A couple a weeks ago Newsweek advertised, on their front cover, an article titled ‘Forget the Church, Follow Jesus’. I guess at its core it doesn’t sound like a bad idea. We really are called to follow Jesus and not the Church as an institution. However, the Church does have an important role to play in our lives as followers of Christ and that truth should not be minimized.
There seems to be a trend among many, to down play and even cast a disparaging light on the Church. This really isn’t new. Every so many years it seems to be an idea that gets talked about as an acceptable option. Let’s face it, this idea usually comes from people with a cynical spirit who, at some point in their lives have been hurt by a church and have a bit of an axe to grind. Frankly, anyone who has been involved with a local church has probably been hurt or disenfranchised at some point or another. This is a common experience and not one to be minimized. However, to paint the whole Church with that wide brush is not the solution.
So what is the Church? Very simply, it is the collection of people (not an institution or religious hierarchy) who have been saved by the grace of God through the work of Jesus done on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. The Bible also calls the Church the ‘Bride of Christ’ (Eph 5:23-32, Rev.19:7, 21:2&9). Does that mean the Church is perfect? Well spiritual, ‘yes’. She is perfect in that the righteousness and perfection of Jesus has been appropriated to her. However, like every individual who makes up the Church, it is still filled with fallen and imperfect people who will fail and hurt each other even if unintentionally. And that seems to be where the criticism comes in.
Please don’t hear me wrong, as a person who has studied, worked in and lead churches for over 21 years I know the pain that we as a community have the potential to cause each other. Great atrocities have been done in the name of Christ’s Church, which were anything but Christ-like. I will be the first to agree with that charge and to speak up calling the Church to exhibit more ‘Christ-like’ character in all she does. But let me also suggest a couple of things to keep in mind for those ‘Church bashers’ among us.
1) Remember that the people who make up the Church, as imperfect as they are, are precious to Jesus. He calls them his ‘Bride’ and we need to be very careful at the criticism we level at her. As any loving husband would be, Jesus will defend his ‘Bride’. While she may not be perfect she is beloved by him and therefore she needs to be respected by us.
2) This people, the Church, are God’s ‘blood bought people’; bought by the fullness of the sacrifice of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19, Rev. 5:9-10). Therefore, it is not possible for us to love Jesus and not love his ‘Bride’. Nor can we follow Jesus but not be involved with the people he has brought into relationship with himself. Nowhere does the Bible make allowance for this.
3) God cares more about the development of our character than he does our comfort. To create that character in us He often uses His people in our lives. That means that some of the very hurts we feel have been inflicted upon us, by the Church, were meant by God to develop ‘Christ-like’ character in us. So don’t dismiss those things too quickly and ‘write off’ the Church because of them. God likely was intending to create something great in you through the people of your church, even if they have caused you pain. This will only happen if you allow Him to use it to make you better instead of bitter.