By Dr. Stephen Phinney
This post is lengthy but every word is necessary.
[Readers Note] This is one of many letters written to a pastor who was ultimately sentenced to prison for sexual crimes. My relationship with this pastor started while he was living with a secret - a secret unknown to me or other leaders within his sphere of influence.
This particular letter was written to respond to his overwhelming grief of consequences, at times, struggling with wanting to stay alive. Before and after his incarceration, he is known as a kind and understanding pastor. I share this letter with you because of the transformation the Lord is doing in his life, as well as the need to assist other pastors who might be living with a secret. Here was my response.
Greetings, Pastor John.
I just finished reading your letter. I have to admit; I was weepy through much of it. Your level of grief and pain is difficult to bear.
My focus with this letter will be more on encouragement vs. updates. I have been challenged by some pastor friends to share a message dear to our hearts.
I belong to an online theological group. We have upward of 20 men in this group. These are guys that are held in high regard. I say all this to provide a back-bone to what I am encouraged to share, which goes hand-in-hand with your last letter.
When I was invited to join this group several years ago, I felt like a fish out of water, minimally intimidated. From time to time, each would ask me questions about the doctrines of Christ in you. This led to the doorway of personal struggles and the lack of Victory housed within their intellectual minds. Through time, our discussions became less cognitive and more emotive. While you would think our discussion would promote more intellectual diatribes, it did the opposite. Today we are known between each other as migrating our theological beliefs (Biblical Truth) into our positioning in Christ.
The schism of belief vs. manifestation. While a few are still hiding behind their knowledge, one of our most respected members began breaking the ice that cloaked the sea of transparency. Everything changed after that. He confessed that his knowledge of the Word became a weapon of destruction in his personal life. Meaning, he spent so much of his life searching the Scriptures about Truth while completely missing the personhood of Truth, who wanted to manifest through him. Further stating that "Victory is not a word or ideology to be discovered by human intellect. In my older years, I now realize it is in releasing Victory through the Victor, who lives in me." John, if you knew this man, it would bless you to the core. His revelation showed up immediately in his writing after his transformation. A testimony to his life-change.
Even our "great" teachers of modern Christianity need to get back to the basics of Christ in you. Droves of leaders are falling into the dark cave of knowledge-based Christianity, minimally paralyzed by the lie of Truth is found in knowledge. The lion's share has become worthless examples to a depraved, hurting world. Thus, dropping like flies. Some who are deconstructing their faith.
Dr. Solomon repetitively said to me, "It's not what a man accomplishes in ministry that people remember; it is the state of his affairs when he exits.” No truer words said for all of us as preachers. One of the benefits of this lesson is that many leaders adopted the Biblical Truth of making sure our exits are as clean as the knowledge we preach. In the end, after we are gone, teachers of the Word must realize that “followers” betray as quickly as a handshake, but the testimonies of the Lord endure forever.
Those who fear revealing themselves in testimonies must know there is a proper method to do so. First, the preacher needs to be under the authority of their governing leadership. Secondly, the preacher needs to work out the details of their confession with that leadership Board. The leadership can then help the pastor address the issue at hand - ethically and responsibly. If the confession involves a crime, all involved must notify the proper authorities. But, as in your case, not confessing to your leadership of your crimes, and now imprisoned, your public confession should be carefully crafted under another leader's supervision before going public.
The real Jesus makes two offers to preachers. He offers to set us free from the penalty of sin before freedom eludes us. The lack of experiential knowledge of being freed from the penalty of sin is typically what blocks leaders from confessing. Thus, since they are already isolated and lonely, they avoid more condemnation from others. Since experiential knowledge of Christ paying the price for the leader’s sin personally escapes them, the fear of confession becomes lodged in pride.
Secondly, He offers to set us free from the power of sin before sin’s power destroys our testimony before the Lord and those that are listening. As in the case with all preachers, belief is one thing, but the flesh deceives most leaders into perplexity, and the lie of sin’s power remains in control. Resulting in habitual sin(s) that propagate a life-style of hidden sins. Fact. Sin has no power over authentic believers. When it acts as if it does, it is a confession that belief and experience elude each other.
Both offers are made on exactly the same terms: we can accept them only by letting Him do it all through our all. Meaning, if the preacher doesn’t connect the dots of Christ in you, the preacher is destined to fall – the preacher and his “followers.” The secret to being set free from secrets is through a transparent life in Christ Jesus.
