What do one do when the messenger invalidates his message by committing some moral transgression is not as black and white as one would come to understand if they actually spent some time thinking through the implications very seriously.
If the standard is absolute moral fidelity then the only person who actually qualified to “cast the first stone” would be Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Outside of Him no one qualifies. As the axiom, “to err is human” is, well, considered an axiom for a reason. It is because it does not need explanation or a defense because it is universally accepted that the statement is true on its face, it is a prima facie argument.
Is the standard the person cannot be guilty of the particular sin under consideration? For example, if the issue is gambling can someone only speak if their life is not tainted with any gambling transgression. Some take that view but I do not think that can stand under the weight of Biblical scrutiny. Frankly, if Christ was indeed a drunkard as some charged I would not devote one iota of my time under His Lordship even if He was perfect in all other moral areas. The Evangelical worldview is that Christ was sinless in all ways possible be they thoughts or desires or actions or beliefs or any other category you want to postulate.
The relationship of messenger and their message was raised concerning the meteoric fall of Bill Cosby. Bill Cosby was once the beacon of virtue to society at large, but especially within the A-A community because of the status he earned as an educator and positive role model. You speak with many and Crosby was beloved because he was comedian who told jokes, wait, get this, without resorting to lewd language and crass sexual conversation. (Frankly I find it very difficult to attend a comedy show with a good conscience. I always feel like such a heel for sitting through a session I know God would not take delight but I digress but continue to pray for me. As a quick aside that is why I am growing very fond of Jim Gaffigan. He is funny comedian who creates wholesome humor that all can enjoy without resorting to smutty language).
But now, back to the matter at hand. Cosby was highly regarded and beloved. I personally grew watching and loving, like most other kids, Fat Albert every Saturday morning. Then as an adult Crosby starred in the mega-successful TV series, The Cosby Show. For several years it was the No#1 program on television. Bill Cosby was the go-to guy for all things wholesome and positive, especially at an A-A.
Bill Cosby seemed to be able to do no wrong. He earned a doctorate degree in Education and he held great esteem within the A-A community as well as the larger global community. He used his platform to hold A-A accountable for their success in the American experiment. He believed hard work, primarily through education, would enable most A-As to obtain a solid footing in the middle class. He spoke forcefully against those who embraced what could be coined a “ghetto or thug” culture or to be more charitably a “street” culture. Cosby believed and spoke openly about his disdain for A-A males who wore their pants hanging off their behinds and embraced what is considered by many to be anti-social behavior.
Not surprisingly, some of his critics relished his fall. This caused his message to be automatically rejected because of his transgression. There are many within the Evangelical community who share a similar understanding of the necessity of “believers” living out the implications of the Gospel.
Let me lay my cards on the table. I reject such a notion. For example, if I am witnessing to someone and I am secretly beating my wife or cheating on my taxes. Am I guilty of gross hypocrisy? Absolutely!!! And in spades in doing so but do my foibles invalidate the message or any of the content therein. Can an alcoholic preach the Gospel or perform an act of service to God?
I hope you agree the answer must be in the affirmative. In fact, I personally witnessed such an act. While attending a church in the inner-city of Chicago years ago we frequently had “street” people come around and even sometimes attend the church service. As Deacons it was our duty to “manage” their presence in the church service because without such monitoring they could and would interrupt the service. One Sunday one of the street individual came into the morning service and I drew the assignment. I invited the young man to sit besides me on the “Deacon Row.” Sometime during the morning service he broke out into the most beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
I can still remember the emotion that permeated throughout the congregation, to include yours truly. He had such a melodious voice it was captivating to sit and listen. Of course, the actual words of this great hymn had no actual intersection with his life at the time but the message he conveyed was still genuine and true. This is a proof text of “keeping the baby” but “chucking the bathwater.”
When one is making theological propositions one should always be able to ground their theology in the Word of God. Attempting to be a good theologian let me proceed to lay out my case. The Apostle Paul was persecuted by others who questioned his credentials. Maybe they were jealous of Paul’s platform and standing so they preached against Paul while seemingly making creditable statements about Christ.
What was Paul’s response? Was it to reject the message or the messenger or was it to reject both? It seems Paul’s only concern was the message? He did not even bother to address the issue of the messenger in this response. His reply was, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, (Philippians 1:18, NIV).”
I am not the biggest fans of dynamic translations but I think the New Living Translation is really insightful in this case: “But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.”
People, many in the A-A community eviscerated Cosby. Many called him a “sell-out” and an “Uncle Tom” who “forgot where he came from.” It is the typical refrain you hear from people who are critical of others when they reach a level of success and they hold a position of “personal accountability” for how one flourishes in society. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas faced the same backlash when he spoke of personal accountability and attributed his success to hard work and determination.
I found the comments of comedian Franklyn Ajaye very illuminating. He said, [no]matter what the verdict is, he hopes that black America sees that Cosby’s criticisms were “a desperate call for black people to get more education, and conduct themselves with more dignity and self-respect if they want to navigate more successfully through the racially hostile environment that America is. It was done out of love — tough love to be sure. The messenger was flawed, but not the message.”
Eloquent words, I wished I had penned them myself. BTW the verdict he makes reference was, of course, in relationship to the court case Cosby was involved with at the time of the quote. Cosby was eventually found guilty of the crimes he was charged.
We need more people calling for personal accountability and even if they do not live up to the precepts perfectly or even consistently they do not tarnish in the slightest the truthfulness of their preposition. Equally, we need more “tough love” where we quit always looking without for the ills of our community. Yes, there are legitimate issues with police but the more pressing issue is the crime taking place within the A-A community, as one example.
I will readily grant it helps immensely if the messenger properly represents the message they convey. That should be readily agreed by all right thinking and fair-minded people. As a committed and devoted follower of Jesus Christ I always want my orthopraxy (my living) to be aligned with my orthodoxy (my belief) but the truthfulness of the Gospel does not depend on my faithfulness (and thank God for that.) The truthfulness of the Gospel is wholly dependent upon what God has done through Christ in time and space.
This is why theology ALWAYS matters. No one is saved because someone “lived out the Gospel.” This is why it is a foolish notion to believe people are saved or influenced towards God because you might be the only Bible they see/read. Individuals are saved because they have been exposed to the Gospel.
People love to quote, “Preach the Gospel at all time and if necessary use words. There is only two problems with this famous quote. Only two but the two are
- It is not theologically correct
- The person who allegedly made the quote (St. Francis of Assis) never made the quote
It is not theologically correct because the Gospel is a set of propositions that must be communicated to a receiver (sinner). The receiver must possess and display cognitive understanding of the content of the message. They must then delight and agree (heart) with the stated preposition and then respond volitionally with repentance and subsequent proper actions (transformation).
None of us live out perfectly the implications of the Gospel. The great theologian R.C. Sproul would say he has not lived perfectly for more than five minutes at a time. If we understand the Holiness of God and the sinfulness of man we too would begin to understand how much of a sinner we really are. The Holy Writ describes it like this “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7).
I thank God He does not require moral perfection to represent His name. If He did then we would need to close up shop and eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we perish. God works through imperfect human being by His Holy design.
Getting back to Bill Cosby. I believe he was spot-on in his analysis. A-As, and all other people are largely, not exclusively, responsible for their lot in life. I can no more “blame the man” than I can blame McDonald’s for my bulging waistline. All I need to do is quit going there so much and put on my running shoes and hit the pavement.
As always I welcome your feedback.
Until then keep your hands to the plow and seek to serve for an Audience of One!