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.