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 on, write 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 sin 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 preaching, 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.