Mark Stevens on the Near Emmaus blog has written an interesting post about church pastors and public evangelists who publically / privately disgrace themselves and in doing so bring the church, themselves and the God we worship into disrepute.
The question Mark asks in regards to this is whether or not those ministers could or should ever be restored to a ministry position again. In Australia we have seen a number of high profile pastors stepped down because of personal / public sin. In America there have been countless pastors who likewise publically disgraced themselves and betrayed the trusts of many; not to mention the huge crisis within the Roman Catholic and Anglican denominations regarding the systematic cover up of sexual abuse and paedophilia.
There are a number of answers to this question; Yes, No, Maybe, or Depending. The criteria for answering this question I suggests lays in how and what we perceive church to be. And I would like to think that we consider and think of Church as being family. Certainly Scripture speaks highly about the church being part of Gods family. And so I would venture to say that Luke 15:4-32 has a direct bearing on this question and especially the story of the Prodigal Son.
We see that the son perverts himself; disgraces and dishonours himself, his family, his community and his father. Yet the father eagerly and expectantly looks forward to his return. This is a story of remarkable grace, mercy, repentance, restoration and celebration.
I will argue that the nature of Church must reflect this story; for the story is that of the Gospel its self. Notice within the story that it is a Son who falls. It’s a family member. He both privately and publically sins and falls into disrepute. Yet he also comes to his senses. He hits rock bottom and is publically humiliated. And comes back to his father; cap in hand asking if he can become one of his servants. The father instead rejoices and hugs him, places a ring of authority on his finger and celebrates with a big party…yet the oldest brother has a big sulk about his brothers restoration and the fuss made… thinking its just not right.
Is this the picture we have of Church and our place of fellowship? Does our congregation reflect that we are part of God’s family and that as part of God’s family we have room within our midst to live out grace, mercy, restoration and celebration? Or are we like the older brother…
In the story of the Prodigal we see the fullness of sin being brought out into the open. There is no cover up. It is made public for all to see…and in spite of the sin, dishonour and disgrace… we see repentance in its fullness and mercy and grace taking precedence in restoration… our churches must not only preach the gospel; it must be lived out in the life of the church… so my answer is yes… there is room for restoration and not only room for restoration of our family… but also room to celebrate this restoration…