Our first email arrived on October 3rd, from Marcus in Los Angeles. And since, over the past eight months, another hundred emails followed — all of them asking about the Ravi Zacharias sex scandal. Our emails can be basically boiled down into three questions. (1) Pastor John, how are you processing the tragedy yourself? (2) How should we think of his ministry legacy now? And (3) what would you say to those shaped deeply, or even converted, through his influence?
So, even though your ministries didn’t overlap much, you got a lot of emails, like this one, a representative one from Jonah. “Hello, Pastor John. With the substantiated allegations of sexual immorality in the life of Ravi Zacharias, how should we process it and respond to it? The initial impulse seems to be to delete him, to ignore him and never talk about him again. But that’s not what we do with David, a man after God’s own heart, who infamously committed sins of lust and adultery, leading to pregnancy, deception, and murder. David is a man of great faith that we talk about and celebrate today despite his serious sins. Is it wrong to defend contemporary spiritual leaders in spite of their sexual sin? Does the death of a teacher factor into this decision — as in, would it be more dangerous to defend a living teacher susceptible to greater failures? Also, I know a number of people who came to faith because of Ravi. What would you say to encourage a believer now enduring the trial of having their spiritual father torn down because of his own sin?”
Well, let me begin with a word about why I would be so slow to speak. One of the reasons is wanting to know everything I should know, and the other is that I just cannot imagine the sorrow that family members and very close associates must feel. And for people to publicly assess and criticize a husband, a father, a very long-term friend must be horrible. And so now I’m going to be a part of that.
But I get it. I mean, I think the person is right to ask this question, and those hundred people are right to ask, “Okay, Piper, you knew him, so how are you responding in your heart and mind to this?”
Three Ministers Who Fell Away
Let me begin with some biblical background of gospel ministers, who, for a season, spoke the truth in useful ways, and then made shipwreck of their lives — indeed, their faith. I’m using these illustrations from the Bible, and I’m thinking here of Judas, Demas, and Hymenaeus — all of whom are explicitly named by Jesus and Paul.
Judas: Son of Perdition
According to John 12:4–8, Judas was very critical of Mary’s anointing Jesus’s feet with an expensive perfume. And he said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). And John comments, “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6).
In other words, for a long time — about three years, say — Judas was abusing the Lord’s trust by stealing what others had given to the ministry. And I assume that during all this time, he was preaching the gospel of the kingdom, that he was sent out two by two with others, that he worked miracles, that he enjoyed the most intimate conversations with the Son of God, Jesus Christ — all the while being a “son of perdition” (John 17:12 KJV).
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SOURCE: Desiring God, John Piper