When Heroes Fall

praying-manThis has been a hard week for many in the Reformed and conservative Christian community. A man who was viewed in much of the homeschooling world as a pillar of honor, and who championed positions that many of us hold dear, has confessed to a grievous sin. Not only has this undoubtedly crushed his dear wife and children, but countless families across the globe have been hurt.

Sadly, the initial shock will certainly result in a sustained wake of heartbreak and anger, as not only this man’s sinful actions, but also his teachings, are placed under the glaring microscope of public opinion.

While we may stagger under the sorrow of the recent news, we should remember, such reports have always existed within the Christian church. Since the Fall, there have been many in leadership who fell during various battles with sin.

In modern history, we can remember names like Ted Haggard (homosexuality), Jimmy Swaggart (adultery), and Jim Bakker (fraud). But, we would be remiss not to recall the stories of Noah (drunkenness), Eli (negligence), David (adultery and murder), and Peter (division).  The list indeed goes on and on.

Given the fact that Scripture declares all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and that there is none righteous, no not one, it should not come as a shock to hear the news that another leader has fallen. But, it does beg the question, how should we respond? What can we learn and what should we do when our spiritual heroes fall?

Consider your idolatry

John Calvin said: “The human heart is an idol factory… Every one of us from our mothers womb is an expert in inventing idols.” And, sadly, we are quick to make idols out of our heroes. They may be pastors, conference speakers, relatives, politicians, or authors; but they are still flesh and blood.

Yet, we often look at them as infallible. We see them in the best light when their hair is perfectly parted. But, you can be assured, they have bad days, just like you or me. They have their own sins. They have not yet been perfectly sanctified or conformed into the image of Christ.

Don’t place them upon a pedestal they likely have no desire to reside. Thank the Lord for the work He is doing through them, but give all the glory and honor to Jesus.

Contemplate your own sin

When we hear of moral failings in the life of a leader, our emotions can go from shock and sadness to rage. We struggle to comprehend how the one we held in such high esteem could have struggled with secret sin. But it would be more productive to consider our own sinful hearts: our own selfishness and pride—our own temptations to fall to bitterness, greed, or lust. Instead of focusing on the sins of your fallen hero, focus on the sins in your own fallen heart.

We know that all of us struggle with temptation; the Bible says this is common to man. So, consider your own personal temptations—your own sin, and bring them to the throne of grace. Ask the Lord for help, for strength, for cleansing, and for forgiveness.

And, while doing so, imagine if your darkest and most shameful thoughts were openly exposed. What sort of mercy and grace would you desperately hope for? Carefully consider my question because “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13) and “with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Remember God’s good work

As I mentioned above, when a hero falls, the Enemy may tempt some to view all their teachings with skepticism, even derision, as if sin somehow nullifies every good thing someone has done or taught.

Sadly, this reaction is often related to idolatry. We mentally unite the man (sins and all) to the message. While this response is certainly a natural reaction of man, it should not be the automatic reaction of a Christian. While an unbeliever may say, “Emily lied to me; therefore her God and her Bible are a farce,” a Christian should know better.

The man and the message are not equal. We should be careful not to discard the good and godly teachings of even a fallen leader. Consider David. God gave him many of the Psalms before his grave sin with Bathsheba. Did his sin negate God’s previous work through him? Of course not. So, while we should indeed be Berean, evaluating all teaching in light of Scripture, we should not summarily dismiss a man’s teachings simply because he has failed.

Pray for your fallen hero, and others

This should go without saying. We should pray for the one who has fallen—pray for his family, and for those who have been harmed in various ways. Pray for reconciliation, provision, healing, and recovery.

Likewise, we should pray for anyone else involved in the sin, that the Lord would be merciful, bringing repentance and healing. And, remember sin radiates to others…it shares the inevitable and involuntary pain. It affects all aspects of a person’s life: family, church, business, finances, friendships—even health. All those under a leader’s charge are injured. They too need prayer.

Lastly, pray for your local church leadership, or others striving to make a difference in the world. Pray that the Lord would keep them humble, and that He would keep them from temptation and the power of Satan. Pray.

