The Church is Worth Fighting For
By Fr. Daniel
I have been listening to a podcast that everybody seems to be talking about, “The Rise and Falls of Mars Hills”. This podcast by Christianity Today details the abuses of authority and power perpetrated by the leadership of Mars Hills Church, especially the controversial character of Mark Driscoll. Driscoll is but one of the church leaders who have recently come into scrutiny recently over their abuses. Many pastors and former pastors now join their unenviable ranks.
It is easy and normal to be disillusioned over this apparent growing list of abusers in our Church. How can this be possible in an institution that proclaims Jesus Christ as her Lord? How can the teachings of Jesus devolve to such depths of sin? Where is the power of the new creation that Christ promised, if the Church seems plagued by vicious individuals?
While we must struggle with these questions – questions that don’t have easy answers, I’d like to encourage you, as I encourage myself, that we should look at these instances of human failings as inspiration to fight for our Church. How, exactly, do we do this?
First, we should not be surprised that these abuses are happening. Jesus Himself warned us about this!
“Beware of false prophets, which come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matthew 7:15.
Jesus warns us again in the parable of wheat and tares on Mathew 13:34-30. Tares are weeds that resemble wheat and can blend in undetected.
Now, the natural reaction from us is to fight against these false prophets. After all, isn’t this what fighting for the church is all about? This witch-hunting can be dangerous, however, as Jesus Himself warns at the end of the wheat and tare parable. The servants in the parable ask the owner if he wants them to gather the tares. The owner responds: “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.” Matthew 13:29. Mistakes can be made, and greater damage will be done in our zealous heresy hunt.
What is to be done, then?
First, is to live the life Christ has called us to. Many of us are content to follow Christ from a safe distance. We see our faith as a simple requirement, an add-on, a set of responsibilities that we take to make our lives better. This is not the path of Christ.
The path He invites us is one of complete surrender, where we die to self so He can live in us. It is one of self-emptying, where our dreams and ambitions are laid at the foot of the cross. It is only when we are willing to die to self in this way that a new creation emerges from the old. We die with Christ but we are raised to new life in Him (c.f. Romans 6:8).
Unfortunately, this is not to many of our likings, especially in the West, where we feel so entitled to our rights and liberties. Not that the rights and liberties we enjoy are bad in and of themselves and that we should get rid of them. But the Kingship of Jesus Christ is above any of these entitlements. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God before we are citizens of our nation.
Second, we should stop making excuses for abusive leaders. I noticed in the podcast “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hills” that many were willing to overlook the character flaws in Mark simply because “of the good things he was doing.”
Abusive leaders, once they are discovered, their actions must not be excused but exposed to the light where they can find healing. Now, this may sound contradictory to the warning given in the parable of the wheats and tares, but without going in too deeply as to why that’s not the case (it would take another long post to explain that!) we can say that this parable does not give permission to bad actors to keep wreaking havoc in the Church, especially if they are in a position of leadership. The parable deals more with the fact that the Kingdom of God (which is not to be simply equated with the Church alone) must be present in the world, while not yet wiping out all opposition. What it warns again is a renewal of the inquisition on society, not on accountability in Church leadership.
In conclusion, we are not indefensible in our current dilemma. We are children of the promises of the Kingdom, and our Shepherd will not abandon us to be devoured by the wolves. Armed with these promises, our “fight” becomes one of hope and confidence: confidence that if we die to self, Christ will make us new, and our lives will be a testimony to the transforming power of Christ. We must also have hope to overcome the fear that can keep us from exposing bad actors, since we know that the truth will set us free, and their exposure to the light can be the first step towards true healing and freedom.
Let us join the battle. The Church is worth fighting for.