“Whoever seeks Christ must first find the church. Now the church is not wood and stone but the group of people who believe in Christ. Whoever seeks the church should join himself to them and observe what they teach, pray, and believe. For they certainly have Christ among them.”
There is a popular trend in the social media sphere that has really been picking up steam in recent years. No, I’m not talking about Snapchat or Dubsmash. I’m talking about the tendency by many to attack and criticize the church. And while, in some ways, criticizing the church is nothing new, what surprises me about this trend is that the ones leading the way this time around are Christians.
In fact, it is a rare week that I don’t see some article or blog post about the ways in which the church is failing to reach the young, the old, the hipsters, etc. Likewise there are countless “Things the Church Should Stop Doing” posts and top ten lists. I know because I’ve heard the gripe-fests, read the blog posts, and even tweeted and re-tweeted a fair number of them.
But I would argue that while the church is imperfect, that is also the very reason we need the church.
You see, the problem with the church is that it is filled with people like you and me. The church is a place filled with people who are simultaneously justified and sinners, and it exists for the purpose of reaching imperfect and incomplete people. As such, it will always be a dysfunctional, imperfect, and oftentimes hurtful community of people. It will continue to be a place that has rough edges, weird practices, bizarre programs, and strange tendencies. BUT that is because it is doing exactly what God has called it to do: reaching the lost with the saving message of the Gospel.
St. Augustine once said, “The church is a whore, but she’s still my mother.” He recognized that the only reason he was saved and has a relationship with Jesus Christ is because the church, messed up and imperfect as she is, reached out to him with the message of God’s unconditional love and grace.
In fact, I would argue that the church is at her best when the people who make up the family of God don’t have it all together, but rather are incredibly aware of their own brokenness and their need for forgiveness. When Christians come to see themselves as sinners saved by grace, they suddenly become a people who can most effectively reach out to the world that desperately need God, because they are speaking with the authority of those who’ve experienced God’s love, even though they are horribly undeserving of it. Our brokenness becomes the very platfrom from which we proclaim the “excellencies of Him who called [us] out of darkness and into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
But we need the church for another reason as well. It is the one place where true transformation can really happen. This is because the church is the only place where you will actually be confronted with your own brokenness and simultaneously be extended grace and love.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way:
“The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer…The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian living in the diaspora recognizes in the nearness of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God. In their loneliness, both the visitor and the one visited recognize in each other the Christ who is present in the body. They receive and meet each other as one meets the Lord, in reverence, humility, and joy. They receive each other’s blessings as the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
The church is the one place in which broken people can come together, in humility, and call each other to new life in Christ. It is for this reason that the church is indeed precious and beautiful. It is the place where Christ’s presence is found in the midst of his people simultaneously offering the words “neither do I condemn you, now go and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).
This really came home to me when I was working in college ministry. After my first year, one of my co-workers approached me and, honestly, called me out for my pride. But then she said this, “Your pride hurts me, but more than that, it is hindering the amazing work that God wants to do in and through you.” In one sentence she showed me my sin, but also assured me of God’s love and ongoing work in my life. She confronted me with the Law and comforted me with the Gospel. One of the things that I love about the Church is that it is the one place, the one community, where I know people will be brutally honest with me, but also incredibly loving and gracious.
So don’t be so quick to write the church off. Remember who she is: the bride of Christ. She is our mother and the bearer of the Gospel for a world that desperately needs the grace and mercy of God.