In December 2010 Covenant Eyes released a new e-book for pastors who struggle with pornography. The following is part 3 of Pastor Bobby Scott’s chapter.
. . . .
A little over a year ago, I was a guest on a radio show of a very prominent Christian host to discuss what I thought would be a dialogue regarding what Christian men can do to resist sexual temptation. On live air, he asked me if I thought genuine Christians could struggle with pornography. Having no idea where he was going with that question, I simply answered “yes.” He emphatically replied, “no,” citing 1 John 3:8-9 as his proof text. At first, I gently tried to correct his misunderstanding of these verses. I explained that without exception, the apostle John identifies unsaved professing Christians as those who indulge in lifestyles of unbroken sin. However, he does acknowledge that genuine Christians do sin. In distinction from the professing unsaved though, John describes Christians’ sins as acts and not indulging unrepentant patterns (1 John 1:9; 2:1-3).
My answer wasn’t good enough for him. So for a large segment of the remainder of the show we debated about whether Christians can have a besetting sin. His position was that real Christian men live sinlessly in the area of lust. I argued that the statements in 1 John 1:8-10 could be understood to be exposing the real spiritual state of those who did and those who did not have genuine fellowship with God (cp., 1 John 5:13). According to 1 John 1:7 and 1:9, the hallmark of godly Christians is not sinlessness but a habitual pattern of obedience accompanied with a continuous habit of confession of sins.
Should a Pastor’s Response to His Sin Influence a Church’s Decision to Counsel or Disqualify Him?
Here’s my application to pastors. Pastors will sin, therefore, a pastor’s sin that has the potential of affecting his blameless status must be confessed to God and to those who are responsible for affirming that he is maintaining an above reproach reputation. Otherwise, how can a congregation be assured that they are being led by men who are blamelessly following Christ (1 Timothy 5:17; Acts 20:28)?
When men refuse to allow the true fruit of their lives to be inspected, they prove that they are not qualified to lead God’s church (Matthew 7:16, 20). Such men, who are dangers to the church, indulge in sin, and contrary to living in the light of a thrice holy God, they deny the guilt of their sin and the acts of sin that they commit (1:8, 10, respectively). Whereas God’s posture towards the habitual confessor is forgiveness, which John attests God faithfully does (1 John 1:9; 2:1), John gives no such good news to professing Christians who do not consistently and humbly confess their sins (1 John 1:8, 10).
These truths have a profound impact on understanding how pastors need to respond to their battle with sin and how churches and denominations can respond to their pastors who are struggling with lust. Pastors are privileged to preach the wonders of God’s forgiving grace, and therefore carry a greater responsibility of modeling God’s holy hatred of sin by confessing it (James 5:16). Pastors, who preach to others to refresh their souls from the sweet fountain of God’s grace, must themselves drink from that same fountain of forgiveness (Hebrews 4:16).
If you are a pastor struggling with pornography, after reading this you will respond in only one of two ways. One, you will trust God and confess your sin by bringing it out into the light of God’s grace, or two, you will try to hide your sin from God who is omniscient. If you confess your sin, then God will forgive you. And that is a wonderful thing! Depending upon the depth of your involvement, our loving God, who grants grace upon grace, will measure your discipline. The means by which He applies discipline for pastors is through the leaders charged with oversight of the congregation (Acts 20:28-31). Church/denomination leadership must not be a good ole boys club who cover up each others’ sins. They are responsible before God to help each other live blamelessly (Titus 1:5-6). Therefore, whatever discipline they prescribe—a warning, assigned counseling, increased accountability, or time off—a pastor must accept by faith.
God is holy, and through discipline He enables us to share in His holiness, for without holiness no one—including preachers—will see God (Matthew 5:29; Hebrews 12:14b). This is how He grants all of His children His full aid to live a life of repentance. However, you can choose to not confess your sin (Psalm 32:1-4). If you do, know that your non-confession actually is a confession that you do not believe Psalm 130:4, “there is forgiveness with [God].” To hide our sin is to add sin upon our sin, and is to proclaim that “God cannot see and He does not require anything” (Psalm 10:11, 13). I plead with you not to respond this way. It will only grease your slide further into the abyss of sin. This is what the wicked do (Psalm 10:4). These two radically different options will lead to two radically different outcomes. For every pastor who refuses to confess his sin, who will not repent, and who plumbs the depths of the darkest recesses of porn, remember 1 Timothy 5:20, “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.” Such a life is not the way of an above reproach faithful “one woman kind of man,” and therefore does not qualify that man for pastoral ministry.
This leaves me with one final and critical question to answer: How should churches and denominations respond to pastors who confess struggles with pornography and pastors who won’t confess? I’ll take this question up in a final post.
Stay tuned for Part 4…