I know a man who has been in the ministry approaching fifty years. Forty years ago he once said in my hearing that whenever he perceived trouble arising in a church where he was pastor his habit was to resign immediately and moved on, leaving the problem for the next guy to resolve. His conduct since then bears out what he said. He has probably averaged a new pastorate every three or four years. That, dear reader, is the behavior of a hireling. And the one thing you know about such a fellow is that he does not care for the sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ said as much in John 10.13.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Worship is supposed to be central to the New Testament Christian faith, though the approach to worship found in many Baptist churches would persuade many thoughtful onlookers that such is not the case. I was recently at a gathering in which the goings on did not in any way reflect the notion of worship that is found in either the Old Testament or the New Testament. Sad. The exclusive Hebrew word translated worship in the Old Testament refers to bowing down oneself, prostrating oneself before God. Similarly, the Greek word used most often in the New Testament refers to expressing (in attitude or by gesture) one’s complete dependence on or submission to God. Implicit in both the Old and New Testament concepts of worship is humility, with God resisting the proud and giving grace to the humble. With these things in mind, think for a moment about the most recent worship service you attended or conducted. Were those in attendance drawn toward any expression or attitude of humility toward God that would show dependence upon Him or cultivate an attitude of submission to Him? Genuine worship should produce such in the lives of those worshiping God.
Sadly, however, there is profound confusion in the lives of most church members concerning what worship really is. And this is no surprise since most pastors are without a clue concerning worship. I remember the first time as a relatively young pastor I went to church while on vacation with a friend. During that midweek service I experienced two things for the first time that left a horrifying memory: First, those present were informed that a young woman would lead the congregation in worship. Second, the way that young woman led the congregation in worship was by leading in the singing of hymns and choruses. That, my friends, is confusion. Congregational worship is supposed to strengthen and reinforce God’s pattern for the family, and God’s plan for the family does not include wives leading their husbands. Additionally, worship is not the song service. When pastors are confused about the worship of God, they exhibit their confusion by surrendering the leadership role in worship to women and by ignorantly portraying hymn singing as worship. Hymn singing is not worship. Hymn singing can prepare for worship. Hymn singing can even be a contributing factor in worship. However, hymn singing by itself is not worship.
History is so very important to the child of God, yet so many believers are profoundly ignorant of history, and it shows. As well, history is crucial for the gospel minister as a means of protecting both him and those he leads from tragic errors committed in days gone by that should not be repeated, and will not be repeated except by those who are ignorant of history. Additionally, too many Baptist pastors concern themselves with Baptist history while studiously ignoring Protestant history. I cannot imagine why, unless it is thought that what Protestants were up to is irrelevant to Baptists. What folly.
Among the giants of English Baptist history was a man named Benjamin Keach. He was a towering figure who had been a General Baptist before embracing Particular Baptist principles. He was also the primary author of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, and his son Elias figured prominently as a founder of the Philadelphia Baptist Association (from which just about all Baptists in the Americas can trace our lineage). He is most famous to us as the second pastor of the congregation that was eventually served by John Gill and Charles Spurgeon. Important to us at present is that few modern Baptist pastors are aware that early English Baptists did not sing hymns during worship because of Protestant practices regarding hymn singing. Benjamin Keach was among the first (if not the first) to introduce to his congregation the singing of Psalms after he had prepared them by preaching on the subject for more than ten years. Even then, when his church began to sing (after the congregation was dismissed with prayer so those uncomfortable with singing could depart), it led to a split in the congregation. What does this show us? It shows us that singing was at one time considered a nonessential part of worship in Baptist circles in England and the British colonies of North America. Thus, to completely turn things about to make worship into hymn singing is something Baptists of Keach’s day simply would not have agreed with.
