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Clarifying Ministerial Disqualification in the Wake of the Return of Carl Lentz

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Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? - 1Timothy 3:2-5 (ESV)

It is seemingly another area of Christendom that there is widespread disagreement and confusion. What do we do when our leaders fall from grace? When a pastor we have all loved and respected has committed adultery or worse, what should our reaction be as the body of Christ? When we discover that Ravi Zacharias led a double life of massage parlors and prostitutes over many years and many countries, it reveals that many in the church would simply rather not know. How is it that Mark Driscoll is allowed anywhere near leading another church after stealing $250,000 in tithes from his previous church and escaping their church discipline? How was Ted Haggard allowed to lead another church, in the same state as his previous church, after being exposed for engaging in sex with a male prostitute for decades while doing crystal meth? Mind you, he was the head of the National Association of Evangelicals at the time and would routinely rail against the homosexual from the pulpit. I just read a story this week about a man still pastoring his church in Minnesota even though he married his son's ex-wife, who he started dating while she was still married! I am sure some shake their heads when I write about disqualification but dear Lord, can't we do better than this? Shouldn't we strive to?

For me it starts with what we truly value. What matters to us and what should be our concern. Unfortunately, the purpose driven church model of church growth has created cult of personality pastors throughout this country. People identify more with their pastor than with being part of the body of Christ. When I hear about a Carl Lentz or Brian Houston failing in ministry, I immediately reflect to the people that believed in them and followed. How many faiths were shipwrecked? How many will leave church disillusioned, never to return? How many were never actually saved to begin with because of the false gospel they had been fed before the leader fell? My concern is always the bloodied sheep, not the ravenous wolves. Most however seem far more concerned with how quickly their favorite speaker can get back behind the pulpit. That is even doing a disservice to the speaker as the primary problem they are facing is not restoration to their job but rather to their walk. People get confused with the very Christian concept of forgiveness. If Carl Lentz truly repents of sleeping with his children's babysitter in his wife's bed and the other affairs, then Christ can and is willing to forgive him. That has to do with his walk. If he never was saved, Christ is still willing to forgive him his sins! Hallelujah. That of course has nothing to do with his job because he is now disqualified from ministry.

The key verses today come from the listing of pastoral, or leadership requirements within God's church. I did not write it, God did! I do not understand why we dumb these down. It would seem pretty important that we follow these instructions. So now let us apply this to the recently "rehabilitated" Carl Lentz, who just recently took a job at Transformation Church in Oklahoma. Is Carl Lentz above reproach? Obviously not. Even in his mea culpa about what had happened he tries to shuffle some of the blame off on the press and "half-truths." His former girlfriends can tell us if he is the husband of one wife. Is Lentz now suddenly respectable? Has he handled his own household well? I can hear the protests already. But he's repented! Says who? Carl Lentz of course. I might add that deals with his walk, not his job. If he has repented, he has done so in order to be right with Christ, not to find employment. The bible already assures us that from a ministerial perspective he is disqualified. Consider this comparison. If we discovered that our neighbor was arrested for pedophilia and then came back after two years in jail but swearing that he had repented, and he could be trusted again - how many of you would allow your children to go over his house? Yet you have no problem accepting back as your under-shepherd here on earth, someone who led two or three lives just a couple of years ago because they swear, they are better now. If you find yourself reflexively wanting to say that is a bad comparison, then you need to look at how you value the person who is supposed to lead you spiritually here on earth.

Wait a minute preacher. Are you saying that once someone morally falls in ministry, they can never minster again? No. each situation is nuanced and should be dealt with separately. The Got Questions website identifies four outliers to deal with first. They are:

* A man who was divorced and remarried before he was saved and now seeks ordination.

* A pastor whose wife renounces the faith and abandons him, providing grounds for a biblical divorce.

* A pastor who had a one-night stand and resigned the church but who never divorced, instead working to rebuild his relationship with his wife.

* A pastor who had a year-long adulterous affair thirty years ago and has since led a blameless life.

The answer to the first issue is obvious. Jesus forgives our past when we first come to Him so there is no need to hold it against the man in this scenario. The second situation is a little murkier but if he genuinely tried to resolve the marital differences and was left with the biblical grounds for divorce, I fail to see how that can be held then against him. The third scenario is the same as Lentz, except this is being described as a one-night stand. Regardless, the nature of the sin is not different. I am happy the man in this instance truly repented and saved his marriage and walk. What we are left with then is how long? How long is enough to allow him to serve again in ministry? The same question exists for the fourth scenario.

My answer would be where are they trying to come back to and to do what? We must remember that these people not only "fell" but they did so very publicly. They were already preaching in the mega-church industrial complex. Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church had 15,000 congregants. Haggard's church had the same in Colorado. Carl Lentz ran Hillsong NYC. So, the issue is twofold. How much time has passed does matter. Driscoll took a couple of years off. Haggard took less. Lentz is about two years. The second issue is where they are coming back to. Carl Lentz has latched on to another heretical mega-church in Transformation Church to provide strategic vision. So please do not get things twisted. The issue has nothing to do with forgiving Carl Lentz. The issue is that in two years he claims to have repented, saved his marriage and is ready to return to work in the church but has chosen another apostate church!

Ministerial qualifications, such as those in the key verses do not have an exception. It's not like God is saying you must meet these criteria unless you claim to be penitent for already breaking them! I want to be clear now beloved. If Carl Lentz started attending a local church to be fed and was restored in his walk and at some point, possibly return to some form of ministry (not being the pastor) I would probably not object because in that scenario he is making it about God.

That is not what we have, however. Instead, we had a headlined article at Charisma News about his triumphant return to serving in a mega church. Carl went out of his way to insist that it is not a ministerial position but c'mon. Providing strategic vision for a church serving over 5000 people per week is certainly a ministerial leadership position. In that article was not a whiff of true regret but rather a poor attempt to split the bill and pretend the media was behind his decisions to cheat on his wife, multiple times. To bring it back full circle, my concern at this point are the bloody sheep Lentz left behind in NYC as well as those people his new gig will directly affect in Oklahoma. Again, if Carl Lentz showed up in a service, repentant of his sins, we would welcome him as a brother as per the bible. If he showed up however with his resume in hand and blaming others for his choices? Yeah, he does not get the keys to sheep pen again.

Reverend Anthony Wade - May 17, 2023

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Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to (more...)
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