In the event you haven’t read anything on the subject yet, new allegations of egregious sexual misconduct have arisen against the late apologist, Ravi Zacharias. This time, the allegations come from previous employees of the apologist during private massage sessions, where Ravi exposed and gratified himself multiple times over the course of years. Despite all of its critics, there is certainly something to be commended about the Mike Pence Rule (or the Billy Graham Rule, whichever you prefer to call it). It is a rather obvious point to make, but had Ravi brought another to serve as a witness, his life would have remained above reproach in this regard. There certainly would not be an easy road to indulge in such lewd behavior with another to hold him accountable—so perhaps this serves as yet another example of why such things are necessary and serve as a protection for all parties.
At the risk of weighing in prematurely on the recent allegations of sexual misconduct, it seems these allegations are credible, and depict yet another prominent Evangelical whose public persona did not match his private conduct. I never followed Ravi’s ministry all that closely for various reasons, but I am nonetheless saddened by seeing further allegations of misconduct come out. Ravi Zacharias is yet another prominent figure in the Evangelical world the church must look at and tell babes in Christ, “Don’t follow in his footsteps. Don’t look at his success—look at his conduct. Look at his life. You don’t want to go that way; there is a better way.” While I recognize many would disagree with me on this opinion, I believe things like this undo the entirety of the man’s ministry simply due to the severity of these actions.
People often remark that numbers are a sure sign of God’s blessing on a ministry. Whether those benchmarks are conversions, baptisms, attendees, book deals, speaking engagements, or even the number of foolish arguments exposed for what they are—the greater the quantity, the more God is blessing it. Yet what if for some, these are the very same things which serve to be a perpetual temptation to them, and thereby, serve as a curse rather than a blessing? What if their hearts are being exposed by the very things that others see as a sure sign of God’s work through them? What if Satan, knowing what lures the hearts of men to vain worship, uses such ends to bring a man to severe testing—and that man fails? What if one’s love for notoriety outweighs their love for Christ and chastity?
There are a host of other metrics one might use to illustrate the point, yet suffice it to say: none of these things truly matter if they are overshadowed by a tenebrous life lived contrary to our profession. None of the good Ravi Zacharias did will outweigh his misconduct if these allegations are substantiated, nor will it bring healing to the women he exposed himself to. For several moments of pleasure—a ministry’s reputation is left in shambles, the lives of these women are tarnished through no fault of their own, and the gospel is maligned. Yet even if this would have happened only once—that is enough to effectively ruin a man’s ministry.
Ministers of the gospel are not beyond measures of strict accountability nor the pale of scrutiny, but most importantly, they are not beyond the rightful application of church discipline in matters requiring repentance. To bar them from church discipline is a fundamental injustice to them and the victims of their crimes. Here I mean not only their gross spiritual misconduct as a minister of the gospel, but the legal crimes for which they ought to face account for while still alive. The grace of God is no less graceful to us in the consequences to our sins than in the work of Christian service—and it must be said that one’s credentials do not bar them from this truth.
Prominent Evangelicals are representatives of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we do no favors to the church, nor these prominent celebrity Christians to whitewash their immoral conduct. The best thing we could do, if we genuinely love them and their victims, is to bring them through the proper disciplinary process as outlined in Matt. 18. In the plainest sense of what I’m seeking to convey: the best thing for the reputation of the church and our Lord Jesus Christ, whom we represent, would be to remove said ministers of the gospel from their lofty positions, as they are no longer fit for service in this capacity due to their moral failure. As John Owen remarked, “If a man teach uprightly and walk crookedly, more will fall down in the night of his life than he built in the day of his doctrine.” The longer we safeguard one from repentance and the restorative process of discipline, the greater the carnage.
