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Question and Answer

Minister Living in Unrepentant Sin

Question:

I am in a situation where I am in the life of an OPC minister who is living in unrepentant sin. I need advice, and I do not know how to proceed. I know this isn’t a lot of information, but I would prefer not to reveal information about the situation through this medium of communication.

Answer:

Thank you for your inquiry. With the general nature of your inquiry, I will have to give a general reply. Let me begin with a reminder that no Christian is without sin. So I would encourage you to pray and consider carefully whether this is a sin of ignorance or weakness, or whether it is one that is of such a serious nature that it must be confronted.

I am also assuming that you are a Christian and a member of the OPC. If not, the circumstances are easily so complicated that I fear to give any advice. Specific situations would entail different avenues to follow in dealing with the matter. So the following advice is based on these assumptions.

First, there is only one biblical stricture about confronting a minister “living in unrepentant sin.” Scripture requires that an accusation against an elder/minister can only be done on the testimony of two or more witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19). This is, in large measure, so that wicked men cannot invent baseless charges and destroy their ministry out of simple malice.

Assuming the requisite witnesses, the question then divides on this point: is it a public or private sin? That is, is it a sin generally known or one that is known only to a few people?

If it is known only to a few people, the first step would be to confront the man himself as a brother, just as you would any other sinning brother (Matt. 18:15). The following verses spell out the process if there is no repentance.

If the offense is a public one, then the call to repentance would also be public. The way that this is implemented is spelled out in our constitution, specifically in the Book of Discipline, Chapter III.

Let me point out to you especially paragraph 6 of that chapter. If the court (in the case of a minister, the presbytery) determines that the charge does not warrant judicial process, the accuser can be censured for making indefensible accusations.

Entering into the arena of confrontation and possible judicial discipline is a costly one: not in money but in sweat and tears. It is not one that can be abandoned lightly once begun. On the other hand, it is God’s appointed means of recalling a wandering sheep (or shepherd) to the way of repentance and obedience.

If you go forward, I would encourage you to receive counsel from the clerk of your presbytery. He can guide you in the proper steps.


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.

The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.

While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.

You will receive an answer by email. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.

The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

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