My Love/Hate relationship with the Church

I’m in a mood to rant. I’m ticked off with the church. Not A church. THE church. By definition Biblically, I’m talking about the global, eternal church–the Body of Christ, the thing He gave His life for to reconcile to Himself. I’m convicted even as I write that definition. How can I be ticked off with Christ’s BODY?!! But I am. I have no time or energy left to deal with the sins of society in general because I am so inundated with the sins of Christians (my own sins included). It seems for every step forward I see of gospel proclamation, reconciliation, and kingdom building, I see 6 steps back by Christian individuals or groups who bite and devour one another.

It’s the self appointed Christian watch blogger who violates every characteristic of Biblical love in I Corinthians 13 in calling out another Christian (that they have never met) on their sin. It’s the Christian couple who despite years in the church neither seem capable of letting go of their rights and breaking the cycle of returning sin for sin. After years of sitting under the gospel, neither gets that Jesus washed Judas’ feet and let him kiss Him in the garden even though He was fully aware of what Judas intended to do. It’s the Christian leader who cannot admit that he sinned against someone under his authority–like admitting his sin will somehow undermine everything and it will all come falling down on his head. But I do it too. I sin against my boys and then try to justify and hide it because I still can’t believe that admitting to my sin and asking their forgiveness won’t undermine my authority. Surely the gospel doesn’t mean that I am supposed to admit my sin to those under my authority. Surely it doesn’t mean that I must return love in the face of betrayal. God couldn’t possibly expect me to pursue someone with kind, patient, longsuffering love when they have sinned publicly … could He?

Paul has a good word on this in Galatians 5

3You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. …

19The acts of the sinful nature (also called the deeds of the flesh) are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

I was especially burdened about this as I sat in my church’s class on Ephesians
week before last. Paul gives this beautiful picture of what Jesus is doing for
the church.

Eph. 5: 25 – 27 …Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

I raised my hand in class and asked the question that agonizes me at times–why doesn’t the church look anything like this?! How do I maintain hope when I am bombarded with evidences of the Church’s failings? It seems that I only get to witness the biting and devouring of one another. And the young but wise pastoral intern leading the class told me something along these lines.

The deeds of the flesh are flashy. Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy stick out like a sore thumb. They disrupt. They are loud. They are obvious. The fruits of the Spirit, on the other hand, are quite subtle. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control–these don’t shout for attention. In fact, when God’s people are demonstrating such fruit from their heart, it is likely accompanied with humility and quiet sobriety. Let not the right hand know what the left hand is doing, and all that. Christians living out what the Spirit is working within them are not going to shout out on their blogs or facebook page all the ways they lived out the fruit of the Spirit that day. Those things just aren’t compatible.

His encouragement to me was that God is building His church and transforming Her into His beautiful spotless bride–that for every obvious deed of the flesh, there were many more quiet deeds of the Spirit behind the scenes. The private conversation of spiritual encouragement in the church parking lot. The anonymous envelope of money slipped into a mail slot of the unemployed worker. The phone call to the suffering friend. The meal dropped off at the house of the sick. Loving the unlovely. Joy in the midst of suffering. Peace while surrounded by conflict. And so forth.

Now, as I reflect on just the last week, I realize that I have personally witnessed way more of the beauty of Christ’s Body than the ugly. For the one conversation reflecting bitter conflict and dissension, I had three conversations that reflected the love, joy, and peace of the Spirit. A friend shared with me how the example of Christ and hope of the gospel equipped her family to return kindness for evil. Though I have read negative blogs, I also read of a church’s work with paroled convicts to help them reenter mainstream life and how their people had embraced and lived out the gospel’s message of reconciliation. And in my own home, when I confessed my sin with my boys and prayed to God with them to forgive me and help me not get angry, it worked. It didn’t undermine my authority. It reconciled our relationship and they seemed more ready to listen to me and be honest about their own issues.

One day the heavens will shake, and as much that is worthless crumbles to the ground, the light of the glory of Christ’s Body will first shine through the fissures and then break forth with great beauty and perfection. I believe in the radiant Son of God. But attached to my belief in Jesus the Head is a belief in His promises concerning His Body the Church. He is building His kingdom, and she will be radiant, clothed in splendor when we finally get to see her fully.

I am ready for that day.

6 Responses to My Love/Hate relationship with the Church

  1. Anonymous May 12, 2009 at 9:51 pm #

    Thank you Wendy ~ Between Oswald Chambers exhortation to be an obscure people and today’s thought on the fruit of the Spirit being subtle, I have a lot to think about.
    ~sarah

  2. carole May 13, 2009 at 1:17 am #

    I can relate so well. (too well) It’s so easy to become self-righteous in my criticism of the church.

    My father-in-law talks of the bride of Christ as a great cathedral undergoing massive construction efforts, completely surrounded by scaffolding. From the current perspective it’s hard to see what it will look like on the day of its completion.

  3. Jody May 13, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

    Wendy,
    This is a great post, I love authentic and transparent believers. I’m the one who was using your book for my women’s SS class. They absolutely loved it, we are done and they want to know if you’ve written another book. πŸ™‚ I said I didn’t think so but I would ask. I made up my own study guide. Thank you for writing it. I’m a pastor’s wife and we are in a God-fearing, Bible preaching, God glorifying church, but I understand completely this “rant”.:) Press on

  4. Wendy May 13, 2009 at 7:46 pm #

    Carole, what a great illustration. I may use that in the future.

    Jody, thanks for the encouragement! It really means a lot to hear that the book was helpful to the ladies in your class. I am working on another book (on Ephesians) but don’t have anything else printed yet. But I have hope that I will again in the future. πŸ™‚

  5. Ally May 14, 2009 at 10:54 am #

    A great, encouraging read. Thanks! It's so easy to hear the loud and forget the quiet. I needed to read this. Ally < 'v'>

  6. Brandi May 19, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    So very true. Thanks for the perspective. I love that scaffolding analogy as well.

    I have been more aware of these negative aspects of the church as I mature. As a pastor’s wife I hear all the junk, get slimed by the slander, and feel the growing pains and pruning. Sometimes I envy the “ordinary” members who get to just sit in the pews of a church they love and not have the “inside track” on everybody’s sin.

    But I have found that some passages of the Bible make more sense when you have an enemy. I get why Jesus was so angry at the religious leaders and hypocrites; I don’t think I understood that before. And at least I have someone in mind when I read all of those angry Psalms. ; )

    I’m gonna go call a friend and find some of that fruit.