But there is something else history can teach us, especially if we are not neglectful of Protestant history. One of Protestantism’s original criticisms of Roman Catholicism was related to singing. Catholics would not allow ordinary folks to sing in church, relegating that privilege to the clergy. Protestants objected by insisting on the right of the laity to sing. Baptists before and during the Protestant Reformation abstained from singing altogether to avoid any semblance to Roman style worship. It was left to the courageous Benjamin Keach to reintroduce singing to Baptist worship by reasoning that it was not that singing was like Catholic worship but that restricting singing to the clergy was like Catholic worship. Therefore, if singing is done rightly, it can be pleasing to God. Little would Baptists of Keach’s era recognize what has happened in some congregations, especially bigger ones, with attempts made to emulate Hollywood singing style having become so successful that many in the congregation no longer attempt to sing, but merely watch the professionals do their thing. At this point, I would recommend “A Musician’s Perspective On Contemporary Music” written by a professional musician named Neil McGovern, that appeared in Sword and Trowel 2015: Issue 1. It is quite simply the best article on the topic I have ever read. A free copy is available to you on written request.
It really boils down to this, if my occasional musings are of any benefit: Worship should rightly be understood as giving to God the honor and reverence that is due Him on the occasion. What is due Him when the congregation gathers? First Corinthians 14.24-25 suggests that Bible preaching that is rich in content is crucial since that will nourish and satisfy the brethren and reflect well on the unconverted present. What about music? Music is acceptable but hardly necessary since for much of Christian history worshipers had to be quiet for fear of discovery. One can always sing when alone or in small groups. But what is indispensable in congregational worship is Bible preaching.
I greatly fear the consequences of most modern approaches to worship. So much music is so expertly done and exhibits such marvelous talent that ordinary folks are reduced to almost no participation, but merely observation. However, worship is something that we are to all engage in. It is a corporate activity that is easily engaged in when God’s Word is preached properly and listened to properly. Again, an advertisement for a free brochure from a sermon I preached titled “How To Listen To A Sermon,” from Acts 10.33. In oral cultures, people know how to listen well. However, in our day listening is a lost art that can be reclaimed by those who approach listening to a sermon with the right attitude.
Why are so many leaving? Could part of the problem be their almost complete nonparticipation in worship? They observe the singing because much of it is so good that it is too good for some to relate effectively to. Too slick. Too much talent. Too stylized. Production values are way too high. So folks watch without participating because the singing is so very good. They have become an audience and are not a group of worshipers. Additionally, with so much invested in the music, so little is invested in the preaching. Thus, while the people in the church are unskilled listeners because we are no longer an oral culture, but a visual and reading culture, there is little motivation to become a good sermon hearer because so many sermons are so shallow, so devoid of profundity, so lacking in spiritual investment. Spend more time in your study. Spend more time on your knees. Spend more time learning how to be a story teller and a verbal illustrator. Spend time getting feedback from those who listen to you so you can discover what they thought you said when you said what you said.
I fear some are leaving because they are unfulfilled in worship, either because they do not really know what worship is or because there just isn’t much provided that would encourage anyone in the room to fall on his face before our great and glorious God.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
I am musing a bit about why people leave. Some grow up in Church and leave when they graduate from high school, leave when they graduate from college, leave when they get married, leave when they begin to have children, or leave when they take a transfer. As an aside, is it not interesting how grown men and women act they have no choice regarding transfers away from family and church as if they couldn’t look for another j-o-b rather than leave those they claim to love so much, be they family or church? Then there are those who grow up in our movement and serve in positions of spiritual leadership in the gospel ministry before leaving our movement. How is it that a guy can serve as a Baptist pastor for several decades, supposedly embracing Baptist convictions related to baptism, the church, the doctrine of salvation, eternal security, and the cessation of sign gifts, and then all of a sudden become charismatic in his position (can I call them convictions?), which entails a take it or leave it approach to baptism, a non-existent notion of the local church, ignoring the doctrine of salvation, abandoning any idea of a coherent view of eternal security, and tolerating if not promoting counterfeit sign gifts? How is that not virtual apostasy? Oh well, let me muse about leaving rather than the inconsistencies of those who leave.
