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Tullian Tchividjian Bounces Back?


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.

NOTE: BEGINNING 9/7, IF YOU CHOOSE TO ENTER A COMMENT, PLEASE GIVE YOUR FULL NAME. IDENTITIES LIKE "ANONYMOUS", "UNKNOWN," ETC., MAY BE REMOVED ACCORDING TO THE DISCRETION OF THE BLOG MASTER . THANK-YOU. 


Comments

  1. The "restoration" referred to in the BOCO pull quote you used refers to a restoration of his pastoral privileges of preaching and administration of the sacraments. You seem to be conflating excommunication with censure. In the PCA, someone who has his ministry credentials removed, but nothing else, has the same standing as any layman, which means he can accept any church role that does not have an ordination requirement.

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  3. Thanks for the comment. Well, I don't think has has the same standing as any layman because not every layman is under discipline. Had a long talk with some parlimentarians yesterday. They affirm that 36-7: "any functions of the ministry" negates TT's role on a ministry staff. Thanks again.

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  4. Did you pen this to Jesus first?

    Seriously, how much time did you spend writing this blog, researching your position and making the case that you were right concerning your interpretation of church rules? Because during that same time frame I would invite you to consider how many people could have come to know Jesus Christ and establish their place in the Kingdom.

    When you are standing before the altar of God at judgment I don’t think that there is going to be reward for harsh, unloving enforcement of church rules that create division and stir controversy and rumors. Honestly, God makes it clear that he is more concerned about the widow and the orphan that have been overlooked by the churches in this country, and he expects his church to be serving them. If another church is going to use Graham’s grandson for that type of ministry, I believe with all of my heart that God will find favor on that church and the repentant, loving and accepting sinners in that congregation.

    Finally, I truly think your blog is hateful in tone. You are not honoring Christ when you insist that Tullian’s and his wife’s affairs need to be spotlighted for the remainder of their lives so people can look down on them. That statement offends Christ and his sacrifice so we can be forgiven. Forgive this man. (I cannot even believe I am writing that to a church leader.)

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  5. Mr. Barber is incorrect. The South Florida Presbytery has specifically said that their censure only pertains to the privileges of an ordained minister.

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  6. A case on BCO could be made differntly. However, the issue isn't so much what is technically ministry functions as the lack of reflection on all that had just happened in his life. He shouldn't be doing any ministry for a long period of time. Get a job and attend a church that will guide you through healing.

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  7. Wait, even though Tillian has confessed with a contrite heart and asked for forgiveness from both man and God, are you saying that we (and he) should be continuing to endlessly "reflect" on what has happened in his life such that he should be precluded from moving forward to be used by God for the glory of the church and advancement of the kingdom? If so, how is that scriptural? After David's, Jonah's and Peter's confessions of sin (and those are just a few), didn't Christ forgive them and use them? Don't forget that Peter (who denied Christ three times) is central to the church that you are a leader of today, was he not? Why are you treating Tillian differently than Jesus treated his disciples when they sinned?

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  8. GretchenK: Thank-you for your comment. One does not need to reflect endlessly on sin to be reinstated to the ministry, that is, if one is reinstated at all, since some men choose not to be reinstated. However, the issue of timeframe you raise is important. One can repent, but that that does not mean one is instantly ready to resume ministry responsibility. Healing from what one has done, regaining the trust of those one has hurt (if ever) and of one's fellow pastors to whom one is in submission, is another thing. The fruit of repentance takes time. Time to heal helps to assure that the temptations that led to a fall are in check and will not bring further consequences. The examples you cite are excellent. Peter repented but Christ did not reinstate him until he was confident of Peter's new walk (John 21). As King, David remained King. But his prayer (Ps. 51) of repentance was not to be forgiven only, but also to be "purified" (v.7). Purification takes time. But what about reflecting on a sin so bad that it has knocked us out of ministry? Though we should not be consumed by it, we should not forget it. In fact, God will not let us forget. God brought war to David's household as a reminder. Jacob walked with a limp the rest of his days as a reminder. Thanks again.

