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On Fallen Christian Leaders

Feb 14, 2021

Some thoughts on fallen Christian leaders:

I have been asked by some Christians for my thoughts on the recent report that came out about the late Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. Already plenty has been written on this issue by others. In one sense I do not have much more to add to it. While I have not yet written directly on the matter, I did pen two pieces recently that indirectly and generically cover my thoughts on similar sorts of things:

billmuehlenberg.com/2020/12/27/christian-leadership-sin-and-restoration/

billmuehlenberg.com/2021/01/25/yes-we-are-all-messed-up/

Those two articles do present some of my overall views. On the one hand we all want to keep ourselves and others up to the highest of standards. But on the other hand, we are all still involved in sin and selfishness, and we all fall in various ways.

The biblical balance involves seeking to do as Jesus commanded us (“be ye perfect” – Matthew 5:48), while also realising that sinless perfection in this life is not fully achievable. Two extremes need to be avoided here: We should not be making cheap excuses for sin and we should not play down the seriousness of sin – especially in our own lives. Often those who defend some sin the most vigorously are those who also struggle with it as well.

But we also need to be careful about prideful Pharisaic attitudes: the idea that we could never fall, that we are immune to such things, and that those who fall are somehow so very far below us spiritually speaking. The truth is we all could fall spectacularly, given the right circumstances. We are all vulnerable, we all can fall to temptation, and we all need to be very cautious.

As Paul said, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Or as he said in 1 Timothy 5:24, “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.” Or as we read in James 3:2, “we all stumble in many ways”. So we all need some real humility here.

Overall, my heart grieves whenever I think of this situation. It brings me no joy whatsoever, and it bothers me greatly. He seemed to be such a good public Christian in so many ways: intelligent, articulate, yet humble, respectful and caring. He was a role model to many, including myself. So these new revelations are very hard to take.

As I said, so much has already been penned on this. Let me quote from a few of these pieces, and then I will offer some closing thoughts. Many of these folks said the obvious but still much-needed truths that we need to hear afresh: we need to keep close to God and to others, and we need to be in some sort of accountability arrangement.

One writer who I had not heard of before, Kevin Simington, wrote this piece on his website: “Tear Down Those Idols!” Among other things, he speaks of the pitfalls that we all face, but especially leaders and high-profile Christians. He then says this:

These seductive factors have brought many Christian leaders undone. In recent years we have seen too many high-profile Christian leaders and mega-church pastors disgraced by the eventual unveiling of their sexual sins. It is a tragedy that rocks the faith of many people and brings the gospel into disrepute.

Of course, not everyone who reaches the giddy heights of Christian fame falls prey to its associated temptations. I am told that the great evangelist, Billy Graham, whenever he was conducting a crusade away from home, would insist that the organisers booked him a twin share room which he would share with another trusted Christian man on his team. In this way he kept himself accountable so that he would not be led into temptation during the long, lonely hours between speaking engagements. He did this because he was fully aware of his own sexual drive and his potential to fall into temptation.

I honour Billy Graham for this. He did not let his fame go to his head or give him a sense of infallibility. He remained very aware of the dangers of temptation and undertook stringent measures to protect himself from his own sinful desires.

His concluding paragraphs are these:

We must stop idolising our Christian leaders and viewing them as untouchable saints who exist on some kind of unreachable higher spiritual plain. Their great giftedness in a particular area does not magically remove sexual drive and their propensity to sin. We need our high-profile leaders to stop believing their own press and refuse to be placed on the pedestals that their adoring fans build for them. They need to agree with the Apostle Paul’s brutal self-appraisal regarding their own weakness and propensity to sin. And they, like Billy Graham, need to put in place structures and policies that will protect them from being led astray by the evil desires that are common to us all (James 1:14).

