Why Scandal and Conflict Seem to Follow the Church: Decoding the Parables of the Mustard Seed and Leaven

How many high profile preachers have been marred by scandal? How many have been caught in extra-marital affairs, embezzling church funds, or manipulating the faithful into funding their lavish lifestyles?

How many churches have split, been embroiled in conflict over doctrinal differences, or divided over conflict among the leadership?

And why are there so many hypocrites in the church?

We could write endlessly about the problems plaguing modern American Christianity. We could wring our hands in righteous indignation and disillusionment, lamenting the blight of these scandals on the testimony of Christ.

However, once we understand the Kingdom Parables, we should be no more surprised by these problems than we are the trials and temptations that come with the Christian life… for scripture foretells all of it.

In the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32), Jesus said the Kingdom was like a mustard seed, which despite bring small, would grow into a tree so large that the birds of the air would lodge in its branches.

While many see this as a prophecy of Christianity infiltrating and influencing the world, once we apply the proper interpretation using the symbols Christ gave in the Parable of the Sower, we’ll learn that the problems of today’s church do not surprise our Lord. In fact, He planned for these problems.

In the Parable of the Sower, we find that the seed represents the Gospel, and the birds represent the evil one (Satan and his demons).

Utilizing that imagery, we find that as the Gospel spreads and the church grows, Satan will send his forces to disrupt and pollute the work of the church. Hence, we find high profile Christian leaders falling to temptation, and we find great churches descending into conflict.

Where the Gospel is being advanced, Satan will work to disrupt. So, Spiritual conflict is actually a sign that God is working.

In the Parable of the Leaven (Matthew 13:33) we find that a woman has taken leaven and hidden it in three measures of meal. That leaven permeated that meal until the whole lump was leavened.

Leaven symbolizes sin in scripture. It’s why the Lord’s Supper is observed with unleavened bread. The bread represents the body of Christ, and Christ was sinless.

Thus, in the Parable of the Leaven, we see a woman who has placed leaven in a lump of meal, resulting in the whole lump being leavened. Leaven is basically yeast that causes bread to rise. That leaven infiltrates everything it is infused into.

Thus, when the leaven is placed in the lump, the whole lump is leavened. Likewise, when sin enters the equation, it infiltrates everything.

So, when scripture says that by one man sin entered into the world (Romans 5:12), sin infiltrated all aspects of human life. As a result, everything we do is touched by sin, even the things that we do for good.

That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:21 that “I find a law, that even when I would do good, evil is present with me.”

So, even when people are volunteering for charity, serving in the church, spreading the word of God, and helping the poor, sin is still present, and has a tendency to taint the good that has been done.

A good depiction of this can be found in the classic DC Talk song, “What if I Stumble,” where the singer wonders, “Is this one for the people, or is this one for the Lord? Or do I simply serenade for things I must afford,” before lamenting, “You can jumble them together, the conflict still remains, holiness is calling in the midst of courting fame.”

With sin ever present even in the best of our behaviors, we can see how problems could arise in even the most Spiritual circumstances. Thus, we find conflict, moral and spiritual failure, and hypocrisy within even the strongest churches.

This might be a little disturbing, and may cause some to become disillusioned. However, Christ knew we would have these struggles, and He planned for them.

God has a way of taking that which is bad and using it for good. He takes that which disrupts and creates order. He takes that which is broken and creates beauty. He redeems the good from the bad, the diamonds from the coal, the smooth from the rough.

So, do not be disillusioned when you see failure in the church, and don’t be too hard on yourself when the failure is yours. The Lord understands the frailties of humanity, and has planned for them.

Trust Him, and praise Him for His gracious and amazing redemption of us.