At the UPCI General Conference this year (2009), there was a resolution up for vote - the restoration of ministers fallen in, essentially, fornication and adultery. I'm writing from memory based on one reading of the resolution, but essentially, it stated that a licensed minister who commits moral, sexual sin shall lose licensure. Those who have committed homosexual acts or criminal acts (read: pedophilia) can never be relicensed, but those who have committed heterosexual acts of fornication or adultery may be reinstated under certain conditions. These conditions include a period of time (I believe three years) spent out of ministry for the sake of healing and repentance, and multiple meetings with the licensing board, they may be eligible for reinstatement to a local license only. They may not hold a general license, nor are they eligible to hold office within the UPCI. Essentially, as I understand the limits of licensing, they can only be an assistant minister in a church. They can't pastor, they can't hold office, etc. The local license is a very limited license. I oppose the measure. It's probably moot for me, as I'm not a licensed minister (yet) in the organization, but as a member of the UPCI and as someone who intends to be involved in ministry in the UPCI, I do have a view and a desire to make a statement on the issue. It is worth mentioning that this issue neither succeeded nor was defeated, but was sent back for study and will be voted on next year, due to a procedural error. I have friends who I trust and respect who disagree with me and support the measure, but here are my reasons for opposing this particular measure:
A Higher Standard Anyone who knows me must know how strongly I feel about unlimited grace and atoning power of God. But, as James says, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." (Jas 3:1 ESV) There's room in that verse to justify my argument that ministers should be held to a higher standard. Furthermore, Paul gives qualifications of a pastor/deacon in 1 Timothy 3:1-13, which include being above reproach and disciplined (v. 2), and of good reputation by both the church and nonbelievers (v. 7). In Titus, the instructions are similar - above reproach (v. 7, 8), a one-woman man (v. 6), and self-controlled, upright, and disciplined. (v. 8) For this reason, if an overseer (pastor, minister, shepherd, whichever title you like) is unable to discipline himself to guard against this sort of sin and temptation, I don't feel that they should be reinstated to that office. They've not proven themselves trustworthy or reliable.
A Gateway Issue The issue of restoration is not, to me, the ultimate issue, but rather the liberalizing of the requirements for ministry. As I've outlined above, I feel like the requirements should be strict and stringent. I think the Bible calls for such. And while the CURRENT proposal doesn't give much latitude to the person being reinstated, I don't believe this issue will rest at this point. I think the next step is to allow for a general license, then ordination, and then holding high office in the organization. Does this seem a bit reactionary? Perhaps. But I fear that it is a sign of an increase of worldly tolerance of sin within the movement.
Personal Experience I've seen, firsthand, how deeply a moral sin of a pastor can divide a church and a community. I know of churches that were once thriving, but the fall of the pastor broke the congregation, and 20 years later, the church and the city still haven't recovered. The church was split, the family divided, and a congregation that once ran nearly 200 people is now a shadow of a mere 30 saints, with an average age of about 70. For me, the cost of such failure is so high that the risk of a second chance is too high.
Let me be clear at this point - I completely and totally believe in, teach, preach, and even live as an example of the restorative grace of God. I personally have benefitted from a congregation that restored me "with a spirit of meekness" and love. I'm not saying that a minister that falls can't be restored to the body of Christ, and that they can't be involved in the work of the church, whether it be teaching Bible studies or Sunday School or whatever the leadership of the church decides is appropriate. I'm not saying these individuals can't be saved. But I don't think that someone who has made the series of bad decisions that are required to reach the point of adultery should be placed in a position of leadership again.
What are your thoughts? Post your opinions below. I'm interested in hearing other views on this issue.