It is unfortunate but every so often a Christian, including a pastor, wanders away from the sheepfold and finds himself perilously ensnared by sin and in grave danger. In keeping with the duty of the church, especially its elders, it becomes necessary to vigorously seek the full repentance and restoration of the lost sheep. As in the case of the prodigal son (Luke 15:3-8) the contrite heart is one both heaven and the faithful saints celebrate.
In the case of Tullian Tchividjian we have an example of a lost under-shepherd. Having admitted to adultery, the South Florida Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) deposed Tchividjian on August 11, 2015, ruling him unfit for Christian ministry.
Tchividjian followed his removal from the pastoral office by filing for divorce from his wife, Kim, on August 27th. They were married in 1994 and together have three children.
Deposition from office is a serious infliction of church discipline. The goal of all church discipline is the repentance and restoration of the sinner, the peace and purity of the church, and the honor of Christ.
One wonders, then, at the wisdom behind the decision on the part of the Willow Creek Church, in Winter Springs, Florida (a congregation of the PCA) to add Tchividjian to its pastoral staff recently as Director of Ministry Development. Tchividjian’s bio on the church’s website describes him as a
best-selling author, having written seven books on the gospel of Jesus Christ and its liberating implications. Most recently, Tullian served as the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and founded Liberate, a ministry devoted to connecting God's inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world.
Note there is no mention here of his deposition from office, his adultery and lies, or that Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church had removed any reference to Liberate from its church website. It’s as if none of it ever happened.
The questions that arise from this hire are glaring.
Has Tchividjian had ample time to come to full repentance such that he is now ready to reenter ministry, albeit as a layman? One would think that even Tchividjian should want a longer period of cooling off and getting his act together before jumping back into a position of church leadership. Well-meaning people who treat Tchividjian in his new role as though his adultery and deposition from office were but a blip on a radar screen may not aid him toward full repentance but may only enable him.
The PCA Book of Church Order 34-8 is clear that
A minister under indefinite suspension from his office or deposed for scandalous conduct shall not be restored, even on the deepest sorrow for his sin, until he shall exhibit for a considerable time such an eminently exemplary, humble and edifying life and testimony as shall heals the wound made by his scandal.
Second, how is the biblical standard of the peace and purity of the church upheld and strengthened by this move? How can the staff and people of Willow Creek work with Tchividjian in an air of normalcy without turning a deaf ear to his history? And how will this ministerial culture affect people’s attention to the “peace and purity of the church?”
Lastly, how is the honor of Christ upheld? Did Jesus die for sins so we can treat those who have practiced them in such a light handed manner?
It has been argued that Tchividjian is only serving Willow Creek as a layman and not as an ordained minister. But that is a difference without a distinction. BCO 36-7 is clear that until restored to ministry, the deposed officer is prohibited “from exercising any of the functions” of the ministry.
Time will tell what comes of the new Willow Creek relation. But one thing is clear. God will not be mocked.
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