I Believe in the Church
Matthew 16:13-20, Psalm 133, Ephesians 2:11-22.
Young people often tell me that they want a relationship with God, but not with the church. They infer in many ways that they do not want much to do with the church. When I have inferred that God is our Father and the Church is our mother, and that we need both parents, they wrinkle their nose in some distaste or simply look puzzled. The result is that while many are prepared to trust God, not many wish to commit themselves to the church.
Recent Sociological studies have indicated that North Americans are more religious than ever, but are less committed to the church than at any other time in recent history. The church is held in considerable disdain, and is seen as an archaic institution whose time is past, and it is only a matter of time before it ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.
1. The Fallenness of the Church:
I believe in the Church. I hold to the conviction that not only is God my father, but the church is my mother. Almost anything of value in my life, I owe to the church of Jesus Christ! But some of my friends have said, “But you don’t know my church!” I concede that I don’t. But I was not born yesterday. I am not naive. I know enough about the church to realize that at times it is a tragic mess verging on a disaster.
All I have to do is scan the pages of the New Testament to know what the church can be like.
- There is the Church in Jerusalem suffused with racial intolerance, with Ananias & Saphira among its members,
- There is the church in Corinth with its immorality, and its squabbling
- The Church in Galatia is collapsing in the face of heresy,
- The church in Ephesus has lost its first love.
- The church in Laodicea is backslidden.
- Even the great apostles of the church find themselves in sharp conflict with one another: Paul & Barnabas have sharp conflict over John Mark. Paul rebukes Peter for his continued racism.
All I have to do is read 2,000 years of church history to know what the church can be like. That history tells me of dark days:
- Days when the church defected from the world to keep itself secure behind the high walls of its retreats.
- Days when the church made its converts by the edge of the sword, or by threat, or by deceit or by fear mongering.
- Days when the church ascended the cold towers of orthodoxy and failed to hear the cries of the wounded below.
- Days when the church was intolerant of differences, and went on heresy hunts and witch-hunts, and set up its inquisitions.
- Days when the cells of the body were like cancer cells and attacked one another and fragmented the church because of differences of belief, opinion or life style. (More than 35,000 denominations in North America alone!)
- Days when Catholics killed Protestants, and Protestants paid them back in kind, and then Protestants turned their rage on one another.
- Days when the church majored on minors, became legalistic, bigoted, impure. immature, narrow-minded, and selfish.
- Days when the church was more obsessed with raising funds that reaching people.
The history of the Christian Church tells me of the deviancy of the unsaintly saints of God.
All I have to do is listen to today’s news reports to know that these things still happen. These reports tell us
- of financial corruption in some religious organizations,
- of the moral failure of high profile church leaders,
- of church leaders involved in wife and child abuse.
- Of churches that serve the political order, rather than being prophetic.
And yet, I say without equivocation, I believe in the Church!
2. The great value of the Church:
Why do I believe in the church in spite of what yesterday’s history and today’s news outlets report?
Well I owe my life to the church. But, there is a greater reason.
I am sure you have heard about the two pink flamingoes on Noah’s Ark. One day they came to Noah with a complaint. The food is terrible! The whole ship stinks! The crowding is intolerable! The babble of noise is incredible! And on and on went the litany of complaints, that is, until Noah asked the question: “Have you considered the alternative?”
Have you considered the conditions of those parts of the world where the church has had minimal influence or has been forced out of a nation? And in too many places in North America, where the church has lost its influence, there is spiraling violence, human damage, deepening poverty and diminishment of human rights. The church at times is no great shakes, but the alternatives are absolutely frightening.
For, in spite of the church’s weaknesses:
- The church is the only institution in society that tells people that their sins have been forgiven by the Gracious God. None of the news anchors of our major networks give us that kind of news.
- The church is the only institution that offers a new life for all people both here and in eternity.
- The Church is the only institution in the world that rebukes all selfishness and sin, both in itself and in its culture. Wall Street, Madison Avenue and Hollywood certainly don’t.
- The church is the only institution in society to which God has committed the task of redeeming the world from its sickness & its wickedness.
Because I believe in the necessity of those things, I believe in the Church.
O those are right who speak about the weakness of the church. The church is diseased with all of our typical human foibles and frailties. It is sinful with too many of the sins of the world. But the church was not intended to be a museum for displaying fine folk. It is not an art gallery with portraits of the good displayed on its walls.
The statue of Liberty stands on the East coast of this continent, facing Europe and the rest of the world. The inscription on it cries to the dispossessed of the world:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these – the homeless, tempest tossed, to me.”
And the church stands in the middle of the world community and offers that very same invitation. And they come. They come from all segments of human life. and we breed into ourselves all manner of human weakness.
We say to the world:
”Send us your victims. Send us your wounded, your rejects, your naked, your hungry, your refugees, your illiterates. Send us your lonely, your confused, your guilt ridden and your shame filled, and send us your criminals. And we, we will take them into our lives, into our homes. We will say to each of them, “We want to adopt you, we want you to join your lives with ours. For such were some of us”. (I Cor. 6:9-11)
And like good fishermen, we catch our fish before we clean them. And to the degree that we embrace the wounded of our world, to that degree we guarantee a faulty church as we inbreed the wounded of the world into ourselves generation after generation.
Some of us were among the walking wounded, when the church took us in. And when it did, it meant that flawed and faulty people would sit in our pews, and lead the church in its councils, and stand in the church’s pulpits. But as I said, the church was never intended to be a museum for plaster figurines.
The church is a hospital where the doctors and nurses are themselves patients.
- The church is a psychiatric hospital for the emotional damaged.
- It is a surgical center for the repairing of broken lives.
- It is a pediatric ward where the childish are made childlike, and the immature brought to maturity.
- It is an obstetrics ward where people are born to new life.
- In fact in this place the dead are raised to new life.
We are not perfect. Talk about an understatement! We have a lot to do to become the kind of people that we dream of being. But as long as we reach the kind of people so much of our world is composed of, we shall always look like we are failing.
Jesus said, “I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This unfortuate translation makes one think of a fortress called the church, and hell is trying to break down the walls to get at us. But thank goodness, the church is able to hang on and survive.
But can I suggest a different translation of the text to bring out its deeper significance? (Amplified) Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not hold up against it!” This time Hell is the fortress and the Church is on the attack. And Hell does not stand a chance!
C.T. Studd the cricket player turned missionary said: “Some want to live within the sound of Church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.
The idea had been suggested to William Blake that Jesus once visited England. In one of his poems, he raises the question:
And did those feet in ancient time
walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
on England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did that countenance divine
shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
among these dark satanic mills?
William Blake is not sure that the myth was ever true. But he also knew that if in the past it was not true, perhaps in the future it might be, and so he pens the second verse:
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
Jesus Christ is building His Kingdom in this world, and I tell you frankly, I want to be a part of it! I feel like singing with Blake, “Bring me my bow of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire,” so I can help God build His church across this continent and around this globe!
I believe in the church partly because it believed in me. I shall be forever grateful.