Today is the day we recognize Martin Luther’s attempt to reform the Catholic Church by nailing his famed “Ninety Five Thesis” to the door of the Wittenberg Church back in 1517. Luther pointed out some serious errors in the Church and tried to correct them; however, the Church resisted and so Protestantism inevitably began.
Recently, my atheist friend and I were talking and the subject came up about the oftentimes sordid history of the church — the hypocrisy, the attempts to control the masses, the lust for power, the outright scams (like the selling of indulgences and relic worship), and blatent evil (such as immorality and murder in Jesus’ name). As we talked, I was admittedly embarrassed by the behavior of the Church, which for much of its 2,000 year history has been notably wayward.
This conversation with my friend was very awkward and uncomfortable for me. Here I was trying to promote the validity of Christianity and yet, the very institution to which Jesus entrusted the proclamation of His name has been corrupt for almost all of its history. Making claims to my friend about Christianity’s veracity seemed almost laughable.
I thought, “How could God possibly have put up with all this abuse and corruption in His name?” If I were God, I’d have vaporized these evil people long ago! It doesn’t make sense that He would allow them to continue deceiving and destroying the masses — and even worse: doing it in His name! It seems to actually argue against the existence of God — I mean, wouldn’t He protect His good name rather than allow selfish men to profit by it over these centuries?
I became internally indignant as I thought about this. For most of the life of the Church, it has indeed been wayward. Why did God allow them to drift so far from Truth and not just kill them on the spot? I sure would have. It would have given me great pleasure!
Then I thought about me. For most of the life of me, I too have been wayward. Selfish, indulgent, indifferent, idolatrous, wrongly motivated, etc., — essentially corrupt. And aren’t I glad that God hasn’t just killed me on the spot! Would I so gladly receive the mercy, grace, patience, love and forgiveness that I have been given, but deny it for Christ’s own church?
My indignance about the church continued to soften when I thought, “At what point should God begin smiting those who rebel?” The instant they first stray? Or should He allow time for the wayward to repent? Personally I’m thankful for 2nd chances and 3rd chances, etc. Why wouldn’t I allow Him to treat His Church the same way He treats me?
It helped even more to reflect on the fact that God is a just God and ultimately all wrongs will eventually be righted. Scripture tells us in many places that believers and unbelievers alike will one day give account for all their actions. In the end, no one gets away with anything, though in the short-term it might feel like they do.
Romans 14:12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
1Peter 4:5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
2 Cor 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
and many more…
Finally, it helped me to recognize that a wayward church — or a wayward believer like me for that matter — is no indictment against the existence of a holy God. Rather the fact that God restrains His hand from smiting us all instantly testifies to the fact that His attributes are far superior to mine.
Rather than lose heart or lose faith over the sinfulness of man, rejoice at how much Jesus, the Bridegroom, loves His wayward, unfaithful Bride,the church. And that He loves wayward you and wayward me.