A Response To Brokenness Within the Church
Mark and I had been friends for five years when my parents told me to stop hanging out with him. When I asked them for a reason, all they told me was that it had something to do with his family. His family? To my knowledge, our families were on good terms—we had once been in the same small group and my parents still sang beside his in the church choir.
I didn’t know how to approach the issue, or how to bring it up with Mark. At the time we were considered two of the closest friends in our youth group. We both had moved to the Boston area at the same time and started school in the middle of the year. Our friendship seemed natural, and up until then it was a real blessing.
But now something was wrong. The next time he asked me to hang out I told him I was busy. Busy with what, he asked. School, I answered. Just school.
“Just school” was enough for him not to ask me any more questions, and after a year of similar excuses he knew something else was going on and stopped asking me to hang out altogether. I was disheartened, and in my confusion I turned to my parents a second time for an explanation. This time, they gave me details. What began as a misunderstanding between Mark’s parents and mine had worsened into a sinful jealousy that hardened their hearts and resulted in a verbal altercation. Harsh words were exchanged, and their friendship was broken; my parents resolved not to speak to his as a way to keep the peace. Because of this conflict, my parents did not feel comfortable sending their son to the source of so much friction.
About a year later, Mark discovered the real reason that I couldn’t hang out from his own parents. He accused me of keeping secrets from him and told me not to speak to him anymore.
From this experience I learned two things about the nature of sin. First, sin is destructive because it is contagious. The damaging effects of our parents’ jealousy did not stop at their relationship but eventually extended to our own. When we succumb to sin, it takes control over us and does not leave by itself. Sin seeps through our lives like a virus, infecting our relationships with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The jealousy between our parents, had it been allowed to continue, could have easily affected other members of our congregation through gossip and hearsay.
It is a mark of arrogance to think we can handle sin on our own.
This proliferation of sin’s effects is notably visible when the particular sin has been committed by a church leader. When a pastor is discovered to have had an affair or to have been abusive to other members of the church, his sin invariably causes much pain and turmoil. Often there is dispute over how to respond to the act in question, and because the stakes are so high, congregants can turn against each other, resulting in resignation, separation, and dissolution. A widely-reported example of this problem is the case of Mars Hill Church, a megachurch that was founded in 1996 and dissolved in 2015. The prideful and abusive attitudes displayed by Pastor Mark Driscoll, among others, greatly damaged the church to the point where many congregants ended up leaving the church, and the church itself was disbanded. If a dispute between two congregants can so easily affect their children, it is clear that sins committed by church leaders can affect their entire flock.
The second lesson I learned through my broken relationship with Mark is that it is only through the intercession of Jesus Christ that our struggles with sin may be overcome. This applies to all sin, and particularly to the kind of sin I have just mentioned, which turns brothers and sisters in Christ against one another. Part of sin’s power is the fact that we underestimate it. Just as we think that we can hide our personal addictions from others and manage them on our own, we also think that the sin we commit against or with other people can be hidden and disposed of in secret. It is a mark of arrogance to think we can handle sin on our own, and we must push back against this impulse by seeking the grace of Christ through prayer. My parents and Mark’s parents did not push back and decided to save face rather than pursue reconciliation. If they had sought to reconcile through dialogue and prayer, Mark and I might have remained better friends.
One of the biggest reasons people become disillusioned with their church is that they are personally hurt by other members and do not receive an adequate response to their hurt. Mark and I were ultimately hurt by the jealousy within our parents’ relationship and had no way to mend it; often those who experience conflict with church leaders or other congregants have no recourse for their pain.
In order to prevent disillusionment, the church must first make sure to provide the necessary outlets for the grievances of the congregation. The church must fight against the culture of silence that magnifies the effects of sin, for sin delights in this kind of silence. In addition, the response to hurt should aim for reconciliation and forgiveness, which are impossible without Christ. When we deal with sin, we must lean not on our own understanding, but on the wisdom that comes from faith. In this way we can use our brokenness to build the church, just as God has continued to use broken people to build His kingdom.
Sean Kim (CC ’20) is an online editor for Crown & Cross.