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.