Where Is God in the Messiness of the Church?

I have never participated in a perfect church and have never met a perfect person, yet I believe in a God who is perfect and who is perfecting us, His people.


Toward understanding and healing the wounds of the church, I write this blog piece. The context is the very public struggles of two mega-churches in the Chicago are where I live. Last year, Bill Hybels resigned as the head of Willow Creek Church, after allegations of misconduct came to light. Just today I read about James MacDonald deciding to step down from leadership of the Harvest Bible Church in the wake of a lawsuit and allegations of poor leadership.

The two situations are different, though they both involve allegations against longtime leaders of two of the largest and most prominent churches in the Chicago area. Bill Hybels is accused of inappropriate relationships with women in the church. MacDonald is accused of mismanagement of money, heavy-handed leadership and related allegations. Both situations expose the nature of the human side of the church and the prevalence of sin in the church, even at the leadership level. (The Catholic Church is not alone in this respect.)

In the 1980’s, I became involved in a church that I thought, at the time, was the “perfect” church. It was a vibrant engaging church community. Worship was spirit-led and dynamic. The leadership was charismatic and inspiring. The church community was tight-knit and familial. This church had planted many other churches that were also thriving and growing. I spent 6 years there and knew the church intimately.

It wasn’t as perfect as I first thought, of course. People are people, even people who go to church. Within a year of my leaving to pursue what I believed God was directing me to do next, the church was splintering, disintegrating and falling apart. My pastor, the man who married my wife and I, divorced his wife within a few years of our leaving. Neither he nor his wife are involved in a church today (as far as I know).

We were devastated. This was over 25 years ago, and it still puzzles me. The coming apart at the seams of this church that I viewed as a model of what churches should be impacted me more than I would care to admit.

I realize now that I had invested more of my spiritual capital in the church and its leaders than I should have.

A friend of mine, a fellow church-goer, has been struggling with issues in his church – the leadership in particular. I have listened to him, recognizing the disappointment and disillusionment in his voice. Though I don’t know the details of the issues he has had with the leadership, I do know that he feels cut adrift; he is hurt; his faith is shaken. He has stopped going to church. He isn’t sure he can trust Christians anymore, and he is struggling to make sense of his experience. I can relate.

We left the last church we attended because of leadership, trust and personality differences that affected the people to whom we were closest in that church. Our friends were financially and personally hurt by leadership in the church. We felt we needed to stand with our friends and support them as they drifted away from the church, unable to remain in a church led by people who could not be trusted with their spiritual well being.

These are just the experiences I have had, but I don’t think I am alone in having difficult and painful experiences in churches and with the leadership of churches. Church is a messy business.

Many people turn away from the church and even from Christianity because of similar experiences. How many times have you heard someone say they don’t go to church because Christians are hypocrites? And the fact is that Christians are hypocrites!

But that shouldn’t be the end of the story.

Continue reading “Where Is God in the Messiness of the Church?”

Sam Harris Podcast Interview with Bart Ehrman – Part 3 – Withering Sun

Some seed falls on hard rocky ground. It grows up fast, but its roots are shallow. When the heat of the sun comes, the plant shrivels and dies.


In previous installments, I have written two blog articles on my observations regarding an interview of Bart Ehrman by Sam Harris on What is Christianity. Bart Ehrman is an agnostic, New Testament scholar at Princeton, and Sam Harris is one of the so-called “new atheists”. In the first article, I relate portions of Ehrman’s story about his “loss of faith”, and I question whether he really had anything but a very shallow idea of faith to begin with. In the second installment, I talk about a certain wooden fundamentalism that continues to be apparent in how Ehrman sees the Bible. It’s a kind of all or nothing approach. Previously, he accepted all of it; now he accepts none of it.

Before moving on to other observations, I want to stop and raise a couple of points related to the portion of the interview already covered. First of all, I want to go back to the comment made by Ehrman about the charismatic youth leader who influenced him in a local Campus Crusade for Christ chapter. Erhman describes the “sinner’s prayer” he recited as an induction. The same youth leader urged him to go to Moody Bible Institute if he wanted to be a “serious Christian”.

Erhman was obviously influenced by this charismatic youth leader. Many of us are similarly influenced by charismatic people that we meet along the way. Some of us are influenced to do things that we might not otherwise do and which have no lasting import to us when we leave the circle of that influence.

Continue reading “Sam Harris Podcast Interview with Bart Ehrman – Part 3 – Withering Sun”

Catholics, Pentecostals and the Body of Christ

God’s sheep hear His voice. God knows His own. They sit in the whole spectrum of churches on any given Sunday morning or Saturday night, and some of them do not visit churches very often at all.

A Sheperd by Lauri Heikkinen
A Sheperd by Lauri Heikkinen

The article, A Classic Pentecostal Encounters Charismatic Catholics, takes me back to the early days of my Christian walk. I was raised Catholic, but I found little attraction to church as a child. We went to church religiously, a practice I later came to appreciate about my parents, but there seemed to be nothing in it for me. I even felt uncomfortable in church.

I went through some very rebellious teen years, wandering lost through the haze and fog induced by alcohol and drugs, drifting to the edge of the precipice, before I woke to the emptiness that I had inexplicably been embracing. That was not my conversion, but just the beginning of walking in a new direction.

Fast forward just a short while to college  where I entered like a kid in a candy store with a new found passion for knowledge and truth. I thought I had left religion behind. Actually I did (and have never returned). What I did not realize is that I would discover the life that religion (for me) enshrouded like an empty tomb. Continue reading “Catholics, Pentecostals and the Body of Christ”

Revisiting King Henry VIII

Henry VIII King of England
Depositphotos Image ID: 5598102 Copyright: georgios

I recently saw Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The play, Shakespeare’s last one performed at the Globe Theater approximately 400 years ago, was very well done. The story line is not as compelling as most of Shakespeare’s works, but the interrelationship of church and state theme struck a chord with me, albeit a discordant one.

King Henry the VIII was born into aristocracy. Young Henry was appointed Constable of Dover Castle at age two, Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at age three, inducted into the Order of the Bath soon after, and a day later he was made the Duke of York. A month or so after that, he was made the Warden of the Scottish Marches. He had the best education available from the best tutors, was fluent in Latin and French and was familiar with Italian.

For all of his privilege, he was not expected to become king. His brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales, was the first born and heir to the throne, but Arthur died only 20 months after marrying Catherine of Aragon (daughter of the King and Queen of Spain). Henry VIII was only 10. (Wikipedia)

Henry became the Duke of Cornwall and assumed other figurehead duties. His father, the King Henry VII, made sure young Henry was strictly supervised, did not appear in public and was insulated from real authority. Henry VII quickly made a treaty with the King of Spain that included the marriage of his daughter, Catherine, to young Henry – yes the widow of recently deceased brother Arthur. (Wikipedia)

From this point begins a history of manipulation, abuse of power, shameless excess and rationalizations twisting biblical and religious notions to serve the king’s self-interest. This is a story that parallels the “marriage” of State and Church. The two are intertwined in an adulterous affair of blasphemous indiscretions.

Continue reading “Revisiting King Henry VIII”