A Grievous Ruin
The news came yesterday that Tullian Tchividjian is now the Director of Ministry Development at Willow Creek Church in Winter Springs, Florida (not to be confused with Willow Creek Community Church of South Barrington, IL). Willow Creek Church is part of the Central Florida Presbytery of the PCA. Tchividjian was added to the staff of Willow Creek just two weeks after filing for divorce from his wife Kim and only two months after he resigned as Senior Minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church for having “an inappropriate relationship” with another woman (adultery).
The South Florida Presbytery (PCA) where Tchividjian had previously served as Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian did the right thing by removing his ministerial credentials. In a word, the presbytery to which Tchividjian belonged defrocked him. He was stripped of his ordination. If you are not familiar with Presbyterian polity, this is a big deal. Ministers within the PCA are not expected to hop from one church into another after such a serious action. Presbyterian churches are expected to cooperate with one another. This is vital in matters of discipline. When a pastor falls to disqualifying sin and is given a way out of ongoing shepherding by being quickly hired by another church, the process in place meant to guide the man to mature repentance is undercut and the health of the church put at risk.
The South Florida Presbytery has also attempted to shepherd him during this time. But those offers appear to have been rejected.
Before we go any further let’s rehearse a few truly glorious truths:
1. We are all, without exception, sinners in desperate need of grace (Rom 3:23).
2. When a sinner repents there is forgiveness in Christ and complete freedom from the condemnation of sin. That is, in Christ, we sinners are fully justified (Rom 8:1; 1 Cor 6:11; 1 John 1:9)
3. When a sinner repents he or she should experience the welcome and fellowship of the church of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 2:5ff).
But there are other complementary truths which are needful. For instance...
1. Sin is desperately wicked. It is mutiny against God. It is a rejection of his Lordship and love. Therefore sin and its consequences must never be trivialized (Gen 3; Rom 1:18ff, 6:23) .
2. Grace must never be used as a license to sin (Romans 6:1).
3. Sexual sin is a particularly grievous sin (Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 5-6). Sexual sin does great harm not only to the sinner but those who love him or her.
4. Those who provide oversight for the church must be above reproach. They must be men who have disciplined themselves against sexual sin (1 Tim 3:1ff; Titus 1:5ff).
5. The church holds the responsibility of disciplining erring members (Matt 18; 1 Cor 5).
6. When the church fails to exercise proper discipline or undermines the discipline of a sister church they are trivializing sin and sending damaging messages to the church and the world.
When a minister falls to adultery it is imperative that he be removed from his position of oversight. It is dangerous both for the church and for the fallen pastor’s own soul to remain in a position of spiritual oversight when he is unfit for such a responsibility. By stripping Tchividjian of his credentials and extending pastoral care to him and his family the South Florida Presbytery did the right thing; the Christian thing.
I wonder if the church that has just hired Tchividjian understands the peril in which they have placed him. I wonder also if they understand what hiring as a minister a newly confessed adulterer broadcasts to their church and community. Do they understand what this action communicates about the gravity of adultery and divorce? Do they understand what this action communicates about sin and repentance?
There is nothing glorious or gospelish about this ugly mess.