For my Christian readers, have you ever been deeply disappointed by other Christians? I hope you haven’t, but if you haven’t been disappointed by other Christians, then you are probably an exception. I once knew of a person who was involved in Christian ministry but later renounced his faith in Christ. He said that his doubts about the truth of Christianity began when he felt deeply burned by the people at his church.
I have been disappointed more than once with the attitudes and behaviors of other Christians toward me. But I have to admit that in my Christian life and work, other Christians have also expressed their disappointment in me. So what are we to think about the challenge of being a Christian who is at times disappointed by other Christians?
Allow me to offer three points for your consideration:
1. One of the best-supported facts of the Christian faith is that human beings are sinners.
The people who make up Christ’s church are all broken people. That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, and criminal acts of physical or sexual abuse should never be overlooked or tolerated, and least of all condoned. But the biblical doctrine of total depravity (sin has impacted the entire person at their core—see Psalm 51:5 and 58:3) is confirmed every single day in the lives of other people and, more painfully, in our own lives as well (Proverbs 20:9). Christian people are to strive to do the right thing and love their neighbor, but sin has caused brokenness at a fundamental level. So even on my best day, I doubt whether I can truly escape my deep-seated selfishness and love God with my entire being and also love my neighbor as myself.
It is also important to appreciate that other religions and philosophical worldviews don’t have a realistic view of human nature. For example, the Islamic faith says people are born good, without a fallen nature. But Islam has a terrible record of violence and inhumane treatment, often among its own Muslim people. And the naturalistic, evolutionary, atheistic worldview also can’t adequately explain both the goodness and the fallenness of humanity. As apologist Hugh Ross says, human beings are both better and worse than what a secular Darwinist should come to expect from human nature.
I like to tell people that the bad news is that sin is a bigger problem than most people realize (even Christians). Yet the good news is that God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ is also much greater than most people realize (even Christians).
So while it is true that you’ve likely been treated badly by Christian people, those bad experiences are consistent with the Christian worldview that even forgiven sinners (Christians) still sin, and sometimes grievously so. The process of sanctification (whereby God transforms our character) is long and difficult. Unfortunately, in everyday practice it is often one step forward and two steps back.
2. Join a church, but keep your expectations about the sanctification level of other members, like your own, at a realistic level.
If you’re expecting to find a morally perfect church, you’ll forever be disappointed. As the famous bumper sticker says, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” That’s right. As Christians, we’re all forgiven sinners who still struggle with sin (sins such as anger, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, and sloth). I think that inner selfishness is often the sin that is the most difficult for Christians to avoid.
We have a scriptural obligation to be part of a local congregation (Hebrews 10:25). And we should seek to reconcile with other Christians when we have differences and when offenses have been committed (Matthew 18:15). But sometimes, we also have to set boundaries to ensure that people are respected and protected.
3. Christians may disappoint you, but Jesus Christ will not.
The Triune God of historic Christianity loves you and has forgiven all your sins in Christ (Titus 3:4–7). Christian people may have deeply hurt and disappointed you, but our Lord will not. God’s grace and providential care will meet all your needs. Don’t give up on the Lord because his representatives are still broken and flawed.
If you’ve been hurt by Christian people, then you might want to talk with a skilled and trusted pastor or counselor and work through the pain and sorrow. Everyone at one time or another in their life needs help and guidance from a competent, qualified, and trusted Christian professional. You might also discover that the warmth and care you can receive from your brothers and sisters in Christ can serve to soften and heal the past offenses and hurts.
Reflections: Your Turn
How have you dealt with your disappointments with other Christians?
- For more about the challenge of Christian hypocrisy, see “Doesn’t Hypocrisy Invalidate Christianity?,” chapter 15 in my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 201–10.
- For more on a biblical view of sin and salvation, see the section “Not by Works,” chapters 9 and 10 in my book 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 131–60.