By Chuck Griffin
Another prominent Christian leader, this one with powerful political ties, has fallen because of scandal. I don’t need to mention his name, as he and his wife have been in the news for several days now. I should note that he still denies direct involvement in the embarrassing events.
Sadly, such scandals happen much too often, although usually more quietly, playing out in small churches where the flocks experience deep pain. I find myself particularly concerned about the effect these events have on people testing the Christian waters. These seekers of truth are in the church on a regular basis, but their hearts are sometimes just partly committed as they try to sort through the confusing rush of emotions they feel.
Often, their view of God is tightly intertwined with their view of pastors and other key spiritual leaders—Sunday school teachers, deacons, music leaders, youth leaders, counselors, etc. To people standing on the outer edge of the church, when one of these leaders falls, God seems to have stumbled, too.
It doesn’t help when the scandal is public enough that aggressive nonbelievers are able to pounce on the opportunity. These people, wanting to steer others from faith, enjoy whispering of hypocrites and deception in the church, as if they’ve made a remarkable discovery.
From its earliest days, however, the church has been open about the inevitable presence of members with impure motives. Some may simply be genuine followers of Christ who succumb to temptation; others may be wolves among sheep. The New Testament is replete with warnings about such people even rising to prominent positions in the church—for example, see Acts 20:28-31.
As a young man, I personally felt misled when an important Sunday school teacher in my life stole money entrusted to him as part of his profession. I used his failure as an excuse to dodge church involvement for several years. It was easy to adopt an air of youthful cynicism, mutter “bunch of hypocrites” and walk away.
Later, I began to question my cynicism, however. When I enter a hospital, am I surprised to find sick people? Of course not. Then why am I shocked at finding sinners in a church, even occasionally among the leadership? At least some of them were trying to be near the source of healing.
While Christians hope to model Christ’s love and holiness, Christians do not define Christianity. Christ does.
Our faith is rooted in Jesus Christ and his loving, saving, transforming power. When those who claim to follow Jesus fail morally, it is not Christ’s fault, and Christ remains the cure even for fallen church leaders. They probably should not resume the roles they once held, at least not quickly, but through genuine repentance, they still have a place in the body of Christ.
Fallen leaders do provide a useful, if painful, lesson. As I mentioned in yesterday’s devotional, none of us, not one, is worthy to stand before God on personal merit. Only faith in Jesus’ work on the cross makes us holy.
Lord, help us to better pray for those who lead in the church, so they may be sustained by your Holy Spirit for very difficult tasks. Amen.