It is not necessarily true that the Christian leader who has been restored to the Lord, and perhaps restored to church membership and participation at the Lord’s Table (if we assume that he or she has been excommunicated) should also be restored to Christian leadership. Not every Christian in good standing in the church is qualified for every office in the church.
Do you think that a fallen Christian leader can ever be restored? If not, why not? But if so, under what conditions?
This question has become increasingly pressing, owing in no small part to the number of Christian leaders who have fallen into publicly acknowledged sin, often (but certainly not always) of a sexual nature. Substantial books have been written on the subject; I am certainly not going to resolve all the difficulties in a thousand words or so.
But perhaps I can set out what some of the crucial issues are, in four points.
1. Define the Question
The question posed is sometimes ambiguous, or even tendentious. “Do you think that a Christian leader can ever be restored?” The first response must be: “Restored to what?” Suppose the sin is sexual. Does the restoration mean “restored to this family”? That will depend on the spouse, and the spouse’s reaction will turn on many factors. More commonly “restored” in the questioner’s mind really means “restored to the Lord.” The obvious answer is a joyous “Yes!”—for however grievous the sexual conduct, it is not in itself the unforgivable sin.
But that does not necessarily mean that the Christian leader who has been restored to the Lord, and perhaps restored to church membership and participation at the Lord’s Table (if we assume that he or she has been excommunicated) should also be restored to Christian leadership. Not every Christian in good standing in the church is qualified for every office in the church.
So if someone has been removed from office for a biblically justifiable reason, the question about restoration to that office now turns on whether or not that person now meets the biblically mandated requirements of that office.
2. Meeting Biblical Requirements of Office
Whether or not the person in question meets the biblically mandated requirements of that office now turns on two related matters. To give the discussion concrete form, let us suppose we are dealing with a former pastor who has been disciplined for adultery, but who has repented, put himself under the care of the elders (pastors) of the church, and has been restored to church membership (assuming he was removed).
Now the question arises as to whether or not he can be restored to pastoral office. The two related matters to be explored are these:
(a) Is he in danger of committing the sin again? This requires pastoral judgment as to the measure of the repentance, the degree of his spiritual restoration, the nature of the resolve, and the accountability he will display in the future. Let us be quite frank: the number of people (including pastors) who offend in this area and then offend again is extremely high.
Quite apart from the moral obligation of the elders to protect the flock from a predatory pastor (and in this litigious society, that obligation has many dimensions), there is an obligation to come to consensus on whether or not the offender has been restored to the kind of moral resolve that makes recidivism unlikely. In biblical terms, the leaders must determine if the former pastor is now truly “self-controlled” (1 Tim. 3:2), and someone who knows well how to manage his own family (1 Tim. 3:4). For these are among the domains where his adultery has proved him unqualified to be an overseer, a pastor.
(b) To what extent has his moral failure destroyed his credibility, both among the faithful and also with outsiders?