Monday, September 07, 2015

A Tale Of Two Pastors

This is an awkward and uncomfortable topic but I think it needs to be brought up. I normally shy away from stuff like this but it is in the religious news a lot.

Pastors are regular people and that means that sometimes one of them screws up and sins against God in a spectacular fashion. When the pastor or other Christian leader is famous, it makes it worse because the world sees it. I was reminded of that recently with the whole Ashley Madison fiasco and the almost inevitability that famous Christians would show up there. They did. First Josh Duggar, who seriously needs to get into some major counseling and disappear from the public eye for a very long time. Then R.C. Sproul, Jr. admitted he had gone to the website and used an old email address. He says that was pretty much the end of it, no contact with any women and certainly no actual physical adultery. It our society that seems like a pretty minor thing but he isn't treating it that way. He has cancelled his speaking engagement for the next year, been suspended from Ligonier ministries and placed himself under church discipline through his presbytery. You can read his statement here. All in all, it is pretty much exactly what someone in this unfortunate situation ought to do. Stuff like this is never acceptable, not even out of curiosity or while in a difficult situation with your wife having a terminal illness. I expect to hear a whole lot of nothing about or by R.C. Sproul Jr. while he works this out. As I said that is the right way to go about it.

This incident brought to mind another high profile issue of sexual sin. The culprit in this case is Tullian Tchividjian, or as he is often known, Billy Graham's grandson Tullian Tchividjian. He was once an up and comer in the Reformed world but high profile and sinful squabbling when he took over for D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge followed by some sketchy theology had kind of taken some of the wind out of his sails. Then came news of an adulterous relationship, a relationship that he took pains to point out happened after discovering that his wife had also been involved in infidelity in an less than gallant reminder of Adam's finger pointing in Genesis 3:12. He of course also stepped down because he had to but his response was completely different Sproul.

Keep in mind that while they come from the same sinful source, these are pretty different issues. One guy registered for an online hook-up site but denies ever doing anything more than that. The other guy was involved in a consummated adulterous relationship.

Sproul mostly seems concerned about dealing with the issue under the auspices of church discipline. Tullian seemed very concerned with his clerical career. He told the Christian Post (emphasis mine):
"It's one thing not to be shocked at other people's sins. That was the one thing I was convinced I would never do. I knew that I could be lured by this or that or the other, but I always had my guard up. I knew that that (adultery) was a career killer, at least in my experience with pastors and church leaders," said Tchividjian in an interview with William Vanderbloemen for a new podcast series recently launched by Vanderbloemen Search Group, America's leading pastoral search firm.
A career killer? Compare that to David in Psalm 51:1-19 as he poured his heart out for having sinned against God, not worrying about his "career". Just calling it a career shows a troubling mindset. That really should be the last thing on his mind. He and his wife needed to focus on repairing their relationship. Instead it was announced that Tullian was filing for divorce and had his ministerial credentials stripped. The presbytery stated:
Tchividjian must display an “eminently exemplary, humble and edifying life and testimony” for an extended period of time before he can return to ministry, according PCA’s Book of Church Order.
Forget that! He has a career to think about. Looks like Tullian already has a new job in "ministry", not as a pastor so much but he is now on staff at Willow Creek in Florida. Look at his bio:
Tullian Tchividjian 
Director of Ministry Development 
We're so delighted to welcome Tullian Tchividjian to the staff of Willow Creek Church. A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian is a best-selling author, having written seven books on the gospel of Jesus Christ and its liberating implications. Most recently, Tullian served as the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and founded Liberate, a ministry devoted to connecting God's inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world. He loves the beach, loves to exercise, and when he has time, he loves to surf. He's also a huge fan of both the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Heat.
No mention of anything untoward, if you don't know what happened all you know is that he was the former pastor at Coral Ridge. Nothing about the Liberate ministry he started being shut down or the damage he inflicted on Coral Ridge during his tenure. In the meantime Willow Creek has responded to the outcry with a release that sounds like something a politician would send out after getting caught with an intern,
"The position offered to Tullian is a non-ordained, support position. Recognizing his deposition from office, it does not involve any functions unique to the office of elder in general or teaching elder in particular. It provides him a community of grace in which to work and worship; the means to provide for his family; and an opportunity to display his repentance before the body of Christ. For these reasons, we are overjoyed and eager to welcome him into our church family," added Labby.
Basically we didn't break any rules is the response and  that is even found in the title of the article in The Christian Post, Willow Creek Church Says No Rules Were Broken in Hiring Tullian Tchividjian. So they get a big name pastor on staff and you can bet he will be up front sooner rather than later. It smacks of opportunism and obeying the letter rather than the spirit of the church discipline process, although perhaps they simply are trying to help a brother out with a job (given the number of books he has sold I can't imagine he is hurting for money, if he is that is another sign of foolishness on his part). One of the great dangers of the clerical system is that you have men who are heavily trained for just one model of ministry and lack any practical job skills, leaving them reliant on a paid pastoral position to provide for their family.

This whole situation is a very public mess, made all the worse by the fame of a pastor and his refusal to quietly place himself under church discipline for any length of time. Like politics, religion in America is infected with a combination of men with big appetites and a craving for fame coupled with gushers of money. I think the solution to both is the same, starve the beast. Take money out of institutional religion and institutional politics and the sort of men drawn to them will find greener pastures. It also speaks to the need for a comprehensive rethinking of the church discipline process and how we deal with issues like adultery and divorce. For way too long we have pretended that divorce, and especially divorce and remarriage, are not the massive problem that they are in the church and the world sees our hypocrisy. We shouldn't respond with less zeal but more. Let's talk about divorce and remarriage and what it means for someone in the Body of Christ and let's pray for R.C. Sproul Jr. as he seeks restoration and for Tullian that he repents and begins to seek Biblical restoration.


dle said...

For much of late 2014 and the first half of 2015, sermons by Tchividjian got me through. The Liberate podcasts and conference were there for me when I really needed to hear them. I can't say enough.

So when all this mess came down at a particularly low time for me, it felt like a kick in the head. After a while, you begin to wonder just what the heck is going on in this world.

I don't like the way any of this is happening, but all it does is drive the truth home that we are all dust. We're dust in our sinfulness, dust in our response to our sinfulness, dust all the way around. No one should be surprised at anything. That sucks, but it appears that's the way it is.

The Lord says that by their fruits we shall know them, but in truth, any more, I feel like I'm daily looking into Tupperware I pulled from my fridge and wondering if the contents sat just a little too long and whether I'll get sick from eating it, but then it's all that's there.

Arthur Sido said...

Dan, I hear all of that. I think the Tullian mess is largely the result of the celebrity pastor model that tends to dominate evangelicalism and especially the neo-Reformed. Guys start to think that because they are famous and speak at the cool conferences and sell lots of books that the rules don't apply to them, sort of like politicians. I hope that Tullian steps back and focuses on what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future because he is a talented speaker and writer even though I disagree with some of his theology but mostly because I long to see a brother restored rather than just sneaking back into the building through a side door.