In light of all the bad press that the church seems to be getting lately (and in many cases, rightly so), I think perhaps there is a lesson for the church in the midst of this media storm.
It's time to clean up the house beginning with the inside.
For at least a few decades now it seems the church in America has been losing it's focus. What may have begun as an attempt to impact the culture in a positive way now appears to be misguided in some ways, thus harming the church rather than furthering the cause of Christ. The church, once possessing a voice at the table, now seems to be only associated with anti-homosexual ranting, anti-abortion protesting and right-wing Republican politics. Is this the portrait of the church found in the pages of the New Testament? I think not.
A question that may be beneficial to this issue pertains to the church's approach to social issues. I believe the church is called to be a transformer of the culture, but how the church goes about carrying that calling out is vital. The church must not be idle in its approach, thus allowing an "anything goes" attitude to rule the day. But on the other hand the church must not be coercive as well. Forcing Christianity upon others does not work and is not found in Scripture. We have also seen from history how this approach has wrought destruction in the past. What is the way forward then?
I think part of the answer is right before us in Scripture. For example, in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NIV, 2011) the apostle Paul writes the following:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all
meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy or swindlers, or
idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to
you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister
but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler.
Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside
of the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.
"Expel the wicked person from among you."
Paul makes it clear that sinful behavior is not okay by any means. However, Paul also makes it clear that the church's focus is to be on the church. What really makes this interesting, in my own opinion, is that according to research by George Barna and others, the church in the West looks no different from the world at large. The divorce rate in the church is the same as the world. The number of those involved in sexual relations outside of marriage is the same. Overall the behaviors in the church and in the world are the same. Has this contributed to the public lack of voice on behalf of the church today? Perhaps the common outcry of "Hypocrites!" is not far off the mark after all.
Now, I'm not advocating that the church abandon the public sphere. History also provides positive examples of Christians engaging the public sphere for the better of spcitey, such as William Wilberforce leading the abolitionist charge in Britain, hospitals and hospice, orphanages, literacy programs (the original Sunday School), etc. These things, and more, are all directly related to the Christian faith of those who gave their lives to such things. But they were never coercive about them.
Jesus proclaimed a kingdom of forgiveness, wholeness and holiness as he ate with sinners, touched the lepers, spoke with the dregs of society and all he while the Pharisees sat back and scoffed. Have we become modern day Pharisees? In my humble opinion it is time for the Church to begin Spring Cleaning from the inside out. Peter made the point that God's judgment will begin with His own household--the Church (1 Peter 4:17). According to the book of Revelation Jesus appears first as the Divine Judge (Rev. 1:12-20). Interestingly, He judges the church first (Rev. chs.2-3).
Let us get our own house in order and reclaim the call to holiness and in so doing begin the process once again of transforming the world through Christ and for Christ from a subversive inside-out approach similar to what God did through His Incarnation.