On Church Scandals and Scandalous Christians

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).

[1372 words]

12 Replies to “On Church Scandals and Scandalous Christians”

  1. Thank you, Bill for yet another good article on church scandals and scandalous Christians. I am searching for articles in relation to who the Holy Spirit is – deity, will, emotions and mind.

    Do you have the materials to share with me. If not, are you able to write an article on in your regular posts. Thank you.

    Janet Puah, Singapore

  2. Thanks Janet. I do not have too many articles directly on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, including his deity, person, work and importance. So I will need to do one soonish. In the meantime, any good systematic theology will have helpful chapters on the Holy Spirit. In addition, there would be plenty of good books on the topic. Here are just a few of them:

    Bloesch, Donald, The Holy Spirit: Works and Gifts. IVP, 2000.
    Burke, Trevor and Keith Warrington, eds, A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit. Cascade Books, 2014.
    Cole, Graham, He Who Gives Life. Crossway Books, 2007.
    Ferguson, Sinclair, The Holy Spirit. IVP, 1997.
    Green, Michael, I Believe in the Holy Spirit. Eerdmans, 1975.
    Hamilton, James, God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments. B&H, 2006.
    Holmes, Christopher, The Holy Spirit. Zondervan, 2015.
    Horton, Michael, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit. Zondervan, 2017.
    Pinnock, Clark, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit. IVP, 1996.
    Sproul, R.C., The Mystery of the Holy Spirit. Tyndale House, 1994.
    Thiselton, Anthony, A Shorter Guide to the Holy Spirit: Bible, Doctrine, Experience. Eerdmans, 2016.
    Warrington, Keith, Discovering the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Hendrickson, 2005.

    And there would be plenty of good articles as well. Here is one brief but useful piece: https://www.moodybible.org/beliefs/positional-statements/holy-spirit/

  3. Hi Bill,
    a necessary and important article for sure.
    Have been praying for you and thinking about you a lot…we miss you “Bill-isms” on Fascist Book.
    Hope you and your family are managing well under these oppressive government dictates. It’s difficult to see the end sometimes but we know our God reigns in all this!
    Love in Christ,

  4. Thanks Bill for your articles nearly every day. I was wondering if you have an article on using profane or curse words. Most Christians have a fit of carnality every now and then, especially when we are busy or late but when we are in a verbal fight eg about vaccines and get called ‘selfish’ etc we have to get angry and put our foot down before they will listen. Other people use the same words back at their attackers otherwise they will keep on getting attacked. It was Elijah who cursed those teenagers and a bear came out and killed them 2 Kings 2:24. Jesus even used some certain words to describe the religious leaders.

  5. Thanks Lynette. I have not penned a piece as such on profanities and swearing. However, I have written about biblical curses, which are actually something quite different. Scripture records cases of divine curses being called down upon certain folks, and even Paul said of the Galatians that anyone who preaches a different gospel should be accursed (3:10-14). And Jesus could curse the fig tree (Mark 11;12-13), and so on. And yes, Jesus could use quite strong language at times, but probably not swearing or profanity. Here is one piece looking at one aspect of biblical curses:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/01/03/misappropriating-old-testament-blessings-and-curses/

    But I may need to write a whole article on this, so stay tuned!

  6. Thanks Bill, appreciated. Sometimes I have to get a carpet snake out of the tree where the bantams roost at night and I have to psyche myself up like Mike Tyson before I have enough nerve and strength to pull the carpet snake down and put it in a bag and take it away but the snake gets a few terrible words in the process. Last time I thought the neighbours had called the police but it was a tactical response car that stopped outside for another matter.

  7. Maybe not the point of your article but to the world WE represent Christ, and individually the church, to the world so we should be even MORE careful in how we conduct ourselves. Our words and our actions are to represent Christ to the world and when we say or do horrible thing we will in the eyes of the world bring disrepute to Christ and the church.

    Yes there are those whose actions are abhorrent and we should denounce their deeds and make it known they were NOT acting on Christ’s behalf but we should examine ourselves too for isn’t just abuse and molestation that causes problems for the church but hypocrisy and holier than thou attitudes and being oblivious to what is happening right under our noses that can cause issues that bring condemnation. Parents and influential adults are a big part of that but any Christian displaying those is a issue.

    We may not be perfect but should STRIVE for perfection. The world hates us already just for following Christ and preaching the truth we don’t need to give it any help in trying to influence people to hate us.

    We also need to let young and even old Christians know SOMETIMES the answer to a prayer is NO. And other times it is NOT NOW. We can’t have people thinking the only answer is yes that too causes issues because if they get a no or not now they can become discouraged or angry at God. For instance a young boy prays for his friend who has a childhood cancer to be healed yet he dies and blames God and says Christianity is BS. Or a elderly man prays his longtime wife’s mind be made whole only to have her deteriorate more. He becomes bitter and blames Christianity for giving him false hope. If we lie if we omit if we say one thing and do another or form cliques and exclude people because they aren’t holy enough or we ignore what is happening in our church or household especially after having been warned, like parents who refuse to believe their ‘little angel’ would do such a thing, we will cause people to question not just us but all Christians.

    We can help people who have problems with God over something or with a individual Christian and we can help people see that just because a priest 500 miles away molested a child does not mean every priest in any or all denominations is a threat and the we are as disgusted by his behavior as anyone else we need to be sure smaller things that we do aren’t a source of someone’s discontent.

    A person who sins, even a Christian, sins of their own accord and due punishment and revulsion is to be to them alone as they were NOT acting on behalf of Christ and are only reflective of themselves not there church or community. We can not blame Christ for satan’s deeds.

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