Don’t be surprised if you see the Christian church screw something up

An old professor of mine hated Paul the Apostle. If you read the Epistles, Paul is always correcting someone. It’s almost like listening in on a mother scolding her children. My professor liked the tranquil, albeit edgy and revolutionary, teaching of Jesus, but all this fighting and scolding in the epistles–he hated it.

In the gospels, everything is going pretty well, but that’s because God himself was walking with us. Jesus and his small band of disciples was the church. Jesus always knew what to say to his critics. He knew how to balance true teaching with genuine love, and he always did the right thing. He was the central figure of the church until he ascended. Of course, Jesus is still the central figure of the church–I just mean that he’s not physically here anymore. He doesn’t walk around and say “I agree with you, and I disagree with you.” He left us with the message we needed, and now we choose rightly by reading his Word and praying. The problem is that we don’t always come to the right conclusions.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, church got messy. By design, the church welcomes sinful, fallen people into its fold. It’s full of searching people, saved people, and probably a few sinister people. Of course, Christians still sin. When we die and are taken to heaven, God will perfect us. But for now, we’re still on earth, and now that Jesus is no longer physically incarnate in our church, what did you expect would happen?

This, I think, is why Paul is always scolding churches in his letters. Humans are fallible, and we do damaging things to each other. Paul was doing his best to maintain order, but this is battle. The church is doing battle against the ideas and the values of the world. Through the church, God is advancing his kingdom. Through the church, God is offering grace to the world. God’s love and grace are present, and God is changing people’s broken lives, but it shouldn’t surprise us that those same broken people sometimes make a terrible mess of things.

The crusades are the classic, heartbreaking example of this, and if you don’t think “the church” is messing up today, then visit Westboro Baptist Church’s (but prepare to be saddened and infuriated). God doesn’t hate anyone–he loves the world. Racism is another example of people in the church–the white church–messing something up. But listen to Dr. King’s sermons. When one church is doing something wrong, you can usually find another church doing something right.

Despite our brokenness, God is working good through the church. The unseemly things done by people in the church are from sinful, fallen men, not from God. I’ve given some extreme examples, but all of us are fallen. I’ve certainly done things that misrepresent God’s love and mercy, and I imagine that Paul might write a very stern epistle to the American church today.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
-Matthew 9:12-13

And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the prophets.'”
-Matthew 22:37-40


5 responses to “Don’t be surprised if you see the Christian church screw something up

    • Wow, no I hadn’t ever read that. That’s a really cool sermon. I actually haven’t read many (actually only one or two) of Martin Luther King’s sermons. They played a really neat excerpt in church the other day, and it got me thinking about him and wanting to listen to/read a lot more.

  1. theyoungmrgoodmanbrown

    I know what you mean. Back when I was a Christian I used to run a community center through a church and have all sorts of people show up. I live in Asheville which is freak-town USA so naturally we caught a lot of flack from the members. (I think it might have been the cigarette butts outside that did it.) There were a handful of people that were encouraging and helpful with the whole process of “reaching the community”; but most didn’t care or got angry and only cared about their property to staying neat and pretty.

    I can’t say that I believe that those members who were called out about their attitude and didn’t change were honest believers. It makes more sense to me to say that they were agnostic but not honest enough to admit it. (I didn’t see any evidence that they respected God enough to take the Bible seriously) Anyways, they kept gossiping and causing trouble till eventually we had to shut it down. They also happened to be the majority of the church. The bible says that those you claim to know God but have not love are liars and that the truth is not in them. I don’t see hardly any proof of there being much of a “church” here is the US, but I see a lot of religious country clubs.

    I appreciate your sentiments but I worry that you are very alone in them. I’m not convinced that God loves everyone either being that some vessels are “made for destruction” and others are for “glory.” I used to think that what you are saying about the church is true, but I have come to feel that religious belief for most folks is just another tag , another team to aline yourself with, and another way to feel better than other people who are different than you. It also seems to be another reason to be lazy. If you are absolutely convinced that you have the “Truth”, and most all you friends and community already agree with you (so they say); then why subject yourself to honest doubt. There seems to be little incentive to have to grow past all your preconceived ideas when all you have to do is smile and sing songs once a week. The Jesus of the bible was not like this, I agree with that, but then again I agree with you in saying that he does appear to be a little absent.

    • What happened with your community center is really unfortunate. I do worry about the US church, and I think we’re all a bit too comfortable with ourselves and too unwilling to follow the Lord the way he meant us to (including me, probably). However, I think someone who’s convinced they have the truth should not be afraid to subject themselves to honest doubt, but I imagine there are a lot of people who do feel that it would show a lack of faith to doubt their beliefs. If we are convinced that we have the truth, then we should be absolutely fearless in questioning it, because what have we got to lose? That’s the way I try to think, but it’s unavoidable that I’ll end up being biased toward Christianity.

  2. You raise an interesting point here. Are we going to be made perfect when we get to heaven? Or are we being refined and chiseled into shape as we continue our journey with Him? Or is a bit of both?
    Our Canadian daughter – in – law was shocked when I told her I’d never had a fag! Over here they’re cigarettes. My point is I was once very anti fags (both varieties) but after a recent church meeting (at a pub) I sat at the bar speaking to just chatting to the openly gay proprietor.
    He’s a nice guy, who contributes positively to our community. I don’t think I would have been so comfortable to do this 20 years ago.
    We may become perfect after “The Rapture”, but hopefully the work has already begun….

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