". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Troubling Viewpoint

There is a sentiment that I often see expressed these days among some of my fellow Lutherans. It is that those who have fallen into very serious, life-shattering sin have a better understanding of sin, and therefore grace, than those who just plug along contending with a particular temptation without acting it out. An extension of this mindset is the idea that spiritual leaders who have committed one of these serious sins and have in the ensuing fallout "hit bottom" are better equipped to teach and preach about sin, repentance, grace, and forgiveness. (Side note: by serious, I mean serious in repercussions, not serious in substance, since before God all sin is the same in the effect of its separating us from Him. Sometimes the word that is used, especially in reference to ministers, is scandalous, representing the effect of the sin on the faith of others. See 1 Timothy 3.)

I think this is a dangerous way of thinking. In the first place, it minimizes the struggle of those who contend with inner sin without acting on it in an outer manner. Sin is sin, whether it's hidden or visible. We can sin in thought as well as in deed. The person who does the former, struggling day in and day out with temptation and sinful thoughts, can be just as well acquainted with the need for repentance and forgiveness as one who outwardly sins. So I think it is misguided to generalize about who better understands sin based on what we see on the outside.

Second, this way of thinking risks an odd sort of celebrating of one who has publicly sinned and publicly repented. Yes, we need to love the sinner. Yes, we need to embrace and care for one who has fallen, and repented, and is in desperate need of God's love and grace. Very often that love and grace are provided through the words and deeds of the Christian community who are called to put it into action. But I think we need to guard against turning such people, especially ministers, into examples, and assigning them special standing. It is especially risky to do so when young people, who are typically turned off by supposed hypocrisy, are involved. Our example should not be the one who has sinned. Our example should be the One who was sinless.


Anna Mussmann said...

I read both your post and this article today: http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2015/07/things-you-may-have-forgotten-you.html

The article doesn't directly address your point, but I think it's relevant to the overall discussion (and interesting).

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Anna. I did read that one and also saw the relevance to my concern here.

Rebekah said...

Late to the party, but I couldn't agree more. The way of thinking you describe is like the evil twin of the whole testimonial thing that was all the rage in Evangelicalism 20 years ago. At least those testimonies had the goal of comforting sinners in despair, rather than defaming those who stumble upon stumbling blocks. They grew from repentance and joy in the Gospel, not resentment and spite.

I thought this was a good post on the particular topic of pastors and the 6th commandment, from a pastor in the PCA: http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/1517/when-a-pastor-commits-adultery#.VbQTj_lViko

Cheryl said...

Thanks for the link, Rebekah!