We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! I Cor. 13:12
In all of our Evangelical rhetoric clamoring for morality and “holiness”, there seems to be one aspect in particular that tends to be ignored : the truth. By this I am not referring to the the claims of Christianity compared to those of Islam, Buddhism, or any other religious group. I am talking about speaking honestly about the vices that we struggle against in the secret places. While we rant and rave about politicians and Christian leaders whose personal failures are exposed and played out before the whole world in the media, we conveniently overlook (or hide) the skeletons hidden in the dark closets of our own lives.
For all of our protests against those who interpret Scripture as non-literal or question its authority, we seem all to eager to overlook those passages that call us to the same level of accountability we expect from others. When we look at passages such as James 5:13-19, we hail v. 16b which says, “…the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (NIV), but all too conveniently disregard the rest of the passage. As it happens, in this particular section James urges believers to pray for a number of reasons: first, if they are in trouble; second, if they have joy; third, if they are sick in body, and finally for confession of sin and the restoration of those within the community of faith. Yet, for many Evangelical Christians it’s as if the exhortation to confess our sins isn’t even there. Alternatively, we are quick cast judgment and retaliate against those who openly reveal an ongoing battle with their own humanity. We demean them from our pulpits and in some cases, even dismiss them from leadership to make an example of them, saying to those in our congregations that sin is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. In many instances, we isolate and abandon those under our care during a time when we are most needed in an effort to send the message that God does not tolerate sin nor should we. While the intention might be to “glorify God,” our actions and attitudes do anything but when we inflict further harm on people by refusing them access to the cross and community.
James paints a very different picture of things ought to go. One definitely gets the sense that James recognizes the difficulties that arise when people come together to form a body of like values and faith by giving instruction on how to live and worship together in wisdom and peace. They are to value and esteem one another by not showing favoritism based on material possessions and to be humble and patient in their relationships with other members of the community. They also are to pray for and encourage one another to adhere to the truths that define them as Christ followers. James even goes so far as to tell his audience to “confess their sins” to each other, not for the purpose of separating sheep from the goats, but to restore all of those involved.
There is a part of me that wonders if we have missed James’ message, making the Church a place where confession carries with it the fear of redress and exile. I have to wonder would it look like if we extended grace to one another, making room for the lucid admission of personal shortcomings and the healing that accompanies it to flow freely? What might it look like if every member of the Body were honest about the battles we face, anticipating the prayers, encouragement and yes, even accountability of others in our circle of faith?
What if leaders and parishioners alike told the naked truth about their struggle with unbridled passions and allowed others to hold them accountable in the spirit of grace and mercy? We are all adulterers, idolaters, addicts, prone to gossip and gluttony. Every one of us has a human nature that wrestles with lust, hatred, anger and unforgiveness. How different might the Church look if we refused to isolate others who admit what is true of all of us: we’re all terrible, nasty sinners loved by God and saved by grace?
How would “church” look if, instead of putting a big red “A” on anyone that doesn’t look or act in a way we find appropriate, the church actually became a safe place to authentically and transparently follow Jesus without the fear of being shamed or rejected? What if we all admitted that every one of us has baggage and is in need of the the healing that comes with confession and including others in our struggle to overcome the things that entangle us? What if we stopped bashing and accusing gays, feminists, pro-lifers and anyone else we disagree with in the pulpit long enough to make known the mercy of Christ and the power of the Cross that is available to anyone who asks?
What if, even for a moment, we all just told the truth?