Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,
Getting right to the point, there are two things to say: No one knows, and don’t count on it. Now, why do I even think it appropriate to go on record with my view of this? Because Christians have proven to be slow to think rightly about leaders who are exposed for scandalous sin, and that makes us quick to take them back as leaders. We have a soft spot for those who have taught us valuable things, and that can make us hopelessly naive, mistakenly ready for their return. SINFULLY ready for their return.
Let’s take a closer look at my two propositions:
Has Doug Phillips repented? No one knows.
Even if all the signs were positive – granting that purely for the sake of argument – no one would really know for quite some time. Though Proverbs 28:13 doesn’t explicitly use the word “repentance,” it contains the best definition of true repentance that I know: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” Did you catch that? Confession ≠ Repentance. Confession is a subset of repentance. The other active ingredient is the forsaking of the sin, and knowing whether or not that has really happened takes significant time. Part 1, confession, is super-easy for a skilled communicator – and Doug is a very skilled communicator. Part 2, forsaking, is where the rubber meets the road. As John the Baptist warned the Pharisees who came to receive his baptism (or at least to gawk), there must be “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8), and that takes time. Significant time.
Has Doug Phillips repented? Don’t count on it.
If we have learned anything from these revelations, it is that Doug is a very skillful deceiver and manipulator. He is good at it, and he has had a lot of practice. Knowing that, it would be foolish for any of us to put ourselves in a position to be deceived or manipulated by him now.
Doug was a shepherd. He was entrusted with sheep. Now, the Bible tells us the full range of what we need to know about shepherds and shepherding. It tells us how God shepherds in Psalm 23. God the Shepherd makes His sheep lie down in green pastures and leads them beside the still waters. The Bible tells us how Jesus shepherds in John 10. Jesus the Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. These things are what Paul calls under-shepherds to in Acts 20, as does Peter in 1 Peter 5. These must be the objectives of every local church elder. The Bible also warns of false shepherds in Ezekiel 34. These shepherds exploit the flock. These shepherds devour the flock. And God removes them in His time. Let us fear Him together.
Which kind of shepherd has Doug been? For years now, Doug has been an Ezekiel 34 shepherd, exploiting and devouring for self-satisfaction. He was entrusted with sheep to be a blessing to them, and instead he has been a curse. Is this not beyond dispute? And has not the Chief Shepherd removed him? Let us fear Him together.
Has Doug really repented? Time will tell, as the saying goes. And as it relates to Christian leadership, that can’t mean a week, a month, a year, or a decade. When it becomes known that a shepherd has cultivated a life of deception and manipulation for many years, such a man may not have enough years to reestablish himself as qualified for leadership.
Should Doug be forgiven? Absolutely. Anyone who has been forgiven much by the King must stand ready to forgive his fellow servants (Matthew 18:21-35).
Should he be trusted? Not on your life. At least not now. At least not soon.
So pray for him, but don’t mistakenly hope for his return to Christian leadership. And pray for his family. And more than that, pray for the woman who was exploited by a shepherd who was meant to be a blessing to her. Nothing short of the grace of God will bring her back from that, but He is gracious.