BOOK REVIEW and Giveaway: The Atonement by David L. Allen

The Atonement: A Biblical, Theological, and Historical Study of the Cross of Christ. By David L. Allen. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2019. 352 pp. $34.99

Several years ago, I found myself at pastor’s conference attended primarily those of a particular theological persuasion. Unsurprisingly, the theme of the conference celebrated the theology of the Reformation which turned 500-years old that year. And as the attendees walked through the bookstore, I observed several snickering at David L. Allen’s book, Lukan Authorship of Hebrews.

I’m a firm believer that every argument should at the least be tested before dismissed, so I asked if they had read the book and considered Allen’s argument. They, of course, said no. So I asked who they believed to have authored the letter to the Hebrews. One said he liked to think it was Barnabas. Another preferred to think of it as having been someone’s record of several of Paul’s sermons pieced together. But when I asked why they had come to those conclusions, they had no argument—no reasoning for their conclusions. They simply saw it as an unsolvable piece of historical curiosity that no one could know with any certainty, so they simply chose which option appealed to them.

I responded stating that while they may disagree with Allen’s conclusion, they at least needed to reckon with the fact that he had an argument. He had reasoning behind his conclusion. And he built it upon solid research (upon his doctoral dissertation). Whether they believed that he came to the right conclusion or not, his was supported; their’s was not.

Allen’s latest book, The Atonement: A Biblical, Theological, and Historical Study of the Cross of Christ, may be dismissed or overlooked by those who disagree with Allen’s conclusion concerning the extent of the atonement (unlimited, rather than limited), but it should not.

In it, Allen offers an accessible examination of each passage concerning the atonement in the Old and New Testaments. Likewise, he offers a helpful historical overview of the metaphors and models used by theologians through the centuries and considers both the necessity and nature of the atonement, arguing the primacy of the penal substitution model:

Christ substituted Himself for the sins of all people, living or dead; He died in their place bearing their sin. This substitution was sacrificial in nature and constituted a satisfaction for all sin so that God’s broken law has been vindicated. This substitutionary death resulted in an objective reconciliation, removing all legal barriers between God and man (188).

But the most helpful chapters in Allen’s treatment (in my opinion) are “The Intent, Extent, and Application of the Atonement” (149–86) and “Special Issues Concerning the Atonement” (215–39). As I have written elsewhere, Allen’s treatment of the atonement in three questions (intent, extent, and application) has brought significant clarity to an issue that has experienced significant confusion and oversimplification in recent years. While none of these questions should be answered to the exclusion of the other, they must first be answered individually from the text before compiled into doctrinal form.

Concerning the intent of the atonement, Allen is on solid footing in writing, “Is there any statement in Scripture that indicates God’s intention or desire is not to save some people? There is none” (150). He distinguishes between provision and application, writing, “Biblically speaking, the atonement was intended to provide a payment for sin for all people as well as to apply salvation only to those who believe” (152). After having considered every passage in both the Old and New Testaments concerning the atonement, Allen writes,

no atonement text in Scripture states that Christ died only for the “elect” (contra high and hyper-Calvinists). There is no atonement text in Scripture stating that God intends to save only the elect (contra all Calvinists). There is no atonement text in Scripture stating that God wills only the salvation of the elect (contra all hyper-Calvinists who deny God’s universal saving will). If unconditional election as defined in Reformed theology is true, it cannot be supported from any atonement text in Scripture. Those texts that do speak in any way to the intention of the atonement as a sacrifice for sins never limit the recipients in terms of God’s intent to save or in terms of the extent of the atonement (153–54).

Concerning the extent of the atonement, Allen observes that there are really only two possible answers: the elect alone (limited atonement), and all humanity (unlimited atonement). Allen then marshals 14 texts asserting an unlimited atonement and an additional 14 that affirm it implicitly before concluding, “there is no single text of Scripture asserting Jesus died only for the sins of the elect. . . . Limited atonement is mostly a theological deduction based primarily upon a certain understanding of predestination and election. . . . almost all the arguments against unlimited atonement and for limited atonement are logical and deductive in nature” (156). Further emphasizing his point, “There is no statement in Scripture that says Jesus died only for the sins of the elect” (158).

