Wednesday, March 28, 2007

When Pursuits Come in a 3 Piece Fashion

Thursday afternoon I picked up a copy of Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness. I have never read the book, and having recently acquired a copy, I intend do so in the near future. Many have commented on its effectiveness to spur within them a desire for greater holiness and dedication to the Lord. Many others have given testimony that this little book so utterly convicted them of the presence of their own sin that they could not but help cry with the multitudes of Heaven, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:8). Indeed, when we truly come into a mere glimpse of God’s holiness we will see our sinfulness laid bare against this backdrop and cause us to recognize our intense need for a Savior. There are not many books that are able to call for such an accolade. For many, Bridges’ book has done so.

Just inside the front cover I find this recommendation from RC Sproul:

”When Jerry Bridges speaks, I listen. His teaching on holiness is not an exercise in abstraction; it is an expression f a passion that has gripped his life and ministry.”
These are pretty strong words coming from Dr. Sproul. When he speaks, I tend to listen; therefore, I probably ought to read this book!

And then I read the next recommendation. Not that this will deter me from reading the book, in fact, it will probably encourage me to read it sooner as a strange twist of events, but it brought sadness to my heart nonetheless. The recommendation reads,
”Jerry Bridges gives timelss insight into a timeless problem: in our own pursuit of holiness, it’s easy to end up in the ditch of legalism on one side of the road or lethargy on the other. The Pursuit of Holiness has helped so many believer navigate the tricky but vitally important road to personal holiness. This book should be on every Christian leader’s shelf.”
And then my heart was grieved as I read the endorser’s name: “Ted Haggard, president, National Association of Evangelicals.”

Oh how great is the fall when we fall from greatness! I found myself struggling to understand how a man so seemingly committed to personal holiness could write such a powerful recommendation for a book on the subject only to later fall into temptation with an extramarital affair. I need not ponder to long in order to determine the answer: pride will tell you “it won’t happen to me” for it “goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Pr 16:18). I need not ponder too much longer before I recognize – it could happen to me. And then, if I’m really honest with myself – it WILL happen to me IF I take my focus from the cross of Jesus Christ and place my trust in my own person and in my own works. Am I capable of cheating on my wife and ruining our marriage forever? Absolutely! Do I desire to find out if our marriage is strong enough to recover? Absolutely not.

I picked up Pursuit Thursday.

Friday morning I received a call from my wife asking me to pick up a copy of the morning paper. Again, my heart was sick and I was grieved all over. On the front page of the newspaper I found that Rick Ousely, a prominent Christian leader in our community had succumbed to temptation that led to an extramarital affair spanning twenty-five years. This gentleman has been used by God in tremendous ways throughout his life of ministry. It would not be accurate to begin to question his salvation, or the legitimacy of the ministry that he led. The first Lord ’s Supper that my wife and I shared together was Christmas Eve 2004. This pastor administered the Table and I assure that our participation in the ordinance was not marginalized in any way on our parts. I can not speak for the condition of his heart that day, or even this day, for I do not know him personally.

This then brings me to an inquisitive position. What happens when a Christian leader falls? Surely, we can not possibly measure the effect that this is having on his wife and children. We need not lose sight that these are real people who are being drug through this by no choice of their own. Children of pastors have it difficult anyway - living in a glass house as it were. Add this pressure on top of them, and I can only imagine what this has amounted to. But what else accounts for the aftermath of the fallout? What is the Christian’s responsibility in the community for this fallen gospel minister? How am I to respond and how does the non-believing community respond? I would like to probe this further, more for my benefit than yours, but you are welcome to accompany me on the journey. What follows will be in list form but in no certain order or priority whatsoever.

1. The marriage of those involved is destroyed. Yes, reconciliation is possible and I pray that the Lord’s grace might be evident with his wife and children. But this kind of forgiveness and reconciliation does not occur overnight. This affair had been ongoing for twenty-five years (assuming the newspaper article has reported this accurately) which thus means what “trust” that existed was a trust based on false pretenses. It was not real. One side of the marriage was leading a life that was foreign to the other side. Therefore, this marriage will basically be forced to start over to rebuild trust from the beginning. Is it possible? Sure it is, if both of them are willing to work at it for the glory of God.

