What Really Hurts The Church’s Witness

7913754434_884973d390_k(Credit: the rik pics, Flickr Creative Commons)

As I write this post, there’s a full blown crisis exploding across my denomination.

It’s one of integrity and transparency.

Of who we are and we who we are going to be.

From the murky (near) closing of our publishing house and a federal investigation into the finances of one of our universities to the demotion of a chaplain for preaching the gospel and the firing of a professor for teaching things his president doesn’t want to hear, my beloved Church of the Nazarene is really struggling right now.

But, of course, we’re not the only ones riddled with problems.

From the Southern Baptists to the Roman Catholics and the non-denoms in-between(?), we all have our fair share of problems that seem to be constantly ripping us apart at the seams and snuffing out our future. In the midst our shared struggles we also share a common chorus I hear ring out any time scandal or conflict or controversy brews in the corridors of the Church and then spills out into the street.

We’re hurting the Church’s witness, they say. We must protect our witness, they tell us whenever the Church’s dirty laundry is hanging out in the open for all to see.

The idea, obviously, is that “the world” will see our imperfections, realize we’re not perfect, that we fight sometimes and screw up a lot, then they’ll reject the gospel, never to darken the doors of our churches ever again.

All because Christians talked openly about our problems on Facebook.

It’s completely absurd when you really think about it.

I mean, do we really think that “the world” is under the delusion that the Church is perfect and if they find out otherwise then the jig is up and we’ll have to close up shop? Do we really believe that there are legions of people out there staying home on Sunday mornings because they saw Christians arguing about something on the internet?

Because if we really are that insecure and delusional, then we’ve got much bigger problems Facebook and Twitter.

To be fair, I think a big part of the problem today is a radical disconnect between older and younger generations when it comes to social media. Younger folks (and some of the older crowd too) take it for granted that social media is where debate and discussion take place no matter how contentious the debate or unsavory the scandal. Because of moments like the Arab Spring and the tragedy in Ferguson and every political, church, and celebrity scandal in-between, younger folks today see social media as a powerful agent of change, transparency, and accountability – even if some of us still haven’t clued into the fact that our tweets and Facebook posts can be seen by our employers.

Older folks, on the other hand, remember a world in which people didn’t Instagram their lunch and where a problem in one small corner of America could be easily and quickly dealt with privately…or swept under the rug if need be. So, naturally, it’s jarring to suddenly wake up one day and discover that privacy has gone the way of the 8-track and that handy rug is no more.

In this scary new world of social media, where everyone’s laundry is hanging out to dry for the world to see, “we’re hurting the church’s witness” has become a new weapon in the fight to hold on to privacy and regain control over situations we don’t want “the world” to know about.

However, the cries of protecting the Church’s witness are often little more than a shaming tactic used to silence dissent and sustain the fantasy of perfection. It’s a battle cry employed in hopes of keeping our sins hidden in the dark and a last ditch effort to keep up the illusion of perfection in the Church.

But, look, if you don’t like confrontation, I get it.

If it pains you to see the Church you love being exposed to the world, I sympathize. But you must remember that the reason most of those folks you want to keep quiet get so hurt and upset at things that unfold in the Church is not because they’re troublemakers or malcontents just looking to stir up trouble. Most of those folks get hurt and upset because of how much they too love the Church and because of how much they too want to see it thrive. They speak out and demand change because they want to see the Church get better, not because they want to see it die.

Yes, there is frustration and anger too, but most of that anger and frustration stems from how frustrated those folks are by their fellow Christians who refuse to admit our imperfections and seem to only ever want to shame those who “complain” and “criticize” and refuse to tow the party line.

The truth of the matter is protecting the Church’s witness by silencing public criticism and hiding problems behind closed doors is nothing more than a coverup.

It’s an effort to present to the world a false image of who we really are.

It’s a lie.

Simply put, we can’t make claims about the Church being stewards of the Truth when we lack transparency and integrity. Not only does that lack of transparency and integrity makes us hypocrites, it also reveals a deep and tragic irony. For how can we work so hard to try and keep people from looking behind the curtain at our flaws when our faith is grounded in a veil being torn?

Moreover, it is radically unbiblical to be so obsessed with PR. The Bible is, if nothing else, open and transparent about the flaws and failings of the people of God. Or to put it another way, the Bible has no problem being terrible PR for God’s people. It’s full of stories of murderers and adulterers, of thieves and terrorists, of cheats and liars who all somehow ended up becoming heroes of the faith.

But without those stories we have no way of talking about grace and forgiveness.

