Thursday, November 09, 2006

on Ted Haggard and why being “above reproach” is so crucial…

I have previously written about the qualifications for elders and I have expressed my desire for adherence to the Scriptural standards and a plea for dealing decisively with moral failures from the pulpit. This issue resurfaced recently with the national news concerning the allegations of drug use and homosexual fornication, the confession of guilt, and then the removal from his pastoral office of Ted Haggard. Ted Haggard founded New Life Church, was noted as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals1, and he had been New Life's senior pastor since its founding until recently when he was removed by the elders of the church.

He has been accused by a male prostitute of having an ongoing (multi-year) relationship that included his paying for sex and drugs on a fairly regular monthly basis. Ted initially seemed to respond to the accusations by saying, "The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry." In his letter to the church that he pastured that was read on Sunday 11/5/06 by Larry Stockstill who pastors Bethany World Prayer Center2 in Louisiana, the “mother” church that planted New Life, Ted specified that he was guilty of sexual immorality.

I wanted to give some of the background for this story just to set it up for the purpose of thought and discussion concerning church eldership. I do not want to revel in the gross sin, but at the same time I feel that it is important to be clear on the situation and not hide the sin or try to cover the tracks of the sinner.

Before going any further, I need to say something very crucial. I believe that great violence has been done to the proclamation of the gospel because of the gross immorality committed by various men in the positions of leadership. This is certainly true for those in the evangelical community, and we don’t need to look far back from Mr. Haggard to find Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker and the relevant scandals and fallout for the gospel that resulted from their immorality. Unfortunately the unsaved do not see the important distinctions between some of these men and their ministries and others who are not associated with them. But the problem doesn’t just go across the lines inside of evangelicalism, they go beyond them.

For instance, I have been in conversations where the abuse accusations and scandals of priests in the Roman Catholic Church were used to bash and trash the gospel. Roman Catholics and I share nothing in common in our gospel messages other than some of the same words (but they mean very different things) but that does not stop Roman Catholic scandals being used against the gospel when I preach it and it probably doesn’t stop the use of Protestant scandals to go against the message of a Roman Catholic. So no matter how you slice it, whenever anyone who calls themselves a Christian (especially visible or high profile ones) are exposed for gross and immoral sin (like homosexuality, pedophilia, fornication, etc.), the gospel message is taken through the mud.

I also don’t want to rehash my arguments for why a pastor must be above reproach and why (biblically) I believe that once you go over the line, you are no longer fit to be an elder. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the person isn’t a Christian (they very well may be), but they no longer qualify to hold the office of an overseer. You can read my previous thoughts in the following articles:

I took the time to listen to the recording of the service from Sunday 11/5/06 at New Life Church to hear Ted Haggard’s words about this whole situation firsthand (well, his letter read by Larry Stockstill), to hear any comments made about his future with the church, and to hear what message was preached during this time. My goal is not to critique the style of the service3 or various stated doctrinal differences that I have with the church that are important4 but I do want to look at what they proclaim to believe by what they say and do during this service. My concern now with this issue is two-fold, and I have two main questions in this situation:

  1. Will Ted Haggard be restored to a pastoral role?
  2. Is Ted Haggard a Christian?
Will Ted Haggard be restored to a pastoral role? Well, it seems overwhelmingly clear from the information provided to New Life Church that Ted Haggard was permanently removed from the office of senior pastor of that church. The word “permanent” or “permanently” was used more than a few times referring to his no longer serving as the senior pastor. There are two points about this process that I want to comment on. First, I am very happy and joyful that there was an accountability structure in place that took action and quickly, decisively, and lovingly removed Ted from his ministry. Listening to the recounting of what happened gave me some peace, and I believe that the process was very biblical and God honoring. Pastor Larry Stockstill began by reading the qualifications of an overseer from 1 Timothy 3 and some verses from the 5th chapter relating to overseers as well before reading the letters from the Haggards. All in all, I was very blessed to hear and see the desire by the other pastors and elders to be very biblical in how they moved forward in dealing with this situation.

The second point is not as positive as the first, though. It actually seemed, well, rather ominous that he was being permanently removed from his office as senior pastor, but a door seemed to be left open for future pastoral ministry. When speaking about the structure of Ted’s “ongoing restoration”, there were to be a few pastors, “who are going to serve as an oversight committee so that Pastor Ted receives full, long term, therapeutic restoration and one day can minister in the larger body of Christ with joy, with dignity, and with hope in his heart. And that is our goal.”5 I whole heartedly believe that every believer should serve the Body of Christ in some way, so Ted would be no exception to that. However, the repeated stressing that he was being removed from his position of senior pastor was glaring in not mentioning that he would not be a pastor at all. Some churches hold that a pastor can and should be restored to a pastoral position if he grows in faith and is seen to be changed from when he was guilty of the grievous act that made him step down. I do not believe that this is the correct biblical model, and I do not agree with any church that holds to this model of pastoral restoration.

