The Church can afford to be transparent

By Joel A. Hess

Cover-up, cover-up, cover-up! It seems that every week a new scandal in the Church is revealed. A couple of weeks ago, Willow Creek revealed the creepy behaviors of its leader. Sadly, this past week no one was shocked to be told of a massive cover-up of pedophile priests.

To be sure, there have always been sinners leading the Church, let alone wolves in shepherd’s clothing. But the real crime might be the desperate hiding of these men and their trespasses by their church’s hierarchy. This institutional evil deserves the gallows more than the perpetrators themselves.

Of course, it’s not just the Christian Church that’s guilty of covering up atrocities to look good. Before this past month, we were inundated by similar cases in Hollywood and corporate America. No one wants to let dirty laundry taint our pristine image. Adam and Eve also thought they could cover up as they sewed clothing and ran from God. Sin demands that we hide.

So it makes sense that an institution like a Christian Church would want to hide sin. The Church is supposed to be the beacon of holiness and truth, right? The Church preaches against sin. What would people say if they found out a pastor was involved in an atrocious sin? A lot of churches promise better lives in Christ. That promise looks shaky if a long-respected leader steals from the offerings. How can a church’s message be received if people know about its corruption?

Therefore, of all institutions in the world, churches are probably the least likely to be transparent. It is tempted to hide any fault from the public or its people. Yet of all the institutions in the world, churches have the ability and confidence to be completely transparent! It does not need to be afraid!

We don’t need to be afraid of confessing our sins! Every Sunday we transparently confess that we are poor, miserable sinners. That admission is not just referring to speeding tickets or watching Porkies. We confess that we are guilty of the same sins that hang on the guy on the death row. We are a collective group of weak sickos who, if left to our own devices, are a danger to our families and community! Every day, hopefully, Christians confess specific sins to God in prayer or to a pastor—not because we have to, but because we can. It is even refreshing to speak our sins to God.

We are called to be honest and transparent about sin. We don’t need to pretend that we are something we are not. Why? Because our righteousness and holiness are not based upon ourselves and our actions. We are holy and right because of Jesus! He gives it to us. We are free to be transparent before God and one another because we stand before the Judge who died in our place on the cross and pronounced us free!

As individuals and as a corporate body, Christians can admit to failures and sins because they aren’t afraid. A quick read of the New Testament (Paul’s letters to the Corinthians anybody?) yields example after example of leaders and people sinning. In our holy book, we find dirty laundry of God’s people. The apostles and prophets didn’t try to cover up the devastating sins so why do we feel the need to? Why are we afraid of damaging Christ’s Church by being transparent? Despite our best sinful efforts, Christ’s Church has marched steadily forward, bringing Good News to sinners.

The whole point of the Scriptures and Christ’s Church is not to proclaim the triumph of perfect people, but the incredible mercy of God in Jesus Christ! Do you believe that our righteousness is founded in faith in Christ’s life death and resurrection or not? What does it say to people who see the Church as hiding from sin? Ironically, the very desire to hide failures in order to keep a good public image actually damages the image of Jesus and His Church all the more.

We believe in the Holy Christian Church and the communion of saints even though we don’t see it. The Church is holy not because it acts holy all the time but because it is covered by the blood of Christ and sealed by His Holy Spirit. Thank God.

Yet, the day is coming when our Christ will descend in Glory, when our sinful flesh will be buried for good. Then we will see, and only then, the holy, sinless Church—even you and me. Come, Lord Jesus!