Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Fall of Ravi Zacharias
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers,
knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
James 3:1 NKJ
Many of you are aware of the pattern of sexual sin that has been admitted by Ravi Zacharias Ministries International about their late founder, Ravi Zacharias. Many Christians are asking how should we respond. First, it is terrible, and a terrible blemish on the church, especially the Evangelical, American church. I don’t know all the details or even how to discern what is true and false in what you read on the internet, but the statement linked from the ministry itself must be taken as the most authoritative account of the facts. Certainly, it appears that a serious sin pattern was engaged in and covered up with no real evidence of repentance before death.
However, even if many more sins than are now known were committed and ones even more heinous and of greater wickedness, that would still not change the way we as Christians should see this situation or evaluate it. As Pastor Appleton preached recently, we put our faith in Christ, not mere men. All men are sinners, all deserve to go to hell. The vast majority of us do not outwardly commit gross, violent, & habitual sexual sin, but all of us blaspheme, lie, gossip, show pride, etc. This is not to minimize Ravi’s specific sinful acts or to try to say he is just like the rest of us—not at all. But we must remember, from God’s perspective, we are all only acceptable to Him because of grace, not because we merely have “normal” sin issues.
Ravi’s sins, were they known during his life, would (in any just church) have permanently removed him from pastoral ministry and in fact would have sent him to jail for probably the rest of his life. Yet during his ministry he preached the gospel, people got saved, and I presume he presided over weddings, administered baptisms, communion, led in prayers, benedictions, etc. How do we view those things? In the Donatist controversy in the 5th century there was a similar situation where many Christians and ministers during a time of persecution renounced Christ and ceased to practice their faith. Some Christians took the position that any ministry performed by a now fallen minister was void. Therefore, if you lived your whole life under a pastor who at the end of his life renounced Christ, you could find yourself unmarried and living with your spouse in sin, having children out of wedlock, not being baptized, never having taken communion, etc., in that everything you received from the fallen minister fell with him.
The church, led by Augustine, rejected that position. The man does not determine the efficacy of ministry, only Christ does. During Christ’s time on the earth Judas himself would have performed healings & miracles during the mission of the twelve in Matthew 10, he would have preached the gospel, and people would have been converted under his preaching. All of those things are ultimately by the grace of God through human vessels, they do not depend upon the godliness or holiness of the man. Peter denied Christ with curses. Judas fell away and betrayed Christ, proving he was never converted, and yet still God used him. As bad as things might be with Ravi, we cannot say for certain he was never converted. He might have been seriously backsliding and sinning, yet a converted person. We will not know this side of glory.
Thus, Christians can and should still thank God for any and all blessings received from Ravi Zacharias ministries, but at the same time we should despise what he has done. We are never entitled to hate anyone in this life—we must love even our enemies. At the same time, we must hate and never accept or condone sin, even in those we love. The greater the leader the more terrible the fall. Ravi’s fall is indeed terrible, but only because his ministry was very great in extent, effectiveness, orthodoxy, etc. The fact of his fall does not negate any of God’s grace through such a vessel. If Ravi Zacharias was an important part of your Christian conversion or growth, be in mourning for the evils he has committed and pray for the victims. It is terrible to lose a hero. But also thank God that the work He does in us is not affected by sinful men and not negated by their failures, nay even by their denials and betrayals.