I think I’ll die the next time someone tells me that they want to create, attend or be a part of a “New Testament church.” The implication, of course, is that in the “olden days” of the Bible, Christians were somehow more pure, more committed, more loving and more together than we are in the modern, apostate church today.
Not only that, it shows a woeful lack of biblical knowledge.
The early church was not a pretty place.
Two of its main leaders (Paul and Barnabas) couldn’t stand each other and couldn’t even minister together (Acts 15), and their members bounced checks and lied about their own stewardship (Acts 5). Political battles divided the church, hardly anybody agreed on the “main thing” and hypocrisy was rampant among the best-known and most respected leaders (Galatians 2). And talk about anger…the apostle Paul was so angry that his language would offend most modern-day Christians (Galatians 5:12).
The last time I checked, nobody at my church is, as far as I know, sleeping with his father’s wife as it was in the early church at Corinth and, if it did happen, people in my church would be bothered by it. From what Paul said, that didn’t bother anybody at Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). I have yet to meet anybody at our church who has made communion into a drunken party as it was in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:21), who has brought in unbelievers to judge a dispute within the church (1 Corinthians 6:1-6), or who has been publicly sleeping with prostitutes (1 Corinthians 6:16).
When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). He wrote that because it was so painfully obvious to everybody that Christians were earthen jars…and it would have been disingenuous at best for Paul to say anything different.
I’m big on the church. That might surprise you. I’ve already given you Augustine’s comment to the effect that the church is a prostitute but our mother. And in affirming what Augustine said, I may have given you the impression that I’m not very happy with or supportive of the church.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus was big on the church.
I’m big on the church because Jesus was big on the church. The Bible says that the church is the “bride of Christ” and it doesn’t do to disvalue another man’s wife…especially if that man is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And it isn’t wise to disvalue the wife of the man for whom I work as a servant either.
There are some Christians who irritate me. (Probably far less than those I irritate.) I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Jesus loves you but everybody else thinks you are a pain.” I get that. But if Jesus loves them, I guess I should try. Jesus gave himself in love and on a cross for a lot of irritating people in general and for an institution (the church). If he did that, the least I could do is affirm the ones and the institution he loves.
The church isn’t finished yet.
I’m big on the church because of what it is becoming. I love the church’s goals…even if the church doesn’t come close to fulfilling those goals. I think the church is something else because, in its finest moments, it is a kind and generous institution even if, on occasion, it is selfish, mean and prideful. I’m a part of the church because I like to show whose side I’m on. I want to be a part of the church because the core beliefs of the church are convictions that I share…even if those convictions are sometimes distorted, not well articulated, and often not even believed.
Paul said that Jesus is working with the church so that the church “might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27).
He’s not finished with us…not by a long shot. The church has served us and met our needs by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and healing the sick. I’ve been loved when I didn’t deserve it, accepted when I shouldn’t have been, and affirmed when nobody else would affirm me (even if sometimes I’ve been condemned, criticized and rejected) by the church.
Yeah, the church isn’t always what I love about it…but sometimes.
I know, I know…so much more could be done. But when a dog plays checkers, you don’t criticize his game, you’re just surprised that he is playing at all. The church plays checkers—imperfectly, sometimes for the wrong reasons, and often without much enthusiasm—better than any “dog” I know. And if the Bible is right, you “ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
I’m screwed up.
I’m big on the church because I’m a part of a club where the members are as bad, as sinful, as prideful and as screwed up as I am. And not only that, I’m a member of an organization where the charter states that the only qualification for membership is that the members not be qualified. Now that’s a club I can enthusiastically support.
Who was it that said he wouldn’t be a part of a club that would accept him as a member? While I understand that sentiment, it isn’t one with which I can agree. I want to be in a club where, if they would accept me, they would accept anybody.
Yeah, the church isn’t always what I love about it…but sometimes. In a fallen world, “sometimes” is good, 51 percent is success, and nothing is perfect.
And the church is his bride.