The reality is that one might wax eloquently on the pressures of ministry which lead such people of prominence into sin—but these pressures are all self-imposed. There is nothing which says ministers of the gospel must take on speaking engagements, debates, writing assignments, and the like, in order to be faithful to their calling. Instead, there is plenty which mandates they must take on the mantle of obedience to the faith, above and beyond anything else. They must live servile, obedient lives as slaves to Christ, not slaves to the lusts of the flesh nor the demands of the 21st century church who has a love affair with celebrity culture. If one cannot avoid such pitfalls, they do no favors standing as a very public witness to the Christian faith, no matter how brilliant and eloquent they may be. There are several things to be teased out from the implications of this, not the least of which being there is a very large issue within modern Evangelicalism to build a brand behind a particular figurehead rather than Christ. Surely, there is something to be said of faithful men in prominent positions who have stood strong, yet there is more to be said of a faithful obscurity.
Despite the shock many have shown in this news though, this isn’t the first time allegations of this sort against Ravi Zacharias have made headlines. If you recall, prior to his death, Ravi Zacharias had entered into a non-disclosure agreement with Lori Ann Thompson back in 2017 due to similar allegations. At the time, many rightly remained skeptical of the NDA between the two because it was seen as a means to protect the brand, so to speak. While the NDA is still intact, my hope is that the board of directors for Ravi’s estate will do the right thing and release the details so full transparency can be had in light of these new allegations. Regardless of what may come of the NDA and even these new allegations, Ravi’s life now serves as an example of a man that at best, was not above reproach and is marked by gross, serial sexual immorality. The criterion fits the biblical demand to be an establish case against Ravi Zacharias (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1). At best—whatever legacy he left is now marred by the wanton sexual advances of a married minister of the gospel. God’s name is blasphemed among the atheists because of such things (Rom. 2:24).
At worst, his life serves as a profound warning for those who wish to ignore that making a practice of such things bars one from the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21). The point here is not to say that Ravi was not a genuine Christian, but rather, that the text says what it says. I don’t know what constitutes “a practice” in the mind of the apostle Paul, nor our Lord Jesus Christ. Is it 100 times? 1,000 times? Is shame enough to mark one out as a true Christian, when such shame does not lead to repentance, but further licentiousness in the dark? The point here is not to deny Sola Fide nor Sola Gratia—salvation by grace through faith alone. Rather, the point is to simply acknowledge that warning passages aren’t warnings to the church if we dismiss them out of hand under the guise of the Reformed soteriological scheme.
It becomes easy for many to quickly affirm his profession of faith, but it is likewise just as easy for people to denounce his faith entirely. The Christian faith doesn’t give such clean answers on things like these though, namely, because we have a historic faith full of men and women who are grand sinners in the hands of a grander Savior. Even our best men are plagued with the curse that all men bear, and the stain of their sins is absolved only through the shed blood of their Master, Jesus Christ. At the same time, the most frightening passage in Scripture speaks of the Day of Judgment to come where many will say to Christ, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?”
Our Lord’s response will not be one of recognizing these great feats. He will not give praise for the metrics of men. Instead, He will say to many on that day, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” Again, we have to ask the unanswered question: what defines lawlessness in the mind of our Lord? It is obviously one who is characterized by willful, flagrant disobedience—but again, where is the tipping point? It is easy to look at the charlatans in the prosperity gospel and say of them, they define lawlessness with clarity—and they do. Yet many others are the grumblers, fault-finders, gossips, slanderers, and the like, who follow after their own lusts—who speak arrogantly and flatter others for the sake of gaining an advantage, who likewise will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Rom. 1:29-32; Jude 1:16).
These are uncomfortable truths in the mind of many simply because we have made room for what Jerry Bridges calls “respectable sins.” We are so quick to give pat answers and explain these things away—yet if we were to let them marinate in our hearts and minds a bit, we might be the better for it. The rather obvious bit of advice to any who are flirting with where that line might be drawn is to flee as fast as possible in the opposite direction. The old illustration of the one who seeks to get as close to the edge of the cliff before falling headlong to their untimely death serves quite well in that regard. Take a step back from the cliffside and make your way back to the straight and narrow path. It is the long-haul trajectory of faithfulness in the same direction then which serves to demonstrate the validity of our faith. For some matters, repentance is like turning a speedboat around; for others, it may be more like an aircraft carrier—yet in either case, the ship must turn. Rest assured though: that which is hidden shall be brought to light (Mark 4:22).
