Reflections on Spiritual Leaders Who Cover Their Immorality With A Super Spiritual Narrative

Absalom-and-counselorsJude in his brief epistle said, ” I was eager to write to you about the salvation we share, but before doing that I have to urge you to deal with a crisis in our community of faith. The crisis is this: men have slipped in among you and have changed the grace of God into a license for immorality and in so doing deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” These men are calling good evil and evil good. Unless you deal with this directly and clearly, the church will become contaminated and will not be the spotless bride with whom Christ is eager to unite.”

We face the same situation today in the Christian church.  Christian men who have been recognized as capable and even effective leaders enter into immorality and then cloak their sin in a super spiritual explanation or narrative that to them justifies their continuing in their godless path.  They proclaim the rightfulness of their behavior and lead many astray from the will and ways of God.

This scenario can unfold in a community in the following way:

Let us suppose there is a pastor of great influence in a large congregation. However in spite of his spiritual success in many areas, he is unhappily married. He finds himself unable to live in peace with his wife. He secretly handles his pain with the use of pornography. Occasionally he may have  a one night affair.  He is always guilt-ridden by these affairs and quickly repents. He tells no one, least of all his wife, and continues as a Christian leader. He is critical of other church leaders because they are not as spiritual as he and do not understand the ways of God as well as he does.

Eventually the pastor enters into an adulterous relationship with a woman outside his marriage. He falls in love with the woman. Then he is forced to tell his wife about the relationship, and the marriage is thrown into turmoil. The wife and the entire community are taken by surprise that this man of God would actually betray his marital vows.

The pastor seeks the Lord. He declares he is forgiven.  He declares he has entered into a new level of intimacy with the Lord. Whereas, before, he was simply a servant trying to do the right thing but with no intimacy or joy, now he perceives himself to be a son who has a very close relationship with the Father.  He now proclaims that he has never felt so close to and blessed by the Father.

In his new intimacy he sees that God is truly setting him free from his marriage. He now sees that he entered into the marriage on the wrong terms. He now sees that the marriage never should have happened. His wife has unresolved issues from her childhood and was impossible to live with. He now sees that he never loved her. He sees that the marriage was not God’s will for him.

Of course, there is the matter of the children. He initially stayed with the wife because of the children . Now he sees that the conflict between him and his wife was and is not good for the children. Even the children can see it is not good for the parents to be fighting. So he proclaims that he is leaving his marriage for the benefit of the children. In the end, he asserts, the children will be better off with parents who do not live together but who are somehow able to be congenial with one another for the sake of the children.  ( Even secular research now reveals that children can deal better with conflict between their parents than they can deal with the disruption of divorce.

Further he comes to see that the woman with whom he had the affair was not a temptress from Satan: she was actually a gift from God.  Yes, he did misuse the gift by having sex with her while being married to his wife. But he has been forgiven for that sin and is now being prepared to fully receive this gift of God. He anticipates the freedom that will come to him once he is divorced.

When godly men confront him about his continued attachment to another woman while married to his wife, he discerns that these men have elevated the Word of God over the Spirit of God. He confidently asserts that when the the Word and the Spirit are in opposition, one should always follow the Spirit.  He is supported in not rejecting the other woman by prophets who prophesy that he has been subjected to Job’s counselors and that he should not follow their advice to have nothing to do with this woman.

This pastor tends to gather around him people who have a history of being able to hear from God but some of these are actually wounded prophets whose wounds distort their ability to give the full counsel of God. Consequently they declare the blessing of God on this man and his plan to become free from this unsatisfactory marriage.

The Christian community at large is torn and divided and confused. When the most spiritual and most prophetic fall into sin, when Satan deceives even the very elect, the believers are vulnerable to enter into confusion or into despair or even worse to begin to excuse sin in their own lives.

It becomes clear that God wants to raise up a standard. He wants the shepherds to stand up and confront the wolves in sheep’s clothing lest the lambs be destroyed. He wants the trumpet to give a clear signal and the light to shine with brightness.

The Scriptures are full of examples of men who arrogantly raise themselves up as leaders among God’s people while they are in the deadly grip of sin and deception.

One such example is Absalom, the rebellious son of King David. The following can be observed in the life of Absalom. (II Samuel 13-18)

1. Absalom had evidence that leadership was in fact weak and ineffective. David did nothing when Ammon raped Tamar.  David was indecisive about being reunited with Absalom after Absalom killed Ammon.  David eventually brought Absalom back but refused to see him for several years.

2. Absalom could have pointed to Nathan’s prophetic word and could have said that his rebellion against his father was actually the fulfillment of the prophet’s word and therefore justified.

3. Absalom was effective at engaging people and getting them to believe his narrative that he was a better leader than his father and those with his father. The people eventually proclaimed him king.

4. Absalom solicited the support and counsel of a very spiritual man who was known to hear directly from God. This man was Ahithophel (the grandfather of Bathsheba).  Unfortunately for Absalom, although Ahithophel continued to hear truth from God, he was wounded in his own spirit and did not have the spiritual integrity to proclaim the full counsel of God to the rebellious son.  Had he proclaimed God’s full counsel he would have implored the son to repent of his rebellion and be reconciled to his father. Because of Ahithophel’s failure to speak for God, Absalom was killed and Ahithophel committed suicide.

