Is character important in a Christian leader? Seems so, 1 Timothy 3:1 – 13; Titus 1:5 – 9. So if one who presents as a Christian leader does not have this type of character, how should we respond to them?
Genesis of the Question
This morning I got an email from an old friend, with whom I am in the Word weekly. We both have been laboring in the ministry at different levels for the past 40+ years. He sent me a quote that his wife had found about the use of commentaries, here it is:
Coming to the Bible through commentaries is much like looking at a landscape through garret windows, over which generations of unmolested spiders have spun their webs. – Henry Ward Beecher, American Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and speaker (1813 - 1887)Why Ask?
My friend sent the quote because he knew that when I work with men and pastors in Bible study I emphasize that commentaries are resources that one uses only after one has completed their own study. He was right I love the quote. However…
I was familiar with Beecher’s name but not much about him as an individual. I do not remember his name coming up in my Church history class, and I just checked one of the textbooks and he was not mentioned there either. So I searched for him on the web. Wikipedia had this entry:
Beecher married Eunice Bullard in 1837 after a five-year engagement. Their marriage was not a happy one; as Applegate writes, "within a year of their wedding they embarked on the classic marital cycle of neglect and nagging", marked by Henry's prolonged absences from home. The couple also suffered the deaths of four of their eight children.
Beecher enjoyed the company of women, and rumors of extramarital affairs circulated as early as his Indiana days, when he was believed to have had an affair with a young member of his congregation. In 1858, the Brooklyn Eagle wrote a story accusing him of an affair with another young church member who had later become a prostitute. The wife of Beecher's patron and editor, Henry Bowen, confessed on her deathbed to her husband of an affair with Beecher; Bowen concealed the incident during his lifetime.
Several members of Beecher's circle reported that Beecher had had an affair with Edna Dean Proctor, an author with whom he was collaborating on a book of his sermons. The couple's first encounter was the subject of dispute: Beecher reportedly told friends that it had been consensual, while Proctor reportedly told Henry Bowen that Beecher had raped her. Regardless of the initial circumstances, Beecher and Proctor allegedly then carried on their affair for more than a year. According to historian Barry Werth, "it was standard gossip that 'Beecher preaches to seven or eight of his mistresses every Sunday evening.'"Unqualified
If that data is true, Beecher was not qualified to be a deacon or elder, much less a pastor of a church. Under the heading of having a good reputation, regardless, he would be disqualified.
So, what do I do with that quote? Do I use it? Does the bad character of the individual who makes the statement invalidate its usefulness?
There are many who were not believers who are quoted in the Bible; many who said things that were true that had bad character. Truth is truth, regardless of its source. Truth conforms to the Bible. That was the point of the series of posts I wrote about Einstein.
So, yes, I will use the quote.
More to Say
There are some other things we need to learn from Beecher however. I will share those tomorrow.