“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality…” (Jude 3-4, ESV)
There’s no doubt that many are shaken by what has surfaced this weekend regarding Ted Haggard. Not only has this [former] mega-church pastor man committed adultery, among other things, but upon the exposure of his sin, he blatantly lied to a national audience regarding the accusations. Now, I’m not here to throw rocks at Haggard, for the Lord will ultimately be his judge (and may the Lord show mercy on him). However, I would like to briefly point out a frightening trend in modern-day evangelicalism, and why we here at SBF place such an importance on providing a response to public statements that do not coincide with scripture.
In his recent sermon on Calvinism at First Baptist Woodstock, Jerry Vines was very adamant about ‘not attacking individuals’ during his critique. With this statement, Dr. Vines is repeating a mantra that many Southern Baptist leaders have echoed since the explosion of the blogsphere. Apparently, naming names and going point by point, word by word through a sermon preached by someone widely respected has now become a personal ‘attack’ on the individual rather than a critique of his theology. Johnny Hunt, the pastor of FBCW, has also been an example of sorts regarding this idea of ‘attacking individuals’. One cannot forget last February and the Founders post that caused such a bloodbath when the Caners came to Johnny’s defense. To disagree with Hunt on Calvinism was not viewed as a difference in theology, but rather as an unjust personal attack that bordered on sin. Undoubtedly, Vines, Hunt, and others are not completely without merit in voicing their opinion that some bloggers are ‘mean-spirited’ and ‘attacking’ in their extreme zeal to defend the scriptures. But unfortunately, these attitudes are clearly the exception rather than the rule. Instead of what would normally be considered ‘attacking’, many SBC leaders (and leaders of other denominations) have thrown around the ‘attack’ terminology at even the slightest critical analysis of their public sermons. Regardless if they are right or wrong in their theology, there is a movement going on right now to overlook these ‘small’ matters based on a leader’s personality, track record, or his desire for soul-winning. God help us.
Last year, I voiced some concerns on Ted Haggard, and so did my colleague, Timmy Brister. I’m not sure about Timmy, but I received a good bit of feedback from those at New Life who thought I was nit-picking and overly-critical of Haggard, among other things. Needless to say, there were some who were appalled that I would dare question this man and his ministry. It didn’t matter that Haggard said things like, “the emphasis in our church isn’t how to get your sins removed because that’s pretty easy to do.”, and ‘without believing in Jesus there is no guarantee of heaven’. No, they said, let’s not nit-pick about those things, for he is a good man! He has built a ministry that is most certainly being used by God! He is reaching millions with the message of Jesus! He is, he is…living a double life, committing adultery and sexual immorality, all while lying and continuing to lie when his deeds were exposed.
Crept in among us? I can think of no better assessment of the Haggard situation. But where were the signs? Why wasn’t this noticed sooner? Could it have been prevented? I would say that it most certainly could have. But we face an uphill climb if every time we want to compare a popular preacher’s message with scripture we are met with strong opposition of ‘attacks’, ‘character alignment’, and ‘being judgmental’. The problem with Haggard was not ultimately grounded in his secret life, although that did play a major role in things. No, the magnitude of this scandal could have been prevented if Haggard would have simply been called to account for his words and his theology –for the red flags concerning his theology were all over the place. But nobody dared to question God’s anointed, right?
What happens when a popular pastor is no longer accountable for his words from the pulpit? What happens when you build a mega-church from the ground up, receive public adoration and praise at a level unprecedented by any generation in church history, and do not surround yourselves with men who are your equals in every respect? What happens when we have a Christian community so infatuated with personalities, pragmatism, numbers, and ‘feel-good’ theology, that to call these men to an account is like touching ‘God’s anointed’? What happens when any disagreement on any minor point of the gospel is shunned as insensitive, mean-spirited, judgmental and unchristian? Well, this week we saw an example of what can potentially happen in these situations, and it should serve as a wakeup call to the ever-growing trend of the Pastor/CEO position.
Brothers, this Haggard scandal should frighten us, and it should reaffirm in our minds the need to contend earnestly for the faith. There is no doubt in my mind that dozens of scandals like this are just sitting around waiting to happen. For this could happen to anyone without accountability, yes, even within our own denomination. Must we nit pick at every flawed presentation of the gospel? Most certainly we should if they are clearly in error -obviously in a spirit of love. Should we dare to speak up against men who draw in thousands upon thousands in the name of Jesus? Well, if we believe Jude’s exhortation concerning how false teachers creep in among us, we most certainly will –out of wisdom of Satan’s schemes and love for the truth.
Let us not be discouraged by those who place personalities and numbers above theology and sound preaching. For there is a time to write concerning our common salvation, but there is also a time to contend earnestly for faith ‘once for all delivered to the saints’ –the Holy Scriptures. May we continue to set the scriptures up as the supreme authority that trumps both personality and ministerial success, and may we contend to lovingly point out even the smallest of errors concerning the gospel –even among men whom we highly, highly respect.