#30 The Church
Something has been percolating in my mind recently - and that is the church. [For use in this blog I mean, "church" to be the visible gathering of believers in the institution of church - while I of course recognize that the church is an invisible body of believers scattered throughout the world.] Specifically, people's expectation of the church. What got my mind on this subject were two articles that I recently read - the first from Andrew Sullivan in Newsweek. Here is the link to that article if you are interested:
The other was written by Mark Galli as a response. Here is his article:
Both of these articles got me thinking heavily. One of my biggest laments actually can be reflected in both of these articles. I get saddened by the many who expect the church to be, well, perfect. They expect that the people of the church will act above reproach in all things. They expect that the church's kindness, grace, love, and discipline will simply be obvious to all. And those that feel this way are right about one thing - the church's behavior should be that. Absolutely. Lest we forget that Paul's admonition to the Ephesians was, "be imitators of God therefore..." Jesus Himself said, "Be perfect therefore as my Heavenly Father is perfect...."
Yet, as human beings we have never met that standard. A cursory examination of the Pauline Epistles showcases that the church was beset with divisions, factions, and envy. My goodness, if you read 1st Corinthians you see that they had huge sexual immorality problems, discipline problems, and their use of the Sacrament was downright ghastly.
My point in writing all this is simply this - people abandon the institution of church because of failed expectations. Yet, I do not believe this is a good enough reason to abandon the institution of church. I simply don't. Because while we will meet sinners at church - and those sinners will sometimes act out of sin - Jesus has chosen to work through this organism. It has never failed. Through the early years, the middle ages, and yes -the 21st century - Jesus works through His church.
What do we believe happens when we go to church? We meet with God. He inhabits the praises of His people. He comes down - He comes down - and with the bread and wine enters into us through His body and blood. He forgives sins. He gives us the sweet words of absolution.
When one abandons the church, one abandons the very presence of the people where we are called to exhibit our love of neighbor [and yes, even our love for enemies]. The church is filled with people - sinners -who do dumb things. And they need forgiveness.
Should the sin of the church appall us? Absolutely. It was appalling to Paul - and even more appalling to Jesus. But should it surprise us? No. If your expectation of church is that you can meet with the Lord, praise Him, hear His Word, and receive His Sacrament, then perhaps you will not be disappointed. But if it is to find people that are so amazingly godly that you see the perfection you so desire....you will be consistently disappointed and disillusioned.
Furthermore, I have met many that gave up on the church - only to realize that being a lone ranger Christian really is no better. Furthermore, if you do leave the church and continue to evangelize, well....then maybe people will want to gather in your home. Enough gather and you'll have to get some kind of organization. Don't worry - as soon as you do that you'll get some bitterness, anger, etc....
This is not to excuse the church. She should be ashamed of her sins - repent - and receive forgiveness. I should too. And yes, so should you. Amen.