Should a Church Leader Confess Gross Sin?

In this Bible study Tim considers these questions, “What should a church leader do who is living in sexual sin and drunkenness? Should they bring it to the light? Should they be disciplined out of the church?”


What we've been doing is we've been looking at questions with the target goal being that our discernment would be refined. My wife asked me ealier, "What questions are you answering tonight?" And I told her about the first one, and she said, "What does that have to do with a bunch of young people?" And I said discernment. And so, that's been the goal here, is to look at the questions that are coming in, and then we kind of challenge ourselves to think Scripturally about how we should seek to answer these things. Now, kind of like last week, you remember Ken said something like is this a trick question? So yes, he asked is it a trick question. And it was a question that had to do with a woman from Hungary, and she had been in a three year relationship with a guy living with him and she got saved, and now she was asking about the relationship. And then I brought other factors in that sometimes pastorally we consider about pre-existing relationships and whether you have children, and sometimes the answer isn't always so easy. And so, you understand when these questions come, you're thinking about various things. You're thinking about the good of the individual. You think about the good of the church, if the person writing to you is involved with a church. You think about the good of the person's family. I'll give you another example. I've had this happen. I've had an elder from another church call me, and say we have a man in our church. He ended up in a room with a professing Christian woman from another church. They didn't do anything, but they were ready to. And the man's wife called. And as soon as that happened, the man ran out of there. The man went, confessed it to his elders. One of the elders called me and said, do you think that this man needs to confess this to his wife? Because obviously, it's going to be devastating to her. Even though nothing happened, he was all set for something to happen. And we can look at these situations and sometimes you're asking, how is this going to affect the family? My answer to this elder was you better believe you need to tell her, because you have a woman from another church who knows what happened. And if it ever came out that this happened and it was found out that all the elders knew and they basically covered this thing over, it would not just be bad. It's like, if a woman were to find out her husband was unfaithful, that's one thing. If a woman finds out through the grapevine that her husband was unfaithful, not from him - that's another thing. If a woman finds out through the grapevine that her husband was unfaithful and that the elders of the church knew about it. That's even another thing. You know some of the situations that have happened in some of the churches where there was some kind of indiscretion with some members in the church and with children, and where elders covered those over. I don't know if you know, but some big names in some reformed circles went down because of situations like that. Now, there was another situation John Sytsma and I were facing. A man had committed adultery before he became a Christian. His wife was unconverted, and he told us, if I tell her she will divorce me. And we knew her. And we knew he was probably right. And we told him not to tell her. And in that case, the goal is we were seeking to protect the marriage, and we believed that that was the best way. John and I both agreed that that was the best way. See, what we're dealing with here, the goal here has been this, from way back, I was dealing with this kind of Christianity that is just a checklist. Right and wrong. Do's and don't's. Give me the list. But it's not like that. Life isn't like that. And in fact, I've really been contemplating Luke 6 and how our Lord... it's like the show bread. Nobody can eat it but the priest. Check that. Oh, but a hungry man comes in with some troops with him, and then it's ok. They're guiltless. They broke the law, but they're guiltless. You see, the principals that the Lord wants us to think about. Now, I say all that just leading into this. You all might say when I bring this out, are you kidding us? But here's the thing that I want you to think about. I want you to think about the man, potential family, the church, and I want you running this through the lens of Scripture. Let's wrestle with this together. Maybe this one doesn't take that much wrestling. Let's just handle it. "I'm a young associate pastor..." and he writes anonymously. "I'm a young associate pastor." So he's young. He's not the primary pastor. He's an associate pastor in Tennessee. "I really need some advice. I'm struggling praying and studying the Word like I once was." Or I'm struggling with praying and studying the Word like I used to, I think that's what he's saying there. "I have fallen into all kinds of sexual sin with the opposite sex. And I feel like I can't stop. I'm really struggling. I've been drinking a lot lately. I really feel like I should leave the pastorate for a long time. Please give me some extremely sound advice." Now, one of the things that I've been emphasizing is this: You want to analyze the question. Sometimes the questions are not valid. They're not legitimate. Sometimes people have presuppositions that are wrong. Sometimes people say things - people love to put protective spins on things. Even a guy that's admitting things like this, and even a guy that admits things like this anonymously. There is still such a root of self-protectiveness in mankind that he says, "I'm struggling." I hear that a lot. "I'm struggling with this sin." And you listen, and it's like, No, you're not. You're not struggling. You're diving in. It's not like you're the lamb who has inadvertently fallen into the mud and is trying like crazy to get out. This is the pig that's going into the mud on purpose, over and over and over again. There's not a struggle. And maybe, somebody would say, Aren't you being kind of hard on the guy? "I really need some advice." This is how he starts. "I'm struggling praying and studying the Word like I once did." I don't think any of us would be surprised at that. Studying the Word and gleaning from it profitably; praying and having profitable communion with the Lord. You just think about 1 John 1. And walking in the light as He is in the light, and it is there that we have fellowship with the Father and the Son. And we would expect, of course, that a prayer life would fail, and the Word would fail. This is the one that when I was mentioning it, my wife said what does that have to do with young people? Well, it's us looking at this and saying, What do you tell the guy? It's us applying Scripture and being discerning. What do you say? Imagine yourself coming like the Lord came to the rich, young ruler. The guy in the end rejected Christ. And Mark tells us He loved him. And you come to people, and you can just be disgusted by this guy. You could just say, seriously?? You're in the ministry? You're a