I love the church.
For a lot of years, “I love Jesus, but not the church” or “the church is like Noah’s ark, it may stink, but it’s the only thing afloat” were cool things for a lot of Christians to say.
I used to be one of those people. Not anymore.
I love the church. No apologies. No qualifiers.
A few years ago, Dan Kimball wrote a terrific book entitled They Like Jesus, But Not the Church. The attitude in that title is completely appropriate for unchurched people. But not us.
‘They Like Jesus, But Not the Church’ makes sense. ‘We like Jesus, but not the church’ is sad and kind of sick. After all, the church IS US!
If I don’t like something about the church, I have a responsibility to change it because IT is US and US includes ME!
The Church Kid
If anyone ever had good reasons to love the church it’s me. I’m a third-generation pastor. My grandparents and parents met because of the church. I was born while my dad was preaching. (The doctor miscalculated and I came early.)
Some of my best memories of growing up were in and around church activities. I met my wife in church, married her in a church, and our kids and grandkids were dedicated in church.
Yet all of that pales to the five main reasons I love the church.
1. Jesus Loves the Church
If you do a New Testament Word Study on religion, you’ll find a lot of bad news mixed in with the good. But if you do a Word Study on the church it’s almost entirely good news.
Religion regularly gets a bad rap in the Bible, but the church doesn’t.
Even when people in specific churches are a mess (hello Corinth!), when you study all the Bible verses with “church” in them (which I did), it adds up to an almost-embarassingly glowing review.
The New Testament verses about the church show us people who
- Care for travelers
- Share everything they have
- Send missionaries
- Encourage the hurting
- Care for the poor
- Teach God’s Word
- Support the weak
- Pray for each other
The only real negatives I can find are in Revelation 2 and 3. The rest of the New Testament church verses are practically a Valentine’s card to God’s people.
This is especially surprising since the Bible isn’t shy about showing the warts of its heroes. But the church comes through, not only almost unscathed, but with praise reserved for no one else but God himself. Especially in the ‘bride of Christ’ passages.
To be clear about this, the New Testament writers never shied away from criticizing members of the church when they needed correction. We’d barely have a New Testament without that. But Paul, John and the others make a very real distinction. Even when they offer scathing criticism to individual believers, church leaders and local congregations, they are effusive in their expressions of love for the body of Christ.
2. The Church Loves Christ
I’ve learned to be a grateful member of my local church, because when the church really loves Jesus there’s no place on earth like it.
I have been hurt by people in churches. But I was also healed by Jesus through people in churches.
When a local church is in love with Jesus, it shows up in the most amazing, transformative actions. A church that really loves Jesus is one that will love each other and their community in deep, sacrificial ways.
It’s a beautiful thing to see a loving church in action.
3. Through the Church, I Came to Love Jesus
It’s easy to forget this sometimes.
Even if the church never did anything else for me, she brought me to Jesus. For that, I will love her forever.
I have been saved out of hell and into heaven. And Jesus used the church – the fellowship and testimony of others who know and love Jesus – to accomplish that purpose.
No, the church didn’t save me. Only Christ does that. But Christ has chosen to use the church (the people, not an institution) as his primary means to bring people to salvation.
4. In The Church, I Experience God’s Love
When I look at creation I see so much about the character of God. His power, his wisdom, his glory, his craftsmanship, and so much more are on vivid display. But if creation was all I had to go on, God could feel very distant. Great, but distant.
When I read scripture, especially the Gospels, God comes closer. In Jesus, I can see that God loves me. But, even then, it would be easy to know that Jesus loves me intellectually and historically without experiencing it myself.
It is through Christ’s body, the church, that I experience Jesus’ love in tangible ways. From formal experiences like the Lord’s Table and corporate worship, to the informal ways that people who love Jesus care for each other.
We’re not perfect. Not by a long shot. But when the church is the church, there’s nothing like it.
Through creation I see God’s greatness. Through scripture I know God loves me. In the church, I experience it in real time.
5. The Power of the Church
Years ago, Gandhi famously criticized Christians by saying, “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside-down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as nothing more than a piece of good literature.”
He was right.
I think we under-value the church in the same way we under-value the Bible. The church of Jesus has extraordinary, literally miraculous power, but we often treat the awesomeness of the church like a job, a duty, or an embarrassment. Then we wonder where the power and joy disappeared to.
Never again. Not for me, anyway.
From now on I plan to see the church how God sees her, starting with this verse: His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known. (Ephesians 3:10)
Through the church, through you and me, by the presence of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, God has chosen to make his wisdom known to the world.
Serving the church – and serving Jesus through her – is the greatest honor I will ever know.
(Photo by Solomon Joy)