Sin in the Church

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September 12, 2010 Tags: Lives of Faith

Today's entry was written by Kathryn Applegate. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Sin in the Church

The church is a hospital for sinners, and not a museum for saints. – Dr. Vance Havner

I’ve recently been talking with a dear friend who seems to be on the brink of conversion to Christianity. Over the past year she has become increasingly convinced that God exists. She recognizes that He isn’t an impersonal force or a cosmic slot machine, but a highly relational Person. She’s still wrestling to understand who Jesus is and what it would mean to trust and follow him, and she’s asking honest and important questions about what the Bible means for us today, two millennia after the resurrection.

We often talk about what’s holding her back from giving the control of her life over to Christ. One of the biggest barriers is the blatant sinfulness of self-professing Christians, which can be alarming and hard to understand for unbelievers. It’s all too easy to find Christians doing or saying very un-Christ-like things, often in the name of God or his Word. If Christianity is true, my friend wonders, why is it so hard to figure out what “Christian” looks like?

My friend is a scientist. The other day I asked her if she would have considered Christianity at all if I had told her she had to believe the earth was only 10,000 years old. “No way!” she answered. What she said next surprised me: “People who say things like that are the same ones who say hateful things on the Internet.” We had previously been discussing an unpleasant interaction she had had with a fellow commenter on a Christian website. Being new to the faith, she had asked an honest question, but the person responded harshly, throwing Bible verses around like hand grenades.

The idea of a young earth isn’t what caused my friend’s strong reaction; we both agreed she could have had the same experience with someone from the Evolutionary Creation perspective. Rather, the problem comes when Christians are proud and unloving—even cruel—toward those who think differently, whatever the issue. This points to a deep spiritual problem: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (I John 4:20, emphasis added).

On the Day of Judgment, we won’t be judged by how we interpreted the days of Creation in Genesis 1, but by how deeply we loved the Creator and cared for his Creation—including one another. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen, broken world. There is no perfect church, no fully Christ-like Christian. I have to repent daily for preferring my own “kingdom” to God’s, and for not loving others above myself. But rather than feel despair at my failings, I feel a tremendous sense of assurance and hope because I have an unfailing advocate in Jesus Christ.

G.K. Chesterton called original sin “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” My friend understands sin; what she isn’t sure about yet is grace. She needs to see it abound in the “hospital for sinners” that is the Church. She needs to see that faith in Christ leads to a new kind of life. Today, as we worship and take our Sabbath rest, let us reflect on our witness to the watching world. May we strive ever more to speak words of reconciliation and grace.


Kathryn Applegate is Program Director at The BioLogos Foundation. She received her PhD in computational cell biology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. At Scripps, she developed computer vision software tools for analyzing the cell's infrastructure, the cytoskeleton.


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nedbrek - #29923

September 14th 2010

“The rest of us are are quite fine with making reasoned judgements about which things to believe on faith and what can be figured out from observing God’s creation.”

Doesn’t this assume that our judgment is greater than the revelation of God?  Doesn’t it put us in judgment of God?  If we reverse the roles of God and man as Judge and condemned, are we not certain to come to the wrong conclusion?


Charlie - #29930

September 14th 2010

Unfortunately, that intolerability portrayed by Christians is not a minority.  I know many Christians, from strangers to friends and family that (although not directly cruel) passively speak out against me because I do not believe what they believe.  One of my many favorites is the statement “Well, I’ll pray for you”, said right after I give my non-religious views.  I guess they assume my sinful ways need some praying.  I agree the really angry and cruel Christians are a minority, but what about the intolerable?


nedbrek - #29934

September 14th 2010

Hello Charlie.  I think I understand a lot of where you are coming from.

The important thing to remember is that the only difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that the Christian has been forgiven by God (and this is something God chooses to do, regardless and often despite of anything a person does).

That is ultimately what matters: who are we, why are we here, where did we come from, where are we going.  These are the big questions.

Why do we feel guilt?  Why do we believe in right and wrong?  Why do we think of eternal matters?  The evolutionist has his answers, Christians have different answers.


Cal - #29940

September 14th 2010

Charlie:

First of all, I’d say that all Christians are still flawed humans. We all mess up and say the wrong things sometimes, and even though we are slowly changed it is a long, and tough process.