He lists the traditional verses used in support of a limited atonement model and writes,

not a single one says that Christ died for the sins only of ‘his people,’ ‘the sheep,’ ‘the church,’ or ‘friends.’ Since these texts mention a limited group for whom salvation was intended, or for whom Christ died, the assumption is made that these texts affirm Christ intended to bring salvation only to these groups, or that he died only for these people. This line of argument is logically flawed because it invokes the negative inference fallacy, which says the proof of a proposition does not disprove its converse. When Paul says, ‘Christ . . . gave Himself [died] for me’ in Gal 2:20, we cannot infer that He died only for Paul (157).

Allen then answers the most common objections to an unlimited provision of the atonement: double payment, triple choice, Trinitarian disunity, universalism entailed, and Christ’s intercession limited to the elect.

Finally, concerning the application of the atonement, Allen rightly concludes,

The atonement in and of itself saves no one. . . . There is nothing in the atonement itself that makes it effectual for anyone. To be effectual, the atonement must be applied by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. This is a theological truth that is confirmed by the likes of such great Calvinistic theologians as Charles Hodge, Robert Dabney, W. G. T. Shedd, A. H. Strong, and Millard Erickson, not to mention many others (184).

In his chapter entitled, “Special Issues Concerning the Atonement,” Allen answers common questions that are often neglected in broader works: Is the atonement actual or potential? Do the blood of OT sacrifices and the blood of Jesus represent life or death? How is Christ’s penal substitutionary death on the cross related to the law and the sins of humanity for which he died? Is the blood of Christ “wasted” on those who are eternally lost? Did Christ die for “all without distinction” or “all without exception”? How does the atonement operate? What is meant when we speak of sin being imputed to Christ? If Christ died for the sins of all people, how can God justly condemn anyone to hell? Since the atonement satisfies the justice of God, how is salvation an act of mercy? What is the relationship of atonement to forgiveness? Is there “healing” in the atonement? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the atonement and its application?

In this work, Allen shows himself to be an able defender of the penal substitutionary model of the atonement. One might object that Allen’s treatment of the atonement repeatedly falls prey to his emphasis on an unlimited provision of the atonement (although one could hardly fault him for doing so; he has already offered 820 pages in The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review considering that very issue; it certainly a subject to which he has given extensive time, energy, thought, and research). Nevertheless, those who may approach the subject of the atonement without a strong, predetermined conclusion on that issue, will find in Allen, the mind of a scholar, the heart of a pastor, and the simplicity of a preacher. Those who disagree with Allen’s conclusions concerning the nature or extent of the atonement will find him carefully-reasoned and well-researched. As such, should they snicker and dismiss his work without considering his arguments carefully, they do so to their own detriment.

Win a Copy!

I have been given an extra copy of Allen’s book. If you’d be interested in winning it, share this post on twitter or facebook and be sure to follow @cafftheo. Drop a comment saying that you’ve done those things and you’ll be entered!

Leading Change in the Church

As I speak with pastors, one topic that comes up again and again concerns the difficulties faced when leading change in the church. Whether it entails the adjustment of a service time, the elimination of a beloved program, or changing a curriculum, or any other deeply-entrenched facet in the church, change is hard. So I want to offer 4 steps to leading change in the church. But first, allow me to offer one caveat:

If you’re within the first year—especially if you’re in the first six months at this particular church, stop. Don’t make any sudden changes.

Seriously.

I’m not kidding.

Unless someone is in sin or the building is going to fall down, you need to take the slow approach. If you’re new to the church, there’s a reality at play that you might not be aware of—they may have voted for you to serve as their pastor, but they don’t trust you yet. You haven’t earned it.

They want to; don’t get me wrong. But you haven’t walked through life alongside them enough just yet. Which means that as soon as your change runs into the slightest amount of friction, because “you” haven’t become part of who they would identify as “us,” it’s going to be perceived as “your” fault. As soon as the families they’ve sat beside in the pew for years begin to leave, they’re not going to be impressed with your pastoral experience in other churches or your seminary degree. And you and your idea will be the object of their frustration.

Don’t do it. Take the first 6–12 months in your new church to learn not just what the church is doing, but why they’re doing it.

Pastors often share their frustration that the church entrusts more authority to the deacon body than the Bible calls for. But, many times, the deacon body serves as the steady hand of leadership in the church while a litany of pastors move in, change things up, and move on to another church. Perhaps we ought to take into consideration that this isn’t the biblical pattern either.

