I long ago learned that nobody looks forward to being confronted with their sin. Except for the grace of God going before them, no-one turns to the Lord in repentance and true faith. What is true for individuals is even more true for institutions. Because they are made up of fallen human beings, they generally manifest all the same sins seen in the human family. They are prideful, arrogant, self-serving, greedy, hurtful to the weak, covetous, family destroyers, amoral if not immoral, and deceitful. Then there is the church.
Of course the church is supposed to be different. In its very nature in the sight of God it is of course holy. Sunday by Sunday those who recite the creed say they believe her to be so. Theologically, as set apart for God, that is true. But institutionally, as an organization, she is a fallen creature. She is only ever able to be and do what is right momentarily, and always by God’s grace. At times the favor of God’s blessing is manifest and lasts for a long season, but sometimes decades – even centuries – go by with very little evidence that the church is any different than the world. Then God’s judgment falls.
If, as I believe, the Church Universal has entered a time of reformation, the only way she can receive what God has for her is first to recognize that she has come under judgment. Reformation does not begin when things are going well, but when they have gone badly wrong. If the congregations and communities we live in are heading down destructive roads, it is because the voice of those who know better has been silenced. Most particularly, the Word of God has been silenced. And many of us, if not all, are guilty.
The responsibility of the church is to speak the truth of the Word of God. It is why her minsters were first set apart. Their shepherding function was secondary from the beginning. It would be better to say their shepherding function was determined by the fidelity of their speaking the truth of God’s Word. It is in this area, most especially, that the community of God’s people has sinned. We have turned from the truth of God’s Word. But how did this happen in a community constituted in and on that Word?
For much of my adult life I have pondered that question. How can things be as they are in the church if we are called to follow Jesus and his teaching? How can things be as they are if we are submitted to Christ? How can things be as they are if we are abiding in the words of Jesus? If we are devoted to the apostle’s teaching?
It has become more and more clear to me that the answers to those last four questions are indeed one. The church has abandoned fidelity to the Word of God. And the set apart ordained leaders of the church have led the way. The deconstruction began in the secular academy, spread to the theological seminaries, took over critical institutional leadership, globally and nationally, and then reached the local pulpits of this country.
Next Week: Specifics