I didn’t think the Pastor would end up in prison. I just thought he was a jerk with a dark vibe about him. In retrospect it makes sense. Sexual predators are normally power-hungry. It’s more about control.
And that lust for control showed through when, from the pulpit, he angrily lashed out at people who were checking their phones while he preached “the Word of God.”
It wasn’t just a quick jab, either. It was long, uncomfortable, and bristling with an undercurrent of rage.
My wife and I were in complete agreement after walking out of that service. Something was wrong with that guy.
We also agreed that this would not be our church home.
But when we talked to people about the inappropriate behavior that disturbed us, the other church attendees acted like it was our criticism that was inappropriate.
“That’s just his personality. He’s a good Pastor.”
Well, now he’s in prison for preying on the vulnerable young people who went to him for counsel.
I’ve thought a lot about it since then. We weren’t in any position of leadership in the church, so we had no authority to do anything. And no reason to, really. That’s important here.
But I think it can be traced back to one central issue.
If we can’t call each other out for being jerks, how can we expect to hold each other accountable on bigger issues?
If we minister, or call ourselves Christians, we should actively aspire to be held to a higher standard of behavior, as listed in Scripture. And that means that we should always be open to gentle yet firm correction.
“…sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” 1 Timothy 3:2-3
If I’m a jerk, I’m inhospitable. That’s a warning sign.
If I’m not gentle, but have a violent way, that’s a warning sign.
Little issues beget big issues.
So, why should we accept a culture that’s unwilling to check little issues, especially in leaders? I’m not saying we should harbor a culture of criticism. Rather, leaders in a church should be actively holding each other accountable. And lay people should be doing the same. Because all of this applies to us, too.
“Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” – 1 Timothy 3:6-7
It’s surprising that sometimes non-Christians can identify when someone is disqualified for ministry before Christians are willing to do so. We’re so pragmatic in the US that we think, “He has a big ministry, therefore he’s qualified for ministry regardless of whether or not he’s a jerk, or flippant with large sums of money.”
For example, a certain preacher recently purchased a private jet for an obscene amount of money and justified it with embarrassing reasoning. That preacher has also historically bragged about being rich.
Non-Christians all over (even on famous talk shows) realized the guy was a “lover of money.” Yet the Christians who supported the preacher tried to defend him.
Whatever a leader gets away with, his followers will justify more.
Lord, forgive us! What a shame!
I was reminded of this recently when reading the book of Jude. “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” –Jude 3-4
Liars, swindlers, and money-hungry preachers were never qualified for ministry. They exist to our shame. Let us never become one of them! They pervert the grace of God into sensuality, to please their own desires. This results in countless thousands (millions?) distrusting that Christianity offers anything of substance at all.
What are we supposed to do about this? How do we “contend for the faith”?
Again, we know that all of this applies to us as well as to preachers. Are we liars, swindlers, or money-hungry? Are we rude, inhospitable, violent drunks? Do we lack self-control? Do we live out of love or selfishness?
I don’t believe “contending for the faith” is something done in anger or in a riotous manner.
Outrage doesn’t change the world for the positive, because “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” –James 1:20
This is why social media is one of the worst places to “contend for the faith.” It encourages impersonal criticisms that can result in nothing more than a hate-filled atmosphere. All of us would do better “contending for the faith” by deleting our social media accounts and being more practically involved with our family, friends, and local church.
Neither is “contending for the faith” an ideological war. It’s not just about “correct theology.” That’s just a portion of it.
Our faith is one that is lived out by the Spirit in every decision we make, every desire we harbor, every thought we tend, every joke we tell. Our attitudes, personalities, and “spirit” are just as important as the theology we back in our statements of faith.
That means this blog itself is worthless unless it helps us to live out our faith.
Because if we say we believe everything in the Bible, yet we’re jerks… what benefit is that?
Least of all does it benefit ourselves, because we don’t get to experience the wonderful blessings of union with Christ in our daily lives!
Such “belief” is impotent and worthless. It’s a sham, as many non-Christians clearly see.
“So, you say you believe in love, that God made you pure, yet you aren’t even as loving as some non-Christians I know? You’re a liar. And your God’s a fake.”
Oh, Jesus forgive us for when we’ve been unkind! For when we’ve failed to walk by your Spirit!
These are sobering words for me. Are they for you, as well?
It seems clear from Scripture that we contend for the faith most by walking by the Spirit day-by-day. By humbly repenting for not living according to the fruit of the Spirit. By gently but firmly encouraging each other to live by the Spirit in our local church, because the little things are warning signs of the big things. We do this by affirming the word of God and who he has revealed himself to be.
Ours is a personal, relational faith. We don’t “contend” for anything in an impersonal way. We don’t “contend” for anything when our faith isn’t shining through our spirits and personalities. We don’t “contend” for the faith just by complaining that the pastor was a jerk (like I did when the pastor was a jerk). It’s more than that.
All of us could end up like that preacher. The sobering reality is that the same evil inside of him is the same evil we are all born with.
So, where have we failed to live by the Spirit?
Let’s take honest stock of ourselves this morning, and be encouraged to know that God has made a way, through Christ, for us to live according to a different standard of behavior.
We are no longer slaves to evil, because we’ve been set free by the power of Christ to live lives marked by love, gentleness, joy, peace, patience, self-control.
Rejoice! Christ is ours! This is the Gospel.
And we contend for it by living by the Spirit, gently encouraging each other to live honestly, and letting Christ shine through our lives by embodying his way of life.
Precious Jesus, replace any evil in us with your holiness! Humble us in your presence. Set us free from the prison of sin! Show us your ultimate goodness and reveal to us the ways we’ve failed you. Give us the wisdom to know how to honor you and to live according to your will. In our weakness, in our total dependency on you, we trust that you are daily transforming our lives and desires. In humility, we trust that you are building us up into vessels to shine your light in this dark world. Don’t let us bring shame to your name! Raise us up to live as examples of your goodness and reality, with all meekness and love. We trust that you have given us the grace we need to contend for the faith by loving you and refusing to bow to the flesh. Thank you for yourself. Amen.
Write out the fruit of the Spirit and slowly consider whether you embody each one in prayer today. Where you feel you are lacking, ask Christ to forgive you, and to empower you through his Spirit to bear good fruit. Then spend some time worshipping him and enjoying his presence.