Accomplishments as High as Heaven, Character as Low as Hell

In recent months the evangelical world has been rocked by a number of scandals, by news of yet more leaders who used their churches or ministries to indulge themselves to the harm of others. These are yet more cases of men who will no doubt stand before God some day and plead all their accomplishments—“Didn’t I preach the gospel for you? Didn’t I encourage many people in their faith? Didn’t I lead many people to the Lord?” Yet despite such pleas, they will surely hear words of the severest condemnation. They will learn in that day that accomplishments stacked as high as heaven are no recompense for character sunk as low as hell.

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Their stories are consistent with so many others in a number of details, including this: There were many times at which they should have stepped aside. There were many times at which, had they genuinely loved the Lord and wanted the best for his church, they would have acknowledged their disqualification from any kind of public ministry and then quietly backed away. They would have displayed their love for the Lord by their willingness to abandon the platform they had proven themselves unworthy of. There may still have been scandal, but it would have been tempered by their genuine repentance, their genuine willingness to leave behind all the benefits that came with their platform. It would have been tempered if only they had shown humility by initiating their own departure.

But that’s not the way it goes, is it? No one ever resigns. No one ever steps aside. No one ever has such integrity that he counts himself disqualified and removes himself from public ministry. Or very few, anyway. I can count on one hand the men who have quietly and voluntarily stepped aside before an outcry made it necessary; I’d run out of fingers and toes before I came to the end of the list of men who have waited until the scandal broke and who raised all manner of protest when they were forced out.

Why is this? Why do so few resign, even when they know they have committed scandalous, disqualifying sins? What keeps them from responding rightly when they have fallen into great depravity?

In some cases it is because they are genuinely evil, genuinely hypocritical, genuinely using the Christian world as a means to gain access to fame, wealth, and victims. In other cases, they are self-deceived, convinced that the last sin was the final sin, that this time their repentance is genuine, that the regret they now feel will keep them from ever doing it again. Besides, isn’t it obvious that they are doing so much good for the Lord that his cause would be harmed if they were to own their sin or remove themselves from ministry? Isn’t all their ministry success proof that God is overlooking their sin, that he wants them to carry on? Plus, what else are they qualified to do with a degree in theology and a career spent entirely within the Christian bubble? And so for these reasons and many others, those who have disqualified themselves continue on until the scandal finally breaks, until the church reacts with shock, until the world reacts with scorn.

It is admirable when those who have committed disqualifying sin acknowledge they are no longer worthy of their platform or office and who, in sorrow and true repentance, step aside and disappear from the public eye. Though their sins are real and terrible, these people show evidence of God’s grace by their response to it. Even as they face the consequences, they should be commended for responding to it rightly. Conversely, it is deplorable when those who have committed disqualifying sin refuse to acknowledge they are no longer worthy of their platform or office and who, in pride and error, remain in the public eye until their day finally comes.

The Bible calls all Christians to be above reproach, to have unquestionable character, to have a life that is so consistent that no blame or disgrace can be attached to it. Pastors (and surely any others with a public platform) are expected to exemplify this virtue. When they have been involved in a scandal that, if found out, would bring reproach upon Christ and his church, the best and wisest and holiest thing they can do is to protect Christ’s cause by removing themselves from public ministry. This is a display of true repentance, a proof of genuine remorse.

(This is the third article on this theme. See also Death to the One-Year Rule! which talks about the tendency to return to ministry far too soon, and Don’t Drop the Rock! which talks about the great damage that comes to the whole church through scandalous sin.)