A long time ago I had a girlfriend whom I hoped to marry one day. She was bubbly and beautiful, but she was also chronically dishonest with me. We eventually broke up and haven’t spoken since. She broke my heart.
In retrospect, I’m glad breaking up was an option. Two years of grief is better than a lifetime of regret. She and I were close but we weren’t family. Not yet. So we could still walk away and call it good.
Many people have had the same experience with the church. Upon realizing that she is filled with imperfect, messed-up people, they have chosen to break up, walk away, and call it good. They just can’t reconcile the perfect love of Jesus with the sometimes sketchy behavior that goes down inside the church. Admittedly, it’s confusing.
The rationale goes something like this:
“Jesus and I are fine, but I can’t deal with people in the church…too many fakers.“
But is it that easy? Is it a Christian’s prerogative to ditch the church when the people within behave badly? When she fails to be what she is supposed to be, can we just divorce her?
I’ve thought about this often and I keep coming back to these three New Testament realities:
- For better or worse, I am part of the church. When I placed my faith in Jesus, that was not just the beginning of my relationship with him, but also the point at which I was spiritually joined into the organic life of the church (I Corinthians 1:12-13). Just like when your house connects to the Main power line, by virtue of that relationship you are connected to every other house that is tapped into the Main. You may not know them, you may not speak to them, you may not like them, but you have an undeniable connection with them because of a common relationship to the Main.
- For better or worse, I need the church. By God’s design, Christians don’t grow alone. I can only go so far in isolation. I need everything the church provides, including the drama and the conflict, to help me grow up in faith, hope, and love. Yes, the yucky stuff stinks, but it also makes great fertilizer.
- For better or worse, Jesus is married to the church. The church is the very body of Christ as well as his bride (Ephesians 5:31-32). She’s not so beautiful right now, but someday she’ll be flawless. In the meantime, even with her inadequacies, Jesus remains fiercely loyal to her. Why wouldn’t I?
More than ever, it’s tempting to give up on the church and treat her like an ex. In many ways, it seems like she deserves it. But not so fast. Rather than kick her to the curb, maybe we should remember that even at her lowest point, we are still part of her, we need her, and Jesus is married to her.
Breaking up really isn’t an option.
It’s a new day with God. Run with it.