What would be your reaction to me saying that the Church is being defiled? I mean, given all that is happening with what many have come to acknowledge as an ill-advised relationship between particular segments of the Church and politics, and the moral and ethical compromise born of that relationship, wouldn't you say so? Or would you say that I am overreacting — that the Church has to form alliances to preserve its religious liberty and forward its social agenda, and cannot guarantee that every ally is morally upright?
Let me begin by addressing the insinuation that a simple association does not necessarily mean compromise. When it comes to God's economy, there is no such thing as a simple or innocuous association if that association abets ungodliness in any way. Even though Jesus ate and fellowshipped with sinners, they were never left with any doubt that they needed to change their ways. And, importantly, Jesus never excused or adopted any of their ways; he never made an alliance with them in any way. The same cannot be said for the Church in America today.
The introduction to The Heart of the Church, by Joe Thorn, speaks of the church's heart condition as sick with "lethargy, joylessness, fruitlessness, and weakening faith." The church, it states, is "captivated by issues of secondary importance" having "let one particular issue, rather than the whole gospel, characterize the whole of their ministry." Furthermore, these "issue-driven" churches which are "either conservative or liberal," "get the gospel right on paper but are animated and directed by other principles."
The Church has a heart. For me, the heart of the Church is organic and consists primarily of the collective hearts of every believer. That in turn ought to reflect the heart of our Lord, which means a standard of righteousness and holiness that is uncompromising in all that we are and what we do. That is why we are advised in Proverbs 4:23, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it."
The "issues" Joe Thorn speaks of range from cultural to doctrinal. His focus is on the centrality of the gospel to the meaning and purpose of the church. While I agree wholeheartedly with him, there is one condition of the heart that concerns me deeply, and I will take a different approach to focus on the mode of administrating cultural issues. I want to talk about cultural compromise and the methods applied to accomplish the church's cultural causes, and how those methods reflect what is in the heart and consequently defile the church.
We may not consider those who dabble in politics and take advantage of the unethical ways and means of political maneuvering, to be a part of the true Church. We know intuitively that what they are doing is wrong, and that the true Church of God would not engage in those practices. But still, we allow it with only token objections, and bask in the benefits thereof. We consider them friends and allies, and promote them and urge others to support them. That is compromising. That is aiding. What is it about us the Church that allows for that to be?
The past two years have seen the Church lurch towards what it sees as a long awaited victory in the culture wars, namely on issues of abortion, same sex marriage, religious freedom (primarily the right for believers to refuse to perform certain services in cases where they object on religious grounds and conscience), and filling the courts with judges who share those beliefs. But the road to this moment in history has not been paved with honor or virtue. If victory is realized, will it be true, lasting victory or a transient, Pyrrhic victory? Because of the shenanigans of many culture warriors on the Church's behalf, its witness to truth, rectitude, and godliness is tarnished for a generation or more.
The heart of the Church is the heart of the people. Flawed, broken, sick, troubled, all kinds and types of people make up the Church. But their condition going in is not the reason why the Church is defiled. It is what comes out of the people that concerns the Lord. Matt 15:17-19 says, "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." As long as we continue on this side of eternity, because we are men and women who act out what is in our hearts, our actions will continue to characterize the Church.
When a governor of a state says she would rather vote for a child molester than a member of the opposing party simply to get into office someone who agrees with her religious convictions, it says something about the heart of that governor. When a group will lie and deceive and knowingly misrepresent evidence to uncover the horrors of abortion, it says something about the hearts of those in that group. When a person would lie and impugn the person and character of a political opponent to win, it says something about the heart of that person. When a medical doctor, sworn to the Hippocratic Oath, refuses medical treatment to a person because she does not agree with that person's lifestyle, it says something about the heart of that doctor. It also says something about the hearts of those who support and encourage those actions. What we do is the outward expression of what is in our hearts.
Do we dare think that the Lord sees those actions as righteous and beneficial to his Church? No, he sees them as defiling the Church. We should not make the mistake of trying to put what is happening into some prophetic framework as some are trying to do. Do not equate biblical principles with bad behavior, or try to justify immoral positions by misapplying biblical texts. God used the ungodly as his sword, but his people, called by his name, were never used in the way we see the Church engaging today. It is being defiled.
"Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully" (Psalm 24:3-4). That has never changed. The undefiled Church is characterized by what comes out of its pure heart, the fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23).
What we see happening is not a Church that is representing its God. The Church is acting like the one in Pergamum of whom Christ said "I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans" (Rev. 2:14-15). The Nicolaitans in deeds and doctrine taught that it was not necessary to completely separate the practices of the church from the pagan cultural practices of their time. The warning to that church is a warning to the Church today.
Our culture is morally debased and getting worse, but we are not helping if people cannot see the Church as a morally redeeming force. We can redeem the culture only if we guard our hearts individually, and collectively guard the heart of the Church. But we must do it the right way. "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:26-27). Yes, then we will become vessels worthy for the Master's use, and he will accomplish through righteous means what we cannot with all our efforts.
Ironically, and to Joe Thorn's point, if the gospel of our Lord and Savior is central, and all the Church's efforts are spent on its proclamation, then culture wars will be won because the gospel alone through the power of the Holy Spirit of Truth has the power to create in people a clean, pure heart. Yet that may seem too simple to match the moral depravity of the age we are living in, and the urgency we feel. That was what Naaman thought about dipping in the Jordan River to heal his defiled body – until he tried it (2 kings 5:1-14).