Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, How long?
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!
– “The Church’s One Foundation,” Samuel J. Stone
* * *
Money, Sex, and Power: this is the triumvirate that rules “the world.” These are what “the flesh” craves. This is what “the devil” uses in his attempts to set us against God. They are described in 1John 2 as “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (NASB) — I want to experience what makes me feel good, I want to possess what looks good to me, I want to control things and be honored.
We can pursue and abuse money, sex, and power in any number of ways and in a variety of contexts, including religious communities. In fact, religion often provides the perfect context in which the world, flesh, and devil may work, because those involved in the spiritual life are often trusting and devoted toward their leaders, and leaders learn quickly that there are many places and ways to hide in the world of the sacred.
From the earliest days of following Jesus, this has been part of the Church’s story. He chose twelve followers, one of whom betrayed him and never came back. Eleven ran away in fear and eventually returned, showing all subsequent disciples that even the best of us live by forgiveness and grace alone.
The New Testament, if read honestly, is a series of messages sent to people who came to faith and came together, only to find that the world, flesh, and devil tend to make their presence known even at the Communion table, in the person behind the pulpit, when leaders come together to make decisions, and among the members of the congregation when people who are different and have different ways want to join in and be part of the community.
Ananias and Sapphira threatened to bring a financial scandal upon the Church in its earliest days. The Corinthians brought a world of sexually immoral practices into the sanctuary. A host of people in and around the Church followed the path of Diotrephes, who “liked to put himself first” and have the power. Etc., etc., etc.
Sometimes, when I consider not only the NT testimony but also the long and tawdry story of Christian history, I wonder that God has not judged us as he did the kingdoms of Israel. Ephesians says, “[God] has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Our “reign” as the King’s ambassadors in this world has often proven disastrous. And still today, the Church is beset by scandal, schism, heresy, and crimes against the defenseless and weak through the abuse of money, sex, and power.
Surely, from the beginning of the Christian way, it has been necessary for every believer to pray the words of Nehemiah: “Both I and my family have sinned.”
If our hearts know anything of God’s love in Christ, we will advocate for those who “hunger and thirst for justice,” the poor and meek who mourn and suffer under the leadership of those who are not merciful nor pure of heart, who seek power not peace, and who cause suffering by playing the part of persecutors rather than following the way of the Cross.
This week, we will get some updates on scandals that are currently troubling the Church, causing pain to victims, and besmirching Jesus’ reputation in the world.
As a way of introducing this topic, here are a few websites devoted to truth, justice, and compassion in the context of Church scandal. Listing these sites here does not mean we automatically share every perspective written on them. Just like we hope you read Internet Monk with discernment, we urge you to do the same with everything you read. But we appreciate the work these kinds of blogs and sites do, especially in helping us hear the cries of the abused.
- Wartburg Watch
- Battered Sheep
- Mars Hill Refuge
- Istoria Ministries (Wade Burleson)
- Wenatchee the Hatchet
- Bishop Accountability
- Blog on the Way
- Brent Detwiler
- Calvary Chapel Abuse
The first of Martin Luther’s ninety five theses states: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying, “Repent ye, etc.,” intended that the whole life of his believers on earth should be a constant penance.” How then can we observe Lent, the season of repentance, without acknowledging not only our own sins but also the sins of the Church?
Lord, have mercy.