“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
There is a saying which states that “Moral failure comes at a price”. Never have words to such a degree could be any more true than those. In the past few years, the church has seen the rise (and then utter fall) of some of today’s popular Charismatic leaders. Yet scandal, be it immoral scandal, unethical scandal, or even criminal scandal within the church is not new, still, it lingers today as something which we who are in the body of Christ must deal with from time to time.
Even in times past, the church has dealt with pastoral scandal. From the early beginnings of the Pentecostal movement, good men have fallen into the area of moral failure. History recounts the names of some of the movements prominent leaders, preachers of the gospel, who by their own weakness, succumbed to the temptations of their flesh. The result was humiliation, embarrassment and ultimately a loss of confidence in many of these men and women. In the past 30 years, the body of Christ witnessed one particular period of time in the late 1980’s where several known and popular television evangelists fell into moral degradation, and once again the church was forced to defend the body from spiritual betrayal.
When it comes to spiritual accountability, there can be no moral compass other than the word of God. It is the word of God which guides us all in our conduct as well as our character. When questions linger over how one should behave within their specific calling, we always go to scripture for the answers as scripture always trumps the wisdom of men, and for good reason, men are eager to manipulate the word to suit their own ideas, their own political or religious agenda, this is why the Bible is to be regarded as the final authority – because it is.
In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 the apostle Paul gives young Timothy strict qualifications when it comes to the role of a pastor, or basically, someone who is in the faith, needs to meet these narrow guidelines when desiring or occupying this office. Paul states that a pastor must meet several certain criteria, and they are:
1. They must be blameless in conduct. The Greek word here for “blameless” means anepileptos, which means to be inculpable, unrebukeable. The idea that Paul was affirming is that the person who stands in the role of pastor, or who desires to seek this calling and believes God has called them to such office, must be someone who has not soiled themselves with such defamation within the body since the cross (the moment of salvation). That he should be one, who is so before men, and has not been guilty of any notorious and flagitious crime; and particularly, is not chargeable with the vices hereafter mentioned or hinted at. Anyone who fails to meet such a requirement fails to meet the challenges this calling brings.
2. Husband of one wife – not someone who is given into multiple marriages.
5. Of good behavior
6. Given to hospitality
7. Apt to teach
8. Not given to alcohol
9. Not a quarreler, someone who is ill tempered.
10. Not greedy of money.
12. Not a brawler.
13. Not given to covetous.
14. Ruler of his own house.
15. Not a novice.
16. Someone of GOOD report. This person has a good name, a respected name outside the body of Christ (secular world), meaning, they do not have a name which is despised, scoffed at, ridiculed, mocked or tarnished.
The question that remains to be answered is whether a pastor guilty of such sin be restored? Paul echoed in Titus 1:1-8 once again that there were qualifications for someone to occupy that particular role of pastor, as well as remain in that place of leadership. Paul told young Titus that above all things he had mentioned, blameless was one of the top traits a pastor must have when occupying that role.
Sadly, many within the church have literally forsaken the qualifications that Paul established and instead, they have adopted another form of qualifications for leadership. This is why Paul told Titus in 1:5 “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—” The reason why Paul sent Titus into Crete, is due to some within the early church doing things which God did not desire nor intend. much like today.
It must be understood by all that there can be no deviation from the word, not by popular opinion, not by new doctrine or teaching, not by another’s interpretation, it must be by the word. The reason why we must not deviate from this is because of the heavy responsibility God has entrusted us to lead the church in these last days. Whenever a particular man of God falls into error, be it doctrinal error, or moral error, the outcomes always leave the body of Christ wounded, hurt, tarnished and betrayed. It cannot be excused simply as an act of human error, it must be addressed for what it is – sin.
So, can a man who has failed into disrepute be restored back into that particular office? It truly depends on both the nature of the failure and ultimately it has to do with scripture. Paul made it clear not only in 1 Timothy, but also Galatians as well as Titus that being “blameless” has more to do with the price for failure and subsequently, how we deal with someone’s moral lapse in character.
The pastor is not just one who protects and disseminates sound doctrine, but he also serves as a moral example to the church. This is an individual who has a proven track record of good, moral living and gentle, yet firm, leadership in the family setting. The reasons are obvious: How can a man whose moral character is questionable exhort and rebuke others into holy living? This doesn’t mean that a pastor can never, ever commit a sin, but an elder should be the very model of a repentant sinner when the occasion calls for it. When a pastor falls, the entire body feels the affects of that failure. It is not just the man who must carry the weight or burden for their action, the entire church itself must come to the aid of others who were personally hurt or affected by a particular leaders error.
Some would point to Galatians 6:1 in the defense of bringing an individual back into leadership from a sinful event, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” Yet if one notices what Paul is speaking about here, he is not referring to leadership, he is strictly referring to restoration back into Christ.
Some would suggest that how can we preach Christ and forgiveness and not restore someone back into the calling? While the cross is the one and only measure by which we all must seek, it must be clearly understood that full and total restoration can often times be hindered by the measure of a man’s failure. To be more straight forward, depending on someone’s failure in the pulpit, sometimes the scandal, the name is so tarnished among the people, both inside the church as well as outside the church, that sometimes in those rare occasions, that complete restoration back into the office of pastor is simply not possible, simply because too much has been lost. There comes a point we must weigh the burden of a man’s name and reputation against the sheep who would be at risk. In other words, the price for someone’s failure, might be too high to be restored fully that others would place any genuine trust ever again, for that trust had been broken beyond repair.
There is a price for failure. There is a price for sin. When sin is great, when the nature of sin is insurmountable, then complete and full restoration within the role of pastor is not possible. This once again is backed up by the word of God where a man must be blameless. Some would quickly point to David, King of Israel and his many failures, but understand two (2) things, 1. David was appointed King by God. Had God removed David from the throne at this particular time, Israel’s enemies would come against all of Israel and it would have divided the kingdom. 2. David paid for his moral failure by the death of his son which he created with Bathsheba. God’s word which states “Be sure your sins will find you out” was fulfilled. However, while David was King, his kingdom would suffer greatly and the nation of Israel would see the sword once again when they had known peace for all this time, again, the price for failure was complete.
One of the more tragic events in the time of the church was in the case of Pastor Zachary Tims, of TBN fame. Tim’s battles with drug abuse, his relationships with women and ultimately his drug overdose, were all aspects of someone who battled personal demons, and sadly, lost his life from the troubles surrounding him. Today, many occupy the role of pastor who truly have no business occupying such, simply because they are, as Paul states in Titus 1:16 “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.“
When men refuse to listen to the word of God, who fail to be led by the Spirit of God, they are being disobedient and ultimately their work will be futile. Some refuse to adhere to the word because out of finances, they fear a loss of revenue, others have built a ministry and to step down after multitudes of failures, they reject wise counsel and ignore the word of God, they too will never truly be prosperous in their “ministry” because they are being disobedient to the word. They are not blameless in their own nature, but they are an affront to the gospel, for they prove to the world the church doesn’t truly care for high standards of their own servants!
Some might say this letter allows no forgiveness, but I say this letter is all about forgiveness. For forgiveness not only restores such a one back into the spirit of good standing with God thru Christ and the cross, it also reaffirms that the consequences of sin has a price, and while that individual might not ever reach a point of occupying that particular role, God has re-affirmed in Romans 11:29 “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” God never shuts the door for anyone who has the fruits of true repentance to be used again, although he may change the particulars of that calling, one still can reach a lost and dying world for Christ and still show the most promising hopes of the message of the cross, that is irregardless how much someone has done wrong in life, there is not only forgiveness, but restoration as well. That alone gives us all hope.