People like the world to be in black-and-white, but we need to learn to see all the shades and colors. And people like to keep each other in neat little boxes. If someone has the right main views, or the right credentials, or the right reputation, we have a tough time imagining there could be anything wrong with that person-- especially if it’s a leader, and even more so if it’s a Christian leader.
But the Bible never paints even the most illustrious figures in such a way. Moses and David are surely among the most admired and respected leaders in the Bible, yet it tells not only of their strengths and accomplishments, but also of their weaknesses, sins, and downfalls. Moses, the “most humble man that ever lived” (Numbers 12:3), committed murder, as did David, “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22).
Notice also that the Bible names people who do wrong when they do it, no matter who they are. Paul sometimes named false teachers and sometimes not, depending on whether the person had the intent to deceive or was simply deceived themselves. And if anyone repented they were restored to fellowship, but they had to do more than say they were sorry; they had to act accordingly.
But what should we do with leaders who have the basics of the gospel right, but teach unbiblical things otherwise? Personally, I think they should be taken out of leadership and put under the teaching of someone who has not strayed, until they can demonstrate understanding of the truth and turn away from the falsehood they had been spreading.
But what we must not do is ignore them, sweeping the problem under the rug. We cannot protect someone’s reputation at the cost of letting their followers be led astray. After all, we’d consider them poor leaders if they ignored the errors and sins of their students, so how can the leaders be held to a lower standard? In fact, the Bible says the opposite: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1)
One of the reasons the churches have been rocked by scandals lately is because they do not confront error. They like to whitewash leaders and pamper them instead of holding them to account. Such leaders get used to being treated like royalty, with the inevitable fall after the pride this instills in them. The people have been told not to “touch God’s anointed” (wrenched out of context of course) instead of being good Bereans: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11) If Paul could be closely scrutinized by the common people, who is anyone else to claim to be above scrutiny?
This is yet another result of the unbiblical notion of hierarchy in the churches, where believers with some gifts are put over those with other gifts, and a class distinction divides the Body of Christ. Yes, there are consequences for the traditional model of “church”.