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When is Someone Disqualified from Ministry?

When Is Someone Disqualified from Ministry?

This is an unspoken question for many evangelicals. Most of us don’t know where the idea of “disqualification” comes from. We may be hard pressed to find anything definite in Scripture that says close to what we mean.

Peter Denies Christ and is Disqualified from Ministry

Peter Denies Christ and is Disqualified from Ministry

Sure, Paul talks about being disqualified from ministry if he were to fail. But what does he really mean?

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

— I Corinthians 9:27 (ESV)

But here, at least, context has nothing to do with moral failure as is so often thought. He is talking about becoming “all things to all men.” This is so that Paul might make the Gospel relevant in all contexts. Otherwise, Paul would be disqualified if he succumbed to any temptation to legalism, and a stilting of the Gospel.

Further Reading: Called Into Ministry? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Am I saying nothing would force someone to step out of ministry for a time of restoration? No! But that’s an article for another day.

The Apostle Peter: Disqualified and Restored

I want to share a story most of you are familiar with. This story should be brought into all discussions of “disqualification.” It is included only in the Gospel of John.

John wrote his Gospel over twenty years after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Its contents likely represent John’s many years of reflection. He certainly saw relevance something  that the other Gospels passed over.

All the Gospels record Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:69–75; Mark 14:68–72; Luke 22:55–62). It’s only John who records Peter’s restoration:

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

— John 21:15–17 (ESV)

Notice the odd series of questions. Christ asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” Many have focused on the differences in the Greek word translated “love.” This probably had little meaning to John. He always switched cognates for literary purposes, not theological.

Christ's Charge to Peter by Raphael

Christ’s Charge to Peter by Raphael

What I want to point out is the threefold nature of Christ’s questions. Remember, Peter had denied Christ three times. Now, Peter’s threefold and frustrated response, “I love you” reminds us of his threefold denial.

About ten days after Peter’s rejection of Him, Jesus restored Peter to ministry. The specific language is “feed/tend my sheep/lambs.” Let me repeat this a different way: Peter committed arguably the worst sin a Christian can commit, the denial of Christ. and Christ restored him just a few days later.

What’s going on?

What about these words of Christ?

[B]ut whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

— Matthew 10:33 (ESV)

Didn’t Peter deny Christ before men?

What Were the Apostles Thinking?

I wonder what the other Apostles were thinking.  I can just hear their thoughts (that is, if they thought like us today):

“If you restore him too quickly, this will be an implicit approval of his sin”

“Let us all sin more so that grace might increase!”

“Jesus does not know human nature. You have to draw attention to his sin or he will never change.”

Peter is certainly sorry and repentant for what he did that day. I am sure it haunted him for years to come. And you may think he never did this again. But Peter never really gets over this issue. He is always afraid of what his countrymen might think.

From Act 2–10 (a ten year period) Peter lived with a terrible sin: prejudice. Remember, in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit filled Peter. But it is not until Acts 10 that Peter finally let go of his prejudice (to some degree). He finally allowed himself to enter a Gentile’s (non-Jew’s) home. Before this he held to the unbiblical belief that:

  • He wasn’t to step foot inside a Gentile’s homes.
  • He was forbidden to eat with them.

Can you imagine someone doing this today? My dad hated Japanese people. He wouldn’t hang around them or befriend them. This lasted his whole life (a WWII thing). We recognize how sinful this was.

Peter had this attitude for almost twenty years. This is after the Holy Spirit filled Him at Pentecost! He was always afraid of what the Jews thought of him. So much so, he would change the message of the Gospel throughout his life in the way he lived. Paul ended up having to have a difficult discussion with Peter about this (Galatians 2:11–13).

Further Reading: Why Paul Should Not Always Be Our Example in Confrontation

The Imperfect Lives of Christian Ministers

I’m not trying to jump all over poor Peter. Peter held the lofty position of Apostle. We would be blessed to have lived his life; including his upside down crucifixion.

My point is that those who minister for God don’t live unimpeachable lives. By “unimpeachable” I mean perfect. But the sins we are often quick to use to disqualify someone from ministry are far less severe than:

  • Denying Christ
  • Adjusting the Gospel to make it square with our prejudice

We look only at the most tangible (and often unbiblical) moral failures. We fail to realize the heart issues we live with. These go unnoticed.

Do the Unexpected: Forgive

This is my thesis: If Christ restored Peter to ministry so quickly, why don’t we? Who are we to have such an itchy “disqualification” trigger finger? Isn’t being gracious one of the ways we should be like Christ?

Maybe you’re like me and are tempted to think:

“This sin has to be pointed out! He must go through a ’time of restoration.’ The seriousness of his sin needs to be exemplified through punishment and a long time of restoration.”

Maybe the best way to exhibit grace and affect change in others is to show mercy. We should be like Christ and do the unexpected, forgive. In all honesty, I do believe there are character issues and sins that can and should “disqualify” people from ministry. These are listed in 1 Timothy:

1 Tim 3:1-7
A bishop then must be blameless [was Peter], the husband of one wife [which does not mean “not divorced, but faithful], temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable [was Peter to the Gentiles?], able to teach [in my experience, few have qualified]; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well [what if the wife is not following the Lord or has children that don’t believe?], having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside [did Jesus have a good testimony with the religious leaders? This begs the questions, “Who are those who are “outside”?], lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

All I am saying is that this story about Jesus’ restoration of Peter and his continued problems does give me much pause. Things are not as clean as we would like them to be. Grace may be the default in so many things.

Where am I going wrong?

Shameless Plug

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30 Responses to “When is Someone Disqualified from Ministry?”

  1. When you say ministry, are you including elders in that or do you just have missionaries in mind? I always believed Titus 1 and 1 Tim 3 is what should be used to determine if an Elder was to be disqualified because they no longer met the Qualifications of an elder.

    • Ro. 9:10
      Ro. 10:2-3
      Job was modest are you

      • Error of number
        Ro. 9:21
        Who the potter?

      • A 747 plane flying over junk yard, can’t reproduce as a duplicate object?
        Yet some reason people belief that life can by evolution in millions of years —milk, will turn to cheese or fish swimming north will have a fur coat to keep warm. With in the scope of reality l will lead my thoughts to believe in a Creator
        Agape all

  2. @Thomas
    Ro. 9:10. And Ro. 10:2-3
    Job was modest

  3. A woman in an abusive relationship who visits a pastor for counseling will be told (if the counselor is competent) that promises and apologies are meaningless. Most abusers never change. It is only when the abuser fully owns his behavior, without excuses or justifications, and she sees evidence of behavioral, heart, and attitude change that she can consider it over. She might forgive him well before he demonstrates he is someone who is safe to live with again. And that takes time. Forgiveness and restoration of trust aren’t necessarily the same thing and don’t necessarily happen at the same time.

    A pastor who has fallen morally has made choices. Some of those choices are permanent – child molestation, for example. Not allowing a child molester back into ministry isn’t unforgiveness, it’s prudence. But the pastor or leader has to demonstrate that they understand what they did, why it was wrong, and not make excuses for having done it. That is why Jimmy Swaggart was defrocked – the Assemblies of God concluded that he was not really repentant. This was a reasonable conclusion based on the fact that after he was removed, he was again caught with a prostitute. This process is why a group of pastors is often assigned to walk a fallen pastor through the process of restoration – they want to be as sure as they can that this is the real deal. There are many examples of pastors who “repent” of something but are later caught doing the same thing. They didn’t really repent in the sense of a heart change. There are pastors who have fallen and decide on their own that their “restoration” is complete – and then fall again in the same public way.

    Grace is important, but when grace is just an excuse or even worse, when grace is denial, then it isn’t grace anymore. It’s something else. Broken trust takes time to restore. Jesus knew all things about Peter; he knew exactly when Peter could be trusted again. Humans are a little less discerning so it takes more time to acquire that knowledge, and the knowledge has to be based on evidence, not wishes.

    • Stuart, I am reasonably familiar with Jimmy Swaggart’s fall and attempted discipline by the Assemblies of God under which he held his credentials – including some details which very few (if any besides God and Jimmy know about). The PRIMARY, if not the only reason he was defrocked was because he was unwilling to SUBMIT to the A of G’s 2-year plan to be restored (discipline). My grief at the time and opinion was that his failure to submit to discipline (as he’d agreed to do if needed when he accepted his original credentials) was a far, far more serious error than that which originally brought him to require such discipline. Refusal to submit to legitimate discipline by other elders essentially is a rejection of God. “God gives grace to the humble, but RESISTS the proud.” While one cannot truly see another’s heart, we can observe fruit which often reveals the heart. Jimmy’s pride essentially destroyed any real ministry through him and left him with his most committed “fans” who most likely held him in a place which should only be reserved for God, Himself. Consequently, the sin he’d reportedly “repented” of became the very moral sin he repeated (at least once, if not more). I hope this gives a more accurate account to you and other readers of what actually occurred.

