When Christian Leaders Fall
When Christian leaders fall into sin the impacts are huge: on them personally, their family, their church, the wider Christian community, their witness before the world and most importantly before God.
The recent revelation that well-known Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias (who died from cancer last year) was leading a double life undoubtedly came as a shock to many and should grieve us all. Few suspected this articulate and gently spoken Christian leader could have perpetrated the sexual immorality he was subsequently found to have done (as revealed by an independent law firm investigation).
Many have commented on this and why it went on for many years and adds to a growing list of fallen Christian leaders. I shall briefly mention some possible reasons here.
1. Pride. While Ravi was outwardly a humble man it appears that on a number of occasions when his sins could have been exposed he was not so humble. Ravi enjoyed the following of millions of people and I for one have much appreciated his apologetic teaching. He was greatly in demand as a speaker around the world. When we are in such a position where so many people seek your word and advice then pride becomes a very real temptation. Once pride enters it opens a door to other sins (and inevitably ones of a sexual nature) which can easily be justified because of our perceived self importance. This has been the root sin of so many fallen Christian leaders.
2. Lack of accountability. Ravi headed up a multi-million dollar global ministry (RZIM) and because so many depended on him for their work and income there was a tragic neglect to keep Ravi accountable – for fear of censure and loss of their position.
RZIM have admitted and apologised for not holding Ravi accountable and not upholding the high level of conduct expected of a Christian leader.
3. Where was the fear of God? The fear of God teaches us that no sin is hidden from God and that he will judge us through Christ impartially. There are many scriptures which show us the tragic eternal consequences of wilfully continuing in sin (e.g. Hebrews 10:26-31). When pride comes in the fear of God diminishes.
4. Pain and Pressure. Ravi experienced considerable ongoing physical pain due to a spinal injury and sought relief, first appropriately and then later inappropriately. Added to that was the ongoing demands of a global ministry which took him away from home, his wife and family for lengthy periods of time. It is in times of weakness (through pain or emotional exhaustion) that we are most vulnerable to temptation. In such times it becomes very easy to justify sin – ‘I need it’, ‘I deserve it’. ‘My ministry is so important.’ ‘God understands.’ If this is the way we think we have deceived ourselves.
The lessons for us?
1. Pride always comes before a fall, therefore we must always resist such thoughts. Humility is needed at all times. However famous and gifted we are, the glory must go to God and him alone. ‘Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall‘ (1 Corinthians 10:12).
2. Be accountable to others who you trust. None of us are immune to temptation so if you are tempted by or in sin GET HELP. Better to be ashamed before men than to be ashamed before God on the day of judgement. We don’t just ‘fall’ into sin. It begins with a thought and gradually progresses to the point where our conscience is seared. But, ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Christian leaders especially need to be above reproach. Therefore it is crucial they be accountable to others at all times. For example, when travelling, to ensure they are not alone with someone of the opposite sex (other than of course with their wife, husband, daughter or son). Expenditure needs to be accounted for by an independent party.
3. Our faith should always ultimately be in Christ, never reliant on another man or woman. It is not wrong to see someone as a good example and from whom we can learn and gain wisdom to grow. But we need to guard against putting another Christian on a pedestal, effectively making them an idol. Christian leaders, as we all, are subject to temptation (and more so – which is why we need to pray for them) and may, at times, sin. We are to be followers of Christ, not of men.
Josh McDowell, also a well-known Christian apologist, has given some wise comment regarding Ravi Zacharias here: