Just Like Ted Haggard?

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It seems to me that the blogosphere reaction to the Ted Haggard scandal is breaking two ways.  On one side are those who utterly denounce the man and see in him a glaring example of everything wrong in popular evangelicalism today.  On the other side are those who want to stress that we are all rotten sinners "just like Ted Haggard" and that the only evangelical response is to mourn over one's own sin.  As usual, there is something good and something troubling about both positions.

What is right with the "Denounce Ted" position: 

1.  Ted Haggard was not merely a private Christian, but held public office in the church.  The Bible tells us to apply a higher standard to him (Ja. 3:1).

2.  The public scandal of Haggard's sin makes it particularly heinous.  His role in civic affairs, particularly his politicking against homosexual sin, makes this a terrible scandal.  We Christians should be apologizing to our secular neighbors for this hypocrisy (he was the president of the NAE, after all).

3.  Instead of immediately engaging in a "forgiveness fest" (this situation just broke, after all), we should be too busy abasing ourselves before God.  Daniel's prayer of repentance for Israel gives us a good model for how we should be responding.  He admitted to God that the pagan conquest of Jerusalem was God's doing as judgment for sin; we likewise ought to admit that we evangelicals deserve to be conquered by our pagan political foes for embroiling ourselves in the very same sins Israel committed.  Here is a part of Daniel's prayer:

"I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.  I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules" (Dan. 9:3-5). 

I am not in a position to judge everyone, but it does not seem that the response from some evangelicals in general fits Daniel's approach.  Instead, we say, "Hey, he's human.  Show him some grace.  Cut him some slack.  After all, we're all just like Ted."  Might this represent a too-flippant attitude towards gross, scandalous sin?

What is wrong with the "Denounce Ted" position:

1.  Some statements seem to fail to consider Ted Haggard as a human being, evidence no mercy towards the man at all, and may fail to appreciate how possible this would be for any of us. 

2.  Some statements also do not seem to appreciate how helpful it has been that New Life Church did not cover up or make excuses, acted swiftly and honestly, and has not made light of the scandal.

3.  Most important, I believe, is that unlike the "Denounce Ted" critics, Daniel included himself among the penitent in his prayer.  It is noteworthy that Daniel repents of sins that he does not seem personally to have committed.  Daniel owned up to his solidarity with his fellow Israelites and he judged his own depravity in continuity with the whole.  So rather than "denounce Ted," we ought to say "let us denounce all of ourselves."  But let's really denounce the sin.  Let's really repent of it and not just wallow in it as if this is only to be expected among people redeemed from sin by the blood of Christ.

What is right with the "Just Like Ted" position:

1.  Mainly, it is not judgmental.  This view rightly warns us against a self-righteous attitude towards the sins of others, and it reminds us to have compassion on the fallen. 

2.  It recognizes that this kind of sin is very possible for us all.  We should "take heed lest we should fall."   Our response to Ted's sin ought to include the fear our own sin. 

What is wrong with the "Just Like Ted" position:

1.  I fear that it poorly presents the biblical description of normative Christianity.  Biblically, we are not supposed to be "just like Ted."  The biblical rule is that the fornicator has no place in the Kingdom of God.  Paul writes, "You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Eph. 5:5).  So we should all look into our hearts and see the  sources of Ted's sins, but if we look into our hearts and see the actual sins that Ted has admitted, you are in deep trouble.  In this respect, if you are "just like Ted," then you should question your salvation.  Let's not kid ourselves, Ted Haggard did not "slip" into this situation overnight.  As he has indicated, it resulted from a long-term pattern of deceipt and moral corruption.  This does not absolutely mean that he is not saved -- of that, I certainly am not his judge.  But according to the Bible, people who live like this normally are not.  (But what about David after his tryst with Bathsheba?  The answer is that David's salvation truly tottered on a knife-edge, at least from a human perspective.  Read Ps. 51 carefully!  Without Psalm 51, we would have little basis for considering David a regenerate man.  Moreover, he never fully recovered from the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba, and neither did his kingdom.)

2.  There seems to be some confusion about the difference between being an unredeemed sinner and a redeemed sinner.  Christians are not to look into our hearts and see the same thing as Ted Haggard saw on Sunday morning.  We are to see the potential for it -- to be sure!  But Paul says of Christians: "At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord." (Eph. 5:8).  If this characterization cannot be made of today's evangelicals -- and I sympathize with those who wonder -- then there are good biblical reasons to question the basic reality of our salvation and the soundness of our churches.

3.  Furthermore, the "we just like Ted" position denigrates the office of the Christian minister.  I fear that many will conclude: "You have no reason to expect anything different from your pastor, since we're all sinners.  No one should be set up as a public role-model, because everyone can be expected to fall into gross sin."  This is simply false from a biblical perspective, and under this attitude the office of the minister is greatly diminished. If your church is not pretty confident that your senior minister is not about to pull a Ted Haggard on you -- as so many ministers have done in recent years -- then you need to deal with it now.  And, by the way, are you praying for the holiness of your pastor and his power to resist temptation?

4.  The Ted Haggard situation exposes a lot of dark reality in the evangelical movement that we should not gloss over in the interests of "grace".  A high percentage of our churches have hired ministers based solely on their oratorical gifts, with little consideration of whether or not they really are men of God.  Godly men who lead holy lives are run out of pulpits so that hip, cool, media personalities can be put in their place.  It is generally true, in my opinion, that our evangelical movement has pursued lifestyle happiness over biblical holiness, has emphasized numerical sucess over biblical truth, and has revelled in the gifts of men rather than in the glory of God.  In this respect, I fear that the "show grace to Ted" argument fails to confront the values that dominate the broader Christian movement of which we are a part that have contributed to such scandals.

5.  We seem to have a different understanding of grace than that found in the Bible.  Grace does not just mean that everyone just gets cut slack.  Grace is what provides mercy from God and power for godliness.  "Be of sin the double cure," says the hymn: "cleanse me from its guilt and power."  We seem to believe in the first kind of grace but no longer in the second.  But Paul taught differently.  He wrote: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age" (Tit. 2:11-12).  That is a biblical perspective on grace.  Believing in grace includes expecting godliness.

Conclusion: What Ted Haggard did should not be normative for any of us, much less for Christian leaders.  Ted Haggard had given himself over to sin.  It started with him toying with sin, no doubt -- let us fear to do so!  It continued by means of an active course of deception and gross hypocrisy -- let us desperately flee to Christ for the very salvation of our souls if we are doing the same.  And if any of us looks into our own hearts and says, "I'm just like Ted," then let us renounce the works of the devil, flee to the cross to embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior so that we may be saved.  The salvation that God has brought through Jesus Christ is not one that leaves us to be "just like Ted" in his recent fall.  Instead, Paul says, "By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, God condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4).

So let's make sure that we really are not "just like Ted Haggard."  Let us abase ourselves before God in contrition for our sin which he represents.  Let us apologize to our non-Christian neighbors.  Let us walk in the light so as to be what the Bible describes as Christian.  Let us acknowledge the pure shame of what Ted Haggard has done.  And then let us pray for his full restoration to the light of God's grace in Christ (though never to the office of minister, in my opinion).  If Ted Haggard were to walk into my church on Sunday, I would not publicly shame him -- that has been done, to be sure.  I would preach to him the gospel of real grace and I would point his needy soul to the cross where it is found.

Posted November 7, 2006 @ 12:12 PM by Rick Phillips

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