If you scour the internet, you will not these days be in short supply of stories of church scandals. Here are six biblical responses to church scandals – each drawn from William Carey’s famous “Deathless Sermon.”
If you scour the internet, you will not these days be in short supply of stories of church scandals. Are there more of them recently, or are we just more aware of them because of contemporary media proliferation? Are they particular to church life, or more generally, a sign of a broader dysfunction prevalent in many of our institutions? These are interesting questions to which I don’t have the data to give definitive answers. But they are worth pondering, because they contextualize the information that otherwise for Christians can seem overwhelming. In any case, how are we to respond to scandals, crises, malfeasance, reputational, and real malaise? Here are six biblical responses to church scandals – each drawn from William Carey’s famous “Deathless Sermon.”
1. Dig Deeper into the Bible Itself
The great missionary William Carey was an avid Bible reader. Reading Isaiah in the original Hebrew, and very familiar with the famous text of Isaiah 54 from which the much-celebrated missionary sermon was derived. It’s easy to scroll scandals but not to scroll Scripture. Don’t be like that. Whenever you hear of a scandal, let it force you to close the browser/app, open the browser/app/physical version of the Bible, and begin reading. Dig deeper into the Bible itself.
2. Become More Cognizant of Church History
Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose – the French say. The more things change, the more things stay the same. Read the New Testament: is there a letter written there that was not in response to some kind of scandal or major malfeasance? Read the Old Testament: how sick and sinful were God’s people, and how God was faithful, with discipline ‘tis true, to his promises! We should not think that something strange is happening to us. It is not. William Carey, in his Deathless Sermon, contextualized the current scandals taking place then among the Baptists in England by describing the state of crisis of God’s Old Testament people at the time of Isaiah’s preaching in Isaiah 54.
3. Don’t Retreat
Was it Napolean Bonaparte who said “Toujours l’audace, toujours l’audace” – always audacity, always audacity? Perhaps we don’t look to the great Dictator as a spiritual inspiration! Nonetheless, at a purely pragmatic level, he had a point. Forward is ever the Christian’s watchword. William Carey, in his inimitable Deathless Sermon, made a similar point. According to his biographer, and great-grandson, S. Pearce Carey, he argued that “the divine way out from failure and disgrace was a wider vision and a bolder programme” (page 77).
4. Look to God
The famous watchword coined by Carey in that sermon is still well-known today: expect great things from God, attempt great things for God. But it is interesting, as S. Pearce Carey noted, that it is often known now in reverse: attempt great things for God, expect great things from God. But the original order is important, or shall we say rather, essential! First, look to God! Who is He? How amazing is He? What are His promises? What is His Power? What has he said will be the outcome of telling people about Jesus? What has he promised about the progress of the gospel? Will the gates of hell triumph against his church? NO! “Expect great things from God.”
5. Take Big Initiative
The watchword continues to the practical, but not the small scale. “Attempt great things for God.” Today, it is fashionable to urge people to do less, try less, and relax more to live a quote-unquote “balanced” lifestyle. I challenge that whole notion. Did the apostle Paul try to achieve a work-life balance? Did Peter? Was Jesus’ a model of easy-going balance? Of course, there is a danger in workaholism, but if the focus is right, healthy energy will follow. Seek first the kingdom of God. Put God first, his kingdom, his priority, and attempt great things for God.
6. Start with a Step
That said, it is interesting that the initial outcome of that famous Deathless Sermon was what has often seemed to be something of a prosaic first step. They formed a committee to draw up plans! After all the rhetoric, it might have seemed like a bit of a damp squid at the end. But it was a step. And a crucial one. Rome was not built in a day. The world is not reached in a moment. Your world will not be transformed overnight. Take one small step now.
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Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the Senior Pastor of College Church in Wheaton and the President of God Centered Life Ministries. He has a Ph.D. from Cambridge University and is an Associate Fellow of the Jonathan Edwards College at Yale University. He has authored several books, including No Other Gospel (Crossway, 2011) and Journey to Joy (Crossway, 2013). Follow him on his blog and on Twitter @GodCenteredLife. Come and hear more about the power of God’s word at The Word Conference 2023.
This article originally appeared on Christianity.com. For more faith-building resources, visit Christianity.com.