I hold on to the hope that if or when Ted ever wants to be involved in ministry again that he will be obedient to the scriptures and not be a pastor, elder, or deacon.

Is Ted Haggard a Christian? The ultimate and final answer is that neither you nor I know for a fact – only God does.6 However, we are instructed to judge teachers and elders by their fruit. So, I want to look at the fruit of Ted Haggard’s life – both in his sinful actions and in how he responded to it when his sin was brought to light. First of all, let us look to the Word of God and what it says about the fruit of false teachers.

"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.

"Not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'” – Matthew 7:15-23

“They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” – Titus 1:16

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;” – 2 Peter 2:1,2

“They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire." - 2 Peter 2:13-22

Ted made it clear that all of the accusations made against him are not true, but some of them are true. However, when he was initially confronted by reporters after the accuser had gone public, he responded with flat denials of any fornication or drug use. In one recorded encounter with a reporter, Ted explained that he was going to the accuser for massages. Also, he said that he did in fact buy drugs, but threw them away and never used them.7 Although all of the facts are not in, one thing that seems to be clear is that Ted was lying to cover his tracks, and only told the truth when proof was presented. He initially denied knowing the accuser until voice mails were released. He also denied being unfaithful to his wife, but later admitted to being guilty of sexual immorality in his letter that was read to his congregation.

He also alluded to the fallout of the scandal and the “confusion caused by my inconsistent statements” in the same address to New Life Church. I found it disturbing that he seemed to be spinning how he’d spoken to the press by referring to his statements as “inconsistent” as opposed to calling them what they were: lies. This was only compounded by the various words that Ted wrote describing his actions:

  • Dirt
  • Horrible example
  • Sexual immorality
  • Problem (mentioned several times)
  • There is a part of my life is repulsive and dark
  • Over short periods of time I would enjoy victory (no mention of victory over sin or a specific “sin”, just victory)
  • the darkness increased and finally dominated me
  • did things contrary to everything I believe

The pastor who read the letter referred to Ted’s actions as a “default” on a few occasions and Ted himself never mentioned the word “sin” until very near the end of his letter when he said, “I am a sinner and I have fallen….” This “coming clean” continued a little bit when he said, “I am a deceiver and a liar”, but it is still concerning that the word sin was not brought up more. It seemed like both Ted and those who were speaking about this issue were unwilling to use the word sin.

Do we know if Ted Haggard is saved? No. Should we assume that he is saved? I think that based on his actions, we should not. It is possible that he needs regeneration instead of restoration. This is good news! One person made the comment that God is being gracious to Ted. Why? Because God is causing his sin to be brought to light now and giving him the opportunity to repent before God and be forgiven if, in fact, he is not saved.

“God’s not angry at Ted. He loves him. He’s wrapping His arms around him. He is determined (God is determined) to erase the sin that ruins our lives and He has provided everything that Pastor Ted needs for life and godliness. This is His nature, it is His character, it is His Plan. He reaches for us, He finds us, He will not let us go no matter what happens. Today salvation is working, forgiveness is available, and God is extremely faithful.”8

I agree with Ross Parsley that God isn’t angry with Ted if he has repented of his sin and placed his true and saving faith (that will be evident by his actions) in Christ. But if he has not done that, now or before, then God is most definitely not happy with him, and he is an enemy of God.

I say all of this not to just dump on Ted Haggard. My true concern is for those who call themselves Christians all over the world. As a Christian, my life should reflect the fact that I am a new creation. When I sin, it should be a struggle as Paul describes of himself in Romans 7, but it shouldn’t be a planned rendezvous with a prostitute or a pornographic web site, or the intentional cheating on your taxes. Christians need to wake up and realize that there are those in our midst who claim to be Christians, but they are not (even if they think that they are). We need to use the law of God to evangelize unbelievers and we need to use the principles in Matthew 18 discipline and hopefully restore a brother or sister.


2 In no way do I endorse or agree with the ministries of either New Life Church or Bethany World Prayer Center. Actually, the more digging that I do (and I haven’t done much yet) the more wary and concerned I become over their doctrine.

3 It sounded more like a concert-style atmosphere with loud applause and whistling during the introductions of various pastors and elders than a reverent (or even somber or remorseful) church service.

4 It seems that there are women in positions of elders, and this was evident when the pastor who was about to read the letter from Mr. Haggard asked anyone who was an elder or “the husband or wife of an elder” to stand up and be recognized for the hard work that they had done recently. The “what we believe” page of their website seems very good on the gospel message, but it has elements of the health and wealth teaching too which I personally find to be somewhat cancerous in the modern church.

5 New Life Church Sunday Morning Service Podcast 11/5/06

6 I say that intentionally because Ted may not even really know. Some false teachers and many “Christians” think that they are saved, but they are deceived. So, only God and Ted (if he has a repentant heart, a brokenness over his sin – not being caught, and a true faith in Christ) know.


8 Ross Parsley – acting senior pastor of New Life Church taken from the New Life Church Sunday Morning Service Podcast 11/5/06

No comments:

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson