When Spiritual Leaders Fail

Recently there have been a series of high-profile Christian leaders who have walked away from the Church or were involved in scandals.  Understandably, this has shaken many Christians; especially those with a connection to these leaders.  It has also been used by atheist and critics in an attempt to attack the truth of Christianity.  Both positions are erroneous.  This post will address both issues and explain why Christians shouldn’t question their faith and critics shouldn’t be too eager to try to capitalize on these events.

Logical Argument of the Critic

We can take critics claims that moral failures of Christian leaders show that Christianity is false and put them in the form of a syllogism (a formal logical argument).  It would go something like this:

Premise A. – Christianity says you shouldn’t sin,

Premise B. – Christians sin,

Conclusion – Therefore, Christianity is false.

Premise B is undoubtedly true.  It’s kind of the reason we need a Savior.  While the critic may try to use this argument because he thinks he has something on the Christian, the Christians willingly concede the point.  (It’s also how we can begin to turn the conversation to sharing the Gospel)

Premise A is only partially true.  It is true in the sense that Christians are told not to sin and repent from past sins.  However, Christianity also acknowledges that we all sin, even after we accept Christ as our savior.  Although Premise B is true, the conclusion can’t be proved true because Premise A is not a complete understanding of Christianity. 

Even if this were a true understanding the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises.  All Christians sin, but it doesn’t necessarily invalidate the teachings of Christianity.  In order to make this argument valid, one would have to prove that Christianity, if true, prevents someone from sinning.

Imperfect Practitioners

This critique is often expressed by saying “That’s why I’m not a Christian, it’s just a bunch of hypocrites” or “Church is just a bunch of hypocrites.”  My answer is usually “You’re right.  You should join us; we always have room for one more.”  For the critic, trying to use these events to refute Christianity presents a few problems.

We are all imperfect, fallen human beings; even our atheist friends.  The only way an atheist can claim that they haven’t “sinned” is to deny sin.  This then puts them in the position of denying objective truth, which we discussed in a previous post (see The Truth about The Truth). 

None of us can perfectly live out our worldview, including atheists.  There are times we are greedy, dishonest or even selfless (a negative attribute for Ayn Rand objectivism).  The critics must remember that a failure of someone to live up to the standard of a philosophy doesn’t invalidate the philosophy itself.  It simply means they aren’t perfect.

For example, the fact that people speed does not mean that everyone speeds or that there are no speeding laws; it simply doesn’t follow.  Even someone that supports speeding laws may speed from time to time; the laws they believe in are still valid.

Failures are Proof for Christianity

Strange as it may sound at first, the failure of a Christian leader actually proves the claims of Christianity. Christianity says we are all fallen and we can’t fix it on our own.  We are all in need of a savior (Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:9); from the lowest of sinners to the highest of saints.  This is why God sent His Son to redeem us to Himself.

Jesus said it much more eloquently in Mark 2:17, “And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’“  It should also be a cautionary tale for us to not put Christian leaders on a pedestal.  Doing so feeds pride in the individual and shifts our focus away from the teachings of Jesus toward the teachings of man.

This doesn’t excuse a leader when he or she sins or walks away.  It is regrettable, but understandable in light of Christian teachings.  The other part of Christian teachings in these cases is there is always forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ.

Leaders’ Failures and Motives Don’t Invalidate the Truth

We shouldn’t condone any immoral actions of leaders.  They, of all people, should know better.  Teachers will also be “judged with greater strictness” according to James 3:1. Nevertheless, their bad deeds don’t, by necessity, change the truth of their message. 

The Apostle Paul recognized this in Philippians 1.  There were people in the area of Philippi that were teaching the Gospel for selfish reasons.  He says, “The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:17-18).

Put another way; just because someone is a criminal doesn’t mean they can’t testify truthfully.  We may require further verification, but the truth remains.

This obviously isn’t the ideal situation, and not one we should encourage.  The downside of these circumstances is that it discourages Christians and encourages critics.  But as the old saying goes, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”  We shouldn’t reject a worldview that teaches salvation from our sins and to love our neighbors as our self just because we can’t fully live up to the standard of a perfect savior.  As someone once said: “You can’t judge a religion, by its heretics.

If you have any questions or comments post them here or contact us at sheepdogapologetics@outlook.com.

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