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Asking the wrong questions about Ravi Zacharias

The revelations of Ravi Zacharias’ failures have invited a host of questions to discern how such destructive sins could have occurred. Seeking answers, Christians have primarily probed RZIM from an organizational perspective.

● What was wrong with the culture of the ministry?
● Why were RZIM associates reprimanded for voicing concerns over Ravi’s suspicious activity?
● Why weren’t independent investigations undertaken when allegations began in 2008?
● Why is their board of directors anonymous?
● Why would a non-disclosure agreement be signed, in the case of the Canadian couple?

Courtesy of Chuck Hetzler
Courtesy of Chuck Hetzler

These questions should be asked during the healing process, learning from RZIM’s mistakes, and bringing justice to bear. But the most important question has not been asked. Moreover, our failure to ask the most important questions of this debacle points to and perpetuates our greatest problem within American Christianity.

The kind of questions that should be asked first of all should be:

● What was Ravi’s personal spiritual life like?
● What were Ravi’s devotional practices?
● What were the organization’s commitments to prayer, fasting, repentance, and holiness?
● Did RZIM have annual gatherings for biblical messages of repentance, confession of sin, calls to godly living, dedicated corporate prayer times, and so on?

Closeness with God is our greatest defense against sin and temptation. So why are we leading with questions about organizational policies, yet silent over the single most important subject on this matter: one’s daily life with God? Organizational lessons can and should be learned in due time, but secondary questions should not replace the primary ones.

Concentrating on organizational misdeeds or ineffective internal processes affirms that as modern American Christians we have lost our appreciation for a robust spiritual life, personally and corporately, built on devotion to prayer, taking in God’s word, fasting to humble ourselves, and regular repentance. The predominant questions that have been posed reveal a serious problem in American Christianity – a secular mindset and a spiritually weak church, vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks.

For the first several hundred years of the Church, all Christians were taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times every day (Didache 8). Early Christian leaders knew that only God could “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). They were convinced that the only way to escape temptation and sin was through much earnest prayer, just as the Lord Himself had modeled and taught them in Gethsemane, among other places.

When temptation was at its height, Jesus’ recourse was to pray. “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’” (Matthew 26:36). The Son of God, in His incarnation, depended upon the Father and the Holy Spirit to resist sin and sustain an obedient life. Our Lord knew that prayer was His only defense against the allure of fleshly desire.

As it was true for the Lord in His incarnation, so it is true for us. Jesus turned to Peter, James, and John, commanding them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). The antidote to temptation is fervent prayer, as testified by the subsequent Gethsemane events. Jesus prayed and He escaped temptation; the disciples did not pray and they walked straight into the devil’s trap. Jesus put His finger on prayerlessness as the crux of temptation.

When the Lord came back to the three disciples, He questioned Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40). Shouldn’t this question be the same kind that we ask: Was Ravi a man of much prayer? Did he spend hours in prayer each day, morning and evening seeking God’s continual help? Did he lead his organization to prioritize hours of prayer as a regular practice and days of prayer for special purposes? This level of spirituality is the kind of lifestyle that Christians, especially Christian leaders, must have, just as the Lord practiced and preached and just as the first several hundred years of Christians knew from the Didache. And the fact that we aren’t asking these questions of Ravi Zacharias’ life and RZIM exposes the weakness of the American Church. We have unwittingly adopted a secular mindset because we either don’t see the primary importance or efficacy of personal

We must ask ourselves: in what ways am I cultivating hours of prayer in my daily life? If you are a leader of other Christians, you must search yourself further: in what ways am I calling others to the level of spirituality needed to walk as Christ did and fulfill God’s difficult purposes for our lives?

This call for manifest devotion to prayer is not legalism any more than establishing good
organizational structures are legalism; it’s what the Lord taught and wants, and what our souls need for abundant life. He is the one who modelled such a lifestyle of prayer (Luke 5:16) and told His disciples that they should spend an hour in prayer (Matthew 26:40) and that they should pray day and night every day (Luke 18:7) and that the Holy Spirit is given when we ask the Father for Him in prayer (Luke 11:13).

If we as American Christians don’t shift our thinking towards the highest value of extraordinary personal and corporate spirituality, then we will continue to see more decline, defeat, and discouragement. More national Christian leaders will fall, more “Christians” will walk away from Christ, fewer conversions will take place, the culture will continue to degrade morally, and the Lord’s name will languish in disrepute in our land.

The good news is that the Lord is in the business of turning us around! He loves to restore the repentant. He loves to forgive sins. He loves to lift up the soul that is bowed down. He has revived His people on small and large scales an untold number of times in the Scriptures, throughout church history, and around the world today. Our nation has one of the richest histories of God working revival and awakening.

Let’s gather our families every day and open up the Scriptures. Let’s turn on worship music and draw near to Him every morning and evening. Let’s cry out to God in prayer three times a day like Daniel and the Didache. Let’s take entire days off just to seek God. Let’s deny our bodily appetites and humble ourselves through fasting on a regular basis. We have so many resources today that make it easy to seek God through the internet, smart phone apps, computer programs, movies, books, various copies of the Bible, Christian friends, local churches, and national laws that allow us religious freedom.

Yes, better managerial processes are good, but more prayerfulness and spiritual depth should be the topic of the first questions asked, not the second, third, or not discussed at all. Every Christian can say of Ravi’s downfall, “There but by the grace of God go I.” Each of us knows our own weaknesses and inability to resist Satan apart from God’s power at work within us. And no amount of Christian organizational policy and board structure – as important as they are – can curb sin in the human heart or counteract Satan’s schemes. Only the power of the Holy Spirit in our soul can change our hearts and strengthen us to walk through His narrow gate. 

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Chuck Hetzler, Ph.D. in New Testament, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was transformed from a reserved biblical scholar into a passionate proponent of revival after experiencing an unusual work of God with Christian Union at Princeton University in 2009-12. Chuck has served as a lead pastor in IL, a church planter in Manhattan, NY, and worked with Christian Union as Director of CU New York and now director of CU Day and NightChristian Union is a Christian leadership development ministry promoting national revival and reformation.

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