Sunday, November 3, 2013

Falling Forward: Lessons I Hope My Children Learn from the Vision Forum Sadness

Every Christian falls. But falling from ground level, I think we can all agree, is much less painful and dramatic than falling from a pedestal. Falling from ground level sometimes barely makes a sound. It doesn't crash, it doesn't boom, it doesn't reverberate through the community of believers, it doesn't usually require a letter of explanation and repentance. But falling from a height of relative fame, 'leadership' we would call it in the Church, that kind of fall is the kind that attracts attention.

This past week, believers were saddened to discover that the president of Vision Forum Ministries, Doug Phillips, has taken a fall. He did something very, very wrong. Phillips, in his own words, "engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not 'know' each other in a biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate." And the sadness in these circles, the shock, the hand over your mouth in stunned silence, is palpable.

In my own home, my 13-year-old is recently returned from a conference on fatherhood from which he came back all fired up and ready to be a Man of God, a conference where Doug Phillips was one of the keynotes. I don't know how to break this news to him, or even if we should.

Phillips did something very, very wrong. But, oh, he did something very, very right. And that, my children, is where I want you to place your focus as we all navigate through this tragedy.

It was just a few blogposts back where I was examining my own heart, wondering how I would react if one of my children came to me and confessed a same-sex attraction. And I was hoping that I would have such a grasp of the gospel that I would react with less shock and more Truth, that I would acknowledge the power of sin, the strength of the flesh, the saving grace of the blood of the Lamb to redeem and restore.

I admit that upon hearing the news, my first reaction was shock. But I submit to you that this was the wrong reaction. Are leaders immune to sin? Do teachers not also struggle with what they teach? Is there a level of Zen-like imperviousness to sin this side of Heaven? No. No. And no.

My children, do not be shocked when someone you admire sins. Rather, remind yourself that there is none righteous, that all fall short of the glory of God. Keep moral failure in perspective. Moral failure does not prove the Gospel wrong; it proves the Gospel right.

And learn a lesson from Mr. Phillips...
because he did do some things right.

"I have confessed my sin to my wife and family, my local church, and the Board of Vision Forum Ministries."
This was an affair of the heart. He did not have sexual relations with her. In other words, no one need ever have known. He could have rationalized that he could handle it himself. Or that it wasn't really adultery because there wasn't really sex. But he didn't. He confessed.

Lesson One: Be one with your spouse. Be transparent. Confess your faults and your weaknesses. A chord of three strands is not easily broken, and a marriage with the Holy Spirit as a third strand will withstand some fire. Mr. Phillips was right to confess to his wife and family.

Lesson Two: Be inspectable with your shepherds. There is a heretical definition of the Church floating around out there: that wherever two or more believers are gathered, that is Church. Stuff and nonsense. To be a church, there must be elders, there must be the preaching of God's Word, and there must be discipline. There must be discipline for just such times as these...
that when a sheep goes astray, the shepherds will go after him, will bring him back to the fold, will nurse him back to health, will break his legs if he tries to wander too far. Church discipline is not a 'bad dog' scolding. Rather, it is a nurturing, and its final goal is restoration. In confessing to his local church, Mr. Phillips was inspectable. He did what a good sheep does. And there is much hope for healing and restoration because of it.

My children, do not fall prey to the heresy that says you don't need a local body, that you don't need to be under authority, that having dinner with friends is church. IT.IS.NOT. Submit yourself to be inspectable and check yourself if you leave a local body because it stopped tickling your fancy. "Stop dating the Church," as author Josh Harris admonishes. Stay put. It's for your good. And staying put will be for the good of Mr. Phillips and his family. Just wait and see.

"There are no words to describe the magnitude of shame that I feel, or grief from the injury I caused my beloved bride and children..."
While Dad was teaching from Proverbs last week, he looked up 'humility' in the dictionary. Did you know that according to Webster's 1828 Dictionary,  'humility' is a derivative of humus? Humus is Latin for 'earth.' I found that enlightening. True humility, I think then, is a picture of us on the ground, acknowledging before God and others, our low state. True humility is signified by shame and grief over our own sin.

Lesson Three: Grieve over your sin. Reflect that there is really no such thing as 'private sin' and that my sin infects the whole Body, especially those closest to me. Don't be defensive regarding your sin; be repentant. Grief, repentance, humility--this is the recipe for restoration.

