Love for the Church

This is my third blog on Pursued, a book by Jud Wilhite. 

Raise your hand if the following cringe-worthy quote causes you to both nod your head in agreement and hang your head in shame: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."- Ghandi

Guys, where did we go so wrong?

How is it we all have access to the same scripture, which tells us of the same Savior - One who is full of mercy and grace, who offers us love and redemption, who gave of Himself completely without regard to whether or not we were "deserving" enough (we aren't) or would ever be able to pay Him back (we won't) - and yet, somehow we took this beautiful gift designed to connect us as one body of believers and morphed it into a weapon which is wielded to condemn others...all under the guise of "setting ourselves apart" and defending ourselves against "the world"??

"Christians can be incredibly loving and joyful and encouraging, but they can also be astoundingly judgmental, divisive, and opinionated." - Pursued

Christian Hypocrisy is a messy subject (and that's putting it lightly). I certainly don't claim to understand everything about it.
But here's something I do know: Christ LOVES the church.*

Paul writes: "Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church - a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her..." (Ephesians 5:25-27, MSG)

You've probably heard this passage countless times during weddings. But have you ever really stopped to think about what it says? When I read these verses, I see a love that is selfless, rather than earned. A love that connects instead of divides. A love that uses its strength and position to uplift, not condemn. This kind of love is not some haphazard emotional response, but deeply intentional and life-giving.

This is the kind of love we are called to have for one another, as Christians. 1 John 4:19 reminds us that the only reason we love in the first place is because He first loved us...perfectly, completely, in exactly the way I just described. And then He made sure it was all written down so we could repeat this same love with one another.

So why are so we bad at it?

Jud uses this metaphor in Pursued of a wedding guest approaching the happy couple in the reception line, telling the groom how wonderful he thinks he is, and then disclosing that he finds the bride to be quite lacking. 

Who would do that? And yet, isn't this essentially the same thing we do every time we bash on the church? We are, after all, the "bride" of Christ?

I've met many people who claim to still follow Christ, but choose to no longer attend church. Often they have powerful (and painful) reasons for their decision. They have been burned by a church that boasts Christ-likeness, but behaves with exclusion. Rather than being met with love and encouragement, they felt judged and condemned. 

In other words, they came face to face with religion, rather than experiencing the beauty of relationship.

I'm going to go ahead and dispel any rumors right here: there is no such thing as a "perfect" church. The church is the body of Christ, which is made up of deeply broken humans, all fumbling around together trying to figure this whole Gospel love thing out as best we can. We are going to make mistakes. The problem is when we aren't willing to own up to them. When we can't acknowledge our brokenness, and instead claim to be something we aren't: better.

But we weren't created to do life alone. We were created to be together. To live in community. To love and support and challenge and encourage one another. As Jud says,"you can't really separate Christ from His followers...":

"God created us to be connected to each other because of what it does for us spiritually, relationally, and emotionally." - Pursued

So at the end of the day, if we truly want to grow in Christ-likeness. we need each other. We need the church. And we need to love and nurture her just as Christ did.
Maybe this (^) should be our prayer?
I want you to really hear me on this: I'm not posting this as an excuse for poor judgment or corruption. There are times when it is very clear that evil is reigning over the actions of a body of believers, and in those cases I absolutely encourage you to GET OUT. But don't give up on the church. Don't let Satan lure you into an isolated faith.

There are also times when our sin as Christians is slightly more subtle. A judgmental comment. An oppressive stance. Or even an omission. We need to lovingly confront these issues in order to help one another grow and develop the Christ-likeness we were designed for. Together. After all, we were created in His image. It's about time we started acting like it, for God's sake.

So today, whether you have found a church body that you love or you are still treating the wounds of a broken church which made you feel less than special, I simply want to encourage you to take a step back and pray that God would help you to see His church as He does: beautiful, precious, and worthy of redemption.

*I'm talking about Christians, not referencing a specific physical building or even congregation.