KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Being a seminary president means you receive mail, and lots of it. Publications from every sector of life flood my office on a daily basis. I enjoy perusing many of these materials, especially those related to theological education. Usually, I am alternately amused and frightened by much of what I read, as each publication demonstrates how unbiblical much of contemporary theological education is in America today.
One such magazine especially caught my attention in recent months. The publication, entitled Mosaic, is the institutional magazine published by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. One of Mosaic’s featured stories from its fall 2012 edition stopped me in my tracks. The article, “Extending the Gift of Welcome to All: LPTS Student Maurice ‘Bojangles’ Blanchard Discovers his ‘True Colors,’” highlighted Blanchard’s alternative lifestyle and ministry pursuit.
Blanchard is a practicing homosexual and alternative lifestyle advocate in the Louisville, Ky. area. He was recently ordained to ministry by his church, Highland Baptist, a church that long ago abandoned affiliation with the SBC, the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the local, Long Run Association. Blanchard leads “True Colors” at his church, a ministry created to attract members of the homosexual community.
My interest intensified when I read Blanchard’s testimony regarding his perceived call to ministry and his ensuing pursuit of theological education. Blanchard reflected on his interaction with the seminary administration and community, noting, “I didn’t go there [Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary] looking for them to say ‘You’re gay and I affirm you. I wanted to go there and hear, ‘You’re in ministry, and I affirm that,’ and I felt that from day one.”
Embedded within Blanchard’s statement is a ruinous logic. At first reading, one might find Blanchard’s dichotomy between personal lifestyle and call to ministry acceptable and even appealing, especially in the modern milieu of subjective, autonomous spirituality. A closer look, however, reminds us that the New Testament does not proffer this option. To be called to ministry, one must possess a lifestyle that passes scriptural muster, for God’s Holy Spirit does not contradict God’s Holy Word, and vice versa.
Indeed, 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9 make clear that God’s standard for ministry is high. The threshold is high because the office is high. The office is high because we serve a high God who guards the glory of His name and His church.
The point is not so much that we sit in judgment of Blanchard, or anyone else pursuing ministry. Rather, the point is that the Word of God judges us all. Sadly, one need not look to non-evangelical entities to find confusion pertaining to the call to ministry. Evangelical churches often exhibit ambiguity and contradiction surrounding the call to ministry and the character marks that are to accompany it.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 offers a clear and nonnegotiable list of character qualifications for the gospel ministry. This list is prescriptive, not descriptive; it is regulative, not suggestive. To be sure, in ministry it is helpful to be winsome and eloquent; furthermore, it never hurts to possess a magnetic personality. Yet, before one should look for these secondary – and tertiary – desires, one must first meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3.
What is more, the qualifications for ministry enumerated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 do not simply represent a one-time threshold to cross. Rather, it is a lifestyle to be maintained, a character to be cultivated, and an ongoing accountability to God’s Word and God’s people. One’s call to ministry is inextricably linked to one’s biblical character. The two cannot – and must not – be decoupled.
One need not be perfect to be a minister, but one does have to be above reproach. Clearly, the point is not perfection. If that were the case, then a qualified seminary student – or seminary president – could not be found. The point is that God’s call to ministry on a person’s life corresponds with the affirmation of the people of God and the approbation of God’s Word. A church that rejects the scriptural qualifications for ministry doth not a biblical ordination make.
My heart harbors no ill feeling toward Mr. Blanchard. Rather my heart carries grief for him, his church, and those to whom he ministers. He is a sinner, as am I. I am, however, deeply grieved by the moral and ministerial confusion he exhibits.
The tragedy in the story of Mr. Blanchard is not that it is one more incremental step toward the full normalization of homosexuality in our culture. The tragedy is that an erstwhile minister, who lives in rebellion against God’s moral and ministerial standards, bears false witness about the nature of the church, the transformative power of the gospel, and the biblical expectation of ministers. In so doing, he tarnishes the glory of Christ. Whether it is by means of an aberrant lifestyle or the display of more acceptable and domesticated sins, any attempt to separate a call to ministry from godly character is a division that cannot be made. What God hath joined together, who are we to separate?
Yet Blanchard’s story is more than an article to be lamented; it is a sober reminder for all pursuing ministry. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Pay attention to your life and to your doctrine, as you do you will ensure salvation for yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jason K. Allen is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. He will be inaugurated Wednesday, May 1, at 10 a.m. Central in the new Midwestern Seminary chapel. This column first appeared at his website, http://jasonkallen.com/.)