9) it seems to relegate personal holiness to the responsibility of the individual. This ignores the New Testament teaching on the Church. Paul teaches that the Church is one body of many members and that the weaker parts of that body are to be treated with special care. Isn’t everyone weak in some way? Are there not certain areas of brokenness in each part of the body? Each member of the body has need for the rest of the body. Paul goes to great lengths to explain this. Why is it that we do not extend that same grace to our Pastors? Remembering that they need us as much as we need them.
So, firstly, I do not believe the Pastor should be expected to be any more holy than the congregation is willing to be. Meaning, accountability and honesty for all if they expect their pastor to be ‘above reproach’.
Secondly, the article pins the credibility of the Bible on the personal witness of the preacher.
If that was true, who would ever be permitted to speak? I know I wouldn’t. Do we really believe that the Bible’s credibility, even the Gospel’s credibility depends on frail human frames? This article suggests just that. Speaking specifically about marriage, the Pastor is somehow expected to shoulder the work of maintaining a healthy marriage whilst all around him the Church is getting divorced. Why do we expect the Pastor to be any more holy than we are willing to be? It’s either that, or the whole church must admit it’s sin, because Paul seems to teach that leaders must be an example of Christ, leading others towards him. He certainly does not teach that a pastor must be like Christ so the rest of the congregation don’t have to be.
If the truth is dependant upon the individual, haven’t we just made God into an idol? A carved image? Something we work on to maintain the veneer? Pastor becomes the idol-carver who must work to make what he says, true. No, that is not only idolatry, it is also illogical. If we believe this, we forget that the Word of God is bigger than us, and we forget that there is a Holy Spirit who lives and moves in and through the Church.
No, the Pastor ought to admit his own failings to obey the very Word he preaches, to have reverence and to fear the Lord. That is why I respect a preacher. Not because of their boastful success, but because of their humble confession.
And thirdly, that a Pastor ought to leave the ministry if he ‘fails’
Because apparently the Fall didn’t affect those in the Ministry. In fact, when someone feels called by God to be a minister, they magically become totally fixed for life, right?
So let me understand this: We do not extend the Gospel to those who preach it to us. Instead, we tell the world that if they fail, personally, their lives are ruined? And we only offer marital counselling and support once the Pastor has fallen from the pedestal pulpit?
This part sickens me the most. This is a perversion of the Gospel. We force our ministers into denial and secret hypocrisy with their porn addictions, or alcoholism, or affairs or any other form of heart idolatry. What else are they supposed to do if their job is threatened if they admit to having problems?You know, the sort of problems we expect them to show grace and mercy towards?
The fallen pastor, especially the one in the Public Sphere, is a wonderful opportunity for the Gospel to advance as we demonstrate the power of God’s community to show grace and to invite that pastor to walk on the road to recovery. We can show the world that we rely on each other, that we rely on the Body of Christ for our salvation.
Or we can throw them out and discard them to the media frenzy and try and protect our public image. Whatever.