Many of us who love the church would like to simply chalk the Ted Haggard's moral failings up to an individual incident of sin that any of us could fall into and move along to other discussions, but such an approach simply once again ignores the root causes which allow such problems to arise. Fellow evangelicals, there is something deeply wrong with the way we do church and practice our faith and this public incident provides us with a symbol upon which to reflect and discuss what is not working in popular evangelicalism.
Certainly, such discussion is not based on mountains of data but on one point of data. Certainly, none of us are intimate enough with Ted Haggard to observe closely the nuances of his history and his discipleship process that allowed him to lead a double life. BUT the incident and the content of his confession reveal some general principles that provide insight into the tragedyof being a sinner and an evangelical at the same time.
The content of Haggard's confession that I would like to focus on is as follows:
"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life," he said.
Alienation, Confession and Brokenness
As a pastor and a discipler, I have learned a very important phrase that I have to use with everyone at some time or another. In our discipleship method, we often say, “your problem is not unique”. Human beings have been covering up their nakedness for a long, long time. It is only in the safety of a gospel immersed people that a sinner can find the acceptance to tell his or her whole story. We do this in one on one relationships with some other totally broken idiot. I am sometimes privileged to be that broken idiot on the listening end.
The culture of Popular Evangelicalism is completely contrary to this level of open confession. In almost all instances people have to go outside the church to some special recovery program or to therapy to make a thorough and open confession. In other words, hearing good sermons, that happens in the church, but for discipleship, you need to go outside the church. For actual help with overcoming sin, we the church are almost totally lost. Something is desperately wrong here.
Magic or Method
The church offers two solutions that simply do not work. Both methods are more magic than method. In the Charismatic church, of which Haggard is a part, there is the Holy Spirit magic method. In these churches, you come forward for an alter call and a ministry worker lays hands on you and presto, problem solved. Of course, the problem is only solved until you go back to your seat when all your totally broken affections come rushing back in.
In the conservative churches, the method is exactly the same except you replace the Holy Spirit with the bible. Listen to a good message and have morning devotions and presto, problem solved. For total idiots like this sinner, that method led me to loneliness and debauchery not holiness and freedom.
We could discuss the entire system of beliefs and practices that maintain this magical approach. Let me just make a list
Individualism – the wrong headed belief that Christianity is the story of me and Jesus working out my salvation in fear and loathing. This American individualism only compounds the alienation and obsession that came to us in Adam. Individualism and its alienation and obsession is the problem so it cannot be the solution.
Celebrity and Spectator Church Services – The church as we practice in popular evangelicalism utilizes a system where one or two men climb up a social latter to success. The winner gets to be the face of the church. To be this face one better primp their entire life. Put your best foot forward. Don’t show anything other than controlled and calculated weakness. Polish you sermon. Polish your social skills. Polish your shoes. Don’t dress to up. Don’t dress too down. Play the part and study hard and you can be celebrated as a success. This works good unless of course you are an actual human being. In this system, there is no way to be totally honest with the people you are working out your faith with.
The Farce of Pastor to Pastor Accountability
In such situations, pastors go outside their immediate co-labors to make open confession. In other words, pastors cannot be honest with the people they are trying to disciple. Pastors have pastor to pastor accountability. Why?? Because it is too risky to be totally honest with the council and one’s co-workers. BUT IF DISCIPLESHIP IS BASED ON OPEN AND HONEST CONFESSION AND THE MODELING OF HONEST CONFESSION, THEN THE PASTOR, BY DEFINITION CANNOT MAKE DISCIPLES IN THE CHURCH IF HE GOES OUTSIDE HIS CORE STAFF TO MAKE OPEN DETAILED CONFESSION!!! My friends, the system is completely wrong headed. Unless pastors confess directly to the people the exact nature of their brokenness, they are discipling, there is no discipleship. Discipleship is modeling the process of over-coming sin through confession and repentance and the applying of the principles of death to self. My friend this is learned only when the student sees us do it before them. The foundation of this is rigorously honest confession. Detailed confession in gender specific discipleship relationships is step one to being a disciple-maker. If the pastors do not have these relationships with their staff they are not making disciples they are planning worship services and events.
Read on at your own risk!!!
Ok here goes…If a pastor has a penis obsession, he needs to say to his staff, “I have a penis obsession”. Have we never dealt with homosexuality before??? If we haven’t, we know nothing about human sexuality. Everyone has sexual problems. Everyone. There is no exception to the rule. Discipleship must deal in total honesty about sex. Piper says if a pastor doesn’t speak at least twice a year about sex from the pulpit, he is not a pastor but a professional. We are not professionals my friends. We are sinners who cling to grace and the power of the Holy Spirit in total brokenness. We live one day at a time by grace alone. We learn what our triggers are and we call our mentors when we are finding that we are losing our balance. Often this requires calling out ten times a day until the obsession goes away. The key is that our mentors confess that they have been through the same thing and they share their solutions. There is no condemnation when our faith communities are honest enough that everyone realizes that no problem is unique. Total honesty. Popular evangelicalism is the exact opposite of what the sinner needs to find peace and the Kingdom.
Do you really think that the red-faced alcoholic at your work is going to get healed and healthy at your church? He was molested as a child and has a masturbation obsession. Church as it plays out today makes real sinners feel more alienated not less. If he does get “saved” what will happen is, he will play the game; find his act to play; become a deacon and still be just as much of an emotional basket case as he ever was. We have all seen it and the world can see it too. We haven’t dealt with the real self-centered fear that comes from our human condition. Fellow evangelicals, “we travel the world to make one convert and when we find him we make him twice the son of hell that we are.” The system is not working!!!
A Process That Does Work
What does work is a process of totally rigorous confession and anaylsis of the nature of our sinfulness in the context of confessing relationship. Folks, are you desperate enough to do what ever it takes to find the kingdom. It is a narrow road paved with confession and honesty. Find a mentor who has what you want. This mentor must have been through a serious transformation process and understand confession.
I have mapped out this inventory process many times here at 21st Century Reformation. Trust me!! It works!!. Here is what happens. In almost every situation, where a person makes a thorough inventory and tells his story in every detail to God ad to another fellow traveler, he or she feels a connectedness to God and to another human being that he has never felt before. It is this connectedness that breaks the power of the loneliness and alienation that is at the heart of all our obsessions.
My friends is this the first principle and practice of your local church program. If not, I know one thing is for certain, your faith community might be doing church but you are not making disciples.