How can I believe when the church does wrong?
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” Brendan Manning
Many people struggle to believe because of the failings and hypocrisy of the church.
Our guest, Guy Mason shares his own story and experiences of church hypocrisy but also offers something more. An honest and engaging conversation.
About our guest: Guy Mason studied public relations at RMIT before working in media and communications. He left that to study theology and to found, City on a Hill - a church which now has over 1,500 people attending each week. Guy is lead pastor of City on a Hill overseeing churches in Melbourne, Geelong and Brisbane.
This Bigger Questions episode is a re-release of Episode 14 (recorded under the show's former title, hence the absence of episode number).
Help us keep asking Bigger Questions. Support the show for as little as US$1 per podcast on Patreon.
Bigger questions asked in the conversation
In 1882, the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche made the controversial claim: 'God is dead'. Has God been killed by his strongest opponents?
Today we tackle a big objection to belief in God today. And today’s objection is the church - I can’t believe in God because the church does more evil than good.
And we’re privileged to have Guy Mason from City on a Hill join us!
Today we’re thinking about the church. But you didn’t grow up going to church did you? Tell us what happened.
‘How well do you know the church?’
God vs church - the problem
So Guy, thinking more about the Christian ‘church’. You didn’t grow up in the church, but you did have some contact with the church. Tell us about that.
What did you feel about the church and Christians after that?
This incident highlights the very problem we’re examining today. American Author Brendan Manning famously said,
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
Do you agree with Manning’s assessment? Did your experience with your uncle reinforce this?
So how did you overcome this when becoming a Christian believer?
The Bible's answer - Good Samaritan
Well we’re going to explore these issues more today in a section of the Scriptures we’re looking at today. In the New Testament book of Luke, in Luke 10:25 a lawyer comes to Jesus to ask a question.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
So Guy, what is the motive behind this lawyers question?
Jesus responds and asks:
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He [the lawyer] answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
So the correct way of following the law is to love God and love others, our neighbours. Guy, do you think this difficult?
But the lawyer went on.
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
So what answer did the lawyer want to hear?
Bible's answer - religious evil
Jesus answers the question of ‘who is my neighbour’ with a well known story known as the Good Samaritan.
In reply Jesus said:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Why did the religious men, a priest and a Levite ignore a man in need?
Why has Jesus told this story?
This has not been the only example of religious hypocrisy and indifference has it? The Irish actor, Gabriel Byrne, who trained in a seminary for five years where he was sexually abused claimed that the church was a “force for evil that drew inspiration from Hitler’s Nazis”. Is the church a force for evil?
Even your own mother experienced something of religious hypocrisy as a young child?
How should we respond to this appalling religious hypocrisy, neglect, abuse and evil?
The famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth said, ‘It was the church not the world who crucified Christ.’ It was the religious who put Jesus to death. Does this mean that religion poisons everything?
Bible's answer - response to hypocrisy
Let’s see how Jesus finishes the parable.
But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
What does Jesus mean by telling the story of the Good Samaritan?
Jesus finishes the parable with a question -
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
So what is Jesus saying here? There are many people who aren’t Christians who love their neighbours. Does this mean that we just need to be really good to follow Jesus and hence inherit eternal life?
How should believers then live?
The Big Question
So Guy, God vs the church. I can’t believe in God because the church causes more evil than good. What do you say?