Our story is and always will be until our Lord returns, one of flaws and failure. We cannot and must not hide them. The world needs to hear them. And we need to hear them because we need to understand the cost of grace and because we need a constant reminder of who we really are. We need to be continually reminded that we can’t claim to be a people of the Book when we go out of our way to create an environment in which that Book could never be written.

But what really hurts the Church’s witness the most is not our narrative inconsistency or our public feuding or even our unholy efforts to protect the powerful and keep secrets hidden behind closed doors.

What really hurts the witness of the Church the most is claiming that all lives are sacred while refusing to fight to ensure basic healthcare for our neighbors.

What really hurts the Church’s witness is beating the drums of war overseas while ignoring the minorities being massacred in our own streets.

What really hurts the Church’s witness is proclaiming that all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord while working hard to pass laws that exist for the sole purpose of discrimination.

What really hurts the Church’s witness is pastors living in million dollar homes while preaching about a homeless Savior.

What really hurts the Church’s witness is singing about amazing grace while refusing to extend it to those in need.

What really hurts the Church’s witness the most isn’t our digital debating and public infighting.

It’s the way we live our lives.

 

13 Comments
  • Todd Williams
    April 16, 2015

    Very well said, Zack!

    “The truth of the matter is protecting the Church’s witness by silencing public criticism and hiding problems behind closed doors is nothing more than a coverup. It’s an effort to present to the world a false image of who we really are. It’s a lie.”

    Bullseye right here.

    • charlesburchfield
      April 22, 2015

      the quote is very much the definition of an alcoholic family system i think.

  • Raymond DiCamillo
    April 16, 2015

    I ignore a lot that is posted this got to me. There are somethings that need to be corrected, First, Mr. Zack states, “But what really hurts the Church’s witness the most is not our narrative inconsistency or our public feuding or even our unholy efforts to protect the powerful and keep secrets hidden behind closed doors.” – Mr. Zack is correct that there are some things with in the Nazarene church that are wrong. The NPH debacle was embarrassing and one or two people should be fired for what occurred. Mr. Zack went overboard bringing up the investigation of ENC. A Boston Globe article pointed out why they are being investigated. There are currently 544 schools under investigation. The Boston Globes headline tries to make it look as though ENC is the only one. Second, Mr. Zack states, “What really hurts the witness of the Church the most is claiming that all lives are sacred while refusing to fight to ensure basic healthcare for our neighbors.” I am not going to stand in front of my church and tell them that the health care law is good when it has hurt me personally both in the insurance that I was FORCED into and the business that we gain our livelihood. My elderly parents have been hurt by the health care bill and many people in my community lost their healthcare because of the bill that congress FORCED upon us. Mr. Zack need to research the health care bill before he speaks. Third, Mr. Zack state, “What really hurts the Church’s witness is beating the drums of war overseas while ignoring the minorities being massacred in our own streets.” I don’t know where the massacre is occurring? I don’t see hundreds murdered. If he is talking about police brutality that is perceived? I am not going to preach against our police officers when 99% of them are good men and women. Am I supposed to speak about Ferguson? When the Federal prob did not find any racial cause for the shooting of the young man. I speak against racism on a regular bases. What I don’t hear is the 177 Christians that were murdered for being Christian. The Nazarene church has attempted to repair the relationship between the Black community and the church. I could tell you a story but this is already to long for people to read. Fourth, “What really hurts the Church’s witness is proclaiming that all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord while working hard to pass laws that exist for the sole purpose of discrimination.” Mr, Zack has a major issue because he talks about passing laws to discriminate? Who is he talking about? Blacks? Asians? Women? Oh wait he is talking about same sex marriage. Why doesn’t he just say it. Why is it wrong for a business to discriminate against someone who CHOOSES to be gay. There are law on the books that force bars to stop serving drinks to alcoholics. They choose to drink and a bar owner chooses not to serve them. I don’t allow people who choose to live together to serve on our church board. I don’t allow people who choose to drink to be in leadership. I do not allow the choices of people to serve in different aspects of church. I have stood against gay bashing but I will not bake a cake for them nor perform a ceremony for them. Why is it wrong for me to speak that homosexuality is not from God. Fourth, “What really hurts the Church’s witness is pastors living in million dollar homes while preaching about a homeless Savior.” And it is wrong for a Pastor to make money???????? Does Mr Zack know how much that pastor gives to his church or other organizations? Does he know what percentage is given to the homeless? NO… Jesus himself tells us that it is none of our business what someone else makes. Fifth, “What really hurts the Church’s witness is singing about amazing grace while refusing to extend it to those in need.” Ummmm Jesus did not extend grace to everyone. He did not heal everyone. He did not offer grace to the Jewish leaders. He did not offer grace for those that were desecrating the Temple. When it came to the Temple he offered a whip and harsh words. This whole “Christlike” image needs to be reevaluated. NONE!!! of us live our lives like Christ. We are not to live LIKE CHRIST but to allow Christ to live through us. We all have faults and we all fail. I for one am glad that Christ will forgive me. Mr. Zack has little grace for his church and those that lead it. Fifth, Mr Zack states, “What really hurts the Church’s witness the most isn’t our digital debating and public infighting.” WOW!!! How can I even respond to this one? Mr. Zack is doing exactly what he is complaining about. He is publicly attacking the church and airing his anger toward the church. Does he realize that there was infighting from the very beginning of the church? Finally, Mr. Zack is a bitter man that need to either do something to better the Nazarene church or maybe he should just go and find the perfect church. If he does that church will no longer be perfect because he would be attending. I believe Mr. Zack would have issue with Paul, Peter, John, Saul, Barnabus, Lydia and all the leaders that were not perfect when they were given the responsibility to lead the church. Mr. Zack you are part of the problem with the church and you choose to think that you are not.

