The news of the downfall of a major Pentecostal Christian leader in Australia has most of the Christian community abuzz. And given that the story has been splashed all over the secular media, it certainly has non-Christians talking as well. For those not in the know, it concerns Pastor Mike Guglielmucci who has just been found to have fraudulently claimed to have a terminal illness.
I know nothing about the story except for what the media has been saying about it. Here is how an article in Thursday’s Australian begins:
“He preached to thousands about his terminal illness and tugged at hearts with a hit song. The problem is the pastor wasn’t dying at all. Michael Guglielmucci, who inspired hundreds of thousands of young Christians with his terminal cancer ‘battle’, has been exposed as a fraud. Guglielmucci, whose parents established Edge Church International, an Assemblies of God church at O’Halloran Hill in Adelaide’s southern suburbs, now is seeking professional help. Earlier this year, Mr Guglielmucci released a hit song, Healer , which was featured on Sydney church Hillsong’s latest album. The song debuted at No. 2 on the ARIA charts. It since has become an anthem of faith for believers, many of whom are suffering their own illness and were praying for a miracle for Mr Guglielmucci, who has claimed for two years to be terminally ill. In one church performance that has attracted 300,000 hits on YouTube, he performs his hit song with an oxygen tube in his nose. It appears Mr Guglielmucci, who was a pastor with one of Australia’s biggest youth churches, Planetshakers, may even have deceived his own family.”
Assuming that this is more or less an accurate account, how does one respond as a believer? We already know how most non-believers will respond. They will simply be further convinced that the Christian church is full of fakes, phonies, hypocrites and charlatans. They will simply see this as yet another example of a religious person using his influence to get rich quick, or to build up his own ego.
And they will be largely right in these assessments. Far too often Christian leaders have been in the ministry for all the wrong reasons: for financial gain, for making a name for themselves, to build up their egos, to control and manipulate other people, and so on.
And far too many Christian moral failures have given the church of Jesus Christ a terribly bad name. So in one sense, all we can do is repent, confess our sins, and desperately try to lift our game.
But there is more to it than this. The good news is, for every well-known Christian leader who blows it big time, there may be a hundred, or a thousand, or many thousands, who do not blow it, who are not bringing shame and reproach on the church of Jesus Christ.
Another truth in all of this is the fact that all of us are sinners. Sure, Christians are sinners who have been saved by grace, but we are still sinners. With the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are meant to be daily transformed into the image of the Son. Christian justification is just the first step. The rest of the story is lifelong sanctification, where we seek to die to the old man and put on the new man.
We are all capable of blowing it big time. But it need not be this way. A key lesson to be learned from all of this is that every one of us believers needs to be in some sort of accountability group, where we can be really honest with a handful of other believers. We need to keep short accounts, and to be honest with ourselves and others. The journey is too difficult to be undertaken on our own. We need each other.
We need to meet in regular accountability groups where we can confess our sins, share our weaknesses, and seek prayer and support. Sure, many believers are already in small groups. But far too often these are mere social affairs, where coffee, cake and small talk make up the bulk of the meeting.
What are needed are groups where people are encouraged to be transparent and honest. And it needs to be in an environment where each member can trust the others to keep things confidential, and not to be self-righteous. As I said, we are all capable of big time moral failings. It is only the grace of God that keeps us on the straight and narrow.
But God works through his people. He uses others to help us become what we are meant to be in Christ. That is what the Body of Christ is supposed to be all about. We cannot make it on our own. We desperately need the help, love, support and encouragement of others. And we also need their rebuke, chastisement and warnings, when and if needed.
Now is not the time to be soft on one another. It certainly is not the time to be soft on ourselves. The heavenly Father chastens those whom he loves (Hebrews 12:1-13). And we are called to encourage each other, warn each other, challenge each other, and seek the best for each other.
We have perhaps had way too much cheap grace and mushy notions of love in the church. We certainly have bought in to the world’s notions of acceptance and tolerance. But biblical love is not mushy or sentimental. It is hard as nails, yet soft as the heart of God.
Perhaps these very public fallings from grace are God’s way of seeking to wake up a sleeping church. Judgment must begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). We have perhaps been too slack, wishy-washy, and lukewarm. It is time to get serious with God.
We must get serious, for the glory of God is at stake. If the term seems too theologically nebulous, let’s just put it this way: When we blow it big time as believers, how does the reputation of God come out? Does he look better in the eyes of the world, or worse?
We should all be concerned about God’s reputation. We dare not bring further dishonour and shame on his name. It happens far too often already. Let us all resolve to press on in Christ, and let him have his full work accomplished in our lives. We dare not settle for second best. That is simply too damaging to the name and reputation of the Lord we claim to represent.
For those who want further insight into this whole case, one Pentecostal Pastor who is much closer to the action has some very helpful thoughts here, along with many comments: http://markconner.typepad.com/