So Many Things Wrong with This Picture

The Associated Press ran a story yesterday about a mega-church suffering after its pastor is taking a sabbatical from preaching  andis  getting a divorce.  The article inadvertently, I believe, highlights many problems with this church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.  I say inadvertently, as there is not a single mention of the Bible in all of this.  Nor is there any mention of his leaving on the church’s web page, nor on his Facebook page or Twitter feed.

The problems become evident  right at the beginning of the article.  Here’s how it starts:

When Bishop Eddie Long was accused of sexual misconduct by former church members, his congregation rallied around him and his wife stood by his side. About a year later, the Atlanta megachurch pastor is headed for divorce and stepping away from the pulpit.

Long announced Sunday at New Birth Missionary Baptist Churchthat he needed a break from preaching to focus on his family.

The one obvious issue is that he’s getting a divorce.  Notice that he’s not resigning because he no longer is qualified to be a pastor – he’s taking “a break”.  The Bible is quite clear that this is wrong.  Here is 1 Timothy 3:1-5.

1: This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
2: A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
3: Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
4: One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
5: (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

A husband of one wife – not if you’re divorced.  One that ruleth well his own house – again, not if you’re divorced.  He’s not ruling his own house well – which is a role that God commanded for him – and, therefore cannot be entrusted with leading a church.  But that’s not why he’s stepping aside.  Nor should anyone expect it to be – he was divorced before, according to the church’s About page and explained a bit more fully in the AP article.  First, from the New Birth web page:

God’s hand has always been in Eddie L. Long’s life (just as it has been in yours). As a young child he knew the emptiness that impacts a boy’s life when he is raised by a father who doesn’t know how to show love to his sons. As a young boy he knew the harm that can be done to a child when people tell him he’ll never amount to much. As an adult he knows the shame that comes with being homeless. As a man, he knows the sense of failure that divorce brings. Yet, as with Joseph, his experiences, painful though they might have been, were all for a purpose: to prepare him to guide thousands into the goodness of God.

And from the article:

The couple has three children and a fourth from Long’s first marriage.

If Bishop Long has never been Biblically qualified to be the pastor of a church, why would anyone expect that anything that has been happening in the church has been because of God?

The article continues:

Not long after he arrived, the former Ford salesman and Honeywell executive dismissed New Birth’s board of directors and took unilateral control of the church, ensuring that he would be the one to determine the date of his departure.

The passage in 1 Timothy 3 right after what is quoted above provides the requirements for deacons. Their role is to take care of the secular concerns of the church and be helpers for the pastor.  Bishop Long, in taking “unilateral control of the church”, dismissed not only its board of directors, but also the requirements of the Bible.  I wonder what concerns were raised at that time and whether anyone who was attending the church then recognizes that today’s new is merely the culmination of the path they placed themselves upon back in 1987.

The article continue to point out another problem – greed.

Many who joined the church under Long’s tenure were attracted to the prosperity gospel that he preached and practiced. It was a message that mirrored an emerging black middle class in and around Atlanta. Unlike the traditional Southern Baptist preacher, Long owned a $350,000 Bentley and private jet, lived in a $1.4 million house with six bedrooms and nine bathrooms, adorned himself with diamond jewelry and read his sermons on an iPad.

Note the text from 1 Timothy 3:3, “not greedy of filthy lucre”.  Granted, I cannot even imagine affording a car or house that expensive nor owning a jet airplane, but there is no good reason why any man needs things that are that expensive.  And the Bible commands that a pastor cannot be someone who covets things like that.  Bishop Long obviously did – yet the article makes no mention of that being a concern.

Next, the article goes into more sordid allegations:

In September 2010, when accusations swirled that he used his lavish lifestyle to seduce four young men into sexual relationships in exchange for cars, clothes and trips, New Birth members supported around their embattled leader, who vowed he was innocent and would fight the cases.

Long settled out of court eight months later for an undisclosed amount and has never admitted any wrongdoing. After that, some changed their opinion of him.

So, allegations come out an a lawsuit is filed fifteen months ago.  Seven months ago, Bishop Long settles the lawsuit out of court.  No charges were filed and Bishop Long was not convicted of any crime.  But one wonders whether 1 Timothy 3:2 was in anyone’s mind.

1 Timothy 3:2  A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour

The article concludes with a statement from a member of the church that suggests the Bible isn’t exactly driving their thinking:

“All things can be renewed, but I think he needs to leave,” she [Donielle Marshall] said. “Why continue to lead people when you are being dishonest? It shames the church, it shames the followers, and it shames him.”

No questions about whether he is qualified to pastor a church – no accountability to God’s Word – only judgment on human terms.

Jesus Himself spoke about what that will mean:

Matthew 7:21-23
21: Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22: Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23: And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

“I never knew you… ye that work iniquity.”  By choosing to ignore God’s Word, Bishop Long set himself up as a more important authority than God in his own life – and in the lives of those whom he pastored.  He preached in God’s name, but deliberately lived outside of God’s Word.  These recent events should come as no surprise to anyone associated with that church.

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