She is my Father’s house, she is a den of thieves, she is Christ’s Bride, she is corrupt enterprise, she’s built on the rock, she’s fractured by heresies, in her is Light, in her is Darkness, it is the age of information, it is the age of ignorance, it is the era of connection, it is the era of dissidence, it is the summer of evangelization, it is the winter of apostasy, we have everything before us, we have nothing before us—in short, what the Dickens is going on?
Pedophiles parade as priests and false teachers, as preachers. Pastors auctioneer salvation at altar calls. Leaders demand a loyalty that teeters on idolatry. Polity is weak and polarization, intense.
As grievous as the portrait is, it’s not new. Within decades of her founding, the Church was already depicted as both reprehensible and beautiful. The apostle John records a vision that steals your breath: churches serving diligently, but out of devotion to tradition more than Christ and churches loving well yet tolerating false teachings and sexual sins (Rev 2.2-4, 14, 19-20).
The image became further distorted during the Middle Ages. Roman Catholics used religion to pry open the anxious souls and bony fingers of pre-literate paupers. Religion was the coffer used to collect funds for “Holy” Wars. The church traded the power of the cross for the presumed power of politics and public markets. And, centuries later, western evangelicals repeat the same degradation, aligning with corrupt institutional powers that ultimately undermine the character and Word of God.
Churches are filled to the brim with deceitful “fishers of men” who lull naïve Christians into a false sense of safety. It’s easily done. Take any idea—be it a leadership maxim or marriage mantra—and attach just enough Scripture to get the biblically-illiterate to bite. These impressionable ones take the bait, purchasing podcasts, filling stadiums, and ultimately funding the lavish lifestyles of the leaders. It’s a corrupt enterprise conducted by fish-oil salesmen.
But, the fish are accountable, too. Just read 2 Peter 2 and Jude. Rather than opposing corrupt power, the Body fully yielded its loyalty to the pack and stopped living in Truth. German churches coalesced with Nazism. British and American churches condoned slavery. Countless congregants coalesce with heterodoxies and flat-out heresies and have—for centuries. Unaware of church history and untrained in theology, many Christians operate like low-information voters. They attend the church of a charismatic, attractive, rhetorician. They ignore the distorted theology or disturbing character flaws of the leader. Rather than digging deeper into Truth, the Body wants her ears “tickled.” Peace and prosperity are valued over compassion for the least of these (Mt 25.40-45). Just as Paul predicted, the Church prefers corrupt leaders and false doctrines, proving it with their tithes and attendance (2 Tim 4.3-4).
Such a disturbing portrait of Christ’s Body causes me immense grief. #youToo? And yet, my heartache for the Bride to be without blemish must ultimately reconcile with faith in Jesus to transform us into that. Again, I look to John’s miraculous vision of the risen and glorified Messiah:
“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands, one like a son of man…in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” [Rev 1.12-13, 16]
The Light of the World gives his Light to the Church through the lamp of his Gospel. And, though he resides in heaven, Jesus still walks among churches – the “lampstands”—to honor the vow of remaining with believers “always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28.20).
Even when churches abuse and confuse people? Yes, even then. His Word is a sharp, double-edged sword that can both wound and heal as it slays Sin. Even when churches insolently promote wickedness? Yes, even then. His rebuke and discipline call the wayward from their wandering (3.19). Some churches answer that call to repentance. Others don’t. And the Lord removes their lampstand—their ability to bear witness for him. Their flame flickers and dies out (2.5)
This power to remove parallels his power to keep a pastor in righteousness. Even when pastors abuse and confuse the flock? Therein lies more tension, right? How do we reconcile a righteous anger against injustice with faith that Jesus acts justly, especially when pastors continue in wickedness? We trust the Word of Christ who confronts these evildoers by saying, “Therefore, repent! If not, I will come against you quickly and make war against those people [those promoting immorality and skewed theology] with the sword of my mouth” (2.16).
In gracious sovereignty the Father delays the return of the Son so that more people – even pastors in pulpits – can experience salvation (2 Pe 3.9). In this delay as the whorings and wrongdoings of the Bride become increasingly grievous, let us be reminded that we are reconciled by and to Christ. One day soon he will return for his blameless, beloved Bride and together we will shout:
She was shameful, she is spotless, she was vengeful, she is blameless, she was fractured, she is mended, it is the age of Millennium, it is the age of restoration, it is the era of revelation, it is the era of amazement, it is the eternity of shalom, it is the flash of faith-as-sight, we have everything before us, we have nothing separating us – in short, the Church is fully redeemed in Christ. We await that day and the far greater rest it brings.