June 23, 2015

Ten Lessons from the Tullian Tchividjian Confession

by Jordan Standridge

Any time a pastor falls my heart sinks. It is gut wrenching. Especially when it is someone that is loved by many people I admire. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent listening to people write onwrite on, or preach on the new-antinomianism debate. While I bet the temptation is strong for some people to say I told you so, (and I think it might be helpful for us to go back and listen to their warnings) whenever things like these happen, it is always a huge reminder about my own sinfulness and my need to re-examine my own qualifications for ministry. In Scripture, we are taught that when elders fall that they should be rebuked publicly for all to learn from and while I do not want to rebuke Tullian publicly (nor should I), I do take situations like this to examine my own heart and to remind myself that I am capable of incredible evil. This is a reminder that when I went to seminary, I decided to do something that is dangerous. To be preachers of God’s word is the greatest calling on earth but it is also dangerous. So here are ten personal lessons/reminders from this incredibly sad situation.

1) Your theology matters. When MacArthur did the Strange Fire conference, one of the main takeaways for me was that Charismatic theology is dangerous. The prosperity Gospel and the miracle services are caused by charismatic theology. Bad theology causes heresy and sin. When someone with good theology falls, which happens frequently in this fallen world, it is not because of their theology but it is because of their wicked hearts. When you have a system in place that teaches you that you cannot tell a guy who is looking at pornography to stop, or that you cant tell someone who hits his wife that he must stop beating her you are building an environment that is powerless against sin. I have to remember that my theology is critical. When Paul tells Timothy  in 1 Timothy 4:16 to watch his life and doctrine closely, to persevere in them because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. I must take Paul at his word.

2) Be ready when Tragedy strikes. It is so easy to be blindsided. I am so easily controlled by my emotions and my circumstances but I need to be ready. We all do. Whether it’s that your wife cheats on you, that you lose a job, or that a loved one dies, it is coming, so determine now what you will do in that situation. Do you have a plan? I don’t know how often our Church/school has a fire drill, but it’s annoying and it’s frequent. But I tell you that if there ever is a fire, I know exactly what to do. Situations like these remind me how important it is that we take a James 1 mentality into the world with us. Trials are coming; they are inevitable, so are we prepared? Is our mind ready? How will we respond?

3) Never confess sin by disclosing others’ sin. The worst thing I do when asking my wife for forgiveness is when I say things like, “Please forgive me for reacting in an angry way to what you did.” That’s not repentance, that’s me trying to minimize what I did by telling her that what she did made me do it. When we ask for forgiveness let’s take out all the excuses. Let’s not confess blame-imagesin by including the sin of others in order to make ourselves and others feel better for what we’ve done. Adam and Eve did that in the garden and I doubt that their excuses softened the curses that God was going to give them. Instead, when we repent and seek forgiveness, let’s call sin evil and let’s own up to it.

4) The celebrity culture in the Church is dangerous. It is very dangerous for the Church to have popular pastors, who live far from the Church, aren’t known by their congregation, and who are hired because of their good looks or their ancestors. We need to fight this mentality of looking at the exterior; rather, we must look at the heart of a man, and look at the biblical qualifications. We cannot make the same mistake that mankind has made time and time again, but rather we must remind ourselves about what God says to Samuel, that he looks at the heart of man.

5) Get to know your pastor. Sometimes you can’t choose where you live. You’re kind of stuck where you are, and with that God’s sovereignty comes into play. The churches in your area are the ones that you are stuck with, and sometimes you get stuck with a pastor that although he is faithful to scripture he could make Richard Simmons fall asleep mid-workout. In come the podcasts. I get it, but the guy on the podcast is not your pastor. The guy on the podcast is not going to shepherd you, mentor you or confront you when you sin. You need someone in the flesh. Plus real-lasting change doesn’t come from dynamic emotional RichardSimmonsedit2preaching, it comes from someone faithfully opening up God’s word each Sunday and you sitting under the explanation and exposition of the Bible. Get to know your pastor, ask to spend time with him. Go hang out at the park with him with his kids, go on a double date with him and his wife. Stop with the tv-screen pastor.

