The church world is facing another “sin shock” with the allegations coming to light surrounding the IHOP community.  How could this be happening again regarding their movement? Could the scandals surrounding the prophets, among them in the 90s, appear to be coming around again?

Then we had the national director of Chi Alpha, the college ministry of the Assemblies of God, resign months after the ministry was accused of enabling Daniel Savala, a 67-year-old itinerant minister, and convicted sex offender, to prey on scores of young males for more than two decades.

Over the past few years, we have seen a wave of exposures involving several high-profile leadership sin scandals (Bill Hybels, Gordon McDonald, Jerry Falwell Jr, Ravi Zacharias, Brian Houston, Carl Lentz etc.).

There have also been countless other sin scandals in smaller, relatively unknown local church environments (See the report released on the Southern Baptist Scandals in May of 2022 that revealed over 700 cases of hidden abuse).  John Ortberg commented on these issues accurately.

“Maybe the most fundamental dynamic in church discipline is also the simplest: Sin happens.  It happens in big churches; it happens in little churches.  It probably happens at roughly the same per capita rate, no matter what the congregation’s size.  It should sadden everyone, but it shouldn’t shock anyone.  So, the question is not how to respond IF it happens.  The question is how to respond WHEN it happens.” The Bible is very clear, continual or serious sin is not to be ignored but addressed.  While “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) it doesn’t ignore them or cover them up.  Sometimes it seems larger churches are worse about it than smaller ones, probably to protect their greater influence. Either way, it is wrong.”

Over 45 years of following Jesus, I have seen these things come in waves, almost like it is a season of Jesus purifying His house of hidden things. Peter identifies this type of season by describing “judgment beginning with God’s house” (1 Peter 4:17).

Love Covering Sin: One of the most misunderstood and misapplied passages.

When sin issues become known, especially involving high-profile leaders and institutions, questions surrounding 1 Peter 4:8 immediately come to our minds.  “These are serious sins; even our culture has laws against them, so does love mean we ignore them, cover them up, and they just go away?”

Sin scandals in the church, especially ones ignored or mishandled, can have devastating consequences, both among the people harmed by them and tarnishing the testimony of Jesus through His family, the church.

When Christian institutions or churches avoid or cover up sin, they often use the 1 Peter 4 passage.

  • 1 Peter 4:8  Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins (quoting from Proverbs 10:12, Proverbs 17:9-10)

Simply covering up all sin isn’t what Peter was getting at because a few verses later, he warns God’s people not to suffer as “a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” and speaks of the importance of “judgment beginning at the house of God.”  This is the opposite of covering up or ignoring such sins.

  • 1 Peter 4:15-17 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler…  (17)  For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God.

We must understand the passage’s context because a verse taken out of context becomes a pretext for making the Bible say what we want.  I have mainly seen this with the 1 Peter passage, which is often used to cover up sinful activity that should be addressed.

1 Peter was written about 30 years after Jesus was crucified.  God’s people had been scattered from Rome (Peter addresses them as “refugees scattered” 1 Peter 1:1) due to intense persecution under  Emperor Nero, who destroyed Rome by fire, leaving many Romans homeless and angry. Believing an uprising was at hand, Nero convinced the Romans that Christians were to blame for the fire and began persecuting them, and many had to flee Rome.

It is important to remember that just 10-12 years before this, Jews (both Christian and non-Christian) had been banished from Rome by a previous Emperor Claudius, who hated the Jews, saw them as a threat, and expelled them (this banishment was how Paul met Aquila and Priscilla Acts 18:2-4).  When Claudius died, the edict ceased being enforced, and the Jews returned to Rome, and those who were Christians joined back into the Gentile congregations.  The entire book of Romans mainly deals with the Jewish/Gentile challenges of coming back together after the banishment.

Now, under Nero, the non-Jews were banished. They were fearful and angry simultaneously, not sure what would happen.  The persecution and the loss of familiarity (homes, employment, possessions, etc.) caused intense emotional pressure.  The Jewish Christians could face less animosity/persecution because of their race/nationality, whereas before, the Gentile Christians were seen in a better light.  You can imagine the potential suspicions among fellow Gentile/Jewish Christians that any little thing could set off.  It would be much like the suspicions today that exist among God’s people over the political party platforms.

This is why Peter issues commands like “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit..the end is near…above everything else keep fervent in your love for one another because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1Pe 3:8-4:8). The love that “covers a multitude of sins” spoke of their ongoing relationship with each other, their racial differences, and their sinful imperfections.  They were all to be endured in love.

Love covering sin is very different than cover-ups.

Love covering sins differs significantly from the cover-ups seen in religious organizations during recent scandals.  Some sins break substantial laws, harm others through abuse (sexual abuse), and disgrace His house.  They must be addressed, and the consequences faced.  Paul faced this in Corinth as a significant member was openly in sexual immorality with his stepmother.  The church was reluctant to deal with it, and Paul urged them to deal with it, not cover it up.

