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EFAC Australia

PeterBrainI will never forget the opening lines of the veteran missionary Bishop Alfred Stanway; ‘the two biggest temptations for missionaries and ministers are sex and money’. It was 1965 at the CMS Summer School in Katoomba. I was 18, a Christian of 15 months and it was the day after my first Beach Mission. I was stunned by the opening line but greatly helped by his talk. Some 10 years later a different speaker on the same platform, Michael Griffiths, said the same thing as he expounded the 8 reasons for sexual purity from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. I was not stunned this time, but once again greatly helped and challenged to be faithful to God, my wife, our new family, God’s people and to my calling as a newly ordained pastor.

It took me a couple of weeks to get over the sadness and grief of Ravi Zachariah’s infidelity. I still find it painful to learn of the accusations and supporting reports from the investigations commissioned by RZIM. What do I do with his books which I have devoured and profited from? How do I pray for my Hindu dentist who so gladly accepted the copy of his last book, intrigued by its title, ‘The Logic of God’? How do I keep my anger from causing me to be self-righteous or, conversely, unfazed by his, and others, both high-profile and ordinary leaders’, duplicity? How do I help younger brothers and sisters who are deeply hurt, very much confused, even despairing? What do I, a happily married retired pastor, need to learn from this sad situation? Perhaps this article will help me and others who have similar feelings.

We must thank God for the godly examples he has given us who continue faithful in the sexual and other aspects of their lives and ministries. Whilst we want to avoid the sin of some, we take heart from the faithfulness of countless faithful ones whom God has granted to us [Philippians 3:17]. This will temper our despair and remind us of the need for constant vigilance in our own walk with the Lord [1 Timothy 4:16], the ease with which we can be tempted [1 Corinthians 10:11-13] and the wisdom of constant self-examination [2 Corinthians 13:5]. The truth: there but for the grace of God go I must be heeded, keeping us from pride and complacency. Richard Baxter’s warning: A holy calling will not save an unholy man, should likewise ring in our ears to keep us from presuming upon God’s grace.

There are many hazards of ministry; one is a foolish mollycoddling born out of preciousness. We can feel sorry for ourselves because we work hard, are not always appreciated and have given up other higher paid or higher-profile occupations. If we allow these any toehold, we open ourselves to sexual temptation and worse. How keen we are to grow up and leave these follies behind depends entirely on the kinds of habits we develop. Dependence on God’s approval rather than that of our peers is vital.  Jesus mandates the grounding of our worth, to be found in God and His promises, not our ministerial success (or for that matter failure), in His sobering but liberating: do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20). If we are to win this battle we are wise to see worship as more important than fellowship for two reasons. Worship helps us to expect more of God than we do of each other, whereas fellowship leads us to expect too much of each other and not enough from God. The Prayer of Preparation at the beginning of our Holy Communion services, with its compelling Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden…(reflecting Hebrews 4:12-13), serves as a model, for a devotional pattern that places us starkly in awe before a fearsome God. A God-angled view of sin and its consequences. A habit of escaping the pressures of Christian work for relaxation and renewal-activities that don’t violate the holiness of God. Easy? Not at all, but necessary. (Bill Halstead, Perils of the Professionally Holy in Leadership, Winter Quarter, 1984).

A tragic pattern has emerged between money and the opportunities for sexual sin in Ravi Zachariah’s demise. Commenting on our Lord’s ‘the labourer deserves his wages’ (Luke 10:7) two older writers offer wise advice. ‘If the labourer is worth his wages he is not worth more’, wrote Leon Morris, with William Barclay adding: ‘…the labourer is worthy of his hire, but a servant of the crucified Master cannot be a seeker for luxury.’ The questions must be asked, ‘Why was he paid so much and why did he have such unaccountable use of so much money?’ Given the warning of 1 Timothy 6:9-10, the promises of Matthew 6:28-34 and wisdom of Proverbs 30:7-9, why was he so badly served by his board in these matters? The temptation to sexual sin is open to all – high-profile and over-remunerated, unknown and adequately paid – alike. But the temptation must be acknowledged by us all, especially by the leader who is not held to account, nor allows him/herself to be accountable.