6) Don’t leave the gospel coalition. This is a joke, but it seems the second you get kicked out of the gospel coalition you end up getting caught in some kind of scandal. So, think twice before joining that group and then leaving.

7)  Anyone can fall. This is a reminder that we are all sinners. I know that in my heart I tend to think that I am invincible and that I would never do this or that. I’m sure Tullian thought that as well, and I’m sure hundreds of other currently disqualified ex-elders thought the same thing. Whether you are the church janitor or the president of a seminary it doesn’t matter, we all need to be on the alert at all times.

8)  Jesus saves sinners. Each time someone sins, it is an opportunity for the gospel. We are yet reminded about how hypocritical we all are, how lost and how incapable we are. Although many will think that this kind of situation harms the gospel, I don’t think so. In fact, I think God will use this situation to glorify Himself. And yes, if you read the comments on the blogs, hundreds of atheists are blaspheming God because of Tullian’s actions, and the way that in their minds he threw his wife under the bus in his confessions, but the fact of the matter is this it is a reminder of the fallen condition of man’s heart and what an absolute miracle salvation is.

9) Pray for your pastor. I love my pastors, God has given me many over the years that I really care about. This is a reminder that there are few people out there more vulnerable to temptation than the pastor. We need to remember to pray for our pastors. Having a regular time set aside to pray for the pastor God has given to you, will cause you to look forward to hearing what he has to say on Sunday, and in one-on-one discipleship time with him. The Bible says that God will listen to your prayers and grant your request if they are according to His will. I spend a lot of time with the pastors of my Church, but how much time have I spent praying for them?

10) Pray for your pastor’s wife. While you’re praying for the pastor, pray for his wife, also. This is just as important, if not more. Even though most pastors are loving and godly, I’m sure a pastor’s wife will be tempted to feel unloved and uncared for at times. He’s out “caring for people” all day and then comes home tired, while she wants to be cared for, especially after talking with little people all-day still working on pronouncing their r’s correctly. No matter how strong or sanctified the woman is, she will be tempted in many ways we have never considered. Make sure to pray for her, and think of ways to help make her life easier.

Jordan Standridge

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Jordan is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion.
  • Robert Sakovich

    Good thoughts…thanks for reminding us to look at ourselves and what we are doing in light of what Christ has done for us instead of looking at others.

    • Jordan Standridge

      Thanks Robert. It’s hard to do and painful but I think it’s always profitable.

  • Dan Phillips

    11. If you’re going to make a public statement involving your wife, clear it with her first (http://bit.ly/1CqznFp).

    • James

      Jordan and Dan I agree with you both! Wholeheartedly. May I ask how far does this extend? I recently saw a testimonial service at t4g (this is not to lambast or besmirch the work they do because I have been greatly helped by those brothers) in the testimonial service a young lady stood up and explained her child which placed her parents in a very negative light. I’m sharing this as a local pastor who desires for his people to be open but I am concerned with how they present their openness. Do either of you know of a time where it would be permissible to give the details of someone else’s sin when confessing your own? Or is this a case by case scenario? Thanks!! God bless you both!!!

      • Jordan Standridge

        That’s the question of the day for sure, I’ve asked myself that for a while now. The answer would have to be case by case, but it seems that usually when confessing your sin publicly, you would focus on your sin, and let the other person confess their own. I would guess there are scenarios where it is impossible not to, but I also guess it would have to be rare right? I’d be curious to hear others thoughts on this.

        • Billy Bingle

          That he threw his wife under the bus by saying “she did it first” sickened me. What man, seeking true reconciliation, would do such a thing? Is it a symptom of bigger issues with him? It also makes me wonder if her “affair” was really a physical one… perhaps one of emotional support of which he was jealous?

          • Mandy Grad

            I couldn’t agree more. Whether her affair was emotional or physical, by throwing her under the bus to make himself look better he has *greatly* lessened the chances of a reconciliation. Even if she had a physical affair, it should not have been made public. His family is destroyed. My heart goes out to their children, but I also have a heart for his wife.

