The Good News for those burned by church leadership

From the greatest to the least, we are all hypocrites to some degree. We say one thing and do another, whether it’s obvious to everyone or only known to those very close to us. This also means that the person preaching the gospel to you is sometimes going to turn out to be a dirtbag. What if you had an experience like one of the following:

  • You were being abused and went to a church leader that you trusted, only to be dismissed and given (in hindsight) very bad advice.
  • A pastor who faithfully taught you the Word for years, later manipulated you or betrayed your trust over some petty political power squabble or financial conflict.
  • The friend who told you about Jesus in college later divorced his wife and abandoned his kids and wants you to act like everything is cool.
  • Your father, who was respected in the community and always took you to church and even read the bible to you at home, was nevertheless often aloof, distant, unkind, and unloving most of the time during your childhood, and still is today.
  • Your mother taught you all about the love of Jesus, but she also fawned on your younger sister, her favorite, and largely ignored you when you needed her most as a young adult.
  • When things began to fall apart for you in mid-life, you found out that some of your friends from church weren’t really your friends. It hurt. A lot. It made you question if all that stuff they said about the love of Jesus was really ever true.

There isn’t a bible verse that can be quoted to wave away this kind of damage, but Christians have come up with a pretty good answer to this sort of hypocrisy and human failing, especially among leadership. So I present you with an idea, a doctrine, from the 39 Articles of Anglicanism. This is #25, the title being in the Elizabethan English of 1571, from nearly 450 years ago:

Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacrament

And a modern rendering of the relevant part:

Although in the visible church the evil are always mingled with the good and sometimes evil people possess the highest rank in the ministry of the Word and sacraments, nevertheless since they do not do these things in their own name but in Christ’s and minister by his commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing God’s Word and in receiving the sacraments. The effect of Christ’s institution is not taken away by the wickedness of these people, nor is the grace of God’s gifts diminished, so long as the sacraments are received by faith and rightly. The sacraments are effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, even though they may be administered by evil men.

I know the above passage deals specifically with serving the bread and wine, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to extend it to all preaching and pastoral work. The point is, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit overcome our hypocrisy. Jesus saved us, inaugurated his kingdom, and even if we do a lousy job delivering the message (he knew we would), he will still bless us and watch over us. Others may break their promises, but the Lord does not. His Holy Spirit is working in our hearts and minds, regardless of the stumbling blocks placed before us by the personal failings of others. This is good news for those burned by the church or by Christians whom they trusted.