3 REASONS I’M DONE CRITICIZING THE CHURCH
In some circles today it’s cool to criticize the church. Search social media and soon you’ll find someone upset because they say the church has failed them. Some have even walked away. In fact, most readers of this blog know at least one person who has decided to leave church altogether.
Obviously, the critics are not totally wrong. Attend church long enough and you’re sure to bump up against adultery, jealousy, lying, or just general unpleasantness among folks who are supposed to be redeemed.
I get it. Sometimes someone will say to me, “It must be wonderful to work at the church, doing God’s work all day every day.” Well, it certainly is gratifying to partner with God in his activity on earth. But it’s not for the faint of heart. Spiritual healing is like physical healing: sometimes it means cleaning messy wounds, draining ugly infection, watching for many months (or years) while disabled people slowly hobble along until their brokenness has mended.
So I could tell you plenty of reasons to criticize the church. But I’m committed not to join the critics, for at least three reasons.
1. THE CHURCH IS THE BRIDE OF CHRIST
If you would speak ill of my bride the way some talk about the church, you and I would have a problem. Of course my bride is not perfect. Of course we bump against problems to solve and shortcomings to forgive. But we do this out of commitment and love, in private. In public I praise her for all her good qualities, and there are plenty to talk about.
Yes, I’m with the bride when she leaves her underwear on the floor or her breath smells of coffee and when she puts on face cream to crawl into bed at night. She’s human, just like every person in the church. Why concentrate on imperfections when our marriage brings so much that’s so good?
Why concentrate on the human foibles demonstrated by the church when the church’s singular mission is so vital?
2. THE CHURCH IS THE HOPE OF THE WORLD
The church is the only enterprise on earth lifting up the name of Jesus. And Jesus is the only one who offers purpose and peace and a life beyond all the suffering in this one. Our criticism of the church may be the main reason some people don’t discover this hope. In fact, sometimes I wonder why anyone would want to be a part of church after hearing some people talk about it.
Writing for Christianity Today, a Christian leader named Josh Laxton examined the widely shared posts of some prominent Christians who announced they were walking away from the faith. Although they had a long list of criticisms, Laxton discovered one thing missing from what they wrote: Jesus.
“All the reasons why they are leaving the faith or struggling with the faith have little to do with the actual essence of the Christian faith—Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension,” he wrote.
The shortcomings we may see in the church are the very reason we need the church. Yes, let’s work to improve it, all while we remember the One who called the church into existence. Jesus is the “great master and perfecter of our faith who conquered death and sin,” Laxton wrote. “Resist the temptations to take your eyes off Jesus.”
3. JESUS LOVES THE CHURCH
The first thing I remember when I focus on Jesus is how much he loves us. I can’t complain about the church and still love her the way he loves the church. When I’m criticizing the church, I’m denouncing those Jesus died to save. When I’m whining about the church’s failures, I’m pointing a finger at myself, because I am the church. The church’s problems include my weaknesses as well as those I notice in others.
Jesus loves me in spite of all my failures. He loves the church in spite of all her stumbles and shortcomings. He offers grace to me just as he gives it to every gossiping or immature or self-absorbed brother and sister I may encounter in the church. And so I’m learning to extend that grace as well.
I’ve decided the hope and love that come only from Jesus must stand at the center of my conversation. Through his people, the church, he is redeeming and restoring lives all around us. That’s the message I want to share. I’m done criticizing the church.