It was 390 A.D. that Ambrose, Father of the Latin Church and Bishop of Milan, wrote to a member of his church warning him that he was excommunicated because of his public and heinous sin. He also warned him that he would not be permitted to receive communion; however, that member was not just a Larry Layman. He was Theodosius, top honcho of the Holy Roman Empire!
It seems that a Roman official had been murdered during a political disturbance in Thessalonica, and Theodosius ordered his army to the Greek city to exact a pound of flesh. They took a little more than that since about 7,000 people of all ages were killed. Like most dictators, presidents-for-life, emperors, and others, Theodosius planned to teach the untutored, unwashed, and unarmed citizens a lesson about “who is the boss.”
Ambrose knew that he might be killed or exiled for his reprimand of the Emperor since emperors don’t like to be corrected or threatened by religious leaders. However, Ambrose said, “The emperor is in the Church, not above it.” The Bishop’s principled action resulted in Theodosius repenting.
Can we learn something here about church discipline that will profit fundamentalism and evangelicalism? Ambrose’s lesson was that even secular authorities are subject to the Catholic Church; however, my lesson is that no one is exempt from accountability. No one. Not a president or world leader or an inde-pendent Baptist pastor!
In my adult life traveling across the nation and the world, I know of few cases of church discipline especially when the object was a pastor and almost no examples dealing with “celebrity” pastors. Bible-preaching churches are full of members who booze, lie, gossip, eat too much, stay out of church, fornicate, etc. with impunity. Many pastors refuse to deal with those sins for fear of losing members and more importantly, their money. It is also increasingly a legal problem.
In the seventh century, church members were removed from membership if they missed church without good reasons. Many churches have thousands on their rolls who never show up and if many of them did, it would really cause a stir since they have been dead for decades! However, it does impress the impressible when they hear of “thousands” of church members.
My main concern today is not Larry Layman but Pastor Tom, Dick, or Harry. Too many Baptist pastors feel that they are not accountable to any human or group of humans. Many seem to think they are over the church not in it. After all, they were “called of God” thereby thinking they are only accountable to the God who called them. They seem to think that since they preach the infallible Word then they too are infallible and since they are servants of God, they are beyond questioning, investigating, censure, criticism, reprimand, or firing. They are wrong.
I am thinking of my former friend, Dr. Bob Gray of Jacksonville, Florida who was arrested and jailed for molesting many little girls, now grown women. According to reports he admitted to “French kissing” them in his office and in his car. Fundamentalists are quick to chide the Roman Church for their failure to deal with their pedophile and fornicating priests, but too often, Baptists are deceptive, disingenuous, or go into denial when one of our “celebrity” preachers is caught with his pants down.
I’m afraid that is what happened in Jacksonville.
Remember that this molestation allegedly went on for about 40 years with rumors floating around during the early 90s finally culminating with Gray being “disciplined” and permitted to resign, then fleeing to Germany as a missionary. Why didn’t the Trinity Baptist Church officials go public with the discipline so that the saints might be appalled and learn from the action? Why did Gray’s mission board permit him to raise financial support from unsuspecting, uninformed churches if they knew about his “problem”? Reports are that the mission board did not know about the accusations. Did Gray’s new wife know about his “problem” before they were married? It would be incredible if church officials permitted them to marry without informing her of his pedophilia.
I want to know if officials at Southwide Baptist Fellowship and other groups knowing of his scandalous life continued to feature Gray as a preacher? Did editors who published his messages know of his sins and cover-up?
It is past time for Independent Baptist leaders to do some repenting and confessing of a horrible sin: participating in major cover-ups of fellow-pastors and foisting them off on unsuspecting laymen. I am not referring to simple acknow-ledgement of failure but recognizing and repenting of this horrendous sin. I suggest, no, I demand that guilty pastors – or– pastors guilty of such cover-ups stand before their congregations and weep copious tears over this sin as they ask God and their congregations to forgive them for the cover-up.
I suggest they emulate King David as he stood with head bowed, scalding tears rushing down his cheeks, sobbing uncontrollably as he cried out: “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight….Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow….Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” How many cover-up pastors will repent? Very few.
It is past time to revive that discarded, disabused practice of church discipline and use it against erring laymen and pastors. If not, how can we call ourselves “Bible believing,” Bible practicing Baptists?
1 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.
Dear Bro. Don, Amen, to your article about us as Baptists holding ourselves, including popular and gifted preachers to the Biblical standard of being “without reproach”. Forgive me for asking, but does Jack Hyles fall into the same catagory as Bob Gray? As you well know, there were many rumors flying around about him in the 80’s and 90’s. It would seem that if there were that much smoke, there must have been some fire. Obviously he was a very gifted preacher, but did many look the other way with him? Was his son, Dave Hyles an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree, or was he “without fruit and twice dead”….and did his father ever call out his son and denounce his actions? Thanks for your considerations and seeking to promote godliness in this present age.
Pastor Don Johnston