Archive | September, 2013

A Love-Hate Relationship With the Church

17 Sep

There are some things I have a love-hate relationship with.  For example, I really love to eat pizza and ice cream, but I hate what they do to my thighs.  I really hate vacuuming my house, but I love the way it looks when I’m all done.  I think those instances are fairly typical, and not especially problematic for my life with Jesus.  However, there are some “love-hate” relationships that I’m finding God is less okay with.  One such relationship is with the church.


Everywhere I look, I encounter yet another critique of the American church.  In fact, I can’t discuss the church with anyone without hearing about how off-course we’ve gotten. And believe me, it isn’t just the “other people” who are guilty of this.  I have just as many complaints about North American Christianity as the next post-modern.   Sometimes I feel like my entire generation is overwhelmed with an intense sense of dissatisfaction with the church.  More often than not, I share in that dissatisfaction.  The church in American is overrun with consumerism, nationalism, and sin.  Our reputation with people outside the faith is terrible, but not for the reasons it ought to be.  Early Christians were despised by the ruling populace because they advocated a way of life which went against the forces of empire at every turn.  Somewhere along the way, sadly, Christianity took hold of the empire, so that the two have become inseparable.  The world no longer hates us because we refuse to worship Caesar, advocate peace over war, or fight for the humane treatment of the marginalized.  The world hates us because we’re pushy in the political realm, homophobic, judgmental, hypocritical, and old-fashioned (this information was taken from Unchristian by David Kinnimen and the Barna Group).  As an “insider,” I have been deeply discouraged (and often frustrated) by the lack of discipleship and mission within our churches- not to mention the inordinate amount hatefulness that can be unleashed when conflict arises.


All over North America, believers are calling out in the prophetic voice, and naming the sins of the Church.  I thank God for such prophets because these messages are necessary for the sanctification of the church.  However, I’m beginning to sense that this generation of prophets (of which I feel apart), is also treading in dangerous waters.   We’re on the precipice of doing great harm to the body of Christ.  You see, all this sin-naming has fostered more than a righteous anger or holy discontent.


I think it’s making us love the church less.


To be clear, I get it.  I get the frustration and the dissatisfaction.  I also long to be part of a community that reflects Scripture in every way.  But calling out all the ways the church fails, isn’t enough to precipitate change. After all, the dissatisfaction of other people (many of whom look, dress and worship differently) is rarely sufficient motivation to evaluate or change our own ways.  Thus, we aren’t going to change the church, unless we give people a good reason to.  Those of us in leadership are going to have to step up and show people what church can be.  Yes, we must name the sins.  BUT it is equally imperative that we present another way of life- where the church is fully surrendered to the love of God and fellow humans. 


In order to do that, we have to be surrendered to God’s love ourselves.  That means we have to love- and I mean REALLY love -the church, regardless of how messy it is right now.  After all, how much grace and mercy does God extend to each of us in our messy walk with him?  God’s grace in my life isn’t even quantifiable, and so I suspect that our grace towards those in the church should be just as long-suffering. 

I know, first-hand, that this kind of love is ridiculously difficult.  But I also know that loving the poor, the addicted, the imprisoned, the atheist, and the terrorists isn’t enough. 


We also have to love the people of God who don’t seem to get what God is all about.


We have to love the cranky person who calls every Monday to complain about the sermon, the bulletin, the song choices, the temperature, or the color of the carpet.


We have to love the missions committee who would never dream of stepping foot inside a homeless shelter.


We have to love the people who think contemporary music is just entertainment, along with those who think hymns are outdated.


We have to love the republican who questions the salvation of democrats, and the democrat who thinks republicans are all fascists.


We have to love the people whose addiction is alcohol, or porn, or shopping, or gossip- because we know all addictions are an attempt to fill voids which God has yet to be welcomed into.


We have to love the church, despite its immense flaws, because that’s the way God loves us.  The body of Christ is sick.  We’ve lost our way, and we’re in serious danger of completely losing sight of the radical discipleship to which Jesus has called us.  But the church will never change unless we give her something more than a bad report card or an angry blog post.  We’ve got to love her, sin and all.  And in that love we will convey a message- a call- to another way of life; where Jesus is Lord and we are all more like him.