The Relative Unimportance of Being Schaap

By now most of you have read the sad news regarding (former) Pastor Jack Schaap of the megachurch, First Baptist Church of Hammond, IN. On July 31, 2012, he was removed from his position as Senior Pastor for having sexual relations with a 16 year old girl from his church. Obviously, this event has tragic consequences for this young woman, Schaap’s family and this local church, but it raises the question of how a minister could be so “successful” while entwined in a pattern of sin, lies and a double life, much like Oscar Wilde’s John Worthing.

Jack Schaap became the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in 2001, succeeding his father-in-law who passed away. In 2005, under Schaap’s leadership, First Baptist expanded their church to include a 7,500 seat auditorium, and in July 2006, Church Report magazine ranked First Baptist 24th of the 50 most influential churches in the United States. It would appear that, at least numerically speaking, Schaap was a successful pastor. Moreover, the shock and hurt expressed by members of the congregation speak to how they experienced blessing from Schaap’s ministry.

But how can this be? How can someone committing this kind of violation and covering it up be used by God to expand the Kingdom and bless others with the gospel? While I stand well outside the Independent Baptist theological circle, I don’t deny the diversity of the Kingdom and God’s willingness to use a variety of theologies to draw humanity to Himself. Nevertheless, there is a significant difference between theological diversity and ongoing, unrepentant sin in the life of a pastor. So, how is it that unrepentant sin and blessing can flow from the same pastor? A turn to church history may be helpful as a guide in answering this question.

The first edict of Emperor Diocletian, 303 AD, was aimed at the Christians. What followed was a wave of brutality that only ancient Rome could deliver. Scriptures were burned. Christians were tortured. Traitor became a technical term used of Christians that gave up copies of scripture or the location of other Christians when facing the threat of torture.

In 305 AD the persecution had spread over into North Africa, and a new problem began to grow from within the church. The Donatists were a group of bishops and church members that chose to separate themselves from the Church universal because the Church chose to forgive and restore those bishops that elected to be traitors rather martyrs. They argued that the sacraments and ministry of these bishops were rendered ineffective due to their apostasy. Therefore, they separated from the tainted to ensure purity of the blessing of God.

St. Augustine began his ministry as an ordained priest in 391 AD, and his mission to combat the Donatists began soon thereafter. Augustine wrote several books tackling the Donatist’s argument that sacrament, Word and blessing were compromised by the traitor bishops and their prodigy. Augustine’s thesis was the effect of the sacrament is independent of the holiness of the minister. Through Augustine’s efforts, Church councils and the conquering Muslims of North Africa, the Donatist controversy became an artifact of church history, however, the principles propounded by Augustine remain.

The efficacy of Word and Sacrament is not dependent upon the ministers, but their power rests in the Holy Spirit and the covenant of God with His people. The powers of this world and the structures of power were upended by Jesus’ victory over sin, death and the cross, through his resurrection. God humiliated himself for the love of His people, and He continues to embarrass himself by using broken, fallen, unrepentant sinners to advance His Kingdom. So, should I sin that grace may abound? Certainly not. We should neither fear for the Kingdom or the Church because of the sinful failure of one or many ministers, nor should we commit the opposite logical fallacy that ministry blessings are evidence of God’s presence with a particular man or woman.

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43 Responses to The Relative Unimportance of Being Schaap

  1. Dan McGhee says:

    Watch this video of Jack Schaap at the end of the 2011 Youth Conference in Hammond, IN. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRJtRR9pmGY&feature=related

    Within 13 secs of the video, Schaap describes Hammond Baptist Church as “The World’s Greatest Church.” When pastors and Christian organizations blatantly self-promote with no sense they might be guilty of robbing God of the praise that only He is do, it is revelatory of wicked pride. God tells us that He resists the proud… God also tells us that we ought to let others praise us…

    I grew up in IFBx circles and left them for a number of reasons – this was one them. Self-promotion, man-worship, lack of accountability for the “man-O-Gawd,” etc… Sadly, I’ve also discovered since then that fundamentalists aren’t alone in this… Personally, I think much of this is due to good, old-fashioned, self-preservation. Nobody wants to attack the goose who laid the golden egg because they know if the goose goes away it means they might go away, too.

