That Evangelicals Protestants are, like everyone else, heirs of Adam should come as no surprise to anyone who understands the basics of biblical anthropology or to the honest believer who simply takes a good look at himself in the mirror.
However, we expect more from our leaders. Moral failure, financial chicanery, ethical weakness, and coarseness of tone diminish not just the credibility of those perpetrating them but of our Gospel witness as a whole. To paraphrase Paul, how can they believe, if their preacher is a fraud?
Yet no leader is or can be flawless in character or judgment. This week we are celebrating the resurrection of the only perfect leader humankind has ever known. No one, however able and honorable he might be, can achieve His standard of complete perfection.
There is a tendency among some Evangelicals to be relentlessly critical of the deficiencies not only of our leaders, but our ministries, churches, and institutions. Nothing every quite measures up – there is always a real or perceived fault or inadequacy that must not only be acknowledged but highlighted. We magnify foibles and diminish great good with lines like,
“It’s a great ministry. It’s just that it’s …”
“He’s a fine leader. I just wish he wouldn’t …”
“It was a good movie, very sincere. If only it could meet higher cinematic standards …”
And on it goes. No one, no ministry, no Gospel-focused effort ever quite measures up.
So, if a Christian leader says something unkind or does something imprudent, there are fellow believers, keyboard ready and blog awaiting new content, eager to denigrate them as quickly as possible. This is uncharitable, excessive, and a poor testimony.
With all of that said, let me offer two appropriate qualifications:
(1) Sin is sin and when Christian leaders and ministries fall into persistent or grave rebellion to their professed Lord, they should be held to account. Sometimes this means private confrontation, others public reproof. Granted.
(2) The standard for which we strive should be one of excellence. Mediocrity in the Name of the King of kings is never acceptable.
Yet these things don’t justify a continuously critical spirit, a peevishness of heart that is quick to give critical counsel instead of the benefit of the doubt or to view errors in the larger perspective of a buoyant, God-used ministry.
On a more individual level, some of us have to be careful of personal snobbery. Education, sense of humor, clothing, the type of house owned and the kind of car driven: These and other superficialities become barriers to “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” believers are called to pursue (Ephesians 4:3). “We just don’t have that much in common” comes to mean, “I find him boring and pedestrian and a little rough around the edges. I’ll let someone else befriend him.” Jesus calls us to something higher, more transcendent than this kind of religious classism.
Christ placed us together in His body, and didn’t ask our permission about with whom we share our inheritance in Him. This means we’re going to be spending time with people we otherwise might not in part, at least, because of our own arrogance.
The church of Jesus Christ is not a social club or a hobby group. It is unique, a living organism made of up of people from every background, walk of life, ethnicity, educational standing, etc. Part of the uniqueness of our ministry to a dying world is the love we have for one another despite our own external and experiential differentness. At least, that’s what the New Testament calls us to.
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth,” writes Paul to the Corinthians. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
Yes, there’s a good deal of “Christian kitsch” abroad in the land, and much of it merits dismay. From silly knick-knacks in the local Christian bookstore to music that sounds like it was written during a bubble-gum high, we churn out forgettable and unsatisfying books, movies, “art,” music, etc. at an alarming rate. Intellectual depth and sparkling wit are not in great supply in any sphere of our culture, including our churches.
But remember something C.S. Lewis wrote in “God in the Dock” about the differences of taste invariably experienced in relationship with other believers: “I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”
This is the kind of humility displayed by One Who, being in the very form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant.
I write all of these things out of reflection on my own quick-to-judge attitude, something with which I struggled especially as a younger man. To this day, my arrogance permeates my inner man, and only by God’s kindness do I seek not only to contain its spillage but eradicate its source, the pride of my flesh.
No Christian, whether a leader or fellow pew-sitter, always says and does everything with perfect spiritual pitch. Nor does any ministry, movement, church, or organization. The ready disappointment, the tone of disapproval, the penchant toward embarrassment some believers have toward others in the body of Christ is an open sore, one to whose infection I too often have contributed. Let’s try, through His grace, to heal it.
Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council.