Some Final Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

We conclude our little series on defrocking the pastor by considering four positive standards that can lead to dismissal if neglected. Our desire is to build our standards for disqualification on defensible ground. I hope this article will offer some guidance towards that end.

What about his reputation?

The Bible gives good reason for this qualification: “lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” 

This qualification is meant primarily for a pastor entering the ministry.  Before calling a pastoral candidate, the church should take some time to review his credit report.  The credit report may have its flaws and shortcomings, but it does provide an objective snapshot of a man’s integrity.  Does he pay his bills?  Does he have excessive debt?  Does he manage his money well?  These things can dramatically impact his ability to minister in the church. 

At the same time, the church shouldn’t be quick to remove the pastor on this basis.  Chances are, the church will have an idea why the pastor might have fallen into financial hardship in the middle of his pastoral ministry.  It could be that his family has faced a health crisis or that they have endured a string of financial setbacks.  In some cases, the pastor has passed on a pay increase for several years running, and things have started to catch up to him. 

This qualification presents another area where the church will need to use discretion.  If the pastor has gotten himself into excessive debt through luxurious living – new cars, expensive vacations, etc. – and now he is on the verge of bankruptcy, I think the church should discuss his finances with him.

In general, the point of disqualification should hover somewhere in the vicinity of bankruptcy, having the car repossessed, or having the house foreclosed.  But even here, I don’t believe there would be a cut-and-dried disqualifier.  If, for example, some hard providence caused the bankruptcy – say, a car accident left the pastor in dire financial straits – I would hope the church would move to support the pastor, not defrock him.

What about his marriage?

The qualification of marital fidelity – that a pastor must be a “one-woman man” – requires more than just the absence of sexual uncleanness.  While this qualification includes negative prohibitions, the point of the qualification is that he must be devoted to his wife.  That is, he must treat his wife with dignity and respect and must love his wife as Christ loved the church, sacrificially giving himself for her.  His marriage must be exemplary, both in public and in private.

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More Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

The list of pastoral qualifications is relatively broad – I believe intentionally.  God wants His churches to be discerning.  For this reason, it is not always possible to identify a strict point at which a pastor would be disqualified based on these standards.  For example, I have no idea when a pastor would be disqualified based on how he practices hospitality (a practice that both Timothy and Titus require).  If the pastor is sometimes reluctant to open his home to guests, is he therefore disqualified?  He isn’t a “lover of hospitality.”  Should the church have a minimum requirement for their pastor, how often he must invite guests to his home?  If the deacons haven’t had dinner at his house in a couple of years, is that grounds for removal?  Hardly. 

Similarly, Titus says that the pastor must not be “self-willed” or “soon angry.”  I know many pastors who would be in serious trouble if their church strictly applied these qualifications.  Their entire ministry is marked by self-will.  They are hot-headed bullies.  These qualifications count every bit as much as the requirement that a pastor be “blameless.” Yet, pastors and churches regularly overlook or ignore these standards.  At what point should a hot-tempered pastor be sacked? That answer may not be so immediately apparent. 

For most of these qualifications, it would be impossible to lay down a minimal standard that a pastor must meet to avoid disqualification.  Again, I believe this to be a design feature of the qualifications.  God didn’t give these lists so we could defrock the pastor.  The list provides a standard that every pastor should strive to meet.  They give the church a benchmark to look for in a pastor.  But God made these qualifications sufficiently broad, leaving room for interpretation.

Two or three of these specific qualifications are relatively straightforward, and grounds for removal would at least be identifiable.  On the negative side, a pastor must not be a “striker” or a “brawler,” he must not be “greedy of filthy lucre,” and he must not be “given to wine.”  On the positive side, he must be “the husband of one wife;” he must “rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;” “he must have a good report of them which are without” (all taken from Timothy’s list). 

I intend to discuss a minimal requirement that, if not met, should result in removal.  Not to repeat everything I have said, but individual churches would determine when and how to enforce these standards.  Nor should a church consider these as minimal standards for a pastoral candidate.  A pastor should strive for the highest quality in his everyday life based on Scriptural standards.  What I am discussing here is the minimum expectation which, if not met, should result in the removal of the pastor.  

For the sake of organization, we will consider the negative qualifiers in this post, then consider the positive qualifiers later.  Negatively, a pastor must not be a striker or a brawler, he must not be “money greedy,” and he must not be given to wine. 

What about the pastor’s temper?

Let me preface what I have to say here with a word about the effeminacy of our age.  America has a pandemic of effeminate pastors.  If a backboned man leads your church, then you know that from time to time, he will get a little hot.  Inasmuch as his wrath is motivated by the purity of the church and the honor of God, a church should be grateful that they have such a pastor.

Continue reading “More Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor”

Some Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

I find it interesting that the Bible never gives a single instance when a sitting pastor was defrocked.  I suppose there could be several explanations for this odd phenomenon.  Perhaps the pastors of that time were cut from a different cloth than pastors in our day.  It could be that there were no pastors who disqualified themselves, and thus nothing to reveal.  Or perhaps, the writers of the New Testament simply chose to ignore specific cases that called for the dismissal of a pastor.

To be clear, we are not arguing that the New Testament has nothing to say about the discipline of a pastor. Paul gave clear instructions for handling such a case. 

Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; (I Timothy 5:1)

Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. (I Timothy 5:19-20)

These verses indicate the possibility that there will be accusations against elders.  Anticipating this, Paul gives direct instruction on how to handle it.  Consider then what we have here.  Paul acknowledges that there may be accusations against an elder.  He admits that the pastor may in fact be in the wrong.  Yet, he does not provide a single example of the dismissal of the pastor.  Are we to take this to mean that no pastor disqualifief himself in the New Testament?

To be honest, I can’t say.  I believe that a pastor can disqualify himself from pastoral ministry, of course.  But the Scriptural emphasis is on the qualifications, not the disqualifications. The point of the qualification passages (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)  is not so we will know when to give the pastor the sack.  Paul gives the qualifiers; we imply from his list the disqualifiers.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

With this in mind, we should consider at what point violation of the qualifications of a pastor would require the removal of the pastor.  I have observed that many make assumptions about the point of disqualification, but more than a few of these assumptions are extra-biblical, informed more by tradition than Scripture.  In my mind, an even bigger problem comes from the uneven way these qualifications are applied.      

That said, here are a few points to consider.

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The Lord’s Table As the Central Act of Enjoying God

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (I Corinthians 10:16)

Neglect of the Lord’s Supper is one of the great neglects of our age.  I don’t believe we can rightly estimate the damage it does, both to churches and to individual Christians, that we neglect the Lord’s Table.  Since we have been discussing off and on the subject of enjoying God, I thought it would be helpful to point out that God has ordained a very specific way believers are to enjoy Him – and that is through the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.

Before I dig into the topic, let me acknowledge that in general, Christians don’t have control over the frequency of their Lord’s Supper celebrations.  That is a church decision.  And, as Paul says, it is the “communion of the body of Christ.”  Thus, a believer’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper will depend on his church’s celebration of it.  

Paul speaks of the Lord’s Supper as “the communion of the blood and body of Christ.” I believe Paul intentionally leads off with the communion of the blood of Christ as a reference to the saving act that brings a believer into communion with Christ.  The communion of the blood of Christ refers to our salvation; the communion of the body of Christ refers to our position in our local church.  Believers partake of communion as members of their local church, and I do not see any place in Scripture that would allow for extending the Lord’s Supper to those who are not in a covenant relationship with the visible body of Christ.   If you are not in the body of Christ, you have no communion with the body of Christ.

Our culture has awakened to the fact that the absence of a loving father in the home does a great deal of damage to the family unit as well as to the fatherless children. We cannot put a true estimate on the amount of damage fatherlessness creates in our culture.  In every case when I have tried to help a young person who struggles with suicide, they have also had a struggle with dad.  Either he isn’t there, or else he is there and they wish he wasn’t.  I mention this as an example of the way we might overlook a neglect and not realize the damage it is doing.

In our spiritual lives, I believe that neglect of the Lord’s Supper causes unspeakable damage. There are a handful of ways we might neglect the Lord’s Supper.  Not observing it at all would be the most obvious neglect.  Abusing it as the Corinthians did would be another – making it about self instead of about communion with Christ.  Observing it without celebrating it – turning the Lord’s Table into a place of mourning instead of a place of rejoicing – makes the Lord’s Supper oppressive.  And, celebrating the Lord’s Supper on Sunday and then forgetting to live in reference to it throughout the week would be a great neglect as well.  Perhaps the greatest.

The Lord’s Supper is more than a custom in the church, tacked on at the end of the occasional church service.  Our text refers to it as blessing – “the cup of blessing which we bless.”  In the next chapter, Paul reminds us of the words of Jesus: “this do in remembrance of me.”  The Lord’s Supper is not a formality, it is a remembrance.  When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, as Paul reminds us, “Ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” 

The Lord’s Table is rich with meaning and importance to the believer.  It is the central practice of the church – remembering Christ’s self-sacrifice and showing His death.  I hope you will hear me on this — everything we do during the week should be preparation for the time when we will gather as a church to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Our walk with the Lord during the week, our efforts to confess sin and keep short accounts with God, the way we bear one another’s burdens and care for one another, our efforts to reach the lost… all the effort of daily Christian living prepares us for the time when we gather around the Table and enjoy communion with Christ and His people.  I believe God intended this for His Supper.

And when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, that should prepare us for everything we do during the week.  It should remind us that we are God’s people, bought and paid for with the blood of Christ.  It should set the Lord before our eyes, not only at the table but throughout the week.  It should motivate us for our work and service to God.  And it should cheer us and warm our hearts throughout the week.

The Lord’s Supper is the foundation of our church and worship, even of our daily lives.  Our concern in this little series has been with our joy and delight in the Lord.  We have been striving to answer the question, “Why don’t I enjoy God?”  So far, we have looked at a variety of reasons, including our salvation, sin, knowledge of God, and unscriptural expectations. Now, I want to zero in on the way a neglect of the Lord’s Supper impacts our joy.

God gave us the Lord’s Supper as a place where we rejoice in the Lord.  We might go so far as to say that it is the official place, formally provided by God Himself, for Christians to enjoy communion with Christ.  Jesus Christ Himself provided this place as the place for us to meet Him.  Certainly, in our communion with Christ, we find our highest purpose and deepest joy and satisfaction in the Lord.  And since the Lord’s Supper is central to the life of the church, we should consider the way its neglect makes it difficult for us to enjoy God.

In their abuse of the Lord’s Table, the Corinthians delighted in self instead of delighting in the Lord.  Whenever we place our own self-interest before God, we will find that we cannot enjoy God.  We need the Lord’s Table because it draws our hearts away from ourselves and teaches us to delight in the crucified Christ.  God established the Lord’s Table for this purpose – to re-focus our hearts and minds on Christ. 

God intended that the Lord’s Table should be central to the life of the church.  It is our place of revival.  Every time we observe the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded to turn our gaze to the Lord – “this do in remembrance of me.” We might call it a revival service – for the Lord’s Supper is meant to renew our focus on and attention to the crucified Christ.  But because our modern churches neglect this God-ordained means of renewal and revival, we have invented all kinds of other means for stirring up the activity and whipping up the emotions of our people. 

In his commentary on the book of Judges, Dale Ralph Davis makes an important observation.  Commenting on Gideon’s homemade ephod, Davis points out the way modern-day churches have adopted their own substitute ephods while neglecting the ephod God provided.

I would even suggest we go ephod-making in the way we ignore God’s provision of the Lord’s covenant meal as the means of Christian renewal.  We plan, organize, and concoct ‘revivals,’ seminars, retreats, or encounters, or we pressure congregations to come forward and rededicate their lives to Christ.  All the while we neglect what God has provided: the Lord’s Supper.

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A Tale of Two Church Splits

Though I will not be naming names in this article, I want you the reader to know that I am writing about true events that have taken place in the Salt Lake area over the past decade, the most recent part of the story in the past few months.  I am writing this for three reasons: first, as a cautionary tale to pastors and churches.  The events outlined in this article are wicked and un-Scriptural, but an example of what happens when self-interest drives the decision-making process of a church.  Second, as a warning: if you know someone who has been contacted about taking a church in the Salt Lake Valley, you might want to make sure it doesn’t involve the people I am discussing in this article.  Send me an email or a private message, or call my church to discuss it with me.  I am not naming names here for the sake of innocent friends who have been affected by these things, to safeguard their identities.  Should the need arise, I will not hesitate to name names in a future article.  But for now, I will relate the events and leave the principal characters anonymous.  If you are an Independent Baptist living in our area, you are no doubt familiar with the story.  If you aren’t already familiar with these things, it won’t hurt you to know the history without knowing the details.  Third, I write this as a rebuke: the men who have done this deserve to be rebuked and exposed.  I am not sparing for their sake, but for the sake of others who would be affected should I expose the main characters.  But also, a slew of pastors who have supported the main perpetrators of this ungodly act also deserve to be rebuked.  And I rebuke them.  That said, I will be relating here the history of two church splits, and then re-visiting a few of the points I have just made. 

The story involves two churches and three pastors, and unless I give them each some name, the story will be hard to follow.  For the sake of simplicity, we will name the two churches The Original Church and The Church Split.  With that clarification, let me begin.

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Unscriptural Expectations Keep Us from Enjoying God

Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. (Psalm 37:4)

The gross and pervasive abuse of this text has opened up the floodgates of the prosperity gospel – the health, wealth, and happiness gospel. I blame our inability to enjoy God on the unhealthy and unscriptural expectations that have grown out of its misuse.

Because many Christians neglect sound doctrine, we have become susceptible to abuses like this.  When the Bible is misused, when it is used to promote a “name it and claim it” kind of theology, weak Christians with a covetous heart are immediately sucked in.  And frankly, it can be tough to refute the logic of the prosperity preachers.  Because on the surface, the Bible does seem to teach the “name-it-and-claim-it” philosophy.

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Did Paul Shame His Neighbor?

In a previous post, I wrote a fairly mild piece on the issue of shaming one’s neighbor.  That article was in response to a small, hardly noticed episode of Facebook shaming that affected people known to me.  The article was met with a rather bland kind of enthusiasm, rife with atta-boys and way-to-goes.  I hardly noticed any opposition, though I was made aware of some through the ever-vigilant eye of my lovely wife, who can sniff when someone doesn’t like me from several miles away.  Since there seems to be one mildly serious point of opposition to what I have written, I thought I would use this space to answer it.  So, here goes.

The protest runs something like this: didn’t Paul shame Peter when he was engaged in public sin?  Wouldn’t that be grounds for shaming others who are in public sin? 

Ah yes, the ole’ “if-it-was-good-enough-for-Paul-its-good-enough-for-me” argument.  Well, yes, I suppose we might consider dealing with that question.  Actually, I can think – off the top of my formerly hairy head – of quite a few examples in the New Testament when one of the Biblical writers started naming names.  Of the New Testament name-namers, Paul is probably the most prominent.  In addition to Peter (Galatians 2:6-16), Paul called out Barnabas (Galatians 2:13), Demas (2 Timothy 4:10), and even two women, Euodias and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2). John called out Diotrephes, who loved to have the preeminence (3 John 1:9).  Peter called out Simon Magus, who (he perceived) was in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:18-23). If these apostles called out public sin publicly, why wouldn’t we?  Don’t they set an example for us to follow?

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On Shaming Your Neighbor

Late Thursday night last week as I was about to fall asleep, my wife showed me a post that my friend Pastor Courtney Lewis had on Facebook.  We could tell from what was said that he had posted engagement pictures from a young couple, and had chastised them for holding hands in their pictures.  Pastor Lewis led off his commentary on the picture with a quote from I Corinthians 7:1-2, which says,

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

By the time my wife showed me the post, Pastor Lewis had taken the pictures down, but left the post up.  My wife began reading some of the more than 500 comments on the post. Suffice it to say, we were horrified, both by the comments that were being made and by the use of a couple’s engagement pictures to make a point about purity.

When I had a few moments on Friday morning, I took a look at the post for myself.  By this time, the post had more than 650 comments, many of which I would characterize as flaming.  I scrolled through the comments to get a feel for what people were saying, and then I started typing a message to Pastor Lewis to ask him to remove the post altogether.  As I was typing the message, I saw that he in fact had removed the post and replaced it with another.  You can read the replacement post here.

In the second post, Pastor Lewis doubled down on the couple he used as an example, naming both the young man and his brother and expressing his disagreement with the engagement pictures each young man had published.  In particular, Pastor Lewis pointed out that the older brother had posted similar pictures, and that since nobody opposed him for it, now the younger brothers thought it was okay.  Pastor Lewis also took to task larger churches with more influence who could speak out on this.  He didn’t name the larger churches he had in mind.  I can only think of one larger church that he might be thinking of, but I won’t speculate about whether he thought they should have been the one to shame these couples. 

I absolutely agree with the standard Pastor Lewis holds.  My wife and I did not so much as hold hands until we met at the altar on our wedding day.  We have taught this same standard in our church and to our children, and we would not approve if they went against it.  Because many of the vitriolic comments Pastor Lewis received focused on the standard itself, I made the choice to support him on the standard, and to publicly express my concern for the way many had responded.

