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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Does Struggling with Pornography Disqualify a Pastor from Ministry? Part 1 of 4

In December Covenant Eyes is releasing a new e-book for pastors who struggle with pornography. This post is part 1 of the chapter that I contributed to this soon to be released book. I'd love to get your feedback on these posts. This was easily one of the hardest writing projects that I have ever tackled. Here's part 1:

It seemed like just another picture perfect fall day. My grandfather called my teenage cousin and me to go with him for a ride. We loved to spend time with him—especially on road trips. As it turned out, this would be a very different kind of trip. Coughing all along the way, he drove straight to the hospital. While my cousin and I waited for hours, my grandfather was admitted. That was our final road trip. My grandfather died after a brief stay in the hospital. I loved my grandfather. It ached my heart to think, what if he had gone in sooner? Would his doctors have discovered the cancer in time? But men don’t like to go the doctor, do they? We don’t like to admit that we have problems, and we certainly hate confessing that we need help. But acquiescing to the fear of vulnerability and to our culture’s false standard of masculinity, i.e., “I’m a man, I can handle it” often makes for tragic endings. There’s a lesson in this for all pastors. Living by the motto “I don’t need help, and I can’t expose my vulnerabilities” can lead to ministerial death, even when Christ offers abundantly abounding grace to rescue us.

In his classic essay on the dangers of ministry, Donald Whitney writes in “The Almost Inevitable Ruin of Every Minister,” that:

Almost everyone knows someone who used to be in the ministry. Almost everyone knows someone who shouldn't be in the ministry. And every minister knows another minister—if not several—he does not want to be like. . . . So I think it's important to address the subject of: the almost inevitable ruin of every minister . . . and how to avoid it. Once when a Southern Baptist denominational executive was on the Midwestern Seminary campus in the late 1990s, he asserted that statistics show that for every twenty men who enter the ministry, by the time those men reach age sixty-five, only one will still be in the ministry.

Doesn’t your experience confirm Whitney’s warning—too many pastors don’t make it to the finish line (1 Cor 9:27)? With the pastoral canvas already strewn with landmines, another lethal one has appeared. As stats throughout this book confirm, porn to a staggering degree is infesting the lives of pastors. Churches and denominations are being forced to implement policies to handle this growing problem. The determinative factor regarding how to respond to pastors who struggle with porn must be found in the Word of God. It is, therefore, my aim in this chapter to provide an exegetical/theological study of critical passages in order to answer the question—“Does struggling with pornography disqualify a pastor from ministry?”

1st Can a Genuinely Godly Pastor Struggle with Porn? Romans 7:14-25

The Word of God has much to say to pastors who struggle with porn as well as to their churches. In the highly disputed verses of Romans 7:14-25, the apostle Paul speaks of a person “I” who can readily identify with any pastor in a battle against a besetting sin. The fact that this “I” loved the law and hated sin, strongly suggests that “I” is a believer; and because Paul wrote Romans, the “I” most likely is no one less than the apostle himself.

In his brilliant Th.M. thesis, Steve Black persuasively argues that the use of “I” in Romans 7:7–25 is simply too definite, too sustained, and too passionate and personal to allow anything other than the autobiographical sense.”[1] Perhaps more stunning is the observation that Paul is writing about his present condition as the author of the book of Romans and as evangelizer of all of ancient Europe.[2] If these conclusions are true, then the Word of God in Romans 7:14-25 offers a candid look into the ongoing war against sin fought by one of the greatest leaders God has ever given to the church. Therefore, there is much to be learned about a leader’s battle against sin from this passage.