"I need to lead a quiet life focusing on my family and serving as a foot-soldier."
Yes. There are times to lead the charge for godly causes...and there are times to circle the wagons to protect those entrusted to our care--most especially if we have inflicted damage. There is nothing more disconcerting than watching a fallen leader who refuses to give up his position. But we are not called to lives of prestige; we are called to lives of faithfulness. And sometimes faithfulness is just mundane and daily and ordinary and one foot in front of the other.

Lesson Four: My children, when our ambition places us in a proud or precarious place, we would do well to remind ourselves that it should be our ambition to lead a quiet life. Our ambition. Our aim. Our goal. A quiet, ordinary kind of life is most often the way God can use us. And a quiet, ordinary kind of life is the best restorative for a sheep who has taken a fall. A quiet, ordinary kind of life is not a punishment; it is a therapy, one prescribed by our Great Physician. We would do well to follow doctor's orders.

This sadness over at Vision Forum is actually an excellent picture of the Gospel. It's what the Gospel looks like when it is pressed into the fabric of our daily lives. Sin is part of our daily lives. Much of it is ordinary. And much of the time, I don't think we're even aware of just how far short we fall from God's standard.  But when we're made aware of sin in our lives, let's remember with forgiven slave trader John Newton that, "I am a great sinner; Christ is a great Savior." Let's run to the Cross and take refuge there. Let's remind ourselves that this is what the Cross, what the Gospel, is all about--restoring us because we fail and we fall. And we all need that restoration.

Mr. Phillips fell. That was wrong.
But he fell on Jesus. And that was right.
Daily, daily, daily we need the Cross and the Blood.
Never be surprised by that.
Fall forward.

Teach my song to rise to You,
When temptation comes my way.
When I cannot stand, I'll fall on You.
Jesus, You're my hope and stay.
I need You, Oh I need You.
Every hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness,
Oh God, how I need You. *

*(Lord, I Need You, 2011, by Christy Nockels, Daniel Carson, Jesse Reeves, Kristian Stanfill, Matt Maher)


  1. This is excellent! So well said. So well exegeted. So graciously written. Just beautiful. Thank you, Noel!

  2. Excellently put. I will have my older ones red this today, as this has been heavy on all of our hearts.

  3. Good article BUT I must ask how do you know, "This was an affair of the heart. He did not have sexual relations with her."

    He said himself that " While we did not “know” each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate."

    How do you take that to not mean he was engaged physically? He is saying 'we didn't go all the way, but....."

    I don't think we should lessen what has been done.

    1. I agree. We don't know that he didn't have any physical relations with her (for obviously there are plenty of things that can be done physically that are not all the way). The article is good in that it talks about how we shouldn't think too highly of leaders (in that we think they can't sin), but I don't think it's wrong to be shocked. For although we are sinners, the gospel is powerful and we need to be balanced, meaning moral failure of course doesn't prove the gospel wrong, but it doesn't prove it right either, in my opinion, at least from how I am taking that comment. I believe Doug Phillips and all of us in the body sin, but I don't think our moral failures prove the gospel right. The gospel is the good news and salvation, right? We need God's good news/the precious gospel when we sin, but our moral failure/sin doesn't prove it right. For we need to be balanced that his and our moral failures actually naturally confuse people. God wants us to live lives that make our message believable and although we should be gracious and commend those who confess (like Doug Phillips), we shouldn't lessen the fact that his moral failure/sin was not 'proving the gospel', it was contradictiong the gospel. Maybe it is better to say that Doug Phillip's sin was not proving the gospel, but his confessing it and forsaking it is in line with the gospel.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. Your reminders are a balm to hearts, an arrow pointing to Christ, and much appreciated.

  5. Thank you for your words, Noel. Very well said!

  6. My question is was he "caught" so had to make a public statement? They way Doug wrote it really makes me wonder. But yes you do have a point. Leaders are not perfect, and we should never make idols out of them.

    1. I wondered the same thing. Maybe we should more focus on the facts. He confessed, that's good. He sinned (not 'fell' by accident, but actually deliberately, intentionally chose to sin this sin) and since we know this for sure, we should be very sad. We should be glad he confessed and praise God for His grace. We should pray for him and his family. But we shouldn't assume that he freely confessed, for we don't know if he 'had to' otherwise it was going to come out anyway.

