In the past five to ten years, we’ve seen some explosions in the church world across many denominations: from Evangelical, Protestant to Catholic. For many it was a shock and a let down, especially for those who followed the teachings of these religious/spiritual leaders.
A recent evangelical, Ravi Zacharias, was a well-known Christian apologist. Other ministers in the past were Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart. There are hundreds of pastors and priests who have faced allegations of misconduct of some sort. All these Christian men have had great ministries and have led many people into a deeper understanding of faith and knowledge of Christ.
It is easy to label them as fake, but doing so does not make sense. They got into ministry for all the right reasons. Their calling of God was very real—as real as anyone else’s. Their faith and ministry are real and it would not be fair to dismiss their prior ministry accomplishments.
What is also real is their struggle with sex, money, power. Some might even struggle with all three. This struggle is common to all persons in vocational ministry and people in all stations in life–regardless of spiritual calling.
I recently read Martin Luther’s teaching on original sin. It describes who we are, not only human beings, but also as a redeemed Christian people. Luther taught, “our entire nature and person is sinful, that is, totally and thoroughly corrupted in God’s sight and contaminated by original sin, as with a spiritual leprosy” (SD I 6, 13) . As a result, we lack the original righteousness we had in the Garden of Eden.
‘Human nature’ is subject to the rule of the devil and ‘is abandoned to the devil’s power and imprisoned under his rule, which intoxicates and seduces many important and wise people in the world with horrible errors, heresies, and other blindness and drags people into all kinds of vice.’”
This quote leaves no one untouched. It points to all of us as human beings including those whom we count as important and wise. There is no sin we are incapable of committing as human beings. It drags us into all kinds of vice.
Yes, Christian people are simultaneously saints and sinners. We all are. Having accepted this as one of my theological beliefs, the moral failure of Christian leaders no longer surprises me, but nevertheless, it does sadden me. I pray that we may all remain faithful to our calling as servants and ministers of the gospel.
A common error we make in how we view our own human nature can be detrimental to one’s faith. Historically in the 16th century, errors were made by teachers of Pelagianism and Manichaeanism. Pelagians believed that after Adam’s fall in the garden, our human nature remained uncorrupted and our spiritual goodness and purity still remained intact. Manichaeans believed that sin was alien from the person committing the sin.
As human beings, we want to believe that humans are innate good and pure. As a result, we alienate ourselves from the sins we commit or even imagine in our minds. The more heinous the sin, the more we distance ourselves from this sinful human nature. How can this play out in our behavior? We try to show we are deadly critical of people like Hitler, Pol Pot, and pastors and priests who commit sins. We display our criticism to prove to others (and ourselves) that “I am nothing like these corrupt sinners.” This is a dangerous ground on which to stand. This is a judgmental and a self-righteous attitude. It is wrong and does not makes us less of a sinner.
We ought to approach God from a more humble starting point. As Christians we are simultaneously redeemed and yet sinful. It places a person in a safer place from which to see ourselves as human beings. Every person, Christian or unredeemed, have been impacted by sin–even from birth.
The temptation that ministers and common people have is to hold up our religious leaders as spotless examples of “good Christians.” It is an impossible expectation to fulfill one-hundred percent. Actually, the higher a spiritual standing one has in the church, the greater the expectation one has to be that “spotless Christian example.” This is especially true in evangelical and Catholic traditions that follow 1 Tim. 3:2 and 5:8. It’s a bizarre expectation of anyone because we have not truly understood the gospel. The gospel is about forgiveness of sins–not about moral perfection, but yet, we make it about moral perfection.
The only expectation we can actually fulfill is to fall upon the grace of God and plead for his daily mercies. We need to see ourselves for who we really are–we are simultaneously saints and sinners. Luther stated, “scholastic theologians have taught pure error and blindness against this article [concerning sin]…
… 2. That the human being has a free will, either to do good and reject evil or to reject good and do evil.SA III I 5-7
3. That the human being is able, by using natural powers, to keep and carry out every command of God.
4. That human beings are able, using natural powers, to love God above all things and their neighbors as themselves…”
These above are impossible because we are bound by original sin. By acknowledging that my free-will has been kept in bondage, I am now free to lean upon God’s grace each day. This has helped me remain humble and confess my weaknesses. Though I am weak, it is God who strengthens me each day.
And the good news is this. God has provided us a way out through a spiritual rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit. Though we are fully justified by grace through faith alone, we are also sanctified through the washing of the word as we repent each day. In Christ Jesus name, we are healed from our spiritual disease and corruption. Praise the Lord.
Quotes from Luther found in:
Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.