It Wasn’t My Fault!

Who, Me?

 

Perhaps evangelicalism would not suffer so many celebrity-leaders with weak character and shallow theology if it was humble enough to admit that it could’ve prevented the problem early on by simply heeding the warnings of more discerning Christians bold enough to expose unbiblical ministry and character!  But where big numbers and broad public favor are concerned, red flag-raisers are almost universally scoffed at.  Hordes of bedazzled leaders and sheep are quick to dismiss the smallest whiff of criticism, chiming in chorus: “Leave that popular leader alone.  He just has some rough edges.  Look at the impact he’s having.”  Like it or not, this is nothing less than the worst form of pragmatism—the kind evangelicals love to claim they’d never fall into.

 

But what truly astounds me is how quickly some celebrity’s adoring fan base goes mute once their guru’s weaknesses reach a particular level of public embarrassment.  The typical progression today goes something like this: Christians hear of a teacher or leader’s ministry and growing popularity.  Everyone begins indiscriminately gulping at his fountain without first researching more closely his theological and pastoral training, skill in handling Scripture, or evidence of personal holiness and biblical discernment.  Once intoxicated, the cautions and criticisms of others are scorned and targeted as “out of touch,” “harsh,” and “unlovingly narrow.”  But as soon as that leader’s weaknesses spin out of control and into the evangelical headlines, his former followers pretend they were never followers at all.  A deafening silence replaces their former shouts of praise.  Then after some weeks, former supporters begin offering their own strong criticisms, snuggling up to the bevy of uncompromising believers who, from day one, always voiced serious concerns.  Not so fast, you who say, “Who, Me?”  If you were one of those well-meaning evangelicals who simply didn’t do your biblical homework when an evangelical star began rising, and you advanced his influence while ignoring the red flags, then at the very least you could help future generations by embracing your misstep as publicly as you once carelessly endorsed a bad influence.

 

I truly marvel at the slick way evangelicals deny any previous affinity for reckless leaders/authors they were fawning over just months earlier.  It’s a Christian sleight-of-hand technique that lets us ride the wave of what’s trending while preserving our reputation in the event a fashionable leader becomes an embarrassment.  It’s a cunning dance—a sly two-step that prevents having to take public responsibility for widely promoting and defending questionable leaders.  It’s pleading ignorance in order to mask negligence.  In today’s celebrity-homage ministry culture, very few are willing to admit ignoring or excusing early warnings and glaring signs of weakness.  And even fewer highly respected leaders are willing to make restitution for having endangered other sheep who blindly followed what they enthusiastically sponsored.  Instead, we’ve become quite comfortable just silently distancing ourselves from spiraling icons.  Where we once blogged, tweeted, and indiscriminately heralded our favorite trail-blazer’s every word, we suddenly emerge from months of curious silence and smoothly announce that “we’ve had concerns all along.”  Like reporters who resist printing a retraction, many evangelicals loathe ever having to publically retract their hasty fan-boy enthusiasm for the latest fad.

 

This is not the way to strengthen and edify the body of Christ.  Lack of biblical discernment is a serious weakness and is never excused in Scripture (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:11-14).  For children to grow from their mistakes, a wise parent helps them learn to humbly admit imprudence and naivete.  In our home, our kids learned from their mishaps, not by pretending they didn’t occur, but by thoroughly examining their pathology.  We helped them identify sinful motives and ungodly thoughts, and taught them to confess and forsake weakness, renewing their hearts and minds by faith in God’s word.  It should be no different with the family of God.  Honest confession of our pride, stubbornness, and lack of biblical vigilance is the first step toward greater spiritual discernment.  When we’ve slipped into pragmatism, carelessly advancing a popular but questionable leader, we need to openly admit it.  Where we’ve quickly dismissed the warnings of fellow-believers, we should confess the error and zealously make whatever restitution is needed to build up those we’ve perhaps spiritually destabilized.  If we’re going to “have our senses trained, discerning good from evil,” we must tremble at ever having supported or promoted any person, ministry, or teaching that could harm God’s people.  Truly confessing an error in judgment on any public level is extremely difficult, but the spiritual dividends for the wider body of Christ are unsurpassed.  Just imagine how encouraged today’s young generation of new believers would be if they witnessed that kind of humility, biblical integrity, correction of error, and protection of the sheep no matter the personal and practical cost.  In fact, had well-known ministries, publishers, coalitions, and bloggers been more openly penitent, more courageous, more mutually accountable, and more willing to sacrifice popularity and book sales for the sake of others, our young people would not be so spiritually undisciplined and confused about biblical leadership today.  That’s a fact, as any diligent shepherd of his local flock will attest.

 

My heart’s desire is that I would not be guilty of deviating in the slightest degree from the “form of sound words” entrusted to me in Scripture.  And I pray that my generation is able to pass the baton of truth to the next generation with all the clarity, power, authority, sufficiency, and glory with which it was delivered to us by God.  But to accomplish that task faithfully, our “progress” must be “evident to all.”  So there can be no public pretense of innocence where we’ve stubbornly and pragmatically supported unbiblical influences which later proved harmful to the church.  God doesn’t mightily use and advance the so-called ministries of the arrogant and selfishly ambitious (James 3:16; 4:6).  Ever!  He does allow weak vessels some measure of gracious fruit while chastening them, but He’s never behind the apparent success of the self-glorying, proud man.  Nor should we be.

Jerry Wragg

Pastor of Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, Florida and the Chairman of The Expositors Seminary.

8 Comments

Alan Benson

about 4 years ago

Very well said!

Reply

Rachael (Horner) Starke

about 4 years ago

This post models the title of your blog so well. While the rediscovery of "gospel-centered" thinking about ministry is so welcome, when it doesn't result in leaders standing in confidence under the truth of 1 John 1:9 - that they can humbly acknowledge and repent when either lack of wisdom or courage caused them to poorly shepherd people towards someone who would ultimately do harm to the church - it's obvious that there is more rediscovery of the gospel still needed.

Reply

John Helbling

about 4 years ago

Unfortunately it takes an Enquirer-type scandal to actually cause the fans of these celebrity pastors to wilt in their support for them, if they wilt at all.

Reply

Jerry Wragg

about 4 years ago

Tragic, but true.

Reply

Eric Davis

about 4 years ago

Sound words. Thankyou, Jerry.

Reply

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