You Gotta Love the Church

“You gotta love the church.”

That was the simple–and sincere–advice a mentor gave me when I started ministry.  But these days, it sounds more like the kind of statement that would serve as a punchline to someone’s church horror story.  The kind of thing that would be accompanied by the dismissive wave of a hand.  A rolling of the eyes.  A shaking head.  Pfft.  You gotta looove the church.”  

Fifteen years ago, the author Anne Rice was best known for her vampire novels.  But then she grabbed headlines when she announced that she had converted to Christianity.  (She was viewed, it seems, as an unlikely convert!)  Ten years later, Rice was in the headlines again.  But this time, it was her declaration that, while she remained committed to Christ, she was leaving the church.  Rice posted her decision on Facebook.  She wrote: It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.  For ten years, I’ve tried….Today I quit…My conscience will allow nothing else.”  

Anne Rice isn’t the first (or the last) person to shake the dust off her feet and walk out of church–even while claiming to follow Christ.  (Her Facebook post received several thousand “likes’!)  And to be sure, while Rice may come off as a tad self-righteous (even about the self-righteousness of others!), there is some element of truth in her critique.  The church is far from perfect.  I suspect that nobody knows that better than the people who work in the church!  But is it right for us to to storm away in disgust?  To focus only on her flaws?

A few years ago, a friend of mine was having trouble with her mother-in-law.  And I mean big trouble.  One Friday evening after a tense supper, things came to a head.  My friend’s mother-in-law sat her and her husband down at the kitchen table and pulled a small black notebook out of her purse.  She opened it and began to read.  My friend sat in stunned silence as she realized the notebook contained a catalogue of all her shortcomings and failures (at least all of them her mother-in-law could think of). The torturous litany of sins went on for several agonizing minutes until finally, my friends husband took her hand in his, gazed across the table and said, “Mother.  Stop it.  She is my wife.  She is my wife. And I love her.”   

The church is not perfect.  And God does not put his stamp of approval on every crusade, or lousy sermon, or thoughtless act She commits in his name.  And yet, he still calls her his “bride.”  So maybe next time we’re tempted to dismiss her with a contemptuous wave, maybe we need to here Christ say: She is my wife. She is my wife. And I love her.”

He loves the church.  In fact, he loves her enough to die for her.  And that means we’ve gotta love her, too.

______________________________

The Church (Derek Webb)

I have come with one purpose
to capture for myself a bride
by my life she is lovely
by my death she’s justified

I have always been her husband
though many lovers she has known
so with water i will wash her
and by my word alone

So when you hear the sound of the water
you will know you’re not alone

Chorus:
‘Cause i haven’t come for only you
but for my people to pursue
you cannot care for me with no regard for her
if you love me you will love the church

I have long pursued her
as a harlot and a whore
but she will feast upon me
she will drink and thirst no more

So when you taste my flesh and my blood
you will know you’re not alone

Chorus:
There is none that can replace her
though there are many who will try
and though some may be her bridesmaids
they can never be my bride

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One thought on “You Gotta Love the Church

  1. Thanks Joel, I needed to read that today. I heard one person talking about the failings of church say that it is interesting to note that the Apostle Paul never seemed to be confident IN the church he wrote letters to, rather he always seemed comfortable ABOUT the church. That distinction has stuck with me and really helps me at times when I get frustrated or disillusioned in ministry. I need only ‘refocus’ and remember that what gives life to a church is not the people in it but the One for whom it is all about.

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