Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How Do You Mend A Broken Part?

The Todd Bentley affair has brought into sharp relief one reality church folk never seem to be able to remember: every minister who has ever lived, or ever will, is just an ordinary human being, like anyone else. They have strengths, they have weaknesses, they sin. Whatever gift they pass along is no more their fault than the waters of the Mississippi are attributable to the towns she meanders through. As gravity, not determination, dictates her muddy course, so to the Spirit of God, not the merit of a man, decides who is gifted and how.

The thud of the mighty falling awakens us from reverie. Startled, we're aghast and thirsty for blood. They may not have actually been giants, but looking up to them, our perspective made them so. Their failure calls into question all we so readily received at their hands and shakes our very foundations. We've been had, we reason, and we want our dignity returned along with a pound of flesh from the guilty. In no time flat, we mob together at the Place de la Concorde, shouting, "off with his head!"

It would be nice if we never had occasion to get this right in the future (we will), but I fear we're already over the threshold of getting it wrong in the present. We seem unable to learn from the Bible or the past, and so we repeat the same missteps over and over and over and over again. Every time we do, the church looks more like a petty social club than the body of Christ--the only army in the world that kills its wounded rather than dressing their injuries, and especially so if they're officers.

What should we do? Look to the word: 1 Timothy 5:19-21; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20; and 1 Corinthians 5:9-12 give us plenty of instructions about how to deal with this kind of thing. Matthew 18:15-17 is also helpful, but is trumped by the Timothean passage when dealing with an accusation against an elder. I think the process can be summed up this way: confrontation, admonition, contrition/excommunication, restoration. In the case of an elder (church leader) transparency is commanded and necessary.

What should be jarring about this process is that disqualification is not one of the steps. That is not a biblical concept in either the old or the new testament. Samson didn't cease being a judge of Israel, even as he milled grain before the derisive glares of his pagan enemies. David didn't boot Saul out of office before his time, despite God rejecting Saul's kingship. Saul was qualified by God when he became king and he remained the Lord's anointed until he died. David's only recess in service occurred as a result of rebellion, not justice. Peter never stopped being an apostle in Jesus' mind, though he denied the Lord in the time of trial. In fact, one of the things I best love about the biopics in the scriptures is that we are shown the godly, warts and all-- the good, the bad and the ugly! Their stories tell us that God's servants are his servants, even when they prove themselves all too human.

Arbitrarily removing God's servant from service is a fleshly concept from the world, not even hinted at in the NT. The gifts and callings of God are without repentance. Though one must meet certain qualifications to embark in ministry, once the mooring line has been released, that ship has sailed. There is no indication whatsoever that a failing minister has to requalify (read: go through a lengthy process leading to restoration) in order to serve. Imho, these automatic ministerial decapitations are completely unscriptural-- more akin to the ravenous French mob drooling in front of the guillotine than the body of Christ. God forbid!

So what would a biblical process of correcting elders look like? When an accusation against an elder is substantiated by witnesses, that elder is to be confronted by the witnesses and a fellow elder. If the charges are admitted and the accused wants to repent, confess and go on with ministry, he should be publicly, and I would add specifically, rebuked before his church. The accused elder should then publicly acknowledge his guilt fully and honestly before his congregation, and humbly announce what actions are being taken to turn from the sin. His ministry should then continue, but with transparency concerning the issues of the fall.

Hiding things under the carpet until the dust settles, or having experts beat that carpet clean in their secluded workshops is not what the Bible commands. Neither are arbitrary suspension periods, or restoration processes-- these are human inventions not scriptural mandates. They have not served the body well, imo, and only serve to cover a wound rather than healing it. Healing and deliverance occur in the light, it's the truth that sets us free.

If a minister will not repent or accept correction, or is not willing to be transparent about the process, he or she should be publicly excommunicated, even if in absentia. There, too, are certain legal transgressions that will make it impossible for a minister to ever lead corporately again. Regardless, our aim and hope should always be restorative, for there are way too many wasted gifts and way too much avoidable damage done in the body of Christ, not due to the sin of the minister, but the way that sin is dealt with.

15 comments:

  1. This is just an incredibly bold post. One that I cannot argue against. Can I ask more specifically? If the man does not immediately repent of the sin, then what? If the man is in real bondage, ie drinking problem, addiction, been caught in financial improprieties, or, has a drinking problem and messes around with another woman for the second time in three years and now his wife won't talk to him, do you at least have the guy not minister till the problems are dealt with? Like, shouldn't he attain some freedom first?

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  2. Sorry, I hit post a little early.

    What if the man does not want to leave his secretary and go back to his wife? Is there a time that we can look past that and let him minister? What if he leaves his secretary a year later, even though he was excommunicated. Do we put him back in ministry?

    Don't we have to protect the people that these men are charged to give watch over by making sure this behavior is really corrected.

    I am positive you believe this. I am not painting you in a corner. From your past writings I know that you are not into extreme positions that are absent wisdom. But this is really a provoking post.

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  3. This is a very good post, and my reaction to it surprised me. I found myself angry at the Biblical method of dealing with a transgressor. I wanted justice, not mercy and forgiveness! How quickly we forget the mercy of our Savior!

