Ashamed of the church’s behaviour

It’s a common objection to Christianity: the church is corrupt.

What about the Crusades, the Inquisition? And what about the child sex abuse scandals that have plagued the Roman Catholics and other churches?

We’ve all met the hypocritical churchgoer who gossips or bludges at work, who’s as greedy and grasping as the Jones she’s keeping up with, who’s so self-righteous he can’t even see he’s tripping over his own pride! In fact, I’ve been that churchgoer at times.
So yes, many Christians have been ashamed of the church’s behaviour at times.

And Jesus would agree. Read the biographies of Christ’s life – that’s the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John in the Bible. Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for religious leaders. He was unhappy when they bullied or burdened others. He was unhappy when they showed off. He was unhappy when they took a ‘holier than thou’ attitude.

We don’t need to defend these actions. We need to change and U-turn and repent of them and not do anything that may bring shame on Jesus (2 Timothy 2:15, Titus 2:7-10)!

Of course, that’s not the whole story. Recently I read an interview with the CEO of aged-care charity, HammondCare, where he noted that of the 25 largest Australian charities, 23 are faith-based. [Source: http://www.smh.com.au/national/straight-shooter-with-a-soul-20121005-2743h.html]

Just before Christmas 2009, journalist Matthew Parris penned an article for The Times that went viral: ‘As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God’. He wrote,

‘I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it.’

‘Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.’

[Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece]

Maybe you’d change restaurants if you found a fly in your soup, but I doubt you’d give up dining out, let alone eating at all. It’s the same with Christ and the churches. If you have a really bad experience with a church, I guess you mighttry another one, but it doesn’t follow you have to give up on Christ and the good that often flows from his followers.

In a famous parable (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus spoke of two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a tax collector – certainly unpopular, probably dodgy in his work practices. The other was a Pharisee – a religious man, committed to purity. In his case, there probably were no sex or business scandals. The kind of guy in our terms who went to church, belonged to Rotary and gave to the Salvos.

But he thought he was better than everyone else. Big mistake!

It’s a mistake that true believers must keep on repenting of. Jesus may be changing us – slowly – but we are not better than everyone else.

By contrast, Jesus said the tax collector would not even look up to heaven, but humbly prayed, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ The conclusion? Jesus said (v14), “I tell you that this man (the tax collector), rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is true of the church’s members, just as much as the church’s critics. Although the Church’s behaviour matters to Jesus, ultimately our relationship with God is only through Jesus alone, not his Church (John 14:6). The real question each of us will need to answer is ‘Will Jesus be ashamed of us when he returns to in glory to judge the world (Mark 8:38)?’

Sandy Grant
Senior Minister of St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral, Wollongong