Today I read a book review about Michael Cheshire’s new book “Why we eat our own” and then an article by Michael entitled “Going To Hell with Ted Haggard.” While both retell portions of Michael’s experience in dealing with the controversy surrounding his involvement with Ted Haggard there is a subtle difference in the tone of these articles that I believe makes a world of difference. I don’t know how accurately this review conveys the content of his book but, after reading this review, I had very mixed feelings about the premise of his book. Afterwards I read Michael’s article and I began to wonder how accurately the book review had conveyed the contents of his book. I truly hope that Michael’s article is the better reflection of the contents of his book.
The book review seems to suggest that leaders who have fallen into serious sin should retain their positions if they repent but the article acknowledges that Ted Haggard’s resignation was a proper step towards repentance; the latter is almost always the proper response. I cannot more enthusiastically agree with the premise of both articles that a person who has sinned and truly repented should be embraced by their church; this reflects the very heart of the gospel message. However, to suggest that leaders, who have fallen into sin, should keep their roles and responsibilities within the church is not biblical. While it is unquestionably true that churches in every age, like the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 2), have frequently mishandled situations after their members repented from sin, in our generation it has become increasingly vogue to accuse any church that dares to confront sin of being themselves sinfully judgmental and unloving and this is frequently a false accusation that is just as damaging and hurtful to the body of Christ. Too often we have mistakenly assumed that “forgiveness” means setting aside all consequences for past sin and we have forgotten that often the most loving thing a church can do, both for the sinner and for the church, is respond to sin within the body with appropriate and just consequences (like a loving father responds with correction to the sins of his children).
Yes, it is true that a repentant sinner should be both loved and embraced by their church but it does not follow that those who have fallen into sin should also continue in their prior positions and roles within the church. In many cases the process of restoration should bring them to a place where they can again serve in their prior roles at some time in the future but a church that fails to remove from leadership those who have fallen into serious sin (repentant or not) is not serving either the fallen leader or the church body. I think we all intuitively recognize that some sinful actions really do disqualify a person from certain areas of service in the church. We would not (I hope) again place a man who had molested a child in charge of our children’s ministry even if he had repented. Such a man should be loved and embraced by his church and be provided opportunities to serve within the church but his sin must disqualify him from some areas of service. If we take seriously the guidelines for leadership in the church given to us (1 Tim. 3), then we must recognize that leaving those who have fallen into serious sin in leadership positions is both unbiblical and potentially damaging to both the one who has sinned and the church body they serve.
Not having read Michael’s new book “Why we eat our own,” I cannot say where his book falls on this issue but it is my hope that it is much more in line with his article than it is with this book review. The difference between these two positions is subtle but it is an important difference that we should understand.