    But I wonder if a break from service to heal might be beneficial?

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  4. Carl,
    I knew I was going out on a limb-- hopefully that creaking sound is not me about to fall! I feel strongly that the Bible is being ignored on this issue, hence the post.

    If the man will not repent, he cannot be a minister (leader), and furthermore, I don't think he should be accepted in Christian company. I Corinthians 5 seems harsh to many of us today, we think grace and understanding will turn a brother from sin, it will not. Confrontation that understands what's at risk (1 Corinth 6:8-10; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Tim 3:1-9; Titus 3:9-11) is what can win the day. I should add, we're not talking about human foibles here-- some folk are willing to be contentious about any and everything and no one should be brought under their bondage-- but that which is obviously (biblically) of the flesh or destructive to the gospel.

    A true Christian will respond to rebuke, especially one who was supposedly mature enough to be in leadership in the first place. Perhaps that brings into question how we bring folks into leadership (1 Tim 3:4-7,10,5:22; James 3:1-2), but that's beyond the scope of this post. If a leader is habitually sinning after a rebuke he needs to be excommunicated (1 John 5:16-18; Titus 3:10), despite Matthew 18:21-22. Leaders are only human, but if they won't govern themselves, they can't be allowed to shepherd the flock of God. A continuing course of sin only reveals them to be wolves, predators feeding on the heritage of God (Acts 20:28-30), rather than pursuing God.

    As for marital problems, no one should minister again while he or she is still with the party he or she committed adultery with. That may knock some bigtime names out of the hunt, so be it! A minister who has been abandoned by a spouse is entirely different issue and should not be rebuked for such, he needs our comfort (so long as he didn't drive her to it).

    The point in all this is that a minister who fails, but who sincerely repents and wants to go on in good faith, should be able to do so without jumping through hoops or being put in the freezer to chill a while. Openness and honesty are absolutlely essential, for without transparency there can be no healing (James 5:16). Those who failed but are trying to play fast with the facts, or are deflecting responsibility, or are "dipping in the punch" when no one is looking have proved themselves false and should be treated like the wolves they are.

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  5. Todd,
    A break may indeed be helpful if it is actually spent taking care of whatever needs to be taken care of (i.e. marital retreat, treatment facility stay, etc.), but an arbitrary "time-out" is pointless, not biblically indicated, and only serves the appetite for punishment. I should say, if the offender feels the need for a break, that too may be helpful, as long as it's not just an escape in shame.

    Can a person serve immediately after his or her failure? Look at Peter, or Mark.

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  6. Very though provoking. My first reaction was to disagree, but I see your point. Paul's rebuke of Peter is a good example.

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  7. Hey Pizzaman,
    Glad you looked in. I think it's only human to want to take punitive and restrictive action, but that's not what the Gospel is about. The church has to model forgiveness and restoration throughout the body, maybe especially among those who are most visible. The key: REPENTANCE.

    I think the example you cited gets to the point--needing an admonition is not the same as needing disqualification.

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  8. Thanks SLW,

    Very good post.

    One of the problems in the current Charismatic/Pentecostal scene in America is the rise of independent ministries which do not seem to be accountable to anyone.

    In the SO.Cal area last year there was a Charismatic pastor who had an affair with his brother's wife (a Co-pastor) and refused to repent and refused to step down.

    The two brothers split the church in half and continued--one taking his brother's wife as his own.

    In that case the church was an independent and had no overseeing org. Who proclaims the excommunication?

    Michael

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  9. Dr.D,
    Thanks for the comment and the question.

    Even if a church is independent, it should be able to exercise biblical discipline. I cannot find denominations, or even "apostolic networks," in the Bible anywhere, and yet these commands concerning discipline are there. The godly will heed them, the ungodly, well...

    Not having denominational or (for those who are into it) an "apostolic" authority over it is not actually the problem in the situation you cited. The problem is personality driven ministry, and the result is a cult not a church. The part of that church that retained this adulterous minister is a cult, and should be treated as so by every other Bible-believing church in the area. The loyalty of that congregation to that sinning pastor, rather than to the word and Christ, is in no way commendable, but only in every way condemnable. It ought to be published, in whatever way it seems good to the Spirit and the other charismatic churches in the area, that this is rank sin, and this pastor should be considered excommunicated by all.

    The part that follows the offended brother may or may not be right-- they may have a vengeful attitude, or may in fact have their own cult of personality revolving around the brother that is their Pastor. I hope for the best, however.

    I'm tired of authority figures, who serve their own interest rather than the body's. I'm tired of leaders who feel entitled and privileged due to their "call." Churches don't exist for the benefit or aggrandizement of their ministers. In a church everyone submits to one another out of love, and that includes the leadership being submitted to the body. How many abuses of power, money and credulity does the body of Christ have to endure before we wake up and strengthen what remains?

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  10. As Carl says, provocative post..

    What you are putting his finger on that I completely agree with is what I might call murder by pseudo-supporters. That is, when someone does something that is obviously really great, no one can challenge it, so even the people who are against it in their hearts have to support it to some degree or they find themselves marginalized. It's like Democrats praising Ronald Reagan when he died. Then, when the minister falls, their true motives come out and they move in for the kill. This is the kind of spirit I got from Steven Strang's version of the Bentley situation.

    I disagree that we're the only army that shoots the wounded. That statement reflects an understanding of only Christianized civilization. Truly pagan nations do all kinds of stuff to their soldier/slaves.

    About restoration, I'm with you that people should not be permanently disqualified. I find that part of the murdering spirit I was talking about. God always wants to restore to the degree possible. On the other hand I disagree that no process should be involved in these things. The kinds of sins for which this discussion applies like adultery, addiction, etc, do not happen overnight, and have to be dealt with thoroughly for the sake of all involved. A sincere "I'm sorry" is followed by willingness to go through the process of transformation that is real repentance.

    A nuance about marriage is that I do think that divorce by the other party needs to cause a break from ministry and re-evaluation. A man who nurtures his marriage properly over the years will not have his spouse suddenly check out. And if you are managing properly and you see trouble on the horizon, your peers should be involved and notified early, so there is room for help. The "my wife left me so I'm still qualified" can be an easy political escape as I saw in ministries I've been in, and it also reflects a convenient and shallow understanding of what happened.

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  11. Will,
    Welcome to the Sound, thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    As far as process goes, what sin that would actually be "rebukable" in an elder wouldn't have taken some time and effort to develop? It doesn't follow that it takes a process to repent. It make take follow-up, oversight, and absolutely demands transparency to credibly overcome, but it doesn't require time out. If we applied that kind of logic to everyone in the kingdom, no one would be available to do anything, because we're all in the process of overcoming something. The only one who could support that idle outcome is the Devil. Besides, carrying oneself in humility after a fall, before those who were accustomed to admiring the fallen, is not a bad thing imo.

    As for marital issues, I don't see where that is an issue either, with the possible exception of remarriage or marriage in office. If one is married before entering leadership, marital issues are part of the qualification standards. If one is not, like Paul, it isn't an issue at all. Either way, a falling elder (post qualification) is not commanded to sit out a while to he straightens things out, but merely to be rebuked before all, so that all may fear. A disqualification or excommunication is only enforced upon the unrepentant. Hopefully, we don't believe the marriages of elders are all like, or even should be like, Ozzy and Harriet's.

    Above all considerations, however, is that the word doesn't call for restorative periods, anywhere. Any imposition of such a practice is therefore bound to be arbitrary-- the product of someone's best guess as to what might be restorative (if practiced redemptively) or punitive enough (if practiced vindictively). God didn't leave it up to us to make it up as we go, so we need to pay attention to the word and abide by it.

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  12. Thanks slw,

    Good response, we are in total agreement here.

    Michael

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  13. In 2008, Todd Bentley left the Lakeland revival in controversy, disgrace, and sin. Since then, I have publicly maintained that he needed to repent, be born again, and surround himself with solid, Bible-based Christians for council.

    I also maintained that if Bentley is groomed, mentored, and "restored" by those who groomed and mentored him in the first place, he will end up in worst shape than ever before.

    After all, it stands to reason that a drug addict cannot receive anti-drug council and restoration from a drug pusher, nor can a heretic receive solid, Bible-based council and restoration from a team of heretics.

    Indeed, heretics mentoring a heretic is a one-way walk down a dark alley.

    As one among many who has researched Todd Bentley's claims and teachings, this current fiasco is just the tip of the iceberg, and a natural consequence to a hyper-Charismatic movement gone wild and out of control. In many cases, sin is just a mere "mistake" that can be handled by playing the Wiser than God game, then filtered down though the Department of Compromise and Excuses. Eventually, after all the dust has settled, sin in the camp ends up in a mound of paperwork on the desk of Mr. I. Could Care Less. From there, it ends up in "File 13" (trash can), never to be discussed again.

    And they get away with it because they have spent years conditioning and deceiving and intimidating their followers into believing in their self-appointed apostles, prophets, and teachers over-and-above God's written word, the Bible.

    But their time of deception hasn't gone unnoticed. God's righteous judgement is already at work. They will fall: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7).

    There is an old saying: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Todd Bentley made choices. His actions will return to haunt him and those surrounding him. In the meantime, God warns those who continue to be fooled that,

    "He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD" (Proverbs 17:15).

    Please remember in your prayers the innocent and unwary who are being deceived by the false prophets and false teachers of our day. Pray that God will be merciful and open their eyes and ears to the truth, according to His perfect will.

    Sincerely in Christ,
    Bud Press, Director
    Christian Research Service
    http://www.christianresearchservice.com
    Jude 3

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  14. Hello Bud, welcome to the Sound. Though I am squarely against Todd Bentley's continuation in adultery, I am fully behind the Holy Spirit and signs and wonders occuring today. The failures and excesses of others cannot be allowed to stand in the way of God's promises for the rest of us.

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Any comment in ill taste or not germane to the post may be deleted without warning. I am under no obligation to give anyone an opportunity to call me names or impugn my motives or integrity. If you can't play nice, go somewhere else and play.