I recently read an article by John MacArthur (JM) on “CrossWalk.com.” Now, as you can guess I never read this site, but for some reason I got connected to it while surfing. The article was entitled “Should Fallen Pastors Be Restored?” In asking the question, JM (I was going to use "JM", because I know so many Johns) assumes that the answer is no, or that the question is a rhetorical question with an obvious answer, that is "his answer." According to JM, there is no amount of forgiveness, grace or love that can cover the “Gross sin” (his words, and not scriptural I might add) committed by some Pastors, “There are some sins that irreparably shatter a man's reputation and disqualify him from a ministry of leadership forever.” For JM those “some sins” are never explored, explained or revealed – with the exception of “sexual sin.” Personally, I think other “sins” ruin a persons reputation – lying, gossiping, money hording, making war, fighting, negativity, seeking revenge, my list is bigger then his – but my list is also forgivable. In his argument, JM makes several theological mistakes, the first of which is a compete misunderstanding of the idea and wondrous gift from God of forgiveness.
JM is working under a massive misconnection concerning the gift of forgiveness and sin – for him, and most in his camp, forgiveness is given in degrees dependant upon the level of sin one commits; it is neither free, abounding or abundant and in some cases can never be enough for "true" frogiveness. For most conservative the sin/forgiveness paradox works one of two ways:
First, It seems that sin/forgiveness work in a “opposite” relationship with each other, “The greater the sin, the lesser the forgiveness.” just for this example i need to “grade” sin on a scale 1-100 (100 bring as JM calls a "Gross sin) and forgiveness is graded on an inverse scale of 100-1 (1 being the level of forgiveness given for a "Gross sin") then the relationship between sin and forgiveness is "opposite" – if you sin at 75, your forgiveness can only be 25 – so you are still a 50 sinner. in addition to the "simple scale" there is no "collective" of forgiveness, only of sin, so you can never "truely" be forgiven.
Second, Forgiveness is limited and cannot cover all sins. No matter the sin, forgiveness is, let's say, only a 50. if you sin over a 50, you can never be fully forgiven. If a person gossips (25), little sin/covered – if a person lies (45), medium sin/still covered – if a person has sex (100), huge ("Gross sin") sin/never enough forgiveness.
Either way, forgiveness is limited (and limites the power of God to work in our lives) and in direct relationship to the sin committed. For JM, forgiveness is based on the cultural morals he accepts or rejects based on American history, or his 21C historical view of Scriptures. He defines both of them on the basis of being a “Conservative Christian[s]” and explains that they have the keys to all “pure” doctrine and “pure” morals. As JM explains it, “Conservative Christians have for most of the previous century focused on the battle for doctrinal purity. And that is good. But we are losing the battle for moral purity.” But the funny this is this, the “purity” of doctrine that they speak of is not very pure, because it is filled with traditions, personal views, historical mishaps and even some desires for church “leaders” to be in control. For example his understanding of forgiveness completely misses the heart of forgiveness found in God through Christ and Scriptures.
In Matthew (6:13-15) Jesus himself tells us that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven – so, our forgiveness is conditional – the condition placed on it by Christ is that we must forgive others. This is not an option, it is a must – Christ said it, i believe it, so i live it. But JM sees this idea of forgiveness as a fruitless act that is not “scriptural” or sound. Another aspect of forgiveness that JM forgets about is the one Paul shares with us, over and over again and is echoed in his second letter to the Corinthians (2:5-11) that we are to forgive, love, support, comfort and embrace the fallen – not judge and shun them. In that, a main part of forgiveness that JM seems to reject, or ignore, is that to truly forgive one must also forget. In his letter to the Hebrews (8:12) Paul echoes the words of the Prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) when he say that once we are forgiven our sins are forgotten, “remembered no more.” Paul also explains that once we are forgiven we can not be punished (Hebrews 10:18) – keep in mind, if you punish a person for a sin, then you have never truly forgiven them – God forgive us, and forgets our sins and does not punish us – why does JM think he is above God in demanding a punishment be extracted? When JM calls us to be “Christ-like” does he forget that we to follow that command – to forgive and forget?
For JM, forgiveness is seen as a hard gift to obtain; it seems to me that JM places forgiveness in the realm of something one needs to earn. In that he views leadership as something higher then forgiveness, “We must recognize that leadership in the church cannot be regarded lightly.” The problem with JM’s direction is that it forces leadership above forgiveness and places “leaders” (in a very modern reality) outside of the forgiveness God offers all people – When Aaron fell, did God remove him from the priesthood? When Moses fell, did God reject him and say he could no longer lead his people? When Peter fell, was he informed that the “ordination committee” was not going to allow him to ever lead a church? When David fell, was he removed by God from his position as King of Israel and told he could never lead his people? When Samson fell, God lifted him up to a great end; God did not tell Samson he could never be great again.