    • ZackHunt
      April 16, 2015

      “Ummmm Jesus did not extend grace to everyone.”

      I think that sentiment perfectly sums up what truly hurts the Church’s witness the most. Kudos to you for being able to say in 8 words what took me nearly 1300 words to express.

      • Mike Dennis
        April 16, 2015

        Labels, attacks, platitudes. But no solutions. No compassion for people who have to make horribly difficult decisions. Only accusation and unfounded and unsubstantiated observations. In the name of unity, I beg you and the pastors of your generation to get off your high-horse, get on your faces and cry out to God for mercy on an ineffectual church with shepherds who can elaborate on what’s wrong with the church in intimate detail while doing nothing to bring about positive change through what Dan Boone terms “A charitable discourse”. If you love your wife the way you love the church she must be sad and broken. CHRIST loved the church and died for her, he didn’t criticize and attack her. Friend, what you are doing is contentious and divisive. The church is in a Crisis, but it is a North American Crisis. While we continue to see astronomical growth in other world areas, our fat, lazy, narcissistic people are content with cutting each other to shreds while ignoring hurting people headed for a Christless eternity while the NA Church continues to steadily decline. . Hundreds of people stood by watching, listening, and even cheering while a young girl was gang raped on panama beach this week. But we don’t grieve about the moral degradation and debauchery in our morally bankrupt culture. We moan and groan and whine in our blogs and posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter about fired professors and scandals so-called. Look at the harvest. It is plenteous, but the laborers would rather sit around arguing the virtues of wine and draft beer and how socialism is the answer for the worlds problems. The ONLY answer is Jesus!!! We’ve adopted “Social Justice” and neglected the gospel of salvation. Physician, heal yourself. And if you’re an optometrist, you may want to get that 2×12 out of your iris.

        • Wes
          April 16, 2015

          love doesn’t ignore a gaping wound that is slowly leading to your demise.

        • Brannon Hancock
          April 16, 2015

          Wow, Mike. It’s probably because I love you so much that I am so overwhelmingly disappointed in this little tirade of yours, piling on additional labels, criticism, ad hominem attacks that have nothing to do with the subject at hand. Draft beer? Socialism? High horses? Are you actually serious? Did you actually read Zack’s essay? Zack loves his church, as do I – you hurt me with your careless words.

          • Mike
            April 17, 2015

            Im sorry you were offended. I know that it was harsh. Probably too harsh. I shouldn’t respond to things late at night. I love you too. But can’t the millennials take a little responsibility?. It seems that the only sin being declared is the sin of the church. And YES, I am a sinner in need of grace. And NO our denomination is not perfect. I just grow weary of everyone criticizing but seeing very little of the spirit that started the church of the Nazarene, at least here in the US. And I admit that I am part of the problem. God help me. And when I said “socialism” I should have included “conservatism”, because none of these things are the answer. Wesley inacted social change, but he did it as he preached the gospel of Christ. I often speak with assumed authority because I have been pulling this plow for 34 years. There have always been disasters and crisis. I can remember H Ray Dunning talking about a time when independently thinking people have felt forced to leave the church because the refused to tout the company line of the status-quo.