It is time to destroy the idols, to tear down the ‘high places’ (2 Kings 23:8-9) that we have built in our modern ‘rock-star’ church culture. It is time to hold each other accountable as brothers and sisters, for the sake of the gospel and the good of Christ’s church on Earth. smartfaith.net/2021/02/12/tear-down-those-altars/

I thought the piece by Randy Alcorn was also quite helpful and gave all of us important food for thought. He offers a number of practical pointers which I list here (but only the first sentence of each):

Let’s be quick to confess and repent.
Let’s “finish well.”
Let’s not trust ourselves too much by putting ourselves into temptation.
Let’s not act as if we are spiritually or morally stronger than we are.
Let’s decisively run away from sexual temptation.
Let’s realize Satan has targeted us for destruction.
Let’s lean on each other for moral strength and support.
Let’s remember we can’t keep dark secrets from God, the Audience of One. 

I encourage you to read his entire piece, along with the many Scriptures he utilises: www.epm.org/blog/2021/Feb/12/ravi-zacharias-sexual-abuse

Another commentator, Ray Comfort, said this in part:

The big lesson we should all take from this tragic situation with Ravi is to listen to our apologists and ask, “Are they preaching sin, righteousness, and judgment? Are their hearers being impressed with eloquence, or have they been awakened to their terrible danger? Do they tremble, as did Felix, after hearing Paul preach (see Acts 24:25)?”

Intellectual preaching produces intellectual converts who name the name of Christ, but are strangers to the new birth. Each of us should be asking if we were talked into our faith or if we had an encounter with the living God. If we came through the door of argument, then all it will take is a better argument to cause us to leave by another door. Take to heart Paul’s warning about such so-called conversions:

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

We are called to be witnesses of Christ. No judge wants an eloquent witness. He just wants to hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And the truth is in Jesus. It is in Christ crucified for the sin of the world. Fail to preach that ultimate truth and we are not true and faithful witnesses. www.livingwaters.com/the-mistake-we-made-with-ravi/ 

And on the social media James White reminds us that pastors and teachers are biblical giftings and offices, but not apologists. And care is needed when being on the road so often:

I have been mentioning in my private conversations with people that there is no “office of apologist” in the NT. I have warned for years about apologists who are constantly on the road, constantly in the bubble produced by being “that guy.” I have not been scouring the net for articles on this situation. It is what it is. But I have seen a representative sample, and there is an element missing, importantly, from what I have in fact seen. Apologists have a tendency, a fatal tendency, in my observation. They are not churchmen by and large. They are often on the fringes, often away from the fellowship, often aloof….

I have no idea what church Ravi Zacharias was a member of, or if he even held membership formally anywhere. But reading the report showed me that he was very rarely in whatever fellowship that would have been. He was not a churchman if he was spending weeks and months alone in Asia.

Concluding thoughts

Some questions remain. As to the eternal destination of Ravi, only God knows for certain. Whether he was in any way sincerely repentant at the end of his life remains to be seen. I thank God both for his mercy and grace, but also for his holiness and righteousness. The judge of all the earth will do right.

All Christians struggle with sin and self – be it sexual sin or whatever. The issue is our approach to it: do we make excuses for it, continue in it without any remorse, and try to defend it? Or do we know it is fully wrong, repent – even often if need be – and let God know we are not happy with this besetting sin (Hebrews 12:1), and really do want his help to overcome?

Two final questions remain. One, should his organisation, RZIM, close down? Probably. It really was built round Ravi, and now that he has passed on anyway, along with these new revelations, it might be best for those still working there to continue their ministries in some other form. But that is up to them to decide.

Two, should we never use his materials again, as some have suggested? That is up to you – and it depends on what you mean by using his stuff. If one were writing or speaking on the topic of integrity for example, then one should steer clear of quoting from Ravi in that regard.

But there is much of value in his books and videos. I will not burn my collection of his books. The truth is, God can use every single one of us believers in various ways, and we are all still sinful and selfish. When I look at my own life, I marvel that God still chooses to use me. (Just ask my wife if you foolishly think I am so perfect!) See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/06/20/on-christian-gifting-and-character/

I am very sad about the whole thing. I am sad for Ravi, for his family, for his victims, for the gospel, and for the Lord’s reputation. It is not the first time a noted leader has fallen from grace, and it is not the first time the name of the Lord has been dragged in the mud.