Openly confessing his lapses in his war against the flesh, Paul provides an illustrative example of the principle that until our “corruptible will have put on the incorruptible” all Christians, godly leaders included, will lose periodic struggles against sin. According to Paul, the moment any believer fails to yield to the Spirit, in some way he yields to the flesh, allowing himself for that duration to be a slave of sin (Romans 6:12; 7:14, 23b). While this is the painful experience of every believer, including every pastor, “doing things that we hate and failing to do things that we want to do,” this must not be the normative pattern for any Christian’s life (Rom 8:13). Christ’s gift of the Spirit enables believers to deny the flesh and to resist the temptation of sin (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:16). So although Christians will experience episodic defeats, victorious living by the Spirit, as described in Romans 8, must become the pattern of their lives. This is true because of the reality of the believer’s death to sin and resurrection with Christ, described in chapter 6. Pastors then, like all believers, rest in the hope-giving promise of the gospel to forgive all of their sins. They must also exemplify the powerful transforming work of the gospel, which instructs believers to deny and to not indulge in sin (Rom 6:1, 15; Titus 2:11-12). Thus the difference between pastors and other Christians isn’t the complete absence of sin in pastors’ lives but the consistent pattern of living by the power of the Spirit.

So yes, sadly, pastors, like all believers, at times will be defeated by sin and cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24). And like all true believers, by faith they must allow God’s grace to fill their hearts with the exclamation, Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:25) rejoicing that one day they will be completely liberated from the presence of sin (Jude 24). However, since that day has not arrived yet, and pastors can and some will struggle with lust, the question that remains is, “does the lustful sin of viewing pornography rise to a level of disqualifying him from the ministry?” In order to answer that question, we must determine at what level, and under what circumstances, such a sin could render a pastor reproachable. I’ll have to answer those questions in my next post. But for now let me end with this plea—please pray for your pastors. They fight on the front lines and are always under spiritual attack. They (we) do need your help.

[1] For a full and excellent exegetical treatment of the interpretive challenges in Romans 7 cf. “The Spiritual Condition of EGW and His Relationship to the Law in Romans 7:14-25” (Th.M. thesis, The Master’s Seminary, 2005).

[2] The exclusive use of present tense verbs in vv. 14-25 (in contrast to the aorist in vv. 7-13) leads to this conclusion.


E'bow Morgan said...

Pastor Bobby... in order to deal with this issue effectively Romans 7 must be seen in light of I Timothy 3. Its (as was mentioned) these consistent character qualities that distinguish under-shepherds from sheep. Sheep can most definitely exhibit these qualities but for under-shepherds these are ministerially legitimizing requirements. Examining those characteristics that specifically speak to the issue of sexual immorality, therefore, are indispensable in determining disqualification based on pornographic indulgence. My assumption is that the case of men we are attempting to review for qualification are those that are consistently in physiological fidelity to their wives. This means we are dealing with the case of men who struggle with pornographic addiction only. Subsequently, this kind of man consistently remains the "husband of one woman" and for all intensive purposes loves his wife. However, he struggles with a constant addition to porn. As we observe Paul's use of the word addiction, he only uses it in this qualifying list with reference to wine (alcohol) drinking. Wine is permitted but only under the condition of non-addiction. At any rate, their is no clear criterion here to support ministerial disqualification for pornographic addiction. Yet in conducting a word study on the term prudence we may see a basis for disqualification for pornographic addiction. According to the scripture (and I draw specifically from the counter-concept relative to the proverbs 7 narrative and other passages dealing more definitively with the term) a man lacking prudence is one who cannot see danger approaching. The very core of shepherding is to protect the sheep from spiritual danger - to have prudence. If a man lacks the force of this grace consistently because of pornographic indulgence, I take it that he has proven himself disqualified and simply unfit for ministry - at least in the moment. Pornographic indulgence is the antithesis of prudence. And without this character quality the under-shepherd proves himself one who lacks the moral fiber and possibly the theological bearings to guard the souls of God's sheep on a practical spiritual level. The lack of qualitative prudence (which possibly encompasses pornographic addiction) disqualifies a man from eldership according to I Timothy 3. I contend that pornographic indulgence at the core reveals a man to be absent this legitimizing character-quality. This in turn disqualifies him directly on the basis of a lack of prudence; of which pornographic indulgence is a symptom. My view,however, I anticipate, is in-comprehensive.

