Thursday, October 18, 2007

You Gotta Love the Church

A number of years ago my cynicism toward the Church was thankfully given a fatal blow by the realization that Jesus loves the Church with the same undying grace with which he loves even me.

It has always troubled me that so many people find themselves outside of Christianity today for the express reason that they "have been hurt by the Church". I have great sympathy and empathy for them. It would seem that for some reason there have been people in the churches of their youth you they have equated with the church itself (probably leaders or lifers) who have not shown the grace or love that we expect from the Church of Jesus Christ. This is undoubtedly a common occurence. Leaders and lifers alike fail. We should really not be surprised by this. But what gets me is when those leaders and lifers fail and live in denial; fail and don't seek reconciliation; confront others without seeking to embrace them. Essentially they love Jesus and their ideal Church but do not love the church in front of their eyes.

To them, and to myself, I say "you gotta love your church!" Failure to do so will leave carcasses strewn about; Christians who could have been.

But I am increasingly realizing that the challenge goes both ways. Certainly there are extenuating circumstances and exceptions to the rule but I would suggest that most of the people who have left a church because "they have been hurt by" it have not really tried all that hard for reconciliation. I am not just speculating here. I've seen this over and over. I've almost done it myself.

Of course you are going to be hurt by the Church---it is full of people; full of idiots; full of neighbours! Of course you are going to disagree with someone. Of course something will rub you the wrong way. Intentionally or otherwise, someone will offend you. Often you'll assume it is intentional and never bother to find out.

To these, and to myself, I must constantly remember that "you gotta love the Church".

This isn't to say that leaders and lifers (the supposedly mature) do not bear great responsibility for the wake of hurt ex-church-goers they have left behind them. But let us call to mind that the people who are not in the church are expressing great judgmentalism and exposing most likely their own failure to reconcile when they express the fact they have left the Church because it hurt them.

Of course it hurt you. The question is whether there were any ambassadors of reconciliation there (2 Corinthians 5). The question is did you talk to those that hurt you (Matthew 18) with the aim to win each other over? The question is do you love the Church, warts and all, by recognizing that it is not a bunch of perfect people but a people brought together IN CHRIST ALONE.

Without going into detail I want to declare that recently, when it would have been easier to distance myself from my pastor and my church, I felt compelled to talk to my pastor. As a result of this conversation I feel the unity we have in the grace and love of Christ that I not have felt otherwise. In fact it may be deeper now, because of our authenticity, even in the face of potential disagreement. I don't say this to credit myself, but him. Actually, not even him or I but the Lord Jesus Christ who has shown us the hard way the power of reconciliation---which really ought to be what drives the Church!

What I have found is that I don't love the church for what it could be and isn't, nor do I hate it because it doesn't bow to my whims and wishes (in fact I sort of love that it doesn't). I love it when and because it is bound together by a common love for Christ, an authenticity before His grace, and a comittment to reconciliation.

It doesn't look like this is true sometimes. But I'll bet if you meet with the people you don't see eye to eye with and are honest about what you think and where you are coming from and even if you don't agree on everything agree together to love Christ and seek his reconciliation---you will be amazed at the unity you feel in diversity; the hope you feel for the Church; and the change of focus that you find.

Church is not going to be perfect. But if we give it a chance and we do the hard thing of speaking the truth in love to one another instead of just leaving, I'd guess that 8 or 9 times out of 10 when we are hurt by the church we will find that we love it all the more, because after the hurt we'll find the healing, and in the healing our love will grown, and because we talked we will both be better off, and instead of schism we will have one more step in the gruelling road of change for the better.

You gotta love the Church. If you don't you are going to hurt people and never patch it up. Or you'll get hurt and never find the healing. Either way, whether a lifer or a leaver, you'll never actually know what the Church is about.


LF said...

Thanks Jon. You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today.

Anonymous said...

Hey jon,

You are refreshing; your thoughts are very helpful to me. It is helping me to work through some of the issues I've seen in the past. How I wish I could have helped these two brothers... I was caught in the middle and my head was on a spin. After the course we took together with the treasure found in the field like prof., and your clear thoughts... I'm encouraged to think that next time a scenario occurs I'll be better prepared.

But I have to say; you're one hell of a writer.

Bob (Seminarian of the Week dude)

Tony Tanti said...

Great thoughts. People take the easy road more often, which is to not confront things and to just walk away.

For me I can't say the church or its members have "hurt" me per se but individuals and churches have disappointed me with their action or lack of it and subsequant irrelevance.

That's a whole other topic though. Your thoughts here are bang on. And Bob is right, you are a hell of a writer.