Friday, August 22, 2008

A Christian Response to the Fall of Others

This has been a very bad couple of weeks for the church. First was the news that a famous evangelist leading a “revival” was living in immorality and excessively drinking. Next came the news that the writer of the song “Healer”, who has been claiming for the last two years to be suffering from a terminal form of cancer, is a fraud. He completely made up his sickness, lying to his family, his friends, his church, and countless pulpits around the world. When he would make his “doctor visits”, he simply would sit in the doctor’s waiting room. Several months ago, he even blasphemously claimed he was partially “healed” when he stood behind John Wesley’s pulpit on a trip to England.

So how should we in the church respond to these things? First, let’s consider what we should not do. We should not throw stones and kick people when they are down. There is no need to heap scorn and hatred on the fallen. We should refrain from name calling and accusations that are unproven.

But on the other hand, we also should not excuse horrible sin. In too many cases, this has been our knee-jerk reaction. We make excuses for the sins of these high-profile people, and in so doing we add to the reproach they have already brought to the church. “Oh, there is so much pressure in revival. Satan really attacked him,” we say. Or, “Wow, he must have been really brave to come clean about this situation. Let’s just pray for him and his family.” Statements like these turn those who have committed the grave sins into victims, when they are not the victims but the perpetrators!

So often we hear people say “We should not judge others. We are all sinners saved by grace.” It’s true that if it wasn’t for God’s grace, we all could commit any sort of horrible sin. But what these statements neglect is that these men willingly turned away from God’s grace. The Bible is clear that no one can make us sin but ourselves, and when they rejected God’s grace they fell.

We are all imperfect and all commit sin, but there is a difference between occasional sins (that we all commit) and open, continual deceit. Consider the songwriter; how did he use his tremendous giftings and influence that God gave him? How many times did he blaspheme God’s name and healing power by pretending to be terminally sick? How many lies did he tell in the name of God? The reproach he has brought on the body of Christ is enormous. The victims of his sin are first the worldwide Church (for the damage his sins brought upon us, furthering the world’s perception that the church is full of hypocrites), next his family (for the untold heartache his stories put them through), and finally and most importantly, the Lord Himself (for the way this man so terribly abused His name). He is not the victim in any way. Sweeping his sin away with, “We’re all sinners” and, “How brave he is to tell the truth,” is not the New Testament model for dealing with open sin.

While it’s true that we should not walk around constantly judging our brothers and sister, when there is open sin we are to deal with it. I have no business judging those of what I perceive their sin to be, but as Christians (and all the more ministers) we must call deal with sin when it is out in the open in the Church! We are not to judge the world, but the Apostle Paul instructs that we are to deal with sin when it is inside the church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). Excusing sin clouds our witness and makes us a joke in the eyes of the world. We cannot ignore these things, we must confront and deal with them! And that means admitting that those who have fallen have deceived us and done terrible things that cannot be tolerated by God’s people, called to be a “holy nation (1 Peter 2:9).”

So what should our response be? An acknowledgement that these men have sinned and disappointed many; a prayer that those under our care will not be negatively affected by their fall; and a fresh consecration to God, asking Him to search us and know us and take out any wicked way that be in us. We should also pray for the men that have fallen, not just that they will “have strength through this difficult time”, but that they will come to true repentance and will experience God’s tremendous grace. Not a weak sort of grace that is effective only to forgive our sins, but grace that is powerful and transforms us so that we don’t have to live in sin anymore.

As leaders, I’m very concerned if people see us ignoring and excusing sin. It will be a tacit acknowledgement that holiness is not that big a deal, that if they are just a nice guy or girl whatever they do will quickly be forgotten. We must call sin for what it is and raise up a righteous standard in our churches. Yes, we should let people know that there is forgiveness and restoration for those who truly seek it, but it’s not an instant “Get out of jail free” card. There are grave consequence for grave sin and we must never forget that.

I truly do pray that these men come to true repentance and restoration in their personal lives, and perhaps one day even restoration of their ministry. I pray that they will be protected from further enemy attacks, and that they do find those in the Church who will bring them through true Biblical restoration. So let’s respond by reminding people of God’s righteous standard and our constant need for God’s grace.