Fall from Grace?

I just learned that Ted Haggard, former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado and past president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has returned from his “fall from grace.” What do you think? Should nationally recognized leaders who have been entrusted with so much power and persuasion be restored to leadership after habitual, deceptive, and sinful lifestyles? To learn more about this recent news read the ABC News exclusive or browse to Ted Haggard: Back in the Pulpit.

As I’ve done previously, I will repost my blog entry titled “On Haggard and Holiness”.


Wow…What a week it was in the news! Saddam Hussein sentenced to death, Episcopal Church sentenced to a new head bishop supporting same-sex marriage and ordination of gays, and Ted Haggard sentenced to church discipline, not to mention the shame of a fallen life! Did I miss anything? I’m sure I did.

My daughter, clearly distressed, calls me from Colorado Springs during this eventful week and says, “Dad, did you hear the news and what’s going on at New Life Church?” My response… “Yes, dear, I’m afraid that I have.” Since I worked for one who helped Haggard start New Life Church and lived less than a mile from it for years, I’ve been musing over this sad state of affairs and thought I’d jot down some thoughts.

First, if we take Mike Jones at his word (the one who allegedly had an affair with Haggard) and believe that he chose to expose Haggard’s immorality partly because of his distaste for hypocrisy, I think it is important to listen to him. Clearly, the world is watching and lifestyles must be in concert with beliefs! After all, letting our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and give God glory is about as good a motive as any to maintain integrity. Living a life of duplicity is never condoned in Scripture, and even the unbeliever can share this ethic (I suspect they do so because of the imago Dei within).

Second, since I’m advocating integrity, I suggest that Jones take a longer look at his own lifestyle as a male prostitute. It seems to me that he is opposing marriage of all kinds, same-sex or otherwise. Anyone who would market their sexual services to others has leveled a serious blow to faithfulness in all human relationships, homosexual or heterosexual. Therefore, Mr. Jones, take the plank out of your own eye before supposing to stand for marriage of all stripes. [Incidentally, I do not support gay marriage under any circumstances. My only point here is to show how prostitution destroys human relationships, no matter one’s sexual preference.] This does not mean of course that Jones, or any unbeliever, has no right to appeal to Christian ethics in sexual purity because he has not personally subscribed to it (ad hominem). It does clearly show that the world is watching God’s people and insisting upon integrity of lifestyle. They’re right!

Jesus had a great deal to say about hypocrisy. As is well known, a hypocrite was a play actor who held up various masks to portray a character in a Greek play. That role became the paradigmatic expression for living a life of discontinuity between beliefs and behavior. I suggest (and psychological analysis bears this out) that if one consistently lives inconsistently, some level of psychosis sets in and the resulting cognitive dissonance will destroy all hope of stable mental health. Pride does indeed go before a fall, but pretense goes before pride. Just look at the life of Saul, Israel’s first king!

The cure for hypocrisy? One word: Holiness. Believers must pursue a life that is motivated by and results in holy habits grounded in Scripture. Our eternity depends upon it and so does our happiness. As Spurgeon once said in his now classic All of Grace, “happiness comes from holiness.” Haggard’s fall comes straight from Hell and is nothing short of sin, which he has readily admitted, thankfully. But his fall is no doubt the product of pursuing happiness and fulfillment in the wrong directions. Augustine’s dictum rings eternally true that “the soul is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” Not only will one not see the Lord without holiness (Heb. 12:14), but there is no rest or happiness for our souls apart from integrous living. Moreover, our apologetic and the Gospel message itself fails apart from setting Christ as Lord in every area of our lives (1 Pt. 3:15-16), including sexuality.

Having served as a pastor for a short time, I know there is tremendous responsibility to live uprightly. And rightly so! Many in leadership, however, find that their “mere humanity” creeps in and subtly begins to erode their private lives, gradually and certainly destroying the “inner man.” Consequently, leaders often find themselves at a juncture: Either expose their sin asking for assistance from significantly mature brothers or sisters to hold them accountable for change, or relegate the matter to one’s “private life.” Sadly, and somewhat ironically, many in leadership take the latter option and end up living lives of isolation that beget duplicity, even while working in such a public arena!

