More than once I have visited with pastors who have spent hours immersed in pornography and then gone on to preach their most “spirit-filled” sermons against immorality a day or two later. It’s a disconnect that boggles the rational mind. (Gordon MacDonald, The Haggard Truth)
How could one of the most prominent and respected evangelical leaders turn out to be such a deceiver at heart? Indeed, his Church was one of the fastest growing Churches in America and it wasn’t too long ago that he became the president of the 30 million member National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). All this occurred while he was deceiving his congregation and millions others by living a sexually immoral lifestyle. How could all these blessings take place in his life when he was living a life so contrary to God’s will? Certainly, this is a question that many people have been asking. Yet I think in the end this is the wrong question.
Why do I think such questions are ultimately the wrong ones to ask? The reason is that they are based upon a very simplistic logic that God blesses those who are obedient to Him and therefore if a person’s ministry is being blessed it is because the person has been obedient to God. Now, there is no doubt that many verses in the Bible speak of God blessing His children’s obedience and also of His children prospering (in every way) because of their obedience. However, to say that this is true in all circumstances is to miss the mystery and complexity of God’s ways.
Many Christians defend the teachings and practices of mega-churches (or even any church, mega or otherwise) by pointing to how God has blessed such churches. It may be that the church has grown numerically or that miraculous healings have taken place during the services. For such Christians, these are evidences of the fact that the teachings and practices of such a church is right. After all, such Christians think, if the church is teaching something it shouldn’t be teaching, why would God have saved so many people there and why have so many healings taken place? Indeed, the pastors and leaders must be doing the right thing – so it is claimed.
One doesn’t really have to be a reflective Christian for long to realize that such a way of thinking is utterly simplistic. The truth is that God’s ways have been and is more mysterious and complex than we’d like to think. Many prominent leaders have “fallen from grace”. Such leaders had been used mightily by God to heal many and draw many to Christ. And it is not true that the ministry of such leaders was blessed mightily only when they were living godly lives but then started to fail when they began to sin. Rather, the fact is that their service to God was blessed mightily even whilst they were sinning blatantly against God.
For those of us who think that the prosperity gospel is wrong, we have to face the question as to why so many people have been saved and blessed spiritually wherever such a gospel is preached. God’s power has manifested itself powerfully in such churches. While prosperity gospel Christians may believe in something that we believe is fundamentally wrong, we cannot escape from the fact that God has moved there and continues to move in churches we think are teaching dangerous doctrines. Why?
Ultimately, the only way we can reconcile all this is to believe that God still blesses the imperfect and the disobedient. In fact, if He were to only bless Christians and churches which have got everything (doctrine, practices, etc.) right, no Christian or church would be blessed by Him. Indeed, to say that God only blesses the obedient and those who preach a theologically perfect message is to underestimate how sinful and theologically inept we all are.
While the temptation for those who hold dear to biblical truth is to think that God’s blessing of a church implies the teaching of that church is always correct, the temptation for charismatics is to think that God’s blessing of a church implies the practice of the spiritual gifts (especially the prophetic) there is always perfect. Thus, Christians in charismatic churches which are growing and seeing many powerful manifestations of the Spirit occur are tempted to think that everything that involves the practice of spiritual gifts is right in that church. Indeed, for them the powerful manifestation of the spiritual gifts proves that the leadership of the church is right with God and that they are moving the church in the right direction. Therefore, when their leaders and pastors speak a prophetic word, it is assumed the word is correct. When they lead the church to accept an unorthodox or controversial doctrine, church members assume such a doctrine is correct. After all, their leaders are blessed by God (as proven by God’s Spirit moving powerfully in the church) and thus what they say or do ought to be correct too.
Such a way of thinking is really another form of being too simplistic logically and not appreciating the complexities of faith or how imperfect we are.
Dr. Andrew Jackson of the excellent blog SmartChristian.com commented on the Haggard saga here and here.
If Haggard has been living this lying dark lifestyle for most of his life (it seems that male porn was likely involved), where was the discernment of the leaders of New Life Church and the NAE? It is hard to believe that the Holy Spirit would not have been active and speaking and providing discernment to at least some of the leaders that worked closest with him.
WHERE WERE ALL THE PROPHETS? I don’t say this as a put-down to anyone or even the reality of New Testament prophets, but I need to ask, why were all the prophets silent? New Life Church has been the center for self-identified New Testament prophets for years, and Ted Haggard was one the primary leaders over many of these prophetic councils and conferences meeting on the New Life campus and at the World Prayer Center. Where was Cindy Jacobs and others? Don’t you think at least one prophet out of the hundreds visiting New Life Church would have received some discernment from God? It seems that many of them can receive divinely inspired messages from God concerning pending judgements on cities and our nation, but when it came Ted Haggard the heavens were apparently brass.
While normally agreeing with much of Dr. Andrew Jackson’s insights, I have to disagree with his sentiments above. At least, I am not so shocked by the lack of spiritual discernment exhibited by the leaders of New Life Church, the NAE and the prophets. I don’t think that the fact that they did not receive any warning or discernment from God during all this time that Ted Haggard was living an immoral life implies that there’s something fundamentally wrong. Rather, I think it’s normal. If anything, it implies that we’re all imperfect. Mega-churches are imperfect, large church associations are imperfect and prophets are imperfect. And imperfection is normal in this age.
The fact that prominent prophets are used mightily by God doesn’t mean that they ought to be elevated to a higher spiritual plane such that we believe that everything they say or do comes from the mouth of God or is 100% endorsed by Him. In the same way, if they are not used mightily by God (in this particular instance, they weren’t alert to Ted’s sins), that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are any less blessed or anointed by God.
If I’m right in saying all of the above, two things can be concluded. Firstly, Christian leaders are imperfect. Leaders strong in the Word will still get their interpretations and doctrines wrong. Be careful not to idolize them. And leaders strong in the Spirit will still fail in their prophecies and healings. Be careful not to idolize them too. No leader is worth idolizing, because no leader is perfect. Don’t trust too much in any leader or authority for they will all ultimately fail. Only trust in Jesus Christ.
Secondly, God still blesses the imperfect. In fact, there is no other kind of Christian that God blesses than the imperfect kind.* And if we are confused as to why God still blesses the imperfect, we may not yet have confronted our own imperfections and that of every Christian. Indeed, God blesses us in spite of the fact that we still sin and wrongly believe many things. That ought to be a most wonderfully assuring thing to know.
* I need to clarify what I mean when I say I believe God blesses imperfect Christians. God does not bless or reward sin or untruth. Rather, God blesses righteousness and truth. But God still blesses imperfect Christians because there will be righteousness and truth in the life of every Christian – no matter how imperfect or sinful he or she is. There is no doubt that God desires that we seek to become more perfect in our lifestyles and beliefs. However, let’s not forget that we will always fail. But when that happens, God would still bless us because of the little righteousness we have and the little truth we believe.