All we can do is look prayerfully and carefully into our own hearts, and seek to be all that God wants us to be, so that we too do not disappoint him, even if in much less spectacular and much less public ways than Ravi did. While this phrase is often misused and over-used, it still has some truth to it: ‘There but for the grace of God go I’.

I for one will not rejoice in his downfall, as some folks seem to be doing. It breaks my heart greatly that this has happened. And I know that without the moment-by-moment grace of God in my life, I could just as easily be in the same boat. We all need to stay on our knees in humility and in the fear of God.

I pray for Ravi’s wife and family, and for those who have been his victims. And I pray for all those who may be tempted to turn from their faith because of this. And I pray for myself: “God, by your mercy help keep me faithful to you, keep me humble, and keep me close to you. I am lost without you.”

[2073 words]

22 Responses to On Fallen Christian Leaders

  • Thanks greatly Bill. Yes we better watch and pray unless we also fall. Sin has many faces!

  • Yes Bill, we all need throughout our lives to continue to reflect soberly on our Lord’s words: “Not all who call me Lord, Lord . .” (Matt.7:21)

    The huge task of removing evil from our world is exemplified in the interrogation* of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, following his arrest, *part of which can be found here (including more very sad disillusionment):

    https://rumble.com/vdf4nn-james-clapper-interrogation-2.html

    Many arrests are happening. Bazos and Zuckenberg were given the option of announcing their resignations. Biden has apparently already been arrested, and a double is in his place. Certainly he has not been seen in public. Many body bags, including containing body parts, are being removed from tunnels deep underground in D.C.

    And now to uplift us all:
    President Trump’s statement this morning (our time) . . .
    (Note: the Democrats know that according to the Constitution it is not possible to try to impeach a private citizen.)

    From President Trump:

    I want to first thank my team of dedicated lawyers and others for their tireless work upholding justice and defending truth.

    My deepest thanks as well to all of the United States Senators and Members of Congress who stood proudly for the Constitution we all revere and for the sacred legal principles at the heart of our country.

    Our cherished Constitutional Republic was founded on the impartial rule of law, the indispensable safeguard for our liberties, our rights and our freedoms.

    It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree. I always have, and always will, be a champion for the unwavering rule of law, the heroes of law enforcement, and the right of Americans to peacefully and honorably debate the issues of the day without malice and without hate.

    This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country. No president has ever gone through anything like it, and it continues because our opponents cannot forget the almost 75 million people, the highest number ever for a sitting president, who voted for us just a few short months ago.

    I also want to convey my gratitude to the millions of decent, hardworking, law-abiding, God-and-Country loving citizens who have bravely supported these important principles in these very difficult and challenging times.

    Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. There has never been anything like it!

    We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future.
    Together there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

    We remain one People, one family, and one glorious nation under God, and it’s our responsibility to preserve this magnificent inheritance for our children and for generations of Americans to come.

    May God bless all of you, and may God forever bless the United States of America.

  • Thanks Bill for articulating a great reflection on our neighbour’s apparent fall from grace. It is so easy to vicariously elevate ourselves on the ladder of virtuosity when reading of these alleged transgressions.
    Shakespeare alerted all of us to the ever present temptations of jealousy, lust, power, murder, desire etc. We are all less than perfect. We should love the sinner but hate the sin.
    That man who travelled around Sydney with his chalk in hand was trying to quietly send us a message as he wrote on footpaths.

  • It’s one reason I try to steer clear of big name or especially traveling preachers. Too often there are thing hidden from you that change your perception. Big britches often lead to trouble. That’s not to say it can’t work but when they have big britches and only want a select few seeing finances and knowing information that is needed to know I often wonder if their britches have gotten too big and are hiding things followers would be aghast at.

    One, I won’t name, used to provide 990 forms to the irs and if you were someone donating or buying his stuff you might want to see them. The he stopped. Given the large bank account the ministry had their stopping filing these form made me suspicious and not wanting to help him. He does so much travel and selling it too bothers me. I’m no too fond of preachers hocking merchandise, especially at high prices, to bring in bookoo bucks.