      • I also believe the attempts to restore Jimmy Swaggart by the A of G is a good example of the administration of grace which the original article was attempting to portray. Had Jimmy submitted to the discipline and course of restoration he would have been able to move back into his original place of ministry with the full support of the A of G – and consequently wouldn’t be in the place of shame he now occupies.

  4. To @ Stuart
    Ro. 9:21-23

  5. I agree. However, Peter, as was demonstrated kept up his fearful behavior to the point of both denying Christ and adjusting the Gospel to fit his prejudice and fear of what others would thing. Pretty serious sins.

    But I do agree that there are dangerous character issues that fit into a different category. It’s just hard to say that Peter’s issues were not worse (objectively speaking) than anything we can describe.

  6. I’m not so sure that Peter’s prejudice was so sinful. In our culture, it’s obvious. But we can’t dress Peter up in 21-st century clothes and judge him by our standards. Peter was raised and immersed in a culture where the inferiority of Gentiles was axiomatic. Believing that the church was for Jews only was reasonable, given what he knew. But when God said to change, after some questions and hesitation, Peter did change. In fact, I’d say that his willingness to change was probably a lot better than most of us would have about something that is just an unspoken, built-in part of our culture. If Peter had refused to change, that would be sinful. But I’m not sure what Peter believed was a sin for him until it was pointed out to him. We are responsible for what we know.

    The issue with the circumcision party was a different matter; Peter did apparently allow himself to be swayed by others in that case. Which, together with the initial denials, might indicate that Peter had a general issue with wanting the approval of others. But he apparently also allowed Paul to persuade him.

  7. I’m reluctant to use Peter’s denial of Jesus as an example for restoring people to leadership, because he had not yet been filled with the Spirit. His prejudice, though, clearly existed after he was filled with the Spirit.

    If we demand perfection of our pastors, we may get hypocrites. Yet we must demand a high moral and ethical standard. Otherwise, we’re allowing people to lead who bring shame on the Lord and on his message. How soon can someone be restored? Which sins disqualify a man permanently? I can’t say, but I know that the first step is that he should be willing to submit to the judgment of godly, mature men who are not his fans. Paul submitted to the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). The leader who has sinned severely should be especially willing to submit to others’ judgment concerning whether he’s now adequate in the area in which he knows he’s demonstrated weakness.

  8. Brother Patton,

    I believe there are numerous factors which are more important to the issue of restoration of the fallen than those you’ve used here.

    First, though, I’d like to address what you did use. Peter is an extremely poor example to use for this purpose. Some of the issues have already been addressed. More accurately, Peter was not converted at the time of his denial of Christ. Christ, Himself, stated this in Luke 22:32 (NKJV), “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” The Greek for “returned” is justifiably translated “converted” (as in the KJV and Acts 3:19, et al.)

    Another issue has already been touched upon by other comments, but not adequately. That is the issue of Peter’s so-called prejudice. Did not Jesus Himself teach Peter and the other apostles that His ministry was to the lost house of Israel? So much so, that He essentially called the Syrophoenician woman (a gentile Greek) a DOG! (Mark7:25-30). From our vantage point we know full well that God’s salvation is for the Gentile as well, but consider the effect of Christ’s teaching to Peter on this matter.

    With all this additional information, do you not also realize that Peter as an example really isn’t as germane to the issue of restoration of fallen ministers as you have depicted it to be?

    Other information is much more germane, I believe. First, and perhaps one of the primary is that the church in the North America generally does not take the SCRIPTURAL qualifications as primary in allowing a person into a ministry position – especially that of elder/bishop/under-shepherd/pastor. I have been a ministry who has monitored several web sites for ministerial positions posted there (primarily for that of senior minister/pastor) for about 6 years now. EVERY SINGLE ONE has the education as a PRIMARY qualifier (where do you find, in Scripture, that as even necessary, let alone at all? Remember, none of the apostles (except perhaps Paul) would be qualified in the NA church, let alone be allowed the position of apostle??? A second primary qualification in these “help wanted ads” (which again was not necessary in the first century church) was experience. A rough equivalent of this is part of the Scriptural qualifications. BUT THE REAL SURPRISE to me is that I believe I’ve only seen ONE ad that listed the Scriptural qualifications as necessary – and they were not the primary qualifiers!! It is possible there may have been more, but in my monitoring these are the things I have discovered.