 There is an established pattern in both secular and Christian leadership known as the ‘4 A’s”’. Arrogance – the attitude that assumes we make the rules – can easily morph into an excited, adrenalin-fuelled addiction which consumes us at the expense (most often) of relationship with family and friends. This leads inevitably into an aloneness, where, because of our being cut off from others, depression inevitably sets in. Once this happens the leader is vulnerable to adultery as the seemingly best way to overcome the loss of friendship and stimulation. Sexual sin usually has its origins outside of sexual attraction. We all do well to value accountability to others, even where it seems tedious, since it keeps us earthed and accustomed to being responsible to others. The effects of adrenalin must be understood, with rest times being allowed and built into our routines. This will mean refreshment in life’s simple, ‘smelling the roses’ pleasures, with our primary supportive relationships with friends, spouses and children being nurtured and valued, even above our work. The snares of riches include feeling that our value is defined by the amount we are paid and by the way riches make it easier to engage in illicit and unhelpful pastimes. The remedy includes contentment and sacrificial giving, both of which are birthed and nurtured by thankfulness to God for what we have, which alone can rescue us from envy, preciousness, greed, lust and a dissatisfaction fuelled by the law of diminishing returns (1 Timothy 6:6-20a, Hebrews 13:4-8).

Anglicans are very fortunate to have the healthy reminder of our sin before us in our public liturgies. I highlight our since it is too easy, in my own experience, to see and focus on the sins of others rather than our own. This is especially so when we are called to a public defence of Christian ethics and beliefs, and is an occupational hazard of pastors. The Prayer of Preparation, the General Confession, the declaration of pardon in Morning Prayer, the opening texts in Morning and Evening prayer should all keep us from taking our sin lightly. This is entirely consistent with passages like Galatians 5:16-18, Romans 7:7-25, 1 Timothy 1:15-16, 1 John 1:5-10, Mark 7:20-23 and John 8:7-11. John Murray’s words, ‘There is a total difference between surviving sin and reigning sin, the regenerate in conflict with sin and the unregenerate complacent to sin. It is one thing for sin to live in us; it is another for us to live in sin’ remind us that one mark of the disciple is the willingness to battle sin by attending to the well- proven means of grace and the desire to preach first to ourselves so we place no stumbling block before those we seek to win for Christ. We are to watch ourselves closely (1 Timothy 4:16), since others watch us (Philippians 4:9), and we do not want any to stumble on our account (Luke 17:1-3).

All in leadership have the dual responsibility of giving a godly example and receiving godly admonition. This is implied by our Lord in Luke 17:1-4, and involves much grace and forgiveness. But forgiveness requires contrition and true repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). This is true for every sin and especially so for sexual sins. Whilst there is no doubt about forgiveness from God for the repentant sinner, there are differing views in regard to ongoing ministerial suitability of those who are repentant. In this we are wise to consider the seriousness of sexual sin by Christian leaders. All sin is serious, but this sin has wider consequences than most others. It is an abrogation of the trust afforded those in leadership; a trust that, if lost, undermines the credibility of both leaders and the gospel. There is a biblical truth enshrined in the observation the medium is the message. There is no doubt that our message is more than the medium, but it is not less than the messenger. The fruits of repentance require time to be proven genuine, and the pastor and their family need years to work through the hurt, betrayal, shame and sadness. It is wise for the repentant pastor not to expect restoration to public office and for the church leadership, although forgiving, not to be seen to be condoning the sin, which not only confuses the community nor takes the pastoral office or the repentant seriously enough.

This is why our example is so important. It is also why it is so unwise, and unhelpful for the Christian community, to idolise our leadership heroes. Every hero, and God gives them to us to imitate and draw courage from (Hebrews 11:39-40, Philippians 2:29), has feet of clay. Like Paul, they must never forget what they were before the grace of God (remember that 1 Timothy 1:16 was written at the end of his life). And even if they do not sin openly and bring offence to the gospel and the church, as most don’t, they are not helped by adulation, even if it is well-meant. Words of encouragement can be given which neither flatter nor put leaders on an unhealthy pedestal. The respect (Hebrews 13:7) and honour (1 Timothy 5:17) due to faithful leaders when demonstrated in simple ways such as desiring to learn and support biblical teaching, turning up for church with a serving heart and praying regularly will work wonders in encouraging pastors and leaders. John Stott said that ‘the pulpit is a dangerous place for any child of Adam to occupy.’ Since it is such a heady privilege, we are wise to frame our words so that they do not cause our leaders to develop a big head, but rather an encouraged heart, so necessary for what can be a lonely, discouraging, and demanding ministry. Such ministry to pastors is suggested by Ephesians 4:25-32, Hebrews 10:25; 13:17 and 1 Timothy 5:17-25. Here is a ministry we can all exercise to each other, whether paid or unpaid. Leaders are wise to encourage and to heed. Well-thought-out words and support are vital, making admonition much less likely to be required, and when it is needed, more likely to be heeded.

