Ironic Faith: Integrity

Scot McKnight’s fourth point deals with the hypocrisy of much of popular evangelicalism —

Fourth, emergents were burned by the lack of integrity among popular evangelical media figures. They watched or heard the stories about Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart and the fall of leader after leader both national and local. Knowing what the Bible says and what leaders are (perhaps) doing behind closed doors creates irony, if not cynicism. For some, the lack of integrity among leaders casts doubt on the whole institution of the church. Emergents compare what Jesus had in mind and what Paul saw come to pass with what is going on, and decide to start all over again as if for the first time—this time with authenticity.

Umm … it’s true, you know, that there’s a definite problem within the preaching class. And the Churches of Christ are far from immune. I personally know an astonishing number of Church of Christ ministers who’ve committed adultery or otherwise shown an embarrassingly low level of integrity. Yes, we’ve got an integrity problem.

However, the notion that it’s a good idea “to start over again as if for the first time” is absurd. Starting over isn’t the solution. 

First, starting over rejects the goodness and accomplishments of the vast majority who do have integrity. Judging those who’ve gone before so harshly is a mark of immaturity — a sort of spiritual adolescence — I think.

Second, just because you think you have integrity hardly means no one else does. Moreover, just because you think you have integrity doesn’t mean you do. Many of those who’ve fallen here among the evangelical churches thought they had integrity, too.

Third, Jesus spent his ministry working with sinners — prostitutes and adulterers. The question isn’t whether Christians sin — they do — but whether God helps them overcome sin with the help of their brothers in Christ. And leaving isn’t helping.

On the other hand, obviously enough, we really need to get our act together. I mean, this constant flow of adultery, spousal and child abuse, and financial irresponsibility coming from our ministers has to be dealt with. We need to get better at preventing such behavior.

And I don’t know how, but it would really be helpful if we could figure a way to see it coming. What drives men with delightful wives and immense talents for God’s kingdom to stray sexually? Is it ego? Abuse as a child? An inability to relate to women other than sexually?

I really wish someone would tell me how to see these things coming! After they happen, we often learn why the minister was driven into such sin, ruining his family and career, but how do we see it early enough to prevent it?

Anyway, I’ve posted some thoughts that should help prevent some of this, but we need lots more answers than I have.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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12 Responses to Ironic Faith: Integrity

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    One of the memories I will never forget is when a friend of our family who had preached for ever called my Dad one morning and explained he had been addicted to pornography for five years and had confessed to the church that promptly fired him. His wife had died at an untimely age of cancer five years before. We must face the truth that we do not have a culture of confession at most of our churches. We wait until something is an all out addiction, affair or some other crisis before we seek help. Most churches do not have a safe environment to confess. The way to overcome sin in the past was to go forward say something very general in a confession before the whole congregation and try not to ever do that sin again. This system was set up for failure from the beginning. Ministers are humans just like everyone else. There is not system in place the average minister in the church of Christ to really be open and honest about his struggles without fear of losing his job or suffering castigation by the self proclaimed moral police of the congregation. Until we realize that ministers are not Jesus and will have sin just like everyone else we will hold them to an unattainable level of morality. We also will continue to come church one morning and hear a resignation out of the blue and say well he should have tried harder. Ministers and policemen have the highest rates of divorce. Ever wonder why? Paul regularly confessed things worse than sexual addiction, was he fired from being an Apostle. If Paul was one of the chief sinners, then why do we fire and treat our ministers for having committed far less?

  2. David P Himes says:

    Unfortunately, like many others, we are often less forgiving than Jesus calls us to be.

  3. It is a fine line between an attitude that brings integrity and one that produces arrogance. My experience has been that there are far too few examples of integrity in our brotherhood. What we mistake for integrity is far too often arrogance. When we realize that we can't understand and obey Scripture well enough to earn salvation we may begin to grasp this idea of integrity. Integrity isn't just about keeping ones self from sin. Integrity is a result of the determination of heart one makes when his commitment to Christ overrides his desire for the world. When my priority is pleasing Christ integrity becomes a by product.
    Could it be that a reason we preachers have a problem with integrity is because our hearts lie with pleasing the brethren rather than the Lord? We must be so careful not to be labeled anything other than "sound." Who is it we seek to please? If my desire is to please the brethren, the result is something less than integrity. Just a few thoughts, thanks for listening.

