There are a number of reasons people walk away from Christianity, or at least from church. Some have faced disdain or hurt from those who were supposed to model and minister Christ to them. Some groups or ministry leaders were found to have shocking hidden pasts or current sins. Some movements displayed racist thought in their pasts.
Sometimes leaving a particular group or church or dissociating from an individual is the right thing to do.
But we shouldn’t reject the whole body of God’s truth because some of His people, or those who professed to be His people, fell so far from His ideal. They’re accountable for their sins and failures, but what they do doesn’t void the truth they taught. We’re accountable for the truth we’ve heard despite the vessels it sometimes came through.
Someone once said if you look for the fatal flaw, you’ll find it. And you don’t have to look very far in some cases. That’s because we all have one—or more than one. Some seem worse, or more obvious, than others.
When you look through the Bible, you find people who loved and followed God, yet they failed in spectacular ways. Though we grieve over their falls, we don’t dismiss the truth they taught. We don’t throw out Proverbs because Solomon failed to keep his own admonitions. We lament David’s sins, but we don’t reject the psalms because of them. The disciples fought over who was greatest and fled when Jesus was arrested. Yet God transformed and used each of them in mighty ways.
Instead of throwing out “the baby with the bath water,” we can learn from the failures of others.
We’re all at risk of falling. Proverbs 16:18 warns that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Verse 13 goes on to say that we’re not tempted beyond our ability, but God will provide a way of escape. But we need to look to Him: we can’t take pride that we would never do certain things.
Most have or will experience failure of others. Joseph’s own brothers wanted to kill him and sold him into slavery. Abigail’s husband, who should have been her leader and protector, nearly caused their household to be attacked by the king. Saul, who should have been David’s mentor, instead was jealous and tried to kill David. At some point, we will fail others and they will fail us.
Learn from people who failed what not to do, what precautions could have been taken, etc.
For all the bad ones, there are many good ones. When I worked with the general public, the rude and obnoxious customers and comments hurt and stayed with me a long time. Yet there were many more kind and thoughtful customers than bad ones. Though none is perfect, there are many within Christendom who love God and others well. Don’t let the bad ones obscure the good ones.
Compare what we see and hear with Scripture. Those noble Bereans “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). They took what they were told even of Paul and Silas and checked it against Scripture.
Others’ failures don’t nullify truth. In Romans 3:, Paul writes, “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Romans 3:3-4). Does that mean faithfulness doesn’t matter, or people get away with being unfaithful? No. God will deal with them. But their unfaithfulness doesn’t make God unfaithful or disprove His truth.
Hold fast. Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Then verse 35-36 says, “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”
Stir up others to love and good works. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” which, interestingly, takes place in the context of church: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25). Perhaps some would have been prevented from a fall by a loving friend’s kind rebuke.
Forgive. Most have found that when they refuse to forgive others, the one they end up hurting the most is themselves. Unforgiveness can lead to bitterness and unanswered prayer or keep us from being forgiven. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). He taught that we’ve been forgiven so much, we should not withhold forgiveness for lesser sins than the ones we’ve committed against Him (Matthew 18:21-35).
“Overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). This sentence comes at the end of a section about loving enemies and not avenging ourselves, but leaving vengeance to God. That’s not to say we don’t report or deal with wrong-doing. Sometimes we need to allow consequences to catch up to someone for their own good and for protection of ourselves and others. But we don’t seek to “get them back.” Instead, we go the extra mile and do them good.
Jesus knows what we’re going through. No one has been failed by others as much as Jesus. His family didn’t understand Him. His disciples missed the point of His teaching much of the time. They fled when He was arrested. The people He came to save rejected Him. But He didn’t walk away from them. He loved even when they didn’t love Him. He patiently kept working with them. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:14-15).
Keep our eyes on Christ. Others will fail us, even those who mean well. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,” (Hebrews 12:2b-3a).
In Psalm 55, David tells of his fear, trembling, horror, and anguish due to the oppression of an enemy. Then he reveals in verses 12-14:
For it is not an enemy who taunts me— then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me— then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.
Instead of letting a friend’s betrayal drive him away from the God he professed, David let the situation drive him to God.
But I call to God, and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice. He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage (verses 16-18).
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you;
he will never permit the righteous to be moved (verse 22).
When others fail you, betray you, ignore you, or hurt you, they are accountable to God. But don’t walk away from Him because of them. Run to His arms and let Him heal, soothe, encourage, and strengthen you.
“The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
Man may trouble and distress me;
Twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me.
Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, tis not in grief to harm me
While Thy love is left to me.
Oh, twere not in joy to charm me
Were that joy unmixed with Thee.
Henry Francis Lyte, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken”
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