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One of the most faith-destroying trials that seems to be happening with increased frequency is the revelation of corruption by ministers and priests. People in positions of trust in the churches engaging in behavior that is diametrically opposite from what they preach is heartbreaking to every believer. If one’s faith is founded in the men and women who officiate in the church, core beliefs may be shattered when they see the corruption that exists in the church—not necessarily in the church itself, but in those entrusted to officiate in the church. This was the case with Jeremy. Here is his story:
I had always looked at church as God’s place of refuge from the world. I viewed those in positions of trust as being near-perfect. For years as a child and on into adulthood, I believed that every leader in the church was someone I could trust and pattern my life after. You can imagine the feelings of devastation I felt when several members of our congregation accused the priest of sexually abusing them.
My first reaction was to question the honesty of the accusers. How could they possibly come up with such incredible lies considering the position and years of selfless service the priest had given? It wasn’t until a formal charge was issued against him that I began to look at the facts. I knew the accusers. They were good, honorable women. What motive could they have to make up the stories of abuse?
Then my questioning mind began to expand the accusations. What if the doctrine and teachings of the church were also just made up? Not so slowly my faith was shattered. I quit attending church. I was totally disillusioned with the whole concept of a personal God who spoke to men through prophets in old times and what they had written as scriptures. What if they were no more than ancient traditions? A very real darkness seemed to envelop me from head to toe. I lost my zest for life and felt totally lost with virtually nowhere to turn.
Then the process of trying to make sense out of life began in earnest.
If not God, then what? If I was going to abandon God, what did I have to take His place? The very purpose of life came into question. If the commandments that God had revealed for our happiness and safety were just ancient fables, what basis did I have for determining right and wrong? Is whatever one thinks right in his own eyes okay? What if what one person thinks is all right is in direct opposition to what other people say is okay?
The questions seemed to be endless.
It didn’t take long before I felt like I was swimming in a whirlpool that had no bottom and no way out. The whole of my life, and apparently the lives of everyone else I knew, centered around the Judeo-Christian God and His commandments. I tried to figure out the logic behind the commandments.
Each time I came to a conclusion, I could see the wisdom behind the commandments. I should have engaged in that kind of exercise years before rather than just accepting everything that the priest said as the infallible truth. As I expanded the scope of my search, I determine that God really didn’t have anyone else to do His work other than imperfect men and women.
As far as I could tell from reading the Bible, there was only One person who had ever lived a perfect life. So, to base my judgment on the perfect behavior of leaders in the church was a huge mistake. After all, the ancient Apostle Peter had denied Christ three times but was still designated by Christ as the leader of His church after His resurrection and ascension.
Then I began what turned out to be a very fruitful venture—separating the rightness or wrongness of a teaching from those entrusted to administer and teach the principle. I think that all started as I turned my judgmental eye inward. To my surprise, I realized that while I demanded perfection from others, I was more than willing to excuse my own weaknesses. I didn’t pretend to be perfect, so I avoided labeling myself as a hypocrite. However, my scathing condemnation of others seemed not to apply directly to myself.
One day a close friend noticed my absence from church services. In a sometimes-heated discussion, he pointed out the dual standard I seemed to have adopted—it was okay for me to be imperfect, but I didn’t want to extend that same liberty to others. I think I was too proud to admit that during the discussion, but later that night I lay awake pondering what he had said. He was right, of course. I really was being hypocritical.
As a parting shot, before ending the debate, he asked me to consider the level of enjoyment in my life since I had distanced myself from God. I pondered that question late into the night. Being totally honest with myself, I had to admit that life didn’t hold the same level of happiness and excitement as when I was fully engaged in using the commandments to meet the challenges of life. Without God, there wasn’t a purpose for life.
Without God’s plan for mankind, there wasn’t direction to avoid unhappiness and see life as a series of tests to improve ourselves. Without a well-defined gospel, there was no litmus test to determine whether I was on the path leading back to God.
Now I had the self-imposed task of determining how to be content in an imperfect church, administered by imperfect people, and still not lose my faith in a perfect God, His perfect plan, and His willingness to tutor me in spite of my individual weaknesses. First, I had to conclude that God really did exist. Next, I had to admit that His commandments were perfect and applicable in my life. Then I had to stop tying my beliefs to the actions of fallible men and women—myself being one of them! Finally, I had to make the faith-based leap that Jesus really is the Son of God who has atoned for my sins and has shown by the life He lived how to return to the presence of God.
I must admit that some of those steps were easier than others. I had always believed in God and Christ—that wasn’t so difficult to re-establish. Separating people from their actions was much more difficult. How could I possibly look at a person who was sinning and not condemn him? I thought of Christ and the woman taken in adultery (see John 8:1–11). He said that He didn’t condemn her at that time but charged her to go and sin no more. Couldn’t I do the same? Christ obviously did not condone or approve of the adultery, but He saw the value of the adulteress apart from the act.
Finally, I realized that if I was really a committed Christian, I had to give more than a token effort to keep the commandments and live a Christlike life. I am not anywhere close to being perfect, but with the decisions I made and my focus on personal perfection rather than trying to exercise the role of Christ as the Judge, my life has become much more enjoyable and filled with the Holy Spirit. Do I still wish church leaders would clean up their acts and set a better example? Sure. But now I see that how I live the commandments is infinitely more important than how others live the commandments. Maybe they don’t have the same insight I am gaining. But I know that when the Lord said the same standard or measure I use to judge others will be levied against me, I am willing to be patient and tolerable with everyone else.
Jeremy’s story has cemented in my mind the concept that my final judgment will be what I have done, not what others have or haven’t done. I totally agree with Jeremy. Trying to magnify Christ’s role as a judge is not only impossible, but it also requires so much time and energy that I could be using to help others. I guess I’ll wait and see if Christ ever asks for my help in passing judgment on mankind. I am confident He never will! Why not join me in refusing to judge others, and enjoy life to the fullest?
POINTS TO PONDER
• Is your faith shaken when clergy stumbles or falls?
• Do you apply the same standard of judgment to your attitude and behavior as you do to those who hold positions of leadership in the church?
• Have you ever tried to console those who have their faith bruised by the actions of others?
• Can you learn from others’ mistakes without passing judgment on them?
What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments!