Earlier this month a famous Canadian megachurch pastor resigned after it was revealed, through a three-month independent investigation, that ten years ago and for a number of years he had been having sexual relations with a woman under his pastoral care. The victim, maintaining anonymity and self-identifying as “Hagar,” shared her story with another of the church’s pastors (a professing social justice warrior and victim’s rights advocate); she in turn promptly reported to church leadership, thus bringing to light this whole wretched business. This other pastor is further stirring up the situation, claiming that the church has silenced the victim, asserting that the biblical Hagar was also victimized by patriarchal abuse. The devastation is already reverberating throughout their denomination as well as the greater evangelical world. One of their mighty has fallen.
As a member of this denomination for several years I remember well the conference where this man exploded upon the scene, becoming a veritable rock star in short order. After having joined the mainly conservative Anabaptist church over two decades ago, he was soon to become the face of the franchise, growing his congregation to 5000, with 20 satellite churches throughout the province. His appeal was manifold; a gifted and compelling orator, he presented a Jesus much less religious and much more relational. His website touts “Jesusy thoughts for seekers, saints and sinners.”
More to the point, his mantra in the early years of this ministry was “God hates religion,” a continuing sentiment which back then was the first thing to jump off their homepage. (At the time I remember musing, “I don’t know if God hates religion, but I sure know you do.”) Such brazenness and boldness held much allure for those wounded and alienated by negative church experiences. Jesus’ own contentions with the religious leaders of His day were always heavily leaned upon as proof positive of the scourge of religion. Bad religion is toxic.
A frequent guest speaker, he was both edgy and irreverent, even sporting a tattoo with the Scripture verse Leviticus 19:28 (“You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead, nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD”). Humour, often caustic, was woven into his routine, as was mocking the Christian establishment. This impiety won him many followers likewise disaffected by that dysfunctional entity called the Church. He authored two books, one of which especially emphasized his conviction that Jesus brought “the end of religion” (even while failing to differentiate between bad religion and true religion; James 1:27). Entertaining and controversial, he revelled in the toppling of sacred cows.
With respect to Scripture, one of his well-known maxims was ‘the Bible is not our final authority: Jesus is.’ Whilst potentially giving a pass to the lazy and biblically illiterate, this is a confusing statement–and God is not the author of confusion. Where do we learn about Jesus, but in the pages of holy writ? Jesus certainly treated the Bible as authoritative. So why the false dichotomy? Does such compartmentalization mean that we can veto Scripture if, in our private interpretation, we don’t think (or rather, feel) Jesus would say this or be like that, irregardless of the text? As for those who argued for sound doctrine or challenged such convoluted thinking, they were generally dismissed as ‘Pharisees.’
A more concerning departure from historic Christian orthodoxy is his rejection of ‘penal substitutionary atonement,’ erroneously attributed to Calvin but rooted in the Old Testament sacrificial system (Messiah bore the punishment for our sins, taking our place on the cross, shedding His blood as a remission for sin, satisfying the wrath of a righteous God thus fulfilling the Law). The pastor, in concord with a number of contemporary theologians, abhors this doctrine, deeming it akin to cosmic child abuse. We should be leery of teachers who espouse and promote ‘unique opinion’ over and above the faith that was once for all time delivered to the saints.
Per the philosopher Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message; indeed, the pastor reinvented this denomination in Canada while reinvigorating several other scuffling churches. In actuality–and despite the church’s protestations that ‘we follow God and not a man’–this movement had grown into a personality cult. This man, his image and influence, was the primary reason so many had joined his church, and he was their hero, their champion, and they his loyal sycophants. The fact that major newspapers both Canadian and American covered the story of his downfall speaks to how popular and beloved he had become.
Concerning the sin which cost him his vocation (his credentials having been removed), God only knows what really happened. Whatever the case, he is responsible, abusing his power and betraying his office, his church, his family. There can be no doubt that the minister of God, particularly in high profile environments, is a prime target for Satan, who can exploit something like this for years, inflicting untold collateral damage.
The pastor’s confession, released after his resignation, appears to be sincere; he admits to having repented, but not confessed. Or is it just because he was finally caught? Time will tell. (Update: two more women have come just forward bringing similar allegations against him.)
Through the dark season which lies ahead, may he come to know the Lord in a genuine manner, out of the spotlight and away from the selfies, in the secret and the quiet place. May he, his family, and Hagar come to know the grace and healing that come through the finished work of Calvary. Above all, may he learn to fear God, especially now, as he personally experiences the consequence and horror of sin, so much more terrible than any of us dare imagine, from which only the sacrificial atoning death of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, can save and redeem us. Lord have mercy!
His former church too has a reckoning. He had taken them to great heights, but now he has come crashing down like Icarus. Besides the stages of grief which these congregants must process in the aftermath, will they as well acknowledge that their brand, ‘a church for people who aren’t into church,’ was built mainly around this one man? That aberrant teaching brings with it built-in, self-destructive mechanisms? “Therefore let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall.”
Jesus Christ is definitely into His Church! In God’s infinite wisdom and grace, may He use this scandal to awaken those who love Him, that they will see through heterodox teachings which can never be benign, and will earnestly seek solid, Holy Spirit-anointed Bible teaching and fellowship.
The show is over. Let each us in humility and the fear of the Lord learn from this tragic and cautionary tale.