The world well knows the sins of the church, among them the Inquisition, witch-hunts, the Crusades, and modern-day sexual abuse. Clearly, the church has fallen short of the ideals Jesus proclaimed. Many dismiss the Christian message not because they have examined the evidence and found it wanting, but because they are personally disappointed with Christians and churches. As pastor Timothy Keller has observed, we need to address “the behavior of Christians—individual and corporate—that has undermined the plausibility of Christianity for so many people.”1
“The fact that Christian behavior so deeply undermines the plausibility of the gospel in the minds of many people should be a wakeup call for Christians.”The fact that Christian behavior so deeply undermines the plausibility of the gospel in the minds of many people should be a wakeup call for Christians. We need to ask ourselves some tough questions: Have I failed to live as Jesus taught me to? How responsible am I for the negative perceptions many have of the church? We would each do well to look at our own lives and seek God’s grace and forgiveness.
If you are a non-Christian, it is important to ask yourself a few tough questions as well: Does the moral failure of Christians undermine the claim that Jesus is truly God? Have I had a negative experience with some Christians that clouds my view of the entire church? Am I really evaluating Christianity and the church fairly?
In the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict, my father and I offer two reasons the character flaws of the church should not surprise us. First, the Bible speaks of human nature as gloriously made in God’s image, but profoundly fallen in sin. Human nature is deeply flawed (Rom. 3:9–18; Mark 7:14–23). Even true Christians are capable of wretched acts. The Bible does say we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), but this is only fully realized in the next life.
“Yes, the church has done some bad things. This is undeniable. But the reality is that the good far outweighs the bad.”Second, many who claim to be Christians have not placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ and therefore do not truly know Him. Jesus taught that both believers and nonbelievers would be part of the institutional church, but that their true identity would not be revealed until the end (Matt. 13:24–30). He also taught that there would be people who thought they were acting in his name—even doing “many wonders,” but they will not enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 7:21–23). Just because someone claims to be a Christian, then, does not mean he or she really is. Could it be that the church is often indicted for the actions of people who are not even Christians? This is why the standard of Scripture is so important. Ultimately, we need to compare the actions of both individuals and the corporate church with the genuine teachings of the Bible.
And it is also important to place the sins of the church in perspective. Yes, the church has done some bad things. This is undeniable. But the reality is that the good far outweighs the bad. Consider just ten positive contributions of the faith:
- Hospitals, which essentially began during the Middle Ages
- Universities, which also began during the Middle Ages
- Literacy and education for the masses
- The separation of political powers
- Civil liberties
- The abolition of slavery
- Modern science
- The elevation of women
- Benevolence and charity; the “Good Samaritan” ethic
- High regard for human life
“Make sure you are not dismissing the teachings of Jesus because of the poor representation of those who claim to be his followers.”If you dismiss the Christian faith because of the bad things the church has done, I hope you will consider three things. First, I am truly sorry if Christians have hurt you. It pains me every time I hear the wounds of the church. Please accept my apology on behalf of the church.
Second, put the bad in perspective by comparing it to the good. As we have seen, the good far outweighs the bad.
Third, make sure you are not dismissing the teachings of Jesus because of the poor representation of those who claim to be his followers. People in the church may let you down, but Jesus never will. And yet even though Jesus turned the world upside down for good, the most important question he asked was, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29).