Questionable things we pastors do–for which we shall give account

“Lord, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38).

Robert Schuller died in April of 2015. This founder of the Crystal Cathedral in California and founder/host of television’s Hour of Power broadcast was the “media pastor” to countless millions who would never have entered my church.  He wrote books, did a lot of good, did much that was questionable, and drove us traditionalists out of our collective minds.

A few days after Schuller’s passing, I posted this on my Facebook page:

My favorite Robert Schuller story: When he was a kid, his mother taught him piano lessons.  Once, in the middle of a recital, his mind went blank and he forgot the rest of the piece he was playing. There was nothing to do but walk off the stage in humiliation.  Later, his mother gave him some great advice. “Honey, any time you mess up in the middle of a piece, always end with a flourish and no one will ever remember what you did in the middle.”  Schuller would look at his congregation and say, “Some of you have messed up in the middle of your life.  But my friend, you can end with a flourish if you start now.”

It’s a great story, one I often use when speaking to senior adults.  It fits perfectly.

In 2015 when I posted the story, I suggested Facebook readers restrain from giving us their judgments of the man.  “He has One who will judge him, One far more qualified than you or I.  And since we will be needing mercy when we stand before Him, we want to show mercy toward everyone.”

The comments poured in quickly.

Most expressed appreciation for something Dr. Schuller had done or said, a few remembered visiting the Crystal Cathedral and gave us their lasting impressions, and several thanked me for the tone of my note.

None judged.

But the first time I told that story–I was the new pastor of that church–the reaction was entirely different.

A woman rushed up to me after the service. “Pastor, you clearly do not know what Robert Schuller believes or you would never quote him from the pulpit!”

I assured her I knew about the man. “But,” I said, “I simply told a story about him.  I did not endorse his theology.”

That was not good enough for her.  She now had something to use against her new pastor and would be sharing it with friends, that was sure.  Before she walked away, I added, “I quote a lot of people.  If I quote a Catholic priest, it only means I like something he said.”  Since she was a former Catholic on a relentless tirade against that religion, that would never do.

For the rest of my ministry in that church–nearly fourteen years–she carried a resentment against me.

A wise pastor will give advance thought to his congregation before endorsing or slamming another preacher, and do so under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

When pastors publicly label some preachers as heretics, many in the pew will cringe.

A friend who has suffered in this life more than almost anyone I know told me of a book that is ministering to her.  This friend buys and gives away Jesus Calling, written by Sarah Young. That book is loved by millions and slammed by an equal number.

(I’m trying to give an example here; please do not ask for my assessment of “Jesus Calling.”)

“Let him alone,” said our Lord to His disciples about the lone-ranger preacher. “For he who is not against us is on our side” (Mark 9:40).

We are reminded of the parable of the tares from Matthew 13.  “Lord,” said the farm-workers, “Shall we go into the fields and uproot the tares planted by the enemy?”  “No,” said the owner. “While you gather up the tares you might also uproot the (good) wheat with them.”

You might do more bad  than good.  “I’ll take care of it at the end,” said the farmer.

Perhaps the principle is best stated something like this: Sometimes the pastor should name names and sometimes he shouldn’t. 

Know your Bible, ask the Lord, and obey the law of love.

When I have said pastors should be cautious in identifying heretics by name, many have disagreed strongly.

Didn’t John call out Diotrephes in III John?  Didn’t Paul issue a caution about Demas and others?  Didn’t he say, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm”?

Yes.  But mostly, the apostles did not “call them out by name.”

In the Corinthian church, Paul was perplexed by certain “super apostles” who were sucking all the air out of the room.  They were the “stars” of their day, they had gifts and egos and resumes’ (and probably coiffures and best sellers and lived in gated mansions!) that outshone Paul’s measly style, unheralded gifts, and questionable accomplishments. (I say that tongue in cheek.  Who in the history of the Christian church rivals this apostle in gifts and accomplishments?! In a newspaper column I read, the writer called the Apostle Paul one of the most influential people to ever walk this planet.)

Paul hated what these egotists were doing. He called them “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13).

That was enough.  Those “in the know” required no further identification of the culprits. Besides, Paul was not there.  His knowledge of these glamor boys was based on reports from friends.  He would not sit as their judge, because he did not possess enough information.  Nor did the situation require it. Addressing the situation should be sufficient.

History has not told us the rest of the story, although that will be one of the questions Paul will be addressing in his recollections some day in glory.  (I hope the Father has in mind classes on this and ten thousand other subjects to tell His children “the rest of the stories.”  I can’t wait.)

Please note that I did not say a pastor should never “call out” the wrong-headed preachers.  Only that he should exercise care.  He risks wounding the heart of the weak brother or sister who has found spiritual comfort in that one’s ministry.  Therefore, pastors who decide to name names of offending preachers should know what they are talking about (that is, they’re not just quoting something they read from another preacher somewhere), should know their Bibles sufficiently to be certain of the Truth, and should obey the Law of Love as the Holy Spirit leads.

Now, I will say it’s not the worst thing in the world for the pew-dwellers to cringe at something the pastor says.  But that should motivate him to be sure of his footing before he takes such a stand.

Our Lord said we shall give account of every idle word (Matthew 12:36).  How much more will preachers account to Him for every sharp, harsh word, even when spoken in love with good intent. Paul said to young pastor Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13).

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