First John 2.19 addresses the topic of leaving, with some being of the opinion that doctrinal deviancy is referred to by the Apostle (that would be Scofield and Zane Hodges’ views). I am more inclined to agree with John MacArthur and Adam Clarke on this one, that the Apostle refers here to someone abandoning the congregation. Here is the footnote from the MacArthur Study Bible:
“The first characteristic mentioned of antichrists, i.e., false teachers and deceivers (vv. 22-26), is that they depart from the faithful (see vv. 22,23 for the second characteristic and v. 26 for the third). They arise from within the church and depart from true fellowship and lead people out with them. The verse also places emphasis on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Those genuinely born again endure in faith and fellowship and the truth (1 Cor. 11:19; 2 Tim. 2:12). The ultimate test of true Christianity is endurance (Mark 13:13; Heb. 3:14). The departure of people from the truth and the church is their unmasking.”
The thought that occurs to me is how infrequently this passage is referred to when consideration is given to those who leave, be they those who leave their church or those who leave their movement. Does this passage not suggest, whatever your understanding of its meaning and application, that departure from a congregation or a movement is a vastly more significant action than is usually believed to be true?
How often leaving a church and then joining another church is treated as somewhat inconsequential, as rather unimportant, when the reality is that it is one of the most significant actions a Christian will ever take. Warren Buffett is no spiritual leader, by any stretch of the imagination. However, he is a billionaire as a result of being a methodically practical and observant man on business matters. He claims most people make five major decisions in their lives, and their life will be considered a failure if three of those five decisions is a bad one. Career choice, spouse choice, home purchase, plus two other choices are the ones he cites as significant.
If Warren Buffett is right, and on this it seems likely, church hoppers and movement abandoners are treading on very thin ice if they want their lives to be successful. When it comes to leaving your church, the Apostle John and Warren Buffett (who has never left Omaha and has lived in the same house for more than fifty years) would probably agree.
Maybe pastors should take more seriously the departure of their church’s members than many do. Maybe some leave their churches because leaving the church is not thought (or communicated) by the pastor to be as important a matter as it is, sometimes even rewarding those who have left by scheduling an annual homecoming event. I am not suggesting that those who leave should be treated harshly or unkindly when they come back to visit family and friends. However, is it appropriate to give them a send off (as you ought to do when a family leaves to go to Bible college or to establish a church somewhere)? I wonder. Have you ever seen someone who left other than for legitimate ministry purposes to spiritually thrive in their new situation? I cannot say that I have.
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Installment #3 - Methods are employed that inadvertently diminish the impact of the Gospel message, producing decisions that fall short of genuine conversions.
Though it is frequently not recognized, it is easily established that father Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees by faith, Hebrews 11.8. However, that same father Abraham did not possess saving faith for another ten years until, in Genesis 15.6, he believed in the Lord and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Both James and the Apostle Paul fix the time of Abraham’s justification on that occasion (James 2.23; Romans 4.3; Galatians 3.6). Thus, the Biblical prototype of justification by faith exhibited genuine faith when he left Ur of the Chaldees to live in the Promised Land, but it was not saving faith.
What does this have to do with diminishing the impact of the Gospel message that results in young people leaving our Churches and in some cases perhaps young men in the ministry leaving our movement? In my musings, it strikes me that it has plenty to do with it. It is not often recognized that Abraham had faith for a decade that was not saving faith, but such a reality seems in my musings to be vitally connected to our evangelism in two ways: First, if no attention is paid to the possibility of someone having faith, real faith, genuine faith that is not saving faith, then a sinner’s faith can be misread by someone as indicating the presence of spiritual life when in fact, there is none. Those few men in the Gospel ministry these days who pay careful attention to those who come under serious conviction of their sins and make professions of faith in Jesus Christ may injudiciously look for evidence of faith from someone who professes to have been saved (sincerely so in some cases) when they should instead look for evidence of life. Why so? Abraham had faith for upwards of ten years before his justification by faith. Had someone looked for evidence of faith in Abraham’s life he would have found it, though Abraham was not justified until Genesis 15.6. The implications of this are enormous, as the thoughtful pastor will come to see. Second, there is the serious matter of the sluggishness of the heart to believe.
No one denies that the human mind is very quick to change its focus, to alter its direction, and to rapidly address a multiplicity of interests in succession. Indeed, what can in some cases be a great asset can on other matters be a tremendous liability. For example, the incredibly short attention spans of the young reflect the lack of discipline needed to keep the mind focused on important matters that require more than a few seconds to grasp and fully understand. The quickness of their minds is invaluable when playing computer games, but woefully inadequate for paying attention when God’s Word is preached. To compensate for this shortness of attentiveness many who have devoted themselves to ministering to the young have pragmatically adapted their methodology to negotiate through the maze of inattentiveness they are compelled to deal with. They do this with music, with humor, with games, with visuals, with drama, and all sorts of means designed to hold the attention of those with very short attention spans.
However, when doing this, I have observed that a non-negotiable spiritual constant is too often ignored by those who minister to the young and difficult to hold. I refer to the sluggishness of the heart. Allow me to briefly explain. Every human being is comprised of that which is material and that which is immaterial, that which is flesh and that which is spirit. The immaterial part of man includes portions that are variously referred to as mind, heart, spirit, soul, conscience, etc., and anyone who is honest will admit that precisely how to distinguish one of those aspects of the immaterial from the other (where to draw the line between the mind and the heart, for instance) is quite beyond him. However, this we know: The mind is quick, abrupt, fleeting and flighty while the heart is very slow. The Savior made specific mention of this characteristic of the heart in Luke 24.25 when He said after His resurrection, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe.” Thus, the mind is quick, but the heart is slow. But how many men do you know who frequently speak to the young who are even aware of the disparity that exists between the mind and the heart?
This great difference between the mind and the heart has serious implications that are usually overlooked. Consider, for example, Psalm 119.11: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” How many children have memorized that verse only to then commit horrible sins, because they and the adults who exhort them to memorize have not understood the difference between merely memorizing a verse and hiding that verse in your heart? Memorizing is only hiding in your mind, which has an insufficient grip on you to much affect your conduct. To hide a verse in your heart. However, one must diligently work using prayer, meditation, reflection, consideration, and application of that truth, so it is absorbed in and embraced by your heart. Sadly, many people lose confidence in God’s Word because they fail to distinguish between memorizing a verse so as to store it in the mind and hiding that same verse in the heart. The fault does not lie with God’s Word but with a complete misunderstanding of that verse’s meaning.
Consider as well a typical youth rally or youth group meeting in which roughly an hour is spent cultivating hilarity, laughter, amusement, and everything else needed to create an atmosphere that is comfortable to those visiting and those in attendance who are shy. Then, after the skits, the poems, the games, the singing, and the food, the speaker does several things to settle his young listeners down. That done, he begins his message. He has a daunting task, bringing the young people around from laughter and silliness to seriousness and focused attention. How does he do it? He will use illustrations, stories, testimonies, and other techniques to produce a seriousness of mind, perhaps even resulting in tears as some of them reflect on their sins and shortcomings. As the speaker draws his message to a close his listeners frequently feel guilty, what they believe to be heavy-hearted, and aware of their need of repentance. If he is skillful, the young people will respond to his urgings by praying about their sins, by making personal commitments, and by praying the sinner’s prayer after the speaker’s recitation of that prayer to receive Christ. Afterward, they feel relieved; their heaviness is alleviated, the tears of sorrow are frequently replaced by tears of joy, and the youth rally is deemed a great success.
The problem, of course, is that none of the young people who prayed the sinner’s prayer were saved. They are told they were saved. They will think they are saved. But the complete absence of spiritual growth in their lives following their so-called conversion will be explained away as carnality and backsliding when the real problem is the direct result of an unobserved characteristic of the human heart. But what about their joy afterward and the thrill they felt about their new life in Christ? Oh that. Have you never read the Savior’s parable describing one still unsaved person’s reaction to the Word, Matthew 13.20-21?
