Church can be pretty painful sometimes. I think back over my 17 years in ministry and my mind fills with memories of being yelled at, called names, having gossip spread about me. I think of bucking my head against pointless traditions and outmoded structures. I flinch at memories of being harangued by fundamentalists and lambasted by liberals. I painfully remember relational breakdown and conflict. I can easily recall the feelings of heartbreak at the apathy and/or selfishness of people who are part of the church. When I think back the last 17 years have been a litany of tough times and often walking upstream when it comes to working in the Church.
Despite experiencing all of this I am actually not that cynical about the Church. Ok I do carry what I think is a healthy dose of cynicism at times. But on the whole I don’t feel let down or betrayed by the Church. Often I sit down with young adults who have come to what they see is an earth shattering conclusion that the Church is flawed. They often feel that such a realization is almost tantamount to heresy. However such a response carries with it an assumption that Church is somehow meant to be perfect.
Perhaps this belief is fostered by the leadership of the Churches that these people come from. Often these people drop out of Church altogether seeing the errors of the Church as an inditement against faith itself. Others leave to start renewal or reactive movements of all shapes and sizes. However after a few years the realization (hopefully) dawns that the new movement carries its own flaws and history ends up repeating.
So if you feel cynical or hurt by Church that is fine, but we have to remember that nowhere does the bible promise us that the Church will be perfect. In fact the bible promises us that the Church and its leaders will be flawed and broken. Just look at the people of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses brings down the Torah from Sinai and they have already descended into an infantile pagan worshipping rabble.
Through the arc of the Old Testament the people of God consistently act in a selfish, unjust and flawed manner. The prophets and monarchs fail and flounder, yet God through his grace maintains his relationship with his people. Despite Israel’s human failings he continues to partner with her, working towards good despite her shortcomings.
Look at the primary witness of the often lauded early Church the book of Acts. The story begins and almost straight away we have conflict between the Greek speaking and Hebraic Jews. We have that much quoted passage in Acts 4:32-37 in which the believers share their possessions. But before we can pause to marvel at this moment we have Ananias and Sapphira lining their prophets and acting like corrupt proto-tele evangelists.
The bible never give us a picture of a perfected Church. Sure their are moments in which the kingdom shines brightly in the actions and unity of the people of God, but the word offers us a wonderfully earthly and realistic image of the people of God. The overall theology of the Bible when it comes to the Church is that the Church is flawed because we as humans are flawed, the Church is simply a mirror of our own journey’s as disciples, reflecting our triumphs but also our failings.
The bible’s theology of the church most importantly points to Christ’s grace. We as individuals are recipients of God’s grace. So is the Church, God works with us despite our failings and errors. The history of the Church is a testament to God’s forgiveness, the mere fact that he continues to still want to partner with us is a witness to his absolute grace. The errors of the people of God remind us that we are not here to worship our Churches but instead we gather around worshipping God.
So it is ok to feel hurt by the Church, often you have good cause to. But before you pitch your brick into the stain glass windows of the Church, remember Jesus’ words about stones and sin. Maybe it’s time to forgive?