Recently a close family member of mine who usually avoids conversation about God mentioned a local church scandal. I assume she was curious about what my reaction would be since she said that some of the church members actually defended the Pastor who had bought his wife a $200,000. car. It truly weighed heavy on my heart and I told her so. It may not be a sin to own such a car, but the impression it leaves on a community is not good.
It is always so disappointing and heartbreaking to hear of pastors, clergymen, teachers of faith falling so hard into sin, having kept it secret, all the while ministering to people, or even not keeping it secret and thinking their behavior is acceptable. Church scandals can be devastating to a flock as well as a whole community and most of us, unfortunately, have been either directly or indirectly affected and hurt by it.
Increasingly and regularly we hear news stories national as well as local, from megachurches down to small community churches. Accounts range from personal million dollar mansions and cars that cost as much as a house (going well beyond meeting the general needs of a servant of God and his/her family, paid by ministry funds) to involvement in misappropriation of church funds, adultery, pornography, pedophilia, you name it. All of it is inexcusable.
It is harmful enough for a congregation, with some members being so disillusioned that they leave church altogether, never to return. Outside observers and possible seekers of God are so disgusted that they would never enter a church, possibly avoid people they know to be Christian and even Christ and thus may never receive the gift of Salvation. It is this kind of misrepresentation of who God is that sent Yeshua on an angry rampage through the temple. (John 2:13-16) The religions leaders of the day and money changers were hindering the relationship between God and His people by making it difficult and discouraging them from worship. That is the goal of Satan.
Should we be surprised? Jesus did warn us about these people, "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits." ~Matthew 7:15-16 The apostle Paul also warned us, "For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve." ~2 Corinthians 11:13-15
Even one of those closest to Jesus was a betrayer, remorseful yet unrepentant, committing suicide in the end. No one but the Lord knew who he really was, yet always leaving room for repentance. I can imagine the other disciples also felt betrayed by Judas as they scattered in fear after Jesus' arrest.
As the body of Christ, we are called, not to cover up or excuse, but to expose evil. Who will rise up for me against the wicked; who will stand for me against those who practice iniquity? ~Psalm 94:16 And it should be done as gently as possible within a congregation before, if ever it ends up in a chaos causing news report. Unless a crime is involved, people need only basic information. Gossip and ridicule should be always be avoided.
This is why it is so important to have wisdom and discernment to know what sin is, and what it isn't, to know the difference between a long past sin, a moment of bad judgment and a lifestyle of continuous unrepentant sin, to know whether or not the sin should be known by only a few people or to a whole congregation, if it is serious enough to remove them from their position or not, and of course to consider the effects on the surrounding community. We are all sinners saved only by the grace and mercy of God through the blood of Christ, the only sacrifice able to cover our sins and grant us the opportunity for a relationship with God through this salvation.
We must judge the sin, but only after we confess our own sin. (Matthew 7:1-5) You see, if we misuse or take out of context, "do not judge lest you be judged in the same manner," we could end up overlooking sin in ourselves as well as in others which could lead to one or more of the destructive tragedies listed above. Brothers ans sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. ~Galatians 6:1
All of us are capable of falling into sin and we must stay accountable to one another. Leaders are especially vulnerable and must keep close friends and prayer warriors whom they can confess to. Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. ~Proverbs 27:17 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. ~James 5:16 Notice that a righteous person is not sinless and keeping up with lesser sin keeps one away from more serious sin.
We practice repentance, forgiveness and restoring fellowship to the flock. However, consequences do and should linger on as a reminder. It should be obvious that a pastor who has betrayed his congregation in serious sin should not continue in such a role for their own sake as well as for those who have followed him. Teachers of the Word (James 3:1) will be judged more strictly than unbelievers because of their influence, and need all of the diligent prayer and support we can give them.
So pay close attention to how you walk-- not as unwise people, but as wise. Make the most of your time because the days are evil. For this reason, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. ~Ephesians 5:15-17
...set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity....Watch you life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. ~ 1 Timothy 4:12, 16
Even if we think our own personal role in ministry is insignificant, the truth is that we could be the only Bible someone we know or meet will ever read. Accuracy is important.
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses it's saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on it's stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~Matthew 5:13-16