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  10. This is one of many examples that the third mark of a true church is now missing in the PCA.
    Even when proper discipline is exercised in a presbytery, somewhere else it is totally ignored. However, after seeing that men who preach a false gospel and baptismal regeneration cannot be removed, nothing the PCA does surprises me anymore. -former PCA elder and member for 30+ years

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  12. ATTENTION: BEGINNING 9/7, IF YOU CHOOSE TO ENTER A COMMENT, PLEASE GIVE YOUR FULL NAME. TITLES SUCH AS "ANONYMOUS", "UNKNOWN," ETC., MAY BE REMOVED AT THE DISCRETION OF THE BLOG MASTER. THANK-YOU.

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  13. John--

    I am a Christian. I don't go to the PCA and I don't know Tullian, so I am not sure why I'm taking time to respond at length. I just feel that your article is missing something: grace.

    * By the way, I am typing this on my phone so I apologize in advance for any typos.

    First, you make two remarks: (1) “a sin so bad” that it “knocked [Tullian] out of ministry” and (2) “[t]hough we should not be consumed by it, we should not forget it.” In all sincerity, where is the sin gradation chart? Also, the distinction drawn between “consumed by” and “forgetting” sin is a scale I’ve never seen. We are to set sin aside and move on and do Christ's work. But truly, "a sin so bad"? When does a sin disqualify a minister in your denomination and when does it not?

    Second, you concede that David and Jacob were forgiven and used by God but you stress that God bestowed a “penalty” on them, a penalty that was designed to help them remember their sins (i.e., David held his position as king but his sin resulted in a war on his household & Jacob “walked with a limp the rest of his days as a reminder for his sin as well.”). Although you have a good point, it is important to emphasize that God selects the punishment and man does not. In this case, from what I read, I see a narrow segment of the PCA church seeking a penalty on this man in a manner that is creating dissension and distracting you from what God really wants you to be doing: saving lost souls. I mean, if leaders are confident that Tullian is suited to work at a church in a different capacity, why are you pushing the issue and broadcasting it for debate?

    Third, and I find this to be perhaps the most perplexing. You claim Peter “repented but Christ did not reinstate him until he was confident of Peter's new walk.” I think there is far more depth to that chapter. To start, Peter clearly betrayed Jesus three times when he denied him. Jesus (after the resurrection) asked Peter three times following breakfast (symbolizing the three times Peter denied him) questions that presented him with a test for affirmation. Each and every time the question/answer took place Jesus affirmed, without hesitation, that Peter was to serve him in ministry despite his failings, telling him EACH and EVERY time that he was to care for the flock by means of “feeding the lambs and shepherding the sheep.” Quite simply, despite his denying Christ three times, Peter was entrusted to pen and teach the gospel message and care for God’s children. That is impressive.

    The story evidences, at least to me, that Christ wants everyone to know that no matter how many times we fall short and sin (no matter if the "sin is so bad") he never wants us to step back from loving and serving him when we seek his forgiveness. So, as for Tullian, your directive that he “[g]et a job and attend a church that will guide him through healing” is very contrary to what Jesus told Peter, at least in my estimation. Jesus did not tell Peter, “Hey, hop back in the fishing boat for a bit until you are purified and suited for ministry in the eyes of critics. I know you've repented, but I want to be certain all is well.” No, Christ did not remove Peter from his prior role as a leader of the church. Peter was vested with surety that he was valued and loved despite his sin.

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  14. Because Tullian is said to have reconciled with Christ, with affirmation of the leaders at the new church, where they find him suited for the new job, I am at a loss to understand how any Christian leader from afar can continue to challenge his usefulness as a church employee.

    Fourth, as for David, you concede that he “remained King” (i.e., God never took him out of his position). However, you claim that David was more faithful because he went further than Tullian has done. Specifically, David repented and also sought “purification,” a process that "takes time." How do you know Tullian’s present spiritual state? Moreover, where are you deriving the principle that purification cannot be undertaken simultaneously with one’s employment in a church? Also, must every church employee be purified? If anything, I think purification would be continually reinforced by Tullian's placement at the new church -- where the pastoral staff is accepting, loving and encouraging.

    John, I am going to be praying--for both of us--that we come to realize more and more each day the Christian principles of grace and forgiveness. We are all sinners. Like it or not, although your denomination's leadership may reason that your own sins are not "so bad as" Tillian's (at least in your own sight), I can assure you of one thing: God does not treasure you over and above Tillian based on your claims of righteousness. The Bible is very clear on that point.

    Humbly and with prayers,

    Gretchen

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  15. GretchenK: Thanks again for your thoughts. I can't interact with all of your points, but a couple. The two threads I see running through your thoughtful remarks is that church discipline and grace are at odds. And that because we are all sinners, what real difference is there b/w my sin and yours and Tullians? Hope I'm fair.

    On the first, the purpose of church dicipline is the restoration of the sinner. Discipline is an extension of grace. Yes God diciplines, but he also uses the process of church discipline (men) as outlined in Matt 18 to do it as well. That is what has happened with Tullian. On the second thread, Yes. There a gradation of sins. While looking on a woman is adultery "in his heart" (Matt 5:28) the ACT of adultery is a sin in actuality that brings diaster in its wake. Please see JI Packer on levels of sin. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/january/19.65.html

    A couple of your questions:

    "How do you know Tullian’s present spiritual state?" We know he is an adulterer. That's a spiritual state. That is partly why he was deposed. Because we DO NOT know where he is in the healing process that is all the more reason we proceed cautiously, over time, waiting to see the settled fruit of repentence in his life. One cannot commit adultery as a pastor, repent, take 30 minutes to think about it, and expect to be back in the front office of a church.

    "Christ did not remove Peter from his prior role as a leader of the church." I'm sorry but this is not correct. Christ turned Peter over to Satan to be sifted as wheat. It was that hard and arduous learning process by which Peter was "sifted" or purified (Luke 22;31). It was only after that that he was reinstated.

    Afraid I can't deeper into your querries. Thanks again for the replies.

    "There but for the grace of God, go I"
    John


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  16. Ok, respectfully, there were a few things that you overlooked in my post. That aside, I think it is important for me to clarify/resolve in my own mind what you are saying. If Jesus forgives, why are you still judging from afar and referring to Tullian as an “Adulterer”? Even if you are using that phrase under the auspices of “spiritual state” you have to realize the potential harm it is doing to this man, don’t you? Our culture today often thinks an “adulterer” is in a present affair. And setting Tullian aside, have you disciplined the wife and broadcast her spiritual state as one of an “adulterer”? If you haven’t that alone proves to me that you should not be doing so for this man.

    You also challenge my remark -- "Christ did not remove Peter from his prior role as a leader of the church." Perhaps I should have not used to the word “remove” (I’m not a theologian.) What I was trying to say is Christ’s exchange with Peter following Peter, who was very fragile, reconciling with him was “You love me. I have lambs and sheep for you to attend to, and a Bible for you to write. Now go.” I’m just trying to reinforce to you that you should be encouraging.

    I want to be very clear on this point, John: I am NOT saying that this man should be on the pulpit preaching the morning after admitting an affair. But it breaks my heart (for some reason) that some in your church are NOT affirming his worth and surrounding him (and his broken family) with love and prayers, not to mention encouraging him in his new endeavor.

    Your comment --“One cannot commit adultery as a pastor, repent, take 30 minutes to think about it, and expect to be back in the front office of a church.” Reality is this: “the front office” is God’s house, and if a man who has been accepted by that church is there working with a heart for Christ why are you continuing to call him an adulterer and telling the world that he is not right with God?

    Personally, and with love, we both need to remember that this is God’s church and we are all sinners. Not one of us is perfect.

    There by the grace of God we all go!

    Gretchen

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  17. GretchenK: Thanks again. As I said previously I can't take time to answer all questions, though I appreciate your time to write all your thoughts. I will do the same here.

    You likely will not beleive me, but we have surrounded him with love and prayers. There is no reason to polarize encouragement and discipline.

    At no time did I say he is still in adultery and not right with God. My blog post focuses on the decision of the Willow Creek church to hire him on staff in a position that oversees a ministry of that local congregation.

    Best to you,
    John

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  18. Thanks for spending the time that you did to answer some of my questions. As a layperson I take comfort in knowing that church leaders invest.

    I, and I hope you recognize this, asked these questions of you--and perhaps challenged your position with my way of seeing this differently--out of a desire to do what is right for the church as a whole, not to mention this man and his family. I'm not a PCA member, but I am a sister in Christ.

    A blog is powerful, John.

    That said, it is vital for you to know that the words you wrote--condemning a church for accepting this man "in the front office," saying his bio was effectively a lie because it did not contain an accounting of his recent sin, and the hiring was a "mockery"--you have continued to not only shame this man personally, but you are striving to publicly shame others who saw something in him that you did not, a forgiven and restored sinner who has gifts Christ wants to be used. They see him as Peter. It may be expeditious in your sight, but God has his own way of doing things, does he not?

    Moreover, respectfully, I'm asking you to step back. To be honest, your blog statements have tickled Satans ears, for they perpetuate his ability to stir controversy, advance and demean both Tillian and his wife (not to mention his poor children) and to hurt the collective church. People I know have been talking about this matter all the way up East!

    John, if you disagree with Willow's decision, well, discussion by church leaders opposing should be had behind church walls, in private meetings by leadership, not by means of throwing salt on one another's wounds and voicing upset/opposition in blogs in this way. Leaders are not called upon to humiliate and mock Christian brothers and sisters. In doing so they set the stage for mocking God and distrusting the church as a whole. If I were an adulterer, I would be very reluctant to go to your church and repent in an effort to find forgiveness in light of what you wrote. I would be more likely to go to the Willow, where they took this man in and vested him with confidence and strength.

    I mean this--I will be praying for you. Encourage your bloggers to pray for this man, his family (particularly his kids), and God's use of him at the new job. Ask them to pray that the people at the church would be loving and accepting of him despite his faults and they would be able to relate well with him. I know I can!!!

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  19. GretchenK You're publically shaming a pastor you think has publicly shamed a pastor.

    End of string.

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  20. NOTE: BEGINNING 9/7, IF YOU CHOOSE TO ENTER A COMMENT, PLEASE GIVE YOUR FULL NAME. IDENTITIES LIKE "ANONYMOUS", "UNKNOWN," ETC., MAY BE REMOVED ACCORDING TO THE DISCRETION OF THE BLOG MASTER . THANK-YOU.

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  21. My response is for both, Mr. Barber and for Gretchen in general...

    Gretchen(and anyone in general), as a minister of the gospel of Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, Tullian is called to a very high standard. St. Paul's instructions to Timothy are the standard for all men to seek to live up to in our every day lives, not just for ministers of the gospel. With that said, ministers of the gospel aren't to be men who are simply striving for and continually failing on meeting those requirements for Biblical office. I personally have been in exactly his position and I can assure you most definitely that in the immediate aftermath, what is needed is an understanding of our abject spiritual poverty, and in many cases actual poverty.

    You asked where is the grace... Gretchen the grace is in being embraced as a member of the body of Christ, for whom Christ gave Himself and suffered the wrath of God which we all deserved. The same St. Paul had a man in Corinth delivered over to Satan because he was having sexual relations with his father's wife. But Paul did that in order that the man would be restored, not in the hope of his ultimate destruction. In other places the same Paul instructed the rebuke of elders in front of the congregation, so the whole congregation would fear and see the utter sinfulness of pride and sin. So you see, discipline is not merely vengeance or punishment. In fact, it's not punitive at all. Discipline is the most loving of acts within the Body of Christ.

