Why 400 Pastors Resigned Last Sunday
The Denison Forum blog (www.denisonforum.org) is estimating that 400 US clergy resigned their positions last Sunday in the wake of the Ashley Madison* hacking incident, when hundreds of thousands of e-mail addresses, sexual fantasies and other material was exposed. No doubt more information will continue to flow out in the weeks ahead, much of it from Christian people visiting the site.One exposed pastor wrote, “My goal was not to gather research for critical commentary, but to fan the flames of my imagination….I was there long enough to leave an old e-mail address. And within minutes, I left, never to return.” He then wrote, “I did not sign up for their service or (sic) interact with any clients. I have always remained faithful to my wife, even after her passing.” (in 2011). Whether these words involve factual recounting or self-justification, or some of both, I will let you decide.
We have entered a new era in the American church. While talking to Christian leaders of all stripes in recent months, one theme has emerged in every conversation. It is the collapse of Judeo-Christian culture resulting in increasing pressure upon all Christians, but particularly upon Christian leaders. This pressure is coming from two primary areas, one external and the other internal.
The Apostle Peter addresses both in 1 Peter 4. The first kind of pressure comes from outside in the form of persecution.
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Rather than fret too much about the reasons for the persecution, Peter turns the primary focus to accepting the sufferings of Christ as part of being joined with Him. After all, we serve a crucified, rejected Savior. “Don’t think it is strange! You are blessed in sharing this with Him. In fact, it is a sign that God’s very presence rests upon you.” The Apostle Paul wrote similarly when he stated, “All who seek to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12. For Christians, persecution is normal. A life of ease is not.
The rest of the Christian world (see Iraq and Syria today) are accustomed to this struggle, as was much of the church world until about the 1950’s. Though persecution has increased since the 1980’s, much of it has been confined to the developing world. We need more teaching and equipping today for living the life of persecution in America. Whether persecution involves the eroding of constitutional rights or outright opposition, the persecution is here and it is accelerating.
But Peter goes on to address the other area of pressure: It is our own sin and God’s design to expose it, judge it and remove it.
4:15, 17a If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler…For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household;
The Greek word “krisis” can be translated both “crisis” and “judgment.” Both these words evoke the idea of pressure. When you exert pressure on your toothpaste tube in the morning, what is inside comes out. By the time the pressure comes, it is too late to change what is inside. When the pressure of temptation comes upon us, whether from the approach of sin or more usually from our own evil desires, (James 1:14) the cracks in our soul begin to come under pressure. Our character defects and go-to sin patterns are stressed, then exposed. But as Christians today, we are masters at minimizing, justifying, and obfuscating. Instead of calling our idol worship what it is, we chalk up our behavior to a “mistake,” a one-time bad decision. We tell ourselves and others, “I only went so far. I didn’t go as far as so and so did. It was the first time I visited the site.” But something within us knows it is part of a larger pattern. The person pulled over on Saturday night for drunk driving didn’t suddenly decide to have one too many. A chain of bad decisions paved the way.
How do we read words such as these today?
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”[a]
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”[b]
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”[c]
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”[d]
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”[e]
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”[f] Romans 3:12-18
Paul is describing humanity in its entirety here. In fact, he is speaking to and about religious people. (Jews in this case.) But somehow we think, “These words apply to someone else, or to me before I was a Christian.” We lie to ourselves and others about our motivations, our corruption, even our activities. In fact, the above words apply to all of us, to one extent or another, acknowledged or not.
One thing I have observed in nearly a quarter century in recovery from my own sexual brokenness. Those who tell others how well they are doing often have little sexual sobriety, while those who share about their weaknesses and temptations often experience long-term freedom. Why is this? It is because we use tongues that “practice deceit” to fend off having to accept the truth about ourselves. Either we are selling ourselves and others a false message about our goodness or we are being honest about our innate weakness and relying on the daily bread of God’s grace and mercy. In my experience, there is not much middle ground. We are either the Pharisee or the Publican. (Luke 18:9-14) And we can be the opposite the next day.
The so-called momentary lapse reveals who we truly are, which is what we are doing when no one is looking. Today, because internet use is mostly a private activity, it is like a mirror, exposing us on a daily, hourly basis. It is God’s hammer and a tool for God’s shining light, exposing both the brokenness and the darkness in our hearts. The church is being judged and cleansed. There is nothing you or I can do to stop it. We are all going to be exposed sooner or later. Either now, in the near future or at the last day.
Wouldn’t we rather be known for who we really are? At least then, we can have hope for change. Reading and meditating on Psalms 32 and 51 might be a good place to start. But we cannot do this alone. As 1 John teaches, this is a “we” activity, not an “I” activity. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” John 1:7 One of the things we might discover when we open ourselves to others is that we are all pretty much the same inside. In all cases, Living Without Lust is here to help with understanding and compassion. We have no righteousness of our own. We have been there. Most importantly have learned we don’t have to stay there.
Living Without Lust