Why is there evil in the church? What about those who are sincere and want to obey God?
Evils in the Church
Why is evil not just in the world but also in the church? Why is pedophilia in the Church? Why did Pope Innocent III order the extermination of the Waldensians in 1487? Why was the church complicit in the murder of tens of thousands during the Inquisition? Why did both Lutherans and Catholics at the Diet of Speyer in 1529 legalize the murder of Anabaptists in Germany? Why did Calvinists in France murder 4,000 priests, monks and nuns, and destroy thousands of churches and monasteries? Why do Orthodox leaders encourage persecution of Protestants in Russia? Why did Protestants persecute Catholics in England, Germany and Switzerland? Why did New England Puritans once persecuted in England later persecute other Protestants? How can such atrocities have occurred among those who bear the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ? Does Matthew 13:24-43 help us?
We must understand that the church has and will always be a mixture of good and evil, but those who endure to the end in faith are the righteous who will shine.
We will look at the difference between the visible and invisible church. We will look at the parable of the Wheat and the Tares from Matthew 13:24-43 and its implications for Christian church. We will glimpse the eternal blessing of those who remain pure in their faith.
The Church Visible & Invisible
The visible church is different from the invisible church because outward appearances can be deceiving. The invisible church at any one moment consists of those who are in Christ. The visible church is in the world, consisting of all those who call themselves Christians whether they are in Christ or not. The visible church is a mixture of genuine believers and false Christians who are never regenerated, saved, forgiven, united to Christ and sanctified (1 John 2:19-20; Matthew 7:21-23; Romans 9:6; 2 Peter 2:20-22). All genuine believers are members of the invisible church. Not all professing Christians are members of the invisible church. The invisible church cannot be fully discerned by human eyes and hearts. The invisible church is the good seed in the Parable of the Weeds, the people of the kingdom (Matthew 13:24, 38) who will shine like the sun.
Wrongdoing in the Church
Do we get upset and angry with wrongdoing in the Church? Do we excommunicate sinners until few are left creating a climate of judgmentalism and fear of persecution? In Matthew 13:25, 39 Jesus did not ask us to tolerate evil but be patient because the responsibility is not ours but the angels’. The Church is a mixture of the people of the kingdom of heaven and the people of the kingdom of the evil one. This is a parable of the kingdom and it describes the Church as part of the kingdom. It is a safe bet that this mixture of good and evil also exists among church leaders. What do we do about it? Do we quit and start new denominations? That has never solved the problem because the Church will always be a mixture of sinners and saints, but it is the saints who will shine.
Why Problems in the Church
Why does the Church have problems? In Matthew 13:25, 39 Jesus explained that the kingdom of heaven like a farmer who planted good seed, but that an enemy had also planted weeds in the same field. That weed was probably darnel, also called cockle, which is sometimes referred to as "false wheat." It looks similar to wheat until maturity. The ears of wheat are heavy making it hang down, while darnel ears are light and it stands up straight. Just as the false wheat stands tall and the real wheat bows down with its yield, so too do the wicked seem to prosper and the righteous suffer. Cockle has a deeper root than wheat. Removing it would also cause many wheat stalks to be lost. A solution is to let both grow together until harvest and separate them then, when the faith-filled with shine.
7 Keys to a Parable
Jesus gave 7 keys to understanding the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. They help us understand other parables.
- The farmer who planted the good seed is the Son of man. There is a dimension of spreading the Gospel that is beyond human deeds.
- The field is the world. Is Jesus busy planting seed in the world?
- The good seeds are the people of the kingdom. Who are they?
- The weeds are the people of the evil one. Are good and bad people tightly mixed together?
- The enemy is the devil, not different church denominations.
- The harvest is the end of the age. Is the time for judgment later?
- The harvesters are the angels. We must patiently wait until then. Is the job of separation not ours, but the angels?
It’s embarrassing when priests abuse children and pastors stray. It’s shameful when televangelists are paid millions and what was considered to be sins for 2,000 years are welcomed as acceptable lifestyles. It’s uncomfortable when ordinary Christians are publicly exposed for crimes and Church history is put under the microscope only to find 2,000 years of misdeeds and crimes against humanity. It’s flabbergasting when the Church allows the world to enter to hear the Gospel but instead is weak and seems just like the world. It’s perturbing to know that divorce in the Church is just as bad as in society around us. We should be embarrassed and ashamed, but what can we do? In Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Jesus explained that the problem of evil will not be solved in this life, but in the age to come, when the righteous will shine.