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
The emotional response that is sometimes produced by one’s reaction to the Word of God is clearly no certain indication of a real heart response to the truth. This is because the human heart, every person’s heart, is slow to believe. While the mind can flit about like a water bug on a pond the heart of each and every one of us, without exception, turns as slowly as a super tanker full of crude oil. Oh, you can play and horse around for an hour and then be brought to tears in a matter of fifteen or twenty minutes by a skilled speaker. But that is only the mind being redirected by various means, with some of those means being obviously manipulative. The heart, you see, was left behind because it is very, very sluggish. The Savior said so.
Why is this important to take note of? Romans 10.10 declares, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” Impress the mind to the point that feelings of guilt and emotions well up into tears as much as you want. Coax the mind to burst forth in a flood of emotion and prayers all you want. But it is the heart that is the important thing, and the heart is said by our Savior to be slow. Want to know why very few members of our Church’s youth group from the late 1980s that used to travel the Western states winning souls, conducting youth clinics, and encouraging Churches everywhere, attend a Church anywhere that I know of today? Ministry to young people’s minds was conducted to produce decisions and commitments with no regard to the nature of the heart to respond only very slowly. Therefore, you can have all the fun you want for an hour and then turn to Gospel preaching at the end, but it will be only minds that are affected and not hearts.
I am not saying that the Gospel is not being preached. I am not saying that there are never real conversions. Some of the kids will remember what was preached at the youth rally and hours later, days later, or perhaps months later will trust Christ. But that will happen as the Spirit of God works to bring the content that is in the mind into the heart, where it will be slowly considered as the Spirit of God presses the truth home.
Thus, there are very sincere ministries and ministers who engage in methods that interfere with the progress of the Gospel applied by the Holy Spirit to the hearts of sinners. Sometimes evidence of faith is mistaken for evidence of life. However, faith can be possessed and displayed by the unsaved, as was the case with Abraham. Look for evidence of life, my preacher friend, not evidence of faith. As well, we think we can ignore the unchangeable nature of the human heart to appreciate, appropriate, and apply the truth first apprehended by the mind only slowly? Think again.
Thus, many of our young who have made professions of reach the erroneous conclusion that Christianity is not real (because they think they tried it), or that Christianity is for everyone but them (because they think they tried it), or worse yet, they continue living despicable lives that they think is the Christian life because their lives are so similar to the fake Christianity found so frequently in Churches today. Therefore, when God’s Word makes little impression on their hearts when their so-called Christian lives are without a victory, they frequently drift away and into completely secular lifestyles. Others, who go off to Bible college and end up in the ministry are prone to drift off into other movements where the emphasis is on emotion-charged services and “worship” that is almost completely geared to entertainment.
Regardless of what era we live in, and no matter how short the attention spans of young audiences, the human heart is and always will be sluggish and slow to respond. That is a factor worth considering when seeking to reach lost young people, in my opinion.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Installment #2 - Embracing serial adulterers, the effect on our young by so-called spiritual leaders who lose the respect of the young by foolishly rehabilitating men who are clearly unqualified for the gospel ministry.
When I was converted to Jesus Christ in 1974, I spent the first year and a half of my Christian life desperately denying what was in front of me for fear that I would be committing sin by acknowledging the obvious, that Christians sometimes commit incredible sins. Not growing up in a Christian home, this revelation was as new to me as I have discovered it to be to some in my ministry over the past four decades. When my wife and I moved to another church to go back to school to prepare for the gospel ministry shortly after we married, we found ourselves thoroughly confused. The pastor who baptized me chewed me out in the parking lot in front of some church members when I informed him that I was following his directive to enroll in Bible college. And what did he angrily yell at me for? For leaving the church to go to the Bible college, he advised me to enroll in. Thus began my efforts to understand Baptist pastors. And though I have been the pastor of two Baptist churches over the last 38 years, I am not persuaded I have made much progress in my quest to understand what makes Baptist pastors tick.
The church my new bride and I next joined had been recommended to us by a fellow who seemed to be considerably more experienced in such things. The church was considerably larger than our previous church home, and it was growing at a fairly rapid pace. The new to me pastor was notable for his previous pastorate, which had been a rapidly growing church. After all, Elmer Towns wrote that his previous church had been one of the fastest growing in the nation. I wondered in passing why he left such a rapidly growing church but gave the matter no serious reflection. We were members under his leadership for one year before he left to become a missionary, and then we were there for two more years under his very kind successor. It was after our new pastor had left that I occasionally heard murmurs and comments about his past but paid no attention to them. After several years had passed and I left my first pastorate for my present pastorate, the rumors resumed, and I heard them now more frequently since I was situated in a vast metropolitan area and no longer in a farming community.
It was at my second pastorate that I also began to face the aftermaths of mishandled ministerial crisis management. My impression (though I am not an expert, not having grown up in church) is that misconduct was frequently handled by pastors in days gone by differently than is legally required today. In my state, I am identified as a mandatory reporter of any accusation made to me of misconduct by an adult with a child, regardless of its plausibility. Thus, if a ten-year-old who is known to be a liar says a certain Mr. Jones touched him inappropriately, I immediately pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1. State law forbids that I exercise discretion when I hear of such matters. I comply with the law. However, sinful conduct that occurs between adults is another matter altogether. And I must admit that pastors are somewhat frequently given unsolicited information that we cannot act upon. Simply because someone makes an accusation about a pastor in another church having an affair with a member of that other church is insufficient grounds for me to say or do anything. Such has always been my stance.
Things began to change somewhat when a ministry friend at my end of the state told me he was visiting a preacher acquaintance of ours at the other end of our vast state. Perhaps six weeks later I saw my ministry friend again, and he was very sad. The man he had visited was experiencing terrible grief in his church ministry because of his predecessor’s predecessor. But his predecessor’s predecessor was none other than my former new pastor! In the course of our conversation, and without names being mentioned (however, being a trained engineer I am clever about adding two plus two) I was forced to the conclusion that my former pastor was a serial adulterer, with his adultery body count numbering in the dozens. The rumors over the years sadly turned out to be true. It seems that the only place he did not soil his own ministry nest was the church my wife and I were in when he was our pastor for one year. My conclusion was confirmed when he admitted to committing adultery (again) at a subsequent pastorate, and yet again when a longtime friend of his and mine informed me of even more sordid revelations. Then an older church planter me he had to leave where he was presently attending because he observed all the signs that pointed to this same preacher grooming yet another woman with attention and flattery. And when he moved to another state he did it all over again! The history of this man is sickening. He is the Bill Clinton of the independent Baptists, leading anyone with a brain and heart to conclude that he is a sociopath and certainly not a Christian.
That is not the end of his story. His story is still being written and with tragic consequences, including sexual infidelity by one of his children and also by those young men employed by him over the years as young staff members fresh out of Bible college. I am hard pressed to think of someone near my age who once worked for the guy who has not subsequently admitted to sexual misconduct at some point. I certainly recognize that sexual infidelity is not something only Baptists are faced with. I am old enough to remember the fall of President Reagan’s former pastor for inappropriate conduct with a church member he was counseling. As well, most of us my age remember the terrible publicity surrounding Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Ted Haggard. Some of you reading this may even be aware of the controversies surrounding Aimee Semple McPherson almost a century ago, who founded the Pentecostal Foursquare denomination and led the Angeles Temple near Echo Park in Los Angeles. However, just because such conduct takes place among other groups does not mean it is excusable in our movement. Additionally, I am sure you are discerning enough to recognize that I do not deny that sinful behavior can be forgiven. No one that I know disputes that. However, there is great evil afoot in our Baptist circles, and it is being advanced as a means of manipulating the gullible at the expense of our God-given message that Jesus Christ saves sinners from their sins rather than in their sins, Matthew 1.21.
In this second in a series of musings about the reasons some of those who are younger leave our movement, let is pay attention to how we handle sin in our ranks, especially how we react to sins committed by those who are supposed to be under-shepherds of God’s flocks but who use their positions to violate the sheep. How do we as pastors deal with such sins as have been committed in Florida by prominent pastors, in the Chicago area by prominent pastors, in the Bay area of California, and also in Southern California? Do we say nothing? Do we do nothing?
I was converted in 1974. Growing up in a secular home, my parents surprisingly took my brother and me to church four or five times during my mid teens. I remember the experiences vividly. I remember that Baptist pastor, as well as his name. I remember that in the small town where I went to high school, a town where no secrets were safe, everyone in my high school knew that pastor was cheating on his wife. If you think I paid any attention to that man’s gospel sermons, with all his talk about being saved from your sins, you are a bigger fool than he was. I scorned him. I derided him. I despised him. I had no respect whatsoever for him. How could I after what he had done? Perhaps he was a factor in my slide into atheism while in engineering school. So my musings about infidelity in the ministry come from my impressions, the impressions of a young person who was aware of the cheating being done by the preacher he occasionally listened to.
Do I think a pastor who cheats on his wife can and should be forgiven? Of course, I do. Do I think a pastor who cheats on his wife with dozens of different women should be forgiven? Yes, but that is not the issue that faces our movement. The issue that faces us is why a man who has already confessed to committing adultery while in the gospel ministry is still in the gospel ministry. And don’t give me any nonsense about the gifts and calling of God being without repentance. Romans 11.29 is not a passage that is properly applied to the call to the gospel ministry and the qualifications that must be maintained to serve as a spiritual leader. Another distortion that is making the rounds is the assertion that not even adultery is grounds for divorce. I suspect such a position is used by adulterous preachers as a way of keeping their disappointed wives from leaving them for their infidelities. That is nothing short of wresting the scriptures to avoid the consequences of committing adultery. It is wickedness.
Here is one of the problems we must come to grips with, as I see it, in our movement. This matter of sexual infidelity is routinely seriously mishandled, even by good men who are faithful to their wives. How so? We are allowing prominent men who are credibly accused of very serious sins to hold themselves unaccountable to their congregations or anyone else because of some warped notion of pastoral leadership, when the Apostle Paul very specifically clarified the church’s authority to address the sins and charges of sin in the life of a pastor, First Timothy 5.19-20:
19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
This passage shows that a pastor is certainly subject to the authority of the congregation he serves, with Matthew 18.16-20 showing that there is no greater authority on earth to deal with sins in a congregation than the authority of the local church. I remember my days in Bible college when one teacher taught that a pastor was not subject to the authority of the church he presided over. I thought the notion was laughable at the time, but I have seen since then that it is a more widely held belief than I had thought possible. Pastors, we need to be ready to advise congregations that seek our input so deacons and other lay leaders will know how to deal with serious sins by their pastors. And then there is our response as pastors to this evil of restoring sexually promiscuous preachers to positions of spiritual leadership, even to recommending them to churches that have no knowledge of their previous sins. Just last week a pastor told me of a conversation he had in the office of another pastor about yet another instance of adultery that led to a resignation. During their discussion, my friend said the other guy received a phone call and proceeded to recommend to another church the adulterous man they had been discussing!
We have got to stop this nonsense of recommending adulterers to be pastors of churches! It is more important for us to be loyal to the Savior and His cause than to be falsely loyal to a traitorous ministry pal. As well, we need to embrace Biblical convictions about this matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Whatever your personal stance on divorce happens to be, please make sure you recognize that there were four grounds for divorce in the Mosaic Law and that our Lord spoke to only one of them (strongly suggesting He had no quarrel with the other three). Thus, the notion that there are never grounds for divorce in the Bible is simply unsustainable. Even if you and I disagree about this topic in general, you have to agree with me that the perverse and malevolent notion that is advanced by adulterous pastors that their wives have no recourse when confronted by their ongoing infidelity would be the only place in scripture where God offers an offended party no recourse. How dare pastors put up with that nonsense without strongly and vocally opposing it for what it is, a demonic attempt to cheat on your wife without paying the consequences. As a Baptist by conviction, I endorse the liberty of Pastors to develop their convictions about the issue of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. However, I would urge upon every preacher two books written by a Baptist pastor and legitimate scholar, David Instone-Brewer, Divorce And Remarriage In The Bible and Divorce And Remarriage In The Church. I assure you that until you have read those two books you have likely not sufficiently studied the topic, regardless of the position you end up embracing.