          • Katy

            I don’t understand your sentiment in the least. I am glad that the situation was explained. 1) She broke the marriage covenant. 2) She was unwilling to reconcile 3) Had he not included the fact of her affair, we would all be feeling sorry for the poor wife, and that would be based on a lie. The fact that he also made the CHOICE to (presumably) have a sexual relationship outside of his marriage is his responsibility alone. The background story, the emotional hardship that may have led to his choice, does not lessen the fact that he chose to sin. However, it would be unjust to lead us to believe that he wrecked a marriage that was seemingly already wrecked.

          • Peter

            Unfortunately, what the public is seeing is only the tip of the iceberg. Kim is not to blame. As a former close friend of Tullian and former member of CRPC, what is being revealed about his affair is not what should have led to his fall from leadership. He threw Kim under the bus in a last desperate attempt to save his desired “celebrity” persona. Tullian has been a wolf in sheep’s clothing for 6 years, covering up lies, deceit, and immoral behaviors. The reason why you couldn’t get to know your pastor, is because if you did know him, you’d be shocked. The leadership at Coral Ridge has helped hide his outrageous behavior and are just as guilty. I know, because I was part of this group before leaving (aka, calling into question some things that were going on, and being promptly asked to leave). What has gone on at that church has left innumerable casualties. No doubt God has used his flawed teaching, in my life, as well as countless other lives, but is a blessing to the that he is finally out of the pulpit. Hopefully all involved can finally begin to heal now that his time there is over. But not without a few more shakeups in leadership along the way.

          • Truth Unites… and Divides

            “As a former close friend of Tullian and former member of CRPC, … Tullian has been a wolf in sheep’s clothing for 6 years, covering up lies, deceit, and immoral behaviors.”

            Could very well be. I wouldn’t know, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

            If you were Billy Graham, what would you say to your grandson Tullian?

          • Mandy Grad

            I don’t doubt this at all. His actions fit that description.

          • Mandy Grad

            And I don’t understand how you can so easily believe his version of events is 100% gospel truth. Someone who would throw his wife under the bus to make what he did look better might easily stretch or twist the truth for his own benefit. Regardless, only a man who lacks true character would ever throw his wife under the bus in any situation to lessen his own actions, especially when he uses the word reconciliation in the same statement.

          • Tammy Saunders

            To be honest we don’t even know if what Tullian says is true. My opinion is that he doesn’t have a stellar reputation for telling the truth, since he was not forthcoming about his own behaviors until confronted. Seems to me he was preaching all the while he was struggling with his own sin which seems dishonest. Many spouses have accused the other when it was just a figment of their jealous, or possessive, imaginations. Who knows?

            His wife is not in agreement with his statements from her Washington Post comments. She could be not commenting further because of the children. Who wants to correct their husband publicly in front of the kids? Mothers are prone to take the fall for the sake of the children.

            I just pray the whole truth comes out. I have friends on both sides of the fence from that church. Some feel validated because they saw the red flags from the beginning and the others feel totally betrayed. I am concerned that this is becoming the norm rather than the exception. I hope we can learn the secret to stop this in the church. It hurts too much to go through it this often.

          • Mandy Grad

            I agree there’s no way to know if he’s telling the truth. And it wouldn’t surprise me if his wife is being quiet because of the children. It’s too bad he didn’t think of them before making his statement. It’s very sad this seems to happen time and time again even in churches that don’t have a national presence like Coral Ridge.

    • Jordan Standridge

      I had not seen that article, I was a little uneasy of including number 3 but this would confirm it.

    • Robert Sakovich

      Yeah…I found that really odd. why bring up what she had done in the past? It comes off as trying to lessen your sin in the end.

  • Greg Pickle

    I like the premise that there actually are lessons to learn from this. I’m saddened to see so many Christians putting up shields around talking about what contributed to this, although you are dead-on with #1 – it’s most definitely the fruit of his theology. The idea of “there but for the grace of God go I” shouldn’t lead to shoulder-shrugging; rather, it is bound up in a diligent, discipline approach to sanctification that recognizes this: if I don’t watch myself *carefully*, I am in huge danger (1 Cor. 9:27). TT’s theology, as I have seen it promulgated, doesn’t urge this. I don’t know how it wasn’t the major contributing factor, though I understand there may be other difficult factors. You are right on to say that this doesn’t simply happen to someone who is watching his life and doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16). The very act of saying “This can happen to anyone” is what must drive us to reject TT’s wrong understanding of sanctification.

