Stop Bashing the Bride!
It is very popular these days to write books, make statements, post blogs, and write articles that scold, criticize, and ridicule the church (especially the 21st-century American version). Is anyone but me getting just a little defensive? Honestly, these revelations don’t inspire me, they make me want to scream, “Hey, wait a minute, you’re talking about my church!”
We are talking about Christ’s bride here. Shouldn’t we be a little more careful about how we flippantly describe Jesus’ wife as irrelevant, corrupt, hypocritical, and ineffective? Indulge me just a little as I defend the church I have come to love and am falling in love with more and more every day.
It Was God’s Idea
Let me begin by defending the church because it was God’s idea. This means it is good and it will succeed. Scripture calls the church God’s household (1 Timothy 3:15), Jesus’ body (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 5:29, 30), and Jesus’ bride (Revelation 21:9, 10) among other things. Apparently, the church is very important to God, and that alone should cause us to be very careful when choosing to criticize it.
If you mess with my house, my body (physical well-being), or my wife—you’re going to hear from me! Imagine how God feels when imperfect humans take shots at his eternal institution! These criticisms, by and large, are neither constructive nor encouraging. Rather, they are critiques without suggestion, lists of “don’t likes” and “why the world doesn’t like us” instead of “what could and should be by God’s power.” The church is here to stay because God has said he will accomplish with the church what he wants to accomplish. Even guys like me can’t mess up God’s church.
God’s Strength, Our Weakness
Here’s something else to consider: God knew the church would be imperfect! I’ve always been amazed that God established two crucial institutions in the world—the family and the church, and he put weak-willed, imperfect, prone-to-sin, messed-up people in charge of both. Did it ever occur to anyone that this is a part of God’s great design to show his strength in our weakness?
I’m not saying we should go on being imperfect losers so that God’s strength may abound. But I am saying God knew the people of his church would be imperfect; in fact, imperfection is one thing that has been universally consistent about the people who make up the church from the first century to the 21st century!
But the church is humanly imperfect. Spiritually speaking, she is beautiful and without flaw. God made her that way through his extreme love in dying for her. I believe it’s time for leaders in the church to stop pointing out her spots, wrinkles, and blemishes because Christ has made her radiant. Have you noticed her beauty lately? God has.
Another concern I have is the defensive position the church is taking with the world. The church, the primary redemptive organization in the world, continues to grovel and say we’re sorry for being such poor world citizens. Meanwhile, the humanist educators, politicians, and celebrities look down their noses at us and refuse to acknowledge they are exponentially more selfish, hypocritical, and corrupt than the church ever dreamed of being. I believe it’s time for us to stop apologizing to a world that only uses our apologies to justify their disdain for God and elevate their ongoing sin-driven agendas.
Frankly, I think much of the world sees the church as a bunch of sniveling weaklings who have finally admitted they don’t have any more answers than a variety of other worldviews. That’s not the church that will prevail. That’s not the church I read about in Scripture. We’ve become way too apologetic when we don’t need to be.
Finally, let’s look at a few common, off-base charges lodged against the church:
• The church is neglecting the poorest, most helpless and marginalized people in the world because people in the church are basically rich and selfish. I agree the church (specifically the American church) needs serious spiritual growth in the area of money and money-related sins (greed, materialism, selfishness, trust in riches, and stewardship, to name a few). But let’s not forget that the church is also the leading force of redemption in all areas of benevolence worldwide.
What would happen if all the church-founded organizations, church mission dollars, and volunteer Christian service in the world suddenly stopped? The world would implode as poverty, illness, death, war, crime, and financial instability soared beyond sustainable levels. The church Jesus calls his bride currently holds the world together with her generosity and outreach. It is the only force that has both the ongoing will and means to do so.
• The church is wasting too much time, energy, and money on facilities. The common argument from some in the church is that church buildings are not biblical. The early church was a gathering of loosely organized house churches, they say, and we should all just meet in house churches and never own a building or expand facilities.
Truth is, we really don’t know a lot about the structure of the early church. But we know enough to dispel this “small-home-church is the only biblical way” notion. We know the early churches had a structured leadership (elders). We know the early church consistently had large public gatherings (the word for church in the first-century language is a public assembly word—“called out” to public assembly). We also know the early church met in buildings larger than homes: synagogues (Acts 17:2), Solomon’s porch (Acts 5:12), and lecture halls (Acts 19:9, 10). While smaller house churches obviously existed, the large gathering was also part of the early church. So having a building in which to meet, worship, preach and teach, do ministry, and serve in is very biblical.
Church buildings are where most Christians today learned about God, gave their lives to Christ, were nurtured by a faith community, and were ministered to in their darkest time of life. How about we give this church building thing a rest? Besides, the leaders God has entrusted with his resources will have to give an account someday for the buildings they build for his church. Fortunately, he’s way more gracious than most of us.
• The church is an exclusive organization whose members accept only others like themselves. The church has been accused of being a closed community open only to a select few. The church stands accused of being bigoted (or at least unwelcoming and judgmental) toward homosexuals, Hispanics, African-Americans (or Caucasians if you are an African-American congregation), the under resourced, and those holding other worldviews about God that don’t line up with hers.
While there certainly are Christians still immature enough in their faith to not extend the grace of Christ to everyone, the church remains the only institution in the world where literally every race, sex, background, and socioeconomic level is welcomed! The church is the most inclusive organization in the world. The official, biblical stance of the church is: If you want to be a follower of Jesus—you can! On any given Sunday in our church former strippers sit next to millionaires, who sit next to people who use our food pantry, who sit next to Indian families, who sit next to home-schoolers, who sit next to former gang members, who sit next to African-American/Caucasian couples, who sit next to adopted children from Haiti, who sit next to atheists and agnostics, who sit next to drunks shaking off the latest binge, who sit next to Bible college professors, who sit next to couples who are living together, who sit next to women who have had abortions, who sit next to people in their 80s, who sit next to college students, who sit next to blue-collar workers, who sit next to Chinese college students, who sit next to—you get the idea.
Are you serious? The church isn’t accepting? Give me a break.
So here’s to the church. The unblemished bride of Jesus. The unbridled household of faith. The unmistakable body and presence of Christ in the world today. She’s imperfectly perfect. Only the church is bringing true healing in the world. Only the church has the answers for eternal life. Only the church is open to all who would enter.
Isn’t she beautiful?
Mike Baker is senior pastor of Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois. He and his wife of 25 years, Sara, have two sons. Mike is the author of three books, How Teens Do Church, Counsel Fit for a King, and Freedom in Christ.
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