Love your flock enough to slow down, be deliberate, and make changes after you’ve spent enough time among the flock to know why they do what they do in the manner in which they’re doing it. Once you’ve done that and you sense the need to make a change, then you’re ready to take the first step.

Communicate the Need

Take the time to express to the congregation why change is necessary. Perhaps it has been the case that the current slate of programs isn’t making disciples. Or maybe you’ve determined that people in the church aren’t connecting with other believers and Christian fellowship seems to be lacking. Maybe you’ve outgrown your worship space and need to move to two services to provide room for more visitors. It may be that you have been short on children’s educational space for months.

Whatever the reason you believe makes the change necessary—share that. I’ll let you in on a secret: your people can buy into a change that fixes a problem. But they don’t want to change for the sake of change.

Several years ago, a godly layman helped me see the importance of this aspect of leadership. In his previous church, they had faced difficulty raising enough money to begin construction of a new children’s building. They were out of space for the kids. But because the children were already out of sight (in their own space), the congregation wasn’t reminded of the need regularly enough. So, this layman contacted a construction company and had them go to the church property and dig a giant hole where the new building was to be. That way, every time someone drove past the church, they saw the need. Each time to drove up to attend worship, they were faced with the reality that they needed to give in order to build the children’s building to fill that hole.He understood the importance of communicating the need.

Share the Vision

Once you’ve communicated the need and “dug the hole” as it were, you get to cast the vision of how to meet that need. This is where the change you hope to make comes in to play. Because the church hasn’t been effectively reaching the lost, you think an evangelistic emphasis is necessary. Because the church hasn’t been effectively making disciples, you think a new program that emphasizes one-on-one discipleship, or a new Sunday School curriculum is needed. Because families have begun to feel disconnected, you want to ramp up the number of fellowship activities. Because you’re out of seats in the worship space, a new service is needed.

Whatever change it is that you’re hoping to make, share the vision of how it is that the change you want to implement meets that need.

Get people on board. Talk it through in one-on-one conversations. Discuss it with trusted advisors. Go speak with the people that you think are the least likely to get on board. (If you can win them over, even for a trial period, you’ve already laid the groundwork for a successful transition). And the manner in which you do this could take time. And this blends into the third step.

Lead the Change

Leading the change means that you should help your church get a running start toward the new initiative. Take the time to preach a sermon series devoted to the issue at hand. When I led a church to change their small groups from being individual Bible Study based to being sermon-based (meaning that rather than small groups purchasing a Bible Study curriculum, the church offered small group material that coincided with the Sunday morning sermon), I did so after a 6-week sermon series on small-group discipleship. Ironically, during that sermon series, we put all of our small groups on pause. When I had finished the series, I had explained why small groups were so important, why we believed our church needed to move to a community-based rather than age-based model, and why we wanted all groups to be on the same page content-wise. Ultimately, by the time the series was finished, the entire congregation was chomping at the bit, ready to try the new model.

But that would not have happened had I just announced the change and proceeded without helping our church see the need, see the change as meeting that need, and sense that this was a joint-effort on the part of the entire congregation.

But leading the change doesn’t stop at implementation. It continues. It means that you are attentive to every detail. It means that you are receptive to feedback. It means that you offer every resource at hand to ensure that the change you hope to make succeeds.

Evaluate and Adjust

Early in youth ministry I came across a piece of leadership gold that I offer to almost everyone I talk to about ministry.

Call every change an experiment.

The Small Groups Experiment. The Second Service Experiment. The Never-Go-Alone Experiment.

Whatever it is, call it an experiment. By doing that, you communicate a level of humility to the congregation that they’re not used to seeing in a pastor. You’re acknowledging that you’re not wed to this (whatever “this” is) as a solution. You’re asking them to commit to this change for 6 months (or enough time to be able to determine its viability). After that time, you’re willing to sit down and consider the possibility that either the solution isn’t working, or needs adjustment.

You’ve communicated the need. The congregation sees what you see. Something is broken (or in disrepair) and needs to be fixed. It needs a solution.

You’ve cast the vision. The congregation can connect the dots from the need to this as the proposed solution. This program or change is the stuff that you believe will fill the hole.

You’ve led the change. You’ve walked them right up to the change and encouraged them to invest themselves into seeing it succeed.

Now, be open to the possibility that your solution needs a little adjustment. Be receptive to feedback. If you’ve taken these steps, most of the feedback will come from people who genuinely want this change to succeed.

