He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen — for they are a rebellious people — they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious people; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”
- Ezekiel 2:3-8
“I don’t want to be unkind, but I am sure there ought to be a lot more authority in the pulpit than there is now. A preacher should reign from his pulpit as a king from his throne. He should not reign by law nor by regulations and not by board meetings or man’s authority. He ought to reign by moral ascendancy.
“When a man of God stands to speak, he ought to have the authority of God on him so that he makes the people responsible to listen to him. When they will not listen to him, they are accountable to God for turning away from the divine Word. In place of that needed authority, we have tabby cats with their claws carefully trimmed in the seminary, so they can paw over the congregations and never scratch them at all. They have had their claws trimmed and are just as soft and sweet as can be. …
“I believe in the authority of God, and I believe if a man doesn’t have it, he should go away and pray and wait until he gets the authority and then stand up to speak even if he has to begin on a soapbox on a street corner. Go to a rescue mission and preach with authority! They had it in those days – when they stood up, there was authority!”
- A. W. Tozer, The Counselor
I have news that many of you may find shocking.
Preachers and pastors are human.
Shocking!! I know!! Right?!
Yet, we put preachers on a pedestal. Rev. Tozer calls for “moral ascendancy.” Wow! Is it possible? In Rev. Tozer’s day (1897-1963), it may have been easier to hide the little sins behind closed doors. These days, the nobodies of this world might do that, but someone who is revered by others and is put on a pedestal, there are plenty of people with video capability on their phones who would want nothing better than the kick the pedestal from beneath them.
Then you might hear yourself saying, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”
For those that want to know the origin of that phrase, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was one of the greatest baseball players of all time, but you will not find him in the Hall of Fame. Joe Jackson was a member of the infamous “Black Sox” team in the 1919 World Series in baseball. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox fixed the outcome of the World Series, throwing the series and allowing the Cincinnati Reds the World Series. Cincinnati was a team filled with journeymen players, no stars except for center fielder, Edd Roush, while the White Sox was a team of stars, a juggernaut of star players, many fresh back from serving in the military in World War I. Some crooked gamblers made a fortune on the fix. After that year, Kenesaw Mountain Landis became the first commissioner of baseball.
But as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson left the courthouse after confessing, a young boy, who idolized him, spoke the immortal words. I think it is portrayed a little differently in the movies. The major leagues banned all eight players for life, whether they confessed to fixing the games or not – just knowing it was happening was bad enough. During the 1919 World Series, Jackson actually played up to his season averages and no one would have suspected him of cheating, but to this illiterate ballplayer (why so few autographs, according to various sources), sticking with your team was the important thing and he confessed to being complicit in the cheating.
Why bring this up? Placing sports heroes on pedestals is the same thing as the pedestal that we place preachers on. Maybe worse, in that we allow sports stars to make a mistake on occasion. But you send preachers gifts. You bake them cookies. You babysit their children for free. If they need help after a storm, their house gets fixed first. But, there is truth in what Rev. Tozer says. If they fall, they fall hard. But sometimes, they are allowed to get back up.
I am not saying that any of these “pastor falls” have ever happened, but maybe they have:
- A pastor gets divorced and then remarries. Common enough, but …
- A pastor, with a domineering mother who suggested he be a pastor in the first place, does not have a male child and the mother pressures him to divorce his wife, who can have no more children, and marry someone else who can produce a male offspring. This goes beyond simply divorcing and remarrying, but not saying it ever happened either. Yet, it sounds a lot like Rebekkah, in reverse, pulling strings to get the blessing upon Jacob instead of Esau.
- A pastor marries a woman who went to him for marriage counseling.
- A pastor leaves the church office to provide care for the shut-in members of the church, but he goes to a fast-food restaurant instead and reads a murder mystery novel, while taking advantage of the “endless cup of coffee” policy – for the entire day. He repeats this behavior once or twice each week, never visiting the shut-in members of the church for months.
Some of these may be fictional but gossip usually takes such a turn at one point or another.
And we are left asking why?
It sure does shoot a few holes in “moral ascendancy,” but it goes back to my first statement on the subject. Pastors (or preachers) are human beings. And due to that feeling that they should reign over their congregation by “moral ascendancy,” their job is a little harder than the job for most of us ordinary folks. We can stub our toe, and many would never know, nor would they care … that much.
And all of us stub our toe on occasion.
Yet, I love Rev. Tozer’s advice. Rather than rejecting the “moral ascendancy” concept outright, it might be a great idea to step away and exam oneself. Get right with God. They should pray and humble themselves. And if necessary, as Rev. Tozer suggests, start providing the devotions at a mission or a soup kitchen. In other words, go somewhere first, where they do not have a preconceived notion that a pastor must be perfect. When the audience understands their own brokenness, they are much more capable of understanding the pastor’s brokenness. And that feeds into all of Ezekiel 2-3.
And there is the rub. Why, when a pastor falls, do we so easily condemn? As if we are any better?
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.