    I myself was refused the sacrament of communion for sin that I had definitely repented for and made a full confession. I'm not certain what tradition you are from or what your understanding of discerning the body is, but there are two schools of thought on what it means to discern the body in communion. One, the most heavily favored, is that you must be able to consciously take a moral account of your standing before God and the sinfulness of your life, and with a contrite heart and a purified spirit, you proclaim the death of the Lord Jesus Christ and your union with Him in it.

    And the second is that you discern the body of the church and her needs, which I won't get into here.

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  22. The question here is neither of sufficient time, or of Grace. The question is of the ongoing and unrepentant nature of his sin. As a minister, his first ministry isn't in the pulpit. His first ministry is to his wife and children. If he cannot perform in that ministry, the scripture says that he is not a qualified shepherd. First his wife well into adultery(that's a nice way of saying dove right in to adultery). Rather than repenting to his wife for a failure of leadership and humbling himself before God and pleading with both God and his wife to restore his marriage, he also became a whoremonger and a deceiver and an insolent hater of God. He brought shame and reproach on his family, the Body of Christ and upon God Himself.

    And his response to the situation, and in counseling, was to shift the blame. I'm not above that myself. That's exactly what I did in the same situation for a while. But then Tullian takes it further. Having failed in his first ministry to his family, he then failed in the ministry of the gospel of grace, having profaned the name of Christ with his adultery. And if nothing else had come of this and in counseling he and his wife had reconciled and stepped out of the public eye, continued ongoing Godly counsel and bathed their lives in prayer and ongoing repentance and living a fruitful life, 6 months or a year from now and upon the wishes of the polity and desire of his brothers and sisters in Christ, he could be restored to his teaching ministry.

    But he didn't do that. He went on sinning. He portrayed the feelings of his wife in a false way, to the extent that he spoke on her behalf and she made a statement to the contrary, accusing him of bearing false witness. Likewise, he subsequently filed for divorce from his wife. I'm sorry, but to whom much is given, much is expected. Marriage isn't just some legal document that can arbitrarily be revoked when the feelings of love die out. The implications of the incarnation are very much alive and well in the context of Christian marriage. Tullian knows as well as anyone that grace reigns supreme in a Christian marriage. And he also knows that marriage is to be the embodiment of Christ and the church, His bride. You and I and Mr. Barber commit adultery every single day of our lives, heaping up idols in our hearts, going after the god of self and we are full of iniquity. We whore around every day of our lives, every second of our lives, for our entire lives. Even our prayers are worthless, but for the blood of Christ. So my question for you has the utmost theological implications...

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  23. Does Christ EVER give us a writ of divorce for our adultery, when our eyes wander to another man or woman, idol, lie... Because to Tullian's wife, he is to be the embodiment of the very Lord Jesus Christ here on earth to her. If she went whoring around every single day and night with a new man, changed her political affiliation, became pro choice, goes on a killing spree and drowns all their children in a bathtub, the command of God doesn't change. It isn't situational or relative or arbitrary. You are to love your wife. Period. Full stop. And if you will not do that because you aren't willing to do it, you are not fit to be a shepherd.

    Given the messages that Tullian preaches, we should all look on in abject horror at the failure to apply them in his own marriage. People he has counseled in their own marriages will now begin to question. Seekers in his church will now begin to question. The rest of the world watches and mocks. You ask where is grace for Tullian, but the real question is where is his grace for his own wife, his own flock, his family, the body of Christ...

    But to the issue of restoration... I'm concerned very much about the fact that when the first opportunity came his way, he fell to sin and had to be approached about his sin before confessing it and resigning. I'm concerned about his ability to repudiate this very sin in the future. I'm concerned about his fitness to lead by example. And I'm sorry but he filed for divorce and began a ministry position within 2 weeks. I don't think so. A lot has been made of this position being non ministerial. Well, lets just ask if the position was open to women. In the PCA no woman would be allowed to hold that office, because it is a biblical office reserved by the inspired Paul, for men. And the Bible tells us what the qualifications are. He doesn't meet them.

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