I am regularly asked, What are the biggest challenges facing the church in 2015?
As I work in North America, my responses are based on that milieu. I’ve elected to write my observations in three successive parts—from a personal level, an evangelistic level and a structural level.
The church of which we are all a part, and many of us love from the heart, is made up of flawed people. Even those who consider themselves (and there are a few) to have reached a level of self-defined perfection are not. Leaders, lifelong members and newly reached novices all have shortcomings.
Some say the church is full of hypocrites. I stoutly disagree. The definition that allows the accusation reads like this: “they” don’t practice what they preach. That is true. The gospel we preach is of lofty grandeur; none of us dare boast of reaching that level in this life. But that is the definition of a sinner, not a hypocrite. As a hospital is filled with sick, injured or otherwise unhealthy people on a quest toward health, so the church is filled with people on a journey toward wholeness in and under the banner of faith in Jesus Christ.
Years ago a teacher of mine made it clear: A hypocrite is not someone who makes mistakes or falls short of his professions. A hypocrite is someone who passes himself off as something he never intends to become. He wants to look like a Christ follower without actually intending to be a follower of Jesus. Hypocrisy in this light, then, is all about appearance eclipsing substance.
One of our greatest challenges on a personal level is the great need for transparent authenticity as believers. That is easy to say, but perhaps not very easy to live.
So let’s get practical.
As Adventists we believe in the return of Jesus Christ. In that belief, we cannot let ourselves become comfortable with the world as we know it now. Here in the West, it is too easy for the American dream to displace the heavenly vision.
We believe in the Sabbath as a memorial of God’s creation. In that belief we must not neglect, ignore or exploit that creation as it exists around us. We must take care of it. In claiming to honor the Creator God, we cannot take His creative work for granted.
We also believe in the Sabbath as a memorial of God’s saving power (see Deut. 5). In that belief we must extend the freedom the gospel grants us to everyone. The exodus from Egypt was not a privilege exclusively for the Hebrews. While few Egyptians availed themselves of the opportunity, they were invited to accept the gift of freedom from a ravaged Egypt and find new life in a promised land.
We believe in the family. In that belief we must not ignore or, even worse, blame the victims of divorce or other forms of family fracturing. Single parents need support, not censure. And children in divided homes need the encouragement of active, caring role models from all of us. Additionally, single members need to be included intentionally.
We believe in the gospel commission—to make disciples. In that belief we must not so tightly define disciples so as to make ourselves an exclusive club or let ourselves atrophy into a museum display. Disciple-making must translate out of our worship on Sabbath to something real on Tuesday evening (or whenever the need or opportunity arises).
So is the church full of hypocrites? Really? No doubt there are some. But it is not our job to try to figure out who is and who isn’t. Who truly reads the heart? Who can judge unspoken motives? The Lord, who has loved us with an everlasting love, asks us to be that love in a real way here and now until He returns.
This editorial was also published in the March/April 2015 print edition of OUTLOOK. It’s part of a three-part series.