It is true we all have private lives where none but God can go. “Each heart knows its own bitterness and no one else can share its joy” (Pr. 14:10). But, where appropriate, we must build some measure of transparecy into our lives and seek out a faithful, mature community of at least one other to hold us accountable on the road to holy living. Had Haggard sought help years ago, knowing his weaknesses and “dark side,” I’m confident the news would have turned out differently on this week.

Although we have this treasure in “jars of clay,” brittle and porous as it is, we are equally God’s “holy nation” and responsible to hold one another accountable, not out of harsh judgment, but out of love and grace to restore, rebuild, refresh, and renew one another for God’s glory. In doing so, we will walk with integrity and shine a bright light on the glorious Gospel of Jesus our Lord.

After all, the world IS watching!

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6 thoughts on “Fall from Grace?”

  1. Trying to be quick here….

    Paul, you brought up the example of a child molester showing signs of repentance and such, and wanting to return to children’s ministry. With the laws we have in place, and if he/she was convicted, this should be a very difficult thing to happen (Jessica’s law in most states – 20 year minimum). If they serve their time, then get out and are then monitored for however long (tagged via ankle… and limited in living near schools, etc)… the background check the church would/should do on everyone they hire, or bring in on a volunteer basis, would show this. This is the responsibility of the church, and it’s irresponsible not to do this. Especially for our children. But…

    If one chooses to not submit to the law, and his/her heart is wicked, then the sky’s the limit.

    I’m definitely for repercussions/consequences fitting the crime. After all, we’re to submit to the current laws and authority and they’re there for good reason.

    So, again, I completely agree there are repercussions to one’s poor choices and sin. So, concerning the question you raised:

    – – –
    Is there ever an instance or set of circumstances when church/ministry leaders who, having fallen into a sinful lifestyle, should be removed from that role?
    – – –

    I definitely say YES…. while assisting them in getting the help they need. And that’s not a flier handed to them on their way out the door containing the 10 commandments. It’s hand in hand.

    With that said, unfortunately, most churches really aren’t equipped to address and guide folks who struggle with addictions… especially sexual addictions. Sexual addiction (lust, masturbation, porn, prostitution, voyeurism, molestation, rape, etc) is the international white elephant. In and outside of the church. Especially addressing the early stages… where one gets hooked. This is what needs to be discussed openly.

    Situations like Ted’s scream to me the need for complete openness in accountability, with individuals who God provided who are safe. For the reason we often times don’t seek out truth from God, thru accountability with others, is FEAR of judgment (whispers from Satan in our guilt and shame and/or past experience within the body) or we simply don’t have a healthy FEAR of the Lord, and our ‘commitment’ to Him is not what we’ve convinced ourselves it is. Only the Lord knows the heart. Even our own. As individuals, we need to be proactive in asking the Lord to show us our heart… good and bad…. or we’ll continue to live in denial.

    I don’t know an addict who was disciplined in doing this, while they were drowning in his/her addiction. And as Carl pointed out, it’s impossible to live a holy life, while living in the flesh.

    I also think the question Carl brought up of ‘who solicited his return’ is very important, and begins questioning the hearts of those who were involved in that process. Most importantly Ted’s. But again, God only knows. So… we trust in Him… and pray Ted’s heart and mind is seriously being renewed. Lord, give New Life Church insight, and may your name not be tarnished.

    Quick mention: the one thing Satan want’s to do is to cripple the army of Christ, so we can no longer fight, or be trained (discipled) to fight. The best way to do this is to take out the leaders, in an effort to create doubt within the troops.

    Now, two years out IS a pretty quick return, especially concerning the recovery process. Especially for sexual addiction. The ‘average’ recovery time for SA tends to be 3-5 years…. so…. who knows. Perhaps he has a nice chunk of physical, and quite possibly some emotional sobriety, but… the lies and compromised lifestyle he’d been living in for who knows how long has seriously damaged his ability to think accurately about himself. Not to mention, his ability to see people through the eyes of God… which is fairly important as a pastor!

    I say all this to reinforce Carl’s concern about his ability to lead the flock. This is no doubt a legitimate concern. Something we should commit to prayer.

    Lord, may you be glorified, may we find comfort in knowing you are completely involved in the details, and you allow things we don’t understand happen for a reason. May we learn what it is you mean for us to learn, and grow in areas we have yet to grow.

