When a Pastor Falls

The allegations against Bishop Eddie Long are horrifying and disgraceful, but not necessarily shocking. Unfortunately, many well known Christian leaders of large ministries have stepped outside of their marriages into sexual immorality. Even more unfortunately, we African Americans often excuse our morally failing leaders as people who are mere men or victims of white conspiracies. But sinners are not victims; they are perpetrators who make choices.

Certainly the allegations against Long, if found to be truthful, sadden me and cause me to seek the Lord for more mercy and grace upon my own soul: “Lord, lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil.” But they also provide an opportunity for all of us as believers to consider what we should expect of the pastor’s morality, and what to do when pastors make the choice of vice.

First, churches should expect their pastors to be men who walk in holiness before God. All of us are called to be holy, for our God is holy (1 Pet. 1:16). Pastors in particular are expected to be men who meets a full composite of qualifications (I Tim. 3:1-8; Tit. 1:5-9). Many of these qualifications concern the pastor’s personal holiness: “self-controlled,” “not a drunkard,” “not a lover of money,” “upright,” and “holy.” These qualifications should characterize the pastor throughout his tenure. This is the only way in which he can remain above the reproach of his people.

Second, churches should expect their pastors to be men who model Christ. Again, all of us are called to follow Christ and our Lord’s walk before God the Father. But pastors have many opportunities to set an example of Christ for others to follow. We must be able to say to our people, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). We are to “set an example to the believers . . . in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

Believers are commanded to consider how their leaders live and imitate them (Heb. 13:7). If our people cannot see an example of Christ in us—including keeping our bodies pure from immorality—they cannot follow Christ by following us. To put it differently, our stead as pastors is no greater than our ability to say, “You can please Christ; just follow me and I will show you how to do it.” We have no credibility or meaningful role in evangelizing sinners if our message only is “God can change and keep you, but he cannot do the same for me.”

Third, churches should expect their pastors to be men who keep their marriage vows faithfully. Pastors must be “[husbands] of one wife” (I Tim. 3:2). The man of God must be one who keeps his marriage vows. This means that he should not be a man of remarriage, adultery, pornography watching, or bisexual and/or down-low relationships, for each of these items stands in contrast to fidelity in marriage to one woman. This is an issue where lesser understandings and disobedience to this Scripture are harmful to our churches, and of which we, as African Americans in particular, need to raise our standards, for at least two reasons.

First, the African American family needs to hear and see modeled the message of the gospel and its significance for the family so that our families and community might be rescued from destruction. The social indicators of African Americans, including high divorce rates, high percentage of children growing up in single-parent homes, and high numbers of single, marriageable-age women—some of whom are now blaming the Black Church for the problem of their singleness—all point toward the need for the strengthening of the African American marriage and family. Couple this with the large numbers of African Americans who are members of churches, and you will see that there is an opportunity for the church to lead the way in repairing the ruins of the African American community. The repair works starts with the church being a place in which marriage is held in high honor. Typically this happens in places where a pastor holds his own marriage is high honor.

Second, the gospel story itself is readily portrayed and explained by the mystery of marriage. The gospel is the story of Christ giving his blood in death and rising from the dead in power in order to beautify the Bride the he will wed in her final salvation (Eph. 5:25-32; Rev. 21:1-4). The gospel we proclaim to the world inherently says, “Do you want to see what salvation is like? It is like a perfect marriage between the Perfect Man and the perfect woman in perfect marital bliss forever and ever! Come get what you have always wanted in life!” We believers are that bride that Christ is beautifying. We are the ones who should be able to say, “Christ will make your life like a great marriage; just look at my marriage” (or “my purity as a single believer,” 1 Cor. 7:32-28).

Pastors should be the leaders in their congregation in preaching and living out the gospel—the story of the perfect and eternal marriage. Otherwise, how can his people trust his word on marriage? When he says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church,” will he have any credibility? Can church members trust that his counsel on marriage will work for them if God’s power did not work for him? Instead of questioning their pastors, congregations should be able to trust their pastors as men who fear the Lord in all areas, including in their bedrooms (Heb. 13:4).

