News articles and blog posts about Joshua Harris’s departure from the Christian faith abound, but I’m concerned about a distinct omission. I’m certain I’ve not had time to read every article, but so far something pretty important seems to be missing.
Why is no one talking about the Church’s part in all of this?
Surely Joshua is biblically responsible for his own heart of unbelief and the sinful behavior which flows from it. But isn’t the Church at least partially to blame for scenarios like this? Aren’t Christian publishers who elevate a single, 21-year old man to be his generation’s relationship guru at least partially to blame? Aren’t the organizers of mega-conferences who present this same man as a model pastor to tens of thousands of men (twice or three times his age) at least partially responsible for clouding his understanding of his own depravity and, thus, his own need for genuine conversion? Why is no one talking about the failure to follow the apostolic mandate found in 1 Timothy 3:6?
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
Clearly, a spiritual novice is not biblically qualified to be a spiritual leader in the church. The descriptor “recent convert” is from neophutos, which is translated “novice” in the KJV and means: “newly planted.” It is used of young, newly planted trees that need time and nurture for proper establishment of their root system, and growth. It seems to me that, in the Church, where maturity should be affirmed more highly than in any other enterprise (Eph. 4:13), a newly planted tree should not be treated as if it were a well-established red oak.
First Timothy 5:22 repeats the warning: “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thus share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.” The purpose for this command is to protect the leader himself so that he does not become “conceited” (tuphow). The word means to wrap in smoke, to puff up, to be clouded. In other words, to be blinded by pride. For the same reason, deacons, too, should “be tested first” (1 Tim. 3:10). When we raise a man up before the proper time we share responsibility for his sins.
Pride is “the condemnation of the devil.” In other words, pride is what motivated Lucifer’s rebellion, and which led to his condemnation. He was the most spectacular of all of God’s angelic creatures “until unrighteousness was found in [him]” (Ezek 28:15). That unrighteousness was pride. Five times he said, “I will…” (Isa 14:13-14), only to find himself later condemned. Pride was also the root sin of Sodom: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance” (Ezek 16:49). It was pride that led to all of her other sins.
Pride always leads to destruction. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (16:18), because “everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord” (16:5). John Stott writes, “Pride is without doubt the chief occupational hazard of the preacher. It has ruined many, and deprived their ministry of power.” By putting a spiritual novice into spiritual leadership the church sets him up for a fall and the judgment that follows…and many people are harmed.
So, as we grieve the falling away of yet another young celebrity pastor, let us be careful. As some become angry at their fallen hero for failing them, let us be sure to also point a finger at ourselves, and ask, “How did we, the Church, fail?” “How did we sin against Joshua Harris, and how did we fail the Church?” “How will we guard our own hearts from apostasy?”
What will we, the Church, learn from this most recent example?
 John R.W. Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), p.320.