They don’t like holes in the ground. They want it filled just as much as you do.

Do you have any suggestions? Drop them in a comment below.

Episode 10: Pastoral Interviews

Join the Caffeinated Theology crew as we discuss the steps to finding a pastorate.

  • How do you find a new pastorate?
  • What do I need to do to submit a resume?
  • What to expect in the interview process.
  • What to do when you go in view of a call.

Link: 30 Questions to ask a Search Committee

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Gratitude and Unanswered Prayer

Lately, I’ve found myself in that position where I’ve been praying for something specifically. Now, this is beyond regular prayer or daily prayer. This is that heavily-sighing, crying-out-to-God prayer that rises up from the deepest parts of the soul. And yet, when it comes to this prayer, God often just seems silent. I can see him at work and I can see him answer prayers . . . just not this one. And when I do, I am reminded that he does answer and he does work all things together for the good of those who are called to his purposes. And yet, my prayer seems to remain unanswered and my circumstance unaltered.

In these moments, I find myself at an impasse: I can either sink into the despair of feeling forgotten and overlooked, or I can fall to my knees in praise and gratitude for the Lord’s work on someone else’s behalf. But when prayer has already turned to groaning, let’s be honest:

Despair comes easier.

And that’s because gratitude is a choice. And it’s the choosing that can be so difficult when we believe that someone else’s prayer was chosen over our own.

Gratitude leads to joy

I had the opportunity to visit an elderly saint—a former professor at Southwestern Seminary who I have long admired—in his nursing home a few weeks ago. And in our conversation, we spoke of all that was taking place in the seminary and in the Southern Baptist Convention. But what stood out to me most was the gratitude with which he spoke of those who had come to visit him.

He appreciated their concern for him. He was thankful that they had found the time to go out of their way to visit. He didn’t share that with any sense of self-importance; nor did he communicate any frustration that he reduced by his circumstances and was no longer able to walk where he pleased or go where he desired. Instead, he expressed his gratitude with humble tears of joy.

I want to face my circumstances like that—with overwhelming gratitude and joy. I want to experience joy in the waiting. I want to celebrate with others when the Lord answers their prayers—even while I continue to wait on the Lord to answer my own.

Gratitude leads to perseverance

When we begin to believe that the Lord has forgotten us, or that he simply refuses to answer our prayers and petitions, we lose any encouragement to hold on to the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus. And, to be honest, it may be because we’re not looking for the joy found in the person of Christ; we may be looking for the joy found in our desired answer to our prayer.

But those willing to praise the Lord for someone else’s blessing are strengthened in their resolve to wait upon the Lord.

Those willing to rejoice with those who rejoice find their tears turned from longing to gratitude.

Those who can find the joy in someone else’s answered prayer are more likely to continue to serve the One who answers prayer—even as our own prayer seems unanswered.

Because rather than focusing our attention on our unanswered prayer, we set our eyes upon the One who answers prayer.

He has not forgotten you

There we sat, under the pine trees of East Texas, and as our time concluded, this saint of the faith leaned over, put his hand on my arm, and said, “You may feel overlooked and forgotten,” and at this, tears began to well up in my own eyes. And he reminded me of the truth I knew, but needed to hear: “but he has not forgotten you.”

May that encouragement be yours as well.

He has not forgotten you.

Special Episode: Interview with Carl Bradford

Join the Caffeinated Theology crew as we speak with Carl Bradford about this year’s Crossover efforts in Birmingham, AL.

Carl is an assistant professor at SWBTS and is married to Andrea (who apparently makes a mean Shrimp Po’Boy). Together they have two children: Carl Jr. and Abigail. He earned his PhD in Evangelism.

What to Know about the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting

Join the Caffeinated Theology crew for a special episode in which we discuss the issues that will be discussed at the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting.

Appreciate what we’re doing in these Pastor Talks? Help us out by jumping over to our YouTube Channel to subscribe and drop a few comments and his a thumbs up on this video.

Episode 09: The Pastor’s Health

Join the Caffeinated Theology crew as we discuss the health and fitness in the pastorate.

  • Is the pastor’s health important?
  • How can we clean up our diet?
  • Is exercise an important component?
  • How do you get it done?

Appreciate what we’re doing in these Pastor Talks? Help us out by jumping over to our YouTube Channel to subscribe and drop a few comments and his a thumbs up on this video.