Dr. Scofield once said, “The preacher has their up-and-down experiences, winning one day and failing the next, confessing their sins and trying again, and so going on in discouragement and defeat as a common experience. It is a trap.” Well said, Mr. Scofield. The trap for all preachers is in trying again and again. Death is the only answer. Death to the fleshly prideful self that is.
I’m not speaking of the mistaken ideology of “sinless perfection.” Nor am I negating the reality that chosen sin temporarily paralyzes our leaders. But, I am addressing the known pride of many of our teachers who refuse to adhere to James' solution for healing.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5:16)
The insiders and outsiders can’t pray effectively for the unconfessed. Thus, the unconfessed remain in darkness and rarely experience healing. Ultimately leaving a legacy of defeat. Therefore, to avoid this demise, all things must be brought into the Light and Life of Jesus.
No preacher can have such an indwelling transformation in Christ without releasing Christ in a confession while in the process. Active confessions are sharper than a two-edged sword. It is the Word in action. The issue is not the sin that binds a man; it is in refusing to be transparent about their sin. The simple fact is, if we don’t confess with our mouths, somebody else will.
Back when President George W. Bush was campaigning, a question hit the table. “What if the public brings up your bout with alcoholism? Without hesitation, he said, “OK, I will make it public immediately. That is exactly what he did. As a result, it was no longer a talking-point to be manipulated by others. The masses tend to confess for the unconfessed. The only way to stop this is to beat them to the punch.
The miracle of conversion is sustained and continued in our life in Christ only by continuing, moment-by-moment Victory that Christ Himself releases in the authentic believer. Not only that, He doesn’t implore us to have faith to activate Victory, but He provides His faith as the Victory. He knows that the preacher's faith is a worthless thing & certain to fail. This is why He implants His FAITH within the preacher through the venue of Christ in you. So, how does the preacher know the difference between self-faith and Christ’s faith? One has power, and the other leaves one feeling powerless. Plus, the one who experiences His faith is compelled to tell the world His story. John, keep this in mind, a preacher who preaches without personal transparency is preaching knowledge of Truth vs. the personhood of Truth. Which leaves the listener with the same trap the preacher suffers. I believe this was Dr. Scofield’s point.
What are the conditions of authentic Victorious Life? Great question. Because there ARE conditions. In my studies, I have found only three. And they are simple – Resting in Christ, releasing Christ’s Faith, and renouncing momentary Pride. That redundant phrase, let go and let God, might still hold some power.
Surrender is normally associated with an experience. The lie is, it is a one time experience. Rendering sin to the indwelling Life is a continuous modality required to live Victoriously. Salvation stories are as numerous as ants on the earth. Most of them are a perceived ticket to Heaven or a marker to prove to oneself they are back-on-track. Many will discover the ticket was only a self-imposed testimony. Real testimonies are continuous confessions of restoration evolving from a greater Life from within. As in the Old Testimonies and the New Testimonies, the Bible encompasses both as ongoing stories of transformation. The book of Revelation is simply the Lord’s testimony of those who endured to the end WITH their testimonies.
Every preacher needs to realize that there is only one Life that wins in the end – the Life of Jesus Christ. Secondly, all those who have His indwelling can release His Life to do the living. Any and all attempts outside of that will lead to a reputation of failure and tainting of the authentic Gospel. Also, a preacher revealing the flesh's deeds becomes the link for listeners to gain the proclaimed Victory the preacher is processing. Resulting in compassion and transformation in the listener. Error to this might be the reason your fellow pastors are shunning you. Either this irony traps them, or they are reacting to your darkened testimony.
All confession should contain a story. Confessing one’s sin is only an intro. The confession should contain a life-transforming story – a message directed at the reader or listener. Honestly, that is the primary theme of the Bible. For example, David’s adulterous act with Bethsheba needed to be revealed. But, the fact that Jesus came from this seed line is far more redemptive. Your confession of sexually abusing others is needed. However, the transformational story that comes from this will be the bridge to the abused redemption – hopefully at some point in time. The goal of reconciliation is never to be at peace with the person(s) you offended; those are a dime a dozen. It is in the act of redemption and forgiveness of Jesus Christ in and through the offender on to the offended. All confessions hold a lesson. And…that lesson needs to be evangelistic in nature by way of the Grace of God in Christ Jesus. If the offended is truly indwelt, then the message becomes a demonstration of passing forward the redemptive act of indwelling forgiveness. If the offended is not saved, confession frequently becomes a pathway to salvation.