    The other thing I have noticed is that the discussion seems to be almost all about TT and not heaping scorn upon a brother. As a brother in Christ, I feel compassion on him and his family. But he is only one out of at least *tens of thousands* of people who are impacted by this. Has anyone read the comments on the Washington Post article? Do you see what this has done to bring reproach upon Christ (Romans 2:24)? While Christians are calling for mercy upon him, TT’s sin while a Christian leader is fuel for further gospel-rejection by unbelievers. Isn’t that the whole point of an elder being above reproach (1 Tim. 3:7)? More than this, he is a leader of thousands in his church, and more than that by his books. What will happen to them? How many will follow him into sin, or fall away from the faith because they were his hearers (again, 1 Tim 4:16 & 4:1)?

    If he were average-Joe Christian struggling to make it through life and overcome adulterous lusts, I wouldn’t say anything to anyone. But when he is the leading advocate of a conscience-killing, errant theology of Christian living, you can’t just say “that’s out of bounds.” And though I truly do feel for him, when you put yourself in the spotlight as an example for believers, you can’t expect not to be cited as an example when you fall. Public rebuke makes people *fearful* of sinning (1 Tim. 5:20). That’s where this confession should lead, whether he is rebuked or not. Paul had no problem naming names when showing Timothy (and the Ephesian church) the deadly fruit of not fighting the good fight of faith and of rejecting a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:18-20).

    When he has been happy to sell his books and spread his articles to people in the churches I have shepherded, I have no problem pointing out the devastating fruit of this kind of theology. I’m not going to gloat, but rather pray for him and those involved, while yet saying: “This is exactly where this theology leads.”

  • Danny Barea

    Jordan this is a very well written article. From what I’ve seen thus far some have honed in on ‘will the Pastor be able to preach again’ or ‘serve the church again’; I think what is most important is for our brother to be at the throne of grace where he can plea with the living God and reconcile with his spouse. Prayers for him and his family. I love how you brought it back to minding our own sin and continually putting to death what is evil in His sight in our own lives. Obviously, this is a difficult situation for that particular fellowship as well…perhaps we can lift up that fellowship in prayer.

    • Jordan Standridge

      Thanks Daniel. I agree they definitely need prayer as well.

  • Peter

    What sad is that it took this affair to bring him out of leadership. If everyone knew the real story of what has gone on for the past 6 years, then maybe he’d finally come to the end of himself. But until then, he’ll continue to blame shift and believe that he is “free to fail”.

    • I’m going to delete this comment because it insinuated stuff that still remains private, and this isn’t the place to make it public. Not that I doubt what you are saying is true, just that it doesn’t fit here.

  • Deke

    Considering how many people are affected by this was number 6 really necessary?
    If ever we are to be sober minded I think now would be a good time.

    • Austin DeArmond

      I totally agree. It was petty.

    • Jordan Standridge

      I appreciate your comment, and agree that being sober minded is essential in situations like these. It is interesting to note that any time the Gospel Coalition, that prides itself on being inclusive and slow to condemn, “kicks someone out” of the group, the person usually commits some kind of disqualifying sin. When you’re theology goes off your holiness soon follows.

      • Although it was in jest, #6 contains truth. As you well point out, the GC is quite inclusive and slow to respond, so whenever someone is booted out of it or leaves it, that is something to take note of. A brief examination of all of those who have left the GC over the past 5 years reveals quite a bit.

        Those with the discernment to see this coming (aka those in the position to claim, “I told you so”) would point to things like #6 as being one of many examples of “the canary in the coal mine”.

        If anything, #6 should be part of a separate blog post, “Ten Canaries of Discernment”. 😉

      • Dee Parsons

        I would disagree with you on three points. T

        The Gospel Coalition is not inclusive. It is both Reformed and complementarian only.

        Secondly, Tullian’s theology on grace is based on Luther’s view of grace.