GUEST POST: Pastors, Adultery, and Missions

[Today’s post comes from Regan King. You can connect with Regan on twitter, facebook, or at http://www.reganbking.com. And don’t miss his book, #TBH: Basic Challenges to Millennials Who Can’t Even.]

Churches and sex abuse

It should not surprise us when sex abuse rears its ugly head in churches. After all, churches are filled with people who have in some way acknowledged spiritual brokenness and sickness. As in any institution of which men and women are a part, sexual sin will be present at some point in some form or another simply by nature of the fact that men and women break God’s commands—sinning against God, other people, and self. It is not the institution’s fault; it is the people’s. If the institution in some way continues to enable or empower those in sexual sin, the institution then shows itself as culpable in the sin.

Sexual sin has consequences before God and, in some way, will have consequences in our relationships with others. Before God, ongoing sexual sin assures of condemnation “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph 5:5). In relationships with other people, sexual sin poisons and creates distrust, destroying meaningful intimacy with others and spawning relational dysfunctionality in a plethora of ways.

In every way sexual sin is self harm. Sexual sin—whether porn viewing, abuse, harassment, rape, or consensual sex outside of God’s established plan—abuses God’s good gift of sex reserved for marriage between one man and one woman.

Adultery is sex abuse

Currently sex abuse is being dealt with on many fronts. While we must be wary of the #metoo bandwagon and what often become practical witch hunts that suspend with the ancient principle that ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies), we must be equally wary of not properly dealing with legitimate sex abuse.

This includes adultery.

Adultery?

Adultery.

While not generally viewed as sex abuse, adultery is nothing short of sex abuse. The general view that adultery is not sex abuse says more about our society’s saturation with sex perversion than it does excuse adultery as unabusive. Though consensual, adultery can often arise out of an abuse of power by one party and the lust for status and approval by another. Though consensual, adultery often entails one party grooming another and planting deceptive and demonic thoughts doubting and demeaning another’s spouse. Though consensual, adultery is an abuse of what are often initially (they almost always will begin to suspect eventually) totally clueless spouses. The effects of this abuse are long lasting—betrayal, hurt, and in many cases symptoms of PTSD (flashbacks, nightmares, drenching sweats, intense distress, emotional numbness, physical fatigue). Though consensual, adultery is an abuse of marriage and sex within marriages’ lifelong covenant. Though consensual, adultery is an abuse of righteousness and justice as defined by God. Adultery along with sexual immorality and spousal abandonment are the Biblical grounds for divorce. Adultery is condemned by God in the foundation books of the Bible (Exod 20:14; Lev 18:20; Lev 20:10; Deut 5:18; Deut 22:22) and its consequences regularly seen in Biblical narrative (Remember King David and the effects on his whole household?)

Adultery in any context is undeniably inexcusable and wrong.

Adultery is sex abuse.

Through Christ there can be salvation despite the grievous abuse and sin that is adultery. But in no way does this mean an abdication of responsibility in how churches should deal with adultery among its leaders. Churches must ask serious questions in regard to reappointing or commissioning any pastoral worker following adultery. Specifically, I want to deal with one area I see less discussion of—the sending of individuals who have fallen in adultery to some missionary activity. Remember: we are talking about abuse here. Yes, Jesus saves all who repent (turn away from/leave) of sin, but there are still consequences and we must think and act wisely and responsibly.

A matter of principle

Missions is so loosely defined these days. There is a lot of confusion as to what missions really is, namely outreach, evangelism, and discipleship rooted in the local church leading to growth of the kingdom through conversions and planting other churches for God’s glory. Training leaders, equipping churches for the spread of the Gospel, encouraging potentially discouraged leaders and church members and participating in the discipleship process are all key components of mission whether short or long-term. As such, those involved in missions bear a responsibility as leaders and representatives of Christ and their local church and as such must be held to the high standard of conduct found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

John MacArthur writes:

There are some sins that irreparably shatter a man’s reputation and disqualify him from a ministry of leadership forever. Even Paul, man of God that he was, said he feared such a possibility. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 he says, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
When referring to his body, Paul obviously had sexual immorality in view. In 1 Corinthians 6:18 he describes it as a sin against one’s own body—sexual sin is in its own category. Certainly it disqualifies a man from church leadership since he permanently forfeits a blameless reputation as a one-woman man (Proverbs 6:33; 1 Timothy 3:2).

