It is becoming increasingly common these days for a minister, a pastor of a church, to be caught in some kind of sexual sin. I recently read that upwards of 30% of church pastors have committed adultery or some cognate sin at some time in their pastorate. I don’t know why I should have been surprised at that. Our society is so sexually overcharged, and a minister is at once in a vulnerable and powerful position to either be taken advantage of or to take advantage. What is a little surprising is that increasing numbers of these men are being retained in their positions even after the discovery of a sexual dalliance.
When this happens, there is usually confession and forgiveness by the whole church. I presume the fact that a man has fallen off the fidelity wagon once need not destroy a lifetime career of an otherwise effective pastor and preacher. I am not so sure what churches do the second time he falls off the wagon. Or the third. How many times can a church forgive a wayward pastor and have the forgiveness mean anything?
There was a day when Peter came to Jesus and asked the question:
Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus’ answer places a pretty big burden on us all:
Oh no, Peter, I wouldn’t say seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). But I can’t see a church retaining a pastor who keeps repeating his sins. Sooner or later, he will fired. Probably sooner—especially in this day of the instant lawsuit. Is a church that fires its minister being unforgiving? The problem with forgiveness is that the word has a rather broad range of meanings. Let’s examine some of them.