Back when I was in seminary over 20 years ago I remember one of my Church History teachers say, “Don’t be too quick to defend the Church against charges. The Church is so big and so old that what ever the charge, it is probably true!” Now careful, this is an intentional EXAGGERATION folks intended to teach a point. I will say that I have sometimes rushed to defend the Church against some charge only to find later that some or all aspects of that charge were true. We ARE very big and very old. A LOT has happened in 2000 years and we’ve had more than a few nuts fall from our family tree. Our past has both glory and is sometimes gory. Saints and sinners are in this house. We’re running a hospital here and so sickness is often found in abundance. So a few thoughts here about sin in the Church.
- Sin is the human condition. I am not excusing it but where ever people gather there is sin as well as grace. It is no less true of the human dimension of the Church. Truth be told, Jesus had this annoying habit of hanging out with sinners. He ate with them, preached to them, healed them and called them to follow him. And the odd thing was that they didn’t become instantly perfect after they followed him. Look at the Apostles. Even after following Jesus they squabbled about who was the greatest, they were jealous, fearful, undependable, one of them betrayed Jesus, another denied him, all but one deserted him. A pretty sorry crowd. Little by little they got better but it took time. But where was Jesus found? Among these sinners and worse besides. Demanding that the Church be free of sinners is like demanding that a hospital be free of sick people. If that could happen the hospital would no longer be a hospital. Asking the Church to be rid of sin and sinners would mean that the Church would no longer be the Church.
- Sin is Serious. OK but lets also be clear, to admit that sin is inevitable in this giant hospital we call the Church is not to approve of it. Jesus said this clearly when he declared, “Scandals will inevitably arise. But woe to that man by who they come. (Luke 17:1) So Jesus hung with sinners but did not patronize them. He spoke the truth in love. Neither can we overlook sin in the Church. We ought to be serious about correcting the sinner. When we go to a hospital we expect to encounter illness and also to experience healing. And part of that healing is for health care professionals to speak the truth to us in love. There are some things in our life that need to change. Smoking, fattening foods, high cholesterol etc. all that has to go. But do people instantly change? Not usually. We’re back next time and have gained even more weight! But perhaps, little by little the message gets through. And so it is for the Church. We reconcile sinners but also preach a new life. Sin like disease is not to be excused, but just as a hospital, the Church can sometimes be a messy place.
If you’ve been hurt by sin the Church may God help you to experience healing. Maybe it was an unkind word, perhaps it was a grouchy priest, a bad confession, a lack sympathy. Perhaps it was just the discouragement of overhearing gossip or experiencing factions. Maybe you felt forgotten when you were sick. Perhaps it was something even more serious like sexual abuse. Maybe you’ve felt you weren’t wanted because of something you did and you figured you’d be judged. Whatever it is please know you are not alone. If someone in the Church hurt you, perhaps someone else can bring you healing from God. Maybe one priest was unkind but another can show care. Somewhere in the midst of all this mess Jesus is waiting. Let the healing begin.