  2. I don’t know “the” man, nor do I know the particular situation in detail. And, perhaps I (as a single individual) have a unique belief as to what the role of a pastor is to be: shepherding people’s hearts and souls into deeper communion with God, to where they move well beyond knowing about God cognitively, instead leading people to where they actually know God experientially, know God personally and as the greatest enjoyment, guiding those under his care away from the world, the flesh and satan, and instead toward God, and preparing those of the flock for entrance into God’s full presence at physical death, and even more so living in His full presence now. In my view, a pastor takes extreme care for what is of God in each individual. He honors this in his own life. He honors this in the life of every individual.

    IF one’s view of a pastor is to simply lead a church and preach, (one without Christ can do this, for the flesh is mighty to deceive and empower) then a pastor may be something defined completely different than the above (and experience will do the actual defining, not some person/s interpretation of the experience). Bottom-line: if the pastor possess not Christ as king and lord in his heart (the only other possibility would be the flesh reigns), then I for one seriously doubt the pastor’s ability to “in Christ” nurture the souls of others away from their fleshly appetites to feed on Christ. The pastor, in said situation, has no experience of deeper communion with God from which to see and from which to live out what purity of heart truly is. I make these claims not as condemnation, but as simple fact.

    Given “this” man’s behavior, it is beyond dispute that the flesh, his heart, his affections, his appetites, his imaginations, his satisfactions, his self-interests, were on things which pass, are temporal, do not last, are of the world, are made of earth, are of fallen construction, and in or under sin, condemnation, judgment and God’s wrath.

    I speak as one familiar with both hearts as defined above. Thus, I lived the lie. While my life is certainly not any sort of template for God’s purging work of cleansing a human heart of sexual sin and corruption through lust (although I know this), I am deeply surprised at the speed of restoration as pastor. As one under this man’s authority and accountability before God for my soul, I would remain deeply concerned; to include concern regarding the wisdom and judgment to enable one to regain the office of pastor given the situation.

    Do we cheapen what it means to Love God and Love our neighbor? Do we truly understand what that means? What does it mean to live according to a pure heart, a good (godly and clean) conscience, and sincere faith? Do I really have true Christianity? Does it truly have me?

  3. Justin:
    Thanks so much for sharing your story and your heart. I believe you have it mostly right here. Restoration, redemption, and renewal are always in order for God’s people. Significant points you make, of which I’m in full agreement are:

    “the Christian walk is meant to be hand in hand with others”

    “many of us get stuck in being a Christian, rather than becoming a follower of Christ”

    “We would much rather point the finger at the more ‘dramatic’ and ‘damaging’ sin, and the carrier of such sin…than seize the opportunity to wholeheartedly look at ourselves and ask God to reveal our unidentified sin to us”

    “God doesn’t waste a hurt.”

    “the Lord’s final judgment will be judgment enough”

    However, I do have a few questions:
    Is there ever an instance or set of circumstances when church/ministry leaders who, having fallen into a sinful lifestyle, should be removed from that role?

    If “yes” to the question above, how long should leaders be removed from a leadership role? Temporarily? Indefinitely?

    (Think, for example, of a child molester who, after a period of time shows signs of repentence, accountability, et al. and wishes to be restored to children ministry.)

    How might Numbers 14:20-24 factor into decisions about restoring leaders to ministry who have fallen so far and so long into sin? After repeatedly failing to trust God to bring them into the promised land, God grants forgiveness to the Israelites but does not remove the consequences which they must endure to the end of their days.

    After Moses intercedes on their behalf, the text reads:
    “The LORD replied, ‘I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.'”

    Just thinking….

  4. Did you read this article as well. A link to it was in the ‘Ted Haggard: Back in the Pulpit’ article. Pretty good. But I especially liked this line:

    “Maybe this is one of the geniuses of Jesus: he knew when to stop, how to refuse the cocktail of privilege, fame and applause that distorts one’s ability to think wisely and to master self.”

    I also found this paragraph intriguing, and challenging:

    “When I see a leader who becomes stubborn and rigid, who becomes increasingly less compassionate toward his adversaries, increasingly tyrannical in his own organization, who rouses anger and arrogance in others, I wonder if he is not generating all of this heat because he is trying so hard to say “no” to something surging deep within his own soul. Are his words and deeds not so much directed against an enemy “out there” as they are against a much more cunning enemy within his own soul. More than once I have visited with pastors who have spent hours immersed in pornography and then gone on to preach their most “spirit-filled” sermons against immorality a day or two later. It’s a disconnect that boggles the rational mind.”