    God’s work MUST be done GOD’S WAY!!! Is it not then too surprising that we have problems on what qualifies a “fallen minister” for restoration when our standards are more closely aligned with the world’s qualifications for a leader than what God’s are?? In fact, in my detailed study of the Church as Christ designed and the Apostles implemented that design, the North American church (and even world-wide to varying degrees) is so, so, so, so far removed from the original that if any of the apostles were dropped into our culture, I believe he would more allow the contemporary church with paganism rather than with Christ’s Church. (On another topic, the usual “gospel” which is usually preached from an evangelical slant CANNOT legitimately be found in the Scripture – e.g. where in Scripture can you legitimately justify “just ask Jesus into your heart,” or “repeat this prayer after me?” A good clue is that NO MATTER WHAT A PERSON DOES one is not “saved” until the Holy Spirit has wrought a regeneration or spiritual new birth (according to John 3, et al.) within a person. There are many other Scriptural elements involved that are seldom even TALKED about, never mind PREACHED. Here’ another clue – why is true salvation referred to as a birth? I believe the Lord has shown me, that in some way, it is most closely aligned with the necessity of a spiritual gestation period prior to the actual “birth” as it is in the natural – quite contrary to the common “instantaneous decision.” Enough on this.

    It is my contention that most modern ministers – even in evangelical and charismatic churches – could not even meet the qualifications of the deacons of Acts 6 – 8, let alone qualify by Scripture to be a pastor (or equivalent). I further contend that if God’s qualifications were adhered to (within the meanings of the NT church culture) we would far, far fewer “fallen ministers.” In fact it is my contention that some pastors aren’t even born-again to Scriptural standards even in evangelical churches. I know that it is, because I personally know some of them. While it’s a whole different topic altogether I believe there is ample evidence (in my observation and study) that many of our evangelical/charismatic churches are populated by a large number of unregenerated people. Very religious – yes; very good imitations of what most consider to be Christian – yes; by Scriptural standards – NO!!! Again, this is because the “common” gospel is false; the “decisions for Christ” are merely intellectual assent to certain Biblical facts rather than true spiritual regeneration; and true NT “belief/faith” (the same Greek root word) do not have the meanings contemporary churches have for these words.

    Additionally, the NT Church was so counter-cultural that if the North American Church were thus, we likely would have no government exemptions, possibly not allowed to have the church buildings and property we now have, and would definitely be on the receiving end of a greater hatred and persecution by the world. Does not the Scripture reveal that “ALL who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus WILL suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12 NKJV). This is not to be a rare this. Rather, when taken in the context of similar teaching in the NT it is a guaranteed and common experience for ALL true Christians. It is, as Christ said in John 3 because the darkness HATES the light and as Christ was hated, we his servants will also be hated and persecuted (John 15).

    While it may appear that all these “rabbit trails” are not germane to the original topic, if so think about them more closely, you will find that they ARE. It all wraps together in a ball which, if lived by the Church, would preclude almost ALL (perhaps even all) the modern ministerial failings. There is much, much more I could on this, for example, the modern church does not as a Body as depicted in the NT. To give some substantiation of this why is this verse not followed in our churches – 1 Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV) “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, EACH OF YOU has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” When have you been in a regular “church service” where every believer present ministered something to the others, if ever? Why does the modern church have such a division of clergy and laity? Are we not ALL kings and priests to our God.

    If the Church was as it should be, fallen ministers would be an extreme rarity, I believe. Also it the Scriptural qualifications you used to justify the restoration of a pastor were properly used to qualify a pastor in the first place, that alone would eliminate greatly the contemporary phenomenon of the “fallen pastor.” Our pastors are as the Christian are as the church – too desirous of being more aligned with the world that with the Christ of the New Testament (many modern versions of Christ in the evangelical world are Christ’s of man’s creation rather than the Christ of the New Testament. Again another topic for future attention but still very germane to the topic at hand.

