Beloved, stories like this are a joy to no one. Discernment ministries would prefer to rage on about doctrinal matters rather than peer into the sordid lives of fallen pastors. If we refuse to however we become complicit in their transgressions. The issue is not Ravi Zacharias. He will stand bare before Christ as we all will one day. What we have spent a lifetime hiding, Jesus will have already known. The issue is the cause of Christ, the advancement of His Gospel. The issue is what happens to those that followed Mr. Zacharias over all of these years. What happens to their faith? The second issue is what happens to the unbelievers who see this story and are driven further away from the only one who can save them? It is times like these when we need to take stock and reaffirm what we believe and what we need to do to improve. The fact that Ravi Zacharias was a weak man should hardly be surprising to anyone. We all are weak in this flesh. The fact that someone who appeared so pious was so horribly compromised should also not be of surprise. This is the same sin as James Baker, Jimmy Swaggart, Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, Tullian Tchividjian, Bob Coy, Carl Lentz and countless others. Not that they all sinned the same but rather that their power allowed them to do so with impunity.
That brings us to the first lesson we must take from this story. The purpose driven, seeker friendly models of church growth are unbiblical methods that grow cult of personality pastors who have little to no accountability. Now Paul goes into great detail about the qualifications for a pastor but the common refrain today is that these are unattainable. Nonsense. Moreover, Paul provides details about deacon (or elder) qualifications. These people are obviously considered integral and important for the proper leadership of God's church. Yet what are they primarily under the cult of personality pastorships? A rubber stamp of approval. Mark Driscoll stole $250,000 in tithe monies in order to cheat the NY Time best seller list and when asked about it his only defense is that the board approved the expense! A board he hand picked to never question him. Driscoll famously mocked the people he had hurt as being run over by the Mars Hill bus that he alone was driving. Even the board for RZIM admits and apologizes for not believing a woman who complained about Zacharias a few years earlier. They accepted Ravi's denial at face value and turned aside the victim, revictimizing her all over again.
The purpose driven church teaches that the sole job of the pastor is to be the vision casting CEO of their individual church. It encourages pastors to get rid of anyone who would dissent with this vision. Rick Warren refers to this as "blessed subtraction." When Mark Driscoll spoke about running people over with the Mars Hill bus he started by saying he was all about blessed subtraction. Here is today's painful theology for you pastor. That church is not yours. It belongs to the shepherd not the under shepherd. The vision comes from Jesus alone. That vision is found in the bible, not your January 1st sermon. According to the second chapter of Acts, God alone is responsible for the horizonal growth of your church. I remember counseling a local pastor once who was feeling down about some other local churches that have grown while his congregation remained steady around 200 folks for the twenty years he had preached. I told him the numbers were up to God. If He has ordained that you serve 200 people then you serve them to the best of your ability and always present the Gospel and you will hear well done my good and faithful servant. That is far better than having a mega church of 5000 with only handful truly saved. Do not lose sight of the fact that your doctrine determines their fate and you will be held accountable. Read Acts Chapter 20 and see what Paul says about the blood of the listeners at Ephesus not being on his head because he did not hesitate in proclaiming the entire Gospel to them!
The purpose of the board of a church is not merely to say yes to the pastor. The hearts of men are inherently wicked and deceitful. We cannot give that kind of power to anyone. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I assume Ravi Zacharias entered ministry with the best of intentions. I further assume that for awhile, maybe even a long time, he did the work of the Lord. Somewhere along the line however he became bigger than the Gospel he was called to serve. His cause started to supplant the cause of Christ. No one goes and buys Bangkok apartments on the first day. Power infiltrates insidiously into our lives. By the time some spoke up about the appearance of bringing a masseuse on international trips it was too late. By the time Mark Driscoll's board wanted to discipline him it was too late. By the time James MacDonald's board realized the Frankenstein they had created it was too late. We do not believe in situational ethics that change from circumstance to circumstance. Right and wrong are very clearly spelled out for us in the bible. What may seem like a harmless compromise today leads to more compromise. Either way we need to get back to the biblical qualifications for both pastors and elders. I am not saying that pastors should seek out disagreeable elders but they should at least find those that are willing to disagree when needed. For the second lesson let us consider these verses:
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. - 1Corinthians 3:1-9 (ESV)
The second lesson here is that we are not called to follow man. The Corinthian church had started to divide based upon their favorite teacher. Some say they followed Paul and other Apollos. Notice that Paul here says he cannot even address them as anything but spiritual infants - as people of the flesh! That is where much of the church is today. I follow Prince. I follow Warren. This is true even down to the local level where people worship their pastor more than Christ. Try pointing out to an Andy Stanley follower that he is heretical. Or Joel Osteen. Or Joyce Meyer. You may as well just bang your head against a brick wall. Rick Warren does not provide the growth! Brian Houston does not provide the growth! Your pastor does not provide the growth! God gives the growth! Not the growth of these false teachers mind you. They get their own growth by not preaching the Gospel. Rick Warren preaches to human needs. Osteen to our love for power. Creflo Dollar to our love of money. The passing of Ravi Zacharias and the exposure of who he really was requires us to protect the Gospel, not the man.
The last lesson for today is the reality of sin. In the modern church sin is a topic that is rarely discussed with any sincerity or biblical support. The reason why the secret life of Ravi Zacharias seems so devastating to many is not only the deification of the pastoral role but it is because we no longer have a healthy respect for sin. David said that he had to hide the word of God in his heart that he might not sin against the Lord. Yet in churches today we are more likely to hear a sermonette on how great we are than to hear about how wretched we are. We are much more likely to sing songs about how much God loves the heck out of us than we are to hear about how His blood covers our sin. The modern evangelical church is too busy decreeing and declaring with power they do not possess than to realize that the devil is picking them off one at a time. When asked about why he does not preach sin, Joel Osteen stated that people already know what they've done wrong. No Joel, we do not. Did it seem as if Ravi Zacharias knew? Maybe on some superficial level but not on a conviction level. A level that makes you stop and turn from the sin.
My pastor once taught me that any sermon that cannot be brought back to Calvary's cross is not worth preaching. He is right of course. So save your self help sermons because we cannot help ourselves. We are not sinners because we have sinned. No. We sin because we are sinners. Save your motivational speeches and your two sermon points and a cloud of dust. We need the real Gospel of Jesus Christ that teaches us not only that we need a savior but why. Leaders in the church need it just as much. They need true men and women of God who will stand by them. Not to say yes but say what sayeth the Lord. To protect them from the temptations of power and sin. To constantly point them back to scripture. In closing let me assure you that I speak from no place of conquering authority. I am just a sinner saved by grace. I have no illusions that without proper safeguards in my life I might give in to the temptations as Ravi Zacharias did, or Mark Driscoll, or James MacDonald. The devil knows what buttons to push on us all. Only an adherence to a personal relationship with Jesus through the reading of His word and ensuring true accountability at all of the carnal loopholes of our lives can we hope to stay true to our calling and our Savior Jesus Christ. There is a reason why the bible says we have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. There is a reason why God implores us all to finish our race strong. The story of Ravi Zacharias should shame us all as believers but hopefully we can learn from it. Do not let it pass without letting God speak to you through it.