When information from an anonymous blogger went public last Sunday that Tullian stepped down from his pastorate at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church because of an extra-marital affair, my heart was saddened. I don't know any details of Tullian's sin, but there's enough information out there to know that the decision to step down was wise and necessary..
The moment I heard Tullian stepped down as pastor I began following Tullian on Twitter.
Here's the first tweet from Tullian I saw:
Amen. Tullian. What you've said is gospel truth,
Then, 24 hours later, I read Tullian's second tweet since his sin became public.
Again, amen, Tullian. This gospel truth is sometimes difficult to understand for people who've always equated horizontal consequences with vertical favor. We both know that a believer in Christ has had his sin nailed to the cross, and God's condemnation is borne by Christ. However, since our sins occur in time, the horizontal (human) consequences that result from our sin are often painful. Surrender early indeed. The muscle of self-discipline grows weary quickly, so it's better to avoid temptation than to fight it after it's risen. And we all succumb to temptation and sin -- even as believers in Christ. You are so on target about horizontal consequences being different from vertical consequences.
Then, Tullian tweets a few hours later.
Grace would only be grace if we were undeserving. Otherwise, God's favor would be merited and couldn't be called grace. God feeds off the bottom of humanity. "Not many self-righteous are called...."
But, alas, Tullian tweeted a final tweet this past Tuesday, less than 48 hours after his resignation, It is this tweet that has caused me some turmoil.
Tullian, I don't know if you are reading this post or not, but I'd like to share with you a conversation my wife and I had the other night about your "fade to black" tweet. We both believe your desire to fade into the background is the result of the criticism you received for your statement to the Washington Post regarding your wife, as well as the public humiliation your sin has brought to you.
The other night I couldn't sleep. My wife sensed it, and she questioned me.
"What's bothering you Wade?"
"Tullian Tchividjian" I replied.
"His statement, 'I'm so sorry. I love you all...fade to black..'"
"Why is that bothering you?"
"Because the message of grace is too powerful in and of itself, regardless of the failure of the messenger. Tullian has preached grace powerfully, but his statement 'fade to black" indicates to me he struggles understanding the difference between the message and the messenger."
"What do you mean?"
"Grace is for sinners. Tullian, like all of us, is a sinner. The message hasn't changed, so why "fade to black?"
"Because he's failed Wade. He's violated his covenant with his wife. He's an adulterer. He's disqualified as a pastor."
"I don't disagree. That's not what's bothering me. It's the message "Fade to black..." Why "fade to black"? Right now the message of grace is needed more than ever. Tullian should know that at this very moment he has the opportunity share the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that it will impact the woman who sold herself into prostitution, or the young girl who had sex with her boyfriend and had an abortion, or the married man who committed adultery on his wife, or the businessman who stole from his company and is headed to jail..."
"But people aren't going to listen to him because of his sin, Wade. They'll call him a hypocrite. I understand why he feels the need to 'fade to black.'"
"Maybe that's our problem with church today. We have created an environment where we must have preachers who pretend they're perfect in order to deliver the powerful message of grace, and if they aren't, then the people refuse to believe their message. Maybe the real sin is church people or church leaders who create religious environments where people can't be real about their struggles, transparent about their failures, and open regarding their weaknesses. In other words, maybe what we've done is create a culture of celebrity preachers who must be perfect in every way - looks, speaking, marriage, etc...-- or else they must "fade to black."
"So what's bothering you Wade is not that Tullian stepped down, but that he went silent with his message of grace."
"Well, what in the world could Tullian Tchividjian say right now?"
"Exactly what grace teaches him to say. I screwed up. I'm a sinner. I committed adultery. Worse, I blamed my wife. I am a bottom feeder in need of Divine favor. I'm not going to white wash it, lie about it, or justify it. I broke my marriage covenant. I committed adultery. But my "big sin" didn't just happen overnight. I walked through multiple smaller doors before I reached the exit door. I loved the adulation of those who thought me inspired. I sought the praise of men. I built a culture at both the church and the ministry I lead that revolved around me. My sin of adultery is only the last step up the ladder of personal pride. My adultery happened to be the step that actually broke my life and caused my fall from ministry, but it's only the last public sin of a long list of personal private sins. I'm a sinner just like you in need of God's grace now more than ever"
"Wow. Wade. That's too long to put on Twitter."
"Yep. I think maybe that's the issue for me. The message of God's grace is too complicated, too profound, too messy to fit into 140 characters on Twitter."
"So, what would you have preferred Tullian tweeted?"
"Something like this: 'My adultery may have disqualified this messenger from the pastorate, but it's certainly not disqualified my message about Him. Truth be known, I need more gospel now; more of Him now; not less. I'll be tweeting more about Jesus.'"
That, more or less, was my wife's and my conversation the other night.
To Tullian and my pastor friends who wish to "fade to black" when it comes to the gospel in the face of our sins, I offer some words that I wrote a few years ago about Jesus:
"In Hebrews 10:17-18 the Lord says, “This is the covenant I will make with them (us)… I will remember their sins no more.” For the life of me I can't understand why pastors would put emphasis on remembering what God forgets. There’s no denial Christians struggle with ‘indwelling sin.’ There's also no denial that sin is destructive. The question, though, is "How does a believer defeat indwelling sin?" I am absolutely, positively, one-hundred-percent convinced that every Christian leader who places more emphasis in his ministry to Christians on indwelling sin than he does Jesus Christ, will ultimately lead his people down the path of religious bondage, emotional pain and spiritual abuse. Sin's power and influence are only diminished by displaying the beauty of Jesus Christ. Focus on sin and it entices you; focus on Christ and He enraptures you. An easy way to remember this axiom of the faith is: "There's no high like the Most High!" When God's people regular taste of Him "and see that He is good," every false high that sin brings will be recognized as a sorry substitute for the real thing. The ancient people said as much when they asked of Philip, "Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:21).
Tullian, your adultery has cost you a great deal in terms of this world and your human relationships. However, I urge you not to "fade to black."
We would like to continue to see Jesus in you.