Before the second greatest war in human history, almost every major issue in the culture and governance of America had either Christian connotations or was developed to demonstrate the dominance of Christianity. But after World War II the national landscape changed. The culture-shaping force that Christianity exerted altered, and with it went the political, financial, and intellectual power once exerted by mainline Protestants.
Today the Christian religion, especially the church established by Jesus Christ, is one of the most criticized institutions in America. The church has become the scapegoat for many of the social, political, and spiritual problems of the twenty-first century. The big question now is: “Church—why bother?”
Considering this hostility, it’s easy to forget that since the beginning of sin, human nature has demanded a “fall guy,” someone or something to blame for its errors and failures. This started in the Garden of Eden, where Adam blamed Eve for tempting him with the forbidden fruit. Eve passed on the blame to the serpent, and today the serpent is using men and women, inside and outside Christian communities of faith, to blame God and His church. As a result, criticisms are coming from every quarter and corner with extreme, increasing intensity.
This siege has created a critical moment in time for Christianity, especially for Adventists in America and our influence throughout the nation and world. Individual clergy and congregations have become sources of misinformation and disinformation. Some adherents promote messages and others produce malice based on conspiracy theories that engender fear, animosity toward others, and unnecessary risk-taking in the never-ending COVID pandemic. Misinterpreted or misrepresented personal faith and spirituality, mingled with partisan politics, have become sources or hosts of public resistance and deterrents to positive public responses to God’s plan of salvation and the purpose of His church to seek and save the lost.
Consequently, there’s probably no institution on the planet more scrutinized, criticized, and undermined than the Christian church, established by Jesus Christ for the healing of nations from the hurts perpetrated by sin. Some criticisms are valid, and others are not.
In his list of characteristics of the last days, the apostle Paul speaks of church members who are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power (see 2 Tim. 3:1-7). The question is: when Jesus comes, will He find faith in the church He founded?
When humans are criticized, especially publicly and harshly, it’s our natural tendency to fight back and “outcriticize” those who throw stones—but let’s not bother to go there. Instead, let’s each consider our own attitude toward church, admitting the realities expressed by critics so as to avoid repeating past mistakes. And let’s move forward. In 1886 Ellen White answered accusations with powerful words: “The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out—the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place.”*
* Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958, 1980), book 2, p. 380.