    It seems a human condition that anytime something seems to “work” and pastors are “getting results” that we are willing to overlook so much sin and wrong doing because we think to ourselves, “But, look at how God is blessing! Look at the numbers! Look at the baptisms! Look at how the church is growing!” And then I would think to myself, “Yes, but the standard of God’s Word for His shepherds is blamelessness.” Of course, this doesn’t mean perfection because none of us would qualify, but it does mean that we don’t have blatant, continuous sinful attitudes and practices of which we refuse to repent. It means that when we are confronted we are willing to humble ourselves…

    Yes, indeed, Fundamental Baptists are not alone in this at all.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Be grateful you stand outside the circle of the Independent Fundamentalist-KJV only Baptist churches. I grew up in their midst, in their closer-than-kissing cousins, the GARBC. I am familiar with this church in particular. When I was in high school, we played them in some events (boys only, girls didn’t play sports). The administrators of the church/school (probably this guy) lined our cheerleaders up, made them turn around and shake their backsides at them, all to make sure their skirts didn’t “swish” so much as to be simple. At least that’s the story they told. Mostly it was just a bunch of dirty men ogling at teenage girls.

    These people, and their leaders in particularly, operate largely under two principles: God gives them the right to treat the women and children in their lives any way they darn well please, and, number two, you don’t get to tell them what to do in this regard.

    This is a larger issue and a likely consequence of the behavior those people in general and that church in particular. Northwest Indiana is a little nest of them, and you don’t have to go too far down the road to find another such den of abuse in the Fairhaven Baptist Church and School.

    These people aren’t “getting results” in any real evangelical sense of the word. They operate outside the realm of what would be any measure be considered a true Church. They are a cult.

    Don’t be fooled by them.

    • Rebecca says:

      D’uh. I mean “sinful” in the above comment, not “simple.” Also, while I went to a Baptist high school, girls were able to live sinfully: we played sports, wore jeans, and shorts, and went to movies. Oh, the horror.

    • Dan says:

      Rebecca, I have to agree with you. I grew up at FBC Hammond having attended their school system from second grade through college graduation. My parents were on staff for 20 years. The incredible amount of physical and sexual abuse that went on in that place in the 70s and 80s was horrific.

      Though I could go into personal stories of my eyewitness account, I will refrain. However this example pinpoints how those in authority could “never be wrong.” In the 90s a deacon was arrested for the molestation of a little girl in a Sunday School classroom. This was eyewitnessed by another SS teacher who also was a staff member. The pastor at the time tried to get her to cover it up but she went to the police anyway. The man was arrested and convicted and spent a year or two in prison. When he got out of jail, he was recognized publicly by the pastor adentified as a “martyr” due to being unjustly accused and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. THIS GUY WAS CONVICTED OF THE CRIME!

      If Schaap spends time in jail as it seems might happen, that will make 4 of the college’s Bible professors that has spent time in jail and another pled the 5th in his part in the death of an infant.

      I’m sure this happens in all genres of Christendom but perhaps the masks are starting to fall off the wolves in Hammond.

  3. Chris Trees says:

    That God may graciously permit a broken, fallen, unrepentant sinner to remain in a pulpit, and may also choose to make the ministry that that man leads abundantly fruitful, doesn’t for a moment suggest that God countenances sinful conduct, or supports the premise that “the end justifies the means” or that sinful conduct is somehow offset or propitiated by coincidental “good works” or “results”.

    Although, God’s permissive and sovereign will may allow such a man to remain active in ministry for a season, or even an entire career, His prescriptive will still defines and ordains what is permissible conduct for pastors as much as for all other believers. Once sinful behavior is identified and confirmed, the pastor, as any other church leader i.e. elder and deacon is no longer above reproach and consequently no longer qualified to lead and biblically should be removed from leadership.

    Not only must the sinful conduct be addressed by removal from office, Paul commanded in 1 Timothy that after establishing the facts, the church was to “rebuke those who persist in sin [unrepentant elders and as well as any others] in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear”. As difficult and painful as removing Pastor Schaap undoubtedly was, First Baptist promptly did the biblically right thing after learning of the problem.

    It would seem that First Baptist already had effective policies and mechanisms in place to address this sort of thing. In my mind, this begs the question, what should, could, or would be done in a church with a completely different form of polity, where for example, a senior pastor might be determined to be in sin but has no genuine peers in the church, and who for all practical purposes, functions as the de facto church government?