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  8. It does not matter if he was caught.. God knew the whole time. What matter is he is REPENTANT!

  9. All, please understand that I look to the 'patriarchy' movement with a healthy dose of caution/suspicion. But I also look to the Gospel as big enough and magnanimous enough to forgive even those who run in different Christian circles than I. We don't have all the facts on this case; I don't suspect any of us will be privy to those facts. We don't know how physical it got. Does it matter? Jesus said that even to look at a woman lustfully was to commit adultery with her. The deed is done. My point was that dallying on the edge as he did would be harder to 'catch.' And if he was caught, rather than coming clean on his own, do not his words at least convey repentance? And are we not charged, in light of 1 Cor. 13, to believe all things? That is my point. But rest. God is not mocked. His justice will be served. It's just not our job to do the serving. In the meantime, if there is genuine repentance here, then let's rejoice in that.

  10. I'm so sick of people throwing the word "heresy" around. I have no problem with the article except for saying the church has to be the way R.C. Sproul says it should be or else it's heresy. The word “church” is not technically found in the New Testament... It is ok to use the word as long as we truly understand its Biblical meaning. Thus, in Matt. 16:18 Jesus told Peter, I will build my ecclesia (called out ones) -- that is to say, He is calling out men and woman to be part of “the general assembly and church (ecclesia) of the firstborn, which are written in heaven” (Heb. 12:23) - not written on membership cards in local assemblies.

    Christ is the “Rock” of Peter’s confession, so anyone that is found in Him has also been ‘called out’ by Him and therefore belongs to this “general assembly...written in Heaven”.

    Yes, we are to be thankful “that God has given gifts unto men” (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc Eph. 4:8.); BUT Christ is THE Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) and “The Head of this assembly of called out ones” (Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Col. 1:18)... therefore, it is His Right, and His Alone, to determine, by the outworking of His Own Spirit, which of these “Gifts” will be given to whom, and how these ‘called out ones’ are to find their expression on earth and in local assemblies.

    Anyone that attempts to establish HOW that is supposed “to look” at a local level, then judges another for not sharing their view of “church life”, is presuming to be wiser than Jesus, and is seeking to usurp the authority and Lordship of Christ Himself as “Head of the Church”. If they claim to be abiding by Biblical standards, then they judge themselves -- for not having only ONE church per city (Church of Galatia, Church at Ephesus, etc.) -- or by deviating from the ‘Biblical pattern’ of Church life in the Book of Acts where we see that this ecclesia “sold their houses and lands and lay the proceeds at the feet of their under-shepherds (Apostles) for communal distribution of the wealth to all...” (Acts. 4:33-37) In fact, how can they say with any assurance that their Sunday School and Youth programs are in any way “Biblical” -- when nothing of this nature exists in the Scriptural record of the early Church...

    How much safer it is to simply, and humbly, encourage others to “not forsake the assembling together with believers” than it is to judge them by a so-called Biblical standard that not even they themselves come close to keeping...

    1. Let's say I'm convinced by your problem with 'heresy.' At the very least, a casual view of church in 'unorthodox' and 'modern'. How's that?

      Not sure why my statements regarding church means Dr. Sproul needs to get slammed on my account. Actually, I take my position on church, not from Dr. Sproul, as I am not familiar with what he teaches about this, but from Scripture.

      Church, like the smaller jurisdiction of family and the larger jurisdiction of State, has a governmental jurisdiction. Is Christ the head of man? Yes. Does that mean that man is not the governing head of his family? No. Is Christ the King of Kings? Yes. Does that mean State is not delegated with certain governing powers by God? No.

      Likewise, there is a governmental role delegated to Church, even though Jesus is the Chief Shepherd. Hebrews 13:17 invests a governing role in elders. What's more, he will hold the elders responsible for how well they shepherded. This is serious stuff. And there is the process of discipline laid out in Matthew 18. There is a role for the leaders there, too.

      Your comments over church reminds me of the Tim Hawkins quote, which is spot on: "Some people say,'I just love it there. No one judges me; I can be who I want to be.' You're at a bar."