“The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
The line above is oft-quoted and, I believe, captures elegantly a fundamental truth of Christianity. Rather than a mechanism for personal improvement, the Christian doctrine of Grace states that we are fundamentally unable to meet God’s standards through exemplary living. Oh sure, there will be improvements in our characters as our relationship with Christ deepens. But such improvement must be measured from the baseline of our personal starting point, not an arbitrary societal average.
As Timothy Keller writes in The Reason for God:
“The mistaken belief that a person must “clean up” his or her own life in order to merit God’s presence is not Christianity. This means, though, that the church will be filled with immature and broken people who still have a long way to go emotionally, morally and spiritually.”
Keller later makes a related point:
“It is often the case that people whose lives have been harder and who are “lower on the character scale” are more likely to recognise their need for God and turn to Christianity. So we would expect that many Christian’s lives would not compare well to those of the non-religious.”
This got me thinking about models of behaviour. (Hey, simulation modelling is what I do – it’s not always easy to separate work from the rest of life!)
If we assume that:
1. Christianity is true
2. Relationship with Jesus improves our character and behaviour
…but also that:
3. Spiritually and emotionally broken people may be more willing to recognise and accept their need for God’s grace.
…then I believe that we can arrive at a theoretical model which accounts for much of the observed behaviour in the Church. I see Christians who are broken and unethical, but I also observe Christians who are magnificently good, generous and loving. All of these are consistent with this framework.
Of course, I don’t for one second imply that this proves anything, and my belief that Christianity is true is totally unrelated to this line of reasoning. But I do think that it has a certain amount of explanatory power for the observed state of the Church – and for my own status as both a flawed human and a follower of Christ…