Writing for Banner of Truth, the pastor of West Hartford’s Christ Community Presbyterian Church, Al Baker, takes on the tough topic of how best to deal with ministers who go astray.
“The fall of pastors into grievous sin evokes fear and trembling in the hearts of every pastor I know, including myself, because we know how capable we are of such evil,” he writes, admitting that no man walks blameless through life. We mean well, for the most part, but, damn, there are always lapses and temptations, even for men of the cloth.
So what should happen when a preacher falls short?
“Some would argue that since we serve a God of grace – citing the examples of Moses, Solomon, David, and Paul as men who were useful to God in spite of murder, adultery, and polygamy – fallen pastors, upon serving some period of discipline and giving evidence of repentance, can and should be welcomed back to pastoral ministry,” Baker writes.
Even so, Baker admits, “with fear and trembling,” that “pastors who admit to or are proven to have fallen into fornication, adultery, or who cannot break the hold of pornography on them are guilty of sin so heinous as to disqualify them from ordained ministry for life.”
“Perhaps you have known pastors who have fallen into sexual sin, repented, and been restored to pastoral office. Here’s my question to you – can you honestly say that you looked at the man with the same degree of confidence and holiness after his fall as you did before it?” Baker asks.
For him, sexual sin is too grievous to overcome and remain in the pulpit.
Aside from theological arguments, Baker also mentions the practical problems.
Assuming the pastor is sorrowful, he asks, “How does a church measure such repentance? Should he be suspended for one year, two years, five years? How many tears must he shed? How many hours of counseling should he and his wife undergo? How can a congregation be sure he will not fall again? How can he be trusted to counsel women in the church? Must a church which released its pastor due to sexual sin be obligated to share sordid details of his affair with a pulpit committee interviewing him for a pastoral position at their church? All of these practical questions and more make it exceedingly difficult to restore a man to a pastoral role after sexual sin.”
“This may seem harsh and unforgiving but I am not denying forgiveness. I am not denying that restoration to the church is possible. I am not denying that such a man can be useful in the life of the local church, for certainly all these things are possible and desirable,” Baker writes.
“Finally, if churches and denominations all held to this view, which by the way, most denominations in church history have done until the last fifty years or so, this would serve as a deterrent to men entering the gospel ministry. They would be more prone to think twice about sexual sin if they knew they could lose their livelihood from it.”
It’s interesting in its way to hear the thunder of righteousness come from a West Hartford preacher. I mean, this is a town that ranks tolerance well above godliness, for better or worse.
I don’t really know whether Rev. Baker is right or wrong. I’m sure good arguments can be made either way. What I found myself wondering is … what juicy little scandal prompted him to write this?