Yes, Christians can disappoint, but not Christ:
It is quite common for those who reject Christianity to point to scandals and abuses and the like among Christians, or in the churches, or in Christian cultures or societies. They will point to such things and say they want nothing to do with Christianity.
These folks can be atheists or secularists who look at the faith from without, or they can be those from within – those who once claimed to be believers themselves, but who have now opted out, because of whatever thing – real or imagined – that has offended them, disturbed them, or turned them off about Christianity.
Several things can be said about all this. First, let me explain more fully what I mean by “real or imagined.” Yes, real abuses, real scandals, and real corruption can be found in churches and in individual believers. But sometimes a person may – for whatever reason – be bitter or angry or upset with the faith for rather dubious reasons.
Any number of reasons might be raised here. Perhaps a young person was attending a church, not so much out of devotion to God or concern for religion, but as a way of finding a partner to form a relationship with. Maybe he finds a nice gal there, but the relationship breaks down after a while. He gets hurt and upset, and ends up taking all this out on God or the church.
So that is the first thing that can be said about rejecting the faith: what are your reasons for doing so? Are they valid reasons? Or are you just bearing grudges or taking offence, when God or the faith itself has nothing really to do with it?
And yes, some real bad things can happen: a trusted church leader may have been found out to have been abusing or molesting children in his care. That is a much better reason to want to lash out at the church. But even here, we need to take some care in this.
It is always terrible when any adult abuses a person put in his or her care. But should that mean then that the entire edifice must be rejected as well? We all know that abusive schoolteachers exist. Does that mean we should reject all schools and all forms of education as a result? Most people would not think so.
We all know that abusive policemen exist. So should we ditch the police entirely because of them? Should we tar and feather every police officer because of a few bad apples? Should we therefore argue that law enforcement is inherently evil in itself and must be eliminated? Most people would not think so.
We all know that abuse, scandals, corruption and criminal activities can take place anywhere – be it in a childcare centre, a hospital, a library, a grocery store, or a petrol station. Should we therefore reject all of these entirely and want nothing to do with them?
I think you get the message. Yes, whenever someone claiming to be a Christian does some decidedly unchristian or anti-Christian things, that is always a real problem. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not usually the wisest way to proceed here.
Another, related thing to say is that something is not to be judged and assessed as to being true or false, right or wrong, solely on the basis of how some of its representatives or followers or adherents act. Whether Christianity is true or false must be established not just on how some Christians carry on.
We need to look at its truth claims, at how coherent and consistent the biblical worldview is, and so on. In a sense, if one person claiming to be a hardcore Christian goes on a murderous rampage, that no more disproves or invalidates Christianity than a person claiming to be a hardcore atheist who goes on a murderous rampage disproves or invalidates atheism.
Of course, one can ask here which worldview might be more likely to produce people who do terrible things like this. For more on which worldview has tended to be the most blood-thirsty in human history, see this piece for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/02/08/atheism-government-and-killing/
Also related to this, giving up on or rejecting Christianity because of certain abuses done in its name, is about as helpful as giving up on or rejecting all sorts of other things because of them being abused or misused. Do we stop eating because at one time we were served up a meal by some unscrupulous eatery that led to food poisoning?
Do we give up on going to see a doctor because we read about one fake doctor or about one doctor abusing patients? Do you stop going for walks – thinking them all to be evil – because during one walk a stray dog bit you. Do you abandon ordering books from online booksellers because one order got messed up along the way?
The point is, something does not become less true or less good based solely on when some of its followers abuse or misuse it. We need to decide the worth of something on other criteria. In the case of Christianity, as mentioned, we need to ask if it is indeed true, and not judge it solely by how some people who claim its name have abused it.
And one final and important point must be raised here. We are all fallen creatures. Even when a person comes to Christ, he or she is still very much a work in progress. Yes, with our lives transformed by an encounter with the living Christ, and with the Holy Spirit living within, real change begins to happen.
We start to become less selfish and self-centred, less sinful and fleshly, and more spiritual – that is, more like Christ. But we will still struggle with the old sinful nature, and we can at times still make bad and selfish choices. So we will never offer the perfect model of what Christianity is all about.
Yes, some will be much closer to living the Christian life in all its fulness than others. But none will become perfect, sinless, and totally beyond error. Sanctification is about making us more and more Christlike while we become less and less conformed to sin, self, and the world around us.
But the gold standard here is never some church or some saint or some denomination. The gold standard is Jesus Christ. Will Christians let you down? Sadly, yes – at least at times. Will some Christians – or at least those who call themselves Christians – do horrible, un-Christlike things? Sadly, yes again.
Sure, Christians are called to live lives that are above reproach. We are all to strive to reflect the life of Christ as much as possible. Jesus even told us to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. But we still all fall short. Sadly we can all disappoint.
But will Christ ever disappoint? Will Christ ever let us down? Will Christ ever hurt us? Will Christ ever sell us out? Will Christ ever abuse us? The answer to all these questions is no. It is Christ who paid the supreme price to woo us sinners back to himself.
It is Christ who died a horrible death on our behalf so that we could be reconciled to God and find a new, transformed life. It is Christ who did everything possible to restore a love relationship with the Father. So he is blameless and without reproach. He cannot be blamed for any evils that people might do in his name.
If the church has hurt you, or if Christians have hurt you, that is bad news indeed. And I am sorry that has happened. But Christ is in a different category altogether. His love for you is constant, his support of you is unending, and his fulsome commitment to you is unwavering.
People may well disappoint, but Christ never will. So go to Christ when you feel betrayed and wounded by others – be they Christians or non-Christians. Let him be the one you fully trust in and rely upon. People will always let us down, but God never will.
‘Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of your faith’ (Hebrews 12:2).