One of the most common criticisms leveled against Christianity today is the corruption, inconsistency and evident flaws of so many Christians and churches throughout history. This is a clear struggle for both individuals who grew up in the church and ones who grew up with no religious affiliation. In a previous post, I reflected on some obvious flaws of my own faith community and how I am learning to process it. At the end of the day though, we are often left with the lingering question, “What do I do if I have been discouraged by churches or groups of Christians?” My basic answer is this: don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. Look deeper. Often times, flaws are actually signs of true faith, not falsehood.
The Bible tells numerous stories of terrible moral failures and weaknesses in the lives of its greatest heroes. It doesn’t sugar coat the issues. We are all broken people in a broken world. Churches are often very imperfect simply because they are full of very obviously imperfect people who know that they need a Savior. Jesus himself said that he came for the sick, not the “healthy”. People who are “good” and “moral” in our standards often have a really hard time seeing their need in God at all. Brokenness among the people of God is not an anomaly – it is the norm.
So if you are not a Christian, and you have been dismayed by some of the Christians in your life, here’s what I would say. First of all, get to truly know the story of Jesus and what he came to do. He is the one on whom the whole Christian claim rises or falls. Secondly, look for some ways that Christ is at work among those people. Every follower of Christ is both a story of brokenness and healing at the same time. The presence of vivid flaws is not always an evidence of falsehood. What you should really look for is whether or not these people are clearly expressing their need and dependence on God and his work in their lives. It may be, that they are growing in some areas of their lives, while they are still immature and needing change in other areas of their lives.
This second point is also especially applicable to young Christians who may be discouraged by their imperfect churches. Seeing flaws in your church community does not necessarily mean you need to run away and find a better church. You are part of the story of your community. This means that often times you need to own up to the fact that you are part of this broken community. Part of the blame for the imperfection inevitably falls on you. Examine your own heart and life. Look for the cracks and weaknesses in yourself. Try to see how all the flaws you criticize in your church may actually be present in your own life.
Leaving to a different church most often just means you are bringing the mistakes and weaknesses of your previous church into that new one. Your generation is not better than the previous generation simply because you see their flaws. If you think you are you are simply naive. You can’t be better than they are because they made you. It is quite likely that your parent’s generation saw certain flaws in their parents. Running away only continues the cycle of perpetual generational sin. We need to own up to the sins of our churches and be humble enough to bring fresh life and growth to the areas that we see lacking.
The story of Scripture is that God is working in this broken world to bring healing and life through Jesus Christ. We are the imperfect instruments that he uses to bring the true change that Jesus accomplishes. We cannot ever expect to be anything more than broken instruments. At the same time, we cannot expect to be anything less the amazing instruments through whom he brings that change. We are both. This should both humble and exalt us in our walk of faith, and in our responses to the sins of our churches.