The Heart of the Problem
If you were to take a survey with the question, “What is wrong with the church?”, I suppose you would receive a variety of answers. Some would say it is the church’s lack of relevance, while others would point out its lack of depth. Some would say it is a lack of expositional preaching, and others would trace it to what they view as an unhealthy church polity. Historically speaking, people will try to trace the “problems” they encounter in the church today to a particular source. The potential sources are innumerable and will vary according to one’s convictions and school of thought: The Calvinism of Calvin, the Arminianism of Arminius, Pelagius’s doctrine of the will, Augustine’s understanding of grace, the Dispensationalism of Darby, the Liberalism of Schleiermacher, the theology of Aquinas, the “Neo-Evangelicalism” of Carl Henry, the “New Methods” of Finney, the seeds of church-state union under Constantine, etc.
How do we sort through all of this? Who’s right? Where is the real problem to be located? To answer such a question, I would begin by directing the reader to an insightful paragraph in Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church:
Nor must we think the degeneracy of the church began with her union with the state. Corruption and apostasy cannot attach to any one fact or personage, be he Constantine or Gregory I. or Gregory VII. They are rooted in the natural heart of man. They revealed themselves, at least in the germ, even in the apostolic age, and are by no means avoided, as the condition of America proves, by the separation of the two powers. We have among ourselves almost all the errors and abuses of the old world, not collected indeed in any one communion, but distributed among our various denominations and sects. The history of the church presents from the beginning a twofold development of good and of evil, an incessant antagonism of light and darkness, truth and falsehood, the mystery of godliness and the mystery of iniquity, Christianity and Antichrist. According to the Lord’s parables of the net and of the tares among the wheat, we cannot expect a complete separation before the final judgment…
[Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, first published 1867, reprint (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011), 94-95.
To sum up, “Corruption and apostasy…are rooted in the natural heart of man.” Therefore, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). May God help us to do just that.