Father, may we hate our own sin more than anyone else’s. Grant us this work of grace in our hearts. Scotty Smith
Yesterday I was totally shocked to scroll through my Facebook page and learn that Tullian Tchividjian had resigned from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. My first reaction wasn’t anger or the feeling that I’d been betrayed, but rather a deep sadness flooded my heart. The reality that the great enemy of our souls had won another battle made me sick. I knew in my heart that this wasn’t gonna play out well on social media. Folks would point fingers, shake their heads, and be ready to tar and feather Tullian. Many will use it as an excuse not to go to church. Others will love having the opportunity to gossip. Theologians will declare that he is an antinomian and claim his teaching just gave people an opportunity to excuse their sin. His words and actions will be picked apart.
Many will be focusing on Tullian’s sin and will forget all about their own.
I’m battling anger over this. Because of my own similar sin, it’s difficult not to take what people say about Tullian and take it very personally. I find myself wanting to judge those who are judging. I realize how Satan can use my frustrations to make me prideful and use it to win another battle, and I’m praying along with Scotty Smith to help me hate my own sin and find grace.
On our daily walk this morning, my husband and I discussed many of the emotions that Tullian’s resignation brought out in us. I talked about my anger towards those pointing fingers. I admitted that I knew I had to find compassion for the people pointing the fingers and trust God’s work in their lives. Because there was a time I felt the same way they did.
I was well aware of the verses where Jesus warned His followers not to judge when I became a Christian in my 20’s. I didn’t even know I had a problem with judging. I had this mixed up idea that judging was determining if a person was a Christian or not. I thought it was perfectly ok to be a fruit inspector and point out and criticize the wrong things others were doing.
I went through two rounds of evangelism training. I was one of those people who knocked on doors at night to ask people if they knew if they’d go to Heaven or not. I think they knew we were coming, because many didn’t open the door. However, the ones that did got to listen to the pastor tell them how to be saved, and why coming to Sunday School was important.
Even today as I think about the condition of my heart at the time I feel ashamed. I cannot believe how I looked down at people for not coming to church. I’m appalled by the fact that I judged another man, because he had a beer on the table beside his chair. I wholeheartedly believed that I was bringing them the good news, and if they’d listen they could be just like me. God help us all!
Not too long after that my mother in law was caught in a sin. She was having an inappropriate relationship with a married pastor. I was the first one to run to our pastor in utter devastation over what she was doing. My heart feels so very much grief over this now.
When my husband and I discussed his mom’s inappropriate relationship this morning he told me something that grieved me even more. He told me how my judgment of his Mom had hurt him so much. He’d felt in the middle and since that time his relationship with his mother just hadn’t been the same. I could only own what I’d done all those years ago and apologize. Certainly, if I could do it all over again I’d do so much differently, because here I am in the same predicament, dealing with my own inappropriate relationship a year ago with a pastor.
Lately, my counselor and I have been talking about a better way for the church to deal with sin. How can we glorify God in the messiness of our lives? How can we show compassion without encouraging others to sin? How do we reveal Christ to those who haven’t repented? And what do we do with those who have repented?
My first reaction to my mother in law’s sin was that of disappointment. My core belief about who she should be was tremendously skewed. I’d put her on a pedestal. My expectations were that she would never commit such a socially unacceptable sin. I believed she was “good.” I recognize now that Jesus didn’t call “any man good” for a reason. We are all desperate, broken sinners in need of God’s grace. My mother in law nor anyone else would ever measure up to God’s standard of perfection. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. None of us are good, no not one.
After being pressured by church leadership to admit her sin or be excommunicated, my mother in law chose to withdraw and go to a more liberal church that would accept her where she was. I often wonder if things had been done differently if she’d have chosen this way.
Throughout this process with her the scriptures were used. We had friends that talked to us who were seminary students. They claimed a church wasn’t a church if sin wasn’t dealt with. They emphasized the importance of dealing with her sin in such a way that she’d want to come to repentance. They even said it was God’s kindness that brought all of us to repentance.
