Study Guide: Church Scandal

Sunday May 7, 2023 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

The Church is to be the representation of God’s life to the world so that the world might see and know God. Yet throughout history, the Church has repeatedly fallen short of this calling. Now, as a result, people are resisting the Christian faith because of the repulsive actions and words of those in the Church. What are we to do with this reality? How do we understand what is going on in the Church? And why did God set up the Church as his primary means for his mission? This sermon seeks to address these questions.

Extended Summary:

In 1989, Greg began a written dialogue with his atheist father about questions of the faith. His father posed this question: “How could an all-powerful and all-loving God allow his church to do so much harm to humanity for so long? Isn’t this supposed to be His true church, his representation on earth?” This question gets to the heart of this message, and it is one of the primary reasons that people are either walking away from the faith or staying away from it. And let’s be honest, if God’s goal is to make himself known to all people, using the Church doesn’t seem like a very efficient process.

The love expressed in the Church was supposed to be the means by which the world comes to know the one true God and his plan of salvation for the world. Jesus reveals a God whose essence is humble, other-oriented, self-sacrificial, enemy-embracing love. We are to love like the Father loves, as demonstrated when Jesus chose to die out of love for his enemies. We must then ask: to what extent does the Church as a whole reflect the humble, other-oriented, self-sacrificial, enemy-embracing love displayed on Calvary?  If you ask a “person on the street” what comes to their mind when they think about the Church, their answers indicate that they do not see the Church as exhibiting this kind of life.

This raises questions about why God would choose this kind of strategy to save the world. Throughout church history, we see a plethora of ways that the Church has failed to live up to God’s call and show the world what God’s love looks like. Greg offers three truths to help us wrestle with this question.

#1. God is infinitely intelligent: God anticipates every possibility and has a plan in place to bring good out of it, in case it comes to pass. If you examine this world, and it looks like God is losing, God is not wringing his hands from Heaven wondering how he is going to respond in a way that will lead to the world’s salvation. Nothing has happened that God has not anticipated as a possibility from the foundation of the world.

God is infinitely smarter than we are, and we should not be surprised if we cannot understand how he is bringing victory out of a troubling situation. It may look like he is sacrificing the queen—using a chess board as an analogy—but he sees something that we do not. Whatever comes to pass, however evil and disappointing, God has a prepared response as to how to bring good out of it and weave it into his over-all plan. The most obvious example of this was Good Friday. No one expected Jesus to rise from the dead, and likewise, today God is bringing life from the things that we deem as dead in ways that we cannot predict or control.

#2 God always uses the foolish and weak things: On the cross, God displays his power in weakness and his wisdom in foolishness. Since the cross reveals the way God truly is and the way God has always been, we should not be surprised that God raises up a foolish and weak church to be the chosen means by which God reaches the world. God displays his boundless grace by accomplishing his purposes through sinners. God displays his unfathomable wisdom by using foolish people. And God displays his loving power by using those who are weak.

God is not shocked and worried over the fact that all humans turn out to be imprisoned in sin for he makes even this to fit into his plan by having mercy upon all. Somehow, the mercy that God extends to all, despite their sin, will be the means by which God defeats the enemy and transforms the world.

#3 We are God’s “First Fruits.”: Throughout the Bible, we see a motif called the first fruits, the principle of a small remnant who get to participate in what God is up to in the world (James 1:18, Revelation 14:4). In a world of unripened and unharvested fruit, we are to put on display what ripened fruit looks like. Someday, all will die to their old self and manifest the humble, other-oriented, enemy-embracing love of God revealed on Calvary. We choose to do so now.  This means that until the Lord returns and the harvest time comes, we shouldn’t be discouraged by the fact that most of the Church does not love, serve and pray for their enemies.

We need not worry at the appearance of God’s plans failing when we see that the number of people who reflect the humble, other-oriented, enemy-embracing love of God is relatively small. It doesn’t take God by surprise, and because he’s infinitely wise, he has a plan to use this smallness to his advantage.

Reflection Questions: