Donald Ratcliff, 60, of Carol Stream, IL, a professor of Christian education at Wheaton College, was recently charged with two counts of aggravated child pornography by the DuPage County Internet Crimes Unit for downloading images of underage children from pornographic websites onto his home computer, according to CBS News, Chicago. Bail was set at $750,000.
In recent years it has become virtually impossible to distinguish Christian lifestyles from those of the general public. Mr. Ratcliffe is one of a growing number of Christians who have no idea what normative Christian behavior is from a historical perspective.
A Christianity Today survey taken in the year 2000 found that thirty-three percent of clergy admitted viewing sexually explicit websites. Fifty-three percent of these men were repeat offenders and eighteen percent were frequent visitors, logging in on a regular basis.
According to a study by the Barna Group entitled, “Surprisingly Few Adults Outside of Christianity Have Positive Views of Christians," evangelicals rated tenth out of eleven groups on positive impression, beating out only prostitutes. Less than half the respondents had a favorable impression of ministers and less than a third gave born again Christians a thumbs-up.
Still Christian leaders somehow cannot draw the connection from the declining moral and ethical standards in the Christian community to a church that has failed to produce Christian character, because any failure is always attributed to the individual and not the quality of his Christian nurture or training.
Most church leaders hold to the notion that spiritual growth is the goal of Christian ministry. On the other hand, the Bible says that the goal of ministry is development of Christian character. Second Peter 1: 5-7 lays out Christian character development in a progression:
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love” (2 Pet 1:5-7).
One could diagram Christian growth this way:
Faith builds Excellence which builds Knowledge which in turn leads to Self Control which develops into Perseverance which produces Godliness from which comes Brotherly Affection which ultimately results in Unselfish Love.
Each quality builds on the one before it until the ultimate goal is reached which is unselfish love. In a sense one could say that the selfishness is being wrung out of human nature little by little throughout the process until it is completely removed in the final step - a step which no one ever completely attains.
This same process is embodied in some fifty 'one anothers' of scripture. They shape up this way in order of occurrence:
Humble, Submit, Service, Honor, Harmony, Agree (8),
Mercy, Compassion, Forgive, Forbear, Patience (8),
Show Affection (5),
Teach, Admonish, Worship, Meet (4),
Once again love is ranked highest on the scale of importance, although most modern church leaders would place teaching and worship at the top of the list.
The biggest difference between spiritual growth and character development is that one is tangible and the other is not. When spiritual growth becomes the object of ministry, outcomes are nebulous. One cannot judge another's prayer life or his devotion to God, so growth is not quantifiable. But it is possible to measure character development by the way the believer interacts with others. The Apostle Paul provided such an evaluation at the beginning of every letter he wrote to the churches.
Pastors fail to see the connection between the obvious lack of Christian qualities in the church and the effectiveness of their ministries, precisely because they have abandoned character development for spiritual growth. They have also become so focused on the exposition of the Bible that they pay little mind to the reason for expounding scripture - edification. I know a preacher who was well known for his excellent expository preaching. He used to give seminars on preaching to other pastors. He wrote books on preaching. He even founded a ministry called "Preaching The Word."* But this man never took his messages out of the first century. He never made the application to the everyday lives of believers. Despite all his expertise, he completely forgot the very purpose of preaching - to help the listener put the Word of God into practice. In his defense, the church he pastored was filled with intellectuals from the neighboring Christian College, so he had considerable pressure to be erudite and sophisticated.
To make matters worse, preachers reject all scrutiny of their methods, no matter how impartial, as church bashing or spiritual insubordination. This undermines their objectivity. Until recently they have also been exempt from any professional standards, weakening their accountability. However, as Mr. Ratcliff's experience shows, a new element of objectivity and accountability has been added by police detectives who can trace downloads of pornographic images directly to the personal computers of unsuspecting targets. This could ultimately prove to be a boon for a church that is not accustomed to measuring or being accountable for the outcomes of its ministries and blames all failures on the individual believer.
* In examining the backlinks to the Preachingtheword.com website, I came across two pornographic websites, proving that the abiity to preach a spell binding sermon is not always indication of a morally upright character.