Why I Am Not Concerned about the Church as Failure


I suspected that having written about the “Church as Failure,” today’s post would be a required follow-up. I am not concerned about the Church as failure – because I believe the Church was meant to fail – if you’ll allow me explain. I have chosen the word “failure” to translate St. Paul’s description of Christ on the Cross as “weakness” and “foolishness.” I think those words were powerful when he was speaking to the Judeao-Hellenistic world of his time – but that those translations are not particularly powerful or scandalous to modern folk. American modern folk are far more scandalized by the notion of failure. We hate failure. Which is why I think it is such a good translation.

There are two ways for the Church to “fail.” The first is that the Church fails because it has embraced the cross and the Divine Failure of God (which saves us). It is the Church living utterly vulnerable to the Cross and knowing that it will only be as we fail and God succeeds that the Church will do what it is called to do.

A Christian standing in confession (as we do it in the Orthodox Church) and admitting that they have failed, is a Christian now ready for the Grace of God to work in them the righteousness of Christ.

The other way for the Church to fail (and this one does tend to dominate) is when it tries to succeed and be the thing it imagines God has called it to be, but by its own efforts. The result of such madness is failure of a catastrophic sort, with the Church being nothing of what Christ has called it to be.

The great good news in all of this is that even the second failure – if it is recognized as such – can become the first kind of failure, and thus the place where Grace begins the work of healing. The Good God has so established things that we cannot fail other than when we refuse to admit our failures.

I am not in the least saddened or dismayed by the failure I see across the Christian landscape – even the failures within the Orthodox Church. Or I should say that the only sadness I have is the sadness at human sin. But where sin did abound, Grace did more abound, as St. Paul tells us in Romans. Thus we stand at a landscape that could also be the place where an abundance of Grace begins to work.

For Orthodoxy in America, I pray that Grace will abound. We have our failures, which I choose not to ennumerate. It’s not my job. But for those whose job it is – I pray that they will call things by their right names and pray that Grace will abound (which it most assuredly will).

As an Orthodox Christian I cannot say what Grace abounding outside the bounds of Orthodoxy would look like. It is mysterious territory to me but it could only be a good thing because Grace does not work us harm.

In individual lives our failures can and should be moments that the Cross of Christ is triumphant. For what we cannot do (and we cannot do anything), Christ in us can do abundantly well. Thus to fail is to come to the Cross of Christ, if only we will.

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon Thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by Thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray. And pray Thou, Thyself, in me. Amen.

The morning Prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



2 responses to “Why I Am Not Concerned about the Church as Failure”

  1. […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

  2. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Father bless! Thank you for bringing us all back to the place we need to stay–at the foot of the Cross, clinging to Christ in childlike trust and dependence.

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