    Accountability is important but often I’ve seen the people surrounding while not starting as yes men end up that way. Many times they will get comfortable and complacent and allow the preacher to do whatever he wants after a while and thus the accountability is gone. I think with media and with so many people offering praise to them the opportunity to get full of oneself is constantly there and harder and harder to resist. You become a mover and shaker and start to believe what is said you become the indispensable man, or woman, and you take upon yourself a mantle not given you. This so often is true of televangelists not all but most.

    I think there is room for apologetics in Christianity but the individual apologists should be tethered to a church so they can have members with them even going with the preacher somewhere to speak his part while preacher does his.

    A preacher bringing disrepute to the name of the Lord is worse than a agent of satan working against the Lord as he does FAR more damage.

  • Mr Ravi a professing christian apologist was running a “massage parlour” wow that’s a kind of place even a ordinary christian hesitates to run…one can only imagine n wonder why the great need for that… was it for evangelism… winning and saving souls… teaching people about holiness or sanctification…???? Well I do thank the Lord for the spirit of discernment that I knew mr Ravi was nothing more than a naive philosopher with eloquence of intellectual speech that only intrigued the head and nothing happened to repentance or conversion of heart…. the man is dead now but people should stop idolizing a mere humans….

  • Thanks Nirmal, but the truth is, many people did indeed become Christians and grow in Christ because of his ministry. That is all due to God and his grace of course. God can use all sorts of people – but that does not excuse any of them when they live in sin.

  • Thanks Bill great assessment of a bad situation. I have several books from Ravi and often listen to his messages on the net so the fall from grace has upset me but will keep his books. Koorong still have his material, interesting to see what Vision media do down the track with the Zacharias slots.
    Don’t know if significant but have always wondered if RZIM brand name was a good idea can it be pride? I like Ligonier Ministries for example would it be different if called RCSIM?

  • Yes good question Dallas. Of course we had some, like the BGEA (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) that had no probs in using the name like that. Others, like James Dobson, went with Focus on the Family, etc.

  • Judgement begins in the house of the Lord. Never look to man, only to God. We are but earthen vessels yet God chose to dwell in us. This flesh will always try to disconnect from our spirit and many have fallen due to this. Victorian attitudes of this disconnect still prevail in our psyche. The disconnect is only necessary if there is no transformation. Be warned that we are still in our flesh till the day we die. I am not surprised by anything these days. Secrets only thrive in darkness.

  • I think for those with nationwide or worldwide reach things should be brought out publicly and dealt with publicly else wise you at least appear to be covering up. A recent example a well known preacher was put on sabbatical for rest and restoration and for inappropriate actions towards some females in his staff. While a small group of his supporters heard a audio from him and he did offer repentance, at least the words, All that has been told is the actions were “civil not criminal” so we don’t know what happened and no one seems to care the keep following. Given his worldwide reach and that he has said people have come to Christ by him getting it out and publicly dealing with it is important. If these people find out though leaks or after his death they could leave the faith angry at him and blaming God thus leaving him. You must deal publicly so these people can have a chance to confront you and work though thing and maybe return to Christ.

    I don’t know in this case but sometimes preachers are more concerned with THEIR reputation than God’s. “If this gets out I’LL look bad” not at all concerned about how it makes God look or the people who feel hurt or lied to and abandon the faith. Yes I’m sure they will say it can’t get less people leave the faith but truthfully that is a excuse as their real concern is themselves.

    If we are in these positions and we commit these sin we MUST that the hit and have it exposed for all who follow us to see. We can’t keep it to a few people and hide it from everyone else any say we told. That is really no different than telling a Catholic priest in the confessional knowing he will be the only one to know.

    True Dallas I think putting ones name in the brand and materials etcetera can cause one to get puffed up and that lead to problems. It doesn’t have to as Bill M pointed out with Billy Graham but focus on self in the brand name can be detrimental to the cause. Also it can cause a problem seen in the Bible namely people being followers of the person not Christ, I am of Ravi I am of Billy I am of Perry I am of Joel etc. We must be OF CHRIST not any man.

  • Hi Bill and all!

    Beware of the 3G’s

    Gold
    Glitter
    Girls (Boys)

    Christian discernment is needed and God’s protection for us all, because it’s only because of His Glory and Grace it wasn’t me or you that failed!