    • Dan, I had no idea you came out of the IFB movement. That’s interesting. I went to a Bob Jones styled school from 3rd to 8th grade; I never bought in.

      But I think something more than IFB factors are at work here. I have suggested elsewhere that we are in the midst of a perfect storm in American Evangelicalism right now. Evangelicalism was born and committed in its infancy to a particular version of American populist anti-intellectualism. It was also committed to severing ties with historic forms of Christianity, leaving it without a broader context in which to do theology and ministry. It also was born of the movement that celebrated the circuit preachers capable of drawing large crowds. Add in the mass production and consumerism fostered by Modernity, you have the perfect cocktail caled the Megachurch. I suspect that multiple cultural forces have come together and crept into the American church unawares, and the consolidation of power, wealth and ego is the inevitable result.

    • CT, Question: was is the fact that they had structures to deal with this incident, or is that we have pet sins we consider worse than others?

      • Chris Trees says:

        Ryan,

        I guess that there’s no way of knowing how they “rank” sins at 1st Baptist, but the fact that they were able to decisively address this issue without days, weeks or months of debate strongly suggests, that at the very least, their church structures were constituted in acknowledgment of the possibility that a Senior Pastor could fall into sin and require removal and also permit or mandate appropriate measures to respond to serious problems.

        As to whether or not they might choose to quietly handle what might be rationalized by some as “lesser sins” the the leadership at 1st Baptist may not even be able to provide an unqualified answer. The temptation to maintain the status quo through rationalization and silence in order to avoid the heartache, scandal, disruption and expense of replacing an errant pastor would certainly be tremendous at any church.

        Lessor or greater sins, the collective will to act or not, the elders at 1st Baptist have demonstrated that they have the mechanisms and practical authority to remove an errant senior pastor. Not all churches can say them same thing.

        CT

        • Rebecca says:

          They did not do this because they have appropriate mechanisms. I guarantee you this was not the first time he’d done something like this. It was just the first time he got caught by SECULAR authorities. They are only afraid of lawsuits and what those lawsuits will uncover.

          They had nowhere else to go with this one. When the FBI’s calling, you answer. There may be a grand jury meeting, and may have been for awhile now. Don’t give them credit on this one. See the comments by Dan in this thread.

    • Dan says:

      The deacons of FBC called a Christian attorney for advice when the pics of Schaap and the girl were discovered. He advised them to fire Schaap and call the authorities and they complied. Before they fired him, they were going to place him “on sabbatical” due to “health reasons”. In the end they did the right thing but it wasn’t due to their policies they had in place. I personally know of at least 3 individuals who were on staff and got caught in illicet affairs or molestations that got sent to become pastor of another church. Granted, those instances were not within the last decade but history seems to imply that “cover up” of “relocate” are still the first instincts at sin
      trouble.

  4. Dan McGhee says:

    Ryan, I attended the Hyles’ Youth Conference in Hammond, IN many years in a row as a teenager! All that happens over there is repacked “Finneyism.” Charles Finney started it all and evangelicalism just continually creates new ways to package his old ideas and methods.

  5. Mary DeVries Yager says:

    I love the last line of your blog.Beautifully stated, Scott.

  6. Dan McGhee says:

    Mary, I agree with your comment completely. I saw this first hand a number of years ago in the life of a fellow pastor. He planted a church in our area and within 2 years that church had grown to 800 people attending on a typical Sunday morning. That is phenomenal numerical growth by most people’s standards.

    Then came the news – the pastor was having multiple affairs with women in the church, and one of them was an 18yrs. old girl. And get this – one of the relationships began six months after the church started. So, for 1.5 years this pastor engaged in multiple extra-marital affairs. And, during this time, his church grew, people were being saved, and baptisms were happening virtually every week!

    But, I’ll never forget the conversation I had with one man who had helped get the church started and had experienced this amazing, exciting growth first-hand. He said to me one day, “I just can’t believe it… Why would God bless the church with so many conversions and baptisms while all along _____________ was living in sin?’ Its a fair question, isn’t it? So many faithful men don’t see those kinds of “results,” yet they labor faithfully in the Word week after week and they live lives of integrity, honesty, and discipline.

    Well, God uses whoever He chooses to use because He is sovereign. After all, He chose to use Balaam’s ass in Numbers 22, but that didn’t make that animal any less of an ass.

