Fr. Curtis’ post got me thinking, and I was reminded of something that C.S. Lewis once touched upon.
“No doubt priggery is a horrid thing, and the more moral the horrider. To avoid a man’s society because he is poor or ugly or stupid may be bad; but to avoid it because he is wicked—with the all but inevitable implication that you are less wicked (at least in some respect)—is dangerous and disgusting. We could all go on to develop this theme at any length and without the slightest effort. Smug—complacent—Pharisaical—Victorian—parable of the Pharisee and the Publican . . . it writes itself,” wrote C.S. Lewis in the 7 December 1945 issue of The Spectator. “But the real question,” he continues, "is what are we to put in the place of priggery. Private vices, we were taught long ago, are public benefits. Which means that when you remove a vice you must put a virtue in its place—a virtue which will produce the same public benefits. It will not do simply to cut out priggery and leave it at that.”
No one wants to be guilty of priggery. Well, at least, no one wants to be caught and found to be guilty of it. Even still, it’s become the tu quoque of our age. Priggery justifies the actions of the one who’s being dealt with priggishly. Nevertheless, the fact remains that sin has consequences, consequences that are not removed by the confessional. These consequences are not eternal but temporal. We understand this intuitively, but we often deny it implicitly. We think forgiveness should remove all consequences. But it doesn’t. This is clearly the case with the drunk driver who crashes into another vehicle and takes the life of another. Even with repentance and the forgiveness of sins, there are temporal consequences that endure, both for the drunk driver and the family of the one whose life was taken. This is clearly the case, too, when fornication leads to out-of-wedlock, illegitimate children. The temporal consequences of sin was the running theme of the Clinton impeachment hearings and the current debate surrounding Woody Allen’s reception of the Golden Globe's Cecil B. De Mille Lifetime Achievement Award [LINK].
But what happens when clergy go bad? We were rightly outraged by the scandal—the coverup, the non-removal, and relocation of offenders—of the sex abuse cases of Catholic clergy during the past decade. Even though these men had confessed, shown signs of repentance, and received absolution, they should have been removed from Office because the consequences of sins are both eternal and temporal. God’s law may be subverted, but it can’t be destroyed. Consequences for sins remain, even after the forgiveness of sins.
But what about when it hits closer to home? What if an LCMS clergyman were to be found in public scandal? Would we think similarly? Would we say forgiveness means all consequences, both temporal and eternal, are taken away? Or would we say that though their sins, because of Christ, be as white as snow, the temporal consequences for their action endures?
Now what if not just any ole LCMS clergyman were to be caught in a public scandal—drunkenness, adultery, murder, defamation of character—but one from the so-called Gottesdienst Crowd or the God Whisperer Crowd or the CoWo Crowd (whatever your crowd might be)? Would our answer be different? Would it matter that he were on your side and in your corner? Should it matter?
It shouldn’t. This isn’t priggery. This is the temporal consequence of sin. For not just any justified sinner can hold the office of the Ministry. Not just anyone can stand up and make himself a teacher of and for the church. Nor would these men be “just another layman.” They would be former clergymen removed from Office for just cause (1 Tim 3:1–7). Being publicly above reproach and having a good report with those outside are standards important to Paul and, thus, to our Lord, for those who hold the Office. This isn’t about our standing before God, but before men. The reputation of the one who teaches, that speaks in and for the Church is important. Thus, St. Paul instructs the Elders at Ephesus, and we do well to heed his instruction: “Pay attention to yourselves and to the entire flock” (Acts 20:28). Notice the emphasis is placed first upon paying attention to yourselves—doctrine and life, what he speaks and what he does—which indicates it’s importance. This is so that the man of God can avoid the tu quoque retort—not eternally but temporally. For while all sins eternally are the same, they all separate us from God, they all carry the condemnation of God and the sentence of death, not all sins are the same temporally. Some are more corrosive than others, more hurtful and damaging than others, bring about more consequences than others. The one who stands in the place of Christ must be above this public reproach. He must have a good report with those outside. He must adorn the Office with a holy life. Those who stand in the stead of Christ ought not by their own life, word and deed, subject the "Thus saith the Lord" to tu quoque from within or without the walls of the Church.
Again, this isn’t priggery. This is simply to acknowledge the temporal consequence of sin. So let me be clear: If you commit grave sin—there is good news for you. Repent and trust in the Lord Jesus who loves sinners and died for them and for you. Even if your sin is drunkenness and carelessness that led to the death of another in a car wreck—repent and trust the Lord and be saved. Even if you are clergy, and your sin of murder, adultery, drunkenness, stealing, or an unbridled tongue raises a scandal—repent and trust in the Lord Jesus who loves sinners and died for them.
But please don’t tell me that I’m guilty of priggery, that I don’t understand the Gospel, if I also insist that you turn yourself in for the sin and endure the appropriate temporal consequences for it. I would hope, and I pray, that you would do the same for me.