It would be appropriate to ask, “If a pastor fails in his marriage, what should happen next?” Having not met the qualities of a pastor, he should be responsible to step down from his role as pastor immediately. If he does not step down, his congregation should ask him to step down. This may seem harsh, but consider the alternative message you are sending to his wife, children, and the watching world that is in need of redemption. The wife and children are, in effect, being told that the church is not there to hold the head of their household accountable to the gospel. Thus, he can live two lives before them and God’s people and there is nothing his family can expect the church to do.

Moreover, we tell the world that our gospel is a powerless sham. We appear to be people who say, “Well, you do not really have to live like a Christian in order to be one, or be a member of the church. We’ll prove it to you: just look at our pastor!” This is shameful. But it also is what we do when we allow immoral men to remain in their pulpits, and it is commonly accepted in the African American church. A pastor cannot divorce his work from his life, for his work is a message that must be modeled in order to be proclaimed with credibility and the power of the Spirit of God.

Let me be clear that requiring an immoral man to step down from his position as pastor is not a question of the man’s gifts or his internal calling (which is subjective). It is a matter of his qualifications—his external calling, which is objective and verifiable for every man, regardless of his spiritual and natural gifts. Such a man may be gifted as a teacher and preacher. However, this does not mean he needs a pulpit. Instead, he needs repentance, marital counseling, brotherly accountability, a pattern of faithfulness in his marriage, and must make amends with the congregation that he has harmed. His gifts can be used to teach Sunday school. But he is not qualified to lead.

The fall of a pastor is a serious matter for the church as we seek to glorify God in all things. It must mean the end of a pastor’s tenure as his church’s pastor. Thankfully, because of the blood and resurrection of Christ, it does not mean the end of his salvation.

  • Justin Varnon

    It’s encouraging to see someone stand on Biblical truth in response to this unfortunate situation. Some Christians seem to want to just throw the Bible out when it comes to tough situations such as this. God bless you for your commitment to truths of Gods Word. Bishop Long has described all of this as an “attack.” Being persecuted for proclaiming the truth is an attack, bearing the consequences of your own son is NOT an attack. I just wish that everyone would actually read that Book that they carry to church with them. God will expose those who minister in his name but do not adhere to the truth.

    • Justin Varnon

      Sorry for the typo. I meant to say “bearing the consequences of your own SIN.” Not son…sorry.

  • Stan

    Bishop Long is not a pastor after God’s own heart. God’s word clearly shows who and what the true pastor is. The article assumes this selfstyled apostle is a man of God. There is enough evidence that Long, like many prominent persons in the prosperity gospel movement (amongst other movements)are deluded hypocrites. Whether the allegations are true or not, Long is merely an empire builder, a false teacher, a wolf pretending to be a sheep. It is time that Christians recognise these men and women for who and what they are and ceased giving these people the tag “Christian” or “pastor”and the recognition they crave. If the evidence of the prominent persons in the past caught in immorality is an indicator, persons of his ilk will just continue to be deceived and deceive. Long’s alleged immorality does not cover the well displayed immorality of his life style and beliefs and empire. Would to God there is repentance from what already is demonstrated to be grossly unbiblical.

  • http://finallyhuman.com Ian

    “But sinners are not victims; they are perpetrators who make choices.”

    This is absurd, not only from a Biblical, and pastoral point of view, but also sociologically and psychologically. One doesn’t have to read much to understand that those who are, for example, sexually abused often go on to sexually abuse others. Those who grow up in a drinking, violent environment often become like that.

    It’s absurd to place such a huge burden on one man, or on one family. The Church loves to parade these men around on pedestals and then point and gloat when they fall off them. Where are you instructions to the Church to lovingly support and care for the Pastor? Why don’t you instruct congregations to set up safety nets to prevent ministers from burning out?

    We proclaim a graceless, individualised religion when we expect pastors to stand in righteousness all on their own. Grace abounds when weakness is freely shared and the vulnerable parts of the pastor are cared for and guarded.

    We act like the Pharisees, laying on a burden we will not lift a finger to help.

    No, sin is not ‘my fault’. It is ‘OUR fault’. We depend on Christ’s body, the church, for our righteousness and the failing of one member is the failing of all.

    • Chad

      All scriptural requirements for pastors be damned or we are Pharisees.

      • AllenD

        Correct me if I’m mistaken, are you damning what the Bible says?

        • http://finallyhuman.com Ian

          You forget that we are ALL members of the Body. We ought to look out for one another. If we expect the Pastor to be holy, we must be willing to walk with him in that journey.

          That means we don’t offer accountability and counselling AFTER he has fallen, but especially when their ministry is going well.

    • http://adebtortomercy.blogspot.com Wyeth Duncan

      “the failing of one member is the failing of all”

      “But everyone shall die for his own sin. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge” (Jer. 31:30).

      • http://finallyhuman.com Ian

        We are all members of one body, we treat those which are weaker with special care…. (1 Cor. 12)

    • AllenD

      “We depend on Christ’s body, the church, for our righteousness”

      No, we depend on Christ’s death for our righteousness. He took our sins upon himself, while we took on his righteous life. This is the ONLY way we can be deemed righteous before God.

      • http://finallyhuman.com Ian

        If that’s all the Gospel is, it’s imaginary and has no impact on our existential existence.

        Moment by moment, we depend on God’s mercy and grace in Christ who is present in this world through the Church which is his body. Because we are members of the church, our brothers and sisters ought to defend us and care for us, and we ought to defend and care for them.

        • AllenD

          I totally agree with you here. But this has nothing to do with what we depend on for our righteousness. While our righteousness is based upon Christ’s life and death, we do need one another for encouragement and accountability. This does not mean our righteousness comes from accountability. For if we fail in this life, we are still righteous in God’s eyes because of Christ’s life. We do not have accountability to gain righteousness.

          I read a little of your blog post on this article and it seems you really don’t like the pastoral requirement passages Paul writes to Timothy. I’m assuming you do believe in biblical authority. So I wanted to ask what you think those passages are for if you do not think we need to stick to them

          • http://finallyhuman.com Ian

            I didn’t say I didn’t like them. I do not read them in isolation. They are to be read in the context of the Church, that is the community whom God is fashioning into his own bride. I do not like the way, in this article particularly, it has become a personal burden. Instead it’s as if Paul is saying that the leaders ought to model what God is doing in the church.

            We can’t demand our pastors stick to a legalistic set of rules by themselves. Rather we ought to be obedient to God and support our pastors as we support one another.

            • Matthew

              Ian-Your comments are thoughtful. You state that “its as if Paul is saying that the leaders ought to model what God is doing in the church.” It is true that leaders are to set a standard that can be followed. As Paul said to Timothy,”Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity…Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 1 Tim 4:12&15.”

              But he also said to him to “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Tim 4:16

              The Pastor/Elder/Bishop are part of the body, with a unique responsibility. They are gifts to the body from God-Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

              So, these men have a responsibility to prepare the people of God for service. These men have many responsibilites but the main one is to insruct the people of God from the scriptures. Because of this responsibility, God holds them to a high standard, just as the people they care for should hold them to a high standard. That is why Paul said that when an accusation is brought against an elder it must come by 2-3 witness. 1 Timothy 5:19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

              The entire body pastor/sheep are both called to be holy. But scripture teaches that God gifts to the church are to be held at a high standard and when they sin are to be rebuked publicly.

              These are not legalistic set of rules. These are the standards that God has set for his leaders, they are communicators of the holy scriptures and their life must line up with what is taught in the scriptures.

              We must hold them to the standard and they must hold us to that standard also for the glory of God.

    • http://toddpruitt.blogspot.com Todd Pruitt

      Please demonstrate from Scripture that personal responsibility for sin is unbiblical.

    • http://www.portaloffaith.org DA

      I couldn’t agree with your comments more. There are a number of absurdities presented in this article. First of all, when it comes to accountability the only scriptural instructions regarding elders, is that elders counsel, guide and restore others. Part of the challenge these days, is that we have embraced a “gospel” that is built not on the foundations of hebraic thought, but has been designed and implemented based on a Roman/Greco system. We keep talking about the church and the gospel when what we really need to do is examine our understanding of both in the light of the person of Christ not the mythological concept so often presented in Western Christianity.

  • http://www.studyyourbibleonline.com Wesley Walker

    I think there is a difference between being graceless and holding people accountable. Christian Leaders are still recipients of God’s grace. The still are given the blessings of salvation, but a lack of self-control and blatant sin could disqualify someone from service.

    It is hard to hear that we are unworthy to serve God in certain capacities, but sometimes that is the case.

    • http://finallyhuman.com Ian

      When David slept with Bathsheba, he abdicated his throne as king of Israel. Everyone knows that.

  • Chad

    Eddie Long jumped the shark a long time before these allegations were made. His marriages, his theology, & his oppulent lifestyle all point to something other than Christ.

  • Ryan

    So Ian it is “absurd” that one is responsible for there actions? Wow not sure you want to take this to its logical conclusion. If i molest a child then all I have to say is, “its absurd you cops want to charge me with a crime, I was abused as a child.”

    Granted, when we are sinned against we are more prone to go and sin against others, but the sin against others is still our responsibility.

  • Melissa W.

    So if Bishop Long was seen publicly drunk at a dinner party or admitted that he’s been harboring idolatry of money in his heart, would we still be asking him (or any other pastor) to leave the pastorate forever as it appears this essay suggests?

  • http://www.cityhopeoutreach.com Phillip

    Very well written, Eric. I think for some of us commenting, we are missing the point which is accountability between brothers and sisters in Christ. Any man or woman whose sin comes to light apart from their own confession is damaging. Mr. Redmond is right concerning the context of African Americans and the lack of holding each other accountable and fidelity to the Gospel.

    I hope the people of New Birth will take the route of both grace and truth and serve Long and his family well.

  • Anthony

    I understand and agree with most of the article from Pastor Redmond. But, it appears that most of the comments from fellow readers are assuming that Bishop Long is guilty of these accusations. The church must have pastoral accountability but we also must exercise patience.

  • jd

    Ian, is it really Absurd that a ‘pastor’ should be held accountable?
    Sinners can obviously be victims of the sins of others – but Biblically speaking they are not victims of their own sinfulness but active participants.

    Having been the recipient of a sinful action does not justify ones own sin in any way, though we are more often than not tempted to claim it as a ‘defense’ when it is more rightly called an excuse. Otherwise God would have given Adam and Eve a ‘pass’ since according to their account, it wasn’t their fault.

    I think that we all can understand that there can sometimes be a propensity for a child victim to follow after what has been done to them – but it is in no way justified – or excused by God’s Word.

    ‘Sociologically’ speaking, even man’s own laws recognize the responsibility of each person for their own actions. Justice has not been served when crimes are not punished because of real or alleged past wrongs done to the perpetrator of a crime.
    Being a ‘victim’ is not an instant claim to innocence, nor does it in anyway diminish the impact on society or the individual who is hurt by the wrongdoer…

    Regardless of what is done to us, we all choose to either obey or disobey God’s word or society’s law, even when we make a plea towards ‘passion’.

    You stated that Pastors are held to a standard of righteousness ‘all on their own’ – if I understand you correctly, I take that to mean that People idolize pastors and expect them not to be sinners – which is obviously not only unbiblical, but unrealistic… and I definitely agree with that understanding. Pastor worship is idolatry and as such is sinful…

    However, the Lord’s expectation and command for the pastor is well stated in the instructions given to them by Paul, Peter, James, Jude, John, and Jesus Himself. We are not left to stand on our own, in a righteousness of our own, nor on our own strength and wisdom. We have the Holy Spirit, God’s own word, and Prayer, and yes we do have our fellow believers. But if we who claim Christ as our King, will not be accountable to God – will we really be accountable to a man? And will a person who does not really take God seriously at His word not also deceive others?

