Restoration: Grace When a Christian Falls

Over the past few years, there have been a variety of news stories both local and national about ministers of the gospel falling into sin and being removed from the church.  These stories are saddening to hear about, but it seems like the majority of the time someone falls in the church whether they are considered a minister or not the situation is not handled with grace.  I want to raise some questions regarding the current process of dealing with sin in church leadership and to suggest some thoughts to make it more biblical.  I want to make one thing clear before I start these thoughts: sin is a very serious issue.  Your sin and my sin both the “big ones” and the “small ones” led to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Sin always produces death.  It may be the death of a relationship, friendship, or marriage, or it may be physical death.  We live in a world every day where each one of us struggles with sin.  It is an ever-present mark of our fallen world.  Even if we do not want to admit it, each one of us lives each day with what the Apostle Paul calls a “thorn in the flesh” (see 2 Corinthians 12Open Link in New Window: 7) that causes us to struggle daily.  So when we turn to look at ministers, we must realize that even though they may have been to a seminary and stand on a stage every week they still have struggles.  They are in leadership in the church and should be held to a high standard of accountability, but they still struggle with sin.  When someone falls publicly and is removed from a position of ministry, the first unbiblical thing that is commonly done is that the Christians begin to stone the person in their minds.  You hear statements like “I cannot believe that he or she would do something like that.  He or she is a horrible person!”  The thing that we tend to forget in our mental and verbal stonings of the fallen is that we have struggles with sin also.  We tend to place ourselves in a mental state of judgement condemning others while missing “the log in our own eye” (See Matthew 7Open Link in New Window: 3-4 and Luke 6Open Link in New Window: 41-42).  When we look at how Jesus handled sinners, we see the picture of Jesus with the woman who had been caught in adultery in John 8Open Link in New Window.  This is one of the most compelling pictures of grace in the gospels.  The woman has been caught in the act of what we would consider a really “bad sin” and has been drug by the legalistic religious pharisees to Jesus.  They have brought her to Jesus to try to catch Him into not abiding by the Old Testament law regarding adultery.  Jesus is well aware of the law which says that this woman deserves to be stoned to death.  So he tells the people that the person without sin can be the one to start the stoning.  The people starting with the oldest all walk away because they realize the sin and struggles in each of their own lives.  The people realize that they are not in a place to judge this woman.  Jesus and the woman remain.  He is the one who is sinnless and can throw the stones, but in the moment that He can be the righteous judge, Jesus looks into the eyes of the broken and ashamed woman and tells her to “go and sin no more.”  I think that so often in this story we want to be the people with the stones in our hands waiting to rid the world of the sinner, but Jesus is calling us to show radical grace to the broken and hurting who have fallen.  I am not saying here that sin should be blown over and taken lightly, but rather that their needs to be a grace-driven process of restoration for the fallen and hurting.  Fallen people are in a time of great need and vulnerability, and the worst thing we can do is to stone them instead of showing grace, love, and compassion to a broken soul.