Lessons from a Fallen Leader

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:11 NLT

“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James 3:1 NLT

Reading the report on Ravi Zacharias produced a plethora of emotions. Shock, anger, sadness, and even feelings of betrayal that such an internationally famous leader would and could deceive us. At first I did not want to read the news articles because I thought that they would merely be gossip. Additionally it did not seem right to pile on a man who was dead and who therefore could not defend himself. But when I saw respected writers weigh in on this topic I felt a need to learn the facts…and the facts were very, very ugly. You can learn the story at https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/rzimmedia.rzim.org/assets/downloads/Report-of-Investigation.pdf

The point of this reflection is not to chronicle Ravi’s sins but to offer lessons that can be learned from this tragic story. However it seems necessary first to make some clarifications. As the Scriptures quoted above point out, it is not only allowed but the duty of the Church to expose leaders who engage in deeds of darkness. If Paul could publically call out Peter for his hypocrisy[1]then bringing Ravi’s grievous sins into the light is more than appropriate. Additionally it strengthens the Church when sin is exposed because it acts as a cautionary tale. St. Paul wrote, “Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid.”[2]

It also needs to be pointed out that the weight and consequences of Ravi’s sins are so egregious that it would be a sin to hide them. Consider his victims. Some may wrongfully believe that all sin is equal in God’s eyes and therefore all sins should be covered by Jesus’ statement “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”[3]But Scripture refutes such a notion. First, not all sins are equal. St. John wrote, “All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death.”[4]If you think that swearing and murder are equal sins then you still have some work to do on your ethical standards. Second, if the sins of others should universally be covered, because each of us is a sinner, then St. Paul’s call to publicly rebuke sin would be in direct contradiction of Jesus’ teaching. A more thoughtful application of Jesus’ words is called upon.

So after learning the ugly truth about Ravi what can the Church learn? How can this darkness help us to walk in the light?

  1. Walk in the fear of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”[5]God’s holiness and God’s mercy are equal attributes and we become dangerously imbalanced if we do not hold both before us. If we only speak of God’s mercy then He becomes a lenient grandfather who winks at our sin. If we only hold to God’s holiness that we become “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”[6]But when we have both views of God before us we see Him as “Judge of all men”[7]whose “property is always to have mercy.”[8]Because He is holy we flee from sin and because He is merciful we come home like the prodigal when we do sin. The fear of the Lord has us turn the other way when temptation approaches us and the mercy of God has us run into His arms.
  2. Walk in the love of God. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”[9]
    We love Him because He first loved us[10]and it is because we love Him that we keep our promises to Him. When I was a child it was the love of my parents, even more that the fear of them that motivated me to obey. The greatest dread was not punishment but rather the dread of disappointing them. Thus obedience and a healthy desire to please are fruits of love.
  3. Walk in humility. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”[11]The Message says it best. “First pride, then the crash— the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.” One sign of Ravi’s pride was that he was not submitted to a local church. It is pride to think that we do not need one another or that we have outgrown the local church. CS Lewis said, “ If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church…It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”[12]The second sign of Ravi’s pride was that he had little to no accountability. According to the report, he surrounded himself with underlings and “yes” men who were awed by his intellect and fame and trembled before his anger. 
  4. Walk in truth. “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”[13]One of the ways that God’s truth keeps us from sin is that it gives us true perspectives about life. It tells us who God is and who we are and so we order our lives accordingly. Ravi’s view of himself had become so distorted that he justified being a sexual predator because of his supposed faithfulness to the Gospel. He clearly was not walking in the truth about either himself or of God. A key truth about ourselves that the Scriptures teach is our utter dependence upon Him. He is the Potter and we are the clay.[14]He is the Shepherd and we are the sheep.[15]He is Eternal and we are like flowers that fade away.[16]He is the Creator and He is mindful that we are but dust.[17]This biblical perspective acts as an important reality check no matter what measure of fame or success we may achieve. So instead of being deceived like Ravi, that we have earned some special privilege, we remember Jesus words of truth, “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’”[18]

When Christian leaders fall it can be a temptation to become cynical and withdraw. While this is an understandable reaction it is also an immature one. A mature biblical understanding has us prepared for the inevitable without becoming cynical. It should be of no surprise to us when leaders fall because we live in a fallen world. And that is why our ultimate faith must be in the Good Shepherd and not in His under shepherds whose feet are clay. It is also important to be reminded from Holy Scripture that we can forgive the unforgivable of our fallen leaders who repent because the Lord has forgiven the unforgivable in each of us when we too have repented. 

[1]Galatians 2:11-21

[2]I Timothy 5:20

[3]John 8:7

[4]I John 5:17 NLT

[5]Proverbs 9:10

[6]Puritan Sermon, Jonathan Edwards, 1741

[7]1928 Book of Common Prayer p75

[8]1928 Book of Common Prayer p82

[9]John 14:15

[10]I John 4:19

[11]Proverbs 16:18 NASB

[12]God in the Dock

[13]Psalm 86:11 ESV

[14]Isaiah 64:8

[15]Psalm 23

[16]I Peter 1:24

[17]Psalm 103:14

[18]Luke 17:10

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