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In more than two decades of my Christian life, if there is one person whose sermons I have listened to the most, it was Ravi Zacharias. Until I fell in love with expository preaching, Ravi was my favourite preacher. I was his die-hard fan.
Regrettably, not too long after his demise, it was hard to digest when Christianity Today first exposed the claims of sexual misconduct by Ravi Zacharias at Spas1. Many of his admirers were infuriated by these allegations. RZIM ministry decided to engage an investigation firm to verify these allegations. They were eventually devastated to learn that these allegations were true2. I commend the RZIM board for honestly and publicly admitting the truthfulness of these charges.
The saddening news of eminent preachers falling into sexual immorality is not new to the Christian world. But every time we hear such news, there is no less disheartenment.
So how should we, as churches and Christians, respond to the moral failures of our spiritual heroes?
HOW NOT TO RESPOND
DENYING: We must not believe anything without evidence. And when shreds of evidence surface, we must not deny them (1 Tim. 5:19-20).
Some are so fascinated by their favourite preachers that they see them as virtually infallible. Their idolization blinds their senses. They are reluctant to admit the weaknesses and moral failures of their heroes. They live in constant denial and deception, thereby incurring much harm. Such unwise responses are seen and mocked even by the enemies of the Christian Faith.
DESPAIRING: When people idolize preachers and build their lives around them, they will be shattered by their failures. They become pessimistic in life and live in despair. Some even backslide and don’t find the Christian Faith worth following. Others wonder if their great preachers fall, is there really any hope for them to stand?
Such people fail to heed the message of God’s Word to keep their eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2). Where in the Holy Scripture are we called to build our hopes on Christian preachers and become their devotees? We are commanded to follow Christ, who is our only hope, strength, infallible model, and the solid rock (Rom. 13:14).
DESPISING: On hearing of the failures of spiritual heroes, some despise them altogether. They wipe out everything God accomplished through them. They scorn their ministry and renounce their resources. If we have to despise men for their moral failure, then we cannot read most of the Psalms, which were written by David, who committed adultery with Bathsheba. We cannot read Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, written by Solomon, who was enamoured by pagan women.
The Holy Bible is not silent about the moral failures of God’s men. It honestly exposes the downfall of men such as Judah, Samson, David, and Solomon while simultaneously bearing testimony to God’s work through them. God uses men not because of their strengths but in spite of their weaknesses. So don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
HOW TO RESPOND
HUMILITY: It is humbling to face the moral failures of our spiritual heroes in light of our own weaknesses. We are not better than others. We are not immune to sin and failures. Before throwing stones at others, must we not examine the log in our own eye?
The Lord Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28).
Who hasn’t committed adultery, according to our Lord?
So we must mourn at the fall of great men and not mock at them. We must be warned by their downfall that we too are not far from falling into such disgrace. We must be horrified at the deception of sin. We must face the moral failures of spiritual men with humility and not be self-righteous. We must not look down at them but look up to the Lord to uphold us all by His gracious hand.
ACCOUNTABILITY: Many Christian preachers fail to have serious accountability concerning their inner battles, which is one of the major causes for their downfall. They slide into secret sins, which goes beyond the discernment of their own family members and close associates.
Therefore, we must help pastors and preachers walk in Christian accountability. We must be courageous enough to ask them whether they are accountable for their private life to some trustworthy men. We must humbly warn them if they live without accountability.
We must not entertain receiving the ministry of Christian leaders who are not accountable to anyone. Such men should learn that we are more concerned about their private life than about their public ministry.
We must also constantly pray for the purity and protection of our Christian leaders from the evil one. Shouldn’t we protect our spiritual heroes from becoming zeroes in ministry?
Moreover, Christian accountability also means practising biblical discipline. We shouldn’t ignore the moral failures of our spiritual heroes in the name of false grace. True grace confronts and cares. (Click here to read an article that precisely explains how to practice disciplining the men of God for God’s glory and welfare of His church.)3
THE ONE CELEBRITY: Our culture is celebrity-centered. We are fascinated by the name, fame, and charisma of preachers. We excessively elevate the servants of God, placing them on the pedestal of perfection. This disposition is not healthy and biblical for both Christian leaders and believers.
What we must understand is that every preacher is a sinner saved by the grace of God. If God in His grace doesn’t use men, none is useful and fruitful for His kingdom service. They are weak men in constant need of God’s strength. For this reason, Paul wrote to the Corinthians who erected their own celebrities:
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:5-6)
Observe the words, neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. We must honor Christian preachers, but we must only exalt God, fix our eyes on Him, and boast about Him, who is the cause of all goodness and fruitfulness. Apart from Him, we are nothing and can do nothing (John 15:4-5).
Men may fail but the Lord in whom we trust will never fail. It is written, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).
So the only celebrity we must celebrate is the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember the assertion of God’s Word, “And he (Christ) is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col. 1:18).
May we exalt the supremacy of Christ alone in the body of Christ. May we not let this supremacy be usurped by any man. May we be passionate for His glory and always stay focused on our only Celebrity who loved us and gave Himself for us on the brutal cross (Gal. 2:20).
O, those who look to the Lord will not be put to shame (Ps. 25:3)! The Psalmist says, “He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord” (Ps. 112:7).
Finally, as the song goes, let us confess too, “The Cross before me, the world behind me, no turning back, no turning back. Though none go with me, still I will follow, no turning back, no turning back.”
1 “A Note from the Editors on the Ravi Zacharias Investigation”, Christianity Today, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/september-web-only/editors-note-ravi-zacharias-investigation.html, September 29, 2020
2 “Update from RZIM Board: Allegations Against Ravi Zacharias”, RZIM, https://www.rzim.org/read/rzim-updates/update-from-rzim-board-allegations-against-ravi-zacharias, December 23, 2020
3 “How Should We Treat A Pastor Who Is Accused of Persistent Sin?”, Equip Indian Churches, https://equipindianchurches.com/blog/how-should-we-treat-a-pastor-who-is-accused-of-persistent-sin/, July 20, 2020