I grew up going to Vacation Bible School (VBS). And we all love VBS, don’t we? Skits. Crafts. Snacks. VBS introduces so many young people to the heroes of Christian faith. The heroes whose faith is far superior to mine.
And the picture VBS presents is so pretty. These heroes are painted as perfect school children who listen to their teacher. They never forget their homework. And they are always picked first for dodgeball on the playground.
But the VBS picture of flawless school children isn’t the full picture. Scripture presents another story behind the poster board and costumes. As I look at the great men and women in the Bible, they go from being people I would love to have as best friends to people I would be scared to sleep beside.
And this distinction is important because seeing the full picture of these heroes changes how we see the church. I am afraid the church has bought the VBS story lie. The lie that says everyone needs to behave and all the characters need to smile and look pretty.
Oh, yes. Our churches should be filled with men and women like Noah, Rahab, and Paul. But not the VBS version…Our churches should be filled with the real version of these heroes. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the Biblical heroes have a dark side. One that wouldn’t translate well to the VBS scene.
So I want to show you some VBS heroes that had a past, and I hope the full picture of these heroes causes you to re-think church.
This is the “go to” VBS story. Noah and his family are the ONLY faithful people left on earth. So God tells them to climb in an ark, along with two of every animal. Once onboard, God proceeds to exterminate every living thing from the face of the earth, leaving only Noah and his family. After the water subsides, Noah and his family exit the boat to start this mankind thing over.
And everyone lives happily ever after.
Not really. Soon after Noah’s family steps off the boat, Noah proceeds to…get drunk (Gen. 9:20-27). And Noah doesn’t get a little drunk. He gets so drunk he passes out. Naked. To top it off, when Noah wakes up he curses his son for trying to cover his nakedness.
“Now, wait a second Noah. You are supposed to be the faithful one. Could you not wait a few chapters before you get drunk and start cursing your son?”
Could you picture Noah standing before an eldership or board of church leaders to explain this incident? It probably wouldn’t go over well.
You would never want to be in a game of “one up” with Moses. His accomplishments are just better. He speaks with God “face-to-face” (Exodus 33:11). He delivers the Israelites from the hands of the most powerful ruler on the face of the earth, Pharaoh (Exodus 13-14). And he receives the Ten Commandments from God (Exodus 34:28). Game, set, and match.
Yeah, I want Moses on my team.
But there is another side of this VBS hero. Take, for example, the story in Exodus 2:11-15. Here we read that Moses kills a dude. You read that right. He murders another human. Then he tries to cover it up.
Not only would Moses be disqualified from church leadership, he would be disqualified from church membership. In fact, he probably wouldn’t have an opportunity for either because he would be in jail.
Without doing any Old Testament research, you might conclude Rahab is an amazing, blameless woman of faith. The first New Testament book mentions her as one of only four women in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:5). She is mentioned among the heroes of faith (Heb. 11:31). And the New Testament book of James even gives her a shout out (James 2:25).
But turn to Joshua 2 and read the rest of the story. One thing immediately jumps out…Rahab is a prostitute. In other words, she has sex with multiple men that are not her husband. And even the pretense under which Rahab agrees to accept the Israelite spies is strange. She blatantly lies. She is encouraged to lie, and she is recognized as a woman of faith because she lies.
So, fast forward to 2015. Rahab walks into a church office with an application for an opening in children’s or youth ministry. You think she would be accepted? It’s almost laughable to mention such a crazy idea.
Ah, the great king, David. A man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). So, what are David’s accomplishments? For starters, he kills Goliath (1 Samuel 17).
And he doesn’t engage in combat with Goliath as a veteran soldier with loads of armor. He is a shepherd boy with no battle experience and no armor. He simply trusts God is more powerful than a giant human. Seems reasonable, but for whatever reason none of the skilled Israelite soldiers thought so.
David is widely considered to be Israel’s greatest king. And Jesus Christ is even referred to as the “son of David” (Matt. 1:1). That’s pretty strong. #swag
But there is a side of David VBS stories don’t tell (unless you were in the church where I witnessed a preacher stand in front of innocent, unsuspecting VBS kids and tell the ENTIRE story of David…talk about awkward.)
So, David struggles with lust. No big shock there. Many people struggle with lust.
Then things go south. Overcome by lust, David takes a woman who is not his wife and has sex with her. The woman, Bathsheba, becomes pregnant. In an attempt to cover up the mess, David sends Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, into the frontline of a battle to be killed. So, in a string of sins unrivaled anywhere in the Bible, this “man after God’s own heart” lusts, fornicates, lies, conspires, and murders.
Do I even need to ask if David would be considered for the preaching position at your church?
“Just save some trees, David. No need to print a resume. It will end up at a landfill.”
Paul wrote most of the New Testament. His words have been the source of millions and millions of sermons. And, therefore, Paul’s words (inspired through the Holy Spirit) have been the catalyst for hundreds of thousands of people experiencing salvation through Jesus Christ.
But (yep, you guessed it) Paul has a past as well. He not only preaches against Jesus, he persecutes those who practice Christianity (Acts 22:4). Paul gives approval to the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 8:1). Paul even refers to himself as the “chief of all sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). That’s a bold claim considering the men and women already discussed above.
Even assuming Paul comes to a church after his conversion, how many leaders would consider hiring him knowing he gave approval to things like killing Christians? How many would even welcome him at their church?
“Frank, what does Jesus do wrong? He is perfect.”
Jesus is sinless. And he is perfect…but not perfect by human standards. Jesus doesn’t get in line with traditional church ways. He often affirms the “sinners” and condemns the church leaders. He hangs out with cheaters, thieves, and the sexually immoral. He preaches sermons that offend people. He drives away the masses instead of catering to them.
In fact, he is so “imperfect” by human standards that the church leaders decide to kill him.
I am not sure Jesus would be accepted in a traditional church today. His reputation would include descriptors such as “not coachable,” “controversial,” and (the death label) “liberal.”
It’s time to re-think church
Here’s the point: it’s time to re-think church. The lives of these Biblical heroes show us that man’s way of looking at the world is not God’s way. The VBS picture doesn’t tell the full story.
God doesn’t need a perfect moral track record to use someone. And when our Christian circles are filled with men and women that have it “figured out,” what message are we sending to God about his church? What message are we sending to the world?
The grace of God is not selective. It doesn’t have conditions.
Grace is for the man or woman who grows up in church and never curses or has sex before marriage. Praise God for these people. But grace is also for the Noahs, Moseses, Rehabs, Davids, and Pauls of the world. The fornicators, liars, cheaters, murderers, and rapists.
Grace is often messy. It doesn’t always play by the rules. It disappoints. It falls short of expectations.
And when “churchy” people attach conditions to grace, we add another voice to the crowd. The same crowd who cried, “Crucify him!”
Because grace has a name…and his name is Jesus.
I would love to hear from you. What do you think about grace? Should we re-think church? Maybe you have a story to share. Leave a comment below.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!