This has been quite a year for the church in the United States. Yesterday, Beth Moore posted “A Letter to My Brothers,” and Twitter exploded with responses. Before that, the church rocked in the waves of the MLK50 Conference and sexual scandals among church leaders. Yes, a storm is certainly stirring in the church.
I have been incredibly heartbroken over the exposure of much sin this year. I have looked at the headlines and felt the heavy weight of pain damaging specific congregations, individual members, and large groups of people. Sin is a terrible thing. It is the source of suffering and alienation on a scale that often feels insurmountable.
In the book of Revelation, the churches were called one after another to repentance. They were warned of what would happen if they did not repent, and encouraged by what would happen if they did. The messenger to the church in Ephesus writes:
“But this I have against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen: repent, and do the works you did at first.”
How we all can learn from this warning. Who is our first love? Is it Christ? Are we as his bride focused on him? If so, will we not love the rest of the body of Christ—all of it?
If we remember from where we have come will we not recognize that we have all come from the same place, no matter what our race or sex? We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
If we remember our first love—his love for us at the Cross where he pursued sinners at the cost of his own life—how can we continue to live in pride and hypocrisy of any kind?
This year has been painful, but it has also been hopeful because when our masks are pulled off and we are exposed as the sinners that we are, we cannot continue to pretend any longer that it’s not about Christ. The church has no beauty apart from him. We have nothing to boast about except for him.
If we abandon our first love, what do we have left?
Fortunately the letter to the Ephesians does not end with the call to repentance, and we need not stop there either. While some may choose to ignore the calls to repent, many have answered. Men like Thabiti Anyabwile who wrote “An Apology to Beth Moore and My Sisters.”
In the wake of scandals and pain, we have the same gospel hope that we have had since the coming of Christ. In all these years, much has changed, but little has changed. We are sinful. We need a savior.
We can choose to take the path of the Pharisee. We can pretend like we are righteous among all the religious language and knowledge. But let’s remember the promise to the unrepentant in Ephesus:
“I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
This echoes the words of John the Baptist:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Shortly after in Matthew 3: 8-10 he addresses the Pharisees specifically:
“Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
But to all who choose to humble themselves and cling to Christ as their first love, remember the response to those who would repent in Ephesus:
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches, To the one who conquers I will grant to eat the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
God doesn’t allow our sin to be exposed to harm us. He reveals it to us in his love to drive us to the cross. At the cross we can receive his forgiveness, and then we can also extend it to those bearing the shame of their sin in the surrounding church and world.
In the midst of all the finger-pointing, let’s remember how Jesus responded to such a scandal in his day.
“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them,’Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’”
Brothers and sisters alike, in the midst of the widespread exposure of sin, let’s not forget our own. Let’s be gracious and quick to forgive. Let’s search our own hearts in humility and take what lingers there to the cross.
Please brothers and sisters, let’s unite to be the bride that he intends us to be. Where we fail, let’s strengthen and encourage one another in love.
There is only one who can calm the storm. When our eyes are on him, we can walk on the water. The storms cannot destroy the house that is built on the rock.
*For clarity’s sake I want to make sure no one walks away with the impression that forgiveness means enabling abuse in any way. This paper gives an excellent explanation of this topic: http://www.academia.edu/37779192/Justice_The_Foundation_for_a_Christian_approach_to_Abuse_ETS_2018_