What is wrong with the church is what is wrong with Christians, sin. Because of our sin, however, we tend to think of sin as something we do, rather than something we are. Because of our sin, in turn, we are more interested in covering our sin than fighting it.
We cover it in at least two ways. The first is misdirection. That is, if we can define sin as that which we are less apt to struggle with, we miss the real problem. So we vow not to drink, smoke or chew and not to go out with girls that do. We behave in nice, respectable ways, and mistake this for growing in grace and wisdom. We show our brothers our sparkly white teeth as if this is how one recognizes a shiny white soul. My business is successful, my wife is happy, my daughter is on the honor roll and my son captains the football team, and because I am a successful American, I must be a faithful Christian.
The second thing we do is baptize our real sins, framing them in the best possible light. Our real problem is our pride, but we call it “protecting our reputation.” Our real problem is our malice, but we call it “zeal for righteousness.” Our real problem is envy, but we call it “encouraging others toward humility.” We devour each other, jockeying for position, hungering for accolades, all under the guise of service to the Suffering Servant.
The bizarre fruit of our sin is that though the church is made up of those who must profess to be humble we are the very picture of pride. We enter in through confessing how utterly unworthy, unable, unattractive we are. We are the body of the base, the weak, the foolish (I Corinthians 1). The very core of our message is, “I can’t possible please God. Only Jesus can do that.” And yet we pretend to do just that, please God, and in pretending gravely displease Him. We cry out to God not to look at us, but to look at Him, then turn around and try to get the body to look at us.
Perhaps worse still, what defines us is that we have precisely what we not just foolishly long for, but what we sinfully pursue. The way in is confessing our unworthiness. But what is on the inside is a banquet feast in our honor. We are the children of God, loved as deeply as He loves Jesus. He is ordering that the robe and the ring be brought forth, that the fatted calf be killed in our honor and we are down at the bunkhouse conniving and backbiting to secure the “Employee of the Month” pin and parking space.
What is wrong with the church? We don’t believe the gospel. We don’t believe that we were dead in our sins, desperately wicked. We don’t believe that He, not we, made us alive, nor that there remains much in us that needs to be put to death. We don’t believe that He suffered the wrath of the Father for us, and that therefore the Father embraces us as His sons. We’re such a mess, there is no program, no book, no preacher, no strategy that can fix us. Only the gospel will do.