I know that my new pastor (as I will continue to refer to this scoundrel) seems to have engaged in adulterous behavior in every ministry he has been involved in since he left the church where I was a member. Why did his wife not divorce him? Why did his wife not publicly show him to be unqualified to serve in ministry leadership positions? Has she no obligation to the cause of Christ her husband so damages? As well, why did his grown sons not demonstrate loyalty to the cause of Christ by insisting that their father never again serves in the pastorate after dozens of adulterous affairs? If his adult children are real Christians one should expect them to side with the Savior against their father’s wicked conduct. Then there are those church members such wicked men preach to. How many teens will have to listen to such men as I had to listen to that pastor when I was a teen? And how many families are such men allowed to destroy by such wicked conduct before they are stopped? Does no one who is Christ’s under-shepherd consider the families of those women who are cheated with, families who will never again trust a pastor or seek pastoral counseling to deal with serious problems?
Have you ever given thought to teens in a church leaving and never coming back because they have discovered their pastor is an adulterer, or they have discovered that their pastor has covered for an adulterer, or has invited an adulterer to preach at their church, or has even gone so far as to take steps to rehabilitate a man guilty of dozens of adulteries? And what about the young men who serve as pastors in our movement? Can you criticize a young man for leaving to escape the company of men who passively and spinelessly tolerate adultery? Then there is the matter of training young men for the Gospel ministry while subjecting them to men who have a filthy reputation. How can a pastor send support to a college that seeks to rehabilitate men who have dragged the Gospel ministry through the muck? How can you allow a singing group from such a school come to your church? As well, how dare Bible colleges recruit to enroll in their school by using telephone calls from young women to high school boys? Have you ever listened to one of those conversations? It is preying on the fantasies of young lads to arrange a phone call from a very pleasant sounding young woman who suggests that they might be friends if he enrolls in her school. Such tactics are shameful and border on pimping. I would go through the roof if I ever found out my daughter was employed in such a way.
In my musings, I wonder what I might have done if I had known of my new pastor’s wicked conduct when he was still my pastor and I was in my second year in the Christian faith, just a babe in Christ. Perhaps it was God working providentially to protect me that I did not know what that man had done and would do until I was mature enough to know what to do about his conduct. I know what to do now. I have nothing to do with the man. I have nothing to do with his son’s attempts to rehabilitate him. I have nothing to do with any preacher training school that has anything to do with overlooking the wicked behavior of those with large reputations. I speak against it. I stand against it. I write about it. And if you want to hold on to your young people, both those in your churches and those young pastors in your movement, you will do the same. Forgive? By all means. Restore? Not hardly. I agree with Charles H. Spurgeon, who commented that a man who has fallen into sexual sin in the ministry has demonstrated clearly that he does not belong in that position.
May I add that this problem is not localized to one fellowship or movement? May I also add that pastors, missionaries, and school leaders fool themselves when they think they are pleasing God by restoring to a position of trust someone who has proven himself to be untrustworthy? I add this paragraph and the following links from articles posted several weeks after I initially uploaded my blog post:
May I add that this problem is not localized to one fellowship or movement? May I also add that pastors, missionaries, and school leaders fool themselves when they think they are pleasing God by restoring to a position of trust someone who has proven himself to be untrustworthy? I add this paragraph and the following links from articles posted several weeks after I initially uploaded my blog post:
Another work has come to light, written by David Cloud. The title is The Hyles Effect: A Spreading Blight. It saddens me to say that a number of the specifics found in this book I have seen with my own eyes. Much more than is contained in this book could have been written because the proof exists.
Pastor, you must distance your ministry from identifying with anyone whose conduct is morally questionable. If you claim to represent God and acknowledge that He is holy, then those who serve Him are called to be holy as well and to abstain from the appearance of evil.