Who Needs the Church?
David W. Hegg
The question - Who needs the church? - is increasingly easy to answer. A growing segment of society confidently answers "not me." We've known for years that more and more of our neighbors are growing up in an America where the church has become an afterthought. But recently that has changed, and not for the better. We used to bemoan the fact that church and the Bible and religious fervency had been pushed to the far margins of American life. Now, we are facing a far worse predictament. No longer merely overlooked, the church is being described as a danger. A growing number of voices are crying out that the church has become the enemy of free society. And the worse part is that the church continues to produce the evidence to support their charges.
I would like to point out two areas where the church in America is failing. And in our failure, we are offering our opponents more and more reason not only to disregard us, but also to paint us as dangerous to the very people we are trying to help.
The first area is that of leadership. More to the point, the failure of church leaders to be men of integrity has put American clergy on par with our politicians as fodder for late night humor. Almost every day the newpapers carry stories of sexual misconduct, finanical misdealings, or other scandals in which pastors and priests have been involved. The position of value once held by our religious leaders has been eroded over time, and largely because of our own stupidity. Remember the old westerns? The preacher was known as the "parson", a word that actually denoted that he was the "person" in the town with education, with knowledge, with expertise to whom all could come for all kinds of advice and help. He was a valued public asset, and was afforded great respect. Largely that has been lost. Now, it is safe to say that increasingly the clergy are viewed with suspicion by many both in the church, and outside its walls. We are no longer public assets, and in fact, are increasingly been seen as dangerous to those we are trying to lead.
The second area where the church is fast becoming viewed as dangerous to society is the arena of politics. Beginning with the Moral Majority, the church began to flex its political muscle. Since then, a strange co-mingling of Bible and power has had a detrimental effect on the way the church is perceived in America. We have wrongly allowed our political competitiveness to overwhelm the reality that the Kingdom of God is not of this world. Simply put, we have come to think that we can bring in the Kingdom through legislative means, and thus, winning at the polls is the new game in town. This competitiveness has led us to craft a rigid set of political beliefs which we have branded as God's. Those who agree are right and righteous. Those who do not are wrong, and are not on God's side. The end resust? The church has become a political action group, and its message and tactics indistinguishable from that of professional political operatives.
Now I know what you're thinking! Yes, I have painted with a broad brush. Yes, I have spoken in generalities. Yes, I have overstated the case. But, the truth is undeniable that even where the church is led by men of integrity, and where the Gospel is preached and lived out undaunted by political agendas, we no longer can assume that our neighbors hold the church good or even necessary.
So, here's my point. We have to make ourselves necessary, we have to demonstrate ourselves to be good. The church must retreat to the Gospel, and then, living out its ethics and its demands, make ourselves not only unignorable, but undeniably necessary to society.
So who needs the church? The simple answer is that society needs the church, but first the church needs to be the church! We must clean up our act, and declare that God hates sin in all of its forms, even when it means the removal of beloved leaders. We must get back to Jesus, the Savior, whose life continues to model kingdom behavior, and give up the idea that political power can ever be counted on to fulfill the Great Commission. We are on this earth to rescue those who are under the authority of Satan, not balance budgets or argue about troop withdrawals. Let the politico politic; let the legislators legislate. None of what they do can save one soul from sin and fit them for heaven. But, if we agree with Paul that "the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes" then we must never take up a lesser task than proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God through our lips and our lives. The church is the only hope for the world, and we better wake up and realize it.