There was a collective grieving among many in the church this past week as America’s third largest church announced the firing of their senior pastor. I’ve read a number of posts and articles on this incident, including the official statement from NewSpring Church and the personal statement from Perry Noble.
I’m not extremely familiar with Noble’s ministry, though I have read a few of his blogs over the years. I have a number of friends and colleagues in ministry who were much more in tune with his work, and have expressed their sadness at another high-profile ‘fall’ of a famous pastor. As I’ve poked around the general consensus of Christians on the Internet, the situation is garnering predictable, though contradictory analyses. A Relevant Magazine Article thinks the blame resides with either the mega-church phenomena or those of us who exacerbate its follies. A writer for Charisma News blames the evils of alcohol and the fact that many in the church aren’t tee-totaling enough.
My point in writing is to offer a simple critique of both of these ideas and a word of hope from the Scriptures on this case.
First of all, Perry Noble’s environment (a mega-church) is not to blame here. Though I think the aforementioned article from Relevant makes some wonderful points, I don’t think it is a sound theory to lay the responsibility for these things at the doorstep of the large church. Having grown up my entire life in the church, I can (sadly) name a few dozen pastors and leaders in contexts I have known personally, whose ministries were derailed by sin in their lives. The vast majority of these people were in small contexts, but succumbed to the same vices of the handful of mega-church leaders we can all name from the past decade. The mega-church has its unique challenges, but the sinners are the same. Christian celebrity worship is certainly a problem for Christians in America, but that’s the subject of another post.
Secondly, though alcohol seems to have been a key factor in Noble’s situation, fermented drink isn’t the culprit here. The Bible actually sings the praises of alcohol as much as it warns against its wiles. This situation should certainly warn us of the potential for sin that lies in the unaccountable overuse of alcohol, but it shouldn’t elevate a matter of conscience to a biblical command.We shouldn’t elevate a matter of conscience to a biblical command. Click To Tweet
At the risk of opening another controversial can, I think there is a bit of a parallel here with another hot-button issue in our culture today. Is blaming alcohol for a pastor’s downfall a little like blaming a gun for someone’s death because another individual pointed it and pulled the trigger? The gun and the beer are both amoral, in terms of lacking moral or immoral quality. The sin comes from the hand that wields them, not the objects themselves. A hammer, a knife, or a fist can be wielded immorally like a gun, just as a Twinkie, sex, or words can be used immorally like a glass of wine. When someone abuses alcohol, they play the fool. It is that person’s sin, not Budweiser’s.The gun and the beer are both amoral…The sin comes from the hand that wields them. Click To Tweet
I think what Perry Noble and NewSpring both revealed on Sunday is that the issue here was a man’s sin. But there is actually a great deal of hope at the heart of this situation. The fact that NewSpring fired Noble and that Noble confessed and repented means the system is working. What system? The system the Scriptures prescribe. As you read the statement from this incident, you find a group of elders who called their brother on his sin, practicing Matthew 18:15-20. You then discover that this man revealed an inability to respond to this discipline at different points, subsequently leading his brothers in ministry to determine that he had disqualified himself for the role he was playing in the local church, according to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. So what did they do? They practiced 1 Timothy 5:19-20:
Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those [elders] who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
It’s working. Jesus didn’t just give us a commission to make disciples, He gave us His Spirit who inspired His Word, and who leads His Church as His body in this world. There is a great deal of hope here. When we see a high-profile leader caught in sin, called on that sin within his local church, and disciplined biblically, the system is working. And it doesn’t stop there. From what I’ve read thus far, it seems NewSpring is also working to practice Galatians 6:1-2 with Noble:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
I don’t think it is wrong to grieve when we see a brother caught in sin. But there is great reason to hope when we see a church being the church. God designed the church to be a local community of believers who follow His word, led by His Spirit. This is a great time to pray for a brother and the family of believers who are surrounding him.There is great reason to hope when we see a church being the church. Click To Tweet
 I don’t need to give specifics on this anecdotal evidence, because if you’ve been in the church for more than a few years, you have plenty of names you’ve witnessed which come to mind.
 Ps. 104:14-15; Proverbs 3:9-10; Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 23:29-32
 Consequently, Scripture warns as much about the potential dangers of food, sex, and words as it does about the dangers of alcohol.