by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon –
How are pagans to take seriously those who profess to be better than the world, when in fact they live by norms conspicuously lower than the world?
How are pagans to take seriously those who profess to be better than the world, when in fact they live by norms conspicuously lower than the world? How is it possible for a Christian church to hold its bishops, for instance, to lower ethical expectations in matters of business than the chairman of a secular corporation?
Why are such scandals permitted, year after year? Or again, why should a priest not be unfrocked for offenses that would promptly send a school counselor to prison? How can we expect pagans to take any Christian church seriously if it does not call its own stewards to account?
Alas, it is a demonstrable fact that the people of God, when they fall, often enough do not fall to the level of good paganism, but much lower. They sink down so far that even the law-abiding pagan is bewildered.
And this bewilderment constitutes scandal in that word’s strict sense, because it testifies that the people of God are truly bad people. It convinces the unbeliever that Christians are hypocrites, who do not truly believe what they declare.
Clearly this reflection bears on the relationship between church discipline and the ministry of evangelism. If the gospel is to be taken seriously by the contemporary pagan culture that surrounds us, it is imperative that the churches speak with the voice of authority to the moral lives of their members—especially holding its own leadership to account—because nothing eviscerates evangelism more effectively than scandal.
Excerpts from essay originally published by: Touchstone.