Sinners in the Church

People often point out how sinful the Church is.  Whether it was the sexual abuse scandal in all of the headlines or the hypocrites trying to kill each other getting out of the parking lot after mass, our Church seems to be soaked in sin and corruption.

This is one of the fundamental principles of Protestantism.  Luther and others started their movements because they believed that the Catholic Church was so corrupt and had strayed so far from the teachings of Christ that a new Church had to be founded that was in line with the original Church from the first century (to be fair Luther himself only held this belief after he was kicked out of the Catholic Church).

This is also the reason why there are so many different Protestant denominations.  If a faction in that church believes that their leadership has been corrupted, then that faction forms a new church that is more in line with the primitive church.  And when that group has dissent, their dissidents will form their own church based on their vision of the primitive Church.

And while the problem of Church corruption is an important one for Protestants, it is also challenging for Catholics.  Take the issue of authority.  We believe that the pope, bishops, and priests are given special authority in the Church because they share a distinct connection to Christ through Holy Orders.  We must respect that authority.  But what if the person with that authority is sinful, corrupt, and evil?

This should not shock us in the least!

Let’s go back to the beginning.  The end depends upon the beginning.  If you want to truly understand what a thing is, you go its origin.  From that, you can extrapolate most of the important information you need.

Go back to Holy Thursday Night.  It is the greatest night in the history of the Church.  If Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, then we should look at Holy Thursday as the conception.  It was when Christ gave us the source and summit of our faith: the Eucharist.  And he gave us the priesthood when he ordered those at table to “Do this in memory of Me.”  He gave the 12 a model of service by washing their feet.  He promised them that the Holy Spirit would come to them and work through them.

It was the night of greatest revelation when Jesus said that He told them everything, especially His new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  There has never been a night of greater power, intimacy, and holiness than Holy Thursday Night.

It is the greatest night in the history of the Church.

It is also the worst night in the history of the Church.

Those to whom Jesus had given authority went with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane, and they ALL fell asleep.  All of those ministers of the Eucharist abandoned Him when the guards came.  Peter, who we would call today our first pope, committed the greatest sin you could in the original Church: apostasy, which is to deny the Lord.  And one of those 12 betrayed Jesus to death.

Notice here, not a single one of those leaders was faithful (though John does return to the cross).  One of them is a greedy murderer who backstabs the Lord and one of them, the first pope, publicly denies Christ.  There is no night worse than Holy Thursday night.

Yet if I can believe that Christ is still with the Church after this, if I can believe that the Church is the true Church even when ALL of those chosen leaders commit horrible sin, then why should I be shocked when I see sinful leaders in the Church today?

Holy Thursday night is Church history in miniature.  From that one night we know that throughout the history of our Church there will be great holiness and glory alongside horrid corruption and sin.  Of course it should hurt us to see sinful ministers, but this should not surprise us because it was there at the beginning.  And if on Holy Thursday night the Church did not cease to be the true Church because of the weight of its sin, then why should it now?

And when I go to Church and I see that it is full of sinners and hypocrites, I am actually relieved.  Because if the Church is not going to kick them out, if they are allowed to stay, then there is hope for a sinner like me.

We should expect sinners to be in the Church.  Not wanting to go to Church because there are sinners there is like not wanting to go to a hospital because there are sick people there.  The Church is a hospital for sinful souls.

Sin in the Church is not something to simply accept.  It must addressed, repented of, and purged.  We are called to be the Body of Christ on Earth.

But from the very first night of the Church, it has been the true Church of God no matter how much the gates of hell try to prevail against it.

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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