Posted on November 15, 2008
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!