When the black sheep is the most holy

If you ask me, one of the most intimidating verses in the Bible is Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” This is especially frightening to me because I seem to have made a hobby of picking fights. If you’ve read this blog lately, it seems to have become a forum for challenging the thoughts and positions that Christians hold most dear. This is a change I’m actually happy to accept. It’s not because I think I’ve got all the answers. To be honest, on a good day I’m likely half wrong, and completely off base on the others. Which…brings me to my next question.

In 1 Timothy, Paul talks about the qualifications of deacons and bishops. I suppose you can argue about whether this is or isn’t for the modern church, but my personal belief is that it is. Maybe we don’t have deacons and bishops in our local church, but I think we can accept that church leaders need to be appointed by the church, and there should be certain criteria by which they are chosen. The interesting thing is that most of the requirements given to either position are outward actions (i.e. the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, not double-tongued, etc). Because leaders are typically appointed by members of the church, how else are we supposed to choose the right candidate, except if we use actions to determine the position of the heart. This is where the slippery-slope begins. How do we choose the right leader when outwardly, he could be blameless, yet on the inside, he’s full of pride? On the other hand, what if someone doesn’t exactly “fit the mold,” but is the most righteous?

The bottom line is that we do the best we can, but ultimately, we don’t know the condition of a heart. My concern with how we hire the typical church leader is that they seem too good to be true. The problem is two-fold. First, when the church finds out that they are actually human and capable of mistakes, it sets the leader up for a massive fall and the church up for undue disappointment. Secondly, it creates a sense in the general congregation that, should they as a layman fall short of this example (which is hardly ever the reality of the person in the leadership role) they aren’t a “good Christian.” I should say that I’ve had the privilege of knowing many local pastors who make no qualms about their humanity. Bryan Stupar, Ron Salsbury and Paul Sisemore, just to name a few, are completely imperfect, and they’d be the first to admit it from the pulpit.

That said, here’s a question for you. Would you hire someone who smokes, drinks and curses, but absolutely loves Jesus, as your pastor? Most churches would say absolutely not. It seems to fly in the face of what we consider a good witness of the gospel of Christ. Or does it? What if I told you that man was C.S. Lewis – a man guilty of all four offenses? This is the disconnect; that if you asked a church if they would hire C.S. Lewis as their pastor, they would undoubtedly say yes. But if you simply looked the outward actions, without knowing the man, you would never consider it, which begs the question – is C.S. Lewis not qualified to be a church leader, or are we looking at the wrong criteria when making our decisions? It seems as if Christians put a lot of stock in what not to do. So much so that my fear is that it outweighs the question of, does this person love Jesus? Personally, I refer to Matthew 7. I don’t know the condition of the heart, and many times, the outward actions are not an adequate representation of the position of the heart. To be honest, I’m more afraid of the “too good to be true’s” than the “C.S. Lewis’.”

The real question is, what makes us clean? Ultimately, it’s nothing external – it’s Jesus. If this weren’t the case, we’d all be screwed, right? But the beauty of the Christian church is that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be effective. Our witness is that Christ came for sinners, of which we are king. So, given that we are all on the same playing field, maybe it’s time that we reconsider how we choose those responsible to lead us. Since we can’t know the condition of the heart, we are limited to external markers. Just make sure that the external marker you are judging someone by isn’t trumped by your internal sin.

Ultimately, I don’t have an answer to the question of criteria. I’m not sure how to choose the right leader for your church. I’m just saying that we should be careful – because it might be that the black sheep is the right one for the job.

9 thoughts on “When the black sheep is the most holy

  1. ok Travis, I’ll take as stab at answering some of these questions you raised.

    First the CS Lewis argument. The question is should a man who drinks, smokes, and cusses be a pastor? If not CS Lewis would then be disqualified because he smoked, drank, and used swear words. That is rather a straw man argument because drinking, smoking, and using swear words are to a large extent cultural criteria more than biblical. Drinking the way Lewis drank, smoking the way Lewis smoked and speaking the way Lewis spoke was not considered “un-Christian” in his time. Look at Spurgeon. What you failed to ask about CS Lewis is would he fit the biblical requirements given for a pastor? In my view he would not have made a good pastor – he was a scholar and a professor, not a theologian or a pastor. He was also an Anglican and held many views that the Anglican church holds that most Evangelicals consider to be unbiblical. Thus he would not have been a good teacher of sound doctrine. Aside from those “external things” that you mentioned there are things about who he was as a person that by the standard of 1 Timothy would have excluded him from the pastorate.

