Friday, July 21, 2023

Failures of Faith

We have to give voice here to one of the major outcries of the "deconstructing" Christians, and that is this: the church has failed. The church has failed to live up to its own truth. It has failed to live the love of Jesus. It has failed to practice what it preaches. The church has failed to show that faith actually works because the church isn't living its faith. 

Doesn't this make it only reasonable to look elsewhere? Doesn't this mean that what the church has can't actually be truth?

We are talking here about both real failures of the church and imagined failures of the church, which often get conflated into one and the same thing in the mind of the former believer (and the world). Real failures include things like child abuse, sexual abuse, financial schemes designed to take advantage of others, divorce - the things that remind us starkly that we are fallen human beings in need of a Savior. 

The world rails against these things and offers them as evidence that the truth of God is not all it's cracked up to be. If it were, we would not be sinners, the world concludes. Then, it convinces these young persons to run into the world's open arms to escape these snake oil salesmen and pedophiles and other rabble. Pretending, of course, that the world doesn't have its share of the very same folk. Forgetting, conveniently, that Jesus ate with these folks even while the world tried to pretend that they did not exist (as it still does - because to admit they exist in the world would be some kind of flaw to the world's psyche). 

But then, the world rails against the imagined failures of the church just as hard, and once it's got the former believer in its grasp, it doesn't take much to convince them that these imagined failures are actually real. Here, we're talking about "failures" like believing there is a design for human relationships, asserting that there is only one real God, believing that there is only one way to Heaven (through Him), disciplining children, holding certain moral standards. 

These are not actually failures of the church, though the world keeps pushing us to apologize for them. Rather, they are failures only if the world's truth is actual truth. They are failures only if the world's ethic is the real ethic.

Still, this is how the world gets you - it seizes on the truth that the church is full of broken persons (because we are all broken), then it expands that to mean that the church itself is broken, and it makes those two things into one narrative, woven so tightly together that how could any reasonable person not reject it?

So let's be clear: yes, sin happens in the church. Having the truth does not prevent human beings from being broken. Adam and Eve lived in perfect relationship with God, and they still ate the fruit He told them not to eat; having His truth didn't keep them from breaking it. Nor does it with us. And we should absolutely hold one another accountable to truth and address sin as it happens, demonstrating even greater aspects of our truth, like forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love. 

Sin happens in the church, and sin happens in the world. Having the world's truth doesn't keep humans from doing bad things in the world, either. It's just that the world's truth is a little more fluid, and it's harder to hold anyone accountable for these kinds of failures by the world's standards. 

And finally, not everything the world says is a failure is actually one. The world has conflated our actual shortcomings with imagined ones to create one dominant narrative, and our challenge, as we learn to continue to live in this world, is to force a separation of the two so that we can stand on our faith, strong in the knowledge that what we have is real, vital, and life-giving. 

This is, really, what it boils down to. This is how so many young persons end up going down the deconstruction road. They can't separate real failure from imagined failure. They don't know how to pick the baby out of the bath water. So they find themselves with nothing to stand on when, in fact, the foundation of truth isn't as unstable as it seems. 

So yes, the faithful fail sometimes, but we all do - faithful or not. The beauty of the church is that it has the structure and the framework to address these failures; the world doesn't. All it can do is rant and rave and rail and pretend it has the moral upperhand, shining a light on the church's dark places while continuing to dwell in its own. 

And that is no reason to leave the church. 

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