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Ministerial Integrity

In this article I will consider the principle of integrity in ministry and why adhering to that integrity strictly prohibits persons participating in same sex relationships from holding the office of ordained/accredited ministry within our Baptists Together network of churches. 

It may seem a ridiculous notion that someone would bother to write about the importance of integrity with regard to ministers of the Gospel. It ought to be accepted as a ‘given’ that those who profess to serve the church in the office of overseer should be persons of integrity. Sadly, however, one does not have to search too far to uncover stories of abuse pertaining to money, sex and power, thereby uncovering lack of ministerial integrity. Whenever such a situation occurs, it causes harm to the church and can often result in many individuals losing faith and turning away from God. This is scandalous!  

1 Timothy 3:1-7 outlines the requirements for the overseer. It is interesting that in this list of fifteen requirements only one, the ability to teach (v2), outlines what the minister is to do. The rest are character traits. Ministry then, is about having a character of integrity. It is about who that minister is in Christ, rather than what that person can do. There are many competent, driven, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, persuasive people with excellent communication skills in ministry; however, if they lack integrity, they lack everything. It matters not how ‘good’ or ‘dynamic’ a person in ministry is, if they lack integrity, the ministry they exercise will eventually be shown by the bad fruit it has produced. Sadly, this fruit is often exposed at the expense of others.  

Does all this mean then, that ministers are to be perfect in speech and conduct. Free from any sin in their lives? John Stott refutes this in his commentary on 1 Timothy regarding the first requirement of the overseer, that they are to be ‘above reproach’.  He says, ‘(this) cannot mean ‘faultless’, or no child of Adam would ever qualify for a share in the oversight.’ We live in a fallen world. We are a people redeemed by the cross of Christ, but in our human fallen-ness we still struggle with our propensity to sin. It is always advisable for followers of Jesus Christ to keep short accounts with God such that when we sin, we confess and repent quickly trusting in the promise of 1 John 1:9. This is good advice for all believers but especially true for overseers who bear the responsibility of being an example for others to follow. In the same sense that the Apostle Paul recommends the Corinthian church imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1-2), the overseer who models his/her life on Christ sets an example for others to follow. 

The Oxford Dictionary of English, defines integrity as ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles and the state of being whole and undivided’. Both of these definitions are helpful to our understanding of this issue, but the second definition, that of being whole and undivided, is especially helpful. For a Christian, integrity could be understood as having an undivided heart. Integrity of faith is being wholly and absolutely sold out for Jesus, proclaiming the gospel in word and deed. It is demonstrated when a person is being honest and true to the principles of their undivided heart when no one is looking. Trust, sincerity, genuineness, uprightness, transparency, hiding nothing, no hidden agenda, are all things we associate with integrity. The opposite of integrity is hypocrisy. Jesus has strong words to say to the hypocrites (Matthew 23:13-39). Integrity then is a basic yet fundamental characteristic of a minister of the gospel. Why? Because through the ministry a person is exercising, Jesus is seen. Our character is supposed to reflect the character of Jesus Christ because the purpose of all ministry is to point people to Jesus.

We now turn to my claim that the Christian ministry of oversight (ordained/accredited ministry) must remain the privilege of those in heterosexual marriage or else celibate only; something of an outrageous statement in this day and age! Am I saying that I consider gay people to be amoral or devoid of any sincerity of character? Absolutely not! The issue here is not of personal integrity as defined by our own moral compass. Rather, it is integrity which is shaped in us by God through his holy scripture. It is biblical truth that ministers are supposed to uphold, teach and embody. The pattern for marriage between one man and one woman was ordained by God. This pattern has been understood by Christians for 2,000 years to be holy matrimony. Christian marriage or celibacy must be upheld by the church not only as God’s best for expressing human sexuality but also because they are both prophetic models that point to Christ. Through celibacy, the prophetic statement is seeking after Christ first, being wholly devoted to him. Through Christian marriage, one man to one woman, the prophetic message points to a picture of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:31). The church pictured as the bride of Christ is a powerful metaphor in Scripture. It points to a time when the church, the bride, will be with the bridegroom (Christ), joined together for all eternity. Human Christian marriage gives us a snapshot of this eschatological truth. Therefore, for those in ministry who bear the weighty responsibility of setting an example for others to follow, these are the only two options to express human sexuality. It follows then, that it would be wholly inappropriate and unbiblical to exercise ministry within a same sex relationship. This is because it perverts God’s intentions for marriage, among which is to point others to the bigger eschatological truth of joining together the bridegroom and the bride. Ministering from any position which is contrary to scripture is hypocrisy because it does not witness to the integrity of God that is revealed to us in scripture. 

