If the devil was given free reign on earth to do as much damage as possible to the unfolding of divine purposes, where would he begin? What more effective places to press his diabolical schemes than in the hearts of God’s people, and in the work of the Christian church? How about targeting especially the humans entrusted with shepherding the flock that makes up the church, the body of Christ in the world?
The sexual abuse of children and then covering it up by those who hold the position of priest or higher in the Roman Catholic Church come immediately to mind as prime examples of how embodied evil has poisoned hearts, minds, and souls of church members, leaders, and those entrusted with the care of church-related institutions.
Jesus’s followers everywhere should be outraged by this and similar abuses and corruptions of Christian faith. Outrage should rise out of compassion for past and potential future victims and out of concern for the deplorable witness to faith in Christ communicated by these behaviors by so-called Christians.
The Roman Catholic Church does not hold a monopoly on sin and wrongdoing. A brief survey of church history or the current spectrum of church-related abuses will quickly correct that view. Any church historian worthy of the title could go on ad nauseum chronicling centuries of horrendous sins conducted by church leaders and institutions.
Revelation of unregenerate, even devilish church leadership can shock the sensibilities of faithful Christians and result in depressive cynicism. Thus, it is critical to understand that this very subject throws us directly onto the only One full of boundless hope for us all, who is Jesus Christ.
The parallels between the sin and corruption we see in immoral behaviors too often associated with the church, and the sin and corruption we see in the Christian understanding of original sin are undeniable.
According to Christian doctrine, the original humans, Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis, had it made. They had everything to gain by living in the Garden of Eden in a happy, righteous relationship with God, each other, and all creation. Instead, they used God’s gift of free will to disobey the clear rules God had established. This moral violation against the Ruler of the Universe resulted immediately in overwhelming shame and suffering, which continues to plague their posterity to this day. Further, just like numerous church officials, Adam and Eve attempted to hide their sin from God, as if somehow God could that easily be fooled into not noticing or holding them accountable.
It is no secret that the Christian doctrine of original sin has fallen out of favor with many in the Christian church. It is not, after all, a humanly reasonable doctrine that attributes the guilt and shame of a couple of “original” humans to all humanity throughout all generations. Never mind that the doctrine of original sin teaches about God-given free will and the perpetual, perennial true story of human disobedience to God’s will that always and everywhere repeats itself.
Even more embarrassing than the seemingly odious concept of Adam’s and Eve’s representative guilt is that the doctrine of original sin identifies a supernatural evil one, “the devil.” It would hardly seem to be in the best interest of powerful church leaders throughout the ages, but especially in the modern era, to admit vulnerability to such an embodiment of evil, especially in the form of a snake.
Which is more ludicrous, evil embodied in a snake-devil, or in a priest, pastor, or professor?
What is more tempting, a delicious but forbidden piece of fruit, or violating moral law to gratify lust, greed, or hunger for power?
Either way, words seem inadequate for the egregious committing or covering up of crimes by men against children, countless other evils, or the general extent of human depravity that demonstrates the world’s desperate need of Christ. Jesus’s own warning about vicious wolves in sheep’s clothing that seek to devour God’s flock should be well-taken.
Beyond the heart-wrenching suffering experienced by victims and those who love them, and for all who suffer the direct consequences of sin, there is only one answer, one hope for humanity: Jesus Christ.
What are we to do with broken, hurting lives and with our broken church-related institutions? If we look to Jesus for direction, we are to love, support, and build each other up in faith in Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us with this life-giving, comforting ministry, and who teaches us to discern when church-related institutions have been led astray from God’s purposes and twisted into gateways of hell. Our Scriptures teach us to “resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas 4:7).
Uncovering, or bringing to light original sin and church corruption may make us feel uncomfortable. This is not a bad thing. True to Wesleyan Christian doctrine, this discomfort just may be grace leading us to new understanding or to true repentance and forgiveness; and prodding us toward a new life in Jesus Christ.