While he doesn’t find MacArthur entirely convincing here on either a practical or exegetical level, Jared C. Wilson urges extreme caution and indicates pretty clearly that a return to pastoring should not occur anywhere near soon after the offense and not at all unless instigated and called upon by the local church.

John Piper holds a similar view to Wilson, writing,

If a pastor has betrayed his people, and it has wounded a church grievously and wounded his wife grievously, he can be forgiven just like that. Wiped away. The blood of Jesus covers it. But as far as reestablishing trust, which is essential to a shepherd/sheep and wife/husband relationship, how long does that take? A decade? It takes a long time, a long time, until memories are healed.

And very practically I think this is what I would say: A man who commits adultery, say, in the ministry, should immediately resign and look for other work. And he should make no claim on the church at all. He should get another kind of job and go about his life humbly receiving the discipline and sitting and receiving ministry, whether in that church or in another church. And then the church should turn that around if it believes it should, not him.

What is clear from my searching and study is that among those who have a high view of Scripture there is the view on one hand that post-conversion sexual immorality whilst in the pastorate permanently excludes from pastoral responsibility and on another that sexual immorality may exclude but the door may be open for a distant future return. Even still, those leaving a door open see a requirement of clear and attestably deep repentance over a lengthy period and a local church deciding on its own to reassess the individual’s suitability (ie. this is not in any way instigated by the individual0

R. Kent Hughes and John H. Armstrong acknowledge that “some fallen pastors indeed might someday be restored to leadership”, but “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.” One can scarcely fault their caution and there is abundant vindication for such a view (remember the Tullian Tchividjian tragedies?).

A matter of propriety and prudence

99% of those in Christian ministry who have fallen into sexual sin do not confess their sin but are caught. They carry on an affair until caught and exposed. While any adulterous act is tragic, what we are dealing with in the vast majority of cases are not one off flings. We are talking about persistent adulterous activity over the course of lengths of time. This is what is most common and so is primarily what I have in view here.

[As an aside. Friend. Please know your sin will find you out. It grieves me to know that someone I know, someone reading this right now, has participated in or is participating in an illicit sexual liaison that is unconfessed and explained away. It has happened before. An assistant pastor…the pastor who left his family for another man…the well-known pastor, author, and conference speaker who kept a straight face when I discussed a related issue with him. I know it will happen again. Step into the light. It is for your good and God’s glory. Come to me and talk. I will stand with you and strive on your behalf for renewal and reconciliation. Just don’t persist in your sin. Don’t be caught—just confess and accept the consequences.]

We have looked at the principle of fairly serious consequences for a leader or missionary who has committed adultery—at the very least a long-term departure from public ministry aligned with a process of restoration and reconciliation if possible. Such a move is prudent and shows propriety in perspective of how important and challenging ministry can be.

Proverbs 11.14 says “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” With that in mind I reached out to some friends and fellow pastors for their assessment. The following quotes are all taken from personal correspondence with permission.

Andrew Sandlin, Founder and President of the Center for Cultural Leadership:

Sexual immorality, like financial malfeasance and spiritual abuse, disqualifies from prominent church ministry. Grace and repentance, while necessary, are not a sufficient warrant for swift reinstallation. Adultery in particular is a severe violation of a covenant trust, without which there can be no viable, viable Christian ministry. There are always places, vital places, in the Lord’s work for those who have committed this sin and have repented. They can be restored. But returning swiftly to a highly visible ministry position, carrying the weight of such responsibility, is exceedingly unwise.

Bart Barber, pastor of FBC Farmersville, active and prominent servant of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention (of which the world’s largest international missions board is a part):

The isolation and other stresses of cross-cultural missions are often under-appreciated at the beginning of the task, and the toll they can take on the missionary is well-documented, as is the tendency for it to lead to adultery. In our own work in Senegal, the interest a visitor from a place like the UK or USA can generate among the local womenfolk can be bewildering to those of us unaccustomed to ever having been a “chick magnet.” Sending ANYONE entails facing these risks. Sending someone who has already fallen in this way is a mistake.

When queried on the nature of the standards set for missionaries Bart responded,

The key questions for applying scripture here are (a) do the qualifications for being an elder apply here, and (b) if not, should these qualifications be lower or higher than those in this area. 

