Dear CPC family,
How should we respond when Christian leaders fall? This is a question that has been on my mind recently in the wake of the revelations about the now-deceased Ravi Zacharias and the one-time Minister of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon, Jonathan Fletcher. I do not know the details of what these men did, save for what has been reported in the Christian media. What I am about to say, then, is of a general nature that could be applied to other similar situations; I am not making any specific comments in respect of the cases mentioned above.
It seems to me that a godly response to the serious failings of Christian leaders will consist of at least four things.
First, we must grieve and sorrow. It is deeply grievous when any Christian falls badly, but perhaps especially so when it is a Christian who is in a position of leadership and who has a certain public profile. For the damage then done to the church and to the reputation of Jesus Christ is all the greater. To hear of a Christian leader abusing their office by taking advantage of those under their authority understandably leaves many with a cynical and distrustful view of the church. How many people refuse to give the gospel any kind of hearing because they have, at one time in their past, suffered at the hands of a dishonourable church pastor? Too many, I fear. It is tragic when the name of Christ is besmirched by the public sins of his ordained ambassadors.
Second, hearing of prominent Christians committing vile and heinous sins ought to humble us to the dust. There is no worse response to the fall of a church leader than to think that you could never be guilty of such crimes. How many of us, though, secretly think that we are beyond certain sins? How many of us inwardly congratulate ourselves that we are not “as bad as them”? How many of us swim in the mire of such putrid self-righteousness? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. This does not mean that church leaders (or any other Christian for that matter) should not be held to account for their sins. But any public reckoning must be conducted in a spirit of the sincerest humility – a spirit expressive of the thought, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Third, surely when we hear of the grievous sins of church leaders we are driven to our knees in prayer! Surely we pray for the victims, for those who have suffered at the hands of unscrupulous, sometimes malicious, pastors – that God would heal their broken spirits and bind up their wounds. Surely we pray for the guilty parties themselves – that God would humble them, grant them repentance, and restore them, just as he did with David after the terrible sins of Israel’s greatest king. And surely we pray for other prominent, often very gifted, Christian leaders – that God would not lead them into temptation, but deliver them from evil, saving them from ever trusting in their gifts rather than the Giver.
And then, in the fourth place, we respond to the fall of any church leader by renewing our trust and confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the commonest temptations we face as believers, especially in our celebrity-obsessed age, is to put mere mortals on a pedestal, simply because they are well-known preachers. Let us not be so foolish. Let us remember that there is no salvation in man: he will return to the earth when his breath departs (see Psalm 146). Let us remember that every church leader, however gifted, is an unprofitable servant, a sinner saved by grace. And let us remember that Jesus is the only perfect pastor; the perfect pastor who died to forgive those who fail and who fall – and who sometimes do so very badly.
With love in our infallible Head and Saviour, Jesus Christ,