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Russell Moore Explains ‘What to Do When a Pastor Falls’ to the Temptation of Sin

Christians should not be shocked when pastors give into the temptation of immorality because sin is just an element of human nature, leading Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore says.

Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, weighed in Friday on the recent news of Pastor Darrin Patrick’s dismissal from The Journey megachurch in St. Louis, Missouri, and resignation from the Acts 29 Network because of his participation in inappropriate extramarital meetings, phone calls and conversations with two women.

In a blog post to his website titled “What to do When a Pastor Falls?” Moore explained that it is natural for congregants to feel angry or betrayed when a prominent pastor or pastor they know caves to sin and falls from grace.

“Those who have benefited from the pastor’s ministry feel as though they have been personally deceived,” Moore wrote. “That’s even more true when it’s your own pastor — the one who baptized you or did your premarital counseling or was there with you in the hospital when your parent died. When we hear of these things, we feel as though we were personally lied to — and sometimes we were.”

Despite the sense of betrayal, Moore stressed that just because they are religious leaders doesn’t mean that pastors are exempt from the temptation of sin.

“Our sense of shock is, in one sense, understandable. God has called leaders within the church to be above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2), aware of the stricter judgment he will undergo (Jas. 3:1). We should not be shocked, though, that our leaders are capable of falling to temptation,” Moore stated. “We are taught this explicitly in Scripture, with a warning not to be prideful lest we fall (1 Cor. 10:12-13). Why do we think the Bible so repeatedly warns against the whole litany of sins? This is because we are vulnerable, all of us.”

“We are sometimes shocked because we think a particular leader ‘ought to know better.'” Moore continued. “We assume that the strategy for fighting temptation is cerebral, as though a knowledgeable teacher would be exempt from falling because he knows the content of Scripture or because he has taught others so effectively. We are wrong.”

Moore added that even some of the most well-known figures in the Bible were not free from sin.

“The Bible doesn’t have the gauzy view of human nature that we do. Leaders — even prophets and matriarchs and Apostles — are presented with glaring flaws,” Moore explained. “Moses saw the glory of Israel’s God in the flaming bush, saw the fire of Sinai, and fell anyway. Simon Peter heard the Sermon on the Mount first-hand, washed his beard out in the streams of Judea alongside Jesus Christ Himself — and still denied he ever knew Him by the charcoal fire.”

Moore argued that the fact that people are “shocked” anytime news comes out that a pastor has committed sin is an indication that people are “not nearly as realistic about human nature — and about spiritual warfare — as the Bible is.”

Moore asserted that it is wrong to use a pastor’s fall as fuel for “inter-tribal skirmishes,” because no set of church policies or creedal affirmations will “eliminate” sin.

“I’ve seen leaders more liberal than I am fall and have heard many say, ‘This is what happens when you try to accommodate to the culture.’ I’ve seen leaders much more ‘legalistic’ than I am fall, and have heard some say, ‘See, this is what happens when you try to pile up man-made rules,'” Moore wrote. “In recent years, we’ve seen high-profile falls from Calvinist complementarians to peace-church Mennonites, from high-church sacramentalists to low-church entrepreneurs. Are there sometimes ecclesiology issues that cause an evasion of accountability? Of course. But the common issue in pastoral falls is human sin.”

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