One of the dangers within Christendom is the tendency of leaders/ministers to operate as if he or she is above reproach. At the risk of beating a dead horse, let me say that this describes the whole Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill Church affair to a tee. No, I am not writing a post about it. Sometimes in the game of life (football) the most strategic thing to do is to punt. There have been others better equipped than me who have written top-notch articles about the Driscoll/Mars Hill saga. For my readers and followers who desire to know more, then feel free to engage the links here, here, and here. The first two come from the angle of “life lessons to be heeded”; however, the last link provides play-by-play coverage of things ongoing as I type this post. Let me get back on track.
Christendom is a term that describes the church at large across all denominations and persuasions. I know that the very first sentence in the preceding paragraph reeks of generalization; however, the Driscoll/Mars Hill saga is not confined to the Protestant community. The Roman Catholic Church has a horrendous black eye with respect to turning a blind-eye or even aiding and abetting priests guilty of child molestation. For whatever the reason, some priests, ministers, and the like succumb to the corrupting belief that they are above morals and ethics. This perspective is so heinous and unchristian, yet it is also beyond tantalizing for some. Here is a passage from the New Testament, which I will quote from two different translations:
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16, NIV).
“Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Timothy 4:16, NET).
Two words come to mind after reading those different renditions: sobering and powerful. The context of the above quoted scriptures has to do with the apostle Paul exhorting and warning his ministry successor, young Timothy, about what to expect. An appropriate analogy is that of the father-son relationship. Paul has discipled or fathered Timothy in accordance with the scriptures, the gospel, and so forth. Both men served alongside each other through the various missionary journeys recounted in the book of Acts in order to preach the gospel and plant churches throughout Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). When Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, the time for exiting this world was close at hand; therefore, he has important truths, warnings, and encouragements to convey to Timothy.
Like any compassionate parent, Paul has things weighing on his heart for Timothy. He knows that the days ahead will grow tougher and rougher for gospel ministry (1 Tim. 4:1-2, ESV). This is the soil for the apostle Paul to exhort young Timothy with perseverance regarding the maintenance of sound doctrine and a life built upon the solid ground of sound teaching. It is very commonplace today to hear folks mouth the saying, “It’s not what you believe, but how you behave that matters.” There is a kernel of truth within that statement, but it creates a false dichotomy between belief and action. Let me explain what I mean. Someone may say to me, “But, Matthew, your actions do speak louder than words.” Now, I wholeheartedly affirm the truth that my actions toward others matter a great deal. If I may go even one step further, my personal conviction is that all people will be judged one day for their deeds (Revelation 20:12-13, ESV). That being said, there is something important about believing in accordance with the truth.
What I want to suggest is that my beliefs and values lead to thoughts, words, and actions that illustrate them. Another way to express this is that my behavior grows out of the soil of my heart where my beliefs and values dwell. Jesus taught this truth as he castigated the religious leaders of his day: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35, ESV). Based on Christ’s words, it is clear that the heart of a person controls his mouth and life. It is my contention that the apostle Paul understood these words of Jesus. He exhorts Timothy to “Watch [his] life and doctrine,” in order to preserve those under his care and himself (1 Tim. 4:16a, NIV). This seems to suggest that a truly compassionate and loving shepherd of souls takes responsibility for what germinates within his heart (Hebrews 13:17, ESV).
One word sums up this whole piece: accountability. At the end of the day, priests, pastors, lay ministers, bible scholars, and congregants remain human beings. It does not matter if these men and women have been born again. No one is exempt from the watchful and loving eyes of another brother or sister in Christ. If anyone wants to know why church leaders succumb to moral failure, it is due in some measure to a lack of accountability. Those leaders who isolate and insulate themselves are not fit to remain in leadership positions within the church. Another red flag is the type of pride that drives church leaders to orchestrate policies and practices that exempt themselves from being transparent to other leaders and the laity. For example, what is the point of this verse, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches,” if there is no genuine rapport between the leaders and those lead by them (Galatians 6:6, ESV)? This verse presupposes the fact that the laity have been benefiting from their leaders; therefore, the apostle Paul exhorts the Galatian Christians to share those good things.
If the Galatians needed to hear this exhortation about sharing the good things from their leaders, then I believe it works the other way with respect to poor teaching and living. I think it goes without saying that those who sit in the pews must own their faith by examining what is taught from the pulpit. For example, the book of Acts contains a wonderful vignette of the Bereans, who examined the teachings of Paul and Silas (Acts 17:10-12, ESV). This account reveals a few things. First, it illustrates the humility of Paul and Silas to undergo such scrutiny, which serves as a model for anyone and everyone who aspires to lead God’s people. Second, the writer of the book of Acts, Dr. Luke, includes this in his narrative, thereby keeping it as a record for all Christians present and future. Lastly, if the Bereans were too caught up on having the right theology or doctrine, then how come Luke’s words were so favorable toward them? Here is another question that flows out from the previous one: what is the lesson that God wants his people to learn from the Bereans? Oh, Lord, grant us the discipline to search the scriptures, to pursue community with other believers, and to remain humble.