Why 'the church isn’t perfect' line has become a cop-out

A few months back, some guy began flirting with my 19-year old daughter via her Instagram account. This is (unfortunately) pretty common, but much to my delight she does a great job with slamming the door in their face.

Robin Schumacher
Courtesy of Robin Schumacher

However, this particular guy was more persistent than usual and wouldn’t back off. His tenacity led my daughter to use her excellent technical sleuthing skills to find out exactly who he was.

Turns out the guy was a married youth pastor.

My daughter found him, his church, his wife, and other details. That presented us with the dilemma of whether we should contact his church and wife and inform them of the guy’s problematic pastime.

The experience also led my daughter to open up to my wife and me about the continuing disappointment she has with other supposed Christians. She and my older daughter have stopped going to church because they found those in the young adult groups to be far less kind, welcoming and authentic than those in their secular college crowds.

We got story after story from her of young Christian guys going on mission trips who end up attempting to molest the girls in their group. Witnessing first-hand episodes of drug use, outlandish lying and deception and similar behaviors from their peers (and their peer’s parents) have both my girls thinking that people in the church cannot be trusted in any way, shape or form.

Not exactly a pick-me-up kind of tale, huh?

But wait – aren't we told that Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven? That if you ever find the perfect church, you shouldn’t join because you’ll spoil it (said Billy Graham and Charles Spurgeon)?

We say these things in hopes of convincing non-Christians that they shouldn’t let mistakes they’ve made in their life keep them from pursuing Christianity nor expect perfection from Christians when evaluating the faith. After all, the Bible tells us we all have a sin nature that causes us to fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and that, even after being born again, the same sin nature remains active and causes us to do wrong (Rom. 7).

But what if our critics are more right than we like to admit? What if hypocrisy and a spirit that is anything but Christlike typifies the Church’s behavior these days?

The best argument against Christianity 

Studies done by David Kinnaman and his Barna group, which you can find summarized in books like unChristian and You Lost Me, show that the best argument against Christianity isn’t the problem of evil or any other apologetics-styled objection. Instead, it’s the lives lived out by professing Christians.

It’s what caused the German philosopher Nietzsche to say, “I might believe in the Redeemer if his followers looked more redeemed” and Gandhi to declare: “I like Christ, but I don’t like the Christians. The Christians are so unlike their Christ.”

We read in Scripture statements like, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17) and “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).

If this is true, why is it that the “new things” and “newness of life” in professing Christian’s lives either seem completely absent or appear so seldom?

It’s at this point that many church leaders throw out the ‘church isn’t perfect’ line in hopes of blunting the accusation. Frankly, I’m tired of hearing it.

We’ve gotten to the point where this excuse uses Paul’s admissions of struggling with sin in Romans 7 like some kind of permission slip; it goes beyond admitting that we sin to almost justifying persistent sinful behavior. Plus, it does nothing to address the very real problem of incongruent behavior that exists between Christ and His Church.

I’d like to suggest a couple of possible root causes for what Kinnaman and others observe along with some cures for the issues.

Pregnant with unbelief  

I believe the biggest source of this problem to be the fact that today’s Church is 9-months pregnant with unbelievers. I say this not judgmentally, but rather because I used to be one.

There’s nothing wrong with unbelievers being in Church. But, there’s everything wrong with them staying unbelievers.

So many who sit in the pews think that because they believe in God, they’re saved and safe. So, you believe in God, do you? Big deal.

The Pharisees believed in God and Jesus rhetorically asked them how they would escape the sentence of Hell (Matt. 23:33). James told his readers if that’s all they possessed then they had nothing more than the demons (James 2:19).

When you combine a reluctance from the pulpit to offend audiences about the truth of their sin with nothing more than a general acknowledgement from that crowd that God exists, you have everything needed for a false faith, false assurance, and a life that in no way will live out the teachings of Christ because, simply put, it lacks the power to do so (e.g. Rom. 8:7). 

Instead of services that resemble a comfy group Youtube session, the Church needs straightforward teaching that speaks the truth in love about sin in a way that makes an unbeliever’s conscience and soul uncomfortable to the point where they seek help. Only then will the unbeliever in the pew become a true Christian and start exhibiting the fruit and changed life that confirms a true conversion has taken place (James 2).

A Bad Diet

Lately I’ve noticed a very bad trend in my own life. When frustrated or angered, in the heat of the moment, I’ve started to let foul language fly.

This hasn’t been something with which I’ve ever really wrestled, and it’s bothered me greatly because Jesus said: “the mouth speaks that which fills the heart” (Luke 6:45). After some contemplation, I think I know what’s going on.

My wife and I have been consistently streaming various drama series that, while containing good story lines and acting, are overloaded with bad language. I’m convinced my new problem with expletives is related to that which I’ve been constantly letting in my ear-gate.

The battle with our fallen nature is real. Paul confirms this when he says, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17). Ingesting a constant, bad diet through the eyes, ears, wrong relationships and actions will result in ungodly habits forming, just like the old Church proverb says:

Two natures beat within my breast
The one is foul, the one is blessed
The one I love, the one I hate.
The one I feed will dominate.

This is why we’re told: “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7). Disregarding this truth and immersing oneself in the world is a recipe for disaster where Christlikeness is concerned.

Look how fast it happened to me.

Live up to your name 

The letters of Paul are full of admissions about the struggles with sin and our spiritual war. But let’s not forget that the same Paul who wrote those things also wrote:  

  • “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me” (1 Cor. 4:16).
  • “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
  • “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil 3:17).
  • “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9).
  • “You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:6).
  • “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed” (1 Thess. 1:10).
  • “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example” (2 Thess. 3:7).
  • “We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate” (2 Thess. 3:9).

Paul didn’t let the reality of Romans 7 keep him from pursuing the goal that is in front of you and me each morning: Christlikeness. In fact, Paul was so confident of his behavior that he exhorted others to mimic him.

Would you feel comfortable right now doing the same?

No, the Church isn’t perfect, but if we’re not careful, we’ll use that reality as a green-light to sluff off sin and before you know it, you’re a married youth pastor who makes sexual advances over the Internet to 19-year old girls. 

And that’s one tragic place to be.

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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