  7. Mark S. says:

    I’m reminded that Edwards’ text for Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God was “Their foot shall slide in due time.” Deuteronomy 32:35 . And what a mighty fall some of these apparently great ministers have had.

    In the paragraph “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God” in the 2nd Helvetic Confession, ch. 1, we read: “…and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.”

    Saddened and sickened as we are by the evil of this man, and struck by the suddenness of his fall, let’s be SURE not to disregard the saving work that God did in some, even many lives — in spite of this “minister’s” sin and sins.

    Not to say that the pragmatism that leads to much such great, rapid church growth is in any wise good, let’s not forget that it is possible that the Gospel was spoken there, and that God uses earthen vessels such as we to take that message, by which He quickens and turns hearts. Let us pray for that church, that God may call His man there to be its shepherd from now on.

  8. I also grew up in independent fundamental Baptist circles. That style of preaching (and what is preached) now leaves me anxiety when I happen to come across it, which thankfully, isn’t often. And thankfully, most independent fundamental baptist churches I know are NOT megachurches.

    I saw a video Schaap preaching on another blog last week or the week before. And I was struck with how lascivious it was considering his sin. It was actually pretty sick. And, I’m struck by the accounts of how young some of these girls are that some preachers are ”falling into bed” with. These preachers are pedophiles. This is so disturbing.

    But, this scripture comes to mind as supporting your post, Ryan.

    Matthew 7:21-23
    New King James Version (NKJV)
    21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

    • Wow! Another friend of mine coming out the IFB movement. Just found out Dan was youth pastor at the church that had a school I attended from 3rd to 8th grade. Such a small world. I was always deeply suspicious as a young lad of the IFB, without questioning their salvific status. People who know me well realize that my experience at that school (IFB school) deeply shaped me in a way they did not necessarily intend.

      Funny you mention a video of Schaap. The Sunday before the news broke I stopped as I was channel surfing on him preaching a sermon. It was a message to the parents of his congregation about how to help preserve sexual purity in their youth. Yeah. That message looks a little different now. Sad. I hope the family and congregation will persevere in the face of this tragedy.

  9. I don’t think anyone can come out of an IFB church and not feel somehow the worse for wear. It has impacted my life in ways I don’t care to mention. When I finally understood the gospel of grace, I drowned realizing just how parched I am. There aren’t many of those churches in New Jersey, but somehow my family found one not far from our house. 😦

    Here is the video I found (it was on the blog “Stuff Fundies Like”.) Honestly, I watched it and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. This was part of his sermon that he delivered to Youth in 2004, which makes it all the more disturbing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr0UpQXYkGs

  10. Dan McGhee says:

    http://maplewoodbiblebaptistchurch.org/media.php?pageID=6

    The link above is a recent sermon preached by Pastor Tom Brennan of the Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago, IL. What he says in this sermon, himself being an Independent Fundamental Baptist pastor, is nothing less than shocking and scandalous. Frankly, what he says should have been said many years ago. At least somebody has said it now. The question is “Will anyone listen to it?”

    In the sermon Pastor Brennan points out the systemic issues with the IFB movement itself, which is sure to make many good, old, IBFx types quite angry. I don’t agree with some of Pastor Brennan’s finer points of application, but I do agree with his three primary critiques that IFB churches for years have: 1) covered sin concerning their high profile pastors, 2) accepted as status-quo shallow, tangent-oriented, Biblically-lacking, opinion-based rather than Biblical-text driven, personality-driven preaching and 3) Virtually worshipped certain pastors solely because they were viewed as “successful,” and therefore, became “untouchable” in the eyes of so many.

    In this sermon Pastor Brennan isn’t afraid to name names and say it like it is. I applaud him for his courage. May his tribe increase.

    • Dan says:

      Tom has been a cyber-friend of mine for the last several years and it has been interesting to see his growth from a loyal supporter of Hammond to where he is today. Though there are many doctrinal stances with which I disagree with Tom, I give him kudos for putting his neck on the IFB chopping block with this one and calling out individuals who needed to be addressed.

  11. Dan McGhee says:

    http://brevia.com/warning-letter-in-1993-to-jack-schaap-and-first-baptist-church-of-hammond-indiana/

    An Indiana attorney, Voyle Glover, sent a letter of warning about the impending judgment of God upon Jack Schaap and First Baptist Church of Hammon, IN. back in 1993. Talk about prophetic…

    God judges sin. God’s people CANNOT overlook continual sin in the lives of their leaders and expect that God won’t bring forth judgment.

