The Church – Hated and Loved

It’s been a popular thing in recent days to rail against the church. Sometimes it’s the church in general, and sometimes a particular local body is in view. I certainly regularly get an earful (usually second-hand) of what is wrong at Lockport. It’s a pretty easy list to put together; we are sometimes hypocritical, we have some people who talk too much, we aren’t always fair, we aren’t always friendly, we are too hard or too soft on sin (your choice), we are boring and outdated, we aren’t just like we used to be, we sing too much new stuff, we sing too much old stuff, we don’t care enough about the long-time members, we don’t care enough about new members, and sometimes some of us are just plain obnoxious! In other words, the whole place is full of sinners! It’s also a popular notion that God doesn’t like organizations. We all know that having your name on a membership role does not make you spiritual, and many draw the (false) conclusion that the converse is true – that spirituality is to be found by avoiding the organized church.

There is certainly enough wrong with the church to make us want to walk away, but there is one major flaw in following that action: Jesus loves the church! He certainly has to often be disappointed by the church’s behavior, but he loves her. Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck wrote an article in today’s (July 2, 2009) Washington Post dealing with the current disdain for the organized church. Let me share their opening paragraph:

“Here’s what Bono, Oprah, and the guru speakers on PBS won’t tell you: Jesus believed in organized religion and he founded an institution. Of course, Jesus had no patience for religious hacks and self-righteous wannabes, but he was still Jewish. And as Jew, he read the Holy Book, worshiped in the synagogue, and kept Torah. He did not start a movement of latte-drinking disciples who excelled in spiritual conversations. He founded the church (Matt. 16:18) and commissioned the apostles to proclaim the good news that Israel’s Messiah had come and the sins of the world could be forgiven through his death on the cross (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:14-36).”

They continue by pointing out the fact that Jesus died for the church; “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Eph 5:25-27 NIV) A good way to anger most men would be to rip on the bride they love deeply. The church is certainly not yet “holy and blameless” but Christ loves her so much that he has given his life for her purification. The church is often unfaithful to Him, but He still loves her, and if we love Him we will love her too!

I would add two other analogies from scripture. The church is not only Christ’s bride, we are His body. In Romans 12:5 Paul says, “so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” He describes how we are to function together and then in verse ten adds, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” The church is Christ’s physical presence in the world, and if His body is scarred or sick we should rush to it’s aid rather than abandon it. The church is also the temple that He is building. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (1Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV). Later in chapter six, Paul refers to the individual believer’s bodies as being temples of the Holy Spirit, but here he is referring to the church. (Note as well Matt. 6:18; Eph. 2:20-22, and 1Pet. 2:5) Perhaps it is not a good thing to abandon what Christ is building.

Should we just ignore the church’s problems? No! Should we pretend that the pastor and people are perfect? Never! Should we just give up? Absolutely not! We should instead be involved in helping the bride look beautiful, binding up the wounds of the broken body, and working on the failing structure of the temple. We must do so because Christ loves the church! Please join your imperfect pastor in praying for Christ’s church. In His grace He actually is using us for His glory in spite of our frailty.