I’ve been wrestling very hard with this post. Why? Because I have many friends who have been hurt, abused, taken advantage of, and wrecked by the completely imperfect institution called the Church. When I say the Church, I’m talking about the Christian church as a whole–Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, non-denominationals, etc. I have one friend who sees it as his personal mission to single-handedly dismantle the Church, namely the mega-churches. He speaks vehemently against them and engages in debates on social media to prove his point. Others join in to validate his points. Most of those people have also been hurt by people in church. There are parts of his mission that I can relate to. I have also been hurt by church people and pastors whom I trusted. I, too, have been let down by the institution.
But I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.
You see, I see the Church a bit differently. The Church is a prime example of the mercy, grace, and love of the Father. When we look carefully at God’s Word, we can see very clearly the type of people God came to save. He used the massively imperfect to change the world!
Here are just a few examples:
Moses couldn’t speak well in public, was a murderer, and had a short temper.
Joseph was a day-dreamer with very little concern for the feelings of his brothers around him.
David was an adulterer.
Not to mention those Jesus chose to be His disciples and apostles, the ones who would ultimately build His Church:
Peter is likely the one with whom we can relate the most. He was impulsive and emotional. One moment he is walking on water towards Jesus by extraordinary faith, and the next he was sinking due to doubt. He also denied Christ three times after He’d been captured. Yet, Jesus held Peter so close to His heart.
Matthew was a tax collector. He was not the guy you’d want to trust your money with, just like many pastors who are making the news right now.
Thomas doubted Jesus after He’d risen from the dead and appeared to the disciples. He wanted the proof and asked to see Jesus’ hands. In love and compassion, Jesus honored Thomas’ request.
Simon was a zealot. (That’s about all we know about him).
Judas, of course, being the worst disciple who betrayed Jesus for money.
In addition, we can see who Jesus associated with in His short life…tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, drunkards, etc.
We can also learn a great deal from those whom Jesus didn’t associate with: Pharisees and those who used the Law to abuse and imprison people.
So let’s just get to the bottom line here. There are people in the Church who are terrible leaders and others who are horrible examples of Jesus and His love for us. But guess what? Jesus looks at all of us and shows us grace. Christ reveals His perfection by using a completely imperfect Church. He demonstrates the abundance and ferocity of His unconditional love for us as individuals through His love for the jacked up mess that we call the Church.
Now there are some of you who will argue that those corrupt people in the Church are a perfect example of how we need to dismantle “organized religion” and have church exactly the way they did in Acts 2. I love Acts 2. It’s a beautiful guide as to how we build the Church and protect it and its people. Acts 2:42-47 says this:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
A couple of thoughts about this passage:
1. Most of the people I’ve run into who have issues with the Church and want the Church to be an Acts 2 Church would be the least likely to sell all of their possessions and give everything they have away. I don’t mean that in a judgmental way. I mean that they, themselves have needs that need to be met, and would highly resist giving over all that they have. Many of my jaded friends have trouble with simply tithing to a church, so let me say this with as much love and grace as I can: Tithing is an Old Testament teaching. When Jesus came, fulfilling the Law, He said that everything we have belongs to Him. The tithe is the bare minimum we should be giving. What we give may start with money, but it oozes out from the rest of our lives. We give our talents, our gifts, our own selfish desires, and our very lives to Him. Giving to Jesus should hit us in every way imaginable from our pocket books to our Sunday mornings to our Mondays-Saturdays.
2. If people were getting saved each day, the first Church had to have been a mega-church. In the first day the Peter preached at Pentecost, 3,000 people were added to their number. Do you seriously think that those 3,000 people suddenly became perfect after their conversions? No! Sanctification is a slow, often times painful process where the Holy Spirit literally cuts out those dead things in our hearts that have the ability to spread like cancer. Did those first believers likely screw things up? Absolutely! And I’m so thankful that God’s grace is so abundant.
In 1 Timothy 1:15-17 Paul says:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
To all of my jaded friends: I love you tremendously. I am thankful that God made you the way you are. Do you have the right to be jaded? For a time, maybe. But there comes a time when you have to come to the realization that the Church isn’t perfect, and you’re a part of that Church whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. If you are His, you are part of His Bride. In attempting to sabotage His Bride, you are effectively sabotaging yourself. I am honored to walk beside you in your journey of faith, but my hope for you is that you’d stop chasing after the speck in your brother’s eye and get the plank out of your own.
Trust me when I say this, I have been angry and hurt by the actions of those in the Church as well. I’ve observed and experienced abuses that are nothing short of disgusting. But what God has been teaching me is that those were the actions of a select few, and you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.
One reason I struggled with whether or not to write this post is because there’s already a lot of commentary on this subject out there. It’s mostly negative, and I didn’t want to be another voice in the wind. I didn’t want to spew more venom on the subject.
Feel free to leave your comments, good or bad. But also know that I will not engage in arguments on the subject. I’ll leave you with this verse:
Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive. –2 Timothy 2:22-26