You’ve seen it. You may have been directly impacted by it, even personally wounded by it. I have. It’s undeniably real; the question is, what is to be done about it?
For over a quarter of a century I’ve served in the ministry and have seen it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It comes from both sides of the pulpit: pastors who lie to their congregants and congregants who lie to their pastors. Church leaders who grub for fortune and fame. Church members who gossip, slander, and form coalitions. Back stabbing and character assassination. Really, really bad theology preached and believed.
I laughed at my seminary professor who warned that church members who want to get rid of their preacher will sometimes plant pornography in his office or car and then publicly denounce him – until I met the ex-preacher who said that’s precisely what was done to him. A deeply disillusioned young man told me of discovering his pastor and all the deacons in his church were committing adultery, and was told they would destroy him if he didn’t keep his mouth shut. Just today a colleague related his story: when something not just illegal but truly evil happened at the church he pastored, the leadership forced him out because he wouldn’t sweep it under the rug.
This past fall, newly moved and seeking a new congregation, three churches were disqualified three Sundays in a row because of grave improprieties we observed. It’s not just me; others have noted this tragedy, too.
It is unconscionable that what should be a place of refuge is a den of thieves. Untruth is pervasive in what God intended to be the pillar and support of the truth. But keep in mind as much as you and I may hate it, God hates it even more.
The nation of Israel was sometimes referred to as the bride of her God – but one who all too often prostituted herself. The Church, Christ’s bride, fares little better. To use another biblical analogy, followers of Christ are celestial citizens, which means the local church should rightly be considered an embassy or consulate of heaven. But too often it is a treasonous one.
What to do? You have a role to play in this crisis – yes, you do, and yes, it is a crisis. If you belong to a good church, don’t assume it will always stay that way; be diligent to preserve its goodness. Support your leaders and lovingly hold them accountable to the standards set for them. If you screw up, willingly submit to church discipline. Study the Bible for yourself – don’t be intellectually and spiritually lazy so as to just be spoon-fed Scripture from your teachers and preachers.
If you’ve been wounded by the Church, don’t give up on her, because God doesn’t. There are healthy congregations out there. You just may have to hunt a little bit to find one.
Know this: if you indulge sin in your own life, it affects all your relationships, including your church. If you personally don’t sin, but your leaders do while you look the other way because they’re popular or successful or because pointing it out would rock the boat or “it would hurt the church,” then you bear some of their guilt. Knowing but doing nothing makes you an accessory to their sin. You are, in modern psychological terms, an enabler. We are assured the Judge of all the earth will hold us accountable for every idle word we speak; how much more seriously will he deal with those who destroy or defile his Church?
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
What will you do?
image credit: “Gargoyle” by Brian Jeffery Beggerly, Flickr Creative Commons