I read a story in Baptist News Global today and was discussing it with the guys. Judge Paul Pressler is asking for summary judgment in the lawsuit against him based on the fact that the statute of limitations has passed. We were batting around the ramifications of that strategy, and an idea started to form. Please hear me, I am using the very public Pressler matter as a template for a larger discussion.
It often appears to me that people read the title and perhaps a paragraph or two of a post – bad mojo for my 2000 word posts – and start in on the comments. I want to make some strong statements here at the top, because what I am about to say will be open to misinterpretation.
- I do not know is if Judge Pressler is guilty and I am not declaring him so. For the sake of this piece, I am speculating on what it would mean for the Conservative Resurgence (CR) if he were found to be guilty of these accusations.
- Please hear this, there is no justification or excuse for sexual harassment or abuse in any form. Those who commit such acts should be prosecuted by the law and disciplined by the church. When positions of authority are abused to molest or harass the perpetrators must be held accountable. To aid in a cover up of such evil is also shameful.
When this story first began to leak out, there was discussion among some who were opposed to the CR and saw this as evidence of the illegitimacy of the movement. Assuming Pressler’s guilt, they extrapolated that his sins represented the movement and were evidence of its unholy purposes. The lawsuit against Pressler makes this very claim, that the CR is a criminal conspiracy designed to enable men to control and abuse women and children.
Is that fair? If Pressler is guilty does it stain the CR? Ought we to denounce the CR if its architect is proven to be a molester?
Whether you are a loyal supporter of the Judge or not, would you suspend that for a moment to investigate a scenario? What if he is guilty? What happens then? Or, if he is proven innocent, what happens if some other icon of the SBC is caught in shameful sin? Does that sin undermine what the man has done? If a man’s life is shown to be ungodly does it mean that all of his ministry efforts were equally ungodly? Can a flawed man accomplish something good?
We tend to leap to the negatives today. No man involved in such wickedness can accomplish good. “He is unregenerate.” “God can’t use a man who …” But I am not sure the Scripture backs up that viewpoint. Isn’t the Bible full of stories of God using badly flawed men to accomplish his purposes? Weren’t some of the great men of the Bible guilty of some pretty horrible things?
I think of Samson, a man whose character betrayed him in every way. Yet he still delivered Israel and somehow made it into the list in Hebrews 11. I would bill Lot as a world-class compromiser, but 2 Peter calls him “righteous.” It is hard to put a positive spin on what Abraham did in giving his wife Sarah (twice) to a pagan king. Mordecai didn’t send Esther into the king’s bedchamber for a night of Scrabble. King David – need I go into details? Peter stubbed his toe spiritually in the Gospels often, but Paul also confronted him about his hypocrisy in Galatians. Paul calls himself the chief of sinners and admits to a thorn in the flesh (whatever that was). There are only a handful of major characters in the Bible who did not have serious moral flaws recorded about them.
God uses flawed people to accomplish his sovereign purposes.
Church history tells a similar story. Some Christian biographies beatify their subjects – as if that person could align the planets and bring balance to the force, while walking on water and turning back the sun. But when you dig down beneath the surface, most of these great men (and women) of church history had some pretty nasty, hairy warts.
- Luther appears to have been an anti-Semite. Are all of Luther’s contributions to the church negated because of his anti-Semitism?
- Anti-Calvinists make much of the death of Servetus in their opposition to Calvin’s theology. Calvin and his reformers relied on governmental power to enforce religious doctrine and they persecuted and executed those who disagreed. We reject that today, even the most ardent Calvinists do! Does the death of Servetus negate the theology of Calvin?
- Closer to home, the SBC was founded by racists because of racism. Southern Baptists wanted to be able to own slaves and still send missionaries and so formed a convention. Racist theology and practice were woven into the fabric of the SBC throughout its history. We would not allow men with the racial beliefs of our founders a place in our convention today. Is our convention condemned today because of the racism in which it was born (and of the discrimination, segregation, and racial animus that followed for a century and a half)?
- And, to our current question, if one or more of the leaders of the CR are shown to have clay feet, does that invalidate the CR?
As a result of both the Scriptural evidence, that of church history, and my own observations in my life, my churches, and our convention, I would make the following three assertions.