    Perhaps you’ve heard the fairly new song by the Casting Crowns titled “Slow Fade”. If not, please give it a watch, and listen to the lyrics. It’s quite powerful.

    Now, with all that as my intro, I’d like to say this. As a recovering addict who is thankful for the grace of God, and his grace reflected in my wife, daughter and friends, I’m proud of New Life Church for allowing Ted Haggard to pastor again. This is no doubt difficult for most to process, especially the professional Christians out there, and quite possibly because of the message communicated in the above pulled paragraph. We all struggle with sin, and try to fight it off. Often times, we do this on our own… isolated… because we buy into the lie of the devil that “because we are now Christians, we are clean and free from sin”. Our leaders in the church are especially at risk.

    Often times, we become professional posers or role players, and think we can now process our sin and protect ourselves from sin on our own because we’re down with God. You know, we’ve been forgiven. But the Christian walk is meant to be hand in hand with others, so our sin can continue to be revealed to us, as well as being tuned in to the Spirit residing in us. Well, the fact that Christ died four our sins is a truth and promise in the scriptures each of us who have turned our life over to Christ can count on. But, are we simply supposed to hear this promise and bank on it? Or are we need to painfully “test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord” (Lamentations 3:40)? I’m afraid many of us get stuck in being a Christian, rather than becoming a follower of Christ. I would dare to say the majority of Christians are stuck, and are in for a eternal suprise.

    My point is. We would much rather point the finger at the more ‘dramatic’ and ‘damaging’ sin, and the carrier of such sin… especially when it’s a very public representative of Christ… than seize the opportunity to wholeheartedly look at ourselves and ask God to reveal our unidentified sin to us. I know I fail at doing this. ‘Cause gang, we all have some sin to be revealed. There is no exception to this rule. Judgment is dangerous, and a distraction from looking to ourselves.

    I’m personally encouraged about the grace Ted Haggard has been given, even though he doesn’t ‘deserve’ it. Do any of us? No doubt the man jacked things up in a severe way. I’m pretty sure he understands this. Are we so like Jonah that we would rather place ‘righteous’ judgment on our failed leaders in the faith, and strike them with fire (if we could), rather than love them through their obvious torment and shame? I guarantee (well, hope and pray) those in leadership have placed a great number of expectations… and boundaries… on Ted. Not only expectations and guidelines concerning accountability, commitment, and consistency concerning his sexual addiction/same sex attraction recovery process, but also limitations concerning travel, internet use, council with others, etc. Ted has been given a golden opportunity to open up and get vulnerable with God’s people concerning his struggles.

    Through his struggles and absolute failures, God can… and will… build bridges for those who also hide something shameful in their life. God doesn’t waste a hurt. He’s just waiting for us to open up to not only Him, but to one another about the things we hate the most about ourselves. To no longer isolate in our self created Christian life filled with doing things that are good, reading things that are good, while not addressing our own pain and shame… which will destroy us, and raise havoc on our family… and friends. Perhaps our pain and shame was that of our family past thrown on our shoulders through trauma, or simply by our own poor decisions made along the way. Either way, we HAVE to seek restitution and the truth concerning our pain, and personal mistakes. Until we do that, we walk around with a good talk and putting on good ‘efforts’ towards a holy life ‘glorifying’ the Lord. But at the same time, can’t shake the underlying message that something’s not right. That’s our sin. And until we face it, and understand exactly what it is… by asking the Lord to reveal it to us… and rely on those he’s strategically placed around us, we simply cannot live a life completely for Him. I personally think by facing our pain and seeking out the source, the truth is revealed to us, and at that moment it is no longer ours to carry… because we finally see, feel, and process that it is not. But without identifying the sin, and accepting it for what it is, we can in no way leave these burdens at the foot of the cross… simply because we don’t know what they are.

    There is such divine freedom in this process.

    May we no longer shoot the wounded, but pick them up and assist in nursing them back to health. May we have Godly discernment in all matters, and rest assured the Lord’s final judgment will be judgment enough.

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