Something has gone terribly wrong. Headlines of the failures of individuals and institutions shake you and would make you lose heart. We have seen it in bits and pieces for years like looking at the details of a much larger and darker grotesque work of art. In recent history, possibly even your lifetime, leaders of the church have fallen one by one through the many various scandals over the decades. I’ll not name names, they are infamous enough that a simple internet search will produce plenty of tabloid material to choke on.
Francis Schaeffer, in critiquing the church’s understanding of culture said:
“The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so, in regard to society and in regard to government, is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”
It’s a kind way of saying we’re somewhat blind, but this is also true of the church’s self evaluation. Inside of the church it kind of makes sense, currently speaking, many are disowning the Evangelical side of the family for being too right wing, (for example) or, Protestants have disowned the Catholic side of the family when situations like the Pennsylvania clergy scandal arise. Who can blame anyone for wanting to distance self from these atrocities and say “They are not actually a part of our family” like the weird relative no one really wants to own up to at Thanksgiving. But we’re still looking at smaller details instead of the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is that something has gone terribly wrong in the church, and society, as screwed up as it is, has noticed.
It is a double standard to expect society to be one way and the church to be another. So be it. But all to often the church has conformed her ways in an unhealthy manner to the standards of the world (greed, sex, fame). Sometimes men in the church have held no standards at all. Some men in the church have been simply evil. All too often denominational leaders have valued gifting instead of character, and all too often that is a losing proposition. All too often the church has simply tried to maintain the status quo only to find serial offenders and manipulators taking advantage of people in their midst. It is a tragedy when it is a rogue operator and a travesty when it is systemic.
Setting aside the dark tragedies for a moment, the church in general has tainted herself too much by flirting with the world. Did Jesus eat with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors? Yes. Did he come feasting, and drinking wine? Yes. Yet, He was without sin. He did not condemn the woman in the street, he told her to “Go, and sin no more.” To be a disciple is to follow Christ, to call others forward on their journey, and to carry whatever responsibility Jesus assigns to you. Some have outright fallen into sin, and too many are never held to account. In addition the church has been a poor student of what has been given to it; Marcionic with the scriptures, not very prayerful, and not very holy.
What does the world need? For the church to be the church. Don’t expect any thanks for it. Everyone complains when it’s right to complain, no one compliments when you do a good job, but the world desperately needs the church to be the church…to be holy and good and light in dark places. But don’t expect compliments or acknowledgements. If the church is doing its job right it will still be despised, but not for the reasons it is despised for today.
In order for the church to be what it needs to be, the church has to repent. As Americans we have a strong sense of what does or doesn’t apply to us, individually. So, I may say “I haven’t been greedy, I haven’t abused power, I’ve not had an affair… so this doesn’t apply to me…” let me remind you of Ezekiel 22:30
“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”
Stand in the gap means to intercede for the benefit of another. Here, literally to stand in an area where the wall is completely knocked down, with sword and shield drawn ready for battle.
The church needs to deeply and wholly repent, some of us have to start “guilty or not.” Those who seek to faithfully lead the church must first lead by repentance and then by seeking the transforming holiness of God. We need to pray, be literate in God’s word, and return to our post and our work, and be faithful. This is the only answer.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, – Acts 3:19
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'” -Revelation 7:17