  • 1 Corinthians 5:1-13  It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.  (2)  You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst…(6)  Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?  (7)  Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump…(9)  I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people;  (10)  I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.  (11)  But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  (12)  For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?  (13)  But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

Paul echoed a similar thing to the church in Ephesus, which was a very immoral city that was kind of like the Las Vegas of their time.  He not only tells them “not to participate in immoral deeds but instead expose them.”

  • Ephesians 5:3-13  But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints…  (5)  For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  (6)  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  (7)  Therefore do not be partakers with them;  (8)  for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light…(11)  Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;  (12)  for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.  (13)  But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.

The wrong type of “cover-up” is usually about the motives.  Covering up sin often happens when someone or something (church, organization, mega leader, etc.) stands to lose status, influence, finances, or reputation.  We have all seen the aftermath of covering up sins like sexual abuse, embezzlement, cheating, stealing, and abuse of power.  Victims were ignored or paid off secretly, and the perpetrators evaded the consequences (including violations of criminal laws).

It is Especially Important not to be involved in Leadership Cover-ups. 

Leaders and teachers will be judged more strictly, as James said, “Teachers will be judged by greater strictness” (James 3:1).  This is why there were very high qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These leaders not only move in their giftings, but their lives are examples of how to live for God in character (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9, Hebrews 13:7, 17, etc.).  Great care is to be taken in their appointment so they do not “fall into the condemnation or the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6-7).

Part of that weightiness of the consequences regarding sin in leaders is why Paul instructs Timothy that accusations against elders need “two or three witnesses and those who continue sinning should be rebuked before all so that others will fear” (1 Timothy 5:17-20).

The complete opposite happened in some high-profile cover-ups we have seen among leaders.  It was almost a leadership privilege that enabled them to get away with things others could not.  Instead of God’s anointing and responsibility bringing a greater standard of character in their leadership, it was about privilege enabling a lesser standard.

Facing Consequences

Love covering sin does not mean sin and the consequences faced aren’t addressed.  This is the whole point of Jesus’ prescription for dealing with sin (Matthew 18:15-16), James’ prescription (James 5:16-20), and John’s prescription (1 John 1:5-9).  Zacchaeus’s story is a beautiful example of acknowledgment and facing the consequences.

  • Luk 19:7-9… Zacchaeus, waiting before him, said to the Lord, See, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have taken anything from anyone wrongly, I give him back four times as much. (9)  And Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, for even he is a son of Abraham.

This facing the consequences is part of the fruit of repentance Paul highlighted with the previously mentioned man in Corinth. The fruit of the repentance was evident among the church and the man. Only then did Paul advocate the restoration of the man back into fellowship.

  • 2Corinthians 2:6-8 This punishment by the majority is enough for such a one;  (7)  so that, on the contrary, you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overwhelming sorrow.  (8)  So I beseech you to confirm your love toward him.
  • 2 Corinthians 7:1-9-13 NLT Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. 10 For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. 11 Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves (of the sin and it’s consequences), such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. 

Responsibly Dealing with Sin, According to God’s Word, Is Essential.

If we don’t deal with sin according to God’s word, we do not help the victims, the offender, or the reputation of God’s house.  There is a lot of Biblical instruction about dealing with sinful actions that affect others.

God’s people participate in various organizations in their everyday lives, such as family, work, civic organizations, schools, and charitable organizations.  In every one of them, membership standards ensure that the organization carries out the purpose for which it exists.  Those standards are essential for the organization’s direction and continued ambition.  They have to oppose things that would derail it.  The same is true for God’s house, the church.

In the New Testament, Jesus speaks quite a bit about handling sin among God’s people. We see it on a personal level in Matthew 5 and 18. Twenty-eight other passages in the New Testament show how to address the effects of unrepentant sin. Together, these passages can be categorized into six approaches: CHALLENGING, EXPOSING, AVOIDING or restricting the unrepentant sinner’s involvement with others, REMOVAL from the congregation (Mt 18:15-17),  and RESTORATION of the repentant one (2 Corinthians 2:7). What is the essential goal of those passages? The main goal in these passages is to see God’s healing of the effects of sin and see the one in sin repent, be delivered, and be restored.

Dealing with the effects of sin is much like someone kicking over a can of paint in the dark.  We need to bring light so we can see to put the lid back on the can (stop the sin) and help clean up the effects of the spilled paint.

God says His people are often “destroyed because of a lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).  Here is the link to the systematic study of church discipline, including the 30 passages instructing us with God’s perspective of dealing with sin.  May God help us overcome, cover, and not cover up the effects of sin so we can demonstrate God’s better way.

You can view or download a copy of this systematic study of church discipline by clicking the following link: Systematic Study Church Discipline Challenge, Restrict, Avoid, Remove, or Restore 1.

You can view the recently released report on the Southern Baptist investigation at:

Doug Kreighbaum