In our post-Christian society we hear much about the failures of Christianity. The late Christopher Hitchens even wrote a book entitled How Religion Poisons Everything. I am a pastor, I have studied Church history, I have for four decades followed closely the news of the church in the world today, I have served in the church, and I am myself a Christian who has failed in many ways– so I am very familiar with the failures of Christianity in general and Christians in particular. However, I am much more in agreement with G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) than with Christopher Hitchens. Chesterton said in one of his best known lines: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
In a less familiar quote Chesterton said (New Witness, August 18, 1922):
“It seems brazenly irrational that because people have failed to be Christians they should say that Christianity has failed. It might be mildly suggested to them that they need not look quite so far afield for the failure. My mother tells me not to climb a certain apple-tree to steal apples, and I do it in spite of her. A bough breaks, a bulldog pins me by the throat, a policeman takes me to prison…
“I eventually return to shake my head reproachfully at my mother, and say in a sad and meditative manner; ‘I had hoped better things of you. Alas, there is something pathetic about this failure of motherhood to influence the modern mind. I fear we must all admit that maternity as an institution is barren and must be abandoned altogether.’
“The impudence of this illogical shifting of responsibility!… Man is ready to treat Christianity like the imaginary mother; instead of blaming himself for not having obeyed her, he begins to abuse her for not having been obeyed. He first despises her advice, and then despises her for giving advice that can be despised.”
Jeremiah 9:12-14a — Who is wise enough to understand this? Who has been instructed by the Lord and can explain it? Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross? The Lord said, “It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts…”
Jeremiah 18:7-10 — If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
Hebrews 4:1-2 — Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.
Forgive me my sins, O Lord: the sins of my present and the sins of my past; the sins of my soul and the sins of my body; the sins I have done to please myself and the sins which I have done to please others. Forgive me my casual sins and my deliberate sins, and those which I have labored so to hide that I have hidden them even from myself. Forgive me them, O Lord, forgive them all; for Jesus’ sake. Amen. –Thomas Wilson (d. 1775)