    Incidentally, I believe the things you wrote into the 1 Timothy 3 passage did a great disservice to Scripture and have no real valid justification.

    I hope this at least points you in the right direction in answering your final question, “Where am I going wrong?”

    I pray God’s richest blessings in Christ upon both you and all readers of this, and the Spirit’s illumination to the truths God has given you through this humble message boy.

  9. I’m curious how we should treat a “minister” to whom proper church discipline has been applied. I went through a situation last year that was like this: Our pastor of 20yrs had suffered a meltdown in the pulpit. The following months he abused several members from the pulpit. Come to find out, church discipline had been applied to him not once, but twice 21 years ago. Both times were over adultery and in two different churches. The 2nd time he was excommunicated. He had hid this from our congregation. I was a deacon and felt compelled to confront him according to 1 Tim 5:19-22. We did it ‘by the book’. He remained unrepentant of the past and would not entertain repentance for the things he was doing in the pulpit. He claimed that the discipline of the past did not apply because they were Baptist churches and we were a Bible church. As a result, the church is now effectively dissolved. Lots of people were hurt and I feel somewhat responsible, (not necessarily wrong).
    I know this is not really your point, but unfortunately I’m not sure where the balance is. Perhaps there is more forgiveness needed for ministers. Maybe there needs to be more accountability in the pulpit. Maybe Protestantism doesn’t work so well when it comes to these matters. Maybe my ‘golden calf’ is sin in the pulpit. I’m really not sure…What do you think?

    • Donnie, your example here may have been avoided if the pre-emptive precautions I pointed out in my first comments to this article had been enacted, your church likely could have avoided much heartache and the detrimental consequences which followed (primarily that the MOST IMPORTANT qualifications must be the Scriptural requirements for one to fulfill the office of pastor, etc.).
      A further bit of wisdom, which you and your church learned the hard way, is that search committees need to do much more due diligence prior to recommending a candidate. Had your church’s search committee done so, you likely would have discovered the “pastor’s” history in time to rule him out as a viable candidate. Sadly, those who never should be in a pastorate wind up bringing much hurt and destruction to the family of Christ because the Church does not filter them out. Your story also demonstrates the dangers and consequences which could be much better avoided when we eliminate the world’s standards for a leader (such as formal education) and focus on God’s qualifications found in His Word as the primary qualifiers.
      Along this same line, I spoke of this in my first comments here and pointed out that, at least 10 of the original apostles, would not be accepted for most church pastorates because they did not meet the educational requirements of the job posting.
      Interestingly, there is a much more modern example of the irrelevancy of formal, worldly education as a consideration for God’s man for the job: In the mid 1900’s lived a well-known, influential, oft-quoted minister by the name of A. W. Tozer. Many who are familiar with Tozer and his ministry might be surprised to know that his formal education went no further than Grade 8. He didn’t even have a Bible College education. Yet his ministry and influence to the Church world-wide, even to this day, is quite renown. His writings and sermons are often quoted today. He often is known as Dr. A. W. Tozer, but his doctorates (I believe they were two) were honorary doctorates and he never used Dr. in front of his name (to my knowledge). Yet his ministry, in my opinion, was one of the most influential and DESPERATELY NEEDED FOR TODAY’S CHURCH. It will not surprise me, should his ministry and influence be revealed in eternity, to be even greater and more important in God’s economy than that of Billy Graham.
      Brother Tozer’s books (both his own and those compiled by others from his writings and sermons) are ones I would recommend to all who read this. He was a prophet in the truest biblical sense of the word – so much so, that as I recently read some of his material, and if I knew nothing about the author, I would have thought him to be alive and very knowledgeable of the contemporary western church (I believe his death was either 1963 or 1965).
      The sad truth, however, is that he would be hard-pressed to even be given a hearing by most, if not all, of today’s search committees because he lacked the educational requirements.
      Oh, how far removed from Christ’s design for His Church is the modern church. I believe His heart is grieved and that He is in the midst of bringing a new reformation to His Church to make her the bride He will be returning for. She definitely is not now a church “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” If she were that now, this article and the ensuing comments likely would not even come into existence.
      May our God so work in all of our hearts that this work start within me and those who read this. God bless.