2. His vocational ministry is over. I have struggled personally with this one because I am having difficulty striking the balance between grace moving towards reconciliation and the consequences of sin. Scripture is clear on the character traits of those who are called to lead His church (1 Tim 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9). Now, if I am honest with myself, I will see quickly that there are various ways in which my character does not align itself with these qualities on a continuing basis. My desire is that it would, but I have a day of my life fully devoted to the Lord and fully focused on the cross of Christ. Until this day, I will continue to struggle with sin and temptation to sin. Therefore, is there a difference in the habitual nature of the sin and inconsistency? I think that there is, but I hope I do so not to just let myself off the hook. I think that a man who falls into a sin of this magnitude forfeits his right to be a pastor and to lead another congregation. Can he still be an active member in a local fellowship? Absolutely, and he should be for that matter, assuming that he is willing to submit himself to their leadership and discipline. But, ministry and oversight of God’s flock is a privilege and a responsibility, not a right.

This then begs the question concerning Parachurch organizations or traveling speaker ministries. This current pastor in question was the director of his own speaking ministry which has a board of directors and oversight committee. However, oversight committee or not, the speaker is still the one who is proclaiming God’s truth and his hearers are willfully submitting themselves under his authority. Consequently, I think that the outcome should be the same for this scenario, he should forfeit his right to this type of ministry. The only exception that I can think of for this situation specifically would be for he and his wife to have a speaking ministry TOGETHER and one would NEVER speak at an event without the other. However, this would definitely limit the scope of their talks to “how to overcome an affair in your marriage” which one would hope would have a low focal group. However, I would not be too surprised should there be a legitimate need develop within the church.

3. Those who have been under the fallen pastor’s leadership will question the validity of his teaching, their conversion, and just about every area that was affected by the ministry of the individual. This is a natural response given how much trust we place in the spiritual leaders over us, but we must remember who is ultimately in control of salvation and sanctification. The Lord is the one who sets His effectual call on us (Eph 1:4), the Lord is the One who effects his regeneration within us (John 3:8; 1 Pet 1:2), and the Lord is the One Who will keep us and continue to grow us until the Day of Christ Jesus (John 17:12 ; Ph 1:6). Therefore, to trust exclusively in the agent or administer of the gospel call is to not truly respond to the gospel itself. However, we must acknowledge that this problem is presented as a result of a minister who falls publicly and, I believe, will give an account to God for these ramifications.

4. The unbelieving world begins to issue claims of hypocrisy and condemnation on the church. The world is always looking for a reason to discount Christianity, because many of us Christians live a disenchanted and discounted Christianity. Any faithful minister of the word will at some point in his ministry make statements on the need for sexual purity, martial fidelity, and rebuke any form of immorality. This is good and essential, but this is the first line of offense that the world will take at the fallen minister and Christianity in general. As Christians, we must come to the reality that on some level we are all hypocrites. If we weren’t, we would not sin. We say that the Bible is true and that Jesus is the Lord over every area of our life. Well, if this were indeed true then I would be without sin and therefore not be a hypocrite. But, the converse is actually the truth. For those outside the church who begin to make such a claim, I would respond in kind with this question: “Well, I admit, you’re right. It is hypocritical for us to proclaim truth against an action or attitude that God has deemed sinful and then turn around and commit the same crime. This is why we are so utterly in need of a Savior who was absolutely perfect and un-hypocritical in every degree.” Further, I would then ask the inquisitor, “What would you say to this fallen minister’s wife? Is she just as much of a hypocrite as he?”

5. The unbelieving world comes to the stark reality that there is indeed an absolute truth that consists of right and wrong morality. Therefore, there can be good that can come from this, and to this fifth point I need to give full credit to my wife. As we were discussing the ramifications of Rick’s fall, she made the comment, “It just goes to show you that people really do believe in a right and wrong.” Amen, I applaud to my wonderfully astute and observant wife! She is absolutely right on. For, if the world truly did believe that all morality is relative and that there is no such a thing as right and wrong, then why did this story make the front page of the newspaper? Why did this story end up being discussed on most of the morning talk shows in Birmingham? Why was it on the 6:00 and 10:00 news that evening? If there really were no concept of morality, this story would not have made headlines, and it would not have been topic of conversation throughout the city. If right and wrong are truly figments of our imagination, why was this action being condemned and not applauded? I can only think of one legitimate answer: because there IS a moral right and wrong. Even if a non-believer were to comment, “Well, the story made headlines because it was calling out the hypocrisy of the church.” To this I would respond, “So, you confess that that it is not right to say one thing and then act in a way completely contrary – hypocritically? Well, you just proved my point. There ARE moral absolutes.”