    We pastors are certainly accountable for every word spoken, actions taken, motivations, and the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. Christ Himself said it would be better to have a millstone tied around our necks and be thrown into the depths, than to stumble (that is: to deceive or abuse) one of His flock.

    I do agree that many congregations have poorly cared for their pastors, but those will answer for it – just as the pastor will answer for himself.

    As a pastor I know this and must seek understanding and instruction from God who does not leave us without resource in these matters…

    Even though each Christian has the responsibility to seek out and follow the truth of the word for themselves (Deut 4:2), it in no way mitigates against the commandments and warnings to the pastors and leaders of the Church.

    If we take 1 Cor 5:11-13 seriously, we certainly would not let such a one known to be living a sinful lifestyle fellowship with us – we certainly would not let them preach to us! But such has been the capitulation of the Church – and the result that not just the Church is morally and ethically bankrupt, but the world is poorer because of it, because we lose our voice – no longer being credible in the court of the rational mind.

    To be honest, I never heard of Eddie Long before his name and organization hit the news. And as far as I’m concerned, it is a news story – nothing concerning has been proven so far, and he will answer to Christ for his actions as a man and a person who represents himself as a Christian, let alone as a ‘pastor’…

    As a Christian and a pastor, I will not stand up to defend him and thus take part in any sins he may have committed, but neither will I judge because I am outside the sphere of that situation, and ‘who am I to judge another Man’s servant’.

    When Church discipline is necessary we must undertake to do so with restoration in view for those who repent, lest the Church also be labeled as ‘unforgiving’ – and we be found hypocrites. But we must discipline, and openly with those who sin in the open…

    I am grieved and vexed that such a representation is being made to the world and giving the enemies of God what they think is an excuse to blaspheme His word and Name…

    They mock the Gospel of Christ because by the account of those who justify sin as ‘mistakes’ and ‘lifestyle choice’, therefore they are not sinners and so have no need for a Savior. Especially whose authority is in question with those who say they believe His word!

    The Gospel is the real issue at stake here.

    Ian, in regards to your referencing of David in your comments;
    I’m not sure that God knew David had abdicated his throne. Following David’s confession and repentance and after severely chastening him, He restored his throne to him… (And David was a king, not a priest…) Saul might have been your better example.

  • Mike

    My thoughts,

    First, JD thanks for your comments to Ian. To Ian I would say that several of the scriptures you used were not being applied properly in this situation. As JD points out David was a King not a priest, and moreover the Old Testament kingdom is not an exact analogy to the church.

    Also, the use of the weaker vessels from 1 Corinthians 12 is definitely not referring to the leaders or the elders.

    James 3:1 specific says that teachers are held to a higher standard, and Paul’s comments at the end of 1 Corinthians 5 also make it clear that we are supposed to judge people in the church. Elders (the same word Greek word is also translated bishop) have some very clear character qualities that their lives should exhibit. As a pastor, who is by no means perfect, I still take these character qualities very seriously for myself and also for other leaders.

    On the other side of this issue, I have to say that because the church provides an income for the pastor and his family, I think if a pastor does fall morally and they rightly are required to leave the pastorate, the church should make provision for at least temporarily taking care of the family while the pastor works through restoration. I really dislike the idea of setting a pastor up on a pedestal, me or anyone else, because it takes glory away from Christ, but it also removes the pastor from the body. When you ask them to step down, they are also often asked to leave the church, and stop getting an income. In other words, you treat their sin as a reason to cast them out of the body and to leave them destitute.

    This is not the proper response, and I think it does not encourage pastors to be honest with their temptations and sins because their lives and the lives of their families will be decimated. Should falling into sin mean complete ruin and lose of the body? What if the person is repentant? There should be a track where the pastor can admit failing and either be restored gently to some other position or helped to find other avenues while retaining the fellowship and love of the body. Unfortunately, the church has not traditionally been a place a grace and mercy for fallen pastors or regular people. What message does this kind of treatment of a pastor send to lay people who are struggling with sin? Better not admit my faults. Better put on the mask and play the game.

