The thing to keep in mind when it comes to all unholy messes in the church is that they are rarely random. Satan has a lot of faults, but authoring poor strategies is not one of them. Nowhere is this truer than with the moral mischief that turns Christ’s beautiful Bride into an object of ridicule. Churches don’t program for sin, but its individual members will invariably find themselves ensnared by it, and Satan’s work in one part of Christ’s body is difficult to contain.
Bad stuff is uniquely designed to stop the ministry of the church in its tracks. It not only looks bad, but it spreads quickly. Several years ago a dynamic congregation in a city where I lived was rocked with a damaging scandal. A key leader in the church was caught in a nearby city soliciting a prostitute. The leader was immediately released from his position and the wounded membership did their best to regroup and move forward. Sadly, the church never recovered. The members changed the church’s name, but the community never forgot, and after several years of steady decline the congregation disbanded and the property went up for sale.
Mature believers who understand the deceitfulness of the human heart are usually able to move beyond these tragedies and find a new place to worship, serve and grow. But there are some who never recover and even those who do find a new church home are often so wounded they find it very difficult to form close relationships with others.
The most troublesome victims of a moral meltdown in a church are those who were just beginning their journey. These are the families who overcame years of distrusting religious people and finally agreed to attend a church service with a Christian neighbor. They include the guests who just moved to town and decided to make the Lord’s people a priority for the first time in their lives. They are the children who are too young to understand why the adults around them are in such turmoil, but will remember one of the most hurtful times in their lives took place in the church.
I have always thought it healthy to work through some of the same scenarios in our church families as we do in our core families. Have you ever walked with someone through the heart-wrenching experience of marital infidelity? If so, you may have witnessed the look of shock on the face of a spouse who has just discovered the betrayal. Maybe you fell into Satan’s trap and had to inform the one you pledged your life to of your own sin. If this is the case, I pray God has restored your marriage, but regardless, if you have been through this painful revelation you don’t ever want to experience it again.
The church building where my wife and I were married didn’t have a foyer. Brides prepared in a Sunday School room and walked down an outdoor sidewalk that led to the back of the sanctuary. Our biggest fear the day of our wedding was rain. Jane didn’t want to spend all day getting ready for her walk down the aisle, only to be drenched in a storm at the last minute. Personally, I think she would have looked just fine with wet hair and water running down her face, but I know that isn’t what she had in mind for her wedding day.
I believe Christ’s Bride is beautiful to Him, even in her most disorderly, disgraced state. Yet, He surely weeps over her when she fails. He sees her suffer from self-imposed pain, and though He covers her with grace, He shares in the disappointment of missed kingdom opportunities. Later we will see how Christ can use His Bride’s failures for His own glory, but bad stuff is still dreadful. We must avoid it at all costs.