A popular sentiment in the world today is for individuals to claim a love for God but a disdain for the church. Often the sentiment is phrased in some fashion like this, “I love God, and I even want to be involved in Kingdom work, but I don’t like the church and I want nothing to do with it.” This has become popular with many of the younger generations that are leaving organized religion in a mass exodus, but it can also be found among older generations.
On some level I understand the frustrations. The church has not always been the bright shining city on a hill that many of us hoped it would be. History tells of the horrible atrocities of the crusades or the decrees from Charlemagne that conquered barbarians would either convert or die. These stories, along with others, paint a dark picture of the church. In more recent years the church has been seen as legalistic or judgmental, often championing sexual immorality as an unforgivable sin while ignoring other sins of pride or greed. Racism is still too widespread, and far too often some seem more concerned with getting their acts of worship correct than caring for the poor and destitute around them. I can understand why many want to distance themselves from the church.
Yet, even with all these mistakes, the church is the bride of Christ. It is the redeemed community of saved sinners. The church serves as a manifestation of God’s presence in the world. It is to shine as a light to the nations, to show the rest of the world what it means to live in the Kingdom of God. It is an alternate community, a living example of how the ways of the world are a false hope, but that God has declared a better way. The church is the resurrected community. It is the place where Christians can gather together around the table and celebrate new creation life. It is the place where good news is declared, and where many throughout history have been taught the ways of God.
Yes, the church is flawed. It is not perfect. It has made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. But I love the church, I pray for the church, and I hope that my children and your children will grow up to help the church become more of what it is called to be.
Perhaps the reason that many today dislike the church is caused by an unfair expectation. Perhaps the reason that individuals claim they love God but not the church is because they have an unrealistic expectation of what the church should be. Many today expect the church to be perfect, to be all that God has said the church should be. But the church if full of sinners. These sinners are redeemed Christians, but they are still in the process of becoming more like Christ. These Christians have dedicated themselves to the ways of God, are striving to live by the Jesus creed of loving God and loving others, and are hopefully helping to make the world a better place. But they are not perfect. They still mess up everyday. There are still parts of their lives that need to be transformed into the ways of Christ. Which means that there will be times when they still struggle with racism, they are still judgmental, and they are hypocritical. That doesn’t make these faults acceptable, it just recognizes that while the church will someday be the perfect bride of Christ, it is not there yet.
It is not fair to judge the church in the present on what it should be in the future. It is not fair to hold the church to the standard of perfection when that perfection will not come until the end of time when God creates a new Heaven and Earth. Yes, the church should strive for the ideal, but as long as it is full of sinners still in the process of transformation into Christ-likeness there will be mistakes and shortcomings. That doesn’t mean the church should be abandoned. It’s just a recognition that the church is not a finished product yet, just like you and I are not finished products yet.
I fully admit the church makes mistakes. As one who has been given the responsibility to help lead a congregation and preach on a weekly basis, I know the church makes mistakes. We are by no means perfect, and many days we have a long way to go. But I also fully admit, I love the church. I love being a part of a community that admits we need each other to survive. I love being a part of a community that is challenging me daily to be more like Christ. I love that there is a group of people who love me in spite of my mistakes. I love celebrating together weekly around the table the new resurrected life and the hope of the new creation. I love that the church shares resources, tries to feed the hungry, and seeks to protect children. Could we do an even better job than we are doing? Of course, and with God’s help we will. We are trying and we’re not done yet. But I still believe that this broken community called the church is still better than any other alternative available today.
So when you say, I love God just not the church, I hear you and understand. But before you run away I would encourage you to stay around and help us be what we are trying to be. Because even with all its flaws, the church is still a wonderful blessing. I love the church.