    A solution might be that leaders remain humble and vulnerable, and that people not look to them as the perfect head but to Jesus.

    • Mike

      I want to clarify that when I talk about judging other Christians it is for the purpose of restoring them to proper fellowship with Christ and with the body. Not for the purpose of simply looking down on them. That is in fact what happened with the man in Corinth. He was judged and cast out, but then he repented and was welcomed back.

  • http://www.thinkpoint.wordpress.com Steve Cornell

    This discussion engages me because I am currently writing a book on how upbringing affects one’s life. Of course, the only thing we can change about the past is how we let it effect us in the future. But (thank God!) we can change! Victim mentality doubles and triples the loss of the one victimized. Will we wallow in our loss or flourish in God’s mercy? These are choices to be made by those who suffer.

    I agree that sin has spun a profoundly intricate web of complication and individual acts often have longer histories to them. In his confession, David acknowledged that his act of adultery flowed from his long history with sin “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me: ps. 51:5.

    Yes, we run the risk of sounding simplistic or reductionistic when laying down Biblical edicts against individual acts. Human behavior is more complicated than most realize http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2007/09/11/complex-sources-to-human-behavior/ . An example would be what we call acts of terrorism in the Middle East (one group against another). The history of violence in these places could lead the perpetrators of “terrorism” to see themselves as dispensers of justice for the wrongs done against them in the past. Realize, I am not justifying anything, just pointing to the complexities easily overlooked. A good book we should all read is “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be” by Plantinga.

    At the end of the day, actions must have consequences. In our judicial system (and may God help our judges!), renderings must be made each day. When a judge chooses to be merciful, he is “taking into consideration” mitigating realities. Think of these words: “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (james 2:13). Respect for human dignity should compel us to assume a full line of moral credit with each one who acts. Judges must treat criminals as morally culpable people unless some form of insanity can be clearly established. But, even in these cases, one must answer to some degree for one’s actions (for the safety of society). This discussion has particular application to the gay marriage debate (nature, nurture, etc…). But we cannot separate sexual behavior from human choosing http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/sexual-behavior-and-human-choosing/. Overall, I appreciate the piece by Redmond. His is a needed voice on these matters! I also appreciate the nuancing in the discussions.

    Thank God for the Cross of Christ. We owned a full line of moral credit that demanded consequences. Christ bore our sin! Mercy triumphed over judgment! We are forgiven–justified in Christ!

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  • Mari

    It is interesting how there are so many negative comments and granted that when someone in such a position falls, there are going to be great consequences. There is a guideline if you will of what a Pastor should be like, and how he should live his life in holiness but is he exempt from temptation? And why wouldn’t anyone believe in an attack from the enemy? Not only Pastors but almost any man in an authority position is tempted and with more reason he should be steadfast but is a title going to exempt you from weaknesses and being human? There is no justification from such an act but sometimes within the congregation we tend to act in a way that we show no compassion. Does God’s mercy stop because we mess up? His mercies are new everyday? I would think that there has to be support to allow healing. I have to be loving like how Jesus is loving towards me as He continues to forgive me when I fall. This situation happened really close to me and I couldn’t go back to church I felt everyone saw with a judgemental eye and my family was told to move far away

  • Mari

    It is interesting how there are so many negative comments and granted that when someone in such a position falls, there are going to be great consequences. There is a guideline if you will of what a Pastor should be like, and how he should live his life in holiness but is he exempt from temptation? And why wouldn’t anyone believe in an attack from the enemy? Not only Pastors but almost any man in an authority position is tempted and with more reason he should be steadfast but is a title going to exempt you from weaknesses and being human? There is no justification from such an act but sometimes within the congregation we tend to act in a way that we show no compassion. Does God’s mercy stop because we mess up? His mercies are new everyday? I would think that there has to be support to allow healing. I have to be loving like how Jesus is loving towards me as He continues to forgive me when I fall. This situation happened really close to me and I couldn’t go back to church I felt everyone saw with a judgemental eye and my family was told to move far away

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