Sin in the Church: Can we create a space where people don't feel scared to be open?
Our church is currently doing a preaching series based on Phil Moore's brilliantly provocative book 'Gagging Jesus: things Jesus said we wish he hadn't'. Last Sunday my husband preached about sexuality and what Jesus said about it. We looked at sex within marriage (how different a starting point we have to our society on this subject), same-sex attraction, lust, adultery and pornography. Possibly not the most usual material for a Sunday morning sermon! And yet how important.
I was struck about how little we Christians talk about sex (and in our small group during the week so many people said they are saddened that the Church doesn't celebrate good sex). We also don't like engaging with the 'hot potato' issues such as porn or homosexuality. And yet what does that do to our churches? They are so often places that are rife with hidden sins – but why? I was leading the worship times before and after the preach and at one point I heard myself saying, 'Church is full of sin because we are all too scared to open up and admit our failings. And so often when others do we judge them. Shame on us. Shame on us for creating an environment where no one feels comfortable enough to be open.'
Shame on us, also, for allowing sins to go on either undetected or unchallenged. Of course this isn't just about sexual sin, but every other sin too (another point made in the preach). What about anger, bitterness, gossip, fear, making money an idol etc? Every single one of them takes us further away from God. Surely the point of being part of a church family is that we are able to walk closely with those we see regularly (I'm not saying we should be shouting our sins out to the whole congregation!). We are there to support but also confront our friends when necessary. But that isn't going to happen if no one is willing to take off their 'I'm fine' mask and be real.
Why don't we talk about the struggles we are having with losing our temper – or flirting with our boss? So often we are too concerned with how others in church view us – but the one person whose opinion really matters (God's in case you were wondering!) we don't seem so concerned about. He already knows our deepest, darkest secrets and loves us anyway, so why can't we be honest about those secrets with those around us?
Unless we start taking those first steps towards vulnerability with others in the church we are going to remain tight-lipped, struggling, individualistic Christians. God's design for the church is that we are a body, each with our own part to play, but also supporting one another too. We are called to love one another – not judge one another.
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Although my husband was obviously speaking from a male perspective, sexual sin isn't a male-only problem. A rising number of women are becoming addicted to porn – why is that, and why aren't we talking about it? We need to let other women know that it's okay to admit if you find a man's attentions flattering as it helps to lessen your feelings of inadequacy, but it is what you do with that response that matters. The point is we need to talk about these things.
We need to look at ways where we can encourage total honesty about our struggles. I believe the church in Acts was a 'warts and all' type of place – they were in each other's lives so much I can't imagine they managed to hide their sins from one another. But today, culturally, we are told we have our own boundaries and we don't have to let anyone across them that we don't want to. Our lives are our own to do with as we wish – how counter to New Testament teaching, which reveals that our lives are not our own, we were bought with a price and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?! When we allow unhelpful cultural tendencies to seep into our churches undetected why are we then surprised to find members don't really want to engage in discipleship because it gets 'too personal'?
The same happens when we gather. We can get into the habit of going to church, worshipping, perhaps allowing the preach to touch us a little, going forward for a bit of prayer and maybe shedding a few tears. But then we close down if people ask too many questions, perhaps even leaving the building if it gets too much. And yet do we truly think we can live out our Christian lives without being vulnerable, without taking our guards down and without letting those around us see that we are less than perfect?
We aren't strong enough to keep up the pretence all the time – not strong enough to get through all the situations and circumstances that life throws at us on our own. We need each other. But we don't need the fake, 'everything is fine in my life, I'm not struggling with anything', type of encounter. We need real, vulnerable friendships that go beyond meetings – that text, email, ring, call round and see how we are doing. That ask us the difficult questions – remind us of what we said we'd do or probe us about a particular temptation. It may not always be comfortable – but my goodness it is life-changing and absolutely vital. I know I'm on a journey with this myself – as is our church – but can I encourage you to try and be more vulnerable with those in your church too?