“Genuine forgiveness does not necessarily imply restoration to leadership,” former CT editor Kenneth Kantzer once wrote after the moral failure of several prominent evangelical leaders. Yet the impulse to link forgiveness with restoration to ministry remains strong. Here two pastor-theologians argue for the importance of keeping separate the restoration to the body of Christ and restoration to pastoral leadership.
The North American church is seriously vexed by the question, “What shall we do with an adulterous pastor?” Over the past decade, the church has been repeatedly staggered by revelations of immoral conduct by some of its most respected leaders. How do we respond to those who have sexually fallen and disgraced themselves, shamed their families, and debased their office?
The typical pattern goes like this: The pastor is accused and convicted of sexual sin. He confesses his sin, often with profound sorrow. His church or denominational superiors prescribe a few months, or often one year, in which time he is encouraged to obtain professional counsel. Then he is restored to his former office, sometimes in another location. He is commonly regarded as a “wounded healer,” one who now knows what it means to fall, to experience the grace of God profoundly.
While each situation must be handled with pastoral wisdom, and some fallen pastors indeed might someday be restored to leadership, we believe this increasingly common scenario is both biblically incorrect and profoundly harmful to the well-being of the fallen pastor, his marriage, and the church of Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus was tempted in all points just as we are, yet it was his testing, not any failure, that made him strong. ...