Secondly, I’m not sure why you would describe as those who would pray for you as intolerant. Christians believe in an eternal truth of God, of Jesus as God-in-flesh that can wipe away our tears and heal our hearts. This truth about love is what is the ultimate hope in Christians. I’ve had my eyes opened after many years of denying Christ and all Christians, born again, have had a similar awakening. I’d say its a greater disservice to keep your mouth shut if you know the Truth than to peacefully and amicably spread the Good News


John VanZwieten - #29947

September 14th 2010

“The rest of us are are quite fine with making reasoned judgements about which things to believe on faith and what can be figured out from observing God’s creation.”

Doesn’t this assume that our judgment is greater than the revelation of God?  Doesn’t it put us in judgment of God?  If we reverse the roles of God and man as Judge and condemned, are we not certain to come to the wrong conclusion?

It has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with saying our judgment is greater than the revelation of God.  Rather, it is being honest about the fact that we (every one of us) must make judgments about how to understand God’s revelation.  You have judged that all of God’s revelation must be understood the way a 12-year-old with no training would read it.  Others are saying that’s not good enough, that God’s revelation is more nuanced than that, and so we need scholars and theologians to help us correctly discern God’s Message of Faith to us.


Charlie - #29948

September 14th 2010

Maybe the best way to see my point of view is to talk to some Christians and pretend you are not religious and see what responses you get.  I’m sure you’ll get a range of responses but you might be suprised what you hear.


John VanZwieten - #29949

September 14th 2010

Charlie,

You are absolutely right—the vast majority of evangelical Christians do not know how to show proper respect for the views of someone who has considered issues of faith and decided against the Christian viewpoint.  As “good” as our motives may be in wanting you to embrace faith, we (I struggle with this too) more often say things that build walls rather than bridges between people.

Let me ask you this, has there been a Christian who gave full respect to your views despite the differences?  What did they do or say to show that?


merv - #29955

September 14th 2010

Trevor wrote:  “Sure Jon, but in essence part of the article mentions that the friend would NOT ACCEPT the bible if someone had told her earth was only 10000 years old. “

Actually this isn’t quite what she asked her friend, Trevor, and the slight difference of words is significant.  She asked her friend:  if you *had* to believe the earth was 10,000 years old, then would she …”.  This is very different than, a hypothetical person who refuses to believe the Bible because someone tells them the earth is 10,000 years old.

It is interesting to reflect, then, on who it is here that is actually elevating science beyond its proper bounds.

—Merv


Cal - #29980

September 14th 2010

Charlie:

Of course it boils down to the person and you will get a spectrum of differing responses. However, if you were in possession of a truth that really revolutionized the way you saw everything, wouldn’t you want to talk it out with everyone who didn’t see it quite that way and try to explain it so that others would know the truth too.

By this I don’t mean jumping out at people on the street and trying to talk to them but sitting down with friends, coworkers, family members etc etc. and talking about it.

Also, I think whatever you’re experiencing is not a Christian thing but rather a Human thing. It happens to the best of us at times, when something goes against the norm its seen as weird. I’ve turned some heads and gotten some sarcastic remarks by friends,coworkers etc about being a Christian.

This does not only apply to Christianity, but to any idea that sits outside the norm. However, Christianity always does get put outside the box of society for being strange. We Christians are literally eccentric for Christ, God in Flesh, and what that means for our lives and how we live them.


nedbrek - #29994

September 14th 2010

John VanZwieten (29947) “It has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with saying our judgment is greater than the revelation of God.  Rather, it is being honest about the fact that we (every one of us) must make judgments about how to understand God’s revelation.  You have judged that all of God’s revelation must be understood the way a 12-year-old with no training would read it.  Others are saying that’s not good enough, that God’s revelation is more nuanced than that, and so we need scholars and theologians to help us correctly discern God’s Message of Faith to us.”

I have no problem with learning from others, especially dedicated students of the Bible from the past.  The Bible is short enough that one can make a pretty good study of it in one lifetime, and Church history is long enough that all the base arguments are well covered.

