By S. Leonard Tyler
We are dealing with a very weighty, explosive and, yet vital proposition. A preacher sins, recognizes his terrible transgression, sincerely repents, confesses his sin, asks forgiveness, prays to the Father and gives every manifestation of reparation. How can he get back into preaching? Every Christian and local church may well have to deal with this proposition. Each one, properly understanding, should desire to act scripturally, lovingly and with due consideration toward the offended, offender, babes in Christ and innocent victims, in order that proper correctional measures can be followed for the edification and salvation of all. If any action should be impartial, unselfish and absolutely harmonious with the Lord’s directions, this proposition deserves full consideration. It deserves our most sincere and reverent concern and action.
Some Thoughts To Consider
1. Can Christians single out any one work of the Lord and classify all who participated as a special group with special laws, demanding special treatment or judgment? Special treatment and judgment must not be confused with special qualifications required of elders or deacons (1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1). Should not each Christians be impartially judged and accepted or rejected as faithful or unfaithful, according to the truth? Paul teaches that God will s o judge, “Who will render to every man according to his deeds …. For there is no respect of persons with God …. Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil . . . . But glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile” (Rom. 2:5-11; see also Eph. 5:3-7).
2. Can Christians (scripturally) classify sin as big and little, forgivable and unforgivable, or “mortal and venial”? Is stealing a little car of less consequence than stealing a big car? Is drunkenness less damning than lying, stealing, fornication or adultery (Gal. 5:19-21)? “Sin is lawlessness … a transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). The consequence of sin when it is finished or “full grown,” regardless of the person, place served, or work done in the church, is death (Jas. 1: 13-15). If and when one sins, God’s law determines the consequences or correctional measures applicable to any of His children.
3. Can Christians (scripturally) evaluate the sins of a person, according to the place filled or work done in the church, and thereby regulate the discipline accordingly (Gal. 6:7-8)? The response to this is usually clear and correct, but the execution of it is apt to follow afar off. Their reasoning seems to be, if the person sinning is an “ordinary” member, he should be entreated, taught respecting the wrong, and advised as to what the Lord’s word teaches one to do in order that he may be forgiven. When and if one submits, the church must forgive him, accept him, encourage him and rejoice with him in the Lord (Luke 15:7, 10, 32). But if he is an elder, deacon, preacher or a child of one of these, what then? “My brethren, have not the. faith of our Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons” (Jas. 2:1).
What Is A Preacher?
This question is deliberately asked to impress and focus attention. There are many and varied concepts regarding the definition, work and position of a preacher. The varied concepts lead to corrupt attitudes, mixed feelings and divided actions. Some deliberately and emphatically state, “I don’t think a preacher is any smarter, better, more righteous or holier than I or any other Christian.” I am inclined to agree. But isn’t it a little peculiar that, if some transgression is committed, this same person will cry out, “And he was a preacher!” “She was a preacher’s wife (or son or daughter)!” Is a preacher, his wife, son or daughter in a special class, with special laws, demanding special judgment or discipline? Are these to receive different correctional measures? Does God look upon preachers and their families differently from other Christians? One replies, “But he should know better.” Shouldn’t you? There can be no doubt but that maturity, wisdom, knowledge, and experience have much to do with one’s evaluation and emotional actions toward any situation or problem. But is not this true regarding any and all Christians (Heb. 5:12-14)?
This kind of reasoning classifies the preacher and his family as in a special-group, with special laws, demanding special judgment and treatment. Is not this whole approach or philosophy of human origin? It certainly is not biblical? The Lord’s people, His church, is not divided up into “the clergy and laity.” Some preach, teach, serve as elders, deacons or janitors but we are all servants, saints, Christians and brethren in Christ (Gal. 3:26-29). We all live and are amenable to the same Lord under one law, “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). We are individually responsible to Christ, as Paul wrote of himself, “Being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). Each Christian is to fill his place and use his ability to the glory of God, if he receives the salvation “ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:1,9; 1 Cor. 9:12).
The preacher is a Christian, for the same reason you are, to be saved. He became a Christian, just as you did, through faith, repentance and baptism (Mark 16;15-16; Acts 2:38-41; Gal. 3:26-27). Therefore, being added to the church, he is a member just as others, with the same blessings, obligations, opportunities and responsibilities (Acts 2:27; 1 Cor. 12:18). “But now are they many members, yet but one body . . . . Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Cor. 12:20,27). He preaches but that does not scripturally change him into some “professional” to be “doctored or reverend” or treated with awesome respect nor as a “half-citizen” or “adopted servant” or “a hired hand.” We are workers together with God not as the “high and low, boss and servant” but as faithful servants of Jesus Christ our Savior (2 Cor. 6:1). God has so designed the body “that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:24-25). Jesus said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23:8-12).
Sin And The Consequence
If ever the pieces are to be brought together, all involved must confront the reality that scattered them. “Sin is to blame for it all.” Sin is destructive and damnable (Isa. 59:1-2; Rom. 6:23). Sin can, and is the only thing that can, cause one to be eternally lost (Ezek. 18:4,20; Jas. 1: 13-15; Rev. 20:11-15). All should recognize sin for what it is and what it will do! The sooner one learns this, the more fortunate he is. The Lord’s word will supply this information (Jn. 8:31-32). Paul said that he did not know sin, but the law came and sin appeared very sinful (Rom. 7:7-14). When Jesus promised His apostles the Holy Spirit, He said, “He will reprove (convict) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). The real tragedy is that every heartache, sorrow, broken home and even death caused by sin today is but a foretaste of the terrible consequences to come in the eternal world (Matt. 25:41,46).
Therefore, no effort is made to lighten or cover sin’s ugly face or disastrous consequences. To do so would be more tragic and inhumane than camouflaging a fateful pit which might cause a little child to plunge to an agonizing death. The Scriptures identifies the sin, that all must watchfully guard, for she lurks on every side beautifully dressed, with radiant personality, and enticing appeal (Prov. 6-20-35; 7:5-27; 9:13-18). Here are some of them:
(1) That which is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). (2) “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). (3) To follow one’s lust, is to sin (Jas. 1: 14-15). (4) The one who knows to do good and does not do it sins (Jas. 1:17). (5) Whosoever transgresses God’s law sins (1 Jn. 3:4). (6) There is the sin unto death and sins not unto death (1 Jn. 5:16). (7) “All unrighteousness is sin” (1 Jn. 5:17). (8) Paul lists sins and their consequences in Galatians 5:19-21 (see also Eph. 5:3-7) with “and such like” which means things of like fashion or some class or kind. It also includes all unrighteousness, although not specified in this text, and adds, “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Therefore, preachers, being human, are tempted; they are subject and susceptible to sin. Much like Paul, each of us must buffet his own body and bring it into subjection to Christ’s teaching, “lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27). Brethren, never forget that you are human and keep Paul’s warning ever before you, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:13). All Christians should remember that preachers are just as other Christians, human and prone to sin. Deal with them in the same spirit that you deal with others. I hasten to say, preachers, don’t stop preaching because you have sinned. Stop sinning, make things right, regardless of the cost, and keep preaching.
What Must A Preacher Do When He Commits Sin?
This question is relative to “Putting The Pieces Back Together.” It seems that, in matters like these, our understanding gets so far ahead of our practice that we think that it is applicable only to others. We need carefully to observe two passages: “Cast out first the beam out of thine own eye,” and “He that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (Luke 6:42b; Jas. 4:17).
We are studying about real people being Christians and understand that, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). John wrote “that ye sin not, and if any man sin, we have an advocate with Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). Thus all have sinned and must of necessity be forgiven, if they are ever saved. There are no exceptions. Therefore, whosoever sins – whether he be an elder, deacon, teacher, house cleaner or preacher – must comply with God’s divine arrangement to be forgiven (2 Pet. 3:9). When one complies with God’s divine plan, God will forgive him and the local church must also forgive, receive and encourage him to go on to perfection.
Simon the sorcerer sinned and was in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. He had neither part nor lot “in this matter.” But he was told what he should do and responded, “Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me” (Acts 8:13-24). Paul directed the Corinthians to forgive the adulterer after he had repented, “lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Cor. 2:6-11). If he will not repent and return unto the Lord, “deliver such a one to Satan for the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). James instructs us, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas. 5:16).
What Is Forgiveness?
It is not a toleration of sin. As Paul wrote the Corinthians, “Purge out therefore the old leaven . . . . A little leaven leaventh the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:5,6,7). Sin is corrupting and contagious; if tolerated, it will contaminate the whole church. “Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth” (Jas. 3:5).
No Christian should flauntingly display his piety, purity or righteousness to condemn and execute judgment upon an erring child of God (Gal. 6:1). Neither must Christians overlook or intentionally minimize sin. Let sin appear sinful, condemning as it really is, so the victim can understand and be brought to repentance for his salvation (Rom. 6:23; Jas. 5:16; 1 Pet. 1:3-9). The first consideration given for going to one who has trespassed against you, or one who is overtaken in a fault, is to save that person (Matt. 18;15; Luke 17:3; Gal. 6:1).
A good definition of forgiveness is, “An attitude of heart which erases the deed or sin, and restores the offender to the former state and affection of the offended one.” Forgiveness, to me, means as the writer states in Hebrews 10:17, “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” So far as you are concerned, his sins are as never committed. One must never bring them up again.
Jesus said, “If thy brother trespass against thee rebuke him: if he repents forgive him” (Luke 17:3). Which is more important, “Rebuke him” or “Forgive him”? How many times should one forgive another? If he repents seven times in one day and asks forgiveness, “forgive him” (Luke 17:4), and Matthew adds, “Until seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). 1 can well understand why the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” Jesus is not minimizing sin or justifying the sinner. He is teaching forgiveness. We must forgive to be forgiven (Matt. 6:12,14,15). The way brethren and local churches teach and act regarding a preacher who sins, will have much to do with his “getting the pieces back together,” saving his soul, ability, knowledge and experience for the good of all.
