Emmy Griffin / September 24, 2021

Can the Evangelical Church Survive?

Between scandals and political polarization, the church and its image are on shaky ground.

Endless scandals and hyper-polarization politically have conspired to hurt the evangelical church. These issues often fundamentally divide its denominations and partitioners who are left to figure it out on their own.

The evangelical church is a general term referring to many Protestant churches and any of their denominational offshoots. In the original etymology, the Greek word “evangel” translates to the Anglo-Saxon noun “gospel.” Evangelicals originally were believers who were grounded solidly in biblical teaching and followed Christ’s Great Commission to spread the gospel. “Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” Jesus said. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

This is no longer the American evangelical church today. Church leadership has been plagued by sexual misconduct and other publicly destructive sins. Often, instead of focusing on the gospel, they use their pulpit as a platform to advance political agendas.

Some scandals in recent years have brought to light the sins of evangelical teachers and preachers, some examples being the late Ravi Zacharias, a Christian apologist credibly accused of sexual misconduct; Liberty University, which is rebuilding its image after a sex scandal involving former university President Jerry Falwell Jr., his wife, and another man; Willow Creek, a model evangelical church in the Chicago area that lost hundreds of members after founding pastor Bill Hybels was forced out over charges of sexually abusive behavior; and scandals plaguing other mega-churches leaders.

What happened to these men? The entire chapter of Romans 3 is on righteousness and how everyone, both Jew and Gentile, are unrighteous. God does not leave us there in our sin. Instead, he works through his unrighteous people. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” The overt sins of these leaders are not justifiable, but Christ and his church are not limited by sinful man.

The political polarization that has happened in churches has to do with doctrine and the culture wars. Some questions that churches must tackle include:

  • Is following and supporting radical Black Lives Matter living out Christ’s commandment to “love thy neighbor”?

  • Are LGBTQ+ individuals really living in sin, or is the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah and other condemnations of homosexual behavior a biased interpretation of the Bible?

  • How can the Bible support the death penalty and not abortion?

There is not a unified message from the church on these issues, and it is truly damaging.

Why is there a lack of unity when we’re all using the same Bible? Podcast host Andrew Klavan points out that the devil is a liar, and a clever one at that. The devil is smart enough to use just enough Christian-ese to sew confusion and dissension among believers. The devil preys on the fallibility of man. It also doesn’t help when you have a congregation that isn’t well-educated biblically. Darrell B. Harrison, dean of social media for the ministry Grace to You, similarly observes: “It’s interesting, if not ironic, that many churches that would be categorized as ‘evangelical’ are trying so hard to give the world what it wants when, according to Scripture, the world, being the world, should never want what the church truly should be trying to give it — truth.”

This misunderstanding and lack of education occurs for a couple of reasons: The pastor is uneducated himself; the pastor uses the Bible to justify his own political stance to the congregation; the pastor strays away from hard passages in the Bible, focusing only on the easily digestible; the congregation is not a community; or portions of the congregation simply only come every once in a while or not at all.

What does this have to do with the devil being a liar? It goes back to sinful human nature: Man wants to be his own god. This was the original sin with Adam and Eve, and it is the issue with pastors and partitioners alike.

So, is the evangelical church too damaged by scandals and polarization? The “brand” may well be damaged badly, but Christ and the Gospel are not.

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