Today’s post is not the one I thought I was going to write. That one has been postponed! This one is a reaction to something I heard today. Please read it as such: it is not moderated with the usual calm or relative detachment of most of my posts. I may say things without much subtlety. You may see the blindness to shades of grey which I mentioned in my last post. If I am guilty of speaking too soon, then I apologise.
A certain ‘minister of the gospel’ who shall remain nameless here has said something about their past actions that many consider too shocking to have revealed. Now call me jaded if you like – it may be the result of having heard many shocking things in my role as a church leader – but I didn’t find what was said especially shocking, particularly as it happened pre-conversion. Life happens; we each of us know that. We make choices which are unwise and downright sinful. But, in Christ, there is grace. And, most significantly of all perhaps, these sins from this minister’s life before conversion to Christ were dealt with when that person repented from their past sins and accepted the new life which is found in Christ alone. It is, as Christ said on the cross, finished and it has, in fact, been finished in this person’s life for some length of years!
Because of this, I don’t see why Christians are getting out their shocked faces and wagging their fingers. I have little patience with it, to be honest. The quicker that the ‘average pew-sitter’ realises that – even as their leaders – we are just as sinful as anyone else, the better in my opinion.
Now I could expand on this. In fact, in the first draft of this post I did, until I realised that you’d probably all be a bit bored by my oh-so-predictable rant, so suffice to say that I’m just not in favour of pedestals for leaders!
Anyway, this po-faced shock, the suggestion that perhaps Christian leaders should not tell the whole truth about past sins because the average pew-sitter can’t handle it, this was the reason for the reporting of this story when I heard it. And obviously, that winds me up, as you’ve just read (in more succinct form than I was originally going to inflict on you!). Because where past sin is referred to, or present sin repented of, and where this is done in an appropriate way which flows from the humility of a sinner who knows they have been saved by grace, rather than in a way that glorifies the sin, I don’t think it’s a problem. In fact, sometimes it can even be positive in its demonstration that no one, not even the most esteemed church leader, is free from a need for the grace which has been shown to us in Christ.
But, as it happened, though encouraging discussion around these issues was the point of the report, it wasn’t the thing which made me react so crossly that I actually hit the steering wheel and shouted at the radio. (Yes, I was alone in the car and, yes, now I do look like I have road rage problems!)
What riled me was an excerpt from what this leader had said. They mentioned a series of sins from their pre-conversion days (including the purportedly shocking one or ones) and then said that these sins had been the result of the attempt to fill an emptiness that could only be filled by…
…wait for it…
…the power of purpose.
That was what made me angry.
I was waiting for this minister to say Christ.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been steeping myself in Colossians 1-2* lately, which exults over Christ as the one who is God’s mystery, the one who was hidden for ages and generations past, yet who has now been revealed to the saints, to whom God chose to make known how great are the riches of the glory of this mystery! It describes him as the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He is before all things, the writer says, and in him all things hold together!
He is the one who fills the emptiness. We were created to have relationship with God in Christ. Purpose and the power of purpose are part of the story. Of course they are! And I speak as one who delights in the works which God has planned in advance for me to do, who enjoys a sense of purpose in him. But purpose has to be defined by Christ. I was made to relate through Christ to the Father in the power of the Spirit. That is purpose in the only sense that really matters. Being a church leader, a doctoral student, a writer and speaker in both academic and practitioner spheres – those are as nothing. They can never fill the emptiness.
As briefly as I know how to say it: doing what you were made to do is great but it is as nothing compared with doing what you were made to do in loving and intimate relationship with the one for whom you were made!
But maybe you’re thinking, ‘Chloe, I know you get excited about this stuff but is it really such a big deal? That leader would have meant to imply that stuff about Christ when they referred to purpose. Don’t over-react.’ And maybe they did and maybe I am over-reacting a little. Put it down to that no shades of grey tendency which I have! But what I heard today frightens me because it suddenly made sense of what I see in ministry. I come across Christians in their 20s and 30s who are so tied up trying to make sense of their ‘purpose’ that it’s all they talk about. They feel empty without it and they would have understood this minister, had they heard the excerpt today, to be speaking about the power that knowing what you were made to do has to fill that emptiness.
Now, this minister could have told them that to follow after Christ with every ounce of strength would bring them that satisfaction for which their souls long. And, of course, with such a following comes an increasing clarity about those Ephesians 2 works which were planned for us to do.
This minister could, indeed, have named Jesus as the solution to the emptiness but instead they preached another gospel, the one about the power of purpose.
And, in doing so, I fear that this minister was selling us short on the true gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, in whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, the gospel of the one who is now present in all those who believe, the hope of glory.
Yet, even as I pounded my steering wheel and yelled like a madwoman, I must also ask myself that same hard question: am I clear enough, in all of my interactions with those whom I lead, disciple or share the gospel with – that my gospel is Christ and him alone as the new and living way which has been opened up to relationship with God and, thereby, to ultimate satisfaction? Or have I fudged the gospel sometimes, for the sake of a ‘message that will preach’?
So it is that I pray that all of us who are privileged to know Christ and make him known might preach no other gospel than that of the God-man, crucified, dead and buried, who yet rose again on the third day and ascended into heaven. That, surely, is a big enough gospel and a ‘message that will preach’?
* By the way, on the Colossians front, it has to be honesty time: the Scripture memorisation got very rocky while I was fighting the depression earlier this year because my brain just wouldn’t work – or, at least, that’s my best excuse for why I have only recently made it into Colossians 2!! I am now limping rather ineffectually through the early verses of chapter 2 whilst trying to retain some degree of memory accuracy throughout chapter 1. This is proving more painful and a slower process than I had hoped.