The church has had enough
spin, denial and closed-door settlements. Leaders must demonstrate humility and
A few years ago a minister
in my city went through a divorce, and the messy details of the settlement
between the pastor and his wife were reported in our newspaper. But when the
divorce was finalized there was no public statement. The man’s wife disappeared
from the stage, her photo vanished from the church website and nothing further
was said. Zip. Nada. No comment.
The message: It’s none of your business what happened
between the pastor and his wife. He’s the anointed messenger of God. Just
talk out of both sides of their mouths certainly cannot preach an uncompromised
gospel. And liars cannot be trusted to give us the truth.”
Another pastor in my city
stepped down from his pulpit briefly for unknown “indiscretions”—and then it
became known that he had been carrying on an affair with a stripper from
France. The man never resigned from leadership, and his wife eventually
divorced him. Today, this preacher appears on Christian television, and he
still has a following.
The message: Anointing is what’s important. Character is
secondary. If a guy can preach the paint off the walls and get everyone
shouting, then relax—it really doesn’t matter how he runs his personal life.
Then last month, Bishop
Eddie Long of Atlanta settled out of court with four young men who had accused
him of using gifts, trips and jobs to entice them into sexual relationships.
The pastor of 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church told his
congregation last fall that he would fight the charges. But in late May, Long
agreed to pay an undisclosed amount to the four men, and the terms of the
agreement were sealed. The church said in a statement that the settlement was
engineered “to bring closure” and that the congregation will now “move forward
with the plans God has for this ministry.”
The message: Case closed. We are never going to tell you what happened. It really doesn’t matter
whether your pastor committed serious sins.
Is this how we’re supposed
to run a church? I don’t think so. Neither does Bishop Paul Morton, founder of
the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship and a former
colleague of Eddie Long’s. Morton rebuked Long in a recent sermon and demanded
that he come clean about what happened with his accusers.
Morton aired his public
message to Long on June 19, saying: “If you have repented, show me some signs.
Show me some humility. You can’t just come and tell me nothing. Tell me
something. Those who have stood with you, tell us something. Tell your church
The issue at stake here is
crucial: Should a pastor who falls into serious sin—or who is just accused of a
serious sin—respond publicly and address the charges? Does he need to be open
with his congregation? Or does the Bible give him immunity? Does his standing
as a Christian leader give him permission to hide his faults from view?
In the squirrelly world of
independent charismatic churches, where accountability is sometimes a dirty
word, some pastors think their ability to make people shout and swoon on Sunday
mornings gives them a Get Out of Jail Free card whenever they commit a heinous
sin. But I don’t see that concept in Scripture, especially when I read the
Apostle Paul’s list of required qualities for church leaders in 1 Timothy 3. Notice these:
must be … above reproach” (3:2, NASB). The King
James Version translates this as “blameless.” That doesn’t mean leaders never
sin. But it means his or her record is important. The Greek word is anepilemptos, which means “cannot be
laid hold of; not open to censure.” In other words, if a man bilked people out
of thousands of dollars, he’s not qualified to be in ministry now because his
reputation would bring a reproach on the gospel. A Christian leader should not
have a dark cloud of scandal hanging over his head.
must be … the husband of one wife” (3:2). Christians have argued for years about whether this verse disqualifies
people who have gone through a divorce. Regardless of that aspect, most
scholars agree that the sense of the phrase means “a one-woman man”—in other
words, sexually pure. Church leaders should not be involved in adultery,
fornication, homosexual affairs, perversion or sex with minors. Period.
… must have a good reputation with those outside the church” (3:7). Again, the inference here is that a leader’s past is important. If he
is dragging the baggage of past marriages, children out of wedlock, rumored
affairs or criminal activity, he has no business in the ministry unless those
issues can be fully resolved.
“Deacons … must not be double-tongued” (3:8). While
this qualification is mentioned for deacons in Paul’s list, I mention it here
because we charismatics are the masters of spin. “Double-tongued” comes from
the Greek word dilogos, which means
“saying one thing with one person and another thing to another, with the intent
to deceive.” Sound familiar? People who talk out of both sides of their mouths
certainly cannot preach an uncompromised gospel. And liars cannot be trusted to
give us the truth.
God has abundant mercy and forgiveness for all of us
when we fail Him. But when a leader fails, he must walk through the humbling
process of restoration—and this requires full confession, authentic repentance,
willingness to accept discipline from others and the good sense to step out of
the pulpit, when necessary, until he can be trusted again.