      • Wayne, I appreciate your reply. I believe you’re correct when you say that the way churches vet potential pastors should be Biblical first. Your intuitions are also accurate when you point to the failure to do so as much of what is wrong in American pulpits. Unfortunately, in the case I described, some of the elders who vetted that ‘pastor’ did in fact know of his improprieties and were warned in writing of his disciplinary condition at the time of his hire. They chose to keep it from the congregation. It wasn’t until I did my own research 20 yrs later, that the truth was found. Most of the men who had excused him had passed away but the roots of this failure grew deep into this church.
        This was an exceptional situation, and does nothing to discredit Michael’s post. Most of the time, Michael’s thesis is probably correct. We should be prepared to restore folks who err ministerially.
        On the other hand, i believe there is a disease that is rampant in American pulpits and that much of what is called nominal Christianity is the effect of a lack of unction in the pulpit. Most of this lack of unction is due to a perpetuation of lecturing rather than preaching, topical rather than expository, and a general erroneous view of what it means to be a pastor. Dr. Lloyd-Jones worries have been validated and his teachings ignored and yes, so have God’s qualifications. I have written on this over the last few months and it seems to strike a chord in my ultra-conservative part of the country. Some have become hungry for reform and reform, if it will occur, will begin in the pulpit.

  10. I do wish I knew. Unrepentant sin seem to fall under a different category. I have no advice in certain situations. All I am saying here is that it is so odd that Peter’s situation was handled so graciously.

  11. Dear Brother Patton,

    I’d be interested in why you deleted my earlier comments. I thought the comments did an adequate job of what you requested when you asked, “Where am I going wrong?”
    Was it because I did too thorough a job of presenting a valid response from Scripture?
    Was it because the answers I offered ran so counter to your basic premises and assumptions and so threatened them that you did not want to risk such a Scripturally solid response which would knock down your “house of cards?”
    Was it because the points you made really aren’t supported by Scripture (by common, orthodox, evangelical principles of hermeneutics?
    Was it because your understanding of “church” was too counter to Christ’s design as I presented it from Scripture?
    There are a number of other reasons which come to mind, but I really would like your reason(s).
    Awaiting your answer – even if it is an additional deletion of these comments.

  12. I never deleted anything. That is odd. I will check the spam and see if it went there for some reason.

  13. I’m sorry, brother Patton. When I didn’t see my comments, I just assumed you’d deleted them. When I pulled up your blog I now see my comments there. I had reloaded the comments several times to try to see if I’d missed them and each time they weren’t there. I’ll assume you may have found the reason there were missing and got them on again. I do apologize for my erroneous assumptions in questioning you.
    God bless.

  14. I appreciate this post. I do think we need to look at Peter. (And I don’t think he was unsaved—as we generally use the term—before his denial of Jesus.) Our friends in Rwanda whose pastors gave up their sheep to be killed have had to wrestle with the question of whether to restore these brothers. And their answer has been yes. You raise important questions that I have pondered many times. When someone repents, owns their stuff, goes through a restoration process, and wishes to be used of God, should we tell them they can’t use their spiritual gift? Part of the problem here, I think, is the combination of this question with the phenomenon of a senior pastor who is like a CEO, esp in mega-churches. We ask if such a person can be restored, when we mean “Can they get their job back?” or “Can they get a similar job?” They can definitely exercise their gifts for the good of the body of Christ. But can they hold the job again?

  15. I think Peter’s example is valuable, but it is not all-encompassing. Paul told Titus to warn a divisive person twice and then be done with them. He warned Timothy against those who would lead people astray. He warned the Ephesians elders that wolves would arise from their own number. Are all those examples of Paul lacking grace? Or are they examples of Paul exercising wisdom?

    You often find when a pastor falls that there are calls for “forgiveness” which often means “trust blindly, without evidence”. And the pastor who is defiant or unrepentant will reject or short-circuit the restoration process. Ten days is a really short time for us humans to know if someone is truly repentant and willing to do the hard work of change.

    When we present it as a choice between blind grace or being “disqualified” from ministry, we make a false choice. This is a logical fallacy, by the way. There are choices between those two extremes. Most religious organizations will follow a middle path; accept the statement of sorrow and repentance, but give enough time for the evidence of character to demonstrate whether it is genuine. Although there may be other paths that organizations can follow, there is nothing unreasonable or unbiblical about that one.