        Finally, TGC only condemns those who stray from their theology. I have decided not to name those involved but there have been well reported stories regarding the mishandling of child sex abuse and affairs within that group.

        TGC is no better or worse than any other group out there. They sin just like everyone else.

        • Karl Heitman

          Your assertion regarding Luther’s view of grace is incorrect. He did not teach a doctrine of hyper-grace, as Tullian did, if that’s what you’re insinuating. He firmly stated that faithful obedience to the law of Christ, going good, is vital to the Christian life:

          “When others hear about this Christian liberty of ours they at once infer, ‘If I am free, I may do what I like. If salvation is not a matter of doing why should we do anything for the poor?’ In this crude manner they turn the liberty of the spirit into wantonness and licentiousness. We want them to know, however, that if they use their lives and possessions after their own pleasure, if they do not help the poor, if they cheat their fellow-men in business and snatch and scrape by hook and by crook everything they can lay their hands on, we want to tell them that they are not free, no matter how much they think they are, but they are the dirty slaves of the devil, and are seven times worse than they ever were as the slaves of the Pope.” Martin Luther, commenting on Gal. 5:13

          • Dee Parsons

            Neither did Tullian preach hyper-grace.

          • Karl Heitman

            Yes, he did. That’s why Jordan wrote what he wrote in para. #1. Jordan was gracious by leaving out specifics on Tullian’s teaching because I’m assuming there’s no intention of having theological debate. Grace to You published a blog article on this subject. I can’t paste the link here, but it’s entitled “Regeneration and Hypergrace.” If you Google it, you can find it. It gives some examples of how Tullian views grace in the life of a believer.

          • Dee Parsons

            Here is how I view it. If you truly understand grace, you truly understand that you are sinner in utter need of grace. I sin daily and I sin when I don’t know I sin.

            Christ in me makes me not want to sin. But reality is that I will continue to sin. God is gracious and forgives me those sins and I do not ned to leave in a state of chronic despair.

            I live with this tension in my life every hour of every day. I can document my sins if you so would like. I can document the sins of number of Reformed people who would criticize Tullian for his views.

            Their understanding of grace and sin does not make them any less sinful than he is, or you or anyone else for that matter. If you would like, I can start posting about all the Reformed people who have had affairs, covered up child sex abuse, have abused people in their churches, etc. Their supposed *orthodox* view on grace doesn’t gain them anything except for brownie points with the doctrine brigade.

            And if they think they are less sinful, they may be cooking the books on the account of their own lives or perhaps I am just more sinful than the *right* people. One thing I know, it is all about grace for me.

          • rdrift1879

            Dee, I think the discussion with TT is how he teaches on the means of sanctification. In my view, he abandoned his pastoral role to exhort the flock to live an obedient life. In his own “cool dude” style, he said he “repented” of telling Christians to live a certain way. “Now,” he says, “I just send them to Jesus and try to get out of the way. Come to think of it, if you’re struggling with sin and aren’t getting any better, don’t come to me. I like you okay, but that depends on how my day is going. Instead of coming to me, run to Jesus. He’ll love you and maybe even make you better.”

            The radical grace teacheing of TT says that exhorting people to be in the word, pray, and obey God is a kind of legalism or moralism that just frustrates sinful Christians and turns them into phonies.

            Radical grace teaches that exhorting people to be in the word, pray, and obey God is a kind of legalism or moralism that just frustrates sinful Christians and turns them into phonies.

            There is a core concern here that is valid. Some Christians do fall into moralism — looking primarily at external behavior as an indicator of God’s pleasure or displeasure. These saints find little rest in Christ and in His sacrifice. They don’t find His yoke easy and His burden light. They live in fear of getting blasted by God and try to please Him in the flesh through putting on a good front, while they are filled with doubt and spiritual turmoil. People who have thus burdened themselves often find radical grace teaching refreshing and empowering, because they do start to focus on what should be central — what Christ accomplished for them and how they are accepted by God in His Son. I think maybe that was your experience, Dee.

            But are all attempts to please God fleshly? Is a desire to please God through obedience a kind of legalism or moralism? Radical grace teachers strongly suggest it is. Many disagree.