  4. Alton P. says:

    I agree with Dell that I have seen far more instances of arrogance than of humility in preachers. I also believe that many if not most preachers I have met are interested in pleasing the most "conservative" and vocal members and/or elders. Simply put they want to keep their job. This is one reason I like the congregational model of having different members do the preaching. The Northwest congregation in San Antonio did this back in the 90's when we attended there and I found it very refreshing. The Sylva, NC congregation is doing it now (we do not attend there).
    I do not mean to be derogatory or unsympathetic, but I have said for many years that egotism is an occupational hazard for preachers. I believe that this is one reason so many preachers (as well as others in power positions) are prone to succumbing to sexual temptation. The fact fact that we expect preachers to be perfect and show no love when they fail is our own problem.

  5. Alton P. says:

    Sorry that I didn't read Jay's questions at the end closely enough. I think to see things like this about to happen you must watch for signs of a growing ego. Is the preacher open to someone questioning his teaching on some subject, or does he get offended when someone in the congregation disagrees with him. Most of the time, I believe, the members will see this long before the elders. After all, the preacher wants to keep his job so he will show a face to the elders that may not be shown to an individual member. It has been my experience that if any member does not feel comfortable calling the preacher and saying "let's meet at XXX for a cup of coffee and talk", then you are in for problems sometime. I am sure this does not answer everything but I believe it is a good way to start.

  6. rey says:

    Your series title "ironic faith" is very fitting here, because it is very ironic that the person being quoted claims the emergents are concerned with getting away from bad leaders. If that were the case, rather than being emergent, they would turn to the Bible. To be emergent, of necessity and by definition, means to be totally ruled by the rich dudes who are selling emergent literature! The way to stay away fro leadership abuse, clearly enough, is to totally downplay human leadership altogether and have a totally lay (and hence non-authoritative) leadership, that is not looking to as some sort of oracle but as what they actually are (fallible human beings trying to teach God's infallible word). This is how it is done in the most conservative non-institutional churches. But you wouldn't know anything about that, because institutionalism of necessity means sending your prospective "leaders" to seminary, and bringing them back and making them little popes: "he's the pastor, you can't question him" or "he's the elder, you have to do what he says." When you've got no human religious ruler that you are told have to obey, then he cannot abuse his power. The priests of the RCC can only abuse little kids because their religion teaches them that to go to heaven they have to obey the priests. If your churches teach you have to obey the elders when they are clearly wrong, then be assured that you'll have lots of sexual abuse going on, because sexual abusers will recognize the type of power you are granting to your "clergy" and will enter the "ministry" specifically to abuse those powers. This ought to be common sense.

  7. rey says:

    "Paul regularly confessed things worse than sexual addiction" (Joe Baggett)

    I'm sorry, Joe, but that statement is a lie from Satan. Where do you find Paul "regularly" confessing anything in Scripture? The only confessions I find are his confessions of how he persecuted the church prior to his conversion (Phil 3:6, Gal 1:13) and how he was covetous when he was still Jew (Rom 7:8). I also suppose that Galatians 2:3 where he says he did not compel Titus to get circumcised could be considered a sort of confession of fault for having compelled Timothy to be circumcised. But Paul certainly did NOT "regularly confess things worse than sexual addiction" as you claim. Don't try and excuse your sexual addiction by trying to transfer it onto Paul.

  8. Terry says:

    Rey,
    You go too far in your criticism sometimes. Although you often make valid points, you ruin it with invalid points and judgmental statements.

    Elders in non-institutional churches are not immune from being abusive. And it was disgusting to imply that Joe Baggett has a sexual addiction. You owe Joe an apology.

  9. Todd says:

    Rey,

    Emergents are almost identical in every way with Jesus and Paul's first century audience. Their viewpoints are born of their experience of our failure. Just as the Jews failed to be light to the Gentiles so we have failed to be light and salt to this world.

    And just as then, when faced with the counterfeit, the Truth is easy to see and looks mighty good.

    We can blame them for their attitudes all we want but the simple and inescapable truth is that we (I) have not done our jobs, we (I) have not lived out the Gospel, we (I) have not modeled integrity. If we (you) can't accept that truth and adjust to it, we (you) will never be able to reach them and will not be able to bear fruit for the Gospel.

  10. Rey, you unfortunately sound like so many in the conservative segment of the church. Perhaps this attitude is one of the many reasons this segment of the Lord's body is having such a hard time connecting with society. When you draw your circles of fellowship smaller and smaller you wake up one day and find you are the only one in the circle.

  11. william says:

    First two words spoken on this site. Billy Graham ! That should answer the integrety issue.

  12. marlow says:

    To require families and kids to be exposed to the various behavior problems of some of the leaders bothers me. Where is the accountability? In the church, the people who object to some behaviors are villified. The lack of self reguation and humility in the church leaders is one of its most dangerous problems.

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