Basic Decency. That's All That's Needed.
Seeing Todd’s post yesterday on adultery reminded me of a conversation I had on Sunday night. A student (the one who combines excellent taste in dating with an apparent reckless disregard for his own safety -- hey, I'm still watching you, sunshine....) said he had heard of a pastor who had been caught in adultery but had now been forgiven by his wife, reconciled to her, and was back in the pastorate. His (the pastor’s) argument was that we are all sinners and so why should this sin be more serious than others. What did I think of such? Not a lot, as it happens.
The book by John Armstrong which Todd recommends is excellent in laying out the arguments as to why restoration to office is not possible in such circumstances (though restoration to fellowship in the church is, of course, for those who have repented).
One thing I would like to add though is a comment on a particular version of the ‘we’re all sinners, so it’s really ok’ argument. In one instance, while debating whether a particular individual was qualified for office, a person read to me the list of qualifications for eldership and declared: ‘If we apply those, then nobody will ever be qualified!’
Really? Is it so hard to be faithful to one’s wife? To be sober minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach? Not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy for money? A good manager of one’s household, and well-respected in the neighbourhood? The list, as far as it connects to personal qualities, is simply demanding what my father would have called ‘basic decency.’ To use the list as if it demands sinless perfection is perverse. Ironically, it can then lead to dismissing it as irrelevant in practice. That actually leads to a lowering of the bar below the level of basic decency, which is clearly an abuse of the text.
The idea that adultery is not disqualifying for office because all are sinners is a silly, self-serving argument. The options are not ‘sinless perfection’ or ‘nothing really matters.’ Basic biblical decency is the standard. Not hard to achieve. And the argument for permanent disqualification for adultery rests upon the peculiarly heinous nature of the violation of the marriage bond. The unique significance of physical, sexual union, the depth of betrayal of trust involved, and the mockery of the relationship of Christ to the church which such constitutes, all serve to make this particular transgression exceptionally serious. Not the unforgiveable sin by any means but certainly irreversible when it comes to its significance for office-bearing in the church. That is what I have told my own elders should apply to me if ever I commit adultery. And I pray – and take practical steps -- every day to make sure that I do not do so.