Restoration of Fallen Ministers to Full Ministry (A Negative View)
By James Kilgore
Restoration Committee Report to the General Conference September 25, 1990
This report concludes the work of the committee formed to “conduct a thorough examination in the light of the Word of God of our position concerning sin, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration of the ministry as set forth in the Constitution and By-laws and Judicial Procedure.”
From the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem, the Bible traces God’s plan to restore fallen man to Himself. The focus of the plan is Jesus Christ, who as God manifest in flesh was the substitutionary sacrifice that opened the door to forgiveness, justification, regeneration, sanctification, and reconciliation. “To wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself” (II Corinthians 5:19).
The parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son illustrate that God wants to restore to Himself that which was lost by man’s sin. All three parables emphasize the recovery of something lost, and while they may merely reflect God’s desire to save lost humanity, they may equally reveal God’s desire trestore back-slidden Christians. This is especially true in the parable of the lost son, who left home, lived sinfully,repented, and returned to ask forgiveness and to be a servant.Of course, the father restored him to be his son, illustrating that restored backsliders have the same status as before they backslid.
John wrote, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2). In this passage he stated that the same “propitiation” takes away the sins committed by both Christians and sinners who are coming to God for the first time.
John also wrote that Christians are to pray that a brother who sins be forgiven: “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.” Since Jesus said that there was only one sin that cannot be forgiven, the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:28-29), almost all fallen Christians can be restored.
Galatians 6:1 specifically instructs “spiritual” Christians to restore brethren who have been “overtaken in a fault.” Prayer, perhaps the first and most important step in restoring a fallen brother, should be followed by other steps to help the fallen person regain his standing with God and the church.
In I Corinthians 5:1-13 Paul addressed a problem in the church that concerned a brother who committed fornication with his father’s wife. Apparently, the church did not condemn the sin or remove the sinning brother from the church membership. Therefore Paul reproved them harshly and instructed them to “deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh . . .[to] purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump . . .[and] not to company with any fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world . . . but now have I written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a raller, or drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one, no, not to eat.” The church was to sever its relationship with the brother who fell into the sin of fornication.
The question arises: should a fornicator be restored to the church if he repents? It appears that Paul’s stern rebuke caused the church to shun the fornicator even after he repented. Thus Paul in his second letter to the church in Corinth instructed the church to restore the repentant fornicator to the church as a fellow Christian: “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him” II Corinthians 2:6-8).
Jesus told us that the forgiveness of our trespasses depends upon our forgiving others their trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15). The Bible admonishes us to be kind “one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). Only in a climate of kindness, tender heartedness, and forgiveness can restoration be accomplished; a harsh, judgmental climate acts contrary to the love and mercy of God.
The Bible clearly teaches that every Christian who fails God, except those who blaspheme against the Holy Ghost, can be restored to salvation (Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:28-29). Restoration therefore includes both laymen and ministers, even if they commit fornication, fall prey to greed, become a drunkard, lose self-control, or turn to the worship of idols. Moreover, all who are restored become free from condemnation before God and should be welcomed and trusted by the church.
The Bible is not so clear about restoring a person to a place of leadership in the church. Although the word restore indicates a return to the original position, favor, and acceptance, its use in Galatians 6:1 deals with the restoration to salvation and not with a restoration to a position in the church. To use this verse to teach more than a restoration to salvation extends it beyond its scriptural context.
Restoration of a fallen minister to his ministry finds at best weak support in the Old Testament. It is true that King David was restored to God after his sin with Bethsheba, including both adultery and murder, and that he was not removed from his role as king of the nation. But the position of king is not a type of the New Testament ministry, which is patterned more after the priests and the prophets. Although David prophesied and wrote prophetic Scripture after his restoration, even his psalm of repentance, David was not recognized as a prophet as was Nathan. He did not occupy the office of a prophet. In other words, during his life David was known as a king, not as a prophet. Perhaps his prophetic writings can be compared with the spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12 and 14, but it is doubtful that his life can serve as a type for the New Testament ministry.
One looks in vain for a prophet who backslid and was restored to his office or a priest who became corrupt and was restored to his priesthood. While some restoration of these religious leaders may have occurred, the Old Testament is silent on the restoration of prophets and priests.
The same silence prevails in the New Testament, for there is no example of a minister who backslid away from God and the church being restored to his ministry. This does not mean that ministers did not fail, for all the disciples failed Jesus in some way during the time of his trial and crucifixion. John Mark left the mission field apparently because of a character flaw, and Peter showed prejudice against the Gentiles in order to appease Jewish Christians.
