FallingThat Jesse Jackson had fathered a child with a mistress probably didn’t come as too much of a shock to an American public already overdosed on news of the moral failures of her public figures.

It surely didn’t come as a shock to God who, being all knowing, is the ultimate realist.

However, the fall of Jesse Jackson probably came as a shock to many in the Christian community who have to once again witness the Name of Christ compromised because of the public sin of a Christian leader.

How should we respond to Rev. Jackson’s fall?

I, for one, am reserving my judgements. Malaysia is a long way from Chicago and I don’t think it is right to pontificate from afar. I don’t have access to the facts firsthand to be able to make a judgement call. I leave Rev Jackson in the hands of God and the hands of the Christian community of which he is a member. Such matters are usually complex and I leave it to mature Christian leaders who know the situation firsthand to do what needs to be done.

Still, matters like these do raise afresh the question of what we should do to Christian leaders who have fallen.

Paul’s exhortations in Galatian 6:1,2 may give us some clues. They do not deal with Christian leaders specifically but they do give guidelines as to how to handle those who have strayed from God’s ways. There Paul writes:

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in that way you will fulfil the law of Christ. (NRSV)

The teachings in these two verses could be summarised in this way.

    1. When a brother or sister falls, our ultimate goal must be to restore him or her. We can not bypass confronting the person with the sin. Sin is horribly destructive. It destroys the sinner. It destroys others affected by the sin. It destroys ministries. It is an affront to God. Confession and genuine repentance must be exhibited. Restitution where appropriate must be carried out. Time is needed for the body of Christ to be clear that the repentance is indeed genuine. Yet, the ultimate goal is restorative,’to restore to a former good state'(Richard Longenecker), not punitive.
  • Such a restorative process must be done in a spirit of gentleness. Lets be absolutely clear that gentleness is not weakness. Those who have to oversee any process of restorative discipline cannot be weak. There are hardened sinners out there who are highly skilled in playing mind games with anyone who tries to confront them with their sin. Nevertheless, the ministry of restoration must be carried out without any arrogant or self assertive spirit.
  • It presupposes that those who are overseeing the restorative process are people who have received the Spirit, literally ‘ those who are spiritual’. Earlier in Galatians,Paul had already outlined the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. While none of us live up to these virtues perfectly, they remain the benchmark for mature churches, mature believers and those in Christian leadership who have the responsibility for restoring errant believers.
  • In seeking to restore the fallen we must be fully aware of our own spiritual weaknesses and our own spiritual vulnerability. Again, Longenecker is helpful here when he writes:

    “The third part of v1 is a warning to those who attempt to restore an erring fellow believer that they are not to be self righteous in their attitudes but are to recognise their own vulnerability to those same moral failings that they seek to correct.”

  • The normal Christian life is one that is marked by ongoing mutual concern where we help each other with the real struggles of our lives. Often the level of community in our churches is very poor. If a brother falls then shouldn’t such churches share some of the blame? Yet, often, when a brother falls, his failure is the only failure highlighted. No one stops to ask if his church was one where the people genuinely bore one anothers’ burdens.

God is a realist. Verses like Galatians 6:1,2 are there because God knows that as much as it breaks His heart, there will be occasions when His people and His leaders will fail Him big time.

That is why He has provided us with guidelines as to what we should do when a believer falls. When a brother or sister falls, we are to seek his or her restoration. We must deal with the sin, but we must seek to restore the fallen.

Unfortunately, many churches do not know what to do in situations like these so they remain aloof when someone falls and consign the fallen to a virtual hell on earth. Some groups and churches have worked out clear disciplinary procedures. Few have worked out procedures for discipline AND restoration.

I guess it is easier to throw stones than to help rebuild a life.