It seems that people always love a good scandal. When it happens in the church people love to point the finger at all of the hypocrisy within the church and use it as an excuse to pass judgment and avoid “organized religion” altogether. The underlying assumption is that the Bible or the Christian faith cannot be true if certain people within it or who believe in it fail to live up to God’s standards. People will point to the Crusades of the Middle Ages or the Inquisition or the planting of the New World or Salem witch trials any number of points in church history where supposed Christians failed to live up to the expectations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Is this fair? I say “no” for two reasons. The first is that non-Christians display just as much hypocrisy as anyone else, so they are on no moral high ground to pass judgment. I could just as easily lump all non-Christians together and point out their flaws: murder, theft, rape, lying, stealing, etc. I could point to Stalin, Hitler, Hussein and what a wreck they made of the world. I could point to all the doctors and health care professionals that smoke, take illicit drugs, or engage medical malpractice. Does this mean that the principles of good health are wrong? Does this mean that I should stay away from anything healthy, hospitals, or doctors? You could use this logic ad infinitum. This is a move to yank the plank out of the other person’s eye.Will it work? Who knows, but I always try.
The second reason I say that this accusation is unfair is that the Bible itself indicates, demonstrates, and illustrates that people within the religious community fall prey to scandals and sin like everyone else. It’s not as if the Bible said that if someone assented to the right doctrines and attended church on a weekly basis that they would be perfect. The Bible is more realistic than that. It actually displays the scandals for all to read: Abraham and Hagar, Judah and Tamar, Moses repeatedly losing his temper, David and Bathsheba, the nation of Israel going into exile for breaking covenant with God, Peter denying Christ, Ananias and Sapphira, etc, etc.
So, if the Bible acknowledges that these things will happen, what are we to make of this? I say at least two things. One, all people are sinful and in radical need of the grace of God and the accountability of the community of faith. Two, there are some people within the community of faith that we call the church that are not true believers (1 Jn 2:18-20; Jude 18-19).
Do you need to feel uneasy or embarrassed next time someone tries to point to all the skeletons in the church’s closet? No! The Bible never claimed that God’s people wouldn’t fail along they way–only that God would not. The only skeleton that matters is one that no one will find: that of Jesus of Nazareth. He is risen! He is the standard for the church and we must abide in Him, for apart from Him we can do nothing. We never said the church was perfect–only Christ Jesus. So, while the church is not free from scandal, it is better than trying to go it alone.