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My $0.02 on Barnabas Piper

Our friends at The Wartburg Watch are having quite the row over Barnabas Piper, the son of John Piper. His defenders will point out that the divorce was due to his wife having an affair, whereas his detractors (among whom are the TWW crowd) will point out the hard line that John Piper–Barnabas’ father–has taken on divorce over the years.

For the record, I’m going to state it right off the bat: Barnabas Piper is not qualified to hold the office of deacon, pastor, bishop, overseer, elder, or any other title that we would ascribe to the positions specified in 1 Timothy and Titus.

I don’t care who was at fault for his divorce.

I don’t care if his (now ex) wife was sleeping with the entire New England Patriots football team.

The pastoral epistles are very clear on this matter: one who aspires to such an office must be above reproach.

If you’ve been divorced, it may be no fault of your own but the fact remains: you’re still disqualified.

Church leadership is not an Equal Opportunity institution. This isn’t about your “rights”. The qualifications are what they are for a reason: some of them are matters of character whereas others are matters of vulnerability and–still–others are matters of credibility. The latter two are not always within your control, but they still apply.

Even if you were divorced for a perfectly-valid reason, the problem is you’ll always have room for outsiders to say, “hey, I can get divorced…look at [X]!” It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t justified in his case. If you are a church leader, it will embolden others in bad marriages to seek divorces, appealing to your authority, even if their reasons for divorce might not be valid.

You can be a man of great character and still not be qualified to be a pastor. By accepting that, you are showing the Church an example of humility. And this is not without Biblical precedent.

In the Old Testament, you will be hard-pressed to find a better man in the post-Samuel period than Jonathan.

By all indications in Scripture, he was qualified to be King. He was the son of the sitting King; he was a war hero; he was loyal; he was Godly. He’s one of the few people in the Bible about whom we know of nothing of negative value. He would almost certainly have made an excellent King.

Except for one thing: because of his father’s sins–which were no fault of Jonathan’s–God had picked David, not Jonathan, to be King.

And Jonathan was cool with that! He didn’t mount an insurrection against David; he didn’t collude with his father, who was trying to kill David. In fact, Jonathan stuck out his own neck to protect David from his father.

A lot of folks long to be like David, and it’s not simply because he was a man after God’s own heart. They like David because he got to be KING. If it was a character matter, you’d see lots of studies on Jonathan.

But God has probably called more of us to be like Jonathan. The great philosopher, “Dirty Harry” Callahan observed, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” Sometimes, God imposes those limitations, and those limitations are not always issues of character. You do, however, owe it to God and the general Body to accept those limits.

HAVING SAID THAT, Barnabas Piper is not in a leadership position in the Church; he simply happens to be the son of one of the more prominent pastors in that realm.

As for who was really at fault in the divorce, it’s anyone’s guess. He claims it was due to an affair; by his account, her turning away from him was due to his chronic dishonesty.

The problem is, his running his mouth does him no favors; in fact, his best course of action is to just shut up already. By running his mouth, he’s acting more like Tullian Tchividjian and less like a man of character. If he feels that he needs to speak in order to vindicate his family name, then he needs to know that he is only doing more damage by talking.

Now given that TWW seems to want to take a shot at the elder Piper at every turn, I have this to say: this isn’t about John Piper. Barnabas is a grown adult; he was married; his decisions (for better and worse) in that marriage were his own responsibility; his wife’s actions were her responsibility. The divorce was their–not John’s–responsibility.

Every family has a set of “family jewels”; I don’t care if you’re me, Ame, Cubbie, or even John Piper. John Piper may be all that and a pound of bourbon-cured honey bacon, but everyone has dark edges. And even if you do everything right–and who on earth does?–that is not a guarantee that your children will walk in those steps.

Even worse: in a marriage, you can’t make your spouse love you. Ladies: you can wear him out in the bedroom and he can still be a cheater. Men: You can be the President of Alpha Males for Jesus and your wife can still be an adulteress like Gomer.

You will never outrun your character, and neither will your spouse. At various times in your life, you will come face-to-face with your character; that is when, as the Bible says, “your sin finds you out.” It may be a public comeuppance. It may be a private comeuppance. But what you do when that happens can–and usually does–impact the very course of your life.

I cannot answer for Barnabas’ ex-wife. She must account for herself. To my knowledge, she isn’t the one running her mouth.

As for Barnabas, he needs to do himself, his family, and the Church a great favor and shut up about that whole matter. God will sort out the guilty and innocent.

5 thoughts on “My $0.02 on Barnabas Piper

  • Ame says:

    excellent. you’ve covered so much here. so much truth. very well written.

  • Sid Emory says:

    Matthew 19:9 ESV

    And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

    Divorce is ugly and it grieves God and everyone involved. It is a result of the death that comes with sin so it is destructive and against God. But let’s hold to the whole counsel of God.

    • Amir says:

      Yep. My larger point here, though, is that this isn’t about John Piper; this is about Barnabas and his (now ex) wife.

      I have my issues with John Piper, but this isn’t about him; Barnabas’ issues are his own, and his ex-wife’s issues are hers. Some have tried to use their divorce as a canard for attacking the John Piper; I think those folks are unnecessarily muddying the waters.

  • Zander says:

    I think you need to read what Paul wrote about divorce in 1 Corinthians. Infideilty does not rule you out. You should also do a bit more reading on grace. Infidelity happens for reasons beyond sex and obviously there were other problems but to suggest this rules him out of leadership is incorrect. If he was beyond reproach in his marriage her decision to cheat was not his problem. Likewise if she chooses to leave that has nothing to do with him.

    • Amir says:

      The issue isn’t whether he was wrong in the divorce; in fact, given that she cheated on him, we can stipulate that he was not at all at fault for the divorce.

      My point is that, even with that stipulation, BP would still not be qualified to hold a church office. Why? Irrespective of who was at fault for his divorce, he is no longer “above reproach”. He may be a decent man who got shafted unfairly, but the requirements are what they are for a reason. Some of those requirements are matters of character; some are matters of vulnerability; some are matters of credibility. The latter two are not always matters you can control.

      The premise of excluding someone from office–in spite of good character–is not without Biblical precedent. As I said, Jonathan was a perfect case in point: he was disqualified because of what his FATHER did.

      It takes a big man to accept those limitations.

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