A Church Full of Failures
by the imperfect within the Body of Christ?
perspective on those who fall from grace.
The conversation with our
guests was as rich as the succulent kabobs and summer fruit we shared. But like
unsightly road kill along a scenic highway, the discussion repeatedly came
across accounts of dismal failure in the Church: a pastor who’d stepped down
because he couldn’t shake an addiction to pornography; a vibrant evangelist
whose life collapsed inward when the ministry overextended itself financially;
a respected mentor and his wife who’d recently decided divorce was their only
I shook my head as my wife
and I cleared the dishes, "It’d be enough to make me lose my faith."
After all, wouldn’t the Bible’s talk of new creation and transformed hearts
lead us to expect better? Of course, there’s much in the failure-riddled record
of the Church that can appropriately be explained away. Tares among wheat.
False brothers. Fakers. The Church shouldn’t be judged by the fact that many on
its membership rolls simply are not committed to Christ.
But what about those who are
committed—not perfectly, of course, but as genuinely as we seek to be? What
about the once-earnest brother or the gracious sister who now leaves us shaking
our heads over the dinner dishes? What about the less shocking but still
troubling pettiness, quarrels, and selfishness we all too often find slithering
among the pews? For that matter, what about ourselves?
It’d be enough to make me
lose my faith. That is, if it weren’t for the people I meet in the Bible.
Consider just a few of the "heroes."
There’s Noah, the only
righteous man on earth in his day, who ended up passing out naked and drunk
from a vat of wine he made soon after the flood.
Abraham, the man of faith,
resorted to sleeping with his servant girl to ensure God would follow through
on His promise to provide a son. His wife Sarah didn’t even believe the promise
to begin with, laughing out loud when she heard it.
Miriam, who led worship and
apparently spoke for God at times during the Israelite exodus, launched a
slander campaign against her brother Moses.
David, the man after God’s
own heart, committed adultery with the wife of a deeply loyal lieutenant and
then had the man killed to hide his dark deed.
John the Baptist’s doubts
were so deep that, after a life of impassioned ministry, he sent an emissary to
ask Jesus if He was really the Messiah after all.
As for Jesus’ disciples, it
is one faux pas and foolishness after another: worrying about food
within days of Jesus single-handedly feeding thousands; repeatedly squabbling
over which one of them was "greatest," even during the last supper;
falling asleep in Gethsemane after Jesus begged them to keep watch, then
abandoning Him as His enemies came to take Him away.
Even after Jesus’
resurrection and a vision commanding Peter to embrace all people in Christ, the
"Rock" still needed a public dressing-down from Paul for
shunning Gentiles at mealtime. Meanwhile, Paul and Barnabus quarreled so fiercely
they parted ways for their second missionary journey.
So, where does this leave
us? Need we slouch into hopelessness or perhaps simply settle for an
As Paul would say, May
it never be!
Every facet of Christian
life requires gripping two seemingly opposite truths at once. Justice… and
mercy. Fear of no man… and humility before all. Extravagant grace… and
unyielding truth. And, in this case, a passionate pursuit of personal and
corporate righteousness… alongside an abiding awareness of the feebleness of
every human, including
Christ calls His "new
creatures" both to make and to be disciples. We are to
take up our cross, work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and walk as
Jesus did. (Matthew 16:24; Philippians 2:12) And yet, juxtaposed with this
uncompromising call is an expectation that those we encounter—even (and
perhaps especially) believers—will frustrate and fail us. We, sadly, will do
the same to others.
It is worth pondering the
virtues Paul urged the Colossians to apply as they interacted with each other:
"compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (3:12).
These virtues are particularly operative around a certain type of
people—namely, those who annoy, burden, frustrate, and fail us. As he goes on,
Paul makes even more explicit what will be necessary in our interactions with
other believers: "Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other,
whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also
should you" (3:13).
Patience… compassion… bearing with… forgiving?
This certainly isn’t a happy-go-lucky, everyone-always-gets-along gathering
Paul is envisioning. It’s as if he’s reminding us that the only way to avoid
disillusionment with the Church is to dismiss our illusions from the beginning:
the Church will be full of frustrating, messed-up, baggage-carrying people who
need as much grace as we do. Tantalizingly, in the same passage, Paul describes
this very group as "chosen of God, holy and beloved." Once again, dissimilar
truths held side by side.
"The one who says he
abides in Him [Jesus] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He
walked," declares 1 John 2:6. Christian faith transforms actions, habits,
and choices, or it is not faith at all. We should expect nothing less of
ourselves and pray for nothing less in others.
we know that each one of us is made of the same dust as Noah, Abraham,
Sarah, Miriam, David, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, and Paul. So, we
stand ready to face the messy, even tragic realities we inevitably will
encounter, even in the best of our brothers and sisters. And we do so, not with
shock or contempt, but with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and