Later that afternoon, I received a call from a pastor friend who had read my comment and wanted to know if I also supported the tactic Pastor Lewis used to make his point.  He made it abundantly clear to me that he agrees with the standard – several of his children have married, and they followed that standard as well.  But he was concerned about the tactic of publicly shaming a young couple, using their engagement pictures.  After hem-hawing around for a minute, I had to agree.  The tactic was wrong.  I was disgusted by it from the moment my wife brought it to my attention.  My pastor-friend (who mainly knows Pastor Lewis through Facebook), pointed out that my comment left it unclear where I stood on the tactic.  I agreed with him.

Later that evening, I typed a second comment, in which I expressed my agreement with the standard and my disagreement with the tactic.  I commented that, if one of my own children were to publish engagement pictures that went against our standards, I would hope that the first response would be to pray for them, and the second to contact me to see if there is a problem and what can be done to help.  I would hope that the first response would not be to publicly shame them.  Far too often, when a young person does something wrong, we trample them under foot rather than address the problem Scripturally. 

I sent Pastor Lewis a message prior to posting my comment, and I offered to discuss any disagreement with him.  He replied fairly quickly with a simple “No” to my offer for a discussion.  I posted my comment, went to bed, and the next morning, I had a message from Pastor Lewis that assured me of his friendship despite our disagreement.  I didn’t think much of the reassurance until another friend contacted me to ask why I took my comment down.  Since I didn’t take it down, I asked Pastor Lewis if he did.  He told me, “Yes.  Feel free to post it on your account.”  Thus, this rather lengthy post.

Before I wade into the issue here, let me make a few preliminary points. 

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To Enjoy God, We Must Know Him

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

We have been answering the question, “why don’t I enjoy God?” Many, many Christians would confess that they don’t enjoy God.  They know that they can enjoy God.  They know that they should enjoy God.  But they don’t enjoy God.

They want to enjoy Him.  They may try to enjoy Him.  But their efforts end in frustration, and soon it is back to the grindstone. I believe this is the case among believers who are faithful to their devotions.  I believe it is the case among believers who are careful in their everyday lives, who strive to honor God and do what is right.

We have observed several hindrances to our delight in the Lord.  So far, we have considered two of the most obvious – you cannot enjoy God until you are born again, and you cannot enjoy God while harboring sin.  I want to tackle yet another hindrance to enjoying God – we cannot enjoy God if we do not know Him.

In His intercessory prayer, Jesus said that knowing God the Father and God the Son “is life eternal.” That is, “eternal life is not so much everlasting life as personal knowledge of the Everlasting One.” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 556) This eternal life begins the moment we receive the Lord Jesus as our Savior.  It reaches its summit in the day when we hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”  Between the day we receive Christ and the day we see Him, we can expect to grow into that joy and delight in the Lord Jesus Christ.  But our growth as Christians, as measured by the growing delight we experience in the Lord Jesus, comes as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of Him. 

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If You Don’t Enjoy God, You May Not Be Saved

This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

The question of why people don’t enjoy God gets at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. What is the good of being reconciled to God if you don’t enjoy Him? What is the good of walking with God if you dread that walk? 

When Christians think of walking with God, of experiencing Him face-to-face and spending significant time alone with Him, far too many feel a paralyzing dread, a choking fear, a painful desire to run and hide from the presence of God.

In our most recent post on this topic, we showed you that the biggest hindrance to our enjoyment of God is our sin.  We must add an element to that.  If sin prevents us from enjoying God, then we can’t enjoy Him until we have been born again.

Our text describes the condition of the unsaved man as “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart…” Unregenerate man is alienated from God. Such a person can strive to overcome sin all he wants.  He can feel a strong sense of remorse and a strong desire to change his ways because of his sin.  He may even be able to overcome some isolated sins. But he cannot overcome that alienation from God, no matter how much he might “turn over a new leaf” in his life, or how much he tries to reform himself.  So long as a person continues in a state of alienation from God, his sin will stand as a barrier between himself and God.  If he were to attack that barrier with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, he would find that the sins would pile higher even as he carted off loads of former sins. 

There are cases when a Christian will say, “I don’t enjoy God, I never have enjoyed God, I don’t even know what it would be like to enjoy God, and I don’t even know if I want to.”  There could be a variety of causes for this, but before we consider anything else, we ought to consider this, that you are still in your sins.  Paul describes the condition of every person apart from a supernatural work of grace…

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