There’s not really a better time to put this out there, so I’ll connect it all with Leviticus 22. First, remember what Leviticus is about: if a holy God is going to dwell among unrighteous people, then certain issues need to be dealt with. Sin must be avoided as much as possible and atoned for when it cannot be avoided. Otherwise, the overwhelming holiness of God will destroy the people.
Throughout these explanations, the Law has referred to a group of people who are supposed to aide the people with their obedience. These people are responsible for offering sacrifices, teaching the people, and verifying infectious diseases. They are the priests.
When we get into Leviticus 22, we see some important information about the qualifications of those priests. It was clear then that a priest must live a life focused on holiness, even at the cost of being a part of some of the normal life and behavior of the people of Israel. It was also clear that, at times, priests fell short and needed to offer the same sacrifices as anyone else.
Given that we do not live in Old Testament Theocratic Israel, how does this apply to us?
Put simply, we ought to apply this to our religious leaders. Not that we should be overly particular about what funerals they attend or whether or not they eat shrimp. Instead, our focus should be on the principle at stake in the chapter in Leviticus: do our religious leaders reflect the holiness of God?
First contemplation: is that leader in a relationship with God in the first place? This ought to be a given, but somehow we miss this one at times. There should be evidence and testimony that an individual actually has faith in God before we account them as a religious leader. You think we don’t? Take a look at how often churches borrow from business or entertainment without considering the difference. How many modern churches have undertaken new projects based on the latest movie? How many churches have reorganized their administrative issues based on the latest business advice?
Religious leadership can gather wisdom from outside the spiritual realm, but must ultimately find its guidance from a relationship with God.
Second contemplation: is that leader striving to live righteously in their relationship? There is almost no end to the stories these days of people taking the pulpits and teaching lecterns of Christianity and spreading lies. Now, at the moment the lies of false teaching are not exactly in view—a growing disciple should be catching some of these based on their own knowledge and growth. These are the lies of self-aggrandizement which have no place in religious leadership. These are the times when people lie to make themselves seem like more than they are.
Whether it’s a lie of background or behavior, it is wrong. And should be the end of someone’s pulpit career. At the very least, until there is a public statement of repentance that matches the publicity of the lies. That is, simply, mandatory.
The third contemplation: does the person who claims leadership use it for their sake or for the glory of God? As an auxiliary question, do they seek their benefit or that of the people they serve? The priests of Leviticus were entitled to certain benefits, but those were to enable them to focus on service. Not to enable a life of luxury or superiority.
Now, the further issue in this case is not only those who ought not be religious leaders, but those who enable them. Working through restorative efforts for one who is repentant is not the same as enabling. However, the problem arises when one allows, or worse, encourages a known charlatan into a position of influence.
That is just plain wrong. If we want to see the judgment of God on the churches in our life, then we should continue feeding a steady stream of liars, cheats, and deceivers into the pulpits and lecterns around us. Those who are lesser leaders should guard zealously the charge we have, as well as the influences over our own leadership.
And the body as a whole must guard itself. There are fakers and crooks out there, and we must, together, refuse to give them an audience. Refuse to buy the books, the movies, the podcasts…whatever it takes to cut it out. Ultimately, we are responsible for this and the negative impact it has on our efforts to show forth the Kingdom of God.