For centuries, the Church has been her own worst enemy! This is nothing new, and though it is a saddening and sobering revelation, it is really not all that shocking!
Many people out there in today's society in general, and even some followers of Christ, have turned their backs, if not on God, or the traditional concept of God that has been prevalent in most churches for years, then on the Church itself, at least the traditional concept of 'church', that which we are all most familiar with.
Why is this, and what can we, as the Body of Christ, do to remedy the situation?
Quoting from Revelation 22, a passage that I quote quite a lot; 'the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations'. The 'tree', of course, refers to The Tree of Life, Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and the 'leaves' refer to us, His people, those who abide in communion with Him. First of all, we need to clearly understand one important fact; while we ARE, indeed 'for the healing of the nations', it is only as we abide in, and thus derive our life and healing properties from The Tree that we will have any healing effect, and conversely, if we do not abide in The Tree, we will have no healing effect at all!
Taking a careful look back through history, one can ascertain that we have not done a very good job, sometimes, at 'healing the nations'. What we have done, has, I believe, caused more harm to the nations than healing. Now, don't get me wrong; the Church in general has made many advances, and through the power of God, has done much good in the world, but it would seem that in many cases she has devoured herself, while meaning to devour the enemies of God.
A false or otherwise misdirected religion has been, to varying degrees, the cause of much tyranny and bloodshed around the world. From some accounts, people have been forced to convert to Christianity at the edge of the sword! We can even read, in the final passages of the story of Esther, how many, out of fear of the Jews, converted to Judaism. One must always be wary of such conversions, for, more often than not, they are mere outward observances, and not true conversions, 'from the heart', so to speak. True conversion is not based on a terrifying fear, but rather on a reverential fear, a reverence that is founded upon a thankfulness and gratefulness that comes from the heart.
There is much hurt in the world today, and most, if not all of it can be traced to a religious misunderstanding, ultimately, of the nature of God. The Old Testament, which many 'churches' base their polity upon, has been misinterpreted in such a way that they have only seen a vengeful, terrifying God, and have thus taken a terrifying vengeance upon all those whom they perceive as being enemies of God, when in fact, these 'enemies' were simply creatures of God who needed to be shown the kindness and mercy that Jesus Himself showed, rather than the terrifying vengeance that they perceived our Creator to show. Now, again, don't get me wrong; our God IS a God of vengeance, and He can be quite terrifying! Scripture indeed says, 'our God is a consuming fire' ( Deuteronomy 4:24, Hebrews 12:29 )! It is quite clear, from the texts that we have available, that He did order the mass genocide of many of His enemies! For them, it WAS a terrifying ordeal, a genuine, though not saving ( in most cases ) fear!
Although many factors have contributed to this misunderstanding of the nature of God, maybe none is greater, or more culpable than a misunderstanding of The Covenant! Because of a misinterpretation of the covenantal context of Scripture, or just a blatant ignorance of it, the Church has traditionally viewed The Covenant as two separate and almost contrary covenants, one based on Law, one based on Grace. The covenantal context of Scripture shows, however, that there was always Law, and there was always Grace. The thing that escapes most people is that Grace came first: God showed Grace first, for instance, in bringing His people up out of Egypt, THEN He gave them His Law! Going back to our first, most blatant example; God made man ( Adam ) 'in the image of God', THEN gave him His Law, 'you shall not eat......'. Grace did not come in the stead of Law, or as opposed to Law, but rather Law came as a result of Grace, and in agreement with it, not as a means of attaining it, but a means of showing our faithfulness, our thankfulness for that Grace!
Getting back to the subject at hand; it is through Grace that we 'heal' the nations, those 'nations' being those persons with whom we come in contact on a more or less regular basis. While God's Law stands; we must realize, and show the world ( again, those with whom we come in contact ) that it is not through the keeping of the Law that we earn or maintain that Grace, but that because of, and through the Grace shown, we keep His Law out of thankfulness for that Grace, and in due reverence! We must show them Grace first, then if they respond in kind to that Grace, Law will have its due. Too often the Church has approached unbelievers with the idea that unless they first obey the Law, and repent of their transgressions, they cannot have, and are not worthy of Grace. While it is true that they must repent, agreeing with God that they have transgressed His Law, it is not because of their repentance that they receive forgiveness, or Grace; rather, it is because they receive Grace first that they are led to repentance ( Romans 2:4 ). We must show them the Love ( Grace ) of God in Christ, then introduce the Law. Actually, when they meet with the Grace of God first, they will be more inclined, out of thankfulness and a cleansed conscience, to obey His Law! How many unbelievers have you met who, when faced with the stringency of God's Law ( as traditionally presented ) reject it outright? Think how this certain instance might have gone had you presented Grace ( Love ) first!
Let us, as the Body of Christ, the Church of God, do as He did, showing Grace to all those with whom we come in contact, not accepting their wrong as right, and not excusing it, but showing them the Love of Christ in our actions toward them. We need to show them the Love and Grace of God, in our own lives, not by acceptance of their wrong-doing, but by acceptance of them as 'the apple of God's eye', as one of His beloved creatures, in spite of their former wrong-doing! Let us do as Jesus did, showing Grace first, then introducing Law!
Charles Haddon Shank