    • Wow. That is seriously messed up. On a related note, ignoring the accusations of children against their molesters in a church is a common thread in Baptist circles. I have friends who couldn’t believe their respected youth pastors/leaders would ever do such a thing and supported them without really considering if the accusations might be true. A sad time to be a kid in church, if you ask me.

    • Dan says:

      Voyle has been a friend of my family and myself for years. He is spot on, not only with this letter, but also the book he wrote titled “Fundamental Seduction: the Jack Hyles Case”. It is a real eye-opener in that he used documented criteria in his expose. Voyle is a godly man and God has used him to encourage some of us who were once afraid to speak out, to give a voice for the victims in this particular cult.

      Blessings!

      • Dan McGhee says:

        Dan, I have a signed copy of Voyle’s book on my bookshelf. Voyle is also one of my Facebook friends:) He is a man of courage who paid a great price for his courageous stand many years ago. God is certainly bringing to him some vindication at this time.

        • Dan says:

          Absolutely. He endured vandalism to his home as well as death threats for his stand. He is one of the most sincere, godly, humble men I know.

  12. Rebecca says:

    If you want some more outrage, this is a blog maintained by some good friends of mine from childhood taking on the GARB mission organization ABWE for their years of protecting an absolute outrageous pedophile on the mission field.Bangladesh MKs

  13. rainbowmn says:

    Ryan,
    I found your blogpost interesting in light of the conversations on other bloodstained blogs concerning the leadership abuses of James MacDonald. Many of the Harvest Bible Chapel participants rebuked those critical of MacDonald, saying that pastors should only be prayed for and never confronted.

    Their mistaken allegiance to men instead of God is what produces the reigns of terror we see in many of our churches.

  14. Chris Trees says:

    It would be too way cheap and easy to make a flippant remark about the similarities between 1st Baptist and HBC if those similarities and inevitable consequences weren’t so darn tragic.

    • rainbowmn says:

      Nothing cheap about it, Chris.

      The grooming that takes place from the pulpit with congregations, whether is for sexual gratification or to control behavior are both an abuse of power with the same tragic consequences.

      Spiritual abuse and sexual abuse are managed the same way – misuse of power, grooming one’s victims, making them believe you are the only one who cares for them and taking away their escape.

  15. Dan McGhee says:

    Nobody could confront Jack Schaap because he had all the power.
    Nobody can confront James MacDonald because he has the vast majority of the power.

    Those who tried to confront Jack Hyles or Jack Schaap got humiliated and run out of town.
    Those who have tried to confront James MacDonald were loaded on the catapult and sent flying. Others quietly left over the last several years.

    Bad things happen in local churches when one man has too much power.

    For Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows who are reading my post, here’s an idea for you. To check to see if what I’m saying is right or wrong here’s a little test for you take – Go to James and tell him you believe ER3 would be unwise to do and that he shouldn’t do it. See how that goes for you, OK? If you decide to stand your ground make sure you have your parachute fitted tightly. You’re gonna need it.

    But at least you now have fair warning, which is more than Mike Bryant and Harvest of Grayslake had.

  16. Harvest RM says:

    Can anyone answer a question for me?

    Is that tatoo on Pastor James’ right arm real or fake? I have heard conflicting answers on this. If so, when did this happen?

    • Treading out the gain says:

      Probably. It’s completely lame, lame lame. Heard some of his other HBC under-pastor-dudes got them too, to show solidarity. Nothing but Harley’s, rings and tat’s in JM’s inner circle. Maybe they should call “the gang” the 10%-ers? If you care to know for sure, maybe go ask DL.

      Dude looks like a mid-life crisis with his ’90’s Seattle grunge VC t-shirt and ribbed long-john shirt underneath look. Screams “look at me…and how cool is our way of doin’ church.” Should also tell his son to shave his perv ‘stache. I’m not a legalist…it just plain looks goofy.

      • Josh says:

        this is a very godly nonjudgmental fact based comment … for that I am very appreciative.

        • Treading out the gain says:

          You are always most welcome Josh. I’m glad to know you are with my posts ‘heart and soul.’ For that, you are loved.

  17. rainbowmn says:

    macdonald has a tatoo??
    come on. that serious?

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