Error Cannot Define Truth
Sometimes what happens in the news reminds us as Christians of how important it is to stay true to the word of God. Of course, this ought always to be our aim, but when news events so prominent further damage the overall concepts that the world has about Christianity, then we need to go back to our foundations and try to show the world that what people often portray about Christianity is not, in fact, what Scripture actually teaches. Christianity is typically not very accurately represented by what is usually portrayed in the news, and sometimes that is the fault of those who claim to be Christians.
We have lately been reminded of the problems of institutionalized religion, thanks to the public mess that has been found in the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps this is one reason why people say they don’t want to be religious, even if they want to be spiritual. They associate religion with some large, institutionalized system, then see the abuse that often happens therein, complete with coverups and self-justifications, then conclude that’s what represents all religion. Sadly, the institutionalized system makes this kind of abuse both easier to perpetrate and more prone to cover up. Compare what we see happening in the news with what Scriptures teach:
1. Local autonomy vs. the larger institution that controls the whole. The larger institution makes it much easier to cover over what seems to be a wide-spread problem. Scripture, however, shows that each congregation stands or falls on its own. Revelation 2-3 provides a good case study of this. The seven churches of Asia were not tied into one big web. Rather, each group stood on its own before Christ and were answerable only to Him.
2. Forced celibacy vs. teaching the truth about marriage (cf. 1 Tim 4:1-3). While one may choose to be unmarried (and therefore ought to be celibate), teaching that those who enter some form of ministry are not allowed to marry runs against what Scripture teaches. Paul argued that even he had a right to take along a believing wife, just as did Peter and the other apostles (1 Cor 9:5).
3. A separated clergy with power over laity vs. leaders being accountable to all (cf. 1 Tim 5:19-20). Evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11) are just as much under God, His word, and accountable to brethren as are any other Christians. They do not possess some inherent authority over others. They are not permitted to Lord it over others (cf. 1 Pet 5:1-2).
4. A clergy system that appears to be prone to attracting those with same-sex inclinations (which has been demonstrated and recognized; though not all who enter the RCC priesthood fit this the vast majority of abuse cases have involved same-sex behaviors) vs. clear and unequivocal instructions on God’s purposes and intents for sexuality and the marriage bed (Heb 13:4).
All of these together seem to create the perfect storm for generating severe problems, and this is indeed what has happened.
Sadly, the world’s perspective on religion is shaped by a worldly view of the church. No wonder people want to avoid religion! They see continual abuses of power, lavish worldliness in the guise of holiness, and self-regulated authority and power that easily takes advantage of the poor and disenfranchised. This is why we need a spiritual perspective, so that “from now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh” (2 Cor 5:16).
Instead, what people ought to be seeing is this: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jas 1:26-27).
While it’s easy on our side to point fingers and express appropriate disgust at cases that are clearly abusive and evil, we need to be careful that we, as living stones being built up in God’s house, are striving to practice God’s pure religion as given by the Holy Spirit. Pure religion is not institutionalized. It’s not a religion filtered through the power of a hierarchy. It is, rather, Christians as individual saints going into the world, letting their lights shine, caring for those who need it, and striving to love as God has loved. This religion is one of Christians owing nothing to others but love, the way defined by God (Rom 13:8-10).
Godly religion also necessarily entails a recognition that we all have been ravaged by the problem of sin and are in need of God’s grace (Rom 3:23). We need the gospel! The world needs the gospel. Desperately! People are hurting. People are struggling. We all need forgiveness. So let us pray with the fervor of Daniel:
“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.” (Dan 9:4-5)
Don’t let the abuses of a religion that has stepped away so far from God’s word distort what we actually see in God’s word. Stay true to the Scriptures! Error cannot define truth.
May God help us all.