Shakespeare famously wrote in his masterwork, Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” If the Bard were an American evangelical, he could just as likely have blogged (or tweeted–Bill seems like a Twitter guy), “something’s rotten in the American church.”
- One pastor on the East Coast stages “spontaneous baptisms” with planted volunteers in the crowd who “generate excitement” and stream down the aisles at his command. This same pastor has also seemed to have built a bit of a cult of personality, as the “visionary leader” of a megachurch whose “code” includes language of fealty to his “vision.”
- A West Coast pastor’s book sales were gigged by a third-party company paid to produce thousands of transactions and get him on the New York Times’ Bestseller list (if only for a few weeks). That same pastor has also been under fire in recent months with charges of plagiarism launched against several of his books.
- Another nationally-renowned preacher got some facetime on Oprah Winfrey’s life-coaching tour, where he failed (rather spectacularly) to share a Gospel message–and he’s not the only one.
- A trip through the aisles of Lifeway and Mardel’s best-sellers sections reveals a hit parade of selfish, stupid, scary theology, which seems to be consumed en masse by church folk.
These aren’t minor incidents with no-name shepherds. These are major voices in evangelical culture.
But as easy as it is to throw stones at these high-profile folks, there’s just as much hypocrisy in my own life.
- I tell my coworkers that I’m a follower of Jesus, but my work-ethic and struggle to control my temper often does not reflect His example.
- If my words are the overflow of my heart, then my heart is an angry molten rock during rush hour.
- I have opportunities to begin gospel conversations with strangers I run into throughout my day, but I’m focused on accomplishing my mission instead of God’s. And those times when I do feel convicted about letting a person walk away, I secretly wait for them to disappear from view. “Oh no, missed my chance. Well, it’s up to you, God.”
- No matter how many times I say that I’ve forgiven that one guy, every time he calls I struggle to speak kindly and I find myself instantly impatient.
The point is, in my honest moments I have to admit that I’m a horrible, stinking sinner, a total screw-up of a disciple. And the same Gospel that promises forgiveness of sins for egotistical, selfish megachurch pastors who repent–it promises hope for screw-ups like me. And like you.
Something is rotten in the Church. Something is wrong with the world. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, it’s “me.”
But there is also something gloriously beautiful in the Church, something magnificent and life-transforming in the world: it’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s the good news that God would be fully justified in destroying rebellious wretches like you and me, but instead showers us with mercy by offering up Himself as the sacrifice. The eternal Son of God took on human flesh, walked our path in perfect obedience to God, achieving a perfection and righteousness that we couldn’t and wouldn’t, and then allowed Himself to be falsely accused, tortured, and murdered. The death we deserved, the insults we earned, the torture we warranted as lawbreakers–He accepted it all in our place, not because we’re so special, but because He is so good. And then, after dying and being buried, He was raised back to life. The sacrifice was acceptable; Jesus paid our debt. He paid it all. And now, we who have repented of our sin and rebellion and have put our hope in Him, we who are day by day being transformed by this good news, we owe all to Him.
I’m a screw-up. But I have a Savior. Praise be to God for His glorious grace.
It’s right and proper to be upset when people do stupid, silly things in the name of Jesus. But I need to remind myself regularly that I do this, and worse, and yet grace abounds to me all the more.