In November 2010, I contacted my grandfather, Roy Carter, for a Bible college assignment and asked him about the impact of ethics on his ministry, particularly during his time as an airport chaplain. What follows is a summary of his thoughts (I wish I had the actual written responses). I am deeply thankful for the wisdom and faith of this godly man, and challenged again in my own life and ministry. In honour and memory of Roy Carter: absent from the body, present with the Lord - April 14, 2015.
One of the biggest ethical issues he dealt with was determining his role in people’s lives; suspending judgment in favor of leading them to a personal acknowledgment of their wrong and ultimately acceptance of Christ. This was difficult, particularly in situations where he was confronted by brazen confessions of abusive behavior by men who attempted to justify their actions, blaming their wives or parents for their own wickedness. Acceptance of this role was often difficult, as the natural response to these kinds of people was to want to “grab them by the collar and smack their heads into the wall”; he had to refrain from this kind of reaction (perfectly justifiable by worldly codes) in favour of Biblical ethics. As a chaplain, he did not see it as within his right to pass judgment upon people; in many cases, it had already been passed by someone else (court orders, etc.) And so, his goal was always to present the Gospel, which is impossible without the person’s recognition of their sin. On the opposite end of the spectrum, one time he had to deal with a woman whose husband was heavily involved in witchcraft, abusing her in cruel rituals; this presented a different kind of challenge, as though it was important to offer her sympathy, he knew it was necessary to bring her to the place where she could recognize her sin as well in order to be brought to Christ, the true solution to her pain.
Grandpa was adamant that the goal of any work must be bringing people to Christ; if you help people with psychological issues or comfort them but don’t present the Gospel, then you’ve done nothing for them. Christ commanded us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all nations, not to go into the world and straighten out people’s lives, though that should follow as a result of the work of Christ in them. Ministering to physical needs, etc is important, but it is secondary and even inconsequential compared to the importance of leading them to Jesus Christ. This was difficult in the context of airport ministry as there was generally very little time to work with people. The first question he asked people was what time their flight was, after which he would calculate the amount of time he had to present truth. He also approached his ministry with a great deal of prayer, as he didn’t have the luxury of getting to know people and strategize the Gospel presentation. He found God to be incredibly generous with blessing his efforts, often giving him specific scripture passages that dealt with the people’s issues and helped to make the Gospel clearer to them. Ethically, then, he faced the issue of making sure that he was being faithful to his calling and the leading of the Spirit, in presenting the Gospel to as many as possible, rather than simply comforting and counseling.
The practice of this ethical approach was quite different when he moved to working as the pastor of a church; he was dealing with an almost polar opposite situation: a large chunk of time with people who were mostly born again. When dealing with justice issues among Christians, he still took the emphasis on the Gospel, reminding them of who they are in Christ as well as Who their boss is. He would bring them back to the truth that they are children in the family of God and that they have the resources in Christ to be brought into holiness; as children, they need to obey their Father. People need to understand God’s love for them and love Him in return. This will lead to obedience. He recognized the need to speak firmly at times, but it needed to be done in love, not in judgment. One of the biggest temptations for pastors is to judge whether someone is worthy of the Gospel or not, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of the power of the blood of Christ.
In terms of the ethical ways of dealing with conflict in the church, he emphasized that it is important to humble oneself in disputable issues, not condemning others for holding opposing views but rather commencing in unity from what can be known; start with obeying Christ, rather than judging others, neither casting the first stone, nor pointing out the speck in our brother’s eye. It is also important to keep in mind, the true enemy of the church, Satan. This is important, for if we target flesh and blood adversaries, we are both disobeying the second greatest commandment (to love our neighbor as ourselves) and ignoring the true source of the attacks.
The most important thing is to not rely on human ethical systems (which can justify many things contrary to Scripture), but to rely on the Holy Spirit and the truth of the written word of God. When God is involved, real change can happen and He can give us wisdom and knowledge on how to deal with people: not to judge but to bring them to redemption. The Gospel is the foundation upon which to build ministry; when dealing with social issues or church conflicts, it is this knowledge of the Truth that sets people free!