June 22, 2015 will stick in my mind for a long time. I had prepared for our typical Monday routine—two roundtable discussions and our regular mentorship time were on the agenda. But when I got to the office, I felt a weight I hadn’t felt in church before. I was told our schedule was going to look a little different for the day. We loaded the car, drove to get coffee, and were to spend the morning processing and discussing what was going on at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.
To some churches, the headlines were shocking. I’m sure some brought it up in a staff meeting, and others could have spent the day gossiping about the man. I’m sure the churches in Coral Ridge’s presbytery talked about it. But I don’t think that many ministry workers received an announcement that morning about expressing their opinions or concerning media requests, as I did.
Tullian was once on staff here. The people I rubbed shoulders with on a day-to-day basis knew him, some better than others. Even from almost one thousand miles away, Tullian’s fall could be heard. I think I even felt the wind from it.
I’ve stayed quiet about the whole situation—mostly because I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything. For a year now, I have played the observer. I didn’t want to say something I shouldn’t say publicly, so I sat back and watched. I thank God that He gave me this foresight. But now, there is a certain kind of immediacy, a certain kind of love for the church that stirs my affections to speak towards Tullian and towards us onlookers. These are short, sporadic thoughts. Perhaps there is some continuity between them, but they feel a lot more like journal entries than an argumentative blog post, probably because all I want to do is reflect, not point fingers and argue.
Inexhaustible Grace and Taking Heed
My first observation is how seemingly devoid us internet bloggers are of grace. Specifically, people have drawn connections between Tullian’s view of grace and his lack of integrity, and while some of them certainly have merit to their arguments, their tone comes across as condescending and self-righteous rather than pleading. I have seen people dying to tear the guy to shreds. Note: not only did these boyish writers decide it was in their best interest to try to destroy Tullian’s character (as if he couldn’t do that on his own), but they actually desired to do so.
Hear me out: What Tullian Tchvidjian did was wrong. Tullian endangered the church. He endangered souls. Human beings with faces were and are endangered by Tullian’s moral failures. One could even call his acts despicable. After all, anyone who does such an injustice to church has committed something heinous against God’s children.
But what has not changed and never will change is God’s inexhaustible grace. Folks, if we are unwilling to offer grace to even the chief of sinners, what have we to offer ourselves? Perhaps why I have felt so obliged to keep my thoughts to myself is because I too easily see Cody standing before me in Tullian’s shoes. I see my disobedience. I see the ways I don’t hold true to my commitments. I see how feeble my faith can be. And because I take Scripture seriously, I want to give it credence when it says, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,” or when Jesus says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.”We need to fight both legalism and licentiousness.
Please, hear me: I’m not painting Tullian as an innocent. I’m counting him as a brother in Christ whose sins were borne by God on the cross. There is an important distinction. I just want to take heed lest I fall, too.
A Sphere of Influence
The second thing that has struck me about this entire situation is the sphere of influence Tullian carries with him. If this has taught me anything, it is this: never underestimate the stage you stand on. Many people I know in the Young, Restless, and Reformed generation (and even more in the one following it) have tried to entirely wipe away the notion of a Christian witness. Perhaps a decade of youth pastors warning teens not to “ruin their witness” left a bitter taste in their mouths. But there is biblical precedence for concerning yourself with your witness.
Brothers and sisters, our fruits speak of our faith. I think we can all agree that Tullian’s fruits indicate something was wrong deep inside him—something troublesome, something that should’ve been taken care of long before it reached the point of moral failure. There are a thousand things that went wrong before Tullian’s sin. That, in turn, means there is a long chain of people affected by his sin. Just think about the sphere of influence that this one act covers. Here I am reading headlines a year after a summer-long internship at a church Tullian worked at a considerable time ago, and I’m still deeply affected by his sin. I never met the man, but his fall has impacted me.
Please, friends, do not neglect your witness. Paul continually weaves a Christian ethic throughout his writing. It’s easy—alluring, even—to think that your actions do not reflect your faith. But don’t give in to this lie. They do, and even those far removed from you will feel the affects of your sin.
Account and Accountability
The third thing that sticks out to me about Tullian’s circumstances is his detachment from the whole ordeal. Had he been forced to give an account or have accountability, this could have been long prevented. When news breaks that elders were aware of this kind of moral fallout without heeding their responsibility to report it, there is no true accountability.
Granted I could never predict whether or not he would have fallen into sin, I can predict that accountability would have kept all of this from being swept under the rug. We saw this same kind of leadership collapse in the Mars Hill Fiasco. We saw this in the Garden of Eden. I see this in my own life. I want to cover my sins up with fig leaves. I want to keep my struggles to myself. I don’t want to admit that I’m losing to them.
You can count on it: where there is no accountability, there will be sin. When we say that we don’t need accountability, we try to morph into gods; we try to posit ourselves above oversight. Let’s remember there was only one man who was ever above oversight (and he, too, was excruciatingly tempted).
Brothers and sisters, do not fail to give an account for your actions. Find a group of people who will hold you accountable for your lifestyle. It is better for you to have to come clean before your fellow church members than lose your soul.
Giving an Eye to the Church
Maybe you will close out of this post upset I didn’t throw more stones, or perhaps you’ll feel like you wasted your time. If you do not take anything away from these musings, I want you to promise me that you will heed the call of Christian discipleship. Carry your cross. Remember the freedom of Christ’s gospel, but not at the expense of your duty as God’s ambassador. Love your brothers and sisters by extending grace, by remembering that your decisions affect others, and by seeking accountability. Take your eyes off yourself and give an eye to Christ’s church. It will be good for our unity and even better for your sanctification.
There’s a line of Scripture that has run across the bottom of this blog since day one: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" Ephesians 2:10 (ESV). The Good Worker created you for good works. Continue walking in them. Don’t neglect your calling. You’re a chosen people—a royal priesthood.
You are His. Live as such.
Cody Glen Barnhart
Cody Glen Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Canon & Culture, Gospel Centered Discipleship, and is a contributor at servantsofgrace.org.