    Cheers & Blessings to all your family and readers

    Eric Hansen

  • Put your seatbelt on!
    Salutary comments from David Wood about Ravi & leadership sin. 50 mins
    100% worth the time investment.
    https://www.bitchute.com/video/ArlP-NuFCig/

  • I’ve always “wondered” about ministries that use the name of the preacher as their title. I’m not saying they’re bad and many are all about Jesus, period. I just have always felt that minimizing one’s self and maximizing the name of Jesus and that it’s all about him, should be the point of any ministry. What the name is, is in no way indicative of right or wrong but I tend to think that it’s better to avoid any appearance of self promotion. On another related note, I used to listen to a ‘prominent’ pastor, from America’s mid west, who had many teaching venues such as radio and YouTube. Incidentally, his program was not named after him. He was recorded by someone in the media while he made some rather despicable remarks about some other people and his ministry subsequently imploded. I just looked him up today in an internet search and see that both sides may have played it wrong. He came to a settlement with his former mega church but it appears that money was the main settling point, so only God knows the truth. Being in any sort of ministry has huge eternal ramifications,ie. Luke 12:48,
    “But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
    but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?”

  • I see Michael Brown has just written on this as well. He offers some good thoughts:

    https://askdrbrown.org/library/how-should-we-respond-ravi-zacharias-scandal

  • I am baffled beyond my ability to express, and it is taking me time to process the sad betrayal of trust that Ravi committed. I loved listening to him. His piercing analysis, his witty though gentle comebacks to skeptics, his ability to recite appropriate poems at lightning speed, and so much more impressed me. I think of interviews he gave where his answers revealed a complex understanding of humanity. Well, I had no idea of the whole picture. My knowledge of Ravi was one dimensional, and I saw what he wanted me to see and know about. I am sure even most of his ministry partners were only seeing what he wanted them to see. But there had to be a few cracks in his armor, and there should have been a few brave people to speak up, people willing to give up the benefits of working in a highly respected ministry for the sake of honest reporting. The teachings of Jesus are full of messages to give up family, homes, land out of a supreme loyalty to Jesus, even when the loss is great. So what now? I believe every Christian ministry, even small church leaders, must address what has happened with such RZIM. Every leader must publicly reveal the need for rules and standards and must explain the organizational accountability procedures. Every pastor, every evangelist, every Christian school principal or Christian college president should speak frequently about how they will deal with marital infidelity both at home and on travel assignments. I can’t write at length in this particular comment section but I am working on a longer article to address the problem of sexual sin in the church. I hope Ravi’s story will provide a sad but useful lesson for us all.

  • Thanks Susie. Yes I hear you. In addition to what I have written in my article, two new resources on this that just appeared I can highly recommend. I mentioned both above in the comments but will do so again here:

    The first is a new article by Michael Brown: https://askdrbrown.org/library/how-should-we-respond-ravi-zacharias-scandal

    The second is a very good 50-minute video by David Wood: https://www.reddit.com/r/Christianity/comments/lkeo4v/david_wood_making_sense_of_the_ravi_zacharias/

  • I think it was in his biography, Traveling from East to West, Ravi explained his reason for the name of his ministry. His father-in-law suggested that if his name was on the letterhead it would provide an incentive to remain above reproach.

    I think that was good advice, although I can see how some would view it as arrogance.

    Another thought…I heard a message at men’s conference a couple of weeks ago. He was preaching about Samson, who jumped up to attack the Philistines, but “did not know that the Lord has departed from him.”

    The speaker went on to say that some 30 years earlier his mentor asked him, “if the Lord departed from you, how long would it take for you to notice?” He says he thinks of that question every day.

    I wonder if Ravi ever noticed.

  • Accountability is the key. To a panel of 2 or 3 including a medical professional and needs to be lifelong.

  • Another video with alot of information & more details has been put out by Mike Winger. It’s shocking to see how much effort Ravi put in to lead his double life. He even would spend long months writing books in Bangkok where he would also keep his double life hidden easier.

    https://youtu.be/PcWeZS3cnNo

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