However, I would strongly disagree with anyone (educated or not) who turns the whole thing on its head due to some nuance.  Especially when Church history shows that groups that go down this path go to destruction (ELCA, PCUSA, Anglicans, etc.)


Headless Unicorn Guy - #30009

September 14th 2010


HUG - Are you including yourself among those who believe that the “Left Behind” series constitutes the latest revelation from God? Or, have I completely misunderstood your post?
Bob R. - #29830

Just the opposite, actually.  I got my head messed up pretty bad in the Seventies by Left Behind‘s predecessor as “latest revelation from God”, Hal Lindsay’s Late, Great Planet Earth.  After seeing and experiencing the fruits of Darbyite Pre-trib PMD, I try to discredit them any way I can.

Plus, I’m an Old Guard science-fiction fan, and after the likes of Poul Anderson or Cordwainer Smith (the latter acknowledged as a Christian SF writer by everybody EXCEPT the Christians), the Christian equivalents are just seriously LAME.

And there are worse things than Left Behind in the fever swamp of Christian Apocalyptic fiction.  Like 666 by Salem Kirban (still in print and selling after 40 years).  If Left Behind is the Eragon of Christian Apocalyptic, 666 is its “Eye of Argon”.


Headless Unicorn Guy - #30010

September 14th 2010

beaglelady - #29861
Some of the L.B.  movies are on YouTube. (Evidently Jesus doesn’t give a hoot about copyrighted material.)  Anyway, they are absolutely hysterical.  Christians are sucked out of an airplane mid-flight and what’s left behind is their clothes!  I kid you not!
  beaglelady - #29861

Oh, beaglelady, there is worse to come.  I am also an aficionado of the weird in general, and as such I inflict on you and everybody a review of the first Left Behind movie over at National Review:

Never ming “their clothes”, Do Fake Boobs Go To Heaven?


Martin Rizley - #30046

September 14th 2010

Kathryn,  I have personally found that relatively people who hold to a young earth position say “hateful things” on the Internet, as your friend alleges.  They may question the biblical orthodoxy of professing Christians who reject to varying degrees the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11, but rarely, if ever (in my experience), do they resort to the type of insulting, derogatory name-calling one frequently finds from atheist bloggers.  Christians of all persuasions are generally respectful in the way they address those with whom they disagree.  For all of her seeming “openness” to Christianity, your friend has still not committed her life to Christ as Lord, so it would not be right to let her or any other “open” unbeliever to set the “credibility meter” forChristian witness.  That is to say, as Christians, we must not let an unbelievers’ sense of “what is credible” determine what we say to them.  We must be willing to explain the “whole counsel of God” in Scripture as we understand it, no matter how absurd it may seem to those who have not yet submitted themselves intellectually, morally, and volitionally to the Lordship of Christ.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #30048

September 14th 2010

Remember that until someone is positively committed to Christ, their mind is darkened, and their way of thinking about everything (including science) is colored to some degree by their non-Christian worldview—so at some point, a faithful Christian witness will inevitably collide with the unbeliever’s worldview and offend their sensibilities.  It is obvious that non-Christians find many Christian beliefs incredible—should that in any way determine what Christians are and are not willing to say to them about the Bible‘s teaching?


beaglelady - #30060

September 15th 2010

Oh, beaglelady, there is worse to come.

Oh HUG, that is so funny! 

I hope I don’t get my baby teeth back or my not-so-intelligently-designed wisdom teeth.  Will there be a slugfest over donated organs? (“Hey, I want my liver and corneas back!) 
Should the Coast Guard screen out Christian Helicopter pilots? (Imagine doing a hover over a sinking ship—the pilot disappears and the helo crashes.)  Oh well, who cares about those unbelievers?  Unbelievers should take out life insurance policies on Christians. They just might strike it rich one day!


Trevor K. - #30092

September 15th 2010

“It is interesting to reflect, then, on who it is here that is actually elevating science beyond its proper bounds.”
Am I right in thinking that somehow, Merv, YOU get to choose where those boundaries are?