It is in this fact of what can only be construed as a revelation of the true character of a man that we find our final point of consideration. It is the outcome of one’s life we must weigh to see if theirs is a life worthy of imitation (Heb. 13:7). Here the author of Hebrews undoubtedly has both a doctrinal and moral component in mind; their life must not only reflect one of upright moral conduct befitting a minister of the gospel—their doctrine must also stand the test of fire. It is no wonder the apostle Paul instructed young Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16). Undoubtedly, no man is perfect. All are sinners who daily fall short of the standard of God. This is particularly why the good news of the gospel is so good to sinners.
None of this though, removes the strict qualifications in place for those who wish to be ministers of the gospel. This episode, though one of many scandals in the history of the church, serves as our example—yet it is not a positive one. Rather, it is much like the harlotry of Israel, which was written for our instruction, so that the one who thinks he is standing firm should be careful not to fall (1 Cor. 10:11-12). That means you and I. This serves as our warning—as our instruction, lest we too succumb to great moral failure and make a mockery of the shed blood of Christ. When we consider the hordes of those who have gone before us and fallen in various ways, the task almost seems too great to bear.
Yet it must be likewise made clear: the means through which these men have fallen are not terribly difficult qualifications to uphold. We expect all Christians to abide in sexual purity, to be free of the love of money, to abstain from drunkenness and being a brawler, murderer, and the like. There is a world of sexual expression to be found in the wife of one’s youth—regardless of what external pressures one might feel. Stolen water may be sweet; bread eaten in secret may be pleasant—but he who commits adultery is stupid and destroys himself (Pro. 9:17; 6:32). God is the Avenger in all these things, speaking of those who transgress and defraud their brother or sister in matters of sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:1-8). While temptation may be great—wisdom has given us a better way, and it starts long before one decides to expose and gratify themselves before another.
I sincerely doubt Ravi Zacharias would have ever believed he would get to such a point, if indeed he did. However, it is the culmination of small decisions, little by little, which build up and manifest themselves in grotesque fashions as the conscience becomes all the more seared and the Spirit is grieved. The point being: the path to withstanding gross sexual misconduct, and any other form of moral misconduct for that matter, is to recognize the battle begins in the infancy stages of sin, where the expressions of temptation seem rather innocuous. To put it another way: it begins at the stage many would like to call low-hanging fruit, with principled decisions that safeguard against the path that takes the route to death rather than the way of Jesus.
There is no temptation which is unique to you individually, as Christ was even tempted in every respect, yet remained without sin. God is faithful to not only provide a sympathetic High Priest to us in our temptations through Christ, but He is also a faithful God who does not give us temptations beyond what we can bear, nor leave us without a means of escape (1 Cor. 10:13; Heb. 4:15). Whatever temptations arise, we have a means of help and escape—and must likewise admit we have not resisted to the point of shedding blood in striving against sin (Heb. 12:4). If you are in Christ, you are not a slave to your sins, nor the lusts of the flesh (Rom. 6:1-7). You have been freed from the stranglehold of sin. We can approach the throne of grace in boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).
All of these great truths and more must come to bear when we consider our own lives in light of the moral conduct we are beholden to. We must likewise bring these facts to consideration as we look to men in prominence within the church. There is much more at stake than preserving the brand. Preserving the health of the church and the message of the gospel is at the forefront of our mission. Until the church learns this lesson and puts a stop to men in prominence at the first substantiated case of immoral conduct, we will be left watching the tumbling train cars with horror as we hope and pray they finally come to a stop. These things require careful, sober reflection from those who wish to be ministers of the gospel—but especially of those who vie for prominence. The carnage left behind in the wake of ministerial scandal gives Gentiles every reason to blaspheme. At some point, we must come to recognize the onus is not simply on the scandalous minister, but upon everyone who continues to prop them up.