5. Absalom loved himself. Everything he did was about elevating himself. He even made a monument to himself and called it by his own name. (II Samuel 18:18).  The words of Psalm 36:1-3 are true of Absalom: ” There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good.”

6.  Absalom cloaked himself in an airtight narrative that fully justified everything he did.  He could say, ‘I am doing a new thing. I am following the spirit and not the letter of the law’. However, the word and the will of God was that David should continue as king and that his son Solomon (Jedidiah- loved of the Lord) should succeed him as king and not Absalom.

7. Absalom was highly deceived and outside the will of God. He died prematurely because “the Lord was determined to bring disaster on Absalom,” the man who denied his sovereign Lord and King.

Peter describes men like Absalom many centuries later ( II Peter 2 )

“False teachers will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them– bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute… God knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority.

These men are bold and arrogant… their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you.   With eyes full of adultery they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed….. They have left the straight way and wandered off….

These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them for they mouth empty, boastful words and by appealing to the lustful desires of the sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity- for a man is a slave to what ever has mastered him.

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: A dog returns to its vomit, and a sow that is washed goes back to wallowing in the mud.”

Jude adds about these people: “These men are grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage…. These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.”

How shall the church respond to persons who have entered into such deception?

The scriptures do give us clear direction: II Peter 3:14-18; Jude 20-23

1. “Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.”  “Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him.”

2. “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

3. “Build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”

4. “Be merciful to those who doubt.”

5. “Snatch others from the fire and save them.”

6. “To others show mercy, mixed with fear- hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

If a person refuses all counsel and continues in his path of sin and rebellion, it is the church’s responsibility to make clear that this person is in error.  In doing this they  are aware of “the kindness and the severity of God.” When men spurn God’s kindness they may find themselves objects of his severity. The Apostle Paul “delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander to satan to teach them not to blaspheme.”  A person is guilty of  blasphemy if he declares that the spirits of lust and lawlessness that are leading him are actually the Holy Spirit.

In their anguish about the spiritual jeopardy of the brother who is walking a path of deception, the people of God cry out to God. And this is their prayer:

“Oh God, we release this person into your hands. Do whatever it takes; use any means available in heaven or on earth to bring this person to repentance. In the end we want to see this person saved for eternity.”  (I Corinthians 5)

In this case, we continue to love the person but we do not imply by our social interaction with the person that nothing of significance has happened and that relationships will continue as though it is “business as usual.” Rather there is anguish, grieving and mourning and even a social distancing from this person so that it is clear that something of eternal significance is at stake.

 Kingdom principles that we are in danger of allowing to slip away

       If you enter the covenant of marriage, God will give the grace to make the marriage successful no matter how it started. ( Many marriages throughout the world are arranged and yet are more successful  than our Western ‘love marriages’.)

     In the Christian marriage ceremony we state before heaven and earth that we are counting on the grace of God to enable us to live in peace as husband and wife till death do us part. Only by the grace of God can any of us keep our promise to be faithful for a lifetime, come what may.

     We must be careful to discern the full truth and counsel of God. Prophetic half truths will always stroke our egos and support our selfish agendas and lead us to


     We must be committed to do the will of the Father no matter if it costs our life. If we purposefully minimize our sin and allow truth to be suppressed by our hidden preferences, God will answer us according to our deceptions.  “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”  2 Thessalonians 2: 11-12 (NIV)

In conclusion

     As we contend for the faith in these troubling times, we embrace the confidence expressed by Jude in his epistle: “Jesus is able to keep us from falling; He is able to present us before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.”

     May God receive all the glory, all the majesty, all the power and all the authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore. Amen!

— E. Daniel Martin, Bishop, New Testament Fellowship of Churches, Elizabethtown, PA

Some of the Christian Leaders Who Affirm the Above Statement

Glenn Sauder, Pastor, Hinkletown Mennonite Church

Don Lamb, Pastor, LifeGate Church

Don Hess, Pastor, LifeGate Church

P.C. Alexander, Director of PTL-India

Vard Gainor, Pastoral coach and mentor, New Testament Fellowship

Henry Buckwalter, Bishop and Director of Harvest Fellowship of Churches

Dr. Allan Chambers, Academic Dean of TransformU Institute, Westfield, PA

Sunoko Lin, Pastor, Maranatha Christian Fellowship, Northridge, Calif.

Wayne Lawton, Pastor, Cedar Hill Community Church

Lou Goszleth, Director, Destiny Ministries International

Lloyd Hoover, Bishop, Lancaster Mennonite Conference

Steve Haupert, Bishop, New Testament Fellowship of Churches

Tom Barnet, Pastor, Dove Christian Fellowship, Elizabethtown, PA

Joseph Cheney, Bishop, Outside the Walls Christian Fellowship

Lawrence Chiles, Bishop, Koinonia Fellowship of Churches

Leonard Burkholder, Director, Anabaptist Native Fellowship of Churches

Mel Weaver, Pastor, Grace Chapel

Todd Scholtz, Pastor, Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church


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