There are times when the Church shines the radiance of God in an utterly dark world, where even the non-Christian can detect something otherworldly taking place in the body of Christ.
Then there are times when the Church looks just as broken and prone to error as those that reject the Christian faith.
On May 25, Ireland voted to repeal laws prohibiting abortion. This was the most recent (and most injurious) legal action toward complete secularization of Ireland; action including legalizing homosexual activity and divorce in the 1990s. In Crawford Gribben’s article title “Catholic Ireland is Dead and Gone“, she points to the massive failings in the Catholic church’s sexual abuse scandals as the primary reason the culture within Ireland has rejected its historically Christian identity. The credibility of the Church’s moral authority plummeted, and it was with little difficulty that voters in Ireland allowed the legalization of child murder.
Back in the States, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is having its own experience with scandal. The president (now former president) of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Paige Patterson, was reported to have counseled women in abusive relationships to forgive their abusers, remain in the relationship, and not to alert authorities. He is also alleged to have helped cover up sexual misconduct between Paul Pressler, a leader within the SBC, and a former bible study student. The largest Protestant denomination in the US is feeling scrutiny from its own members, as many petitioned for the removal of Paige Patterson weeks before he was removed.
These scandals also lower the opinions of the Church from outsiders. Not as though someone bent on discrediting the Church needs any more ammunition, contemporary examples feel more justifying to someone who rejects Christianity, instead of having to appeal to the Crusades.
It seems the scrutiny is coming from every direction. Christians may get the sense that the world is “ganging up” on us; and in some sense that is true. It is easy for those that stand for nothing, those who have no moral standard, those who have no description of what is Good other than “what feels good to me”, to scrutinize those who have a clear definition of what is right and publicly declare their intention to live by that definition. It is much harder for the Christian to attempt to slip into moral passivity unnoticed.
Therefore, this scrutiny is not only to be expected, but it is also to be initiated from within. In responding to the SBC scandal, Southern Baptist seminary professor and pastor Denny Burk has this admonishment to the people of God:
“it really does seem to be a time of reckoning. But it is not only that. It is also a time for moral clarity from all followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially as we consider the sobering words of 1 Peter 4:17: “It is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?””
The scrutiny of the non-Christian world should be only a fraction of the ongoing scrutiny of ourselves within the Church. Burke is pleading for moral clarity in regards to physical abuse, relationships between men and women, and abuse of power from those in positions of authority; which he believes was achieved with the dismissal of Page Patterson. Before the foundations for more scandals are formed, led us plead with one another for moral clarity in as many areas as we can spend our energy on.
The premise of this website is that our era has rejected Christianity en masse, and that is due in part to the weak state of the Church. The Church in the West is complicit with the moral failings of its most prominent leaders. Some might find it surprising that the SBC scandal involved theologians of a seminary, who should have had the highest degree of moral clarity. But sin is not simply a matter of the mind, but primarily the heart. Moral clarity requires more than just knowing what is right and wrong; a child can be taught that. Moral clarity involves submitting ourselves to God’s will; that is, rejecting our own will, not trying to justify our selfish actions, not trying to sweep our immorality under the rug, but rather, forsaking all other goals antithetical to what is good and just.
for people who fought to see the full authority of Scripture affirmed, Southern Baptists are too-often indifferent about living under its authority.
This is the heart of moral clarity; living under the authority of God and His written revelation. Our post-Christian culture has rejected most, if not all, authority; especially the authority of God. It beckons us with the allure of freedom to be and do whatever we want. If the people of God are so enchanted by the call of the Sirens, even our leaders will be found shipwrecked.
For this reason we recommend a strategic withdrawal from mainstream culture and thorough immersion into the Christian faith. This being one of the main principles of the Benedict Option, the phrase used by Rod Dreher who authored a book of the same name. When our habits and principles are deeply intertwined with the anti-Christian world, what hope do we have of living like Christ; our model of obedience. So many churches and Christian communities have been co-opted by mainstream culture that it is often difficult to tell the difference between a student of Christ and one who rejects Christ. What is our distinction from the unregenerate world? What sets us apart as something wholly different from those without the Faith? Are we just not as available on Sunday mornings? Do we just vote a certain way on hot-button issues? Do we just pray before we eat? Certainly the Christian life is more than that.
But without the Christian faith interpreting every aspect of our world, and Christ Jesus, in whom “we live, and move, and have our being”1 being called upon to be present in our lives from moment to moment, we are no different. The tragedy of the post-Christian era we live in is that the remnant of Christianity in our culture looks just like the rest of it. We have lost our distinctiveness in our spiritual living, and gained a conformity in our spiritual failing.
Paul’s admonishment to the church at Philippi is for us today:
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.2
Our goal of being blameless is not the goal of sinless living to earn salvation or favor. Blameless living is attaining the character of Christ in heart and in action, so as to be an instrument of reflecting God’s holiness.
Heavenly Father, may we seek moral clarity and blameless living for your glory alone. Keep our hearts fixed on your holiness through our obedience and through our failures. Grant us mercy, and give us your Spirit to guide us from moment to moment. Amen.