More than once now I have had Christians ask me if it is wise for me to publicly criticize the local, visible churches as I do here on this blog, in my books, and in person with friends and acquaintances, some of who are not Christians. The concern is they voice is that such criticism will keep people from attending church and finding Christ. It is a fair question asked by people who as far as I know are asking it honestly.
Some of them might, for example, point to the following Scripture:
1 Corinthians 6:1-6 ESV When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? (2) Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? (3) Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (4) So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? (5) I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, (6) but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?
So perhaps we are not to be critical of the earthly, visible church in front of unsaved people? Isn’t that “going to court before unbelievers”?
My response is, no it is not. And I will go further. I maintain that it is right and healthy and necessary even for the unsaved people we know, to call out evil that has crept in among us in the church. And more – if we keep our shining of light upon wickedness in the church to ourselves, if we keep it you might say “in house,” then THAT is what is going to keep people who are genuinely seeking Christ from coming. Think about it – what is the greatest source of “bad press” for local churches that we see in the news all the time? It is when hidden evil in the pulpits and pews comes to light, frequently finally exposed not by the members of the church, but by for example, the secular news media.
Exposing evil in churches is not an example of what the Apostle Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 6. There, he is addressing the sorry state of affairs when people who claim to be Christians go to the civil courts to settle some lawsuit between them. Brother Joe over there did some construction work for Brother Fred and Fred says Joe did a really shoddy job and ripped him off. Paul says that surely the local church to which Joe and Fred belong can settle this dispute, and to take it to the civil court is shameful.
But what if Fred is, for instance, a pastor? And it comes to light (when a victim reports to a parent or some other church leader) that the pastor has been molesting children in the church? Or if Fred’s wife confides in another member that Fred abuses her regularly in all kinds of wicked ways? Are these things to be handled “in house”? Well, yes and no or rather, no and yes. No, because in the first case the police need to be notified immediately (and possibly in the second case too). And yes in the both cases because the church needs to put the wicked man out from among them, and announce it to the church.
But let me go on. Are we bound to some kind of code of silence about such things? That is to say, is speaking of such things to those outside the church, wrong? And I answer – absolutely not. In fact, I go further. I maintain that we should speak of such things outside the church. We should tell our unsaved acquaintances – “we put that man out of the church. This is what he was doing. He is a hypocrite, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and Christ says that such a person is not to be among us.”
And let me go on. When we are aware that a local church is wolf-infested, and that church is refusing to take the action that Christ commands, then the right thing for us to do is warn others to stay away from such a place. I have done this and I will continue to do it. What is there that is at all “noble” to keep silent and not sound a warning?
One of the common claims that people will make who ask me about these things is, “but the church here on earth is not perfect. We Christians are still sinners, and that’s what the cross is all about. God’s grace is boundless. He is merciful and forgiving. That is what we should tell people when they point out to us that some church member committed some evil act or who has a reputation in the community of being wicked. We should accept the wife abuser or pedophile back among us when they say they are sorry because that is what Jesus would do.” Not! No! Wrong!
First, genuine Christians have been born again and are new creations in Christ. We are NOT the sinners we were and the Bible never calls Christians “sinners.” Never. We are God’s people, His children, His heirs, His saints and sons. We do not walk in sin, and when we sin, we repent. The Spirit is in us and leads us into righteousness.
Second, I talk about evil in churches to the world because Jesus and the Apostles did. Think of it. If you took a Bible and started going through the New Testament (Old Testament too), and every time you come to a place where the Scripture is talking about evil IN the local church, marked it with a highlighter, I can tell you that a huge amount of that Bible would be yellow highlighted! Jesus and the Apostles spoke of these things publicly over and over and over.
Exposing evil in the church does not drive people away – not if they are people who are genuinely seeking Christ. The only people it will drive away are those who are wicked themselves and who have no intention of repenting or being exposed. But Christ’s true sheep who He is calling will hear His voice and come.