It is nothing new to hear about the fall of a well-known Christian leader. The recent reports which confirmed Ravi Zacharias’ sexual misconduct were simply the latest.
Over the past few days, other leaders were quick to wash their hands of any connection to Zacharias. Lee Strobel tweeted: “The report on sexual sins by Ravi Zacharias is horrific. He deceived so many. My heart goes out to his victims. Ravi was among those I interviewed 20 yrs ago for The Case for Faith. My publisher and I decided to halt printings of the book, and I am working on a revised edition.”
My actions were similar. I deleted a blog post which chronicled the time I met Mr. Zacharias and included a few short reflections. I also removed the books in our church library authored by him.
However, as I reflected on my behavior and that of others, I wondered if there was a better way to respond? Yes, I won’t be recommending any books by Zacharias to my parishioners, but this situation does call for reflection and wisdom.
Celebrate God’s Gifting
A few years ago, I read Zachariah’s autobiography Walking from East to West. It is the fascinating life-story of a man that was clearly used of God. In the early days of his ministry, Zacharias was more of an evangelist than apologist. He travelled all over preaching the gospel. He also served as a college and seminary professor and eventually in the mid-1980’s he founded his apologetics ministry. Only God knows the fruit of his ministry.
The name Ravi Zacharias will forever be tarnished, but I would argue that you can still read a book by Ravi Zacharias and profit from it. You can still listen to one of his lectures and learn. And we can still acknowledge that this man was uniquely gifted and used by God.
Be Careful in Condemning
Let me be clear. The actions of Ravi Zacharias were appalling and duplicitous. He deceived many people. He hurt many people. He has caused “the way of truth to be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:2). In no way am I trying to defend or justify his behavior. His sin was great, but let’s be careful that we don’t sin as we respond to this situation. It is easy to castigate and slander a fallen leader whose sins are so obvious that even the world chastizes them.
King David was an example of a Christian leader who sinned greatly. You can’t help but be shocked by the sin and the lengths to which he resorted in order to cover the sin. The redeeming element in the story of David was that his repentance was also great (Psalm 51).
Tragically, there will be no public repentance for Ravi Zacharias.
The Need for Public Confession
It was back in 2017 that the first allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against Mr. Zacharias. This resulted in a settlement and an NDA with Lori Anne Thompson. Imagine for a moment if the narrative was different. Imagine if Ravi Zacharias owned up to his sin against this woman and against the countless other women he preyed upon. No doubt it would have been a story. Perhaps even the mainstream media would have picked it up, but we can all agree the story would have been miniscule compared to what has transpired over the last few months.
In 2010, John Piper took an 8 month leave of absence from his pastoral duties at Bethlehem Baptist Church. As Piper explained: “I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit…….I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me.”
When I first heard this, I was impressed. Although Piper didn’t go into detail, it was clear there was nothing blatantly sinful in his life. And yet, Piper recognized the danger and took steps to confess and “make war” with his sins. This serves as a wonderful model for those of us in Christian leadership. Rather than hiding and creating schemes to cover sin, we should be quick to acknowledge sin (Psalm 32:5) and fight it with all of our power and through God’s rescuing grace.
We all need accountability, and as a pastor I am grateful to God for fellow elders and the support they provide. Having a plurality of elders can help guard against the tendency towards isolation and the construction of unhealthy structures that only serve to perpetuate sin.
The Inestimable Value of Character
The Bible says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). It is easy to say, “I would never do what he did.” And to some extent, that is true. You don’t have an international ministry and tens of thousands of dollars at your disposal. You are, however, vulnerable to temptation just like everyone else (Matthew 6:13). Satan knows all your weak spots. Christian leaders must be vigilant in their pursuit and sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8) and personal holiness (1 Peter 1:16).
I just finished preaching through 1 Timothy. In working through this epistle, you can’t help but notice the premium that Paul places on character. Perhaps the letter is best summarized in 4:16. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Doctrine is critically important. But character is equally important. Heaven will prove that those with the most fruitful ministries were also those the most diligent in the pursuit of personal holiness.
My denomination, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, issued a recent statement which concludes by saying, “In recognition of this gross violation and its painful consequences to the victims and others who were impacted, the C&MA posthumously expels Mr. Zacharias from licensed ministry in our denomination. This comes with the automatic revocation of his ordination.”
For decades Zacharias had been credentialed through the C&MA. One must ask, however, is it really possible to expel someone who has already died? For those charged with the responsibility of ordaining men to the gospel ministry, we can only hope this will serve as a lesson. We should be much more vigilant on the front end of this process than we are on the back end. How many pastors today across all denominations and networks are biblically unqualified for ministry? The unfortunate answer is far too many.
As you respond to this tragic situation, and others that will no doubt follow, don’t be too quick to condemn. If you are going to point the finger, point it at yourself (Matthew 7:1-5, 2 Corinthians 13:5). Serving the Lord in the ministry of the gospel is the highest calling in the world. It is also the most dangerous (James 3:1, Hebrews 13:17). We should always approach our ministry calling with a tremendous sense of humility and God dependence.
Lastly, pray for Ravi’s family and associates. We can only imagine the pain and grief they are dealing with right now.