But in that process I can see something was clearly missing from my own heart; mercy. Only later when it was too late and when the damage was done, did I see it. And if I could go back and do it all over there is much I would change.
I wish that I had understood then what I know now about abuse and the shame and desperation it produces in our hearts. She’d lived in an abusive situation off and on for thirty years. She’d gone to work with black eyes, put up with a husband who drank way too much and abused her children. He’d even gone all over town and called her a whore. When he’d get drunk and get thrown in jail, the local minister would bail him out and bring him home! And this only scratched the surface. Her life had been an absolute tragedy, and there I was drawing a hard line in the sand. What in the world was I thinking?! It’s clear now that I wasn’t.
I was in denial of my own sinful heart and desperate need for grace, and I’ve only been able to see it since I got caught in the same sin.
The difference between my mother in law and myself was that I repented before I was caught. I admitted to an inappropriate relationship with my former pastor and asked for mercy. The pastor I confessed to initially showed me much mercy and compassion. He agreed with my counselor that the relationship had been inappropriate and abusive. I’d gone to my former pastor for counseling and he had the responsibility to keep boundaries and hadn’t. I am an adult survivor of childhood abuse. I was very vulnerable when I walked into his office for help. I’ve had the tendency to want to place the blame on him for everything, but I know that I sinned, too. We all have our reasons for our sins. In similar ways, my mother in law was vulnerable when she met the married pastor she had an inappropriate relationship with. As was Tullian when he discovered his wife’s infidelity. And I am sure his wife had her own vulnerabilities and reasons for what she did as well. The pastor I confessed to showed me great mercy until he felt the pressure of other leaders in the denomination. Then they drew a line in the sand. They held my former pastor to a higher accountability for what he’d done, but they made it clear that I would face the consequences of my own sin. People in the church would know what I did, and I would not be able to return to my job. The pastor, who was already retired, would be deposed. It was of utmost importance that this sin was dealt with quickly and in the right way before the town gossip started. It seemed to me that appearances were more important than anything else. The whole mess was confusing and disheartening. But since that time, the pastor that I confessed to has admitted he wished he’d done things differently. Just last week he told me how very sorry he was. His apology brought such relief to my heart. And of course I forgive him. There’s no way that I can’t forgive. Because I did much the same thing, and God forgave me.
And that’s where the process of dealing with sin in the church has to begin…with the knowledge of our own sin and how God has forgiven us. I pointed fingers at my mother in law, and neglected looking at my own day to day battles with lust. I’d heard my former leaders share stories about their struggles with pornography, yet when I actually acted on my lust I was out the door as was the former pastor. And it was all so quick. I’m not saying the pastor needed to stay in ministry. I’m not saying that I needed to go right back to work. But what I am saying is it seems the church leaders could have slowed down and looked at their own hearts. After all, Love is patient.
Reading some of the comments on the articles about Tullian’s resignation has caused so many emotions, but I pray we’d all take Scotty Smith’s advice and look at our own sin.
And here’s my own thoughts on what others are saying. They are the words I wished someone would have said to my leaders when they were judging me, and what I wish someone would have told me when I was judging my mother in law:
Brothers and sisters this ought not to be so! I beg of you in view of God’s mercy that before you point out another’s sin that you take the log out of your own eye. How can we begin to help someone else when we haven’t even allowed God to help us? Ask God to show you your own sin. Stop trying to clean the outside of the cup and make the church look all beautiful and polished on the outside. Deal with your own hearts, humble yourselves and God will lift you up. Pray for those who have fallen around you and reach out a hand to help them up. For goodness sakes, this isn’t about worship styles or preaching styles, this is about mercy, love, and grace that God asks us to show one another. Let us make the church a safe place to repent. Let us make the church a safe place to grieve from the pains of the past. Let us work alongside counselors and psychologists and help people deal with the pain in their hearts that cause them to sin. Let us be honest with one another about our struggles and mental illnesses and stop trying to present to the world a pristine condition. We are all sinners. Let’s stop acting like we aren’t. Most of all let’s love one another. For His love covers a multitude of sins. And it’s His love that we give one to another, not our pristine reputations, that will reveal to the world that we are His disciples.