Does the Biggest Threat to Our Gospel Witness Come from “Believers”?

I’m learning things about my faith community I never expected to learn (things I do not wish to learn, as they break my heart). I grew up with my “faith feet” solidly placed in evangelical Christianity. While my faith underwent times of doubt that were necessary for growth, one thing I never doubted was that the church was a place to commune with fellow Christians seeking God and wanting to grow in Christlikeness.

As I watching what plays out on social media, the national stage, and dialogs across the country these days, I’m not so sure about that solid view of the Christian community anymore. I’m growing convinced one of the biggest threats to the Gospel in this country is coming from within the church. Some of what I have seen lately:

  • Female theologians and leaders are being eviscerated in private online groups, with “men of the faith” speaking with horrifying misogyny
  • Christians are shaming other Christians who are speaking out in support of breaking down racism in our country, twisting Scripture to support the status quo
  • Ad hominem attacks are being made on solid Christian theologians who are bringing the Gospel to current-day issues; instead of the arguments being engaged with charity and love and a desire to learn, Christian leaders are being name called and dismissed
  • Gospel-based challenges to unhealthy nationalism and political allegiances are being dismissed as leftist or labelled as invalid instead of being seen as a call to return to our first love of Christ over all
  • Hate speech on social media is coming straight from the finger tips of Christian leaders
  • Christians are engaging in defense of power structures instead of defense of the Gospel and Christ

In addition to all the ugliness I have seen in the Christian community of late, I know I’m being mocked and shamed behind my back for my beliefs in the Gospel and my desire to follow Christ…and I know it’s coming from fellow Christians. I think that’s the most shocking part. I have always expected to be mocked by those who do not believe; the Bible makes it clear that the Gospel will not be well received. I also am not surprised there is sin in the church, even in our leadership; we all have the propensity to fail, and at our best, we as the church are there to help with the healing. I, too, am a sinner in the church, we all are; and we are called to help each other grow forward.

But being dismissed for speaking out for the Gospel by those who confess the name of Christ—that part has taken me by surprise. At first, it grieved me. At first, I felt confusion and shame, and wondered, what am I doing wrong? Am I getting it all backwards? None of the tension derailed my faith, but it silenced me for some time. Confusion led to a blurriness of vision that led me to not know where to step.

My vision is clearing somewhat now. I’m growing in conviction of my desire to declare Christ; we must bring the truth of the Gospel no matter the adversity we face. I thought the adversity would come from the world; but if the adversity is going to come from fellow Christians, I’m ready to stand firm anyways and pray that we come back to unity in Christ.

I know I have much to learn, that I am a broken vessel, and that my failures will always be present with my successes. I know I am at my best when I learn in community. We stay close to orthodoxy when we allow ourselves to think together—to learn from fellow theologians, to be taught by healthy leaders, to be in church groups and close community where we can be open to sharpening each other. I know my views are always needing to be reexamined, realigned to Scripture. I can so easily slip from the Gospel and God’s Truth into the truth I create for myself.

I do not claim to have it all figured out, nor that my desires are always properly ordered. In the words of Teresa of Avila, “Oh God, I don’t love you, I don’t even want to love you, but I want to want to love you!” I confess there is darkness in my heart at times, and much that needs yet to be transformed. I do not claim to be without sin and failure. I simply lay claim to wanting to be more Christlike day by day, to desire to be humbled by the Spirit, and to bring my faith and my theology to all of how I see the world and live in it. As Brené Brown said, “I am not here to be right. I’m here to get it right.”

This is my confession. In the face of those who mock and shame me for my views, I remember the words of Martin Luther,

My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

—Martin Luther, at the Diet of Worms, 1521

Oh no, I do not lay claim to Luther’s greatness, but I am claiming that I—like all those who follow Christ—am captive to the Word of God, and can only hope to be as committed to that Word as Luther was. I choose to accept the mocking. I accept the shaming. I accept that my desire to follow Christ and to be grounded in orthodox theology and to bring the Gospel to the world I live in has made me vulnerable to being dismissed, doubted, declared ridiculous, labeled as not worthy of being heard, and placed on the outside.

Beyond this acceptance of the pain and difficulties, I pray for us as a church, maybe you’ll join me? May we fall to our knees to be humbled before Christ, to grow in our love for him. May we never cease to know what needs to be grown in us; may we never cease to seek Him. May we as a church be humbled and purified and brought back to our first love. May we return Christ to the core of our beliefs. May we place Christ and Gospel before all and make Him our first allegiance.

God help me. God help us. God help his church. God help his children. Amen.