We would be remiss in our duty as Christian journalists if we could not offer some concrete suggestions and reflections.
Some of our readers will expect us to have followed the steps of Matthew 18:15-17, starting with a private confrontation. This passage gives Christ's instructions on what to do "if your brother sins against you," and the process stops if the brother repents privately. We have two remarks on this passage.
First, Mike has already been confronted numerous times over the years by any concerned Christian friends, acquaintances, and church leaders. Mike knows what the Bible says about truthfulness, integrity, and fidelity. He is responsible to put into practice what he already knows.
Second, this is not a private dispute between Mike Warnke and a magazine. A public figure is susceptible to public scrutiny and criticism. Matthew 18 is not violated when public figures are publically rebuked. (However, other scriptures are violated if the rebukes being made are not fair, true, or applicable to the person.)
Mike has sinned against the public for years, and the public is entitled to know the truth about his claims and actions. The misinformation about Mike's testimony is still in circulation, influencing how Christians view contemporary Satanism. For the sake of the Church and the watching world, it must be corrected. (A more complete discussion of the biblical grounds for Christian reporting appears in the article, "Public Trust," on page 5.),
The statements made in this report are factual and verifiable. Anybody can read Mike's book, study its time line, and see that there is no way for him to have done the things he claimed in The Satan Seller. Mike's former fiancee, his roommates, relatives, and cohorts in school emphatically contradict his claims on everything from hair length to drug use and from out-of-town trips to "love slaves" in his apartment. Mike's own friends refused to sign an affidavit that his Satanism testimony was true.
If Mike has any real evidence to disprove what we've offered here, we're willing to print it. However, the evidence we have uncovered leads us to the conclusion that Mike doesn't have any. One thing is certain: the Church should not let the master storyteller get by with telling just another story: "There really was a satanic coven; they just didn't talk to the right people. . . ."
At this stage, excuses aren't sufficient, Mike needs to provide either evidence or repentance. It is not enough to make religious excuses for sin or sophisticated attempts to change the subject: "Those girls came on to me, and I was at a vulnerable point in my life. . . ." "The person who said 'the Christian Church is the only army to shoot its own wounded' was totally right. . . ." "It's not up to you to judge my actions. Last time I read my Bible, Jesus was sitting on the throne, and He's not about to get off and let you take His place. . . ."
This is sidestepping. It's a move to change the subject and get away from calling one's actions sin and asking for forgiveness. The issues are whether Mike has told the truth, whether he is fit for public ministry, and whether he meets the standards for biblical leadership. Like it or not, by addressing thousands of people he is assuming a pastoral role, regardless of what he calls himself.
If Mike were to seek forgiveness and restoration, what could the Church expect to see as evidence of the genuineness of his repentance? The following principles should apply to any Christian leader who has manifestly fallen.
Repentance. Repentance is fundamental to Christianity. It denotes a complete turnaround, heading in the opposite direction than previously. Like "to love", to repent is a verb denoting action. Nobody wants to see another Jimmy Swaggert crying crocodile tears on camera but returning to save "the ministry" three months later . . . and returning to the same sin after that. In Mike Warnke's case, true repentance would necessitate complete withdrawal from public ministry.
Confession. If Mike is repentant, he should make an open admission of guilt. On the other hand, Mike Warnke has built a career of telling us about past and present sins. The Church must not allow him to emerge as a new authority on fraudulent testimonies.
Restitution. True moral change involves some attempt to undo past wrongs and to provide some kind of restitution. Perhaps the best kind of restitution Mike Warnke could perform would be to take Satan Seller and all his other products off the market.
What about the rest of us? Accountability is a public as well as a personal matter. Christian publishers have an obligation to validate the books they print, whether nonfiction or historical fiction books. At the same time, it is our responsibility as the book-buying public to ask for evidence before accepting a story.
After Warnke's testimony began circulating, those few who knew the truth kept silent: they felt powerless against the immensity of the story. Where could they turn? Well, the publisher would be a place to start. We need the active participation of all members of the Body of Christ in provoking each other to righteousness and, where necessary, in providing biblical confrontation and counsel.
Sometimes a twisted man can preach a straight gospel. Through the years, we've known many people who could speak truth while ignoring it in their personal lives. Scripture testifies that God may bless or anoint a sermon even while condemning the deeds of the preacher (Num. 23-24, 2 Pet. 2:15, Matt. 23:3).
Yes, the love of God is truly as infinite and wondrous as Mike Warnke has been telling us for twenty years. God loves Mike Warnke as he really is--ex-Satanist, war hero, Ph.D.--or not. His choice now is no different than it has ever been: losing the whole world or losing his soul. For no one can know the love of God whose heart is closed to the truth.
Perhaps he has never stopped feeling like an outsider, and even when Christianity opened its arms to him, he would not give up his storytelling. His adolescent flirtation with the occult was exaggerated into a postadolescent fantasy of having incredible amounts of money, sex, prestige, and power as a Satanist. He later achieved money, sex, prestige, and power. Sadly, it was in the name of Christ.
It's not too late for Mike to change, if he wants to. The secular press may scoff, and those who consider themselves real Satanists may snicker, but the Jesus of the Bible is still the God of truth. The Lord, who makes ruined lives whole and restores purity to harlots and liars, offers each of us forgiveness and acceptance. Not on our terms, but His.
To Mike, and all others, who have been tempted to sacrifice the truth for the sake of "the ministry," we can offer no better words than these of the apostle Paul:
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor. 4:1-2)