Judgmentalism & Judgment
We’ve all met people who complain that the Church is too judgmental. It’s true — in part — but isn’t the statement itself also judgmental? The Church does not own irrational and snobbish criticism exclusively. It’s common to humanity. We try to make good judgments by discerning between right and wrong. We judge all day long between restaurant menu items, clothing, safe driving and hundreds of other things. So when is judgment right and when is it wrong? In Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Jesus described final judgment that is not ours to make: whether someone is a weed or a good plant in God’s field. Whether an action is a really a sin or merely breaking human rules is also a disputable matter. Why do we judge before the time? What is Jesus’ to judge is none of our business.
Jesus, Liberal or Conservative
The battle between liberals and conservatives in the Church is ongoing. What is a conservative? Is it someone protecting a doctrine that is less than a few hundred years old? Is it someone who preserves traditions? If so, which traditions, historically recent or ancient ones? Is a conservative someone who is not interested in tradition when it contradicts or crowds out the teachings of Jesus? What is a liberal? Is it someone who departs from biblical teachings? Is a liberal someone who refuses to interpret biblical teachings in legalistic directions beyond the original meaning, even if that opposes the traditions of men? The labels "liberal" and "conservative" are really not helpful, because Jesus may be described as liberal or conservative on a variety of issues. He used far more shocking labels in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 — weeds that will burn and wheat that will shine.
Holier than Jesus
Christians are often accused of being holier than thou, a self-righteous attitude of condemnation and criticism. We are not often accused of being holier than Jesus, yet perhaps that is sometimes what we have attempted to be. In Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Jesus described the allowing of healthy wheat to grow together with annoying weeds. Weeds choke other plants and steal nutrients. That has been the ongoing history of the Christian Church. In every congregation and every denomination there are people who stifle and choke and steal life-giving nutrition from sincere Christians. When churches attempt to control sin with rigorous rules and regulations far above anything required by Jesus or his Apostles, stifling administrative hurdles and exclusive attitudes they are attempting to be holier than Jesus. His attitude was to let the wheat and weeds grow together until the harvest.
Every family has them. There’s the greedy one who wants to take the larger share, the wayward one who embarrasses the family or perhaps the rich one who brags and makes others feel small. Family feuds are caused by many things. In Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Jesus described the possible results of a family feud that his audience would have found familiar. An enemy had exacted vengeance on a farmer by sowing bad seed at night over the good seed in his field. Vandalism! In a time when planting was broadcasting by hand, that may have been easier than with modern farming equipment. In the Church we have "family" feuds. That’s one reason why we have different orders and denominations. Separation was not Jesus’ recommendation, but staying together until the end of the age, when the righteous will shine.
Protestant Reformers were great men, but they failed in one major area. They were not satisfied with leaving the tares among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). Church reform is as much needed now as then. The modern Church has injustice in its traditions and accommodated sins as often as she has condemned them. Should we incessantly divide over every peccadillo in the Church? In Jesus’ commentary on the weeds he explained that heaven will make the final judgment. Christians have strong opinions and ought to feel free to express them without persecution. But, in the end we must agree to disagree without causing division. Heaven hates division. Do we trust that Jesus is the Head of the Church? Do we believe that any corporate sins that remain do so because he allows the weeds to remain in the field until that time when the righteous will shine?
The Evil of Shunning
Some Christians shun those who wander off the straight and narrow. The question of what to do with the tares in the Church until the harvest is not fully addressed in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Some see this as tolerance for sin. Yet, that is not what Jesus expounded in other places such as Matthew 18:12-18. Those whose wrongdoings are of great offence to the Christian community are to be dealt with, but shunning is not what Jesus taught. An unrepentant sinner is to be treated like a gentile. Christians do not shun their non-Christian neighbors. Those who refuse to provide for their families are worse than those they shun (1 Timothy 5:7-8). Shunning is the opposite of what Jesus taught. He taught us to leave the ninety nine and try to help the one that wanders off.
It is not our job to judge whether or not a particular person is wheat or weed in God’s field. That is for the angels and Christ on that great day of judgment. Thank God that he can convert any one of us into wheat. Let us all pray for God’s forgiveness and focus on the future when the righteous will shine like the sun.