Bob Russell Says, ‘I Love the Church!’
By Bob Russell
A prominent ad for a new church plant reads, “Church doesn’t have to suck! Happy hour service this Sunday at 10:30 a.m.” Some might smile at that trendy message and regard it as a creative attention-getter, but the not-so-subtle implication is that most churches are boring and ineffective.
Frankly, I’m tired of people bashing the church of Jesus Christ. I’m not referring to the world’s ridicule of the church—that’s expected. I’m referring to the criticism of the church from within.
Popular Christian authors, convention speakers, parachurch leaders, and “cutting-edge” preachers frequently heap scorn on the bride of Christ. The church is accused of being irrelevant, uncaring, legalistic, homophobic, intolerant, hypocritical, judgmental; you name it, the indictments go on and on. I sometimes get the impression these leaders love the people in the world and despise the people in the church.
Recently, after hearing another sermon introduction on how phony the preacher’s home church was, I wanted to ask, “How in the world did you come to know the Lord if your church was that bad?”
One best-selling author claims he experienced more genuine fellowship in a commune than a church. Now he travels the country apologizing to the world for the church’s past offenses.
A new music director in a traditional church informed his choir they would no longer be wearing robes. He insisted the choir members needed to repent for allowing their contrived apparel to be such a barrier to the honest seeker. Really?
Of course, some of the criticism is valid, because the church is made up of imperfect people like you and me. But that’s always been true. The first church in Jerusalem refused to accept the newly converted Saul of Tarsus. The Judaizers undermined sound doctrine in the churches planted by the apostle Paul. The seven churches in Revelation were lukewarm and prideful.
Some churches are better than others, but there is no such thing as a perfect church.
In response to all the harsh criticism, I’d like to say a positive word about the church. If Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her, those of us who seek to be like Christ should love the church enough to sacrifice for it and defend it when necessary. Besides, the Bible instructs us to think about the things that are noble, admirable, and praiseworthy.
Think about the positive influence of the church in America. The frontier church started 106 of the first 108 colleges in this country. Or look around your community. Who established most of the hospitals where you live? Not the atheist society. Most were founded by Protestant and Catholic churches.
The church started and funds most inner-city missions that minister to the addicted and homeless. The church started and undergirds most orphanages and homes for the elderly.
Who has consistently visited with and conducted worship services for those in prison? The church. Who establishes crisis pregnancy centers and homes to assist single mothers in desperation? The church. Who consistently teaches the moral values that provide the ethical foundation for reliable businesses? The church. When public schools flounder, who steps up and provides excellent Christian education for grade school and high school students? The church.
It’s often suggested, “Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.” That’s not true in many churches I’ve visited. Some of the most diverse and inclusive congregations now function in harmony.
When Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, who was there first with the most practical help? What about the horrific hurricane that rocked Haiti? And, how about the tornadoes that destroyed entire communities across the United States? Who sent the most money without anything scraped off the top? And who was still there helping to rebuild homes and minister to the hurting two years later, after all the government agencies had moved on and the television cameras were turned off? Ask the locals, and they’ll tell you volunteers from American churches were the lifeblood of relief work all over the world.
Who annually sends mission teams to poverty-stricken Third World countries to minister to medical and dental needs, dig fresh wells, purify polluted water, and teach sanitation and nutrition? The church.
In nearly every community there are free counseling ministries, generous food pantries, helpful substance abuse programs, heartfelt programs for children with special needs, backpacks for needy children at local schools, generous food baskets at Thanksgiving, and free toys at Christmas. Churches are making a dramatic impact in nearly every community with both their social and spiritual services.
There’s no way to measure the suicides prevented, divorces averted, and emotional or family problems corrected by the weekly ministry of local churches. How many marriages have been kept together? How many kids kept off drugs? How many crimes prevented because of the positive influence of godly people in the church?
One of the reasons the church’s impact isn’t appreciated is that it doesn’t usually toot its own horn. Following the example of its founder, the church practices humility and isn’t very self-promoting. The media doesn’t normally publicize the church’s positive services—partly because it’s nothing new and partly because many in the industry despise the values for which the church stands.
Maybe that’s the way it’s meant to be. The church isn’t supposed to grab the headlines and get public recognition. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth,” and salt doesn’t get much credit. No one ever gets up from the table, licking their lips and raving, “That was the best salt I’ve ever tasted!” No, salt quietly adds flavor and enhances the taste of most everything without getting much recognition.
But did you know one large church took up a special offering and sent $493,000 to encourage victims of 9/11? Three years later the same church collected $896,000 and sent it to victims of the tsunami in Asia. The next year a $711,000 offering was received to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Did you know one small church annually gives thousands of dollars to aid the hospice ministry in its community? Did you know one congregation in a large city has a ministry to young women captured in the sex trade, and as a result, 31 former strippers have given their lives to Christ and escaped that industry? Did you know many churches give well over a million dollars a year to overseas mission work?
Some of the very best people I’ve ever known have been godly church people: husbands who have stayed with their wives and ministered tenderly to their needs through dementia; mothers who have provided guidance for their children even though they themselves had abusive husbands; parents who patiently ministered to special needs children; elderly saints with severe health problems who endured suffering with grace; wealthy businessmen and women who quietly, behind the scenes, gave thousands of dollars every year to worthy causes.
When I hear someone ridiculing yesterday’s church, I want to protest, “Hey, that’s my parents you’re talking about and they were great Christian people. They tithed. They never missed a church service. They lived out their faith in a genuine, compassionate way
“So did many others of that era. I was there. I knew them up close, and they don’t fit the negative stereotype of a hypocritical, judgmental bigot you’re portraying them to be. In fact, I doubt if you’re worthy to untie their shoes!” I want to say that but I don’t, in part because it would reflect badly on the church.
Oh yeah, one other thing: who has faithfully proclaimed the basics of the gospel and brought eternal life to hundreds of thousands of people all around the globe? Every week in Bible-believing churches there are people accepting Jesus as their personal Savior and being baptized into him. They joyfully claim the wonderful promise, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).
Where would the world be today without the church? I’ll admit it’s far from perfect, but before you criticize the church, remember it’s the bride of Christ. Although the bride has some blemishes and a few age spots, the loving groom sees her “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).
No groom wants to hear his bride ridiculed. I suspect we’re more likely to gain the groom’s favor if, instead of criticizing his bride so much, we’d love the church and give ourselves up for her.
Bob Russell, retired minister of Southeast Christian Church, lives in Louisville, Kentucky.