According to tradition, Augustine once said, “The Church is a whore, but she’s also my mother.” In the middle of the third century Cyprian of Carthage said, “One cannot have God for his father who has not the Church for his mother.” It is without question that the early followers of Christ held a very high view of the collected body of believers, the Church. If you bounce around the blogosphere, Amazon, or your local bookstore today, however, you’ll find that more and more Christians have a low view of church these days—and many of them with good reason!
Most of their complaints and frustrations go something like this: “Church has become too much of a machine, corporation, business, etc.…church is outdated and irrelevant…church has lost sight of the whole gospel…” Then there are others who say things like: “I just don’t like what church has become, so I’ll worship at home with a few others who feel the way I do…Jesus said ‘wherever two or more are gathered in my name,’ so I don’t have to go to a church to go to church…”
Now, I’ve got to say that there is a hint of truth to all of these sorts of critiques and complaints, and that’s what makes it difficult for someone like me (a pastor and part of the perceived problem) to tell people that they may be wrong about their understanding when it comes to church. However, I still like church. I still have hope that the gathered people of God are better than the bad experiences and misconceptions of a few former pew-warmers. I have to believe that the majority of those of us called to this thing named ministry are better than the few others who grab all the headlines and shelf space. I have to believe that the Church (both local and universal) is the best thing we have until Christ’s return.
I still like church. It’s because of church that no fewer than twelve families now have their very own homes in which to live after the tornadoes that swept through Alabama in April of last year left them homeless. A church in Pleasant Valley, Alabama built those homes; no other organization was able to do that. It’s because of church that millions of people in this world have something to eat today (though there are still millions more who are hungry). It’s because of church that I (and I know many others like me) was able to go to college and then seminary. It’s because of the people I found inside the brick and mortar walls of a Baptist church in South Alabama that I realized I was worth something, that I was loved by God and redeemed by Christ. I still like church, even with all of its shortcomings and flaws.
Let’s not give up on church too quickly. Yes, it will hurt us. Yes, it will frustrate and anger us. Yes, there will be times when it feels old and outdated, but church is where the broken people of God gather for worship. Church is where the flawed followers of Christ gather together to try to figure things out and sometimes our humanity gets in the way of our attempts. Yes church can be a place of pain and bad memories (and when it is, one should seek a place where he or she may find comfort in Christ), but church can be a wonderful place where the people of God on this earth catch a glimpse of the coming kingdom.
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