The exposure of deeply troubling hidden sins among prominent leaders in recent months continues to provoke a sense of “leadership sin shock” within the church community. Questions resound: How could such respected figures commit these acts? How were cover-ups sustained for so long?

As discussions ensue about the reasons behind these transgressions and their implications, a familiar refrain echoes, particularly in Pentecostal circles: “Don’t touch the Lord’s anointed.” This phrase has often been wielded to shield leaders from scrutiny or accountability, a misuse that, in my 45 years of serving in God’s house, has perhaps done more to perpetuate sin among leaders and harm among God’s people than any other.

The Biblical Context Is Important to Understanding

The maxim “A Scripture taken out of context is a pretext” (improper justification for a course of action) holds true, especially concerning the idea of “Don’t touch the Lord’s anointed” and its application to confronting a leader’s wrongdoing. This unbiblical idea and interpretation comes from a couple of main passages and a couple of references to them from David having the opportunity but refusing to kill the evil King Saul by saying, “I will not stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:4-13, 26:9-11, 23-24, 2 Samuel 1:13-16).

  • 1Samuel 24:4-6…It came about afterward that David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul’s robe. (6)  So he said to his men, “Far be it from me because of the LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD’S anointed.”

Many mistakenly interpret these passages entirely out of the context in which they were written. Some take them to mean they cannot confront a leader whose teaching or lifestyle contradicts the Bible. I have personally observed and heard many horror stories of leaders who have sexually and financially abused individuals and the churches. The excuse to hide and ignore their sin and its consequences has brought significant shame on the body of Christ.

Dispelling the Wrong Interpretation and Justification for Leader’s Sin

The two actual verses regarding “Touch not mine anointed” are found in Psalms 105 and 1 Chronicles 16. Considering the context of the verses completely dispels the wrong application of them.

  • Psalms 105:8-15  He hath remembered his covenant forever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. (9)  Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac;  (10)  And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to ISRAEL for an everlasting covenant:  (11)  Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance:  (12)  When THEY were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it. (13)  When THEY went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people;  (14)  He suffered no man to do THEM wrong: yea, He reproved kings for THEIR sakes;  (15)  Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.
  • 1 Chronicles 16:18-22 Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance;  (19)  When you were but few, even a few, and strangers in it. (20)  And when they went from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people;  (21)  He suffered no man to do THEM wrong: yea, He reproved kings for THEIR sakes,  (22)  Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

The “anointed” ones in these passages are the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and God’s people to whom He gave His covenant promises. It wasn’t a promise to a few anointed individuals but God’s anointed people (“They, Them, Their”). God protected them and even “reproved kings for their sakes” (other rulers opposing them). It protected all the patriarchs, saints, and their prophets/leaders.

The Standards for New Testament Leadership are Higher, not Lower.

When you look at the qualifications for Leadership and the continual instruction about them in the New Testament, they are not lower but higher standards. Why? Leaders not only instruct God’s people in His word but are also to be a living example of what they are teaching. Consider some of the New Testament instructions regarding leaders.

  • James 3:1  My friends, not many of you should become teachers. As you know, we teachers will be judged with greater strictness than others. 

Consider both Paul’s actions and instruction about handling leaders (elders and teachers) in local churches who get caught up in, and continue to sin. They were “rebuked in front of others so others would be fearful of sinning.”

  • 1Timothy 5:17-22  The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching… (19)  Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. (20)  Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning…(22)  Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. 

Paul also instructed Timothy on handling leaders when their teachings get off track.

  • 1 Timothy 1:4  As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines.
  • Romans 16:17-18  Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. (18)  For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

How about other examples of Paul, Peter, John, and even Jesus calling out leaders and giving instructions on handling their sins?

  • Paul called out Peter for his sin of partiality in front of the church and then wrote about it (Galatians 2:11-14).
  • Paul judged Hymeneus and Philetus and wrote about it to others, saying they had erred from the truth and destroyed some people’s faith (2 Timothy 2:17-18).
  • Paul judged and called out Demas, a fellow leader who said, ” He loved the world and forsook me” (2 Timothy 4:10).
  • Paul called the Galatian teachers/leaders and those who listened to them “foolish” (Galatians 3:1).
  • Paul called out the church in Corinth publicly for not dealing with the prominent member who was having sexual relations with his stepmother (many commentators believe he was a prominent member/leader in the Corinthian church). Paul openly instructed them, “Do not associate with a brother who is a fornicator, covetous, extortioner, or idolator, slanderer, or a drunkard… remove the wicked man from among you!” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
  • Peter called out Ananias and Sapphira (prominent church members) in front of the church, calling them liars (Acts 5:1-11).
  • Paul instructs and calls out the Galatian church about handling false teachers/leaders who were teaching strange doctrines. He even said that he, his team, and even angels would be openly called out, even “accursed” if they went off track in their lives or teaching. Galatians 1:7-9…there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (8)  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (9)  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
  • John instructs the churches to not even give a greeting to leaders who are teaching falsely. 2 John 1:9-11  Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. (10)  If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting.
  • Jesus Himself warns us that there will be false leaders. We are to be aware of them and examine their lives’ fruit. Matthew 7:15-17  “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (16)  “You will know them by their fruits.

We are warned about false teachers (Revelation 2:2, Romans 16:17, Galatians 1:6-9, 1 Timothy 1:3, 2 John 1:10-11) and false prophets ( 1 John 4:1) and told to judge them with righteous judgment (John  7:24). These verses show us the fallacy of any leader who says no one has the right to criticize him, even if he is teaching, living, or prophesying falsely. The Bible says the exact opposite!

All these Biblical instructions do not sound like “Don’t touch the Lord’s anointed” but rather “Teachers are to be held to higher standards” (James 3:1).

These Biblical approaches do not mean we are not to honor authentic leaders and exhibit submission to them. This is part of the instruction throughout God’s word (Hebrews 13:7, 17, etc.). We do, however, want to avoid the other extreme of leaders using their position and authority to hide sin and manipulate people. In this critical moment of uncovering leaders’ sins, we must reject the misuse of “Don’t touch the Lord’s anointed” to obscure wrongdoing. Instead, let us strive to restore the church according to God’s design under the guidance of humble, integrity-driven leaders who empower and nurture the people of God.