            I am not a defender of the denomination. I’ve seen most every wart and hairy mole. I love the church of the Nazarene because of its doctrine, because it has given me the opportunity to serve. I love her because she has fed and clothed my family, and given me more love than I could ever know without the community of the cross. But I love her in spite of some things, too. I’ve seen good and Godly people crushed by the grinding wheels of political wrangling. I’ve seen the arrogant exulted and the innocent victimized, the humble abased. Brannon, I have thought about leaving the denomination 100s of times through the years. The condemning of certain behaviors … I won’t go into detail. The often rediculous demands for budget payment over and above the priority of the great commission. I’ve watched pastors who were doing their best become so discouraged that they left the ministry and no longer even attend church anywhere. Man, I’ve been on this journey a long time. So if my words hurt you, I am sorry. I am just a pastor of a local church in a small town. I am so by choice. I love my community and my people. I preach grace and love to them, and challenge them with the words of Jesus. And the truth of the matter is this; What happens in Olathe or at the seminary has very little to do with most local churches. As you know, I have been part of the process, delegate to general assembly a few times, committees boards, etc. I want to serve and help the church. The pub house closed then sort of reopened. A general superintendent shared with me that this was going to happen years ago. And as College presidents and boards of trustees, they have the right to not renew the contract of even a tenured faculty member. I know it doesn’t bode will with our North American sense of freedom of thought and speech, and maybe it wasn’t handled correctly but it is there prerogative to do so. I just think the church would be much stronger if we love each other. Jesus said that the world would know that we were his disciples if we have love with one another. The greatest danger to our witness is carping, sniping, taking verbel potshots at easy ecclesiastical targets on social media, and then recoiling and calling people who are just as rational and intelligent wrong when they express their opinions to the contrary.
            I resent the reference to ethnic groups being slaughtered in the streets. This is ludicrous. Yes, there are policemen that abuse their authority and hurt and even kill people, and that is inexcusable. But until I have walked in those same shoes it is not my right to judge all police as killers. I live in a predominantly african american neighborhood, and love my neighbors and the people who live around me and worship with me. But his comment was inappropriate.

            And as for healthcare, the changes in the law personally cost Debbie and I thousands of dollars in taxes this year, making our planned trip for our 40th anniversary doubtful. It has also hurt many others that I know and love. I don’t have the solution for the health care crisis, but feel it is my moral and spiritual obligation to help people around me and aid those who are suffering, but the government should force us to do so. Say what you will, but this is not the solution.

            Yes, I did read Zach’s blog. I figure if you blog something and you are trying to be opinionated, you shouldnt be offended when someone expresses views to the contrary. I don’t blog for that reason. AS you can see, I get in trouble just responding to blogs. I remember several years ago, someone at Xenia posted something and asked me to like it whatever it was, and I did. I don’t even remember the context now, but you contacted me and asked me to withdraw my “like”, and out of respect and love for you, I did so. Im kind of wondering why you were so concerned. I generally keep my political opinions to myself as our country is so polarized along party lines that we only divide and repel people when we do so. I am a registered independent, trying to actually know who I am voting for and what they believe. Plus it gets me out of Jury duty. 🙂

            I will apologetically back out of the fray. My strong-held belief is that in the final analysis, there is no denomination (general) church, nor is there a district church. Their is only the local church. And as His undershepherd, I will have to be held accountable by the Great Shepherd when he appears. So, I will keep my head down, and try not to consider things that are too high for me.

            His doulos,…. Mike.

        • charlesburchfield
          April 22, 2015

          i don’t think there is any such thing as a christless eternity. Are there some ppl in your life you would like to put there if there was one? No need to forgive them if god doesn’t! MUCH?!

    • Brannon Hancock
      April 16, 2015

      Dude… get your own blog.

    • charlesburchfield
      April 22, 2015

      sir, (I know I take the risk of being accused of making an ad hom argument AGAIN!) have you ever been evaluated for obsessive compulsive disorder?

  • Ray Anselmo
    April 17, 2015

    “Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” – Luke 12:3

    “We air our dirty laundry in public because it is the own way to get them clean.” – Fr. Andrew Greeley

  • Philip Mills
    April 20, 2015

    For the most part I agree. There’s nothing wrong with good debate and for us as a community of believers to struggle through what we believe. We need to be open and transparent.

    I think the part that often concerns me is that the debate is so rarely Christlike. We worry about our rights and speak in ways that I think most would struggle to see as loving. What really hurts the church is that we consistently can’t show grace and love, even to those we are supposed to be in community with. The discussion is so important but we hurt it with our own agendas, egos and pride.

    I think people worry what the odds we could show love to them are when we attack our own the way we do.

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