1. God uses flawed people to accomplish his perfect purposes.
This is a truism, because “all have sinned.” There are no pristine and perfect people through whom God can work. But I am asserting more than “nobody is perfect.” God is able to use deeply flawed, wicked, backslidden people to do great things. I knew a pastor of a growing church (not SBC). He was setting the world on fire; people said he was the next Chuck Swindoll. He was a solid Bible teacher, a man of wisdom, grace, and spiritual character – right up until he was arrested soliciting an undercover cop for sex. How did this man preach the word of God, lead people to Christ, build a church, while he was visiting hookers? I don’t get it. Never will. But somehow God used a deeply flawed man to build a great church.
Habakkuk decried the wickedness of God’s people and God said, “I am raising up the Babylonians…” God was using the wicked Babylonians to accomplish his purposes. God uses the wicked to accomplish his good. That’s an extreme example, but it makes a point.
2. Being used by God does not justify a man’s sin.
God told Habakkuk he would use Babylon, then judge them. My pastor friend (acquaintance?) was used by God and then came under divine, governmental, and church discipline. Be sure your sin will find you out. A lot of men have built great ministries while sacrificing character, integrity, even morality. Eventually, it comes crashing down. And even if you can keep juggling all the bowling pins, God is not fooled. You will stand before him.
We cannot use our usefulness as an excuse for our carelessness and sinfulness. No amount of power or influence justifies sin. The size of your church, the speed at which it grows, the numerical success, nor your increasing “platform” is a marker of God’s blessing. All of these things can happen to a man in sin – for a time.
3. Seeking holiness is of highest priority.
When things are going well, it is easy to get careless. “See, God is blessing me even though I am not walking in holiness. He must be okay with how I’m living.” We often use grace as an excuse for spiritual carelessness, something Paul warns against in Romans 6. God’s job is to use me for his purposes, but while he does, I must, by the Spirit’s power, continually seek him and strive for the holiness and Christlikeness that the Spirit produces in me.
Character matters. Godliness matters. We desire greatness, God calls us to godliness. We want to build a platform and achieve influence, but God seeks to build Christlikeness and achieve the fullness of the Spirit. We must be holy as he is holy. Saying, “See how much I am doing for God” is never a substitute for becoming more like Jesus. We must always devote ourselves to the pursuit of holiness and Christlikeness regardless of what is going on in our lives.
The ends NEVER justify the means in the kingdom of God.
God can (and does) use deeply flawed people to accomplish great works in his kingdom. The flaws of those people do not negate the work of God, but the work of God does not absolve the man of responsibility for his flaws.
- The Reformation is not negated by Luther’s anti-Semitism or Calvin’s Serveticide, but neither does the great work God did through them make those things okay. They were flawed men that God used.
- The Southern Baptist Convention has been greatly used and blessed by God and that is not nullified by the racism of our founders or the generations that followed. But the fact that we’ve sent missionaries and won people to Christ doesn’t lessen the horrors of our racism. We have been a great convention deeply flawed by the stain of racism and xenophobia. We must continue to seek to correct what has been wrong as we thank God for what he has done.
- The Conservative Resurgence stands or falls on the basis of its purposes. I came face to face with liberalism of the rankest form in my college years (at a then-Baptist college) with professors from Southern Seminary (and a couple from Southeastern). I knew something needed to be done and I thank God that today all six of our seminaries are peopled by inerrantist administrations and professors. Were the leaders of the CR flawed? EVERY SINGLE ONE. Were some of them deeply and shamefully flawed? Perhaps. But their flaws do not negate what was done.
My dad had a jarring experience early in his walk with Christ. The man who led him from atheism to Christ fell into a life of sin a few months later. It devastated dad. He had to realize that his faith was in Christ who saved him, not in the man who brought him to Christ. If our faith is in Christ we can respect men but never let our faith rest on them. We can love them but never found our lives on them.
If Judge Pressler is guilty, or if someone you love and respect fails, it is a sad moment. But our God uses flawed people. He then holds them accountable for their sin and seeks to correct their sin and conform them to Christ. Our duty is to seek Jesus not power, to become like Christ not to rise to prominence in the world.
Let us be gracious with the failings of others, but never excuse them.
Let us pursue holiness with passion as we seek to become like Christ.
Let us thank God that he uses flawed people like us as the process of conformity to Christ continues.