I’ve been pretty critical of the American Church in several posts, and it strikes me that those who don’t know me extremely well may get the wrong impression regarding my esteem for the Church.
It’s true that I’m concerned that American evangelicalism has essentially lost its soul chasing political power and has been consumed by fear.
It’s true that so many churches have been places of abuse, both physically and emotionally, and so many pastors and leaders have no business being anywhere near authority but nonetheless are.
Churches can and have ruined the faith of many people via neglect, ostracization, hate, alienation, abuse, and other heinous actions.
But Jesus Christ loves his Church, no matter how broken and ugly it can be, and Christ will ever operate and be found in his Church for those who can look past the failures of fellow people.
The Church is eternal and ultimately unbreakable, though it shudders through denominational schisms and controversies.
Scripture calls the Church the Bride of Christ, and it is corporately as the Church that we Christians will present ourselves at the end of time.
We cannot absolve ourselves from the mess of the Church – it is inherent to who we are, and we are called to inhabit it and serve in and through it.
In fact, we miss out on living life the way God intends for humans unless we are connected to a corporate body of believers, a church.
There are acts of worship and adoration as well as the desperately needed sacraments such as communion that can only take place when we come together as a body.
Nothing – absolutely nothing – should stop the Christian from belonging to the Church in a local congregation.
St. Augustine affirmed this during the Donatist controversy in the Fourth Century, in which some Christians called into question the validity of priests who had publicly renounced the faith in order to save their lives, only to try to return to the Church once a period of persecution had ended.
Augustine successfully argued that this should not be the case – the validity of the work any priest or pastor of Christ carries out for the Church is not negated by whatever personal failures can be attributed to the individual.
So no matter how much you may disagree with a church leader or how much you think they may be unworthy of the position they hold, if they’ve been ordained by the Church, they are still a source of the desperately needed sacraments such as baptism and communion.
Without these means of grace, we live a vastly diminished spiritual existence that is incredibly less than what God intends for us and find ourselves unable to fulfill the callings God has for us because we are not filling ourselves with his presence through the means he has provided only through his Church.
It’s true that the Church is made up of hypocrites, liars, thieves, and false teachers – sinners like you and me. I’ve struggled with this reality as much as anyone else.
But who else would it be filled with, because where would you find anyone who is different? The hope is that each of us in the Church is on the path to becoming different; that through worshiping Christ and dying to our self we are progressively becoming more like Christ.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t do this well, and many of us who call ourselves Christian don’t do it at all. That is to our shame, and we will be held accountable for it in whatever way that accountability eventually looks like for each of us.
The call as always for each of us in the Church is to know Christ more intimately and follow him more closely – Christ himself, not a particular variation of an American culture that claims to represent Christ and the dangerous teachers who speak for that subculture.
There is much repenting for all of us to do.
And we are hopefully beginning to see a process in which Christ is refining the American Church, calling more and more people to make it aware of its sins and call it to repentance.
The fact is that it will be the Church who stands in white robes at the end of time bowing before Christ, the communion of saints who become corporately his Bride. We should be moving to be worthy of this calling.
And for this reason anyone who would be a Christian must love and serve the Church, must be in the midst of the struggle for its soul and the ugliness it sadly can all too often entail.
There is no other option but to be a part of a local congregation, to share life with a group of believers, to serve and grow along with others.
Christ’s love and devotion for the Church compels us.