An Open Letter to Reformed Baptist Pastors & ChurchesTed Christman
The following letter was sent out to pastors and churches who have been primarily involved with the independent, Reformed Baptist movement in the United States. Its sad occasion was the serious moral failure of a very visible and deeply respected leader of that movement. It is printed here as a reminder of the dangers and consequences of disqualifying sins on the part of pastors, and as an encouragement to pursue redemptive restoration of brothers who are thus ensnared.
Recently our hearts were jolted and profoundly grieved through news of the calamitous spiritual and moral plummet of . By now the shock waves of this "earthquake" have made their way around the world. To most of us the slightest reflection upon this sad event (whether in the quietness of our own minds, or through a sober discussion with someone else) results in a kind of emotional aftershock--fearful and disconcerting. Surely, we have significant reason to plead with God, both corporately and privately, for many great mercies. First and foremost, we must each (shepherds and sheep alike) beg the Lord for preserving and persevering grace for ourselves. Second, we need to continue to intercede for the faithful elders of our sister church in that they may have the wisdom, guidance and heart of God as they seek to deal faithfully with and measure out appropriate discipline to their fallen and recovering church member/missionary. Third, we need to beseech the Lord in a tender, untiring and redemptive way that He continue to pour out upon our dear brother and friend the recovering grace that seems so evident and encouraging. If our gracious God hears and answers these cries, the "success" of Satan will be minimized and God's greater glory will be secured--a glory which will wonderfully and significantly eclipse the evil--in spite of its magnitude.
Having encouraged us all to pray, may I share a deep concern and burden which lies heavily upon my heart? As I do so, please be assured of my profound sense of humility and personal unworthiness to be exhorting or instructing fellow pastors and churches. I am fully aware of my relative obscurity and somewhat low profile. (This is a status I hope to enjoy for the rest of my days). If there is any "mandate" to share my thoughts, it is to be attributed to my own conscience and heart as well as the encouragement of my fellow elders.
My concern pertains to our ability to forgive and restore our recovering friend. When I use the word "restore" I obviously have no reference to a return to the pastorate or the mission field. Rather, I have in mind 's complete spiritual recovery, i.e. his renewed determination to be a holy man, his sense of God's perfect forgiveness, his possession of peace and joy and the persuasion that the people of God have also happily and fully forgiven him.
Allow me to share my fears and hopes. First, my fears: I fear there are those among us who have an "elder brother" attitude toward the returned prodigal rather than that of the Father. The elder brother could not rejoice and delight in the signs of repentance even in his own brother. He was angry with his father for having initiated a celebration. He was disgruntled. He was self-absorbed. He didn't know if his brother's repentance was "for real" or not. Hence, he was unable to rejoice with hope. How different his Father! He so loved and longed and hoped for repentance that he daily looked for the slightest evidence that his son might appear trudging down the dusty road toward home. Why wasn't the elder brother standing next to his dad looking and praying for the same return?
I fear there are those among us who do not possess a healthy portion of that love which "hopes all things" (1 Cor. 13:7) but rather are troubled with an attitude of "I'm not going to believe this repentance is true until I have overwhelming evidence that it is."
I fear there are those among us who believe that , in spite of the fact that he gives many, many, many hopeful signs of true repentance and has humbly "listened to the church," ought still to be excommunicated. How unbiblical! How contrary to our Lord's teaching in Matthew 18.
I fear there are those among us who so equate the granting of forgiveness with full restoration that they are unable to render obedience to our Savior's clear instruction found in Luke 17:4. There our Lord said, "If he [your brother] sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." How much evidence could a person give of the genuineness of his repentance if he found it necessary to come to you seven times in the same day? Obviously, very little. Yet, we are required to say, "I forgive you." Note, we are not required to have total trust and confidence in such a person. We have good and wise warrant to wait prayerfully for the sustained evidence of true repentance and that does require time. Confidence and trust must be earned the old-fashioned way by hard work and consistency. Nevertheless, the point is we are to be predisposed and inclined to grant forgiveness. Unless we have solid evidence that the penitent is deceiving us, we are clearly not to withhold it. This predisposition, inclination and desire to forgive will manifest itself attractively in a discernable quality of spirit and attitude. The contrary predisposition and inclination will also inevitably manifest itself in our attitudes, posture and demeanor.
What are my hopes? My hopes are that we will do what the Apostle Paul commanded us to do in Eph. 4:32 namely, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you". How has God forgiven us? Freely, unreservedly, graciously, lovingly, completely and forever.
My hope is that we will take long, sobering looks into our own hearts and propensities and wonder in amazement why God has so graciously preserved us from such a fall. It surely is not because we are more godly, holy and mature than our friend ever was.
My hope is that we will look upon our brother's sin through the eyes of our own "10,000 talent debt forgiveness" and find it not only possible to forgive him, but easy.
My hope is that we will realize that there was a context to our friend's fall and humbly wonder what might happen to us if we ever found ourselves in a sustained slough of disillusionment, despair and spiritual darkness. (To be sure, these factors do not remove 's responsibility or excuse his guilt, but they should elicit some sympathy and make us reticent to pass hasty and heartless judgment).
My hope is that we will spend as much time praying for God's immediate and ultimate triumph over Satan and for our friend's full restoration as we do talking about the tragic event.
My hope is that we will use this sad occasion to teach our children and one another about the wonderful doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. This is no longer merely a story about a sheep that went hopelessly astray. This is a story about a Shepherd who went out and found His lost sheep, put it upon his shoulders and brought it home to the rest of the flock and then called his friends and neighbors saying to them, "Rejoice with me for I have found my lost sheep" (Luke 15:6). Great falls require great recoveries. Great recoveries require a great salvation. A great salvation requires a great God. And that is exactly what we have--a great and gracious and glorious God!
I know there are some of us who feel especially betrayed--I am one. But may I encourage each of us to remember this. Those who have been hurt the deepest are those who loved the most. And those who have loved the most also happen to be those whom he has loved the most. We are the ones he has poured his very life into. From that perspective, we should be the ones who find granting forgiveness the easiest. His wife, the children and 's parents have forgiven him. Who has been wounded more severely than they? Yet, they have forgiven him. If they have begun to extend this healing token of love, who are we to withhold it?
We need to remember something else. It's easy to view sins and their heinousness like the rungs on a ladder. Our tendency is to put the physical sins up near the top, and some of the spiritual sins near the bottom. May I suggest that we often invert God's ladder? What really belong at the top are sins such as envy, pride, resentment and unforgiveness. On the day of Judgment, those who in this life refused to forgive our friend (…from their hearts, Matt. 18:35) may sadly discover not only that their sin was worse than his but even more fearfully, that their own sin remains unforgiven.
I apologize for the length of my communication. If there is any wisdom in what I have shared, may the Lord bless it to our lives. If there is any fault in it, may He banish it from our minds. If you view my concerns and perspectives as unbalanced in any way, I genuinely welcome your corrections. Again, all that I have shared comes with a sense of humility and unworthiness to be instructing others. I only long that we as individuals and as Calvinistic Baptists be God-like in our response to this calamity. I desire that we be known in this world not only for our devoted adherence and faithfulness to the Scriptures, but also for our spiritual, moral and behavioral likeness to the redemptive and compassionate character of our Heavenly Father.
Sincerely and humbly your servant in Christ,
Pastor Ted Christman