According to I Corinthians 5:3-5, excommunicating an offending member (or firing of an offending pastor), should be pursued when a person, obsessed with his sin, continues in it despite warnings to reform. There’s no insinuation or teaching in scripture that a person guilty of occasional or one-time failures should be so excised. In such cases, Paul’s teaching in Galatians 6:1 should be employed.
We are in this kingdom together as flawed, frail, weak sinners saved by grace. And if we expect our leaders to model Christ-like behavior, we can’t demand they model it perfectly, flawlessly, without fail. Members don’t; why must leaders? And if we say we can’t expect people to rise any higher than their leaders morally, what but condemnation awaits the minister who preaches such shallow, insipid sermons that his people have no trouble rising to his level spiritually, but find themselves unable to grow beyond it? Many a minister who has been free from adultery is nonetheless guilty of a prime fault deserving expulsion: he preaches sophomoric sermons that challenge no one to develop spiritually. But how often is that prodigious level of failure punished?
The church has the opportunity, in a world stricken to death by immorality of every kind, to offer a perfect standard of righteousness in Christ; a challenge for every Christian to grow in Christ-likeness; a demand that every Christian repent when he sins, in whatever way he betrays grace; and encouragement from other sinners, who understand failure because they are experts in it and are willing to help him rise again.
Obviously, leaders have to protect the church. But there’s certainly something lacking in any church leadership that doesn’t also say, “How can we save the offender for the church?” Doing only the former makes the church the judge—which God never ordained. Qualifying the first with the second creates opportunities for preserving the church’s reputation as both a holy and a merciful assembly. It allows the church to put the fallen on paid or unpaid leave; to demand repentance, public confession, counseling and personal spiritual growth; to offer him correction and rehabilitation—whatever is needed. But it doesn’t discard the fallen leader who has invested thousands of hours in his work and in whom the church has invested thousands of dollars in recruitment and education.
If we revise our response to leadership failure, we can at once denounce the sin, but save the leader. We can uphold the truth and purity of God while retaining the forgiven ministry of the repentant leader. Then people will begin to see the church as a place where sinners are challenged to the Christ-life by the word of God; held accountable for their misbehavior; loved when they fail their standard of holiness; and forgiven to a second chance. Above all, it will be seen as a place where people can care, love and pay the price of involvement in a fellowship of imperfect humans striving in a common perfect venture.
The Ten Commandments, based on the Creation account in Genesis 1-3, comprise the core issues of Christian ethics. By possessing all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form, and by fulfilling the Law, Christ replaced the Law with himself as the basis of all conduct. His perfection at once challenges us to achieve Christ-likeness and compensates for our every failure to do so. Discipleship demands spiritual accountability; Christ’s compensation pays for our continuing irresponsibility.
Churches adamantly demand accountability from their ministers, but only grudgingly offer fallen pastors Christ’s grace. Conversely, congregational leaders often grudgingly accept their spiritual responsibility, but adamantly claim the benefits of grace. Isn’t it time for church members, and lay leaders, to extend to staff members the privileges and mercies they claim for themselves? Can it ever be right for them to swiftly claim the privileges and mercy they only slowly affirm, and oftentimes outright deny, to staff? – FINI –