Pastors Answer: Does an Affair Disqualify You From Ministry?

"'Pastors’ Views on Moral Failures,' conducted by Nashville-based LifeWay Research...'There is widespread disagreement from pastors across denominations, church size, age, race, and education levels to quickly restoring pastors who commit adultery to public ministry positions.'" - Church Leaders

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T Howard's picture

Yes, an adulterous affair should disqualify a man from pastoral ministry. However, once he's out of the pulpit, he quickly discovers he's not qualified to do anything else that pays the bills and, not surprisingly, believes it's the Lord's will for him to return to pastoral ministry. He quotes Romans 11:29 as his prooftext, and he's off and running.

PhilKnight's picture

Biblical Premise 1: An pastor/elder/overseer (same office) must be above reproach--both within the church and outside the church. 

"An overseer must be above reproach...moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders." - 1 Timothy 3:1, 7 (ESV)

"Appoint elders in every town as I directed you--if anyone is above reproach..." - Titus 1:5a-6b (ESV)

A reproach is the result of a sin that is so dishonorable that it "sticks to a person" in the sense that it is something that people think of when they think of that person.  I included the part about being well thought of outside the church because it intensifies the qualification in this way: Even if the believing community forgives a disgraced pastor, the unbelieving world often won't do so.  (Think of the cynicism with which the world greets, for example, Jim Bakker and Jimmie Swaggart.  They are, by that measure alone, disqualified.)

Biblical Premise 2: Adultery is specially called out by Scripture as something that brings permanent reproach.

"Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul. Wounds and dishonor he will get, and his reproach will not be wiped away." - Proverbs 6:32-33 (KJV)

If a pastor must be above reproach and the reproach of a man who commits adultery is permanent, then a pastor who commits adultery is permanently disqualified from the pastoral office. QED

Perhaps someone may object here by saying, "Yes, but premise 2 is based on a proverb. And proverbs aren't promises; they're proverbs."  In other words, they're wise statements about how things generally work, but they are not without exceptions.  (For example, the proverb "A soft answer turneth a way wrath, but grievous words stir up strife" is a true statement about the tendency of soft answer. However, if I encounter an irate person intent on punching me out, that proverb does not constitute a promise that I can avert a bloody nose simply by speaking softly to him.)   While I grant the truth of the objection, it does little if anything to to advance a counter argument that's practical in this case.  Here's the reason:

In any situation where this debate arises regarding a specific adulterous pastor, the very fact that there is a credible debate about his qualifications demonstrates that he's not qualified.  His adultery is "sticking to him"; otherwise, there wouldn't be a debate.  And the reason his adultery is "sticking to him" is because of the tendency that Proverbs points out about the sin of adultery.  

I don't recall ever encountering Romans 11:29 as a proof-text for reinstating adulterous pastors.  Since "calling" in that context is referring to election, applying the statement to one's "calling" to the ministry is obvious misapplication of the verse,  The argument is an equivocation fallacy, and that's only one of its problems.


Philip Knight