Why are there bad people in the church and good people outside of it?

The Indian civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi has been famously quoted as saying

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

Perhaps you can relate to his sentiment.  Many people rightly criticise church goers for being a terrible advert for the Christian faith.  The recent child abuse scandal that is rocking the Roman Catholic church in Ireland only serves to underline this scepticism.  Sadly such scandal is by no means limited to the Catholic church, as history indicates.

But the alternative is also true.  There are many good people outside of the church.  People who adhere to other faiths or to no faith at all are often found doing good works in the world.  Humanitarian efforts are by no means limited to people who have Christian faith.

How can we explain these facts?  Why are there bad people inside the church and good people outside of it?  Clear understanding of two classic biblical doctrines can help clear this up.

The first is the doctrine of total depravity.  This states that there is no area of life that has not been influenced by the effects of sin.  From unjust social systems and oppressive regimes on the one hand, to family breakdown and individualistic materialism on the other, we don’t have to look far for evidence of total depravity.  This includes the church.  We see people in the church behaving sinfully because sin is present there too.  This is why it is quite possible to see bad people inside the church – kind of what Gandhi was getting at.

The second classic doctrine is  that of common grace.  God is pleased to send some of his blessings to all people – those who love and respect him and those who don’t.  Jesus is quoted as saying that

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  (Matt. 5:45)

In many areas of life, God doesn’t just reserve his blessing for those who have faith in him.  He is pleased to give many blessings for those who don’t even acknowledge him and as a result it is possible to see many good things happening to and because of those outside the church.

Knowing these two classic Christian doctrines helps us to understand why we can see bad people in church and good people outside it.