Lottie Moon’s existence suggests that Southern Baptists, at least, have concluded in the contrary as to the first point (i.e. we field female missionaries but not female pastors) and that we have concluded that not all of the qualifications for elders should be transferred to all missionaries. I agree with these Southern Baptist conclusions.

With that having been said, we have also found that even with an accompanying wife the temptations on the field are significant. We have also found that populations in other cultures can be very vulnerable to those with the financial position and social status of a missionary. In the area of sexual ethics, therefore, we examine missionaries far, far beyond the examination that our pastors receive.

A matter of protection and purity

The Scriptures qualifications for elders and deacons certainly at the very least call into question the wisdom of appointing and sending an adulterer to public and leading ministry (NB. all who are Christ’s have responsibility to minister and serve in appropriate ways). And yet there is also the Scriptural principle of being our brothers and sisters’ keepers, striving to protect for repeated damage and aid people in their desire to walk purely before God.

Bart Barber says,

There is a kindness found in refraining from the deliberate placement of a man in a situation that will test the limits of his resolve in areas in which he already bears the scars of past failure and injury. There is a kindness found in not leaving a spouse who has already suffered and survived great injury to explore the limits of her hope that her husband will behave himself in a missionary environment replete with temptations. There is a kindness found in not placing at the headwaters of a new church (I’m assuming that anything under the heading of “missions” is designed with the hope of starting new churches) the heightened risk of a scandal at the founding that could jeopardize the entire effort.

When asked by me whether it would be right to send someone who in the not so distant past was caught in an affair to the mission field, Jim Elliff, an experienced church planter and the founder and president of Christian Communicators Worldwide responded,

I would say “no” on the basis that long term adultery is indicative of an unconverted life. If he considers himself a new convert after that adultery is repented of, it would be far too soon even then to think of him taking leadership as a missionary since (at a minimum) he would be a new convert, who must not only evangelize, but congregationalise, appoint elders, set the churches in order, recruit new workers, etc. It’s a high authority position. If the church eventually considered him faithful but not missionary status, they could approve of him as a Christian worker, helping another missionary as needed, but without assuming authority and being fully under the missionary’s authority. But the church must be careful here to really know him and to watch over time to see if he is walking with God.

Former coordinator for the Middle East and Africa at HeartCry Missionary Society, Marc Glass expresses,

I would have a hard time endorsing a man in such a situation for the mission field. Having said that, I do see a scenario where someone who is repentant can be involved in mission work. However, I think it would take a significant amount of time and work at rebuilding trust, as well as the right scenario on the mission field where accountability is taken seriously. My major concern is that, in spite of having a lengthy affair, the man is going to the mission field on his own for lengthy periods. It’s dangerous for his soul as he’s setting himself up for the same sin in the future.

The challenge

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9.37)

Anyone serving in a lead role in Christian ministry will relate very much to this statement. That said, this does not excuse sending unqualified or disqualified people into lead service.

There are “few” laborers in the gospel “harvest,” not “no” laborers. While most pastors and missionaries I know feel quite stretched, God’s strength is evident in their weakness. While adding an unqualified or disqualified leader to a situation may give initial relief or help, in the long run it is a grave mistake, which, once made becomes much harder to fix.

In a day when sexual ethics have gone out the window and people’s rejection of truth rests heavily on “not wanting God to interfere in their romantic relationship,” finding qualified and trustworthy people to labour in leading can be difficult. It is not impossible, however. Trust God. Act rightly and with discipline. Follow God’s Word and the collective God-given wisdom of Christ-followers in submission to God’s Word. Belong and be established in the local church. If you have fallen, know that God forgives. Accept consequences. Strive for holiness “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). Grow in the traits of 2 Peter 1 “For if you practice these things you will never stumble.”

Do not commit adultery.

Special Episode: Interview with John Mann

Join the Caffeinated Theology crew as we talk with John Mann about life as a pastor.

John is an adjunct professor at SWBTS. Has a PhD in Systematic Theology from SWBTS (2018). Pastor of Lajunta Baptist Church in Texas. He is married to Sandy Mann has two daughters, Kendall and Lauren.

Questions:

  • What is a pastor? (How is a pastor much different from the modern day concept of a life-coach?)
  • What is a pastor not?
  • What is the daily role of the pastor?
  • What is the most important thing a pastor does?
  • Where does a pastor get his authority?
  • What advice would you give to pastors just starting out?
  • What advice would you give to pastors in the middle of their ministry?
  • What advice would you give to pastors to finish well?