Monday, November 06, 2006

Moral Failure of Christian Leaders

In the news once again this season, we have articles about a major Christian leader who is accused of moral failings. Sadly, this is all too common but not surprising. Some people like to point out the moral failings of Christian leaders as an attack against the truth of Christianity. But Christianity does not predict that its leaders or its rank and file believers will be free from immorality or hypocrisy. Christianity as a system predicts precisely the opposite: it says that all human beings commit sins. After we become Christians, our sins are forgiven and God works within us to gradually make us better and better people. But in this life we do not obtain apparent perfection. In fact, God often calls to Himself the very people who have the greatest problems with sin and temptation. So even though Christians may be improving throughout their lives, they are frequently people who struggle more with sin and character than the “good people” of the world who, though they sin, may sin less or have character defects which are less evident. God in His mercy and kindness often chooses the weak among us rather than the strong.

I think it is also the case that many people are led into the Christian ministry of pastorship, teaching or counseling in part because of their own struggles with sin and self. God also calls those with problems to help and encourage others with problems. Because of these facts, it is not surprising when any Christian, let alone a Christian minister, fails to live up to the standards to which we are called. It is also the case that Christian ministers are often under greater spiritual attack and pressure. The temptations presented to them are often more egregious than those facing people with less responsibility. But for the grace of God protecting us from temptation that we are unable to bear, any person would succumb to life-destroying temptations given the right circumstances.

It is true nevertheless that the Bible clearly articulates that those with leadership and authority among the people of God should be relatively pure in their outer moral actions and relatively strong in character. As a result, when allegations of serious sexual misconduct or fraud or crime turn out to be true, it is sometimes necessary to temporarily, or in some cases even permanently, remove a person from leadership within the church. But we must do so with humility since any of us could easily fall into the same situation. Christians are broken people accepting the gifts that God offers to us. As C.S. Lewis has said, whenever we do anything right, God is deserving of the credit. Whenever we do anything wrong, that is the result of our own selves.

Because of the truths I am describing in this article, people within the world have no real right to criticize Christianity because of the moral failings of our leaders. As I say, their failings are merely verifying Scripture’s understanding of human nature. In addition, people within the church should not let these events discourage them. Instead we should re-double our efforts to allow God to sanctify us through the transforming power of His Word. We should re-double our efforts to pray for our leaders and ourselves that we will not be led into temptation and that God will deliver us from evil. And as the church takes the actions it must, we should look upon our fallen heroes with an attitude of humility, love and mercy. And, we should try to undertake such safeguards as we can to avoid temptation in our own lives and to protect other leaders from falling into temptation. Financial audits, office doors with windows, computer internet filters, and accountability to spouses and to friends can seem like unnecessary irritations, but they are really wise safeguards to help all of us avoid the problems to which our human nature makes us susceptible even after our conversion to Christ. As I have grown older, as I have read the books of more Christian authors, and as I have come to know more great Christian men and women, I have come to realize that maturity in Christ, rather than resulting in moral perfection, leads us more and more to a consciousness of our sinfulness and vulnerability. Even those among us who we account strong and mature are in need of sanctification, study, and fellowship. Human laws also have a role. Good human laws help us avoid the worse sins than we already find present in our hearts and minds.

May God have mercy upon us all and hasten His sanctification process within His people. May we all do what we can to avoid temptation and to pray that the Lord will cause us to allow Him to grow the fruit of His Spirit in our lives. The Scriptures say that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such, there is no law.

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