What about Peter? He was wrong. Paul withstood him at the face but he did it to help Peter get right and keep preaching (Gal. 2:11-14). Apollos was doctrinally wrong. He was taught the way of the Lord more perfectly and sent on his way – preaching Jesus (Acts 18:24-19:1-5).
Finally, it seems to me, there can be no question about what attitude Christians must have toward a brother who manifests sincere repentance and the reparation of life. It must be an attitude of forgiving, receiving, encouraging and rejoicing in the Lord. For this our brother was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Let us make merry and rejoice with the angels of heaven (Luke 15:7,10,21-24). May the elder brothers, as given in Luke 15, be few and may they learn before it is eternally too late, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 5:15).
When Can A Preacher Get Back To Preaching?
This is not an imaginative, fictitious question. I only wish it were. But its reality touches almost every Christian’s heart and many local churches. It challenges the strongest and the weak blunder over it. The mature Christian, “who by reason of use have their sense exercised to discern both good and evil,” should come to the aid of the weaker ones (Heb. 4:14; 1 Cor. 14:22-23). We need to learn that God forgives His child when he sincerely repents and complies with His will – or none of us, no not one, can be saved. How wonderful! God will forgive us! But what about our forgiving our brother? If one refuses or claims inability to forgive, can he expect to be forgiven (Matt. 6:15)?
One may exclaim, but fornication is involved! Jesus forgave the woman of John 8:11. Paul taught the Corinthians to forgive the adulterer and said that he would also forgive him upon repentance (1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:7). One should also note: Paul did not teach that only fornicators are to be disciplined. Read 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 and Paul’s conclusion takes meaning, “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” But, if he repents, forgive him – preacher or whoever!
Does this mean that he should continue preaching at the same place? Forgiveness must be granted but other circumstances, people and weaknesses must be considered. The preacher or any one, who sins and voluntarily repents and humbly obeys God’s will, will be forgiven by God. If and when this is done, do I or the local church have a choice in the matter but to forgive, receive, and encourage to please the Lord? If God forgives one, who am,I to withstand God (Acts 5:39; 11:17). He is freed from guilt, his birth right restored; we must accept him in the same manner (1 Jn. 1:9). But what about his influence in the church and community where the sin was committed and stamped deeply into every heart?
The local church must make the decision. The decision should be determined in consideration of the prevailing circumstances and conditions surrounding the whole affair. What is most edifying for the cause of the Lord, the church: To keep him? Or let him go to another community? This is not running away from sin. The sin is forgiven and must not be brought up ever again, but his influence is lost before the church and community. A preacher should be strong in the faith, example in life, and pure in character; but the sinning brother has destroyed his influence in this respect. He must rebuild, establish himself, again in the hearts of these people to be an example (1 Tim. 4:12). This may lead through fiery trials of his faith but it must be done with patience, love, and sincere desire (1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:7; 2 Cor. 4:17, James 1:34).
The preacher should understand this and recognize the need for him to remove himself for at least a while. His is not limited to one community in which to work. If he is sincere, honest and understanding, I believe that he will quietly, gracefully, and, for the love of the Lord, move to another work.
Can he ever preach for this local church again? This is a matter of liberty and expediency and the local situation will weigh heavily upon the decision- If his sin caused a big uproar, confusion, much gossip and division, the judgment is very complicated. If, on the other hand, only a few were directly involved with little gossip, no division, handled wisely and the repentance touched the hearts and was gladly accepted by the church, it might soon be profitable for him to preach there again. The local church has the responsibility to make the decision. The church should seek to save and encourage the preacher, but the church is more important than any one person. Thus, the decision should be made with full consideration of all concerned and rendered for the good, edification, and salvation of all.
The fact that all Christians depend upon God to forgive them and are saved to help save others by teaching His word (2 Tim. 2:2), should make us humble, contrite in heart, and thankful. We must be careful lest we become as the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18;23-25) or like the church at Corinth, ignoring every sin in the Book (1 Cor. 5:1-2). We must act confidently and firmly, but lovingly and sacrificially toward all (1 Cor. 12:20-25). We prove our love through faithful service, seeking to save the lost and wanderers from the fold (Luke 15). We must stand with open doors and arms to any one who will listen to truth. We are not the Judge but servants (Jas. 4:11-12). Jesus invites all who will hear to come and promises them life (Rev. 22:17; Matt. 11:28). John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:8-9, NKJB).
Please read Romans 12:16-21 with the emphasis upon, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (2 Tim 4:5). “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). This will assemble the pieces and you, through faithful living and service, can put them back together. If God be for us who can stand against us? Pick up the pieces and go on unto perfection. Brethren, these need our prayers, forgiveness and help.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 1, pp. 17-20
January 5, 1984