            I believe that in trying to free believers from moralism, the radical grace teachers too often go to an opposite extreme. They give up using methods and motivations that run throughout the New Testament. Is telling people to stop sinning really like teaching frogs to fly (one of TTs favorite expressions)? Is it mere moralism? Or is it one of the ways God appeals to our new nature to put off nagging sinful tendencies? What if a preacher said, “Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” Is that moralism? Radical grace teachers suggest that such preaching is moralism or legalism. But these words are the Apostle Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 15:34! In 1 Cor. 6:18, Paul says, “Flee immorality.” Good idea! Don’t wait to ponder grace. Run! Tullian should have run.

    • elainebitt

      Considering how many people are affected by this, is your comment choosing to focus on a minor point of the blog post really necessary?

      • Deke

        I don’t think making light of sexual sin and the fallout of that sin that will affect who knows how many people is a “minor point”
        Jordan did a good job on the article and there was no need to include that frivolous comment.

        Mat 12:36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
        Mat 12:37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

        • elainebitt

          One word: deflection.

  • Karl Heitman

    Good post, Jordan. Since it is highly unlikely that I’ll ever be invited to be a part of TGC, that means I’m safe, right? 😉

  • Steve Holley

    I have personally seen the devastation that takes place when a pastor falls into immorality.
    I have watched a church struggle to endure while hundreds in the congregation depart for a variety of reasons that start with members of the congregation feeling hurt by the deception of the fallen pastor; or feeling a lack of trust in the other elders because there was no seemingly no accountability; or some questioning the church leadership as to why the fallen pastor had to resign since “we are all sinners saved by grace;” and then there are the countless issues that arise from the upheaval that the church will face for years to come because of the damage done by one selfish sin.
    Whenever I hear of these church leadership tragedies, I mourn not just for what has happened to cause it, but for the long rough road of recovery that lies ahead. I pray for this fallen pastor and for his family. I pray for a church that is in mourning and feels so many emotions. I pray that the Christian community at large would be cautious in how it processes this situation and that it would be mindful to be burden-bearers and fulfill the law of Christ.

  • Rachel

    #6 cracked me up. 🙂

    • Tammy Saunders

      Please add that a Pastor can’t be traveling the country speaking, promoting his books, and leaving the pulpit open week after week, along with leaving his wife alone for long periods of time, without it affecting both! A Pastor is suppose to look after the flock he is tending and taking care of his family. He can’t do that long distance, or do it if he is not physically there most of the time.

      If he wants to be an author or speaker to the masses then do it with gusto, but don’t use the pulpit to springboard into it, and don’t leave those alone to fend for themselves when God gave them to you to tend to. A Pastor will be held accountable for how well he tended to God’s sheep.

      I think we forget this in our Celebrity Status churches and Christian Royalty bloodlines. There is an addiction, and excitement, to being wanted and loved by the masses when it gets boring and tedious to be with the familiar. It can feed the ego in a negative way and the thirst is for more and more for some of us. This can lead to longer absences from those that need a Pastor/husband/father the most. I think the churches need to limit this activity.

      • Jason

        This is a huge problem today. Partially I think our format is to blame. So many in the congregation don’t realize that a pastor should be a shepard who cares for the local body and not just a public speaker.

        Unfortunately, when the closest thing to fellowship an average person has in the body is to sit in a chair and watch a pastor speak once a week it’s not surprising that most tend to think of pastors that way.

      • Linda Rice

        I think your warning holds also for Celebrity Female Christian speakers.

  • Doug Searle

    When I’m disappointed by someone else’s sin (or when I’m secretly
    celebrating the fact that someone I disagree with turns out to be a
    sinner), I find it helpful to read Luke 18:9-14. My need for God’s mercy
    is as great as anyone’s, and this is just as true today as it was the
    first day I looked to Christ.

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  • steve

    If you can’t trust what someone says about their own sin, how can you trust what they teach about sin?

  • elchupacabras

    Let me say that I am thoroughly disgusted by the haughty, taunting tone that you have propagated here. You almost seem like you are gloating by Pastor Tulian’s fall. You unfairly lump him as antinomian and then go after him for leaving the TGC. Disgusting.

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