I keep bumping into this sentiment lately: “I like God, but I can’t stand the church.” Or, “I’ll take Jesus, but I can do without Christians.” It seems like even folks who claim the faith are taking their shots at the church. Criticisms range from the church being too involved in politics to being irrelevant, from Christians being judgmental to not knowing what they believe. Some people have decided that they are no longer going to call themselves “Christians” because it carries too much baggage. “Christ-follower” is much more vogue and it gives one the option of following Jesus without being part of the church.
I wonder how that makes Jesus feel. I think those comments are a kin to going to a bridegroom and telling him, “Dude I like you, but your bride is ugly.” Honestly, how long do you think you are going to be friends? Can you continue to have a relationship with the bridegroom and disparage the bride? Do you think you are still going to get an invitation to the wedding reception?
I do not think that the church is above criticism. In fact, when the bride is unfaithful to the bridegroom she needs to be corrected. The Scripture is clear that judgment begins with the house of God. (1 Peter 4:17.) But who is entitled to do the judging? And to what standard is she being measured? If the standard is other than the Word of God, then it is, at best, a distraction and, at worse, an idol.
Is there another institution that has done more to lift humanity out of the slim of history than the church? Has government done more to restore the dignity of humanity to the elderly, the poor, the unborn? Does Madison Avenue preach a message that gives people hope and peace? Has technology been able to restore broken relationships, especially a relationship with God? Can forgiveness be purchased on Wall Street? Perhaps a little tolerance could be extended for poor coffee and hokey movies.
So why the hostility towards Christians and the church? R.C. Sproul writes in The Holiness of God, “People have an appreciation for moral excellence, as long as it is removed a safe distance from them. The Jews honored the prophets, from a distance. The world honors Christ, from a distance.” (pg. 71) Two thousand years later it is easy to admire Jesus, but get close to Him and you might find out why the prophets were killed and He was crucified. The closer He gets the more our unholiness is revealed. Sproul continues, “They feel crowded by holiness, even if it is made present only by an imperfect, partially sanctified human vessel.” (pg.82). Imperfect, partially sanctified human vessel is a pretty good description of the church.
Yet, the Church is the bride of Christ. She is not perfect (not yet anyway), but He is the one who has called her. Jesus purchased her with His own blood. He washed her in His Word. Jesus is preparing a place for her at this moment for eternity. And Jesus is anxious to return and get her so that she can be with Him. Jesus loves the church. The church is His creation. He will make her holy and pure in His time.
The church has issues, no doubt. However, Christians should be a bit more careful before throwing her to the curb the way the world does. For there is coming a day (sorry, I don’t mean to fixate on end times) when those who “love Jesus but can’t stand the church” are going to be very glad they are counted among her.