From a safe distance I’m watching the disciplinary process of a well known megachurch pastor. People are talking about the controversy as it unfolds. I’ve tried not to stick my nose into too many forums and play the finger-wagging crusader. Whatever remarks I’ve made have been somewhat neutral because
1) Nobody asked my opinion. And they’re not likely to, either. I rank zero on the celebrity pastor-o-meter. 2) It’s not my business. The Lord assigned me a small church that I am barely able to keep up with.
Still, when the church goes haywire it’s good for believers to remind one another about our most basic commitments. Here’s one: whatever we handle, we do it while holding onto Christ (Col. 2:19). Make sure your hands are full of Him.
In the case I just mentioned, this man’s church has moved to hold him accountable for bad behavior—namely, bullying fellow leaders, power issues, personal deportment, and questionable ministry decisions. It’s amazing what kind of attention the whole thing has generated in the blogosphere. When somebody gets in trouble in the Body of Christ, it’s like squeezing a tube of toothpaste. People of every stripe and feeling and theology come out.
Who are these folks? First they’re the people who know the pastor and were hurt by him. Then there are those who don’t know him and weren’t hurt by him, but don’t like him anyway. Maybe they can’t stand his theology or his haircut. Then others have a secret measure of satisfaction from his being in trouble because—whether they care to admit it or not—they were jealous over the guy’s book sales, charisma, and influence.
On the other hand you can’t forget about the legions of fans who come out swinging. They like the pastor so much they’d defend him even if he beat people with a lead pipe. And finally there are the bloggers who provide an outlet for all the above and attract mountains of attention to their sites (they are such selfless souls).
Whether we know it or not, the pastor alone is not on trial here. We’re also finding out what is inside all of us. In fact, every controversy has this effect.
Let me take you back a few thousand years. A Christian of the church in Corinth committed a sin by marrying his father’s wife. I’d call that marrying your mama, which is a fairly bad idea. It might have been his stepmother. No one really knows except that it was sinful and controversial.
For any number of probable reasons the church simply let it ride and didn’t hold the man accountable. Who knows why. He might have been intimidating. Maybe he was rich or a “somebody” in the church or related to a “somebody” in the church. He might have been a favorite. Who knows—it could be that the church chose to play the love card or simply didn’t like confrontation. What comes out of the squeeze in a situation like this? Unrighteousness, politics, neglect of justice, cowardice, blind loyalties, and favoritism.
The Corinthians (or at least some of them) weren’t holding a Christ of glory, but some weak skinny version of Him. The situation manifested it. Where was the Christ who called them to keep the feast of the Christian life “not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”? (1 Cor. 5:8). Apparently, He wasn’t much around. In His functional absence, sin proliferated in the Corinthian church like mushrooms in a field of manure.
Eventually though, the Apostle Paul weighed in on the situation and squeezed harder, calling them to deal with the man’s sin. You’d think that’s when the Christ formerly missing would start coming out. Wrong. Now instead of free passes, a hood gets thrown over the offender’s head and the baseball bats come out. Everybody gets a chance to trash talk the “sinner.” Suddenly there’s nothing good about him. Anecdotes begin to emerge about his life and all of them unerringly point to some evil or another. The name calling starts. Mockery. Dark innuendoes.
Once the situation is squeezed a little more, something equally dark as the original issue emerges. People who were saved by grace do not know how to extend it. They act as though they don’t even know what grace is. No forgiveness. No decency. In fact, the church at large begins to reveal that it’s on the same level as the man who sinned. Paul eventually had to say, “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him (2 Cor. 2:6-8). The apostle had to say, “Enough!”
Where in all this necessary accountability is the Christ who moderates by saying, “Let him who is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone” ? (John 8:7). Without the immediate living reality of Christ, we would apparently destroy one another.
We can set up accountability boards and policies and bylaws (all of which I think is necessary), but they’re notoriously ineffective to foil the sinful nature of people. Nor are they very good at promoting righteousness, peace, and joy. It’s better to be realistic and ask a different question.
What are my hands full of?