    Which brings us to your first point: is the list in 1 Timothy a list of external qualifications that a person has to do in order to be worthy? I would say no. The list is a description of the type of man that is qualified to serve the church in leading, teaching, counseling, caring, and loving. If a man does not have the qualities listed in that section it doesn’t matter how much in the right place his heart is, how close to Jesus he is, or how “passionate for God” he is – he is not fit for the task of pastoring a church. It has nothing to do with his worth.

    The point being that a man’s heart is visible through his actions over time. Hence the verse about not being hasty, or giving a novice a place of authority. Jesus said you’ll know the tree by its fruit. That implies; 1) that actions over time show the heart, and 2) that this process is visible. Is this then the judging that Jesus spoke about? Is it the judging that James warned about? James spoke of judging in terms of speaking evil of a person – not in terms of looking at them as people to see if they are the type of person who is fit be a servant of the church. Jesus both told us not to judge people and that we would know a man’s heart by his deeds. So there must be a place in between condemning a man without knowing his heart and just figuring we can never know a man’s heart.

    You pose the question as being where is our holiness found, in our right deeds or in Christ? But you pose it in such a way that it would over ride any qualification that the bible would give. If nothing we do makes any difference as to who we are because of Christ then why would Peter, Paul, and James all take the time to write letters telling people that what they did, how they acted, how they treated people mattered? And that by their actions and their decisions they could not be qualified for being a pastor?

    This doesn’t make a gap between a pastor and a layperson, what makes a gap between a pastor and a layperson is the pastor acting as if he earned his place by his holiness. Which, as you point out, is wrong. However even though a pastor can not earn his place – he can disqualify himself from his place. The absence of disqualifying actions doesn’t mean a man has earned a position in a church. Plenty of good, godly, upright, men are not pastors and not because they are not holy but because God didn’t make them to be pastors, did not call them to be pastors, and did not gift them to be pastors.

    There is a lot more to this question than simply asking if we are judging a man’s heart when we ask if he is qualified.

  2. Danny, I was hoping you’d have some input on this. I’ve got some follow-up’s for you.

    “That is rather a straw man argument because drinking, smoking, and using swear words are to a large extent cultural criteria more than biblical.” – That’s my point. My impression is that cultural criteria tends to get more of a voice than biblical criteria when making our decisions. Do these cultural criteria have any place in our decisions?

    “If a man does not have the qualities listed in that section it doesn’t matter how much in the right place his heart is, how close to Jesus he is, or how “passionate for God” he is – he is not fit for the task of pastoring a church.” – I agree with your evaluation, and I also agree with you that the heart is visible through a man’s actions over time. The question is, how much time? What I mean is, humans are masters at deception and sometimes, given an inadequacy of time, the actions of a man DON’T show his heart. When choosing church leadership, we might not have a long-term example of his actions. Then what? Again, I agree with you that we should use biblical criteria, but is there any place for cultural effects, and if so, what are they?

    “If nothing we do makes any difference as to who we are because of Christ then why would Peter, Paul, and James all take the time to write letters telling people that what they did, how they acted, how they treated people mattered?” – Sorry I was unclear about this. I agree that what we do makes a difference – it’s just that ultimately, it doesn’t have any effect on our salvation. Although, if we are saved, we are going to desire obedience to God and a holy life, but I’ve seen firsthand how people create more rules for the position than the Bible requires, seemingly trying to create a Jesus figure out of the pastor or something.

    So if I’m understanding you correctly, the trick to “choosing” the right candidate (as if it’s our choice at all) is to simply acknowledge what God has already ordained. Fair?

  3. Travis, yes, the problem with the cultural criteria is that they tend to not so show someone’s heart so much as show how good that person is at keeping rules. However, things like smoking and drinking can show a person’s hear to some degree. I mean there is a big difference between smoking an afternoon pipe and smoking a pack a day. There is also a difference between a beer on the weekend, wine with dinner and having a daily cocktail, wine with dinner, and then social drinks. The point I’m getting at is that even things like cultural considerations can be helpful if we use them right – they don’t have to be thrown out.

