It’s easy to look at those people — no matter who those people are — and mark up their personal failings. It’s easy because personal failings are always more pronounced and obvious in those people. Especially after the fact.
You can look at those people in light of their most recent transgressions and say, Ah, I see the failing that led up to this calamitous fall. Or, Ah, I always suspected. Or, Ah, I told you so.
There is some value to this, of course, if you examine yourself through and through, if you comb through your own life to find if that same root might one day flower into a full-grown plant, to find if you’re hiding the same sort of bodies in a closet somewhere.
As a leader of a church you can ask yourself how you can prevent your charges from falling into grievous sin. But from a human perspective there isn’t anything you can do. People are good at façades, good at erecting walls and appearing perfect when they are in fact anything but.
Quite a few churches seem oblivious to this fact. It’s non-obvious to them, and probably for good reason. After all, if the intensive study of scripture, if participation in an ancient tradition, if having the right doctrine and presumably the right relationship with God, if the right kind of exegetical preaching with enough emphasis on sin, if these things don’t produce a church full of the proper kind of people, what can? Everyone feels like they should be better; they should be sinning less, they should be doing more, they should be… something. And everyone else looks just like this portrait of the perfect Christian, so we all just pretend.
This happens in every kind of church. Post-modern, modern, ancient, whatever. Because it’s human nature, and human nature is a hard thing to get over.
It doesn’t, of course, have to be this way. The recognition of sin shouldn’t drive people ever more into a world of spackle and paste and paint and fabric, but deep into the arms of God’s grace. The recognition of imperfection should drive men and women to break down the walls between then, no matter what these walls are made of. Whether they’re middle-class suburban perfection, or theological precision, or a pious but empty care for the disenfranchised.
What else do we share? Rich, middle-class, poor: We’re all deeply and entirely flawed. Flawed to the point that each of us, apart from Christ, is liable to fall horribly. Even in Christ we still have that old man nipping on our heels.
I speak from deep within this myself. I am imperfect. I am part of a community of believers who are imperfect. Our leadership is imperfect. Our feeble attempts to draw close to God are imperfect.
But the most important thing, I think, is the realisation, and then the action. A kind of humility that gives grace to those who have fallen, who have done terrible things, whether they are living in rebellion against God or not, and whether they are seeking forgiveness and reconciliation or not.