In recent days and weeks, two well-known religious leaders have been in the news. But for all the wrong reasons.
It has been learned since his death in May 2020, that Ravi Zacharias, described as one of “the Evangelical world’s most respected apologists,” was a sexual predator. A detailed story by David French in “The Dispatch” describes the shocking account of how this founder of an international ministry “leveraged his reputation” to seduce women all over the world. Multiple sources confirm the sordid double life Zacharias was leading.
More recently, Jerry Falwell, Jr, the 13 year President of Liberty University, has resigned in disgrace following allegations that his wife was involved in a long-term sexual relationship with a young man they met while vacationing in Florida. In a $10 million lawsuit by Liberty against Falwell for breach of contact, it alleged that he not only knew about the affair and tried to cover it up, but even “abetted it.”
These sickening stories are not the first revealing hypocrisy of religious leaders, nor will they be the last. In fact, they’re nothing new. They’re as old as the Bible itself.
In today’s Bible reading, Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are described this way: “Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:122). The KJV calls them “sons of Belial.” Other translations render “corrupt” as “wicked” or “worthless.”
The text describes their desecration of the Tabernacle worship. They demonstrated disrespect for the sacrifices on the altar. They “abhorred the offering of the Lord.” And they seduced the women who served at the Tabernacle (I Sam. 2:22).
These accounts teach us several valuable lessons.
(1) It’s possible to know who God is, but not really know Him.
Eli’s sons were taught who Jehovah was. They probably could recite all the Hebrew names for God and explain them. They were raised in a religious environment. Trained as Priests. Yet, they failed to develop a personal relationship with the Lord.
Growing up in a Christian home doesn’t guarantee godliness. Attending Bible class and being able to recount Bible facts and doctrines doesn’t always translate into following them. As a kid, I remember old-time preachers saying, “Going to church will no more make you a Christian than sitting inside a hen house will make you a chicken.”
(2) Our parental responsibility to teach and train our children.
While Eli was a good man, and God entrusted him with the care and mentorship of Samuel, apparently he was too lax with his own sons. Later God said he would judge the house of Eli “for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them” (I Sam. 3:13).
Whether this is talking about their formative years as children, or later when they became Priests, we’re unsure. Regardless, parents must not only teach their children but train them. Correct them. Discipline them. Provide guardrails. And administer restraint.
(3) Adult children of faithful Christians and even religious leaders may leave the Lord.
Through the years, I seen and felt the heartbreak of parents whose children have been raised in a righteous atmosphere, taken to every Bible class and worship service, sent to camps and colleges with a spiritual environment, yet grow up, leave home and leave the Lord.
Some abandon God altogether. They’ve become atheists or agnostics. Others trade the truth for a compromised form of godliness. And still others just go through the motions but lack true fidelity.
While this is sad, it reminds us that Christianity is not inherited. Each of us possesses free will and makes our own decisions. And each is accountable to God.
(4) Not everyone who goes to church is godly.
“There are hypocrites in the church,” the charge is hurled. Yes, there are. Just like there are hypocrites in every segment of society, it’s no less true in religious circles. Such a realization is not a justification for quitting the church. Giving up on God. Or smearing the entire congregation because of the sinful actions of a few.
(5) Some religious leaders are corrupt, wicked, and worthless.
Sadly, we’ve seen and known of both preachers and pastors who were unfaithful to the ministry to which they were called. Some are greedy. Others prideful. And some power-hungry. And like the above examples, a few “spiritual leaders” have abused and exploited their position for selfish, immoral gratification.
(6) Worthless religious leaders ought to be removed.
Too often churches or informed individuals are either complicit in a leader’s failures or conceal them. If we’re truly going to fulfill our personal and collective responsibility to keep the church pure and restore the erring, this must also include those in spiritual leadership positions.
These thoughts remind us of three important Bible commands.
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5).
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1)
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 13:5).
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman