Can Christianity Be Trusted Given All Its ‘Sins’?

People in the church may let you down, but Jesus never will.

The church has done some bad things. This is undeniable. But the reality is that the good far outweighs the bad.

By Sean McDowell Published on October 24, 2017

The world well knows the sins of the church, among them the Inquisition, witch-hunts, the Crusades, and modern-day sexual abuse. Clearly, the church has fallen short of the ideals Jesus proclaimed. Many dismiss the Christian message not because they have examined the evidence and found it wanting, but because they are personally disappointed with Christians and churches. As pastor Timothy Keller has observed, we need to address “the behavior of Christians — individual and corporate — that has undermined the plausibility of Christianity for so many people.”

The fact that Christian behavior so deeply undermines the plausibility of the gospel in the minds of many people should be a wakeup call for Christians. We need to ask ourselves some tough questions: Have I failed to live as Jesus taught me to? How responsible am I for the negative perceptions many have of the church? We would each do well to look at our own lives and seek God’s grace and forgiveness.

If you are a non-Christian, it is important to ask yourself a few tough questions as well: Does the moral failure of Christians undermine the claim that Jesus is truly God? Have I had a negative experience with some Christians that clouds my view of the entire church? Am I really evaluating Christianity and the church fairly?

Why Character Flaws in the Church Shouldn’t Surprise

In the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict, my father and I offer two reasons the character flaws of the church should not surprise us. First, the Bible speaks of human nature as gloriously made in God’s image, but profoundly fallen in sin. Human nature is deeply flawed (Rom. 3:9–18; Mark 7:14–23). Even true Christians are capable of wretched acts. The Bible does say we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), but this is only fully realized in the next life.

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Second, many who claim to be Christians have not placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ and therefore do not truly know him. Jesus taught that both believers and non- believers would be part of the institutional church, but that their true identity would not be revealed until the end (Matt. 13:24–30). He also taught that there would be people who thought they were acting in his name — even doing “many wonders,” but they will not enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 7:21–23). Just because someone claims to be a Christian, then, does not mean he or she really is. Could it be that the church is often indicted for the actions of people who are not even Christians? This is why the standard of Scripture is so important. Ultimately, we need to compare the actions of both individuals and the corporate church with the genuine teachings of the Bible.

The Good Things

And it is also important to place the sins of the church in perspective. Yes, the church has done some bad things. This is undeniable. But the reality is that the good far outweighs the bad. Consider just ten positive contributions of the faith:

  • Hospitals, which essentially began during the Middle Ages
  • Universities, which also began during the Middle Ages
  • Literacy and education for the masses
  • The separation of political powers
  • Civil liberties
  • The abolition of slavery
  • Modern science
  • The elevation of women
  • Benevolence and charity; the Good Samaritan ethic
  • High regard for human life

If you dismiss the Christian faith because of the bad things the church has done, I hope you will consider three things. First, I am truly sorry if Christians have hurt you. It pains me every time I hear the wounds of the church. Please accept my apology on behalf of the church.

Second, put the bad in perspective by comparing it to the good. As we have seen, the good far outweighs the bad.

Third, make sure you are not dismissing the teachings of Jesus because of the poor representation of those who claim to be his followers. People in the church may let you down, but Jesus never will. And yet even though Jesus turned the world upside down for good, the most important question he asked was, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29).



Sean McDowell, Ph.D., is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Originally published at Reprinted with permission.

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  • GPS Daddy

    >> But the reality is that the good far outweighs the bad.

    If we can use this to exonerate the church they why can’t non-Christians use it to exonerate themselves?

    Every bad deed, action, thought, non-action that would come under the judgement of God is washed clean by the blood of Christ. The bad that Christians do is bad. Lets call it bad. No defense. But here is the other side of the coin:

    1. Everyone has the bad.
    2. No one can erase the bad from their past.
    3. Those who accept Jesus and trust in Him get a free “get out of jail” card. This is free to EVERYONE. No one can prevent you from getting it. This is scandalous. This is the scandal of the ages.
    4. Those who do not trust in Jesus remain in jail from the bad things they have done.

    • Trilemma

      “If we can use this to exonerate the church they why can’t non-Christians use it to exonerate themselves?”

      Good question.

    • SophieA

      You make a good point. There is no cosmic scale that will determine our eternal fate. Salvation is a free gift.

  • Trilemma

    How can Christianity be trusted when Christians don’t behave any better than non-Christians? Christians cheat on their taxes as much as non-Christians. Christians get divorced as often as non-Christians. Christians get abortions just as much as non-Christians.

    How can Christianity be trusted when Christians seemingly want to rely on the force of law to spread their morality?

    • Kathy

      That is the point…we ALL sin and fall short of the glory of God. There are many people that call themselves Christians who are in name only, of which I was once one. That is why we must look to Jesus Christ and His full payment of our sin debt on the cross, come to grips with and repent of our sin (not an easy process) and continue to look to Him alone, not to fallen humankind. That includes the Christians you know.

      • Hannah

        I was just reading through Romans today and was reminded of something I’d forgotten: being a Christian isn’t a once and done thing, but rather it’s a continuous journey of faith and trust and abiding in Jesus. No one is exempt from this, not even those who think they’re “pretty decent people.” Anyone who says that they’re a Christian but show none of the signs (e.g. the nine fruits of the Spirit, a changed heart, upturned gaze, etc) isn’t a believer. 1 John is referred to in my church as the 5 Step Christian Test, and it’s been invaluable as a guide to exercising discernment and edification. No matter what a person says, if their heart doesn’t like up, their words are like the wind.

        Sorry for the bunny trail – just wanted to share what He’d brought to my mind.

        • Kathy

          Thank you, and yes, I always have to remind myself that I was once there, considering myself a “pretty decent” person, but with no transformed heart. It is definitely a continuous process, like you mentioned, but worth every minute of it!

      • Trilemma

        The non-Christian world cannot tell the difference between a person who is Christian in name only and a real Christian. So if those who are Christian in name only can’t be trusted then Christianity as a who can’t be trusted.

        Christians profess to being in a process of being conformed to the likeness of Christ. If this is true, then the behavior of Christians as a whole should be significantly better than non-Christians as a whole. But the statistics I mentioned show there is no significant difference between the two.

        • Kathy

          It’s great that you are questioning all of this…so many are too busy or lazy to even bother. I agree with your observation concerning the behavior of both groups….I see it as well, even when reading the responses you get to some of your posts. I can understand why you don’t see a difference.

          Hannah makes some very good points in her post. Not sure I need to elaborate other than when your heart is transformed by God, as she said, you are very aware of your sin and will do your best to turn from it, part of the process of being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Certainly not every person professing to be a Christian has experienced this heart change. I did not until five years ago, yet I claimed the Christian faith because I was raised in it.

          Hope this helps at least somewhat.

  • Hmmm…

    Christianity is about its Christ …

    • SophieA

      It seems to me that those who point to the failings of Christians and the Church as an impediment must be too eager to ignore the truth of Christ.

  • handydan

    Protestants really need to study up on the truth of the “Inquisition”. The numbers quoted are highly exaggerated and the purpose is misunderstood. The Truth will set you free only when know the truth.

  • Allen

    Man is not born in God’s image, we are created by the word of God into the image of unconditional love (God). Without the word of God no one would know of this love. Now, There is not one Christian that will not fall short of the unconditional love as expressed in the precepts of the law of God. and that is what is called sin. But a true Christian recognizes that and asks for forgiveness and turns back to unconditional love instead of continuing in sin, An evil heart does not even try to change.

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