What can we do to guard God’s glory, our own integrity, enhance our witness and bring ongoing joy to God’s people? Here are 10 ways of thinking about God, ourselves and our calling that are worth pondering prayerfully, regularly and in concert with those who stand with us. I will not spell out the implications of each passage as that will be best done by each of us.

[1] Remember how treasured God’s people are to each person of the Godhead (Acts 20:28). They, like us belong to Him. Do we treasure them as He so clearly does?

[2] Read carefully to discern the 8 reasons for sexual purity set out by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. What added incentive for faithfulness do you discern in 4:9-10 and 4:11-12?

[3] Given the temptations of our own culture, not to mention our sinfulness and Satan’s designs to bring us down, are there warnings you must heed from Ephesians 5:1-14?

[4] Are you investing quality time, remembering that quality time requires quantity time, in nurturing your marriage, and (or, if single), accountable, non-sexual friendships? What encouragements and warnings do you find in 1 Timothy 5:1-2, 1 Thess 4:9-10 & Hebrews 13:1-7?

[5] Consider praying the Prayer of Preparation along with the versicles and responses from MP: Clothe your ministers with righteousness-and make your chosen people joyful (Psalm 132:9) and Create in us clean hearts, O God-and renew us by your Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:10) regularly.

[6] Be prepared to rid yourself of all known temptations. How might our Lord’s words in Matthew 5:27-30, and Paul’s in Ephesians 5:3 and 11, help you to fulfil the petition ‘and lead us not into temptation’? (A thought/promise: ministry can be done very faithfully without the internet, if our devices cause temptation).

[7] Practise thankfulness every morning (1 Thess 5:16-18, Phil 1:3, 1 Cor 1:4) for (i) who you are in Christ (ii) for your spouse and friends (iii) for the congregation/position you are in now (iv) for those over you on the Lord (v]) for the house and goods you have. This is the only sure way to deliver contentment, commitment and cheerfulness and keep us from envy, greed, grumbling and daydreaming with the misplaced hope that it would be better, bigger, happier, and our work more noticed, if we were elsewhere.

[8] Remember that we play to an audience of One. The God we serve not only knows where we are, but cares deeply for us. Unlike others to whom we can be tempted to look for affirmation, God is neither fickle nor into flattery. He is, however mindful of us as His children (Psalm 103:13-14) and servants (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). Perhaps Hebrews 4:14-16 will help you?

[9] Pay special attention to those who know and love you the most. It is not easy for those who love us to correct or warn us. But they are to be listened to (Proverbs 12:18b, 24:26, 27:5-6). Your spouse is your greatest ally. Listen to her/him if she/he suggests that someone has an unhealthy interest in you. They are not being neurotic or jealous (only jealous for you, for our Lord, for the church and for the gospel). It is a great foolishness to disregard loving counsel.

[10] Do not be so unwise or proud as to think it could never happen to you. Remember, 1Corinthians 10:11-13 was written and is in the canon for a purpose. Ponder afresh Psalm 119 in its fullness, but if not, at least 119:9-10 and 176. Consider the realism expressed by righteous Job in 31:1-4.

This last passage should alert us to the importance of examining our ways, with a view to strengthening our resolve, by all proper means, to remain and continue faithful before God, the world and the people we serve. It is not ours to condemn, nor is it ours to fail to take stock and to learn. I hope these thoughts may be of help to us grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18) by making our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11) through the intentional growth expected of us all (1:3-11).  

Peter Brain, Perth

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen

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