On May 11, Pope Benedict told reporters flying with him to Portugal, “The greatest persecution of the Church doesn’t come from the enemies outside, but is born from sin inside the Church.” (link to original article)
Walt Kelly’s cartoon character, Pogo, put it this way: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
We are easily distracted by the masses who would have us believe that governments, politicians, and secularism have become the enemy of the church; a brilliant move by the real Adversary to divert our attention. Pope Benedict is correct; the sin inside the church is the church’s greatest enemy.
Some of this sin within is obvious: gossip, greed, jealousy . . . but much of the foe is insidious. Allow me to risk offending by describing what I mean:
Sentimentalism – Don’t trust your feelings! Churches often find themselves driven by how people feel. When the truth of God’s Word is abandoned in favor of emotion we are ruled by style and not substance; personal preferences become more important than Biblical principles; and tradition takes precedence over Truth. We often choose the type of music, translation of the Bible, and who rings the bell based on how we feel. Emotion – sentiment – is a terrible foundation for decision making.
Edifice Idolatry – The church building is NOT God’s House. Jesus, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit, lives in US; not in a structure of wood, stone, and steel. Facilities are simply tools. Use them up, wear them out, outgrow them – then tear them down and move on. I once heard someone say, “We can’t have all these kids running around because they’ll wear out the carpet!” What?! There isn’t much that frustrates me more than churches spending more on their buildings than on disciple making. North America is littered with empty warehouses, factories, and department stores – let’s move in and wear them out!
Practical Atheism – Craig Groeschel coined this phrase in his latest book, “The Christian Atheist”. Literally, it means we believe in God but live as if He doesn’t exist. Admit it; would materialism – the monster called MORE – really have such a stranglehold on our lives if we believed it is better to store up treasures in heaven than on earth? If we fully believed that God created sexuality for an exclusive, life-long commitment between one man and one woman would we really continue to harbor such lust? There will always be hypocrisy in the church but let’s do a better job at walking the talk!
Indifference – Apathy is closely related to practical atheism but let’s make a distinction. Some practical atheists know all the right words and can sing all the songs from memory but there are many, many people in our churches who just don’t care. Church is simply another activity like soccer or attending a concert. In fact, indifference shows up when people decide softball is more important than worship and going to the football game is a higher priority than being in a mentoring relationship. People all around us who are far from God are longing for someone who will do more than just say they care.
These are just four of the many malady’s which result in Perpetual Spiritual Adolescence – the debilitating and crippling paralysis which runs rampant like a virus without a vaccine. Pastors and church leaders must take inventory: is there indifference? Sentimentalism? Practical Atheism? Edifice Idolatry?
What steps will you begin to take to address the sin within?
On that same flight, Pope Benedict also told reporters, “We can expect that evil will always launch attacks from the inside and the outside but the forces of good are also always present, and in the end, the Lord is stronger than evil.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10)