While God's forgiveness reaches to all, what does that mean for those who abuse their position of God-appointed authority?

Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics, Reverend Robert Dean, from Providence Theological Seminary says, "Can a pastor be restored? It depends. God's forgiveness is extended to all and there is always a possibility of them being restored to the community, but they may not necessarily be restored to their position of leadership."

In situations, like that of Tullian Tchividjian, it is easy to either call the situation irredeemable or allow him to teach without question.

Dean says, "I think one of the dangers we have both culturally and sometimes within the church: forgiveness and reconciliation is much more demanding than we've often made it out to be. So there is a temptation to psychologize and interiorize forgiveness with the result that we end up simply pronouncing forgiveness on ourselves. True forgiveness and reconciliation require the struggle to correctly name the offence.

"In this context," says Dean, "there is something that is really scandalous about forgiveness and the Christian understanding of the Gospel that we are not defined by our worst mistakes, but by God's unshakeable and unbreakable love for us in Christ.

If a pastor is to be restored to their position, it is not their call to make, says Dean.

Dean gives the example of the Apostle Paul. Paul, once a violent religious terrorist then redeemed by his encounter with Christ, was appointed by Christ, "but that doesn't occur apart from the context of the community of faith discerning what the Spirit of God is doing in people's lives and within the life of the community." Ananias was instructed by God to go and lay hands on Paul, to welcome him into the community of faith.

"There is an important piece there ... it's not simply a matter of an individual appointing themselves to a mission, but responding to God's call and also the place of the community of faith in recognizing that call," says Dean.

"If there is going to be some type of restoration, it has to be a process of restoration and discernment. The difficulty we see in some of these cases... they are under no structures of accountability and they end up simply pronouncing forgiveness on themselves and restoring themselves to ministry.

Reconciliation is possible, says Dean, but not without consequences to the previous actions. "There is always the potential for forgiveness and restoration to the community, communion with God, and with God's people but that doesn't necessarily automatically entail being restored to a position of leadership.

"The difficulty there, I think, is if there are these engrained patterns of abuse of power and authority, simply pronouncing oneself is forgiven doesn't mean those habits have changed. Character is formed over time and it's usually bad habits are unformed over time. In such a way, if a leader is to be restored, there has to be some period of repentance, of deep character work that is going to take place in that process."