Pastor Bobby Scott said...

Thanks E'bow for the insightful appeal to the virtue of prudence required of shepherds. I couldn't agree with you more. I wrote this piece originally as a single chapter for an upcoming e-book, Internet Pornography: A Pastor's Survival Handbook. It definitely reads better as a chapter rather than in parts (1-4). I deal with 1 Tim 3 in part 2. here's the link It deals with the concerns about the one woman character that a pastor must possess. Anyway in the rest of the posts I try to establish clear guidelines to for churches to determine who does and doesn't meet the qualifications of being a blameless one woman kind of man.

E'bow Morgan said...

Pastor Bobby, this 4 part chapter hits home and is packed with powerful biblical principles and instruction. I appreciate that and am in total agreement. But I have always wondered about certain old testament leaders who were God's men but had episodic periods reflective of egregious sexual sin such as: David, Solomon and Abraham. God's word is indeed infallible, inerrant and holy, yet how could a man like David (a man after God's own heart no-doubt) continue on in the office of King of Israel and not be removed by his peers, like Nathan, for his egregious sin? God obviously dealt with him severely but is there a standard distinction in office-bearing between old and new testament leaders? Solomon like his father had many wives, concubines etc., plus he wedded himself to a godless egyptian woman. However, he also continued in office(not without severe consequence from God, I humbly accept)until his full term was completed. Not to mention the fact that both these men by virtue of the Holy Spirit's superintendence wrote the Scriptures we now receive and utilize as the pure word of God. Abraham slept with his servant in order to fulfill the promise of God at the behest of his wife Sarah; again with severe consequence. This is a man who is considered by Scripture to be the father of our most holy faith. At any rate, in each case, God forwarded his plan through their leadership even in spite of these egregious sins. I in no way advocate their sexual sin and fear God because of the pain he can inflict on rebellious leaders,but am curious about this apparent disconnect between Old and New Testament leaders when it comes to sexual sin and official service. Why did they continue in office and not be removed? Was it their status? Does the office of King trump that of Pastor in spiritual importance? So they continued in service? Was it that God's redemptive promise and kingly lineage had to continue - in David and Solomon's case? Was it the manner of their repentance that kept them in office? Or was it the severity of God's punishment? What am I missing here? Or should I simply yield to God's sovereignty over these special cases? Or should I perceive God's dealings with old and new testament leaders and sexual sin as separate?

Pastor Bobby Scott said...

I hear you E'bow and wish I could have addressed the issue of the men of God in the OT and their failures to live as one women kind of men. I had a very tight word limit to work with and went way past it in my chapter.

Here's what I wish I could have included. I agree with you when you suggest that we naively minimize the depth that even true men of God may have to struggle against sexual temptation. By the Bible's own admission David was in fact a man after God's own heart and Abraham was a friend of God. David's candid admission in Ps 51:5 is true of all people and it can manifest itself with struggles for purity. In fact pre-converted Paul confesses in Romans 7:8 that "sin produced . . . (literally) lusting of every kind." So I don't think it is too much of a leap to suggest that when he cries out in the same chapter as a believer that he still did things he hated that lusting might be included (but of course I am speculating here). My point is that men of God in the OT and NT have to overcome sexual temptation.

I believe the reasons why OT men who failed to maintain their purity remained in office while pastors can’t are because of (1) the difference in the qualifications for their offices and (2) the grace that God gives them to fulfill those offices. Pastors are required to be one womankind of men so that they can model Christ whereas kings and patriarchs aren't. Kings are primarily administrative rulers. The pastor’s primary task is to be a spiritual leader who is teaching and modeling Christ-likeness. And I don't think we can overlook the fact that “to whom much is given much is required,” and pastors have received a better covenant and a fuller working of the Holy Spirit to sanctify them against the temptations of the lust of their flesh.

I could say more but I hope that helps. Great observations, E'bow. We all really need to earnestly seek all the means of grace God has provided to us to be pure. I think candid transparency and real fellowship are some of them.