At the time of the Crucifixion, the failure of two disciples stand out, Judas’ betrayal of Christ and Peter’s
denial of Him. To both of these men Jesus apparently offered the opportunity to be restored, but only Peter found restoration. Judas tried to undo his deed and, having failed, he committed suicide. On the other hand, Peter wept bitter tears of sorrow and regret over his sin and was restored to God’s favor and even to his apostleship. The restoration of Peter is the nearest example of a restored minister in the New Testament, but the example is not perfect since the sin and restoration predate the Day of Pentecost, the birth date of the church.
What can we infer from the silence of the Bible on the subject of restoring ministers? At least three answers are possible: (1) The silence indicates that ministers are to be restored to salvation in the same manner as other backsliders, and this restoration means to his ministry in the church. (2) The silence indicates that restoration of a fallen minister to the ministry is not possible. (3) The silence indicates that God has delegated authority to the church to set the limits and develop the process of restoring fallen ministers to the ministry. The United Pentecostal Church International has followed the third interpretation.
Several questions confront an organization in deciding who can be restored to the ministry: (1) Can a minister who commits a sexual sin such as fornication and adultery be restored to the ministry? In other words, are sexual sins so different from other sins that they forever disqualify a person from being restored to the ministry? Further, if a sexual sin committed by a minister forever disqualifies him from the ministry, does committing a sexual sin disqualify a sinner from becoming a minister? (2) Are all sexual sins to be treated the same? (3) Can a minister who commits a serious violent sin such as murder or attempted murder be restored to the ministry? (4) Can a minister who commits a serious crime against society be restored to the ministry? (5) Can a minister who turns from the faith to a false religion such as idolatry be restored to the ministry?
The New Testament lists several qualifications for ministers in I Timothy 3:1-7, I Timothy 6-11, II Timothy 2:22-25, Titus 1:5-9, and various other places. These biblical qualifications serve as guidelines for issuing licenses and restoring a fallen minister to the ministry. Moreover, New Testament ministers serve as examples for us to follow. One minister, Demas, who forsook Paul and returned to worldly pursuits, serves as a warning against loving this present world. With these qualifications and examples, and with the guidance of the Holy Ghost, a church governing body can establish Qualifications for the ministry and set limits and procedure for restoring fallen preachers to the ministry.
One of the qualifications for the office of bishop is that he “must have a good report of them which are without” (I Timothy 3:7, indicating the importance of the reputation of a minister. The committee noted that according to Proverbs 6:32-33 adultery brings a reproach that can never be erased: “But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and a dishonor shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away.”
If a comparison of 1 Timothy 3:7 and Proverbs 6:32-33 is interpreted to disqualify a fallen minister from being restored to the ministry, the same interpretation would also exclude any person who commits adultery before he enters the ministry, even if the sin is committed before salvation. To interpret the phrase in I Peter 4:17, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God,” to mean that the reproach of adultery is removed by the blood of Jesus when a person comes into the church but the same blood cannot cleanse the reproach of a Christian who commits adultery fails to correctly interpret the verse. While the new convert begins a new life with his sins washed away, it is equally true that a Christians who sins and repents also has his sins washed away.
After the committee searched the Scriptures and examined the position taken by the United Pentecostal
Church, the committee feels that this organization has followed the scriptural guidelines in both granting ministerial credentials and in its policy toward restoring ministers to the ministry. At present, restoration of a fallen ministry is limited to those who do not commit sexual sins: “Any minister affiliated with our organization proven guilt of adultery or fornication, or committing any other immoral offense shall forfeit his or her papers immediately. . . . Such minster shall never be qualified for reinstatement into the ministry of the United Pentecostal Church” (Article VII, Section 9, Paragraphs 2-3, UPCI Manual). The committee does not recommend a change in this policy.
The committee does recommend that the General Conference adopt the resolution that will allow a fallen minister to be used in his local church under the direction of his pastor. Although he may never again hold ministerial credentials, he can feel restored not only to God but also to an active role in the church.
The committee also urges all ministers to extend a hand of mercy, compassion, and love in an effort to restore fallen ministers. We are to restore them not with harsh judgment but in a spirit of meekness and love, taking heed that we will not fall God ourselves. This is the admonition of the Bible.
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, Ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. But if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; But he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:1-10).