A MINISTRY OF MISTAKES?
by David Sisler
Michael English was on top of the Christian music world. His records were best sellers. His peers honored him with a "Dove" award--Gospel music's version of the "Oscar." Then he confessed to committing adultery with a married woman and he returned the Dove.
When I initially heard that story last spring I did two things.
First, I called a radio station which plays only Christian music and asked them if they were going to continue playing Michael English's records. They said they were not. They said they felt they had to defend the standards of Christianity.
Then I asked, "Are you going to stop playing all praise songs based on the Psalms? King David, you'll recall, was also an admitted adulterer. If you are going to be fair to Mr. English, you must discontinue any reference to David's songs."
When did God appoint any of us as defenders of His standards? Believers have been called togodly living. Believers have been called to declare God's Word and proclaim God's standards. But when we become "defenders of the faith", what we usually end up defending are our own interpretations and our own prejudices.
That radio station did not stop playing David's songs. They did stop playing Michael English's songs. They were not alone. Warner Alliance Records also dropped him, again citing "biblical guidelines."
I do not know what guideline Warner Alliance president Neal Joseph was following. It does not seem to have been Matthew 18:15, 17--"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. If he refuses to listen ... tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."
If he listens and repents, you have won your brother. If he refuses to repent, treat him like a pagan. But when we become standard defenders, we sometimes treat the repentant like a pagan instead of like a brother.
Mr. Joseph's guideline does not seem to have included Galatians 6:1--"Brothers, if someone is caught in sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently, remembering that you, too, might be tempted to sin."
The second thing I did when I heard Michael's story was write him a letter. I told him of a time in my ministry when I failed God as desperately as a man could fail. I told him about the people who tried to drive me farther from the ministry than I had already chauffeured myself. I told him that God faithfully forgave me and restored me. I told him that God could do the same for Michael English.
Can you imagine the crowds King David could have drawn if night after night he had said, "Oh, you should have seen me before I had my affair," and then recounted the night he saw a woman, naked in her bath. He could have told over and over how he sent for her, knowing that she was another man's wife. He could have told over and over how he arranged for her husband to be murdered to cover up their adultery. Night after night he could have been the hero of his sins.
Instead of reading about what would certainly have been a sorry spectacle, we read that David repented and from that moment forward lived for God. Never again did he commit adultery. Never again did he murder. Never did he magnify the mistakes of his past.
Can you imagine the ministry the Apostle Paul might have had by "giving his testimony" night after night? He could have detailed over and over again how he held the coats of the men who stoned Stephen, how he made Christian women widows by signing death warrants for their husbands, how he persecuted the church. Night after night he could have been the hero of his sins.
Instead of reading that, we read, "Therefore if any man--just like me--be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away. No matter how horrible they were, no matter how many people were involved. Behold all things--everything about me, and everyone else who has come to Christ--have become new."
Paul rejoiced in Christ, rather than groveling in his own dirt, rehearsing his failures, and making a ministry of his mistakes.
How could David possibly continue, knowing the mess he had made of things? How could Paul write 14 letters telling Christians how to live when he had dragged innocent men and women to prison? Psalm 51 tells how. Each man offered God a broken heart and God made them whole. In the eyes of God, it was as if David and Paul had never sinned.
One Wednesday night, several years ago, I attended a meeting where a "celebrity Christian" was scheduled to appear. In the auditorium, there was standing room only. Over 2000 people packed into the building to hear a former gang-leader turned evangelist describe his old life. For almost 90 minutes he regaled us with colorful anecdotes from his past, telling us how bad he had been. He took less than five minutes to tell us how good Jesus is. The next week, a great preacher spoke in the same auditorium to a crowd of less than 600.
A few days ago I remembered that incident when I received a letter from Michael English. It was a form letter in which he spoke of his plans for a new singing career. He explained, "I will not be returning to the Christian music industry. The reason for this is because I do not wish to turn this mistake into a ministry. I do not feel comfortable talking about this situation night after night and using it to build a career (emphasis mine). I choose to forget, as I know God has, for I have made my peace with Him."
What incredible integrity!
Michael, don't give up your ministry. The world, and the church, needs to see that a man can truly repent and be restored. We need to know that God still uses broken men.
That was January, 7, 1995. Today is April 4, 1997.
I was wrong in my comments about Neal Joseph, president of Warner Alliance Records. A few days ago Mr. Joseph was "surfing the Web" and found that column. He wrote me a personal letter, and very gently, and with a very Christ-like spirit, told me that I had accused him falsely. He was correct.
Neal Joseph told me that he had met personally with Michael. He also told me that he had sought Godly counsel from respected pastors. His decisions were, in fact, based totally on the Scriptural guidelines to which I referred, and on the wisdom of the men of God with whom he spoke.
There was no recrimination, no accusation in Mr. Joseph's letter to me. Because the letter was private communication, it is with his permission, that I share a part of that letter:
"I would only ask that the next time you disagree with a brother in Christ whom you do not know and have not met, that you confront him first in love before you ‘go public' with your feelings. I believe there is a strong Biblical basis for that kind of action as well."
Neal Joseph followed scriptural admonition to correct and rebuke a fellow believer guilty of error. For that, I am grateful. I did not treat him in the proper fashion owed to a brother in the Lord. Re-reading that column exposes my comments towards him as petty and ill-advised. For that I am truly sorry. Because of the principle I was trying to defend, I wrote Mr. Joseph a personal letter, and I now share all of this with my readers. Please understand -- Neal Joseph neither asked for, or even suggested, that I apologize to him. I do so because I was wrong.
The Bible says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." Thank you, Neal, for the faithful wounds. And for a lesson well taught. And gratefully received.
Finally, Neal Joseph said, "Please continue to pray for Michael and for all those to whom God has given a public ministry that they will seek His face on a daily basis and will live lives of integrity both on and off of the stage."
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 1/7/95
Copyright 1995, 1997 by David Sisler
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