Loving The Church
“You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.” | James 3:18, MSG
It can be hard to love the church. Frankly, at times, she can seem like a big, fat disappointment.
Infighting. Divisions. The failure of leaders and the apathy of congregants. The assimilation to culture. A preoccupation with prestige and power. Intolerance. Liberality.
Sometimes the church is hard to love.
“It is clear that the church regularly breaks our hearts, disappoints, and even damages us. Both history and our current headlines reveal a church that can be a deeply flawed, sinful, and unhealthy institution, marred by acts of injustice, corruption, abuse, misogyny, and oppression. The contemporary [American] church is wrecked with bickering and division, celebrity worship and unaccountable leaders, false and shallow teaching, and a Christian industrial complex formed around greed and vanity.” | Tish Harrison, A Church Called Tov
Negative experiences often lead people to give up. They decide they will ‘follow Jesus’ but reject the church. Their solution: to walk an individual and untroubled path, to become a solitary lighthouse bravely resisting the wild seas alone.
And I get it. I do.
It’s an unsettling reality that many people who’ve left the church and moved away from Christian community have suffered real disappointment and hurt at the hands of the church. For many, their view of the church has been (justifiably) tarnished by their negative experiences within it.
People can be very wounded by the church, unfortunately, because it’s made up of imperfect people who often mess up.
But here’s the rub.
We are the church.
All of us, together, collectively, communally.
There’s not ourselves and then, over there, the church. There’s not me, in my own personal little faith bubble and then, over there, the raging, incompetent screw-up of a church that I, personally, have no connection to (and neither do I want to).
There aren’t some Christians who just love doing church and other Christians who, well, it’s just really not their thing.
‘An individual Christian does not a church make.’
We are the church.
Christianity is, by definition, collective, and communal. There is no church, without all of us.
Too often we separate out Jesus and ‘the church’ in our minds as if they’re two different identities. We say we love Jesus but we’re less enthused about his people.
But the church is Jesus’ body. It’s part of him and he’s part of it. He died for the church, for his people, and it’s in his death and resurrection that we are brought together in community.
Jesus said that he would build his church, purchased with his own blood, and of which he is the chief cornerstone (Matthew 16:18, Acts 2:28, Ephesians 2:20). His language is organic, inclusive, and corporate. He is in the house-building business and we are each his individual stones, selected and fitted together, according to his good pleasure (1 Peter 2:5).
We therefore can’t say we love Jesus but we hate his people/body… it’s simply incongruous.
Loving the church isn’t an optional extra to our life of faith. It’s an intrinsic part of it, with all its joy, pain, and disappointment. She is us and we are her.
3 Reasons To Love The Church:
1. Because Jesus Asked Us To (And Because He Loves Her)
Jesus brings real people, diverse and divided in life, into common union together, into relationship, into the messy, untidy reality that is the church, not because they are worthy, but because Jesus died for them and that is enough.
It’s around the Passover table, over the first Christian communion, and right before Jesus was betrayed, sentenced to death, and then crucified, that he gives his disciples a new commandment to live by once he is gone.
“…love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” | John 13:34-35, ESV
By loving one another as he has loved us, all the world will know that we are his disciples. The world will see your love for each other and know, without even having to ask, that you are followers of the king.
Love isn’t always easy, but it is the more excellent way. And it’s the way that Jesus has asked us to take.
First, we were loved, now we love.
Sure, we will have to work at it at times (and 1 Corinthians 13 is full of pastoral advice on how to go about this) but, quite simply, loving each other – loving the church – is what Jesus has asked us to do.
He loves her and he wants us to love her too.
2. Because The Church Is The Hope Of The World (Despite Her Flaws)
Around that communion table, Jesus could see the seeds of the church – his church – that was soon to be born. His small band of followers represented the expansive and diverse family that God would build through him, for the glory of His name and in pursuit of His purpose.
“You are my ambassadors”, Jesus had told them, “and behold, I am with you, even until the end of time.” (Matthew 28:20).
From the dark soil of an empty tomb, the seeds of Jesus’ church sprang forth, bringing new life and hope.
The church – full of saved sinners – is the place that tells of God’s goodness and faithfulness, and His enduring love for humanity.
The church is the place that speaks hope, shining the light of the gospel into a dark world.
The church is the place where broken and damaged people find healing and redemption, basking in the warmth of God’s radical grace.
The church is the heart of God’s kingdom mission, spilling over into the world and showing that a different way is possible: life that gives life, in abundance.
We love the church because, despite her flaws, she is the hope of the world, the place where people finally come home.
3. Because We Were Made For God’s Community
We were made for community and we grow and are nurtured in community. (Yes, we are wounded in community but it’s also in community that we heal. “Healing might not come from the community where the wounding took place, but community is needed for healing nonetheless.” | Rich Villodas)
It was in the very beginning that God said, ‘let us make humanity in our image and after our likeness.” To be with God and to be like God, together: this is what we were made for and the purpose of human existence. This is why we all feel that deep longing to belong, why we continually search for meaning in the mundane. God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
We aren’t really ‘Christian’ in its fullest sense unless we’re doing life together within the God-community we were created for. Otherwise, we’re just like a random rogue toe or finger, disconnected from a body and essentially useless (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) (in this analogy, that is; please don’t read that to be saying ‘you are useless’!).
The Apostle Paul has this to say about the body of Christ: “A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use. That’s how it is with us. There are many of us, but we each are part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another.” (Romans 12:4-5, CEV)
Each one of us, brought together, makes up the body and, as Ephesians 5:29 comments, “None of us hate our own bodies. We provide for them and take good care of them, just as Christ does for the church.”
This is what we were made for! Relationship with God and relationship with His people. Church people are kingdom people, living in a fellowship under King Jesus, with lives that are “connected to things before the creation of the world and extending far into eternity.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
We love the church because she is the community of God.
Sometimes the church can feel hard to love. Sometimes we rub up against people who don’t exactly show Jesus as we think he ought to be seen. Sometimes we are those people.
But for those who have been disillusioned by the church, please know that she is full of people who really are the real deal; people who love Jesus, love his people, and are working every day in his kingdom mission with sincerity and authenticity. I know, because I’ve met them!
So, don’t give up hope in the church, in finding your place in it, and in loving her, despite her flaws.
She is us.
We are the church.