A friend of mine has been leading a class based on my book The Next Story. He emailed me a couple of days ago to say that he was preparing to teach on “Privacy and Visibility,” two areas where the digital world has brought a great transformation to our lives. Right before he went to teach the class, he came across a sad story of yet another pastor who has destroyed his ministry for the sake of following his lust. It was a pointed illustration of new realities in this new world. It was also an illustration of something that transcends the digital world.
Until Tuesday, Jack Schaap was pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, outside Chicago. First Baptist is the largest church in the state with something like 15,000 people attending each Sunday. Schapp’s pastorate came to an abrupt and shameful end on Tuesday.
Jack Schaap had left his cell phone on the pulpit and a deacon had seen it on the pulpit and had picked it up to bring it back to him,” Trisha Kee, who maintains a Facebook group for ex-congregants, told the station. “From what we understand, the deacon then saw a text come through from a teenage girl in the church, and it was a picture of Jack Schaap and this girl making out.
Church officials announced that he had been fired for “a sin that has caused him to forfeit his right to be our pastor.” Schapp has since confessed that he was involved in an affair with a girl of sixteen who had come to him for counseling.
What stood out to me in this story was not so much that Schapp took advantage of a young girl, that he abused his position of authority, or that he has risked his marriage by committing adultery. All of these things are horrendous but, sadly, sickeningly, all too common. There is a long and growing history of men who use the pastorate as a means to fulfill their sinful, selfish desires. What stood out to me in this case was the manner in which the pastor’s sin found him out.
Sin makes so many promises. Sin promises joy, it promises fulfillment. Sin promises to be your friend. When you first meet a new friend you reveal only little bits of who you are, what you believe, what is important to you. But over time, if that friendship is to grow, you need to reveal more and more of yourself, you need to open yourself up. Friendship grows out of the vulnerability of allowing another person to see who you really are beneath the polite exterior. Sin asks you to give just a little bit more of yourself to it every time. Just a bit more. Just a bit more after that. But over time sin comes to own you. It comes to know everything there is to know about you. And then it stabs you in the back and laughs with glee as you are left sputtering and humiliated and destroyed. It laughs as your marriage is destroyed, as your church is shamed, as your friends are betrayed. That’s the kind of friend it is.
Can’t you see sin having the last laugh here? Schaap didn’t have to leave his phone on the pulpit. A deacon did not have to fetch it. That girl did not have to send a text message at that moment. The message did not have to contain anything explicit. The deacon did not have to be a man of integrity who would make it known to the rest of the church. None of these things had to be the way they were. Yet that is exactly how it unfolded. The deacon picked up the phone and looked as the message showed up and saw the picture of the pastor and the girl. And sin broke out in gales of laughter. Sin rejoiced when his friend was exposed as a hypocrite, an adulterer, a fraud. Sin had the last laugh.
This is what sin does. This is who sin is. Sin is the friend who is so much worse than any enemy.
(Appendix: This is where Tolkien’s ring is such a powerful illustration of sin. From the moment a person puts that ring on his finger, the ring is out to dominate and to destroy him. The ring has a mind of its own, a mind that is bent on destruction. The ring will be satisfied only when it has ensured that the ringbearer is overcome, overwhelmed, and destroyed. All of its promises merely lead to a greater kind of enslavement that leads toward death.)