“There’s no such thing as the perfect church – and if there was, as soon as you became a member, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore.”
Those words couldn’t be more accurate. The Church (both local and worldwide) isn’t perfect. It’s filled with woefully imperfect people, and as such is going to make a fair number of bumbles, boo-boo’s, and bombs.
That’s all part of the deal. It’s hard to comprehend how God was willing to place the church in the hands of us, since we’re so accident prone. But, he did. He even went so far as to name poor Peter the rock that the church would be built upon. Yikes.
Being a band of misfits and ragamuffins, we sometimes stub our proverbial toes, and the effects are felt around the world. If we handle our mistakes properly, then we will learn from them, and not repeat history.
Here are 3 times we, as the Church, got it dead wrong – hopefully we can learn a lesson from our forefathers of faith, and not adopt the same attitude that led to some of the dark spots in the history of organized religion.
1. Crusades – When the Pope militarizes the masses (as in many, many people, not the offering of sacrament – but the pun works either way) then that should have raised a red flag or two. During this 200 year battle, hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Jews were slaughtered, all in the name of the Kingdom of God.
Pope Urban II even claimed that if you participated, your eternal sanctification was guaranteed, a done deal. With an incentive like that, it’s no wonder that so many bought into such a delusion. It’s hard for us now, with the benefit of hindsight to properly appreciate all of the dynamics involved, but as a general rule, your faith shouldn’t mean that someone else has to die. You, like Bugs Bunny, must have missed a left turn somewhere along the journey.
2. Apartheid – Sadly, most millennial have no idea who Nelson Mandela is – or why he’s relevant. If that’s not a sign that the world is doomed – then I don’t know what is! The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa used remote Biblical passages to oppress and manipulate the majority of the people in their land. As you read through the history of how Apartheid came to be, the scariest part is that the leaders were quite sincere in their belief that this was God’s will. Scores of Zulus, Xhosa, and the other African tribes were seen as inhuman and generally “less than”. It wasn’t until international social pressure mounted up that Apartheid was ended, once and for all.
This is yet another example of how tricky it is to have your faith and politics intermingle. It’s not that it’s bad, because we certainly want our faith to be what guides the decisions for our country – but it requires a great deal of skill and appreciation of nuance. Zealous blanket statements often resonate in the religious, but prove to be quite damaging in the political.
Although we aren’t in the business of forming a countries Constitution – our faith should lead us to love everyone. It empowers us to empower and equip, not oppress and abuse. The better we are at loving everyone, red, yellow, black, and white – the less likely we’ll be to marginalize those that are simply different than us.
3. Christian Missionaries in China – Christian missionaries toiled for decades in the 1800’s, unable to comprehend why the Chinese were so resistant to the life giving gospel of Jesus Christ. Assuming it had something to do with their degenerate sinful nature, they continued doing the exact same thing that they had always done at home – walk around in their English clothes, speaking their native tongue to the locals, hoping for converts to come running to them.
Then Hudson Taylor showed up. He tossed out all of his clothes from home, and instead donned the traditional Chinese wardrobe. He grew his hair out like them, and even learned their very difficult language. Ditching the many comforts of the Western World, Hudson did something that proved to be the tipping point for the gospel in China. He separated his culture from the gospel.
It wasn’t the Gospel that was being rejected, but rather the Western Culture that was getting the veto in mainland China. Untold man hours were wasted in a vain attempt to colonize and civilize the lost in China. Too many well-intentioned English missionaries, colonization and evangelism were one and the same – Hudson showed them that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
We all come from many different backgrounds and cultures. As long as those can serve us in our quest to love all people, then they are useful – but they become a stumbling block, we would be wise to follow one of the most successful missionaries lead and get rid of anything that gets in our way of promoting the gospel; even if that is our language, hair, and attire.
Hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself with these and many other times that the church was dead wrong. If we will stop and reconsider why we are doing what we’re doing, and if it is fulfilling the chief command – Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself – then that will help us avoid stumbling our way into all sorts of failures. As you can clearly see, it doesn’t have to be as scandalous as a prejudiced constitution, it could simply be a case of not bearing the proper fruit.
Whatever it is we do, we must remember that there are real consequences to every action and inaction. No man is a vacuum, and what we do (or don’t do) affects more than just those that are in our direct vicinity. The upside of that is this – if we have the power to hurt those around us, we also have the power to heal them as well. The decision is ours. Hopefully we will choose wisely and with loving hearts and minds.