drunk. You're a fornicator. Seriously? But if you love him and you want to help him, what do you say to him? (from the room) The first thing that would seem evidence of repentance in his life is if he goes to the other church leaders, confesses his sin and steps down, because he's not meeting the qualifications of an elder. He's a drunkard like you said. He needs to do that. I don't know if that's the first thing he needs to do, but if he's really wanting to follow Christ, he should be willing to get in the light and not try to cover this up. Tim: Yeah, I remember, James' father-in-law, I often would go to Bob for counsel on various things. And Bob's counsel was, bring it in the light. Bring it in the light. He felt like if you've got any kind of situation, you just bring it all in the light. That's the safest thing. Get it all out in the open. Like you heard me just talk about John Sytsma and I dealing with one situation where we didn't bring everything into the light. But I think Bob's counsel 98% of the time... in some calculated situations, where perhaps bringing something into the light would create more devastation than it would help. Like a guy and a girl are getting married, and you come from not so pristine pasts. You certainly don't need to say everything and tell everything and dump all the garbage out on the table. You want to communicate things that are necessary to communicate. But there are things that are not, in some cases, necessary. But where you have situations where, like I say, in most situations, getting it out in the light... And see he's anonmously reaching out through the Internet. He really does, like James says, he needs to take this before whatever the leadership structure is, he's an associate pastor. Maybe there's one primary pastor. Whatever that leadership structure looks like, but he needs to go. That would be the very first thing. It sounds like he's young and single. And yes, he needs to confess it to the leadership. If there was any legitimacy to his repentance, that's where it would need to start. Anybody think of anything else that you would say or do? One of the things that it sounds to me like is he's talking about leaving the pastorate for a long time. We're not only dealing with qualifications for eldership here, we're dealing with the marks of true Christianity when you're dealing with this kind of situation. And you actually have somebody that very likely falls into a category of 1 Corinthians 5. A man that very likely should be excommunicated immediately. Now, look, if we were in the leadership, and one of the elders came into the elder's meeting, and in humble contriteness, confessed disqualifying sins, you probably wouldn't react like 1 Corinthians 5. Again, it's not always clear cut. You have to weigh out all the factors. You have to weigh out the implications to family, the implications to the individual, the implications to the church. We have had situations where people have come to the elders confessing sin in seemingly broken fashion, but their sin has been so repeated in nature that we felt like we needed to excommunicate. Even though at the time, they're confessing it. But there's some aggravated issue in the situation that we felt like for the sake of the church, it was necessary. There's been other times when things have been confessed to the elders and nobody ever knew. It seemed like it was a first time thing. They came to the elders; it wasn't discovered. They seemed to be broken and confessed the matter. But you have to pray. You have to wrestle through these things. And you have to examine the different passages of Scripture. I would say that if somebody in the church discovered this to be true about this guy before he had confessed anything that probably excommunication would be in order. And excommunication is not the end of the line. It's not like if he is repentant, and the repentance is genuine, that he can't be restored. Not to the ministry. And I would say very likely never again to the ministry. And again, that might even bring up another question. If a guy does this, and it seems like he's repentant, and it seems like he's a genuine Christian, is there a place in the ministry for him again in the future? Well, I think the question is simple. Answering it's not so easy, but the question is simple. Does he meet the qualifications? Many of them are in 1 Timothy and Titus, and I'm talking about the whole of those books, not just the two isolated chapters. There are other qualifications that are given throughout there. And you can go to other places. Peter would be a good place. Acts would be a good place. There's other places where the qualifications are seen. And that's really the question. The question isn't, well, can somebody who's fallen into sin be put back into the ministry at some point. Or, if they've never been in the ministry, can they be put into the ministry at some time in the future; if they've committed certain sins while they were a Christian. The real issue that has to be answered is, do they meet the qualifications? And the qualification for the ministry is blamelessness. So, that's the question that the church has to ask. Does an individual meet that qualification? Because as has often been emphasized and needs to be emphasized, there's a must in 1 Timothy 3. You must meet those qualifications. Those are not negotiable. Those are not optional. Any other thoughts, James? (from the room) You know we had a lady call the church today. She's in San Antonio. And she ran across the church website, and she was wanting counsel because the pastor of her church had committed adultery, and it got confessed just to the leadership team, and they voted to let him start preaching again in 30 days. And they're not going to tell the entire congregation, so the whole congregation does not know he committed adultery. And in 30 days, he's going to be preaching again. Tim: But she knows. How did she find out? (James) Because her husband is in the leadership. And so they had a meeting, and that's where it was confessed. But even there, it just shows there's no fear of God, no fear of His Word, no sense of what does it mean to be in leadership, and it's just sad to know that that stuff is being tolerated all over the place. Tim: It is. And what we want to think about is not what most of the mainline churches are willing to accept. We need to look at Scripture. Look, Judgment Day for the lost is going to be bad. Judgment Day for those who took it upon themselves to go into ministry when they weren't called, is bad. If you're lost, it's real bad. And if you're saved, 1 Corinthians 3 says, it's still bad. Because what it is, it's largely a wasted life. What you see in 1 Corinthians 3 is men being saved so as by fire. What you see is their ministry basically being burned up. Wood, hay, and stubble. And that's what you'll end up with if God hasn't called you to the ministry. And I'm not just saying whether your ministry is biblical. I'm saying being a man who God has actually equipped to handle His Word. There can be Christians who carry their Bibles around under their arms, but God hasn't really called them to be in that place. Anybody have any other thoughts on that?