Today I saw a short rant against religious abuse from a person who is no stranger to pointing out what is wrong with the church although himself a Christian. He wrote about destroying religious systems. He dropped a nice big profanity for emphasis. In some sense I can relate though my assumption is the church he would create would be a very uncomfortable place for most honest Christians, myself included!
I have been in a similar place and I have done this very thing. Actually, there was a period of my life where I could hardly find a good thing to say about Christianity because my interactions with fellow “Christians” seemed so negative. I do not remember when it occurred but one day a novel concept came to mind: I am just as messed up as everyone in the church that I am criticizing. I realized that I am just as bad at showing Christ to the world as most fellow Christians. I realized I am as much a hypocrite as the next person. It was a hard pill to swallow.
Soon after this was followed by a paragraph from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (p. 27) that forever changed my view of the church. He wrote the following,
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
I am sure that the church today is a mess. I am sure there are plenty of places where the church is simply an embarrassment to Christ. I am also fairly confident that the church is rarely in as bad a shape as it was where Bonhoeffer lived. If you think your congregation is annoying image your church being overtaken by Nazi ideologies!
While I understand the frustrations of the aforementioned ranter I must point out a few things: (1) Anyone this frustrated at the church that is not frustrated with themselves is oblivious to their own shortcomings (unless they are really, really better like maybe some missionaries and the Apostle Paul); (2) Anyone who can openly verbally abuse the church in such a manner has a weak ecclesiology. Jesus said the world would know we are his disciples because he love one another. This does not mean we should not call out wrongdoing in the church. It does mean we should not paint broad strokes labeling all Christians that do not think and act like the first person singular are somehow in need of reform that I can provide. (3) It shows that this person does not really recognize that the church is the people of God. As messed up as we may be we are still those God has elected from the people of the earth.
Along with Bonhoeffer I would suggest that if you are frustrated with the church and you think the church needs to reform the best place to start is by loving your brothers and sisters in the church that you think are so horrible. It is my assumption that this is what will shock the world around us. Too often we (myself especially) treat those who dislike just like the world. This shows them that there is nothing different about us. You can try to reform all you want to make the church appear as you would like it to look but everyone will see right through that as just another political ploy.
The first step toward reform is to love the church. Love her as she is now. Let Christ be Lord. You can’t help the church if you find that deep down you have come to hate her.
I really agree and I had to come to the same realization not to long ago. I don’t even listen anymore to people who spend all their time talking trash about the church and other Christians, especially when they’re not doing anything to help.
Well said, and very insightful, Brian. My church history professor made a statement about the church being who God has declared it to be – this statement has forever changed the way I see the church. Regardless of how some individuals or groups who are Christians have erred in their living, the church is always holy, blameless, righteous, a spiritual temple, the body of Christ, and everything else God says about it. As you pointed out, love is what will bring out the true nature of the church.
Brilliant Post! May I cross-post this one Brian?
Of course, anytime.
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