    • Stuart, I think you raise some very vital issues. There are numerous factors involved, not the least being that we are called to use wisdom, which we can receive from God who gives liberally to who seek Him and seek it from Him, the all-wise One.
      It does point out the need (as has been stated) that each case needs to dealt with on an individual basis.
      I also agree that far too often such situations have been “resolved” too quickly by the church/leadership.
      There are also far too many influences which are completely foreign to Scripture, e.g. the popularity or unpopularity of the one being disciplined.

  16. One Scripture not yet raised which speaks directly to a “fallen” elder/pastor is 1 Timothy 5:19-20 (NKJV)
    19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.
    20 Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.

    Brother Patton, I’d be interested in what you and others might have to say about how this might relate to the topic.

    One thing I believe it might include is that all such discipline must be done openly before the whole church (not necessarily at all in front of the world or secular media – though in today’s world it most likely will get out there, especially with the better-known ministers). I know of too many cases where the whole thing was either “swept under the rug” or done behind closed doors so the rest of the church was kept in ignorance regarding the discipline.

  17. Thanks Michael. There are some interesting comments here and some valid points that are raised. But I think your article goes much deeper than the technicalities associated with defrocking/restoring a fallen minister, and for that I appreciate your insights tremendously.

    I don’t think Peter’s status at the time of his denial, i.e. as converted/born again/spirit filled or not, is really an issue here. To understand God’s heart on a matter the whole of Scripture needs to be considered, and this includes the multitudes of references in the Old Testament where God is revealed as a compassionate God who graciously restores those who have sinned grievously against him, regardless of their progress along the line of personal doctrinal understanding and/or spiritual distinction. In my mind this is the issue: The heart of God.

    Of course God’s heart is especially revealed in and through the person of Jesus Christ. His dealings with Peter at the Sea of Tiberias is a majestic culmination of the Biblical record of all his dealings with fallen, sinful creatures. Peter is not the fallen individual “over there” whose restoration should be analysed by the unfallen in their theological ivory towers so as to assist them to better judge those poor souls who have fallen along with Peter and whose ecclesiastical fate now rests in their own (clean) hands. No, Peter is each and everyone of us. He is the embodiment of unbroken religious fervour, which means he represents each and every human being who is zealous for God but who has not lost his/her life in the furnace of deep personal disappointment with self and its wildly ambitious religious delusions. As Bonhoeffer said, God’s first and last word to Peter were exactly the same: “Follow me”. But they were spoken to two different individuals. The first thought that he was capable of doing so, the second knew that he could never do it. We know which of these two men ended up obeying the call. It was the broken one, the one who had to confirm his initial denial three times in Christ’s presence by admitting that he only had affection for Christ and not true love.

    I suspect that it is this understanding, more than anything else, that will help us to deal in a Christ-like manner with those “caught in sin”. The Biblical distinction is never between those who have sinned and those who haven’t, but always between those who know that they have sinned and those who do not know. The Bible does not only give us the two Peters to prove the point, but the prodigal and the older brother in Luke 15, the Pharisees and adulterous woman in John 8, the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18, Simon and the sinful woman in Luke 7, Saul the Pharisee and Paul the chief of all sinners, the Jews in Romans 2, etc, etc.

    What we call “falling into sin” is in reality the sin on the inside being graciously made manifest on the outside (indeed “caught in sin”) so as to facilitate the transition from self-righteousness to Christ, his righteousness and ultimately his resurrection life lived in and through us.

    Pardon the long comment, but if we fail to see this we will never, ever be able to deal with our “fallen” brothers and sisters in the compassionate, insightful way that Christ wishes to deal with them through us.

  18. I would say that the Biblical distinction is between those who know, those who don’t know, and those who don’t care. The defiant, in other words.

  19. “Sure, Paul talks about being disqualified from ministry if he were to fail. But what does he really mean?”

    since he’s a believer : 1 Cor 3:15?
    Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Tim 4:16

  20. and..be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Acts 20: 28

  21. My email said seven things not to say to a depressed Christian and directed me to this.

  22. Patton, thank you for this man. I am 21 years old and have been feeling a heavy call to lead and serve the church since Jesus rescued me 5 years ago. Tho is a topic that makes me stay up at night because I am always aware of my ability to mess things up, and the thought of hurting anyone in a congregation or sinning against my brother terrifies me. And every hour I forget the mercy of Jesus and that he is the one who qualifies me and he is the one who holds me in his ways. I am always in need of a reminder of that, so thanks man.

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