“Peace if possible, truth at all costs”
-Martin Luther (German)
Much is being made today in regards to Church Unity. The Church… like every other human managed organization has gone through many splits, many conflicts and many dark seasons.... we can find both the hope of mankind and the brokenness of humanity within the Church.
Some will point to church divisions, pastoral failures and the Churches complicit involvement in human rights abuses… saying the Church is the cause of evil because evil exists within its physical structure.
I would agree that the Church has been used as a tool for evil... but would suggest it is an overreach to single out the Church as evil because in fact many times the Christian devotion to truth has been the only thing standing in the way of true evil. The Underground Railway which transported people trying to break free from slavery and abuse was largely run using a Church as cover. One can go through history and find many times that men and women of great faith stood with the Church against venomous cultural attacks... against dark forces to free captives and speak up for those who could not.
Then there is the hatred that truly evil men have for the Church... as an example Hitler hated the church as evidenced not in his speech’s but in transcripts and quotes from unscripted moments. He was self aware enough that he could never publicly share his disdain for Christians and the Church... however it is well documented that he despised the teachings of Christ and the Christian’s in general as they were hard to control and resistant to indoctrination. Even so he succeeded in large part to unify the German church to create the atmosphere to complete his evil plans. Using manipulation and gaslighting as well as carefully placed “spies” throughout the Church organizational structures Hitler was able to gain significant control of the "Christian" leaders in Germany. Churches are often the first targets of despot rulers seeking to control their country...
Many businesses and organizations have been used by evil men to perpetrate atrocities on the human race. We do not single out scientific establishments as evil for their part in human pain, we do not single out medical establishments for their part either... and the reason is because we recognize that the evil done by members of these groups does not necessarily mean the organization itself is evil. These organizations are inanimate tools... we understand that there have been evil men who ran these organizations and created toxic fear driven cultures.
With this in mind the question reverberates.... Why does every organization men create end up in decay?
Clay Jones, author of the book “Why does God allow evil?”, writes in an article for Biola university that we are all “Auschwitz enabled”:
”if we had never become Christians, if we had been born in a different society or at a different time, could we have been a guard in Auschwitz or in a Soviet gulag? There really is only one honest answer, and like it or not, we were all born Auschwitz-enabled.
Realizing this, historian George Kren and psychologist Leon Rappaport wrote in The Holocaust and the Crisis of Human Behavior: “What remains is a central, deadening sense of despair over the human species. Where can one find an affirmative meaning in life if human beings can do such things?”” **
Further to this: “Holocaust survivor Fred E. Katz wrote that genocides are:
“carried out by plain folk in the population — ordinary people, like you and me.” And it’s not just other countries. Consider that in the United States, since 1973, we have suctioned, scraped or scalded to death 60 million unborn babies. Who keeps abortion legal? It’s ordinary people like you and me. No wonder that Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel concluded, “Deep down ... man is not only executioner, not only victim, not only spectator; he is all three at once.”” **
As we begin to understand the absolute brokenness of man and the need for a measurement which is not bound or changed by mere men we can see that because of the capacity of men for evil… we need a more incorruptible standard for men to measure themselves against to shift them towards good. The Church, combined with the written word... is meant to function as a beacon... a lighthouse... pointing to that standard and showing us the way to truth and safety!
A significant challenge within the organization of the Church is that many Christians believe that the goal of Christianity is unity or perhaps rather "oneness". Pastors, deacons and other oversight groups within the organizational structure of the Church will often fall into the trap of unity above all... even if it is not real under the surface and is merely "marketing". This concept has infected every part of our culture today... marketing is the new truth! Decisions are made based on how people think that "voters" or "church members" will respond... the goal is not truth but image redemption.
Everyone begins their ministry with the goal of setting captives free and bringing people to truth… often however, as their ministry… or the Church they started begins to grow they begin to shift to unity as a primary focus. The Pastor slowly becomes in essence a “pope”… or in my background a "Bishop"... someone who is not to be questioned or challenged. Questions are looked at as heresy or doubt... and let's be honest everyone has moments of doubt. So why hide that? Why not say "let's explore truth together!"?
I had a pastor friend who in my youthful arrogance I challenged in a rather disrespectful way. At the time I did the best I could… but looking back I could have handled it differently. Years later this friend came back to me and apologized for not seeing what I was saying. At the time he was angry with me for questioning him. I also apologized to him for my lack of respect at the time... I have since learned one can be right and still wrong because of your actions or reactions....
My point for sharing this story is that leaders must be able to handle challenges and questions with grace… and engage in conversation rather than rebuke. I feel like most of us have not learned the art of respectful disagreement.... and culturally most of the leaders we see do not model a leadership that allows itself to be questioned. Yes we are called to call out sin… yes we are called to stand firm… but the way of Christ does not allow for pride. Leaders must allow themseves to be questioned in an respectful way and the rest of us need to learn how to debate with compassion and empathy.
The goal of the Church is not unity…. It is truth! As Martin Luther said “Peace if possible, truth at all costs”. A lighthouse can sit in abject peace… completely serene and perfect in appearance but if it does not cast light to show the truth of the dangerous rocks it will be the direct cause of many shipwrecks and lost souls!
I know the imagery and the correlation to the truest calling of the Church will resonate with many. Just as the lighthouse serves no purpose and is an empty relic without light… so to is a Church organization that offers only unity and serenity. My son when he was little would say "that's about as useful as a poopy flavoured lollipop!"
We think this problem is new but anyone who has taken the time to read a New Testament has found that the apostles spent a great deal of time trying to bring the early Church back to truth… we are prone to err. It is hard wired in our broken DNA from the moment of Adam's original sin. We snagged a parasite-like virus and are called to spend our lives purifying or cleansing ourselves of said virus.
The Church… those who follow Christ are meant to be a conduit of truth just as a lighthouse is meant to be a conduit to safety. When unity becomes the goal rather than alignment with Christ… rather than the truth… the light goes out and the shipwrecks begin to happen.
If we are to be "light" in this world...
We must stop the pastor worship... we must recognize our individual capacity for evil and focus together on a passionate pursuit of TRUTH.
The book of Matthew shares this quote from Jesus:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Unity at all costs is simply conformity to culture or "pastor worship"... the way towards true unity is passion for truth above all.
Stay strong and be the change!