I was pointing out the inconsistency in the theistic evolutionists approach to the use of science in the bible. If you as a theistic evolutionist brings your knowledge and firm believe in long ages into the reading of God’s word then it simply makes sense that you should apply your scientific approach in a consistent way.
To now turn around and say I’ll pick and choose which things are or are not scientifically acceptable means that you are bound to become an inconsistent Christian. And that’s a very difficult place to be because you’ll have to have a place like biologos to come and soothe your inconsistencies away. Real hard-nosed scientists will simply pick your approach apart.
This inconsistency is exactly why there’s so much debate and discussion about the age of the earth. Where the bible says 6 days for creation, you subst. 4.5 Ga. and the result is whether Adam was a figment of the imagination and who does Paul refer to then?
As it stands, merv. you are making up your own religion.


merv - #30095

September 15th 2010

I don’t see it so much as “picking and choosing”, Trevor, as I am simply trying to discern the truth.  We all do that by observing & reflecting on our own lives and experiences with God’s creation as well as reading the Bible and having faith that there is an objective comprehensive, and consistent truth to understand.  I suspect that you would agree with me that far.  “Hard-nosed” scientists, if they are attempting to wield their science in the service of their personal & militant atheism are only showcasing their own ignorance about how science works and what Christianity or faith even are.  There are things science simply cannot adjudicate on no matter what you or I think about the matter.

Whether or not I am “making up my own religion” is a matter for longer response.  Suffice it to say here that I am simply trying to be as consistent and true to ALL God’s truth as my limited understanding allows.  Should that truth prove to be different than some cherished doctrine you or I think important as Christians, then so much the worse for our cherished doctrine.  I want to doggedly pursue truth wherever it leads.  I think I stand in good company with the Apostle Paul in thinking this way.

—Merv


Charlie - #30114

September 15th 2010

Jon Van Zwieten,

There absolutely have been Christians who gave full respect to my views despite the differences.  My best friend is very religious and we have many good talks.  I’m just saying that’s pretty rare.  I think we can agree that respectful communication is better than screaming Bible verses or scientific evidence at each other.

Cal,

I agree that it is a human thing as far as cruelty goes, not really specifically to any religion.  One thing I find to correlate with religious people though is their stubborness in not progressing their set-in-stone beliefs.  Many people’s rooted beliefs will not change, regardless of logic or reasoning, making discussions in many ways, ineffective.  I think this is why we have a conflict between science and religion in the first place.  Do you agree?


Cal - #30123

September 15th 2010

Charlie:

I agree in part. First of all, this stubbornness applies to anyone with a firm belief in something. This could be a religion, but it could be secular (e.g. Marxism), National (e.g. America) or anything else. However, though this category is not exclusive to religion, religion falls squarely in it in most cases. Just as a note, I’d say that I don’t consider Biblical Christianity as a religion (though it has and can and will continue to be, morphed into one) but rather a transformative relationship. Becoming Christian has nothing to do with an intellectual acceptance or emotional feeling, but a fundamental rebirth of person. This unique feature separates Christianity from all else, because it does not pin itself on a code or set of ideas but rather on a God-man, who has done the work and transforms you on a different level.

But when you say according to logic or reason, how do you mean exactly? Logic and reasoning can be employed to prove most anything true, it depends on what the facts are that prove a logical argument right or wrong. I suppose it is better to rephrase it as “no matter what factual proofs, someone wont change their mind”.


CM - #30605

September 17th 2010

Martin -
I think this is one of those cases where there is a faulty assumption afoot.
It’s true that it is impossible for nonbelievers to understand a great deal of things related to the Christian faith until they are enlightened by the Holy Spirit. However, visit just about any Christian blog or comments section (I can think of one in particular that was on Christianity Today - a pretty innocuous site in my opinion, that got particularly ugly) and you will see a great many *Christians* expressing very different opinions and ways of expressing them, so I think it side-steps the issue a bit to say that non-believers just “can’t understand” (at least this is how the message came accross). Perhaps it’s true, but it isn’t the whole story.

As other posters have commented, the point of Dr. Applegate’s piece seems to be about aggressively disagreeing, and even making peripheral issues central in one’s faith. I understand that some will say that the age of the earth - taking the Bible literally - *is* central to their faith, but what could be more central than the existence and nature of God? If discussions of faith are focused so much on the interpretations, they can obscure the object and the good news.


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