Perhaps the biggest obstacle to belief in God in recent years has been a growing disillusionment with Christians and the church. No doubt the church has a historical closet full of skeletons. Even in our own lifetimes, horrendous evils have been exposed, with those who bear God’s name having done reprehensible things under the institutional cover of the church. So with the church’s moral currency bankrupted by religious hypocrisy, and when you consider that part of the Christian story supposedly involves a change brought about in the human heart by God, how do you explain Christians behaving badly?
There should be no room for any answer to a question
this raw that does not begin with tremendous sorrow for those who have been harmed, closely followed by a deep protest against any ongoing existence of those evils. God Himself is intimately familiar with the terrible wounds that can accompany being the target of religious hypocrisy since the religious establishment, who were meant to be a spiritual safe haven, were the very ones whose dark actions of betrayal and injustice led to Jesus’ brutal execution.
One of the intriguing features about the Christian story is that there is no attempt to airbrush out the unseemly reality of religious evils. Rather than sweep hypocrisy under the rug, the Bible has a habit of dragging it out into the open, where sunlight serves as the best disinfectant. Nearly every letter in the New Testament was written to address as serious shortcoming in the beliefs or behaviors of Christians who were not framing God right in the eyes of a watching world. And consider how these failures were dealt with publicly, as God memorialized these letters forever when they became Scripture.
There has never been a more vocal critic of religious hypocrisy than Jesus.
He spoke of some religious leaders as whitewashed tombs, exposing the hidden reality that behind any renovated exterior designed to look good in the public eye, there was an inward dimension to these figures that resembled a moral and spiritual corpse (Matt. 23:27-28). And when it comes to judgment, Jesus warned that no one will get away with anything. There is no escaping that Jesus spoke terrifying words about judgment, only these words were never aimed at secular people or pagans or notorious sinners. With deep compassion for the victims of abuse, Jesus’ strongest warnings of judgment were aimed at religious people, especially religious leaders who were misrepresenting God and hurting others.
The crux of the challenge
is not really whether or not Christians behave badly, which should be tragically obvious to everyone, but whether Christians behaving badly should stop you from becoming a Christian yourself.
That Christians do behave badly is a tragedy, though it shows God’s consistency to His endgame. Since creating loving and responsible creatures has always been God’s goal, freedom remains the way, meaning that Christians are free to wander off script, hurt others, and damage the reputation of the church. But as messy as the church is, and despite any perception that the church is beyond saving, Jesus loves the church. He is committed to making her beautiful and a beacon of hope for the world. And who knows? Perhaps your own sense of protest aligns with God’s heart of correction, and you might have a powerful contribution to make in shaping the future of the church for good.
Adapted from Questioning Christianity: Is There More to the Story? by Dan Paterson & Rian Roux (© 2021). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.