A Matter of Conscience

A centuries-old legend is told of a Chinese man who grew up loving music. He never took the time nor the effort to learn to play an instrument, but instead frequented concert halls. In time he became very jealous of those who could play, and he devised a scheme in which he deceptively forged his way into being accepted into the Chinese National Symphony. He carried a violin with him everywhere and deceived people into thinking he could actually play. For years, he traveled and sat with the symphony during performances, never knowing how to play a single note. Until one year when the symphony played before the Emperor of China, who was so impressed that he requested each musician to come to his palace the next day and play for him—individually. Now the man had to “face the music.”

As I write this article, within the last few weeks three prominent church leaders have stepped down from ministry, either of their own volition or by forced resignation. All three situations involved past behavior that was sinful, abusive, or criminal. However, the more serious issue is that the behavior was covered up or glossed over instead of being acknowledged and addressed at the time.

Sadly, years have passed since these transgressions occurred. Ironically, in all three cases, the ministers prospered and developed successful ministries. That is until what took place in the past has been revealed in the present, and the three ministers must now “face the music.”

This is a time for Christians to grieve, not only for what the ministers and their families are experiencing, but to be concerned for those who were taken advantage of years ago, not to mention the effects their behavior has on the flocks of sheep these men led for years.

Some people have asked, “How could something like this happen? How could it go on for years with no consequence?”  Scripture gives a strong clue. Paul said, “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God a man” Acts 24:16. Paul cautioned Timothy, “. . . fight the battle well, holding no to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith” 1 Tim. 1:18-19. Even Peter instructed, “. . . keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” 1 Pet. 3:15-16.

When I worked at Teen Challenge, we had a student who had been part of a violent gang in Chicago. As he neared graduation from the program, he admitted to one of the staff that, when he was a member of the gang, he had killed someone but was never caught. Now his conscience was troubling him, and he wanted to make things right by turning himself in to the authorities. The staff member reminded him that turning himself in could include prison time. The student was determined to do the right thing so his conscience could be clear regardless of the consequences.

When he returned to Chicago, he did turn himself in to authorities, he was arrested, and sent to prison. While serving out his sentence, he took the opportunity to start a Bible study behind bars. By the end of his prison term, he had led several inmates and guards to the Lord. Once released, he continued to minister for the Lord—with a clear conscience.

The Lord certainly forgives our sins, but sometimes we must pay the consequences for those sins.  A clear conscience involves taking ownership for past deeds, whether large or small. This includes forgiving those who offend us. Paying restitution for an owed debt. Acknowledging and repenting for sins committed. Making attempts to restore broken relationships.

Several years ago some maintenance workers discovered a crack in the wall on the 45th floor of a skyscraper. As they investigated what might have caused the crack, they discovered several loose bricks in the third basement.  The outside of the building looked strong and secure. But those loose bricks could cause deterioration that would in time weaken the entire building.

Every now and then it might be a good idea for leaders to inspect the “third basement” to ensure there are no loose bricks. If some are discovered, honesty, integrity, and a clear conscience make up the mortar that will keep the bricks in place.









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