As a pastor, one of my pet peeves is when people pile on the church and take a bunch of cheap shots at her. Attacks from outside the church are unsurprising and to be expected. But the attacks that more often bother me, is friendly fire that comes from within the church. According to some Christians, the church can’t do anything right. They only want to emphasize the failures and weaknesses of the church. Basically, if a kitten was kicked, it was the church’s fault.
A Quick Definition
Let’s define our terms. What is the church? The church is not a building. It is not a sanctuary designed to worship a deity. No. The church is a collection of people who have had their sins forgiven by Jesus. They are people who have been born-again by the work of the Spirit. They have trusted in Jesus for salvation and they gather together to worship the gracious God who saved them. The church is not a place to go, it is who we are. The church is found wherever followers of Jesus are seeking Him together in community. The style of worship will vary, but there are some constants: God’s Word is preached and the sacraments (i.e, the Lord’s supper and baptism) are administered.
Hating on the Church
There are many people who have issues with the church. Some of these issues are legitimate, others are not. Some Christians overcompensate for their disdain for the church by leaving the church and finding “sanctuaries” everywhere. These range from the golf course, to Starbucks, to a mountainside. Surely we can and should worship God anywhere, but when we forsake the church, we miss out on the unique opportunity to take part in gospel community. No other sanctuary or institution can offer you gospel community. No other place can offer you a identity in the Body of Christ where Jesus Himself is Head. The Christian life is not designed to be a solo effort, but a team exercise
Other Christians choose to focus on para-church ministries. These ministries are great and have been used by the Lord in some amazing ways. However, you can’t forsake the bride in order to date the bride’s cousin. Para-church ministries exist to come alongside the church, but they never can replace her. A para-church can never take the place of the church or fulfill the unique role given to the bride.
There is another group that I like to call grenade lobbers. Grenade lobbers are Christians who like to throw complaint-grenades at the church from a distance. Yet, they are not willing to get involved to help solve the issues they are complaining against.
The Unique Role of the Church in History
I’m in no way saying the church in infallible. The church has had her share of black-eyes. She has failed and she has sinned. The body of Christ must constantly practice self-examination and honest evaluation. After all, judgment must begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17).
The church’s failures does not change her status. The engagement has not been broken. The wedding is still on. There is a wedding feast coming where she will celebrate with the Bridegroom. Despite her failures, let’s not lose sight of the church’s high position in God’s redemptive plan, which is unique and even cosmic. Paul writes:
10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,
These verses tell us that it is through the church, the Bride of Christ, that the manifold wisdom of God is put on display. The church is a living, breathing picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the church where the glorious drama of salvation and redemption plays out. The “rulers and authorities in heavenly places” are angels who have great interest in watching the church to see how the unbelievable plan of salvation is unfolding within her and through her.
It is in the church where true transformation takes place. It is in the church where dead people become alive. It is in the church where lost people get found. It is in the church where blind people see. It is the church, who has been given the earth-shattering Good News of Jesus Christ to proclaim. It is in the church where people’s needs, both spiritual and physical, are met. People are loved, prayed for, encouraged, and rebuked.
Not a Plan B
Ephesians 3:11 reminds us that the church was not a backup plan. The church was not a fallback date for Jesus that the Father arranged, just in case things didn’t pan out with Israel. No. It is in the church where the eternal purposes of God had been realized in Jesus. The ESV Study Bible says, “God’s redemption in Christ originated in the fathomless sea of eternity with God’s ‘manifold wisdom'” (v.10). We, as members of the body of Christ, have the privilege and joy of displaying the manifold wisdom of God in salvation. This has always been the eternal plan of God.
Love the Church
Why should we love the church? Certainly not because she is inherently lovable. Quite frankly, she’s not. That’s the point. That’s the gospel. Jesus has placed His love on a collection of souls who weren’t lovable. He died for people who did not deserve it.
We should love the church because Jesus loves the church. He gave Himself up for her, sanctified her by the washing of water with the word. Despite all of her issues, blemishes, and failures, Jesus will present the church to Himself “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish”(Ephesians 5:25-32).
If Jesus loves His bride like that, we better too.