When Church Leaders Fall Into Sexual Sin
Last week I received an email from a man distraught because his pastor admitted to marital infidelity. Two elders had to leave for the same reason. And several families in his church have also had to endure the anguish of unfaithful husbands. These were all men who knew the Scriptures and were serving the Lord.
The question: “How is this possible?”
Here’s my answer:
Ah, the great mystery – why do men suddenly abandon everything they’ve professed for another woman? And what are we to make of it?
Some men fall into sin for a season, but others, no doubt, never truly and earnestly believed at all (so says the Bible at 2 Timothy 3:1-6). As Kierkegaard posed, “Are all who call themselves Christian, Christian?”
It’s not what we see that counts, but what’s in men’s hearts. At my age I’ve learned that when things look good they’re never really as good as they seem, and when things look bad they’re never really that bad. I’m speaking of men’s hearts.
I suggest God’s Word as our starting point. What does the Bible say about such things – pastors and elders caught in infidelity? Paul explained it to the believers in Rome by noting that people get off track when they exchange the truth of God for a lie, or the glory of God for an idol (Romans 1:23, 25). Those are two foundations for sin creeping in, and for God turning men over to their lusts.
We all have sinful natures, and forcing or subtly encouraging men–especially leaders–to “pretend” they don’t sin leads to cover-ups and, therefore, gives sin a safe place to fester and grow. That’s why being in a men’s small group where you do life on life is so valuable.
I wish we could have “once for all” victory over sin, but the Bible says that in this life our fallen flesh is at war with the Spirit (Galatians 5:17). That explains a lot. To paraphrase Pascal, the Fall is an offense to human reason, but once accepted it makes perfect sense of the human condition.
The solution? Preach repentance and preach the gospel of grace-or if that’s not your call, move to a church that does. As long as men feel they have to “pretend” to be more spiritual than they really are, they will often collapse under the pressure. What relief to not have to pretend “I’m good.” What relief to realize I don’t have to “deserve” grace.
Finally, it’s good to remember that when God turns a true believer over to his sin, it is good–it is to bring about his eventual repentance and surrender. For example, 1 Corinthians was written, in part, to discipline a man’s caught in sexual sin with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
But 2 Corinthians was written to restore the man: “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. How instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:6-7).
I know it seems like a lot of people get hurt in these affairs, and they do, yet God is in control. He is not caught off guard. He is not up in heaven wringing His hands about how it will all turn out. Instead, He is sovereignly orchestrating all human events – all the seemingly random circumstances of our lives – to bring us into right relationship with Him and right relationship with each other.
He will redeem that which seems like a lost cause. The surgeon’s scalpel must inflict pain to remove the cancer that would otherwise destroy.
It’s His creation, His purpose, His plan, His will, His glory, His patience, His grace, His mercy, His Christ, His salvation, His Spirit, His love. Here’s what keeps me going: the sovereignty of God. If He’s not in control, then I’m sleeping in tomorrow morning.
Hope this helps.
Warmly in Christ,
Patrick Morley, Ph.D.