What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Church Love

So let me clarify after my last post: I love the church.

Late last fall I was meeting with a student who was going through a mini-faith-crisis. Some of this was personal, some of it was with the church. We talked some about the person stuff, then I asked her about her struggles with the church.

Her frustrations with the church was the usual cast of characters: the church was full of hypocrisy, the church was picking and choosing which Scriptures to follow, the whole conservative Christian = Republican politics, the church seemed overly-simplistic in how they thought about faith and the world around them, the church didn't serving the poor, the widows, the orphans. The more we talked, the more she got amped up. The church had pretty much failed in every area she could think of.

But here's what became clear as we talked: the category of "the church" wasn't anything that corresponded to any sort of reality. "The church" became a catch-all for every possible negative stereotype and disappointment that she could be frustrated about. "The church" was just a giant pinata for her to work out all her frustrations with just about everything that was wrong with the world.

This happens with my Bible-belt students all the time. They come to UNC, meet thoughtful and critical people from all over the place, and they begin to resent their churched upbringing for not being interested in the things that seem to really matter in the real world.

But here's the problem: "the church" is not just this giant catch-all for all the wrongs in the world. "The Church" is a huge, glorious, stumbling, wonderful, mixed-up community of 2,000 years of broken and redeemed people who are in process. It is not all bad. It is not all good. It is a real, dynamic community of people--people who, according to our own theological understanding of the world, are created in God's image but who are cracked by the fall and by sin.

Without a nuanced understanding of the church, it is easy to either overly-romanticize the church or to overly-condemn the church. Both extremes are simply two sides of the same coin: demanding a perfect Bride for a perfect Christ before Her perfection has been made manifest. One side ignores the ugly parts, the other ignores the beauty that is already being worked out here on earth.

Jesus tells a parable where an enemy sows weeds in with the wheat. The servants ask the master if they should go through and remove the weeds but the master says to wait until the harvest so that none of the good wheat is lost. And so it shall be with the church. There is much that is broken in the church; there are many who claim to be Christ-followers who simply grasp for power, who manipulate, who steal and lie and exploit. They shall be dealt with. But not until the end.

In the mean time, there's two things we know about the church: 1. It is full of broken and messy people who we must not expect either too little or too much from. and 2. Jesus is not ashamed to call Her his beloved Bride. Holding on to both of these helps us to live in the tension of our own experience and understanding and evaluation of "the church" in all its' beauty and brokenness.


Jeff said...

Great thoughts, Alex. Here's a similar piece that we just posted on StudentSoul.org: http://www.intervarsity.org/studentsoul/item/why-church.

I think things are going to have to shake out on both the disgruntled and complacent sides of the church relevancy debates.

Jennifer said...

Amen. Amen. Amen. I'll gladly make room for you up here on the soapbox.