Cancer of the Church

Do you know someone with cancer? Sure, we all do. About a year ago I made the observation to my small group that it feels like cancer is everywhere. I said something like “maybe I’m just getting older, but it seems like there’s more cancer now than ever before.” Their slightly amused faces confirmed the truth – certainly being older means that I will see more cancer.

Cancer is a devastating illness and I don’t intend to make light of it here. And by absolutely no means do I want to imply that cancer is the result of sin in a person’s lifestyle. I know far too many wonderful people with cancer for that to be true. But one of the ways I make sense of life is to find metaphors – ideas from the physical world around us that may represent something of the spiritual realm.

Certainly this is a scriptural thing to do, don’t you think? After all, Paul compared the Church to a human body – with Christ as the head, and the rest of us functioning in different parts of the whole. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” 1 Corinthians 12:27.

If the Church can be metaphorically described as a body, then does it follow that there could be a cancer of the Church?

1.Cancer begins when healthy cells mutate. How interesting that cancer in the body comes from what was once a healthy cell. Spiritually healthy Christians, churches, and families can be deceived and change into something that is no longer healthy.
2.Cancer is when mutated cells divide/grow without control. In the Bible we see this described as yeast “beware the yeast of the Pharisees, which leavens the whole lump of dough.” It takes great spiritual diligence to avoid the snare of deception.
3.Cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. Imagine that a false prophet influences a certain generation, and from that generation come hundreds of pastors and teachers who bought into the false prophet’s misleading messages. You don’t really need to imagine it – just check out your local bookstore.
4.Cancer can choke out healthy cells and steal blood from organs. Deception drains resources and time from the Church. Its members then lose contact with the Holy Spirit and begin to depend on themselves (legalism) or walk away entirely (atheism).

Fortunately, Jesus is the Great Physician. He specializes in spiritual tumor removal (A), radiation (B) and chemotherapy (C).

(A) For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

(B) The Light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overpowered the Light. John 1:5

(C) Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

11 thoughts on “Cancer of the Church

  1. “but it seems like there’s more cancer now than ever before.” ”

    Just thought I’d throw in that, a reason it may appear so is the fact that medical science, specifically diagnostics, is getting better and better. Which means we’re finding cancer whereas in years past we may never have seen it at all until the person who had it died.

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  2. ahh…love this! Great analogy, very fitting. I think it can be applied personally as well as collectively…may be time to take inventory of what ‘cancer’ might be lurking in my life…

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  3. Oh, Anna…deconversion to atheism is not the opposite of Christianity. “The fool hath said in his heart there is no God” but the atheist is an honest fool, with the integrity to put on the outside what he feels on the inside. And the legalist’s heart is in the right place, though his actions are misguided. The real cancerous rot you speak of the person who moderates the level of Christianity they project for the audience of the moment, and can’t be bothered to care.

    There’s no evil like indifference.

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    1. I certainly don’t feel that deconversion is the opposite of Christianity, but I do see it as a natural response to a cancerous church. There is a third group I didn’t mention in my post but that you perfectly described — the people who see the cancer and just don’t care.

      To address one of your points, I don’t believe the legalist’s heart is in the right place. The idea that we can be good enough if we follow all the rules is one of the biggest deceptions (ie cancer) in the church. We can never be good enough. And this particular deception spreads like wildfire and strangely enough is one of the most cited reasons for deconversion (hypocrisy, fundamentalism, etc.). Nothing we do will ever make any of us right in His eyes.

      That part is a free gift.

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