While JM may say that the person is forgiven in God's eyes, they can never be forgiven in the eyes of the church - But I am under the assumption that God is the one in control, not the church and never JM - so, if God says "forgive and forget" who are we to say "no?" If God express love, forgiveness and grace in one way, who are we to change thgat? JM's limited understanding (a very evangelical/conservative/fundamental view of forgiveness) is not scriptural, and is limited at best (it seems that it is based more on the American justice system then on God grace) his view of sin must be just as twisted.
The poor understanding of sin:
In JM’s view, once a “Gross sin” is committed it cannot be forgiven, forgotten and it completely removes anyone from leadership of the church, “But that does not include restoring the mantle of leadership to a man who has disqualified himself and forfeited the right to lead. Doing so is unbiblical and lowers the standard God has set.” But what I have found interesting in his entire article is that for him the “gross sins” are all sexual in nature (evangelicals/conservatives/funamentals seem to have a hard time with sex - everything they see is sexual) – which limits God’s power in our lives to exclude “sexual sin.” His logic, and by the way it is not God’s logic at all, is that if a man falls he is not “pure” anymore. The interesting thing about that is, that is not what God’s word teaches. In John’s first letter he explains that when we are forgiven, our sins are forgiven and forgotten and we are “made pure and righteous before God.” But in JM's mind, we might be able to stand before God pure and righteous but we can never satnd before the church that way.
JM’s assumptions mean if we did no sin, we would be pure – and if that is the case, sin is what we do – so, if we stop doing it we do not sin – so, all we need do is not “sin” and we are pure – so, Christ died for no reason, because all I have to do is not do a “sin act” and all is cool – which is very poor theology, and it is not scriptural at all – sin is not what we do, it is who we are. That is why we must seek forgiveness and walk in grace. All have sinned, all fall short of the glory of God and all need to be forgiving of sin – and we need it all the time, because we sin all the time. I remember once talking with a very conservative/fundamentalist pastor who had the same mindset as JM. I mentioned that even thinking of another women has the same effect as an act of adultery – to which he answered, “That is not true. God would never be that unfair. I can think about it, I just can’t do it” – funny, Jesus teaches just the opposite in Matthew. Even thinking of it is an equal sin in God’s eyes and if we say we have never even thought of it, we are lying to ourselves, others and God, so forgiveness and forgetting is so very important
The idea that sin is “graded” is not very theologically sound. When JM writes, “What about forgiveness? Shouldn't we be eager to restore our fallen brethren? To fellowship, yes. But not to leadership. It is not an act of love to return a disqualified man to public ministry; it is an act of disobedience” he forgets the relationship between sin, forgiveness, forgetting and grace and he places upon others an unfair view of how sin is seen thought the eyes of God. He places a double standard that is not found in any of the scripture he uses to “make his point” (even though he does misuse Paul a great deal)
Leadership in the church:
JM states the following, “The foremost requirement of a church leader is that he be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2, 10; Titus 1:7). That is a difficult prerequisite, and not everyone can meet it.” And, I would agree that those are the requirements to “lead” the church – so, let’s look at them:
“Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.”
Nothing in that Scripture says anything about holding a “pastor” to a higher standard then any other person who claims to follow Christ. What it does, is tell most of us viewing the church that all the people leading the church fall way short of the standard – I wonder, when was the last time JM invited a person over his house for dinner? Not a “leader,” but a regular Joe, or a total stranger – a “you and me” kind of guy? Did his kids ever get in trouble or lie to him? Interesting how we pick and choose those things we desire to follow, and make-up things that are not part of it at all –
Many of the more conservative/fundamentalist groups see the line of “husband of one wife” to mean so much – they expand the meaning to include those who have been divorced, and some have even used it to exclude pastors who are single. Yet, they limit the other one so that they can “get by” it all – I know conservative/fundamentalist pastors who are mean spirited, inhospitable, very closed and whose kids run wild, but those are “human flaws” we over look because we have a huge obsession with sex in the conservative/fundamental church.
Remember JM, it is easy to point fingers at those who have fallen, but we are told to use our hands not to point but to lift up – forgive and forget – maybe that is what you need to teach and learn from the walk of those fallen pastors who know the heart of a sinner and can show the love of Christ to the world around.
Remember, as Paul explained to the Galatians in his letter to them (5:3-5), “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” If you desire to live via the law, you will be judged via the law – I for one seek grace.