    The question of how much time is needed to know somebody’s heart is a good question and I think the sort of question that every pastor/elder needs to take very seriously. I think a big problem in the evangelical church today is that churches think that being in ministries is the best calling and so they don’t take the time to really get to know people before putting them in leadership roles (we are talking about elders and deacons, after all). The question that you raise (“then what?”) is the question that most just brush off and say “we’ll just trust God’s grace” or something like that. I say, don’t be hasty. There is no rush. Jesus is building his church. The church will not live or die based on this decision. Better to take time making a good decision then rush and run the risk of hurting people if it wasn’t a good decision. Too many people look at Titus and say that since his job was to appoint leaders of churches then it stands to reason that there are men ready to lead if we just can see who God has ordained for this. What they often forget is that these churches are mainly built on Jewish congregations that got saved. Jews who knew the scripture, knew what God required of them, and who were mature followers of God.

    But do we then simply acknowledge what God has already ordained? I think that’s too simplistic. Yes, it is true. Acknowledging what God has already ordained is true of every aspect of our lives. However, God rarely audibly speaks to his church, instead he gave us his written word to lead us and thus expects us to follow his instructions in making decisions about church leaders. It isn’t a passive process as “simply acknowledging what God has ordained” sounds. It is an active process that involves being part of people’s lives and letting them be part of your life. It is a process that knits the church together. It is a process that should involve self-examination on all sides, calls to repentance on all sides, and willingness to say that a person is not ready, not qualified, or not fit even if their heart is in the right place. I think this sort of process, if not done behind closed doors, would actually be very helpful for the church as a whole and especially helpful in setting a high standard for those leading so that those following have something reach for, something to strive for, and an example to follow. If the person leading the church is not ahead of the church how is he going to lead them? If he is not leading by example how are they going to know how to act? If he is not showing them a higher standard how will they be inspired to strive for more in life? This doesn’t have to make a gap between the leadership and the congregation (though it can, and often does) if the pastor is more concerned about pastoring than about being a pastor.

    Danny

  4. The “cultural criteria” is not entirely unimportant, as Paul deemed it worthwhile to have Timothy circumcised (ouch) so as to be a good companion missionary to the Jews. Lest anyone think Paul’s choice of circumcising his young pawdon was an essential for ascending to the varsity team, they need only read his letter to the Galatians..rendering silence to the critics.

    Problems arise when the “cultural criteria” interfere with the “scriptural criteria” by being placed above and beyond them. This seems to be a natural bent of the heart in all things, not just those in this hypothetical church leadership discussion.

    Trav, I’ve wrestled w/ the same questions you have about guys like Lewis (I’d agree w/ Danny, about Lewis & being a Pastor) and perhaps more appropriately Spurgeon…who smoked:
    http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/cigars.htm
    It seems frivolous though that people would be so critical of a guy who who wanted to, “cultivate his flowers and burn his weeds.” even when theres not scriptural basis to shoot arrows.

    It would seem the real criteria that disarms all others is “love”, which is willing to lay aside certain cultural entitlements for others…as Jesus did (phil 2), and stand firm on others for the sake of freedom. This involves a lot of outside help from the Spirit transforming the heart to be like Jesus…knowing when to to challenge the Pharisee by deliberately breaking his ancillary rules and when to lay down and be crucified..

    hopefully this makes sense…but speaking of love, I got a valentines day breakfast waiting for me, made by all my women! ;)

  5. Danny and Bryan – Good stuff!

    “I think this sort of process, if not done behind closed doors, would actually be very helpful for the church as a whole and especially helpful in setting a high standard for those leading so that those following have something reach for, something to strive for, and an example to follow.” – Danny, I agree with this 1000%

    Bryan – thank you for never asking me to do something as painful as circumcision while I was in ministry with you. I am forever indebted to you ;)

    “knowing when to challenge the Pharisee by deliberately breaking his ancillary rules and when to lay down and be crucified..” – I love this. I’m all about challenging ancillary rules – that comes easy. I’m ashamed to say that it’s laying down and being crucified that is so difficult for me. Definitely something I need to work on.

  6. Bryan – Brilliant! I never thought of it that way, but you’re right. Jesus is the epitome of what the religous people would have called the black sheep. Funny that’s He’s actually spottless.

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