Approval rating of politicians is at an all-time low. When Americans were asked to rank 22 professions for honesty and ethical standards in Gallup’s latest survey, Congress scored next-to-last. We long for integrity in our elected leaders; but sadly, it no longer surprises us when a politician is caught lying, discovered taking bribes, exposed as a philanderer, or has his obscene language picked up by an open microphone.
We’ve come to expect some bad apples in politics. Is there any rotten fruit in the church?
“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Those were the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before returning to heaven. He charged them to “Go and make disciples.” Imagine the heartburn that caused the early church—if we do what he told us to do someone is going to bring up Judas: “Who are you to be talking to me when Judas was on your original board?”
Or someone will bring up Peter. “We know about Peter. He denied this Jesus you want to talk to me about—said three times that he didn’t even know him. And you had the gall to put him front-and-center as chief spokesman for your bunch on Pentecost.
“In fact, didn’t all of the apostles abandon Jesus and hightail it out of Dodge when he was arrested? Wasn’t a stranger strong-armed to carry the cross because none of his disciples hung around to help? Is that the best you can do—showcase a bunch of cowards that couldn’t be counted on when the chips were down? And you want to talk to me about becoming a part of your crowd? Save your breath.
“Oh, and didn’t your church get into a squabble because the Hebrew-speaking widows were elbowing their way to the front of the line, stuffing their faces with pot-roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, leaving the Greek-speaking widows to make do with turnip greens and black-eyed peas? And what about Brother and Sister Ananias lying about their offering? You have the audacity to say that I should listen to what you have to say when you have these kinds of people in your church? Give me a break!”
Twenty centuries later we’re still skittish about witnessing. First rattle out of the box we feel the need to disqualify ourselves. “Who am I to be talking to others about the faith? I have enough trouble keeping myself on the straight-and-narrow, without presuming to tell someone else how to live.”
Then there’s the unnerving fact that our house isn’t all that clean. It wouldn’t be so unsettling if we could hold our churches up as models of morality—if there was never any misconduct, infidelity, or scandal among us. If no one on our rolls was addicted to pornography, drugs, alcohol, calories, credit cards, or TV, then we could feel comfortable talking to people about committing their lives to Jesus. But we’ve got trouble right here in River City; we know it and they know it. So what right do we have to witness and disciple?
And there’s that unity thing. Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” If our attitudes and actions were an answer to that prayer we could easily talk to people about him. If we loved one another, got along, didn’t split into contentious, antagonistic, quarreling camps over opinions and personal likes and dislikes, we would have the right to witness and disciple. But with a half-dozen churches in our town wearing the same name, none of which would be caught dead fellowshipping the others, do we have that right? And—forgive me for calling it to your attention—whether you’ve pitched your tent in the camp on the left, on the right, or in the middle, if you go about your religious business with a judgmental and hostile spirit you’re helping create the mess that causes people to question our right to witness.
With all these flaws and foibles, do we have a right to be his witnesses, to urge people to discipleship?
Yes, yes we do. Because witnessing isn’t about us, it’s about Jesus. How do we justify our failings? We don’t. We can’t. The blemishes are in plain sight, and any attempt to whitewash them is a sure-to-fail effort to defend the indefensible. The Bible spends no coin trying to cover the sins of church members. Neither should we. But we must never permit the exposure of our weaknesses to get us off message. Our job is not to defend the human element, but to exalt the divine. It is Jesus that we preach, not us; only Jesus. For it is Jesus that saves, not us; only Jesus.