6. This is a warning for all believers everywhere. This is another form of good that may come from this, although I wish it did not have to. As discussed previously, it can happen to any of us at any time. I know the internal wickedness of my own heart, and apart from Christ I am fully capable of any sin. Praise the Lord for the ministry of the Holy Spirit to prevent me from achieving further sin than what I already accomplish! This recent falling has caused me to question the security of the boundaries within my own marriage. Am I being cautious in all relationships with women other than my wife? Is my heart guarded at all times when it comes to conversing and interacting with other women? Have I, as Job did, “made a covenant with my eyes” (Job 31:1) so that I might not gaze upon another woman? Am I seeking anything outside of my relationship with wife that was intended to be satisfied by her and her alone? Am I being open and honest with those MEN whom God has provided for me to be accountable to? Am I asking the questions that may need to be asked of them so that together we can glorify God in the bonds of our marriages? These are heart probing questions that I must ask if I am to have an accurate inventory of my spiritual condition. I remember similar emotions when I originally heard of Ted Haggard’s fall. This could happen to me. This will happen to me, apart from a vibrantly growing radical commitment to Jesus Christ and His truth.

Dr. Mark Dever has written an insightful post at the T4G Blog titled Two Painfully Learned and Immensely Important Lessons where he speaks of a fellow pastor who has fallen in the public eye. Dr. Dever writes,
"Lesson number one: no accountability relationships will work if there is not a commitment to honesty on the part of the person in question."

"Lesson number two: the public success of your ministry is no indication of the true state of your relationship with God."
The entire article is well worth your time.

So, as many have asked before, how should we then live? I offer the following suggestions:

1. Pray for Rick, his wife and children. Ask that the Holy Spirit might be willing to lead them all to state of gracious repentance and that the Lord might be pleased to use this to draw them unto Himself. Pray that God might confirm his relationship to them and that He might be near as never before. (2 Chr 7:14; Ro 2:4; Jam 4:8)

2. Pray for your pastor and others who are in authority in your local fellowship. Pray that they might be protected from the wiles of the adversary who is prowling, seeking to destroy and devour. Pray that they might not be drawn into temptation of thinking that they are secure or that because of the fruitfulness of their ministry that they are above accountability. Pray that their hearts would be soft, humble, and teachable. (1 Pet 5:1-9; 1 Tim 3:1-13, Rom 13:1)

3. Pray for the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of your heart for anything that you may currently have a blind eye towards. Pray that that he would illuminate truth within you, search through your heart, and lead you in the way of everlasting, with a radical commitment to the truth of God’s word. Pray that He might create within you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you (Psa 51:10; 139:23-24; Joh 17:17)

4. Pray that the gospel might penetrate our culture so that we might have a high view of marriage and that we will do whatever it takes to help protect our marriages and the marriages of others. Ask God to cause our nation to see the perils of a divorced society that has abandoned one another and abandoned the truth. (Heb 13:4; Rom 1:1:21, 26, 28)

5. Pray for this blogger as he seeks to remain faithful to his Lord, his wife, his calling, while remaining faithful to the word of God. Pray that he would not see himself as an exception, and that he would set his eyes on the cross of Christ this day and all days. Pray for his wife that she might be sensitive to perceive what may threaten their home and act like watchwoman to guard their marriage from being polluted by the outside world. Pray that her eyes might be opened when his may be dim and that he would take all steps needed to be sure that the Risen Lord Jesus Christ remains preeminent in his home.

For the newspaper article, click here


KathyH said...

I found your blog while googling the lyrics for "2000 Years." Both your writing style and insights blew me away!

I've added you to my Google Reader, ok? Right now I'm off to read your archives!

KC Armstrong said...

Hey Kathy,

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your encouraging remarks. May we each use our gifts and talents for the glory of the Lord and for the proclamation of His gospel truth.

Because He Lives,