Trust in the sovereignty of God

Truly, we should realize that the events of the day have not caught the Lord by surprise. God was not wringing His hands when the news of the latest trial appeared on the Internet. No, our God is sovereign and His plan is perfect.

We may not understand His ways, but we can trust that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. That even includes our fallen heroes, if they are those who have given themselves to Jesus.

So, we can trust that these dark days will be used of the Lord to bring about a furtherance of His will, His plan, and His Kingdom. Hope in Him, lean on Him, seek His face.

Let us not waste such events in worry or in anger. Let us yet again place our trust in the Lord rather than in princes. Let us go to Him in prayer, and let us remember the grace of the Lord, and His mercy and forgiveness, that is available to any sinner who truly repents.

James M. McDonald, V serves as an elder at Providence Church, Morton, IL. He is a less than perfect man who strives to teach other less than perfect people about the mercy he has received from the only Perfect Man. 

18 comments

  1. Jeannie Fulbright /

    Beautifully said, James. Thank you for posting this.
    Warmly,
    Jeannie

  2. Beautifully said. A balm to a hurting heart today, (((Thank you)))

  3. Heather /

    Thank you for this loving response and the encouraging words. God bless all who are in leadership and may He protect the saints!

  4. Sharon /

    Unfortunately, no where in this response is there a clear statement that the church should respond directly and forcibly to rape and abuse. Should we pray for both the abuser and his/her victims? Yes, of course. But we should also institute background checks, help with counseling for abuse survivors, and make sure that abuse victims and their families receive the support they need. Too often, the church has made excuses for abusers, demanding that they be forgiven, and essentially re-victimizing the abused.

  5. James McDonald /

    Sharon, thanks for taking the time to read this article. However, it seems you misread the purpose. This is not an article giving directions to church authorities on dealing with a rapist or an abuser, this is an article for Christians who have put men on pedestals. For the record, I do believe the commands of Scripture tell the church to care for and protect widows and orphans, which includes supporting and delivering the hurting. Yes, in some cases, this would include background checks, counseling, and support. But that is not the focus of this article.

    May the Lord richly bless you,

    Rev. James McDonald

  6. Good and timely, and appropriate that names were left out.

  7. Michael Aprile /

    For what it is worth, I totally agree with this article that James McDonald wrote on several levels. I try to remember that “all of us struggle with temptation; the Bible says this is common to man.” I also recall what Jesus said to a bunch of men with stones in their hands.

  8. Kristen /

    James, we so appreciate your beautiful and loving response. Thank you so very much.

  9. Emily S. /

    THank you Pastor McDonald… So blessed by this.

  10. Amber Cook /

    Thoughtful, biblical, and edifying response. Thank you James. We still miss your sweet family in a Texas! Love and hugs to all of you from all the Cooks!

  11. Maellen /

    Agreed! Thank you for this article.

  12. Jeff Swanson /

    Thanks brother, that was well said and helpful during this sad time. Let us indeed pray for this dear brother and his family and all who were imediately affected by this sin.

  13. well said james…very sad. Lord have mercy on us all.

  14. Steve B /

    Thank you. We needed this to help us put it all in perspective. You are correct: its idolatry to allow any man to occupy too much space in our hearts, or give one too much allegiance. We were not “guilty” of that, but it still is very hard to see a good/godly man veer off the path, and his family deeply hurt. A man and family we respect and love. It does again remind us of our frailty and need for accountability. May God grant full repentance and full restoration within the family.

  15. This is disappointing at the very least. But, We should have no Hero save Jesus Christ and stop putting confidence in the arms of flesh. Recognize that it is the grace of God that we all are not consumed. Lets watch and pray that we not enter into temptation….. lets also remember that he that sows to his flesh shall of his flesh reap corruption. When he that thinks he stands let him take heed lest he should fall. and remember our adversary is seeking whom he may devour. Trust in Christ and rely totally on him. walk not after the flesh.
    Pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;Eph 6:18 KJV

  16. Thank you for writing this, so graciously and yet without overlooking the severity of the sin. My heart aches for their family, and all the more as I see what others have said to add sorrow upon sorrow. May we seek God’s face, His glory, and unity of the Spirit in His Bride.

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