One shot hypocritical nature, plus one ounce of judgmentalism, with two dashes of being out of touch with reality shaken together is a cocktail that is too stiff for many to drink and has driven and kept people out of the Church. Two ways to know this cocktail is present in a church: 1. There is a lack of any type of diversity: if everyone’s a Democrat or everyone’s a Republican, the cocktail is probably being served. 2. There is an absence of people who are on the fringe of the church; if people who are interested in Jesus, but still unsure of Christianity, are not present, the cocktail is probably the happy hour special of the church. This cocktail has driven many away from the Church, and its reputation has kept many from ever considering the Church as a place to hear the good news that may bring healing to their souls. In response every church must continually apologize for the past mistakes we have made as a part of the Church and clarify the mountains from molehills in our faith.
This apologizing and clarifying needs to be done because what often makes the news are the Church’s failures and its overemphasizing of molehills. (This is true of much of the news not just for the Church). And so many outsiders to the faith are rightly offended at some of the wrong doing of the Church and confused about the small matters we seem to obsess about, and this toxic mix of the two causes the Church to seem to be quite the disordered house. We appear to obsess about a smudge on our neighbors window when our kitchen is on fire. Ronald Rolheiser gives us a different image of the Church. This image enables us to apologize and clarify.
In this life, whenever I meet the presence of God within community I will not meet it in its pure form. All communities of faith mediate the grace of God in a very mixed way. Sin, pettiness, and betrayal are always found alongside grace, sanctity, and fidelity. The crucifixion scene is a good image of church. Jesus dies between two criminals. Anyone at the time, looking at that scene, would not have made a distinction between who was guilty and who was innocent. There was just one landscape - God on a cross between two thieves. That is the perennial ecclesial (church) image. Grace and sin, sanctity and pettiness, and fidelity and betrayal, all part of a single horizon. And there are no communities or families, ecclesial or other, where this is not the case.
We apologize because we know that we, despite God’s work in our lives, we are still people who have a large capacity to do evil and wrong. We apologize, as Luther says, because “if grace is true, [we] bear a true and not fictitious sin.” This is the mountain that we need to clarify from all the other molehills in our faith.
Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2: 4-7)
I believe if we do this well, if we continually apologize for the wrong doing of the Church and continue to clarify the primary from the secondary and tertiary of our faith, we will have the privilege of seeing God’s spirit at work. We will see those who have left after being hurt by people in the Church come back and receive healing for old wounds. We will see those who have never heard the gospel be amazed at the truth of God’s love for them and this world.
If you are reading this and call yourself a Christian, make it a point this season of Lent to apologize to a friend who you know has been hurt by the Church. If you are reading this and are still unsure of the Church and Christianity because of the pain you have either received or seen delivered by the Church, I apologize for the wrong we have done, and I ask of you to forgive us, that you may reconsider the Church and more importantly the one the Church gathers to celebrate and proclaim, the one who loves you more than you could ever imagine, Jesus our Lord.