Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ecclesiology and Ted Haggard...

Some of you may have heard about (or have seen) the new documentary on HBO about Ted Haggard's life, post-scandal. Regardless of what one thinks about Haggard, this event has led to some interesting responses. One recent editorial on Christianity Today's website featured a former church member at Haggard's former church. In the article, he made the following comments:

"Church members mourned the loss of their beloved pastor and forgave him; many sent him personal messages to that end; many hoped for an eventual reconciliation. But the overseers of New Life Church — four pastors from other churches — asked Haggard to sign a contract agreeing to keep quiet and leave Colorado in exchange for a generous parachute: a year's severance for Haggard and his wife, a vehicle, counseling expenses, and moving expenses. Haggard took the deal.

Many at New Life Church grieved over the decision to ask the Haggards to leave the state. But the overseers forced his hand for a very good reason: The church community needed a chance to pay the debts of Haggard's mistakes. We needed to deal with the consequences of his actions. He had been our spiritual authority for years, and his duplicity twisted and tangled the church. We needed a season of strict separation from the man who had been a dominant force in our lives."

A few thoughts in response to this: What does it say about a church when the pastor becomes a "dominant force?" I suggest that such a paradigm is hugely problematic and fundamentally anti-Christian. Why? Because it, knowingly or not, slowly replaces God with a person who is able to represent God to us - and it is not an accurate representation. In other words, churches who allow their pastors to become dominant forces are creating an idol.

Of course, this often happens quite naturally, because we all look for another who can serve as an example to us... here I agree with some of Girard's anthropological theories... but the problem is that no other person can fulfill that which we are looking for - a source of real meaning. As Christians, we are just as guilty of this idolatry as anyone else, but we easily forget this and defend our idolatry because of the pragmatic results seen in our ministries, which we interpret as "fruit" or "God's Spirit" blessing us.

Don't misunderstand (and this is something I'm struggling with at the church I attend!): God certainly can and does bless churches in/by growing them. A big church is not necessarily evil -- BUT, it does create many more opportunities for idolatry, and learning to deal with this idolatry will, I think, become more and more necessary as we keep moving into this era of "megachurches" and "satellite campuses."

This doesn't excuse Ted Haggard's sin; that isn't the point. The point is that many of the problems created by situations like Haggard's are not solely the fault of the pastor, they are our fault as well. We (the typical "average" Christian) have a responsibility to each other, and that includes the people we look up to. We do them a dis-service every time we distance them from ourselves.

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