Reflections on Tullian's Resignation
Like many others, I am heartbroken over the recent news about Tullian Tchividjian and the events surrounding his resignation from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. I know that God is sovereign and I’m grateful that where our sin abounds, his grace abounds all the more (see Romans 5:20), but we need to call it like it is - It’s a big deal. It’s extremely saddening. Whenever any Christian leader morally fails, whether in adultery or other scandalous sin, it does great damage to the local church that they lead, the church at large, and most importantly to the name of Jesus Christ in the eyes of a watching world. Whether it’s right or wrong, people leave the local church over such things. People distrust their current leadership even more over such things. Again, it is a big deal. Granted, no Christian leader is ever perfect (we all know that), but every Christian leader should be able to say with Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). People should feel confident to follow their leaders. Their way of life is meant to be an example to imitate (See Hebrews 13:7).
Fear and Trembling
I hesitated writing something about all this. For one thing, I didn’t want to come off as judgmental or a “know it all” when I don’t know all the facts of what has happened, except for what I’ve heard from many of the members there and what I’ve read on social media. I also didn’t want to use this incident as a shameless way to bring attention to myself. And with a post like this, there’s never enough space to write all the things that you could say, or that you’d want to say. So, know that I write this with fear and trembling, not with spite or judgmentalism. Alright, so why am I taking the time to write this?
Well, first, Coral Ridge is a PCA church (Presbyterian Church in America), a sister church of the one I lead along with several other elders and deacons in West Palm Beach, FL (Truth Point Church), and we're only a 50 minute drive north of Coral Ridge. I’ve already received questions from members of our congregation asking me why the system of accountability in the PCA didn’t work to squash the false teaching on sanctification that was happening there and some of the questionable decisions and actions along the way. I’ve also been asked what the members of our church can do to help prevent this same type of thing happening to me or the other leaders at Truth Point. Lastly, many people have been texting me asking for my thoughts on the issue. At this time, I feel that the best way for me to respond is to write something that I can initially point people to.
Structures Only Get Us So Far
I can't speak for the South Florida Presbytery on how this was handled and will be handled going forward. What I can say is that no system of government (church or civil) can stop every problem or prevent every issue (moral or otherwise). Additionally, the structure is only as good as the people within it. I’m not sure what steps were or were not taken by the men in that presbytery prior to this news, but I give them the benefit of the doubt that they were actively addressing these things. The accountability structure within the PCA is not perfect, but it’s very effective. In fact, at my first Gulf Stream Presbytery meeting, a minister was removed due to questionable activities that he was engaged in. There was enough evidence to remove his credentials to further minister in the PCA. He was removed and the people were protected. Every pastor in the PCA can be removed from his office based on serious moral failure or the breaking of our ordination vows and departing from our standards of faith (Westminster Confession and Catechisms).
Christian Fellowship and Leadership
Douglas Wilson once made a helpful distinction that has always stuck with me. There’s a difference between the qualifications for fellowship in the Christian community and leadership in the Christian community. Genuine repentance and faith is all that is needed to be welcomed as part of the body of Christ and partake of the Lord’s Supper as a Christian in good standing. However, there are higher qualifications for entering into and maintaining a position of Christian leadership in that community, as outlined in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. We must not confuse God’s grace that pardons all of our sin in Jesus with a lack of standards for leaders and consequences for sin. Many point to Peter’s denial and his subsequent position of leadership in the church. Yet, I would argue that denying that you know Jesus under duress is not the same thing as sexual moral failure while you hold the office of a pastor. Peter’s denial was Jesus’ way of breaking Peter of his pride so that he could use him in the future, not to give church leaders the impression that they can bring reproach on the name of Christ with moral failure and not reap the consequences.
Real Prayer for Real People
With that said, Tullian, Coy, Driscoll, and other prominent leaders who have resigned of late over serious sin issues are real people who need our real prayers. What I mean is that for many, these are just prominent names on the covers of books or well-known faces on stages, but they are much more than that. They are sons of God with feelings, dreams, and real pain. You and I may disagree with their particular ministry methods or some points of teaching, but we must pray for them personally. Like …we actually need to stop and lift them up by name in concentrated prayer to God. They need real prayer, not just shout outs on social media that “we are praying,” but actually never getting around to it. I highly doubt Tullian will ever read this blog post, but Tullian, if you do, may you know that I love you as a brother in Christ, and I pray that the Lord will bring deep and lasting healing to your heart and in your marriage.
Our Commitment and Yours
So, what is our commitment to ensure that this doesn’t happen in our church, and what can you do to help? What I do: You should know that I regularly speak with another man in our church each week, and we confess any wrong thoughts or struggles with sin so that we can put sin to death at its smallest level. We ask each other the hard questions and take sin seriously. We’re also part of an underground “fight club” that we started with other guys in the church that challenge and encourage one another in the area of sexual purity. Also, as elders we have a time in the beginning of each session meeting where we share any sins or struggles and pray for one another. What you can do: Please pray for the people of Coral Ridge during this time and also for our church leadership, that God would protect us from moral failure and false teaching of any kind. Please do not be afraid to lovingly and respectfully challenge / question us if you get the impression of pride, false teaching or anything else that is not befitting a minister of the gospel. We are not celebrities that can’t be reached, but servants that are held accountable by all. Our staff and session has been and will continue to pray for Tullian and the entire Coral Ridge Church family. We must all stay humble and take heed. May the damage done by sin be repaired by the God of all grace and healing.