In the last couple of weeks several readers of my blogs have discussed on how they have felt about two of my posting on the status of the church and on religion. One follower from Facebook forwarded me this article written by Andrew Sullivan from NEWSWEEK “Forget The Church, after they had read Jesus.” post 1 & post 2. Honestly I had to read this twice to take it all in! Then I realized that I’ve noticed there has been a lot of conversation in the media i.e. (Facebook, Twitter, TBN, & here on WordPress & other blog sites) lately that goes something like this, “People believe in Jesus but not the church.”
Newsweek Magazine picked up on this with an article entitled, “Forget The Church, Follow Jesus.” There are some good comments in this article but the article in itself is not really the issue. It’s the overall ‘vibe’ of the public conversation about the local church. There are many assessments and assumptions made that are just not accurate nor are they fair. When people start talking trash about the church – I get protective – not defensive, protective. I want to protect the reputation of church as I would want to protect the perception about a friend who is being criticized about their attitudes, actions or motivations.
I want to protect how she’s treated. People can ‘think’ whatever they want, but to speak those opinions or judgments out loud is wrong because they can be damaging and add to an opinion that is inaccurate. Pastors for years, have heard comments from people like, “I love Jesus, I just don’t like the church.”
Some thoughts to consider…
1. We have to recognize that Jesus loves the church.
When giving instructions about marriage in Ephesians 5, Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus loves the church, laid down His life for her, cleansed her, cares for her and becomes one with her. Then Paul says husbands should do the same for their wife.
How do we find ourselves so free to criticize or minimize the significance of the church?
I believe if you love Jesus, you must love whom He loves. He loves the lost, He loves the hurting, He loves those who follow Him and He loves the church.
2. The “local church” is the hope of the world.
It carries no weight to say ‘I love the global church’ but have no commitment or dedication to a local church. It’s like someone saying they play professional basketball but they are just not part of any one particular team. It makes no sense.
God plans to use the church to reveal His awesome plan to humanity.
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,Ephesians 3:7-12.
Jesus said, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:18
The challenge is this:
As believers, we have to be careful not to let our criticisms against churches add to the public dismissal of church’s significance or relevance.
Criticisms from one church leader against other churches or leaders because of their style, method, and lack of emphasis on topics important to the critic often diminish the authenticity of the accused church and the church as a whole.
In an interview with , I read him accuse “ of u2the church” of neglecting the poor. It was said as if this were an understood fact. While I commend Bono for his humanitarian efforts, it does sound a bit arrogant on his part to make a public judgment on that level. I don’t know where he has attended church. Perhaps he has had some negative experiences. I don’t know if he gives any financial support to churches that he has a connection with so they can actually help the poor.
But what I do know is, that the churches I know and the pastors I associate with are heavily invested in giving to the poor, orphans and widows, HIV Aids victims, giving aid to the homeless and responding to world and community crisis. So I reject these assumptions and assessments of “the church” that are expressed, not just by Bono but others. One only needs to mention one church – Salvation Army – to offer an exception to this misguided opinion.
3. The church is made up of people.
Flawed people. People like you and me are in the church. I have made mistakes and you have made mistakes. This reality makes it possible for others (also flawed) to join us. As a minister, I have made mistakes in trying to lead in my our ministry. The church is an organization of imperfect people who are accepting of other imperfect people who begin to understand they have a purpose, and together, try to make a difference in the world.
4. People hurt people.
“The church really hurt me.” There is no such thing as the church hurting someone.
It’s like saying:
“The bank really hurt me.”
“Restaurants have wounded me.”
“The gym hurt my feelings.”
It is not the entities or organizations that have hurt us – it’s the people in them. The people who work in restaurants have let me down. I’ve managed to find others places to eat. There are people who workout at my gym that could very well be hypocrites. I may be judging others here but I still go and workout. If you have been hurt, violated or abused in a church – I want to say to you sincerely, “I am so sorry for your pain. I’m sorry you have experienced that.”
I know that pain myself. I’ve experienced many difficulties, betrayals and struggles in a church. I’ve probably been the offending party in a few unfortunate situations. But still I need to go, grow, serve, worship and build God’s house. Regardless of the struggles or hypocrisies of humanity. I need to be in my Father’s church.
I urge you to forgive those people who you may have met in a church, whether a leader or a member so that you can continue to grow in your faith. In an effort to take your forgiveness to a deeper place – try church again. Try a different church, a new church; there are many ‘life-giving’ churches.
5. There is No “Perfect Church”
Not the one you attend. Not the one I mistier in. We are not reviewing movies here. It’s God’s people. All churches need to have some accountability. We need to be confident enough to hear the criticisms and pull out what truths we can find to help us. We need to look at our weaknesses and try to improve. Christian churches do need to hold strong to the core beliefs of the scriptural foundation of our faith.
However, because you see a flaw in a church you don’t approve of – it is not necessary to add your voice to the growing sound of church bashing that is shaping a growing prejudice against the church of Jesus Christ as irrelevant, hypocritical or insignificant.
Here’s what you CAN do:
- Attend a local church. Be an active part of the solutions not a vocal attack of the uninformed.
- Pray for the local church. Pray with humility, honor and faith. Remember who you are talking to – He loves the church.
- Serve. Get involved. Most pastors would love to have someone in their local church who would help serve or lead a ministry that reaches out and helps people in the community.
- Give. Help support the efforts of the church. Many churches cannot do what they desire to do because people are so much freer with their critiques than their financial support
- Finally, be the example you would like to see. Get off the bench and get in the game. There’s less complaining on the field. Engage the problem with solutions.
Here is a podcast of Bishop TD Jakes talking on his unconventional approach to spirituality
What are your ideas to bring strength to the church?
*Resources: Philip Wagner, http://www.aspenideas.org, Andrew Sullivan