If a minister is to marry, the only biblically acceptable option is outlined in scripture, that is between one man and one woman. Anything other than this, is open rebellion against God, i.e., sin. As the Apostle wrote, ‘the overseer is to be above reproach.’ As we noted earlier, this does not mean a minister will never sin. There is though, a difference between committing a sin and confessing and repenting of this and that of being openly, consistently and even celebratorily involved in a sexual relationship contrary to scripture. This would not only set an unbiblical example for others to follow but would also fail in the prophetic declaration that marriage is supposed to proclaim.

Those seeking accredited Baptist ministry often choose words from the pattern for ordination found in Gathering for Worship, at their commissioning service. The line which states ‘none may take this office (oversight) upon themselves’ is recognition that the call to oversight is initiated by God and confirmed by the church. The call is a sacrificial one. It requires the daily dying to self, or, as Jesus put it ‘take up your cross daily and follow me’ (Luke 9:23). Ministers are expected to be an example to the flock. Sacrificial service helps form integrity of character and points to Christ and the ultimate sacrifice. In other words, Christian ministry is not about what the individual minister wants but about service to others. In the case of same sex marriage, ministers who encourage this could be interpreted as seeking to be self, rather than Christ-centered in their ministry.

Within the life of celibacy there is sacrifice. For Christians with same-sex orientation who feel called to accredited Baptist ministry, the only God-honouring option for them is celibacy. Following Jesus with integrity is hard, it is hard for everyone regardless of sexual orientation, in fact, it is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Safeguarding our own integrity is crucial. But rather than personal integrity it is Christ’s integrity we ought to seek to emulate, thereby revealing him to others. The integrity of scripture points to the integrity of Christ. To minister is to point people to Christ; to purposely show a distorted view is difficult to reconcile with the call of Christ to men and women to serve him in the role of overseers and ministers of his gospel. The bottom line is that, we are called to take off self to put on Christ, to do things his way, not ours, however hard that may be. The hope in the struggle is we do not carry a cross alone, Christ carries the heavier load. The cross Christ carried led to his death but the one he calls us to carry gives life. 

3 thoughts on “Ministerial Integrity”

  1. I am a retired minister ordained in 1981. How refreshing to read what you have to say as a relatively new and young minister. Thank you. Integrity matters so much and over the years I’ve seen the mess too many times when integrity has been lacking in ministers and other church leaders (mostly around sexual behaviour, use of the Internet, handling money, gossip and confidentiality and the use/abuse of power). For me, ordination is about being under discipline, under orders if you like. It is an overlooked part of many current training models and we must find ways of restoring it.

  2. I completely agree with elevating the place of integrity (and character) over other aspects of what makes for godly leadership. It is always an issue with flawed character that leads to the downfall of a leader. My push back to you is your insistence that LGBTQ+ people in a loving, monogamous, covenantal relationship are somehow lacking in integrity and living ‘contrary to scripture’. As you no doubt recognise, this is a matter of interpretation. As an evangelical, I have come to see the affirming position is not incompatible with scripture. I respect your view, but it is wrong to label gay people in loving relationships as lacking integrity. For what its worth, some of the most godly, kind and Christlike people I know are gay.

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