We need to examine those who endure to the end; those shall be saved (Matt. 13:13). Endurance is the final test for authentic believers. If this is true, and I believe it is, Satan will tempt the preacher to either hide their sin from the world or attempt to end their lives to remove themselves from the consequences of the secret. Each somehow misses the answer that was on the tip of their tongue – redemptive confession. Real-time endurance does not hold to one’s beliefs; it survives others' scrutiny for their beliefs.
John, your dark cave of demise and its elements are horrid. The absolute Truth is, you must rise above these circumstances – beyond the prison walls. Your story needs to be read by outsiders who are presently doing what you did. And certainly, be read by those who have been abused. As both of us know, the imprisoned tend to belly-gaze when hearing the Truth. While in-house ministry is great and needed, your story deserves to be given to a lost world. Our ministry will help you accomplish this feat. Hold your head up high when walking the corridors of your entrapment. You are the light to their dark world. Stop “starring at the floor.” By not starring into the eyes of your enemy proves to them they have you controlled by fear.
In many respects, our worlds are the same. God picked your environment. Mine is different in outreach but the same in Christ. A few years ago, a local gang leader pulled a gun on me, put the gun in the center of my forehead, and said, Shut your mouth, stop teaching my wife these crazy things. I replied with, Pull the trigger, my friend, for I will not stop sharing the Life of Christ with your family. He put the gun in his belt, sat down, and stayed through the entire Bible study, with the addition of being led into salvation. Today, Pablo is a born-again believer, a beloved co-worker, and a disciple. He has a gang ministry in his hometown. Much later, I asked him about the gun incident. He said the power of your faith outweighed the power of my gun. Stating he wanted the kind of life this preacher has.
All this to say, I am deeply concerned that you maintain Victory in a dark place. Nobody knows how you feel in your daily experiences outside of Jesus. That brings comfort. However, I am well aware that you need quality spiritual food while adjusting and living in a deprived environment. This was/is my goal.
As you and I understand, there is no rehabilitation in prisons outside of Jesus. All classes, therapy groups, and secular directives are only temporary fixes – typically fixes that form road-blocks in the pathway to the real answer, Jesus.
Your willingness to reach other inmates for Jesus is honorable. God is closely monitoring your life. You are a light for His life. I admire you as a brother in Christ and fellow preacher of the Word, but I wonder if your circumstances are fronting you with another way out – ending your life. My Sunday School teacher of yesteryears, John Stevens, also the author of “Suicide, The Illicit Lover,” said these words.
Suicide is the last lover known to isolated believers. Since their perception is all have forsaken them, a final love affair with their self-life becomes their only deceptive hope. What they need is a love affair with Jesus Christ.
Mr. Steven’s conclusion is not a cold, clinical analysis of the subject of suicide, but rather a warm, compassionate insight into the thoughts and feelings of the potential victim(s) of those who lack a love-life with Jesus. Mr. Stevens is the man God used to help my mentor, Dr. Solomon, become freed from his demise in 1965 when he was at the utter end of his self-life resources. Dr. Solomon described his struggle as a seemingly endless black tunnel of depression and despair. Even though Mr. Stevens had personal experience in this demise, it took the Holy Spirit to reveal the Truth to Dr. Solomon, which launched Dr. Solomon’s life long journey and ministry today called the “Exchanged Life.”
After these two men became faithful friends & mentors, they made naked my hidden secret, my refusal to die to the self-life – hidden within the walls of insecurities. Which, by the way, paralyzed me in sharing the Gospel. I will never forget that Sunday morning after class when Dr. Solomon said these words to me.
As for the flesh, death is more inviting than life. Someone has to die today. It’s your choice, death to self or a love affair with a life begging for death.
I choose death to self that day. That death brought life. Within a short period, I went from being paralyzed in speech to being a bold teacher of Truth. And yes, this ignited a life long journey and ministry into the freeing Truths of Not I, but Christ.
John, someone needs to die today. It is not in assisted suicide by your flesh's help, but by assisted death through co-death, burial, and resurrection in Christ Jesus. Please consider reviewing and praying the enclosed Selfer’s Prayer. If you do, you might find a life worth living.
I love you eternally. Until next time…
By Dr. Stephen Phinney | 2021 Pastor to Pastor Series