I’m generally not a fan of leadership conferences. While a lot of people really dig these sorts of events, they tend to not be my thing, either because they’re frustratingly free of mentions of Jesus, or they’re not terribly applicable for guys like me who don’t lead from the top.
This weekend one caught my eye, though. But it wasn’t because I was super-excited about the theme or anything like that. In fact, I had no idea it even existed until I learned of a surprise speaker delivering a message to the pastors in attendance. What caught my attention was this particular speaker was one who apparently remains unrepentant over a laundry list of misdeeds, including plagiarism, a domineering attitude and frequent use of abusive language.
That a church would grant an apparently unrepentant individual a position of authority—even as temporary a one as a conference speaker—is disturbing. And yet, for some reason, it’s altogether unsurprising.
And this, I think is what terrified me the most.
I wasn’t surprised.
Unfortunately, it seems to be all-too-common for Christians to allow those who have no business doing so—at least not according to any reasonable reading of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2—to exercise an authority out of line with their character. I was reminded of this even as our pastor preached from 2 Corinthians 11 this weekend, as Paul, dripping with sarcasm, continues a full-frontal assault on the false teachers who’d lead this confused group of believers astray.
Thinking back on the message, and re-reading the passage, I was particularly struck by verses 19-21:
For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
Does anyone else wince even a little when reading this?
Think about the people we listen to via podcasts and the blogs we frequent. Consider the Twitter feeds we follow and the books collecting dust on our shelves. Sadly, I suspect there are many names included there whose conduct would line up far more with what Paul describes than with that of an actual minister of the Word. People who take advantage and make slaves of us. People who put on airs—who have the appearance of godliness, but none of its power. Fakers, maligners of God’s word, if not in their words, then certainly in their conduct.
And what does Paul do here? He lovingly confronts the Corinthians with the deception. He is asking them, “Why do you put up with this evil? Why do you allow it to be done to you? Why do you welcome with open arms what ought to be purged from among you?”
Sometimes I wonder what Paul would say to us:
- Would he rebuke us for allowing disqualified men to continue to speak and lead and have influence in the church?
- Would he shudder to think that self-appointed men were taking on burdens for which they were not called nor gifted to bear?
- Would he ask us why we would give cover for those who have abused God’s people for their own ends?
These are questions we need to be asking, whether we worship in healthy churches or (God forbid) in ones characterized by the behaviors Paul suggests in 2 Corinthians 11. And yet, it seems as though we are not.
Perhaps it’s because we are afraid to find out the answer. We value the gifts this or that person has, their sense of humor, their rhetorical flair… Yet, if their lives reveal them to be liars, or at a minimum those who do not practice what they preach, what business do they have being allowed to teach or influence anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances?
And worse, what does it say to those who suffer when we give them cover?
Does it reveal us to be people who are concerned with compassion and justice? Does it show us to be people concerned with the plight of the oppressed, the weary and those burdened by many sins?
We tolerate Jezebel, even as her victims cry out for justice.
Friends, this should never be.
The church is to be a place of great love and affection—for both perpetrators and victims of abuse. But how we express our love for the former is drastically different from how we do for the latter. When it comes to these phonies, we must acknowledge them for what they are: peddlers of God’s word. If a Christian leader refuses to acknowledge their sin, if they attempt to plead Jesus so as to exempt themselves from the need to ask forgiveness—we show love by saying “no.” We must not allow them a place to be heard until their business with Jesus and with those they have wronged has been dealt with. Only then can they be welcomed back as a brother or sister in Christ.
Just as we must never tolerate abusive behavior by a parent or a spouse—just as such evil should never be named among us—so too must evil of this sort never be allowed to gain a foothold. After all, an unrepentant Christian is no Christian at all. We know this is true, and it is well past time that we started acting like it.